5 Common Ways Catholics Choose to be Deceived

Biblical Teaching on the Problem of Deception

by Msgr. Charles Pope, Community in Mission:

One of the more troublesome and damaging human traits is our susceptibility to deception. Scripture speaks often of this problem and we do well to examine some of those texts and consider what they teach us.

Perhaps it is good to look first to the Latin and Greek roots of the word deceive.

Latin: The Latin root of deceive is decipere, meaning to ensnare (de (of or up) + capere (to seize or take)). And thus the Latin emphasizes our tendency to be easily caught up or carried away, to be ensnared by error. It evokes the image of an animal being carried off as prey in the mouth of a lion. We are so easily are we carried away by the latest fashions, trends, and thinking of the world. And having been carried away, we are ensnared by error and to some degree cut off from the truth.

Greek: There are several words in the Greek New Testament that are translated asdeceive in English. By far the most common is πλανάω (planao), meaning to go astray, to wander off course, to deviate from the correct path, to roam into error, to be misled. (Planao is the also the Greek root of the English word planet (literally, wandering body)). In the Greek New Testament, this term nearly always conveys the sin of roaming from the truth. And thus we see that the Greek emphasizes that we go astray or are led astray, that we wander off. Isaiah the prophet lamented, All we like sheep have gone astray; every one to his own way (Is 53:6). Yes, and if sheep are wayward animals, human beings are more so, for at least a sheep knows its master’s voice. Too many of us will listen to and follow anyone but the Lord.

We humans are involved in deception in three different ways.

I. We are sometimes the victim of deception. The Scriptures frequently warn, “Do not be deceived.” Jesus warned, At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many (Mat 24:11).

St. Paul also lamented false apostles and Judaizers who misled many. He warned of savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:29-30). He also spoke of some who will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1).

St. John warned of the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world (1 John 4:3).

Thus to some degree we are victims of deceivers. The Scriptures warn us to be on our guard: Do not be deceived! We are not to allow these deceivers to lead us astray, to make us wander about in error and sin. We are to resist them and see them for the deceivers they are.

II. We can be among those who deceive (though hopefully this is less frequent). This refers to something deeper than the more common human foible of lying. The deception here involves misleading people in matters of the true faith.

 

God warns deceivers, Why do you boast of evil, you wicked man? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? You who practice deceit, your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor. You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth. You love every harmful word, you deceitful tongue! Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin (Psalm 52:1-5).

God declares a curse on those shepherds who mislead their flocks: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds” (Jer 23:1-3).

Jesus declares, If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Mat 18:6).

St. Paul speaks of the lot of deceivers: But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim 3:13).

III. The final category is perhaps the most troubling of all: a middle ground between being a victim and a victimizer. It is that middle ground where we connive in deception. When deceivers speak to us, not only do we fail to rebuke them for their deception, we perk up our ears and in effect say, “Tell me more.”

We do this because, to some degree, we want to be deceived; we want to be affirmed in our sin, in our weakness. Many want the truth to be watered down and are delighted to listen to those who call into question the demands of righteousness. Yes, many of us connive; we enter into partnership with the deceivers.

Many of the warnings that we “not be deceived” are not simply alerting us to the presence of deceivers; they are cautioning us to be wary our own tendency to enter into agreement with those would deceive us. In this context, the warning, “Do not be deceived,” takes on more of this tone:

“Don’t kid yourself; don’t tell lies to yourself; don’t go on playing the fool or the ignoramus. You know better. The voice of God echoing in your conscience bears witness to the fact that you’re lying to yourself and you’re letting others lie to you.”

Premier among the conniving texts is St. Paul’s warning to Timothy: For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear, and will turn away from the truth (2 Tim 4:3).

5 Common Ways Catholics Choose to be Deceived

What are some of the common things people “want” to be deceived into believing? A brief survey of Scripture reveals this. (I have boldfaced the various forms of the word deceive to illustrate that God is teaching us about the various forms of this sinful connivance.

A. That our actions will not have consequences:   Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)

B. That faith can be perfunctory, intellectual, or mere lip service; that good intentions are enough; that one can love the world:  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:22-27).

Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe—safe to do all these detestable things?” Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord (Jeremiah 7:1-11).

C. That sexual sin is no big deal: Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

Be sure of this, no fornicator, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light … and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness (Eph 5:5-11).

When lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren (James 1:16).

D. That regular consort with sinners will not affect us: Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame (1 Cor 15:33).

But encourage each other daily, while it is still today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception (Heb 3:13).

E. That we can wholly avoid deception and error apart from Scripture and the teaching of the Church: Jesus answered them, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matt 22:29).

Wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the Truth and so be saved (1 Thess 2:10).

Here then is a brief excursus on the lamentable human tendency to wander, to be carried off, to be deceived. And frankly, too many of us want to be deceived. Be alert to this deep drive rooted in sloth and pride; learn its moves and despise its lures.

The Christmas Battle Cry! Declaring War Against Satan

Msgr. Charles Pope, National Catholic Register:

I, like you, love the beautiful Christmas season with all its sentimental appeal. And I wish you all of this in abundance. But as we know, the first Christmas was anything but sentimental and featured great hardships: Urgent travel to Bethlehem in the ninth month of pregnancy, no room at the inn, the subsequent flight to Egypt and the murder of the Holy Innocents. It is almost as though Satan, knowing that God was up to something good, tried to smoke out, prevent and pursue and destroy this great work of God.

And this is exactly what Scripture attests in a version of the Christmas story seldom told among Christians today. Consider the “other” Christmas story that looks behind the external events and interprets the deeper meaning of them:

 

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars upon her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron rod.

