Sunday, March 27, 2022

LAETARE!


Today is “Laetare Sunday.”  On this day, priests wear rose-colored vestments, and our liturgy begins with a Latin introit commanding us to rejoice.  “Laetare!” we sing. Lent is half-way over.

 

So.  This morning’s sermon starts with a riddle:  What do Gerard Manly Hopkins, Earnest Hemingway, Prostitutes and pink vestments have in common?  To be honest, I don’t know the answer to this riddle.  It’s just that I started writing this sermon four times, kept getting distracted, and then finally, fell asleep.  So what I’ve got here are four ideas with nothing to connect them except, perhaps, the parable of the Prodigal Son. Your job this morning will be to draw some sort of meaning from it, and then convey that meaning to me after mass so that I’ll know what I said.  

 

Thought #1:

 

While I was looking for sermons to plagiarize, I ran across a poem of Gerard Manly Hopkins.  Apparently, he wrote this sonnet while he was struggling through a seven-year bout of depression.

 

'My own heart’ it’s called.  And it’s very short, so I’ll read it to you now:

 

My own heart let me more have pity on; let

Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,

Charitable; not live this tormented mind

With this tormented mind tormenting yet.

I cast for comfort I can no more get

By groping round my comfortless, than blind

Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find

Thirst's all-in-all in all a world of wet.

 

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise

You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile

Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size

At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile

's not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather — as skies

Betweenpie mountains — lights a lovely mile. 

 

I don’t actually understand most of that poem, but I have a sense that it’s what we’re doing here today: We’re calling off sad thoughts for awhile so that we can let God’s smile light the skies.

 

Thought #2:


Earnest Hemingway wrote a short story in 1936 entitled “Capitol of the World” which he begins with the following anecdote: “There is a story they tell in Madrid,” he writes, “about a father who came there in search of his wayward son, and not knowing where to look, took out an advertisement in the personals of the paper that said: PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA, NOON TUESDAY. ALL IS FORGIVEN. PAPA and how a squadron of police had to be called out to disperse the eight hundred young men who answered the advertisement.. For Madrid is full of boys named Paco.”  I can’t stop thinking about those eight hundred Pacos, all longing to be reunited with their fathers.  All those prodigal sons…

Thought #3:

 

What’s the deal with the prostitutes in this parable?  When the prodigal son’s older brother complains about his father’s generosity, he says, “when that son of yours returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.”  Where did the prostitutes come from?  There’s nothing in the story about prostitutes.  They are purely the construct of the older son’s imagination.  He couldn’t possibly know what his younger brother did with the money; but we do know what the older brother imagined his brother was doing with that money.  Must have spent some good amount of time fantasizing about it.  Shame on him.


Thought #4:

My fourth and last thought is this:

Every Lent, the monks of Saint Louis Abbey resolve to make three devotions: to give something up, to do something extra, and to read a book.   Well, we’re half-way through Lent, and I have come to the sad realization that I may never give up sugar, I may never be early for Vespers, and I may never make it past page seventeen of my Lenten book.  In short, my Lent has been a failure.

 

But not today!  Because today is Laetare Sunday—Rejoice Sunday—and on this Sunday, we are commanded to celebrate.  We’re half way through Lent.

 

Laetare Jerusalem et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam; 

Rejoice, O Jerusalem; and gather round, all you who love her!

Everyone gets to celebrate today, even the prodigal son.  Everyone gets to take a break from their Lenten fast, even the self-righteous older brother.  Everyone gets to rejoice today, even if that means taking a break from failure.  And all the Pacos in the world are reunited with their fathers, in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


Sunday, January 16, 2022

Be Prepared

Praised be Jesus Christ now and forever. 

A few years ago, I was reading with my students the story of the birth of Dionysus.  Persephone, the legend goes, was impregnated by Zeus and asked to see him in his true form.  But a finite creature cannot look upon and eternal being and live…so the mere sight of a Zeus caused Persephone to explode—then and there, on the spot.  One of my students asked me why we didn’t explode when we received the Eucharist.  I told him I didn’t know…but it couldn’t hurt to be prepared.

