Sunday, April 29, 2012

To Whom Shall You Go?

 I have been completely absorbed in the the space trilogy by C.S. Lewis of late.  Actually I read the first of the three, Out of the Silent Planet last summer, but recently purchase the last two, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.   They are books that I imagine I will be re-reading again in the future because there is so much there.

It was as I was reading That Hideous Strength that I came upon a passage that really impressed me.  It is a quote by a character named Dr. Dimble as the final battle is beginning.  He is on the side of good, but there are mysteries that he is grappling with that are hard for him to fully understand and his leader, the Director, has commanded him to accept.  As he is discussing things over with his wife he says:
Have you ever noticed,.....that the universe, and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point?....I mean this,....If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family- anything you like- at a given point in its history you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren't quite so sharp; and that there;s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and codices are even more momentous  Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse:  the possiblities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing."  pg.280-281 
That captured my attention, and it is further fleshed out in the story. We are, for a time, gathered in and then - as with the Biblical image of a winnowing fan - we are separated out.  There are examples of situations that are accepted as morally neutral or tolerated as a necessity of an era in the Bible, but that eventually are revealed as unacceptable, such as Old Testament polygamy.  It is certainly presented in the Bible as something that is accepted, but it is definitely a falling from the original Biblical example of marriage.  And if you read your Bible carefully you see that though it is not wrong for Jacob or David, to have multiple wives and concubines, it costs them something.  Look at the jealousies and rivalries that come of it.  The eventual splitting of the Davidic Kingdom has it's beginnings in the corrosive effect of polygamy.  And the cost is sent on down the generations, until it is time to see and understand; until it is time to make a choice.  As we progress through salvation history, or even our own lives it will eventually come down to a choice, a terrible choice that requires clarity of vision and tenacious clinging to the Word of God.  Our eternal destiny will rest on it.

These thoughts have been turning over in my head for a while now, the passage just brought new clarity for me, especially in the wake of some acrimonious discussions over the issue of  "gay-marriage".  But it is not that issue that primarily bothers me, that is one of many moral issues that are confronting us in our time.  It is how we are coming to a point in our society, and choices will have to be made, and I wonder how clear we, as a culture, see the issues.  I wonder if we have been given just enough of Jesus in our religious instruction to make us think that we know what His love means, but in reality we have inoculated ourselves from being truly overtaken by His radical love.  His radical love is not tepid "acceptance" or "tolerance", it is a purifying fire.  Unless you have ordered your life on the Commandments, putting His will in front, it will be difficult to understand what a shallow sham our culture has made of love, and from there a degenerative blindness seems to set in.  Even when the choice is presented point blank, it becomes too difficult to proceed in the way of the Spirit.

Today's reading (for Saturday, April 28) makes this even more urgent in my mind:

 "Many disciples of Jesus who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?"  Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you?  What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.   The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life,  But there are some of you who do not believe."  Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.  And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father."  As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him.  Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"  Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."   John 6 60-69

This is at the end of the Bread of Life discourse.  Jesus is telling his followers to believe that they must "feed on me" or they will have no life in them.  They are shocked, they are confronted with something hard to believe, something that seems foolish and not rational (verse 42:  and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?  Do we not know his father and mother?  Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?").    Many of the Lord's disciples no longer walked with Jesus from that point on.  But Peter shows us that he has clung to and believed in the words of the Lord, and when confronted with the choice - though he is as yet not perfected in his belief, nor does he completely understand what the Lord is saying- his love for the Lord clears the way for his courageous words.  And it is this choice that prepares Peter to humbly trust in Jesus, even after his betrayal of Him, he does not despair in his failure but receives with trust and conviction  the abundant mercy of the Lord.  How can we navigate ourselves in this era of hardening and narrowing of our own beliefs?  How can we discern the will and love of God in a time when love is perverted, materialistic, weak and used to blind and divert ourselves from the Truth?  To whom shall you go?  To whom shall you cling to?  A terrible choice is beginning to emerge-choose life, not death.

Peace and Grace,

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Facebook: Conforming Complacency or Transforming Love

"I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.  Do not conform to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect."  Romans 12:1-2 NAB

Facebook..... what an invitation to mediocrity in debate.  What a temptation to un-reflective pontificating (of course blogging can be also - I suppose).  St.Paul where are you when we need you!  How badly we need a St. Paul of Facebook, or is it Twitter now?

Someone I know posted a link on Facebook a while ago, which included a picture of a Bishop with the word bigot scrawled across it, and it was bravely challenged by another Facebook friend of mine.  The Bishop's crime was in attempting to teach his flock about the Catholic view of marriage and family and the link was challenged not because of hatred for homosexuals, which was insinuated, nor was it challenged because she blindly follows the Bishops, which was also an accusation that was thrown out.  She was not "casting stones" thoughtlessly.  This post was challenged because it was slanderous name-calling; an offence against charity. This may have surprised the one who posted it, since he firmly believes that he speaks on behalf of love, justice and peace.  In his mind, he was on the side of righteousness, which I guess, for him, means you can say anything you want; because, you know, the end justifies the means.