…And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But the dragon was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

…Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Rev. 12:1-5, 7-9)

Merry Christmas! While I have never seen this version of the story on a Christmas on a Hallmark card or a “made for TV” special, it is the deeper story, a more hidden but true picture of what was going on that dramatic and fateful night. The birth of Christ is (as John Eldredge one wrote in “Wild at Heart”) the Great Invasion, a daring raid by the ruler of the forces of Good into the universe’s seat of evil. Spiritually speaking, this is no silent night. It is D-Day. Behind the scenes is a deadly enemy….one of whom we rarely speak: Satan. Yet he is active, and involved.

Yes, it is a fierce spiritual war. It is war at Christmas! It is a war that was engaged that Christmas, whose definitive victory was won on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but whose wake still ripples forth in dramatic call to choose sides!

Yes, fellow Catholics, there is a dragon—even at Christmas. Sorry to get in the way of the tinsel and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But there is a Satan, and he and his followers are to blame for most of the casualties you see in your family, in our culture and back through history.

Yet at Christmas there is also a Son who is born to us—and we name him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God , Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace (Is 9:6). And He shall reign forever. And thus it is a battle, terrible and yet great. Terrible, since it is to blame for most of the causalities we see in our family, in our culture and back through history. But great, since in its midst comes forth at Christmas our victorious Christ. He is the One who, by his grace, snatches us who have answered his call out of the great tribulation to be among those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb—yes, those who conquer by the Word of his testimony and by the Blood the Lamb (cf Rev 7:14; 12:11)

Sorry for such a non-traditional message. But something tells me that we Catholics who remain in the midst of the current culture wars have to regain a deeper sense of what was really going that Christmas, and this one too. For the danger is that we have become too nice for our own good and that we fail to recognize the battle to which we are summoned and which was engaged that first Christmas. Jesus the King of the Universe entered the territory of the “prince of this world” and began to take back territory from him.

And while the more paradoxical victory of the Cross cannot be forgotten, neither can the daring raid of Christmas night where the Lord advances against the foes, takes back territory, and inflicts on him the most serious blows. In the wailing of an infant can be heard a great war cry: “The long night of sin is over, the Light begins to shine, Arise O sleeper and Christ will give you light.”

And only in Christ can the angel’s song of “peace on earth” ever be truly found. Join him now in his great campaign of taking back territory from the terrible foe. An infant cries out;  somewhere, a great Red Dragon is in terror, for he knows his time short.

The Three Sins of Priests

By :

The Book of the Prophet Malachi is set forth as a kind “riv” (a Hebrew word for a lawsuit, indictment, or controversy) by God. The Lord sets forth a legal case of sorts, which convicts ancient Israel of numerous deficiencies and calls for their repentance. The case that God presents shows a body of evidence that is just as true today as it was then. God has plenty to say and we have much to hear, much to repent of.

Prophet Malachi

I am going to examine the Book of the Prophet Malachi in two successive posts. Today’s post is about the sins of the priests. Tomorrow’s post will focus on the
sins of the people.

As we look to the sins of the priests enumerated here, please understand that neither the biblical text nor my commentary should be construed to mean that all or even most priests are like this. But, sadly, the sins and shortcomings of the clergy are far too common. As priests must strive to be better and more holy, so also must the laity remember to pray for us.

With that in mind, let’s consider the sins of the priests (as listed by Malachi) in three basic areas.

I. Shoddy Sacraments

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? So says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, ‘How have we despised thy name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. And you say, ‘How have we polluted it?’ By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that no evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that no evil? Present that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. 10 Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire upon my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and the food for it may be despised (Malachi 1:6-12).

Those are strong words indeed. And while the injunction regarding blemished and polluted animals has changed, the intrinsic problem too often remains: the shoddy celebration of the Liturgy and the sacraments.

Did you know you can get 20% our calendars? Please support the Courageous Priest Family Apostolate and click the image. Thanks.

Did you know you can get 20% our calendars? Please support the Courageous Priest Family Apostolate and click the image. Thanks.

One of the most common complaints from the faithful regards priests who violate liturgical norms and/or allow others to do so. Few things offend charity and unity as much as the open and often egregious violation of liturgical norms. And while it is true that some violations are smaller matters in themselves, why not just celebrate the Liturgy as it is set forth in the books? There are of course options, and not every complaint of the faithful is accurate or fair, but God’s people have endured several decades of exotic and often egocentric liturgical experiments, which are not approved and which take the focus off God and the proper worship due Him.

Not every priest can clear up every problem in the Liturgy the day he walks through the door, but proper liturgical formation of God’s people with due regard to charity and patience is an essential task for the pastor of souls. And the priest should begin with himself. The liturgy, both in terms of its mechanics and its deeper spiritual significance, should be his study and his great love.

Another problem that can emerge is inattentiveness to the dignity and beauty of the Mass and the sacraments. Beauty and decorum are important ways that we communicate our love for God and one other. Priests should be properly vested, prayerfully prepare their sermons, and avoid mannerisms that are inappropriate or overly casual. Opulence is not necessary, but priests should ensure that liturgical appointments are clean, in good repair, and of proper dignity.

Decades ago, poor immigrant communities were responsible for building of some of the most beautiful churches. They also supplied some of the finest liturgical implements and art. It is important that we keep what they have bequeathed to us in good repair. Further, priests can and should teach today’s faithful to follow the example of these recent ancestors of ours by seeking to build and maintain worthy Churches, erected for the glory of God not just the utility of man. In the recent past, many of the faithful have been shocked and hurt by senseless “wreckovations” of sanctuaries and altars. Thanks be to God that many today are growing in appreciation for the older churches and are seeking to preserve them.

If God was offended by the offering of a lame or sick animal, why should we think He is pleased with “just any old stuff” in the Sacred Liturgy? God does notneed our gold chalices or our tall churches, but He knows how we are made. And the shoddy, perfunctory, “anything goes” celebration of the Sacred Liturgy says something about our hearts, our priorities, and what we value.