In a few minutes, in this very church, I am going to work the greatest miracle in the history of the world.  I know how that sounds, so maybe a better way of saying it would be that I, in persona Christi, will work this miracle.  Or that Christ will work this miracle through me.  But whichever way you want to say it, an astonishing thing will take place here today.  Just a few minutes from now, and a few feet from here, the Creator of the universe will appear to us, and we will be invited to approach the altar, and take him in our hands.  If we dare. There are some who argue—and convincingly—that we shouldn’t dare to walk up and grab the Eucharist; as though it were a theater ticket or a drive-through order.  There are others who argue, and convincingly, that the human hand makes a worthy throne for such a humble king.  But either way, we should be prepared.

In 2018 (that’s 2 BC…before Caronavirus), I visited the tower of London with my family.  We stood in line for an hour and a half to see the Crown Jewels.  An hour and a half!  First we were issued tickets, then we sat through a documentary video, then we were ushered through a winding series of velvet, roped corridors past silver and gold vessels, suits of armor, lavish and costly outfits of fur, satin, velvet, and woven gold…until at last, we were granted a brief glimpse of the crown through bullet-proof glass and over the shoulders of heavily armed guards.  All that just to see the queen’s crown!

And there is something infinitely more precious here.

We should be prepared.

We should be trembling.

Mobs of Christians should be fighting for a glimpse of this miracle.

So.  Where is everybody?  Is this really the best we have to offer?

In 2020, our bishops decided to lock the doors of every church.  They forbade us—well, they forbade you—from witnessing this miracle in person.  Were we outraged?  Were we scandalized? There were riots, I remember, but not over that.  (Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t blame the bishops.  They too were acting on the very best medical advice.)  But…how many letters did they receive, I wonder, begging them to have courage; to trust that we’d rather die than be deprived of this miracle.  I don’t remember hearing about the outrage; but then, I was busy hiding in the cloister, sterilizing countertops and door knobs.

What would you give to have been there at Cana when Jesus worked his first miracle—to stand in the presence of the Queen of Heaven?  What would you give to have been there on that first Holy Thursday night?  Or to have stood at the foot of the cross.  You can.  You’ve been invited.   You’re here.  

  

Nations shall behold your vindication,
   and all the kings your glory;
you shall be called by a new name
   pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.
You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD,
   a royal crown held by your God.

 

Be prepared.

 

In the name of the Father…

 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Mary, Dread of Demons

Our Lady, Terror of Demons

Sermon to the Saint Louis Priory School on December 10

Hold the kid while I take care of this...
  On Wednesday, we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Not to be confused, by the way, with the Virgin Birth—people are always doing that.  The doctrine of the Virgin Birth teaches that Mary conceived Jesus without losing her virginity.  The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary herself was born free of original sin—that she was, as the angel Gabriel said to her “full of grace”—no room for sin in her.  On December 12, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  And today, we celebrate the Memorial of Our Lady of Loreto. What she was doing in Loreto, I really have no idea, but in my opinion, any excuse to celebrate our Lady will do because she is such a central and powerful figure in the Church.

       We often hear Our Lady praised with terms like gentle, loving, merciful, and even sorrowful.  And these are all beautiful metaphors of her perfect love for us and for her son.  But--gentle and loving though she is, Mary is no push-over. Her Immaculate Conception guarantees that she will hate evil—and hate it with a perfect hate.  She stares down Satan himself.  In ancient Greece, the early Christians use to depict Mary with the same iconography as Athena Parthenos, the warrior goddess of wisdom, bearing the storm shield and shaking her spear at Death Itself.   Mary goes to war for us.  And Satan is terrified!

       Surely over the next few days of story of the birth of Jesus—how Joseph heard that Mary was pregnant, and was about to divorce her when the angel showed up..so on and so forth.  I used to think that Joseph wanted to divorce Mary because he was ashamed of her.  But how could any man possibly be ashamed of a woman like that?  No, if you read the passage closely, you will find that there is no evidence that Joseph doubts his wife’s fidelity.  Instead, we are told only that he is righteous.  And we can tell from the angel’s words that he is also afraid.  Note that the angel doesn’t say “don’t be ashamed to take Mary as your wife.”  behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.

     In an instant, he realizes that this isn’t just a great woman he’s marrying.  This is the new Ark of the covenant—a treasure so holy no mortal man may touch it.  And he is humbled.  (Remember that bizarre story from the second book of Samuel where Uzzah, the son of Abinadab sees that the ark is tipping over and reaches out to steady it—and is struck dead!)  That story is in the bible for a reason.  The ark, the locus of God’s covenant—is sacred.  Mightily, frighteningly sacred.  So sacred, that no mortal man may under any circumstances dare touch it.  And Mary is the new Ark.

