Sunday, May 22, 2011

Salvation for the Wealthy

I am not a "wealthy" person, but I am very aware that there are many people in the world who do not have nearly as much as I do.  Especially, as a seminarian, all of my needs have been provided for (thanks be to God and to all of my generous benefactors, known and unknown to me).

And so, whenever I read the following from the Gospel of Matthew (or its parallels in Mark and Luke), I'm generally a little unsettled:

Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible." (Mt 19:21-26)

Normally, the closing words of the passage are what set my mind at ease: "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible."  It's not an excuse to be rich, to be greedy, or to lack charity, that Jesus provides here, but rather a hope that we, who are all attached to the things of this world, have hope in him that we might be able to let go of them and instead hold on to him.

That's my usual thought process in front of this passage, but St. Augustine has clarified it much more in his Exposition of Psalm 85 (86, by most modern numberings).  I'll just let him speak for himself:

From St. Augustine's Exposition of Psalm 85:
Bend down your ear and hear me, Lord, for I am needy and destitute. (Ps 86)  Not to the rich does he bend down his ear, but to the destitute and the needy; that is, to the humble, to the one who confesses to him, to the one who needs mercy, not to the person who is sated and self-important and boastful as though in need of nothing, the kind who says, I thank you that I am not like that tax collector there (Lk 18:11).  The rich Pharisee was flaunting his merits; the poor tax collector was confessing his sins.

But now, my brothers and sisters, you must not take what I have said, "He does not bend his ear down to the rich," to mean that God does not hear those who have gold and silver, a large household and country estates.  Such persons may have been born in those circumstances, or may hold that rank in human society, only they should keep the apostle's warning in mind: Instruct the rich of this world not to be high-minded (1 Tm 6:17).  Those who are not high-minded are poor in God, and to the poor and destitute and needy he bows down his ear.  Such people know that their hope does not lie in gold or silver, nor in any of those things with which they seem to be surrounded for a time.  Let them count themselves lucky if their riches do not ruin them; it is gain enough if their wealth is no hindrance, for it cannot be any profit to them.  What does profit rich and poor alike is a work of mercy, which a rich person can perform in both will and deed, but a poor person in will only.  When people in comfortable circumstances despise whatever there is in them that ordinarily blows up human pride, they are God's poor.  God bows down his ear to them, for he knows that their hearts are bruised.


Learn to be destitute and poor, whether you have possessions in this world or not, for you may find a proud beggar, or again a man of property confessing to God.  God thwarts the proud, whether they are clothed from head to foot in silk or in rags, but he grants grace to the humble, whether they own this world's wealth or nothing at all.

Taken from The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, Volume III/18: Expositions of the Psalms.


Well, Judgment Day did not come yesterday.  I can't account for anyone who was raptured (though maybe I just don't know any true believers).  So what are we left with?  The same stuff we had before:

- a God who loves us.
- the invitation to love Him in return.
- the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church through which to do that.

This whole thing was very similar to a "predicted" earthquake that was supposed to topple Rome last week.  Many of the Italians didn't go to work that day, and kept their children home from school to prepare and stay safe.  But it didn't happen either, just like the world didn't end yesterday.

It's surprising to me that people believe in these kinds of things, when instead, what we're really asked to believe in, is such a reasonable and wonderful divine plan.  Sure, it's according to the wisdom of God and not the wisdom of man, so we might not see that wisdom at first.  But that doesn't mean it's bonkers, either.

For all those who placed their faith in a date instead of God, I'm truly sorry that you did.  Since everything you believed in was false, what now will you do?  Do you despair?  Do you lose your faith?  Or, do you seek out the Truth that sets you free, the Truth that you were mistaken about.  For let me assure you, it was not God who got the date wrong.  (Not that I think many of these people read my blog, but you never know, right?)

Jesus will come again in glory.  I believe and hope that he will.  There's no question in my mind.

The world might not have ended, but my awesome
cheap sunglasses have.  After having them for three years,
they broke a couple weeks ago.  Best €10 I ever spent.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dr. Grace Augustine and Augustine, Doctor of Grace

I've never seen Avatar, but I just did a Google search for "Augustine the Doctor of Grace" (because that's what he's called) and learned that Sigourney Weaver's character in the movie is Dr. Grace Augustine...

That's a pretty big coincidence.  Is James Cameron a closet patrologist?

Unfortunately, in order to learn more, I'd have to watch the movie, and that's not likely to happen.  I have happily steered clear of the hype for this long, and I don't aim to change that.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Holy Week Pictures

Some photos from the Triduum at Ampleforth Abbey can be found here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How to Forgive...

I've noticed a few trends in people's responses to the death of Osama bin Laden. I just want to offer my thoughts on one of them.

[And by the way, whether or not it was just to kill him, under these circumstances or any others, I'm not prepared to make that call, so I'm not going to. If you think that's a cop out, so be it.]

Instead, I want to write about a misunderstanding of forgiveness among Catholics that I've noted in recent days (admittedly this is mainly from facebook status updates).

It seems to be more or less the Catholic or Christian extreme: the immediate prayer for his soul. Now, I do not want to say that since bin Laden was an enemy, he should not be prayed for. I myself do pray that God have mercy upon him. However, I think that this reaction is often times a way of masking emotions that we are afraid of allowing ourselves to have. It is fact that the man orchestrated the deaths of many people, for deeply malicious reasons. We should be angry about this. He perpetrated injustice on a huge scale.

The desire for vengeance is sinful, but feeling anger at injustice is not. Choosing to dwell upon feelings of anger and allowing them to fester in our hearts, this also is sinful. But simply being angry at someone for injustice, small or extreme, is to be expected. It is a healthy reaction, and the desire for justice is also healthy. Even so, the words of Fr. Federico Lombardi in response to bin Laden's demise ring true:

"Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace."