Priests above all must avoid all conscious violation of liturgical norms, make central the devoted study of liturgy, and inspire respect among the faithful for the Sacred Liturgy. St. Paul summarizes well his liturgical teaching of 1 Cor 11-14 by saying, But all things should be done decently and in good order (1 Cor 14:40).

II. Burdens not blessings? Behold your Barrenness!

13 ‘What a weariness this is,’ you say, and you sniff at me, says the Lord of hosts….2“And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung upon your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may hold, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him, that he might fear; and he feared me, he stood in awe of my name (Malachi 1:13, 2:1-5).

The priests of that ancient Jewish time had families, and God warned that if the fathers did not obey, the children would surely suffer many curses. And while priests today do not have children of their own, thousands call us “Father”!

And here in our times is the warning of God that the sins and omissions of the priests surely have brought trouble upon the faithful. We have been through a period in which too many priests have been rebellious, unfaithful to Church teaching, slothful, unprepared to preach, un-prayerful, irreverent, and even guilty of grave sins and violations of their state in life. Far too many priests and religious have also left the sacred call they agreed to live for life.

All of this has resulted in many troubles for the faithful. Some have been left discouraged and angry, most are poorly catechized and ill-informed on critical moral issues. Many are confused by priests and bishops who have openly dissented and, as the text says, who do not listen to God or lay to heart His teaching and stand in awe of God’s name.

As such, the flock is often cursed by this poor priestly leadership and example. Eighty percent of Catholics no longer attend Mass. Many of those who do attend are barely in communion with the Church’s teaching, and struggle to live the glorious vision set forth in the Gospel.

Sadly, this text from Malachi echoes a similar text from Zechariah, Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered (Zech 13:7). This is why the sins of the priests are so serious and why the faithful must pray especially for them. For indeed not only are priests subject to targeted attack by Satan, they are also especially susceptible to grandiosity, pride, and the sin of craving human respect.

Pray that priests do not become weary of exhortation, or speak of their office as a “burden.” Pray, too, that they do not succumb to modern and soft notions that the Gospel is too “burdensome” for the faithful to live, and therefore fail to preach it or to encourage the faithful.

This leads to the third sin of the priests that is mentioned by Malachi.

III. Sacerdotal Silence

True instruction was in [Levi’s] mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction.” (Malachi 2:6-9)

Silent pulpits are all too common in the Church today. Some priests prefer to “play it safe,” fearing to preach about the issues of the day out of human weakness. Other priests do not believe certain teachings themselves or think them impractical in modern times. Still others, as the text says, have turned aside from the truth, preaching and teaching outright dissent. As such, the text further says, they cause many to stumble by preaching corruption.

It is tragic as well that so many are permitted to mislead the faithful and are not disciplined for it by their religious superiors.

The text says that a priest should guard knowledge. That is, he should protect it from those who would distort it and should refute error. He must also guard it from misunderstanding and see that it is presented in the balance of others truths in the Scripture and in Tradition. St. Paul says of a presbyter (a priest), He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9).

The text of Malachi also warns against partiality, wherein a priest picks and chooses what truths he will teach or emphasize. St. Paul said to the elders at Miletus, Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27). Yes, the whole counsel, the complete truth, is to be taught by the priest.

Malachi rebukes the priests of his day for their partial preaching and, sadly, some of these rebukes must still be made. Encourage your priests when they speak confidently and clearly. Thank them and give them support, even if they challenge you. The job of a priest is not to be popular but to be a prophet. It’s tough work and it doesn’t always bring cheers. But even the prophets need support from the 7000 who have still not bent the knee to Baal or kissed him (cf 1 Kings 19:18). Pray for priests and encourage them to announce the whole counsel of God.

These are some of the sins of the priests that God sets forth. Let us not forget that the world also has many hard-working, dedicated, loyal, and holy priests. Yet, as these texts remind us, too easily priests can lose their way; forgetting the glory of the liturgies they celebrate; referring to their office and the gospel as burdensome; and growing too silent out of either fear or laziness.

Pray for priests!

 

Does the Bible Tolerate Hateful Words?

The Battle: Intolerant Versus Civil Discourse

By , Community in Mission:

Was Jesus Intolerant? “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil?” Matthew 12:34

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord warns of using uncivil and/or hateful words such as “Raqa” and “fool.” And yet the same Lord Jesus often used very strong language toward some of His opponents, sometimes calling them names such as vipers and hypocrites.

We live in a world that often insists on the use of gentle language and euphemisms. While doing so is not a bad thing, we also tend to manifest a kind of thin-skinned quality and a political correctness that is too fussy about many things, often taking personally what is not meant personally.

What is the overall teaching of Scripture when it comes to this sort of colorful language? Are there some limits and ground rules? Let’s take a look.

The word “civility” dates back to the mid-16th century and has an older meaning that referred to one who possessed the quality of having been schooled in the humanities. In academic settings, debate (at least historically) was governed by a tendency to be nuanced, careful, cautious, formal, and trained in rhetoric. Its rules often included referring to one’s opponents with honorary titles (Doctor, Professor, etc.) and euphemisms such as “my worthy opponent.” Hence as the word has entered into common usage, it has come to mean speech or behavior that is polite, courteous, gentle, and measured.

As one might guess, there are a lot of cultural variances in what is considered to be civil. And this insight is very important when we look at the biblical data on what constituted civil discourse. Frankly, the biblical world was far less dainty about discourse than we have become in 21st-century America. The Scriptures, including the New Testament, are filled with vigorous discourse. Jesus, for example, really mixes it up with His opponents—even calling them names. We shall see more of this in a moment. But the Scriptures also counsel charity and warn of unnecessarily angry speech. In the end, a balance of the scriptural witness to civility must be sought along with an appreciation of the cultural variables at work.

Let’s examine a few of the texts that counsel charity as well as a modern and American notion of civility:

Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips (Eccl 10:12).

The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools (Eccles 9:17).