     A few summers ago, when I went home to visit my family, we watched a really awful movie starring Macaulay Culkin called “The Good Son.”  Surprisingly, it turned out to be a movie about a really bad son.  In fact, this particular son was a serial killer; and at the end of the movie, his mother ends up holding him by his hand off the edge of a cliff.  In her other hand is someone else’s son who is not a murderer and is in fact quite a nice kid.  She can’t hold on to them both. So she has to make a decision.

     After the movie, I turned to my mother and asked her, “If it was Dad and I hanging off that cliff, which would you choose?”  Without hesitation, she said, “Oh, YOU!” So I turned to my Dad, and I was like, “Did you hear that?” but he just kind shrugged.  What really surprised me was that she didn’t have to think about the answer.  “I would choose my children,” she said, “over anything and anyone in the world.”

     So I’ve done a sort of informal survey over the past few years, and you know what? I have never met a mom who would answer otherwise.  I’ve never met a mom who even hesitated with her answer.  That is a terrible—a, terrifying—kind of love.

     There’s a painting in my home in an out-of-the-way spot in back of the house, that my mother did when I was a child.  My mother is a professional artist.  It was Halloween, and my sister and I went trick-or-treating, and some of the bullies on our block stole our candy.  I was thirty-five years old—no just joking, I was eight, my sister was six.  Anyhow, my mother is an artist, and a few days later, she went into the studio and painted this picture of us.  It’s a dark painting of my sister and me in our Halloween costumes walking through a forest.  In back of us, hanging from the trees are all those bullies.  Dead.  Suspended by their necks.

     That is a terrifying kind of love.  And while it may surprise you to hear that a mother could have such deep and violent emotions, I’ll bet it wouldn’t surprise your  moms at all.  A mother understands this formidable bond between mothers and sons.  This is why the most powerful prayer in the world is that of a mother for her child.  All we sons can do is be grateful and try to respect it.  Try to respect them.

     The love of a mother for her son, after all, is an icon of God’s love for us. It’s not a perfect icon—and that’s why we pray to God as Father.  His is a more detached sort of love. And that’s a theological issue I would have to explain in another sermon. Suffice to say that this love—this formidable love, this fearsome love…a love so powerful that Satan himself trembles in its presence—this love of a mother for her son… Mary has this love for us: her adopted sons and daughters!   And precisely because she is The Immaculate Conception, she loves us with a purity and intensity that even our own earthly mothers cannot hope to rival.  

     Holy Mary, Invincible Warrior, dread of the demons, pray for us.

     



Saturday, January 2, 2021

Yes, I will take the vaccine because...

I've received a lot of questions about this, so here's my take:


I’m no moral theologian…though I play one in the classroom.  I’m also not a doctor.  But I am most definitely a Catholic.  So…while I expect vigorous debate among theologians, authorities and scientists, when it comes to issues like vaccination, I rely primarily on 1. Obedience and 2. Scientific consensus. Bearing that in mind:  

1.  If it is immoral to take this vaccine, then it’s on the bishops.  They will be accountable to God.  But the vast, vast, vast majority of them agree that it is okay to take this vaccine.  So I’ll take it.  You really can’t be more Catholic than the combined offices of the Catholic bishops plus the pope.  If you pretend to be, then I think you need to question whether you are truly Catholic.  (I’m saying “you” in general).

2. I strongly suspect it is more dangerous to avoid taking this vaccine.  The vast, vast, vast majority of scientist believe it’s safer to take it than not to take it.  So I’ll take it.  Because I’m not a better scientist than the combined resources of the Mayo Clinic, Johns-Hopkins, the FDA, and virtually every government health organization in the world. 

For me, therefore, it boils down to humility.  I’m not smarter and wiser than all those folks combined.  Granted, they may still be wrong.  The argument from authority is not proof.  But it carries a lot of weight in my book.[1] 

 



[1] It also carries a lot of weight in my book!  (Ha! Ha!  Get it?  Because I wrote a book on humility.  Oh man…)


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Being There

Mt 25:1-25

(The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins)

 Sunday Nov. 7 homily to the Passionist Nuns of Saint Louis...and mass attendees

 

I was intending to read you some more stories from the lives of the Desert Fathers, but all week, my friends have been making apocalyptic prophecies, and this morning at 2am, I woke up thinking about them and decided to preach on that topic instead.  So if my sermon sounds like the sort of thing you would worry about in the middle of the night, you know why.