Accusations of homophobia were then quickly leveled at her (and me, for indicating my support for her and the Church with a comment and a lot of "likes").  We were on the side of hate, intolerance and blind obedience. It was an ugly display of self righteousness, justified by "Jesus platitudes" that were completely severed from the Scripture they were taken from.  And it was not only the young man, but a cadre of supporters, who jumped into the conversation for the sake of peace, and justice, and of course always for love.   But it is a counterfeit love, one that weakens and blinds.  One that dulls the intellect and reduces charity to superficial works, to making things look better, not actually transforming brokenness, just re-defining what it is. This counterfeit love affirms vice, and discourages virtue. It will damn you in the end.

Unfortunately these views are not surprising, the sentimentality that is exacerbated by our social media culture demands that feelings rule the day, until your feelings - which is your conscience in this view -  fade and/or change.  Moral laws that are hard to follow are intolerant and unjust. What was so amazing was that when his charity was challenged his tolerance is what really dissipated, and he, and his friends began to rant and rave about how the Church was our biggest problem.  He ended up throwing out a vague threat that we should watch what we posted in the future! Reminds me of a Flannery O'Connor quote (taken from a work of Elizabeth Scalia):  "In the absence of faith, we govern by tenderness, and tenderness leads to the gas chambers."  

Thus, he very quickly began a mini-sermon using selective bits of Scripture.  The Gospel story from John about the woman caught in adultery was used to illustrate that merely questioning his post was the equivalent of casting stones like a self righteous Pharisee, but they failed to note that if he applied that same measure to his link it easily implicated his post.  Moreover he failed to remember Jesus in that Scripture did not dismiss the woman's sin as nothing, He held out a better way for the woman accused of adultery:  "go and sin no more".  He gave her room to repent and to order her love to Him.  And He gave insight to those who would be casting stones that the One whose finger carved the Law into stone did so not to condemn us in our brokenness, nor to leave us there,  but to lift us out of the muck of our disordered desires. The redeeming love of Christ does not leave us to center our identity around our disordered desires!!! Yet, the forum we were using to debate this post did not encourage such deep thinking, it was all tired talking points and immature zingers and threats that dominate in these Facebook discussions. No progression of thought or even building on an idea.

But, I will leave you with one bright spot in this whole ugly display.  This is what a beautiful young lady posted in response to the whole sordid affair, so as He always does, God leaves us with a remnant of hope.

"It really saddens me that you keep calling us homophobic, I have not and will not ever discriminate (against) someone based on sex, ethnicity, ect. Have you ever seen me judge someone or treat someone unfair because of who they are, no, I have never acted like that because we are called to love all, but still that does not make gay marriage correct, and it does not make living with a "partner"correct either.  God made man and women to compliment each other, and to confuse these roles in marriage goes against what God intended us for.  Does that mean I will love someone less because they are gay?  No, But if I were to allow them to marry it would be a sin, and I would never want any one to live in sin because sin pushes us farther away from God and I want to be as close to God as possible so we all may reach our ultimate goal, Heaven." 

 There was more, but that gives you the gist of her response.  Concise, factual and charitable, no one was called a name, no one was talked down to.   Hope is kindled!  Yes, there are some young people who know what authentic, strong, courageous and unyielding love really is, and are prepared to defend it - even on Facebook!

However, I was left with a  real sadness.  With all the references made about Jesus, many made by those claiming to be well-formed Catholics, I discerned no relationship with Him.  There was flat banal platitudes, but not a loving relationship.  Love transforms weakness and the world, it does not conform to it.  And I believe that, with a few of the individuals involved in this discussion, if they were really touched by His transforming love, the good that could be done through them would be astounding!

Jesus is clear that to love God is to follow His commands, they are the pathway to union with Him because they transform us to be like Him.  They lead us to out true identity - they do not condemn us to find our identity in our basest, weakest desires, but help us to order our desires to the One who created us.   They give us the heart to love Him and eyes to behold Him.

 Do you know what I think happened to the woman caught in adultery after her encounter with Jesus?  When He looked at her and said: "Neither do I condemn you, go and from now on do not sin anymore.",   I think she looked deep into the eyes of The Light of the World, the Alpha and Omega, the Divine Lover and saw in them the fulfillment of all her desires.  I think that from that moment all that she had to let go of in order to come to the Beloved was put into perspective.  And she followed Him.  Love transforms.

 Peace and Grace,

Here is a YouTube montage featuring Matt Maher and Audrey Assad singing Garden.  A song where that describes the transforming love of the Father when we allow Him to enter into garden of our hearts.