Anyone who says to his brother, “Raqa” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matt 5:22).

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Eph 4:29).

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged (Col 3:21).

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9-10).

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19).

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt (Col 4:6).

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thess 5:11).

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Col 3:8).

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Rom 14:19).

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (Gal 6:1).
.

Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort [the repentant sinner], so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Cor 2:7).

All these texts counsel a measured, charitable, and edifying discourse. Name-calling and hateful or unnecessary expressions of anger are out of place. And this is a strong biblical tradition, especially in the New Testament.

But there are also strong contrasts to this instruction evident in the Bible. And a lot of it comes from an unlikely source: Jesus. Paul too, who wrote many of the counsels above, often engages in strident denunciations of his opponents and even members of the early Church. Consider some of the passages below, first by Jesus, then by Paul and other Apostles:

Jesus said, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?” (Matthew 12:34)

And Jesus turned on them and said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. “Woe to you, blind guides! … You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. … You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. … And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matt 23 varia)

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. … You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. … He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (John 8:42-47).

Jesus said, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6).

And Jesus answered them, O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long must I tolerate you? (Mark 9:19)

Jesus said to the disciples, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11)

Jesus said to the crowd, “I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts” (Jn 5:41-42).

So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables (John 2:15).

Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70)

Paul: O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth … As for those circumcisers, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 3, 5)

Paul against the false apostles: And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve (2 Cor 11:11-14).

Paul on the Cretans: Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith (Titus 1:12-13).

Peter against dissenters: Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings…these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. … They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. … They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! … Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud” (2 Peter 2, varia).

Jude against dissenters: These dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings….these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; … These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. … These men are grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage (Jude 1:varia).

Now most of the passages above would violate modern norms about civil discourse. Are they sinful? They are God’s word! And yet they seem rather shocking to modern ears. Imagine getting into your time machine and going to hear Jesus denounce the crowds and calling them children of the devil. It really blows a 21st-century mind!

I want to suggest to you that these sorts of quotes go a long way toward illustrating the cultural dimension of what it means to be civil. The bottom line is that there is a great deal of variability in what people consider civil discourse. In some cultures there is a greater tolerance for anger. In New York and Boston, edgy comments and passionate interruptive debate are common. But in the upper-Midwest and parts of the Deep South, conversation is more gentle and reserved.

At the time of Jesus, angry discourse was apparently more “normal,” for as we see, Jesus Himself engages in a lot of it, even calling people names like “hypocrites,” “brood of vipers,” “liars,” and “wicked.” Yet the same Scriptures that record these facts about Jesus also teach that He never sinned. Hence at that time, the utterance of such terms was not considered sinful.

Careful, now—be careful here. I am not saying it is OK for us to talk like this because Jesus did. We do not live then; we live now; and in our culture such dialogue is almost never acceptable. There ARE cultural norms we have to respect to remain in the realm of Charity. Exactly how to define civility in every instance is not always clear. An old answer to these hard-to-define things is “I know it when I see it.” So perhaps it is more art than science to define civility. But clearly we tend to prefer gentler discourse in this day and age.

On the other hand, as already observed, we also tend to be a little thin-skinned and hyper-sensitive. And the paradoxical result of insisting on greater civility is that we are too easily “outraged” (one of the more overused words in English today). We take offense where none is intended and we presume that the mere act of disagreeing is somehow arrogant, intentionally hurtful, or even hateful. We seem so easily provoked and so quick to be offended. All of this escalates anger further, and charges of hate and intolerance are launched back and forth when there is merely sincere disagreement.

Balance – The Scriptures give us two balanced reminders. First, that we should speak the truth in love, and with compassion and understanding. But it also portrays to us a time when people had thicker skin and were less sensitive and anxious in the presence of disagreement. We can learn from both biblical traditions. The biblical formula seems to be “clarity” with “charity,” the truth with a balance of toughness and tenderness. An old saying comes to mind: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.”

Ugly Churches . . .

The Art of Creating Beautiful, Biblically Based
Churches That Are Not Ugly

by Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington Blog:  

Have you read where Moses laid out the “tent of meeting” exactly according to the pattern God gave him up on the mountain? A millennium later John described a similar scene of the sanctuary in Heaven.

Few Catholics today realize that God actually did indicate a good deal about how He expects our churches to be designed. And while some degree of variation is allowed and has existed, most modern churches have significantly departed from the instructions God gave. We do well to ponder church architecture not merely as an aesthetic question, but also as a question of fidelity to what God expects.

For the Church, the Scriptures are more than just ink spots on a page. The Scriptures are manifest in proclaiming how we live, how we are organized hierarchically, our sacraments, our liturgy, and even the design of our buildings.

Long before most people could read, the Church was preaching the Gospel. And to do so, she used the very structure of her buildings to preach. Many of our older buildings are sermons in stone and stained glass.

The Scriptures come alive in our art, statues, paintings, and in the majestic stained glass windows that soar along the walls of our churches like jewels of light. Even the height and shape of our older churches preach the Word. The height draws our eyes up to Heaven as if to say, Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand (Col 3:1). And the shape of most of our older churches is that of a cross, as if to say, May I never glory in anything save the Cross of my Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14).

My own parish church is a sermon in stone, wood, and glass. It is designed around the Book of Revelation (Chapters 4 and 5), in which John is caught up into Heaven and describes it in detail. The fundamental design of the sanctuary drawn from Revelation 4 and 5 includes the throne-like altar (Rev 4:2), seven tall candles around the throne (Rev 4:5), and the four living creatures in the clerestory windows above the altar (Rev 4:6-8). At the center of the altar is the tabernacle, wherein dwells the once-slain Lamb who lives forever, Jesus (Rev 5:6). Around the throne (altar) are seated the 24 elders (Rev. 4:4), symbolized by the 12 wooden pillars on the back sanctuary wall and the 12 stained glass windows of the Apostles in the transept. The multitude of angels surrounding the throne (Rev 5:11) are symbolized by the blue and gold diamonds on the apse wall.