The key insight of our Gospel parable is this: that GOD WILL COME TO US—BUT WE HAVE TO BE READY.  Our salvation is assured, so long as we show up—and stay awake long enough to notice.

Easy enough.  

Well, in theory it is.  

For those of you who have had to sit around waiting for me to show up for mass, you understand that there are some among us for whom merely showing up is itself a struggle.  Twice already, I’ve failed to show up for mass here at the Passionists—and even when I do show up, I’m usually late.  My mother used to tell me, “You’ll be late for your own funeral” and it turns out she was speaking prophecy because as a priest, I’ve been late to several of my funerals. 

A few years ago, the father of one of my students asked to meet with me because she was worried.  “I drag my son, kicking and screaming to mass every Sunday, but he hates it.  When we get there, he slumps down in the pew like a convict and acts like he’s sleeping.  I wonder whether it’s even worth it, you know.  After all,” he said, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”  I thought about what he was saying.  He had a really valid point; and I for one, could understand his frustration.  But here’s what I told him: “It is true that you cannot make the horse drink.  But if you don’t lead that horse to the water, you can be certain it never will.”

           We are not saved by faith alone.  We are saved as part of a community of believers.  And to be part of the community, we need to show up, because you can’t have a relationship with someone who isn’t there.  The foolish virgins of the parable learned this lesson the hard way.  And if I may be a little bold here, I think perhaps we as Catholics have been a little too eager to skip mass on Sunday in favor of playing it Covid safe.  If Mass on Sunday is the single most important thing we do all week, and we haven’t been doing that, then maybe we shouldn’t be doing anything.

Anything at all.

Ever.

I realize I may be preaching to the choir here.  (Actually, come to think of it, I am, literally, preaching to the choir.) But again, it seems to me that if we really believed this was the incarnate son of God visiting us in the flesh…we’d be willing to risk everything.  But instead, we closed the doors of our churches.

            Now, it’s easy for me to say, because I’m not in charge.  The bishops know more than I do, and they say we can stay home if we’re scared of dying.  But I was under the impression that we come to Sunday Mass every week on pain of our immortal souls—and that, as far as canon law goes, there are only two exceptions: if we are actually physically sick or if we are traveling…BY OXCART.

And this is why Sunday mass is worth the risk.  Because this is the time we assemble as a community—as a complete community—to pray.  And more than that: because at this prayer, we offer Jesus as our sacrifice, and Jesus is perfect, which means this is the only perfect prayer we have to offer.  So even if we look bored or half-asleep…or even if we look completely asleep.  Even if we don’t want to be here in the first place, we come, because it is a well of grace.  A fountain of grace.  A spring of living water.  We come here to drink.

            And that’s all we need to do.  Show up and drink.  Personally, I find that to be an enormous consolation.  This thing we’re doing here—it’s goodness, it’s trueness, it’s merit—doesn’t depend on my eloquence or holiness or good judgment.  In fact, it doesn’t depend on anything we think or do.  I believe this with all my heart.  Jesus does all the work here.  And speaking as one who fails time and time again to love people the way I should, I see this as the greatest of God’s gifts to me.  This Eucharist will be truly, sublimely good…precisely because it doesn’t depend on me.

As I was writing this homily, I was reminded of a story my sister told me long ago about one of her children.  She has two daughters (at the time, they were four and six) and she noticed that the younger of the two would whisper to herself during the consecration at mass.  So she started listening very carefully, and discovered, to her dismay, that when the priest would lean over the host and say, “This is my body,” Mary would say, “Mmmm, no it isn’t.”  And when he’d say the words, “This is the cup of my blood,” she’d say, “Uhhhh, no it’s not.”

So my sister spent the next several days trying to explain to her the Catholic doctrine of transubstantion.  She wasn’t entirely convinced that she had succeed (and how could she have?  It took Thomas Aquinas five volumes, and he was writing for adults); but then there was an ecumenical prayer service at Mary’s preschool (a “non-religious” prayer service actually, if I remember the details correctly.  How such a thing is even possible, only God knows…)  And afterwards, my sister asked her how it went.  Mary thought for a minute and said, “Well, Mom, it was OK.  But you know, Jesus wasn’t there.”  It turns out, she was correcting the priest.  That was Jesus’ body, not Father’s! For all her lack of sophistication regarding sacramental theology, this child did have a sense of what Cardinal Ratzinger called “the dimension of the sacred in the liturgy.”