Still, I think that many who strive to live the Christian life are afraid that both our anger at what he did and our relief that he is gone are feelings we should not have. The thought is that if we were to indulge these feelings in any way, we would be guilty of not only the desire for vengeance, but also of a complicit participation in the carrying out of that vengeance. In our attempt to distance ourselves from emotions that we consider to be dangerous and sinful, we immediately jump to the only thing that we know is okay - forgiveness and prayer for the dead.

Indeed we should forgive and we should pray that God have mercy upon him, but one thing must not be forgotten: forgiveness is not possible without an offense. One cannot let go of anger without having first been angry. It is inhuman for us to have witnessed the awful acts of this man and not be disturbed, angered, or offended on some level (varying very much depending on our nearness to those who were killed, though simply being American is enough to participate to a strong degree). To run away from such feelings is not forgiveness. To deny that we are angered is tantamount to denying that he did anything wrong, which is to eliminate the possibility for forgiveness. Rather than running from anger, we have go accept that it is within us and confront it. Only then can we say in a true spirit of forgiveness, "I have reason to hate this man, but I choose not to, definitively."

Skipping over the choice is to skip over forgiveness, to cowardly deny the problem. Forgiveness is instead a courageous choice. It is easier for some to opt for an empty shell of "forgiveness" than to face the darkness of their own anger. (For others, of course, it is easier to immerse themselves in the darkness of their anger, but that's not the issue I'm discussing here.)

All have sinned, so our prayer for the salvation of a good man should be just as fervent as the prayer for an evil man. We are saved only by the mercy of God, after all. So, pray for Osama bin Laden - this is the right thing to do.

For those who find that difficult because they do allow themselves to feel angry, please understand that forgiveness is the only Christian option. Yet, it is extremely difficult even in matters far more trivial than the case of a mass murderer; it is only possible through God. The adage holds true: to err is human, to forgive, divine. Nevertheless, we Christians, who are sinners, all pray very regularly to be forgiven our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. There is no qualifier to that which exempts us from forgiving those who have sinned heinously and grievously against us.

But, for those who jumped immediately to forgiveness, without any anger or fear in their heart, such a response may be virtuous, but it is not necessarily so. Just be sure that in responding this way, you are not hiding from or depriving yourself of feelings that you need to feel.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Great Epithet

I remember 6 years ago when Blessed John Paul II died, I heard a number of people ask the question, "do you think that the Church will give him the title 'the Great'?"  But very quickly the answer was spread around that such a title is not actually bestowed by any authority other than simple popular usage.  Still, I always found telling, that so many people were asking the question.  Clearly, there is some desire on the part of people that he be called the Great.  I for one think he should be.

And since I generally value my opinion quite high, I want to encourage anyone who might actually read this blog to do the same.  Only considering facility of speech:  "John Paul the Great" is one less syllable than "John Paul the Second", and while one syllable longer, it's got a bit more dignity than the fairly common "John Paul Two" and "JP2".

A crucial part of this is usage in other languages, but with a quick Google search you can find occurrences of not only the English John Paul the Great (the name of both a high school and a university), but also the Italian Giovanni Paolo Magno, the Dutch Johannes Paulus de Grote, the German Johannes Paul der Große, the Polish Jan Paweł Wielki, and even the Latin Ioannes Paulus Magnus.

From the page List of people known as The Great:
As there is [sic*] no objective criteria for "greatness", the persistence of later generations in using the designation greatly varies.  For example, King Louis XIV of France was often referred to as "The Great" in his lifetime, but is rarely called such nowadays, while Frederick II of Prussia is still called "The Great".

All that can be said is that he will be known as The Great only if that's what we call him.  So if you want him to "receive" that epithet, just use it!

* - It should read "as there are no objective criteria" or "as there is no objective criterion".  If I knew what I were doing, I would edit it; it is Wikipedia after all.  Maybe someone more savvy will take it up.  While you're at it, maybe you could add Blessed John Paul the Great to the list...

In the square just after the Beatification Mass.
You can see the banner of Blessed John Paul the Great
hanging behind me on the facade.

The Beatification

I was fortunate enough to have a seat in St. Peter's Square for the Beatification of John Paul the Great on Sunday.  It was a blessed day, but I'll share just one anecdote.

A moment that moved me in a particular way was the presentation of the relic of John Paul's blood to Pope Benedict.  The one's who brought the silver reliquary holding the vial of blood were Sister Tobiana, who tended to John Paul through his papacy, and Sister Marie Simone-Pierre, whose unexplained cure from Parkinson's has been attributed to John Paul's intercession.

But what moved me was the fact that Benedict was the one receiving it.  As I saw him take up the reliquary and reverence the blood of his predecessor, immediately the now famous image of then Cardinal Ratzinger being embraced by John Paul came to mind.

I thought of the early Church, and how the tombs and bodies of the martyrs were often visited and venerated by Christians who knew them in life.  When we today venerate the relics of those ancient saints, it is a different experience, because we are separated by hundreds of years.  In those first years after they were martyred however, the people who venerated them had known them in life, and sometimes even been close friends.  Similarly, here before me, a man who knew John Paul, and worked with him, and had a deep respect for him, venerates the blood of his friend.  What humility and joy Benedict must have felt in that moment.

It's actually kind of unique that the relic be liquid blood.  His body was not disturbed at all.  It was blood that had been drawn shortly before his death, and was simply kept at the hospital.  No one got rid of it.  (The fact that it is still liquid is not miraculous by the way - anticoagulants were added to it when it was drawn back in 2005.  This is not St. Januarius we're talking about.)