I have assembled pictures of these details along with the texts from Revelation in the following PDF document: Holy Comforter Church in Washington D.C. and the Book of Revelation

In effect, the builders of my church (built in 1939) were saying, when you walk into this church, you have entered Heaven. Indeed, it is a replica of the heavenly vision of John. And when we celebrate the Liturgy it is more than just a replica, for we are taken up to Heaven in every Mass, where we join countless angels and saints around the heavenly altar. There, we worship God with them. We don’t have to wait for some rapture; we go there in every Mass.

But there is more! For what John saw in Heaven is none other than what God prescribed to Moses. God told Moses quite explicitly how to construct the ancient sanctuary, the tent of meeting in the desert. The layout, materials, and elements were all carefully described.

And, having given these details, God said, Now have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you (Exodus 25:8-9). And God later said, See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain (Ex 25:40). And God repeated, Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain (Ex 26:40).

The Book of Hebrews explained why God insisted that the pattern be followed so exactly: They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (Heb 8:5). In other words, the Ancient Temple was meant to be a replica, or pattern of the heavenly sanctuary.

Most older Catholic churches maintain the basic pattern of what Moses was shown. This diagram compares the layout of the sanctuary in my parish church, Holy Comforter St. Cyprian (HCSC), with the layout of the temple:

092313-A

In the photo just below, you can see the remarkable similarity more visually. The pattern is even etched on the floor of my church, echoing a detail about the layout of the temple that Ezekiel described:

So there were four tables on one side of the gateway [of the sanctuary] and four on the other—eight tables in all—on which the sacrifices were slaughtered (Ez 40:41).

On the left below is a depiction of the setup of the tent of meeting as it was when the people were still in the desert. Next to it is a photo of my parish church sanctuary. You can see the remarkable similarity.

092313-B

Note the way the scrollwork on the floor of my parish matches the four tables on either side in the sanctuary where the animals were slaughtered. The fiery square and horned altar in the diagram of the temple are represented by the horned square on the floor of my church. In the diagram of the ancient sanctuary, the holy place, the holy of holies towers in the back, as do the high altar and tabernacle in my parish church.

Simply put, the builders of my parish church remarkably depicted the ancient temple as well as the vision of Heaven from the Book of Revelation. This is what church buildings should do: exemplify the heavenly sanctuary, the plan for which God Himself gave. Sadly, modern architecture has departed from that plan significantly. But in recent years, there has been something of a return to that plan, a trend for which we can only be grateful.

The Catholic Church is surely a biblical Church. My very building shouts the Word! We Catholics preach the Word not only with ink and in speech, but also in stone, wood, glass, liturgy, and the arts—all to the glory of God.

Here is a video of some of the details of my parish.

Slight editing.

The Body God Gave Us Doesn’t Lie

Our Culture Lies and Distorts, but the Body Does Not.

Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington:

The latest tragic twist in the “Bruce Jenner saga” (more on that below) illustrates yet again one of the great errors of our day: the rejection of the truth that our bodies have something to tell us about who we are and what we are called to do and be. Most moderns see the body as merely a tool of sorts. Assertions are made that one can do as one pleases with one’s own body, and that a person’s sex (male or female) is purely incidental—merely an arbitrary quality one “happens to have.” Many say that our sex should not speak to anything deeper than genitals and that other “mere” physical differences are to be set aside to one degree or another. In effect, it would seem that our bodies have little or nothing to say to us. According to modern culture they are incidental.

The rejection of the body as instructive or in any way determinative has reached its zenith in the attempted normalization of homosexual activity, the redefinition of marriage, and now, sexual “reassignment” surgery.

As regards homosexual acts, any non-ideological analysis of the body will indicate that the man was not made for the man, nor the woman for the woman. Rather, the man is made for the woman and the woman for the man. This is set forth quite clearly in the pure physicality of things. St. Paul calls homosexual acts παρὰ φύσιν (para physin), meaning “contrary to the nature of things.”

As regards so-called sex “reassignment” surgery, I must point out that the soul is the form of the body. Now of course I can hear the objection that somehow we are not only physical beings and thus to use simply physical arguments is not proper. While this is true, but the body cannot be ignored. The soul is the form of the body. That is to say, our soul, its essence and abilities, gives rise to the structure and physical attributes of the body.

What is meant by saying that the soul is the form of the body? Consider for a moment a glove. What is the form of a glove? What determines how a glove is formed, shaped, and designed? Well, of course, it is the hand. It is both the shape of the hand and its capacities that give rise to the design and function of the glove. A glove with only three fingers or one with eight fingers would be a poor glove indeed. The proper form of the glove is the hand. And it is not just the shape of the hand that dictates the design of the glove, it is also the required functioning of the hand. Fingers need to move and work together for the hand to achieve its purpose. A glove that was extremely stiff and permitted the fingers no movement would be a poor glove. A good glove protects the hand but also permits it to achieve its proper end. Thus the fully functioning hand is the form (or blueprint) of the glove.

In the same way, the soul is the form (or blueprint) of the body. Our bodies have the design they do because of the capacities of our souls. We are able to talk because our souls have something to say. Our fingers are nimble yet strong because our souls have the capacity to work at tasks that require both strength and agility. We have highly developed brains because our souls have the capacity to think and reason. Animals have less of all this because their souls have little capacity in any of these regards. My cat, Daniel, does not speak.  This is not just because he has no larynx; Daniel has no larynx because he has nothing to say. The lack of capacity in his animal soul (or life-giving principle) is reflected in the design of his body.