How exactly we will recover this dimension of the sacred is up to you, I think.  No doubt, it will entail a return to the catechism, a return to the scriptures, and a return, in a special way to Mass on Sunday.  But for now, I’ll simply leave you with a quote.  It’s from a book by a monk named Gregory Dix.  He wrote it in 1951, and his description of the mass one of the most beautiful ever written:

“ For century after century,” he writes, “spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; .... for the wisdom of the government of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die;… because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna…for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.”

 

 

NOTE:  But for God’s sake, take reasonable precautions.  Wear a mask, even if you don’t believe it is very effective.  If nothing else, think of it as an act of charity—to make the people around you feel more at ease.  And if you’re going to receive communion on the tongue, kneel to receive it…otherwise, you often wind up licking the priest’s finger, which is just plane gross.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Sermon to the Alliance of the Two Hearts On the Occasion of their Pro-Life Novena


   Firstly, I didn’t know when I agreed to come preach today that I would have to preach on the passage about submissive wives.  Lucky for me, I’m not married.  Don’t have a dog in that fight.  So I’ll just mention in passing that any time you are inclined to look at a passage of scripture and dismiss it as obsolete, then you need to take a much longer, much more thorough, far more honest look at that passage, because all Scripture is true.  Every single line.  Either you’re hiding from the truth or your misinterpreting it.  So…what does Saint Paul really mean when he says, “wives should be subordinate to their husbands”?  I’m not getting in the middle of that one.  Not why I’m here tonight.  You’ll have to figure it out for yourselves.

 

THE FUTURE

 

In 2005, Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, completed a twenty-year study on predictions.  “Tetlock interviewed 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends.” He asked them to assess the probabilities that certain events would occur in the not too distant future, both in areas of the world in which they specialized and in regions about which they had less knowledge. Would Gorbachev be ousted in a coup? Would the United States go to war in the Persian Gulf? Which country would become the next big emerging market? In all, Tetlock gathered more than 80,000 predictions. Respondents were asked to rate the probabilities of three alternative outcomes in every case: the persistence of the status quo, more of something such as political freedom or economic growth, or less of that 

thing.

“The results were devastating. The experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned equal probabilities to each of the three potential outcomes. In other words, people who spend their time, and earn their living, studying a particular topic produce poorer predictions than dart-throwing monkeys who would have distributed their choices evenly over the options. Even in the region they knew best, experts were not significantly better than nonspecialists.” (Thinking Fast. Thinking Slow, Daniel Kahneman)

The reason I’m starting my homily with this disconcerting lesson in human error is because I’ve spent the last several weeks making my own predictions: when a vaccine will be found, what will happen if so-and-so gets elected, whether or not we’ll get a supreme court justice, where the next riot will break out…what will happen to my senior Theology students if they don’t start turning in their blasted homework…. None of this makes me feel any better.  Yet I keep doing it, because in “these uncertain times” making confident predictions about the future calms me. Admittedly, the calm doesn’t last long. I know deep down that human predictions are about as dependable as dart-throwing monkeys—and perhaps more dangerous.

Our gospel this evening offers a prediction of a different sort:  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  And we are to spread out through that kingdom like yeast in dough while Christ himself gently, quietly, imperceptibly transforms it.  And herein lies the difference between prediction and prophecy: that the first puts frail and fallible humans in charge of our future, while the second entrusts that future to God.  It’s very similar to the difference between magic and miracle; it’s a question of where we put our trust.

We’re a part of it.  But we’re not in charge of it.  God expects us to be faithful, not successful.  And that’s what happens when you submit in humble docility to God’s will: you get peace and joy—but not necessarily comfort or happiness. “If I did not simply live from one moment to another,” wrote Saint Therese of Liseux, “it would be impossible for me to be patient, but I look only at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.”

ABORTION

Last week, in an interview with Elle Magazine, Sen. Gary Peters, claimed in an interview with Elle magazine that his then-wife (He has a new wife now, of course.) underwent an abortion 30 years ago and she nearly died "based on politics."  