Sexuality is more than skin-deep. When it comes to sexuality in the human person, our sex (or as some incorrectly call it, gender, (gender is a grammatical term that refers to the classification of nouns and pronouns))  is not just a coin toss. Our soul is either male or female and our body reflects that fact. I don’t just “happen” to be male; I am male. My soul is male; my spirit is male; hence, my body is male. So called “sex-change” operations are a lie. Cross-dressing is a lie. “Transgender” and other made-up and confused assertions cannot change the truth of what the soul is. You can adapt the body but you cannot adapt the soul. The soul simply says, “Sum quod sum” (I am what I am).

The modern age has chosen simply to set all this aside and to see the body as incidental or arbitrary. This is a key error and has led to a lot of confusion. We have already seen how the widespread approval of homosexual acts has stemmed from this, but there are other confusions that have arisen as well.

Consider for example how the body speaks to the question of marriage. That the body has a nuptial (i.e., marital) meaning is literally inscribed in our bodies. God observed of Adam “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  This fact is also evident in our bodies. I do not wish to be too explicit here but it is clear that the woman has physical aspects that are designed to find completion in union with a man, her husband. Likewise the man has physical aspects that are designed to find completion with a woman, his wife. The body has a “nuptial” meaning. It is our destiny; it is written in our nature to be in a complementary relationship with “the other.” But the complementarity is not just a physical one. Remember, the soul is the form (or blueprint) of the body. Hence, the intended complementarity extends beyond the physical, to the soul. We are made to find completion in the complementarity of the other. A man brings things to the relationship (physical and spiritual) that a woman cannot. A woman brings things to the relationship (physical and spiritual) that a man cannot. It is literally written in our bodies that we are generally meant to be completed and complemented by someone of the “opposite” (i.e., complementary) sex. And this complementarity is meant to bear fruit. The physical complementarity of spouses is fertile, fruitful. Here, too, the body reflects the soul. The fruitfulness is more than merely physical; it is spiritual and soulful as well.

It is true that not everyone finds a suitable marriage partner. But, from the standpoint of the nuptial meaning of the body, this is seen as less than ideal rather than as merely a neutral “alternative” lifestyle called the “single life.”  (Uh-oh, there I go again.) If one is single with little possibility of this changing, then the nuptial meaning of the body is lived through some call of love and service to the Church (understood as the Bride of Christ or the Body of Christ), and by extension to the community.

Another consideration in this has to be the question of celibacy in the Church and of the male priesthood. If the body has, among other things, a nuptial meaning, whence do celibacy and virginity for the sake of the Kingdom find their place? Simply in this: priests and religious sisters are not single. A religious sister is a bride of Christ. She weds her soul to Christ and is a beautiful image of the Church as bride (cf Eph 5:21ff). Fully professed sisters even wear the ring. As a priest, I  do not consider myself a bachelor. I have a bride, the Church. She is a beautiful, though demanding, bride! And do you know how many people call me “Father”?  The religious in my parish are usually called “Sister,” but the Superior is called “Mother” by all of us. And here, too, our bodies reflect the reality of our call. A woman images the Church as bride. A man images Christ as groom.

It is another error of modern times to say that a woman can be a priest. Jesus Christ didn’t just “happen” to be a man. He is the Groom of the Church; the Church is His Bride. The maleness of the Messiah, Jesus, was not just the result of a coin toss. Nor was it rooted merely in the “sociological requirements of the patriarchal culture of his time.”  It is not merely incidental to His mission. He is male because He is groom. The priests who are configured to Him are also male because the body has a nuptial meaning and the Church is in a nuptial relationship to Christ. Christ is the groom; the priests through whom He ministers to His bride are thus male. To say that a female can image the groom is, frankly, silly. It demonstrates how far our culture has gone in thinking of the body as merely incidental, rather than essential and nuptial.

The body does not lie. Our culture lies and distorts, but the body does not. Many today choose to consider the body incidental, a mere tool that can be refashioned at will. But the Church is heir to a well-tested and far longer understanding that the body is essential, not incidental, to who we are. Our differences are more than skin deep. The soul is the form (or blueprint) of the body and thus our differences and our complementarity are deep and essential. Our dignity is equal, but our complementarity cannot and should not be denied. God himself has made this distinction and intends it for our instruction. The body does not lie and we must once again choose to learn from it.

Bruce Jenner needs our concern, not our applause. He cannot undo his maleness by amputation and silicone bags. There is something deeply sad here in him and those like him. They need real help to accept themselves as God made them. Some years ago, Johns Hopkins Hospital stopped doing these surgeries since many of the staff there were uncomfortable cutting off healthy organs and mutilating bodies. Dr. Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins explained recently why it is better to understand this issue as one of mental illness that deserves care not affirmation:

This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken–it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.” [Elsewhere in the article he notes the high suicide rates, etc.]

The transgendered person’s disorder, said Dr. McHugh, is in the person’s “assumption” that they are different than the physical reality of their body, their maleness or femaleness, as assigned by nature. It is a disorder similar to a “dangerously thin” person suffering anorexia who looks in the mirror and thinks they are “overweight,” said McHugh. [**]

There is something equally sick in the so-called “transabled movement” wherein people cut off their own limbs because they “feel” like their body is supposed to be disabled. The disown certain limbs and use power saws to cut them off. Please tell me the difference between those who cut off limbs and those who mutilate their genitals or cut off breasts. More on the “transabled” movement here: Choosing to be disabled

We are in a time of grave distortion and even the loss of simple common sense. It doesn’t seem that things can get much more confused than “gender reassignment.” I am sure, however, that things are going to get a lot more confused. But this confusion is not for us, fellow Christians. Our bodies are not ours to do with as we please. They are not canvases to be tattooed with slogans or endlessly pierced; they are not to be used for fornication, adultery, or homosexual acts. Neither are they to be mutilated or carved up into apparently new forms.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body(1 Cor 6:19-20).

Do not be deceived. Do not be confused. God was not “mistaken” in the sex He made you. Whatever internal drives, temptations, or disturbing thoughts one might have, the body was not made for sexual immorality or to be mutilated based on any internal rejection of our self. The call for every human being is to be chaste and to love our body as from God.

Here is a quirky and clever video that turns the table on the question of ordination. It also goes a long way to say that we cannot, in the end, simply pretend to be what we are not. Our bodies do not lie, even if we try to.

Abandoned: The Spiritual Works of Mercy

by Msgr. Charles Pope: 

So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (Jn 6:24-27).

John chapter six calls us to recover a greater awareness of the importance of the spiritual works of mercy. I will list what they are in a moment, but for now consider that despite living in rather secular times, the corporal works of mercy are still widely appreciated and accepted as both necessary and virtuous. There is little dispute today that we should feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, or bury the dead (the seven corporal works of mercy).

There are at times disputes about how this should best be accomplished, whether by large government, private charities, and/or personal works.  There is also disagreement about how exactly each work should be understood. For example, some think that taking care of the dying can include euthanasia. And we have recently discussed on the blog some odd practices related to burying the (cremated) dead.

However the overall point remains: I cannot think of a single individual I know of, religious or not, who thinks that the corporal works of mercy can or should be neglected if within our power to accomplish. This is a great tribute to Christian culture and one of the few of its pillars that remain in the post-Christian West.

But it is a different matter today with the spiritual works of mercy. Even in the Church they are seldom mentioned. Very few even reasonably catechized Catholics could list all seven of them and many might not even be able to come up with more than one or two.   For the record, the spiritual works of mercy are these:

  • Admonish the sinner
  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Comfort the sorrowful
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive all injuries
  • Pray for the living and the dead

Comfort the Sorrowful: A Spiritual Work of Mercy

Here is a great gap in the thinking of many. We tend to reduce charity to caring for people’s bodies, forgetting the needs of their souls. Indeed this oversight often proves self-defeating, since many of the corporal works of mercy become necessary because of defects of the soul. Some (not all) are imprisoned, poor, hungry, thirsty, naked, and so forth as a result of deep spiritual issues in their lives or in the wider culture. Yet so easily we overlook these spiritual issues.

One might excuse the secular, materialistic world for this oversight, but for us who are believers there’s really no excuse. Sadly, we often consider that our care for the poor has been accomplished by having provided clothing, shelter, or food. It is astonishing that we almost never even ask them to come to church or to listen to a sermon. In the old days at the old gospel mission downtown, or the Salvation Army soup kitchen, or the Catholic cafeteria and shelter, the poor who filed in were often expected to listen to a sermon, receive some Christian instruction, and surely to pray before the distribution of the meal or before bed at the shelter. This is rarely true today and most Catholic outreaches to the poor are almost indistinguishable from those of the government or nonbelievers. I pray you know of exceptions and will inform me of them, but the general pattern is very secular and corporal in its focus.

Do the poor not have souls, which also need care? Do they never need encouragement and instruction or rebuke and correction? Why is this so seldom included in our outreach to the poor? It is difficult to say, but we seem to have taken to imitating the practices of government agencies rather than our own tradition.

We think we are done when we have handed out the Christmas baskets. But where will most of the poor, whom we have blessed with this food and these toys, be going to church for the Christmas feast?  Most of them, I can tell you from experience, are not going anywhere; they don’t belong to any church. And this is often part of the problem. Quite simply, many of them are disconnected from the wider community including the Church. Resources in times of crisis and longer-term solutions like jobs and personal reform usually arise from relationships that are healthy and encouraging of virtue, thrift, industry, and other good habits. Being part of the Church community can connect the poor to material resources as well as to people who will help them grow in personal accountability. The fact that so many of the poor are in broken families and live in dysfunctional neighborhoods makes their membership in a (hopefully) healthy church community even more critical.

And yet we who should be part of their lives and should invite them to become part of ours seem content merely to hand them the Christmas basket, say “Merry Christmas,” and go on our way. This is not really so different from what I do for our alley cats as I place food on the back porch. But these are human beings with souls! Where is the invitation? Where is the care for their souls? Where are the spiritual works of mercy that should anchor our corporal works of mercy?

Now of course it is not merely the poor who are in need of the spiritual works of mercy. All of us are blind beggars before God. It is even more important, then, that the spiritual works of mercy be more widely known and actively practiced, since the need for them is universal. Further, though one’s body may suffer for lack of provisions, one’s soul may be lost for all eternity for want of the spiritual works. Hence the need is not only wider but deeper, and eternal in its consequences.

So, what ever happened to the spiritual works of mercy?

This leads us to a critical moment in John 6. Jesus has just fed the multitudes by multiplying the loaves and fishes, a miraculous corporal work of mercy! But of course prior to this he had taught them at great length. Let’s just say that Jesus had them listen to a sermon before the food was distributed, just as in the old days at the Catholic shelter or the gospel mission.

That evening Jesus withdrew and sent the disciples in a boat across the Sea of Galilee. Some in the crowd seemed to like the idea of a free meal wanted still more. Here is where we pick up the story:

So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (Jn 6:24-27).

In other words, Jesus admonishes them (and us) not to be concerned only about food for the bellybut also food for the soul (i.e., Himself in the Eucharist), which He really wants to give us so that we make it to eternal life. But as you may recall, the people persist in asking for the merely natural, belly-filling bread. “Give us this bread always … like Moses once did,” they cry out. Almost in exasperation Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life!” (John 6:35)

You can see that there is in them a dismissal of the needs of the soul and an emphasis on the needs of the body. The corporal works of mercy are all they seem to care about, less so the spiritual works. They prefer the food that perishes to the food that nourishes unto eternal life.

Thus the Lord admonishes them and us: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you (John 6:27).

And so the question remains, “What ever happened to the spiritual works of mercy?” Why do we esteem the corporal more than the spiritual works of mercy? How does Jesus’ admonishment apply to you and me, to the Church, and to the world?

Should we practice the corporal works of mercy? Certainly! But we ought not neglect the spiritual works of mercy, as we so often do. If we neglect them, the rebuke of the Lord is on us just as it was on the people at the lakeside.

 

Slight editing.

Will You Choose The Kingdom Of Light or Darkness?

Choices Have Consequences In This Life And In The Next!

Msgr. Charles Pope – The themes of early Lent are pretty basic. The ashes of Ash Wednesday announce the simple truth that we are going to die and  thereafter face judgment. Hence, we need to repent and come to believe the good news that only Jesus can save us.

Another early reading from Thursday after Ash Wednesday featured Moses laying out the basic reality that all of us have a choice to make. He says to us,Image result for Two ways are set before you the way of life and death

Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom …

I call heaven and earth today to witness against you:
I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse (Dt 30:15, 20).

So there it is, our choice: life or death, prosperity or doom. An old Latin expression says, Tertium non datur (no third way is given). We often like to think that we can plow some middle path. But in the matter of the last things, there is no middle path, no third way. Either we choose God and His kingdom, reflecting that choice in all of our smaller decisions, or we do not.

To those who think that a middle path is possible, I would say that it is in effect the way of compromise, ambivalence, and tepidness. Walking such a path shows a lack of real commitment and a refusal to witness to Christ.  These are not virtues that belong to God’s Kingdom; they pertain more to the kingdom of darkness. Jesus says,  Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil (Matt 5:37). He also says, No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:24).

So we are back to a choice: for the Kingdom of Light or for the kingdom of darkness, for the world and its ways or for God and His ways.  Do we choose to gratify the flesh or nourish the spirit, to serve Satan and his agenda or Christ and His will and plan?

You’re free to choose, but you’re not free not to choose. That is to say, you must choose. And if you think that you can go on simply not choosing one or the other, I’ve got news for you: not choosing is choosing the kingdom of darkness.

While it is true that many do not directly choose Satan, but rather indirectly choose him by following his ways, we are asked to choose God explicitly, by accepting the gift of faith and basing our life on what the Lord commands. Faith is not some sort of “default position” we can have by accident. Faith is the supernaturally assisted and transformed human decision for God and all that that choice implies. Faith is a gift freely offered, and one that we must also freely accept; it is a choice that will not be forced on us. And through many daily choices we are called to reaffirm, by grace, the choice we have made for God.

So again, life is about choices: the fundamental choice of faith and all the daily choices that either affirm or deny the reality of our faith.

We live in times in which people like to demand free choice but at the same time want to evade the responsibilities that come with making choices. Moses goes on in the reading today to describe the fact that the choice we make for or against God will have consequences:

If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous,
and the LORD, your God,
will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.
If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen,
but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish;
you will not have a long life
on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy (Dt 30).

Yes, choices have consequences. And even small daily choices have the cumulative effect of moving us in one direction or the other, toward God and our goal or away.

Many little choices also have a way of forming our hearts. Deeds become habits; habits become character; character becomes destiny. These choices move us into one future or the other.

And while it is true that sudden and dramatic conversions are possible as long as we are still living, it is more common that, as we make our journey, our hearts become more fixed and our fundamental character becomes less likely to change. As we get older, it’s harder to change because that’s what choices do to us: they move us in a certain direction, down a certain path. And the further along that path we go, the less likely we are to turn back.

Therefore, daily choices are important, and making frequent examinations of conscience and frequent confession are essential. Each day we ought to ask the question, “Where am I going with my life?” If we go on too long living an unreflective life,  it is easy to find ourselves deeply locked in sinful habits and patterns that are harder and harder to break. Thus, frequent reflection is necessary and we ought not make light of small daily decisions.

We live in times in which, to some degree, it is easier to insulate ourselves from the immediate consequences of many of the choices we make. Medicine, technology, social safety nets, etc. are all good things in and of themselves, but they do tend to shield us from immediate consequences and they help cultivate the illusion that consequences can be forever avoided.

We also live in times in which, perhaps more than ever before, the community is willing to bear the burden of many bad individual choices. Again, this is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it does become an enabler of bad behavior and fosters the illusion that consequences can be avoided forever. They cannot.

Our own culture is currently struggling under the weight of a colossal number of poor individual choices,  ones that have added up to a financial, spiritual, moral, and emotional debt we cannot pay.  Sexual misconduct, divorce, cohabitation, abortion, STDs, the use of hallucinogenic and addictive drugs, the casting off of of discipline and parental responsibility, the rejection of faith and ancient and tested wisdom,  rebellion, silence in the face of sin and injustice, greed, consumerism gone mad, factions, envy, discord, and on and on … all of this is taking a tremendous toll. The consequences are mounting and it is becoming clear that even the most basic functions of society such as raising the next generation, preserving order and stability, and ensuring the common good are gravely threatened.

And what is true collectively is also true for us as individuals. Lots of bad little choices quickly draw us into self-destructive patterns that become more and more ingrained. And without regular reflection and penitential seasons like Lent, we lose our way too easily! St. Augustine noted this in his Confessions, in which he described himself as being bound, “not by another’s irons, but by my own iron will … For in truth lust is made out of a perverse will, and when lust is served, it becomes habit, and when habit is not resisted, it becomes necessity” (Conf 8.5.10).

Moses’ warnings are before us as never before.

Back in 1917, a beautiful and holy Woman (Our Lady) appeared to three young children in Portugal. She explained that the horrifying war (World War I) was finally coming to an end. But, she warned, if people did not turn back to her Son Jesus and start praying, a worse war would ensue; Russia would spread her errors and great disaster would befall this world. Do I need to tell you what happened? Of course not! Any even casual assessment of the 20th century would find it hard to conclude that the century was anything but satanic.

Life and death, prosperity and doom. What will you choose? What will we choose?

Choices! Consequences!

Originally posted at: blog.adw.org