In the late 1980s Peters' then-wife Heidi was in the fourth month of her pregnancy when her water broke, leaving the baby without amniotic fluid.  The doctor recommended an abortion because he said the child had no chance at survival, but hospital policy prohibited the procedure. 

"The doctor told her the situation was dire," the Elle story said. "She could lose her uterus in a matter of hours if she wasn't able to have an abortion, and if she became septic from the uterine infection, she could die."

To make a long story short, Peters' wife got to another hospital and had the abortion. "If it weren't for urgent and critical medical care, I could have lost my life," Peters' former wife said.

I’d like to counter that with a very similar story.  It will never get the sort of circulation that Elle Magazine has, but maybe you can tell it to someone some day. My friend is married with three kids.  About seventeen years ago, and sixteen weeks pregnant, her water broke.  Ultrasound revealed that the amniotic sac had completely ruptured, that there was no more fluid around the baby.  She was told that she would go into labor within the next forty-eight hours, and that there looked to be amniotic bands within the womb. These pieces of tissue would begin to wrap around the baby's limbs and amputate them. She was sent home after a two day hospital stay with instructions to return weekly to have an ultrasound so that they’d know when the baby was dead.  Weeks passed and still she had not gone into labor. At this point the doctors became adamant that she should—in the chillingly antiseptic language of the business—“terminating the pregnancy.” The diagnosis was that the baby, they told her, was severely mentally and physically handicapped , would be born with no lungs.  A second doctor informed her that there was a less than 1% chance of the baby's survival She also said that the baby had severe club feet.  The doctor said to her, and I quote, "You have a moral duty to finish what God has started."  Five different doctors told her to "terminate" the pregnancy. They told her that this child was a threat to her life. What's more, they assured her that the child was already mentally and physically worthless. Even if it could be brought to term, they assured her. It would die in her arms. Even if it could survive delivery, it would be crippled and profoundly retarded. "Have an abortion." they told her. One doctor even set up an appointment for her against her wishes. "Do it now," this doctor said, taking her by the arm, "Put a period at the end of this sentence."  So much for pro-choice.

            When my friend broke the news to her husband, this is what he said: "How lucky for this child that she would be born into a family which could love her for who she is! What better family than ours to raise a disabled child?"  I tell you, that is  the kind of courage that deserves an award.   I told my friend, if your husband leaves toilet seat up for the rest of his life, let it go, because he has earned it.

            For two months, my friend lived with the knowledge that she would, at best, bear a child who would die in her arms.  She decided to name the child Mary.  In the meantime, she prayed, her husband prayed, and Rachel, Mary’s older sister, she prayed too.  She didn’t entirely understand what was going on, but she knew her sister was in trouble, and I wonder sometimes if perhaps it was the profound innocence of her prayers that reached into the great well of God’s grace and extracted a miracle.  I 25th week of her pregnancy another ultrasound revealed something extraordinary.  "We need to call the Pope” said the doctor, "not only has the amniotic sack resealed itself, but all the fluid has returned." He called in all the interns, all the nurses, the assistants, random people standing the hallway. The amniotic bands had disappeared. The baby was in perfect health.

            By now, a few of you will have guessed that I’m talking about my sister.  Jessica Decker is her name, and Mary Decker, the Miracle Baby, is now an eighteen-year-old honor student at John Paul II Prep with a 4.2 GPA and has her heart set on being a pediatric surgeon.

 

In closing, I’m going to give you a homework assignment.  A provocative, controversial homework assignment: but probably not controversial the way you’re expecting.   I’m going to ask you to do something that’s going to make you uncomfortable.  The Carmelites here are doing battle one-on-one with Satan right here in the cloister, but if you want to be part of this fight, then you’re going to have to be willing to be that leaven that Jesus was talking about in the Gospel—to go out into the world, mix in with the dough, and quietly cause the bread to rise.  And in preparation for that, I want you to go onto Planned Parenthood’s web site, and find something you agree with.

Now I’m not suggesting that you open your heart to evil.   Make no mistake: Planned Parenthood is a genocidal, racist, bastion of evil.  But I am not convinced that everyone who supports Planned Parenthood understands this.  And the next time you wind up in a conversation with one of these people, I want you to be able to say to them something along the lines of, “You know, I was on the Planned Parenthood web site the other day, and I thought they got this exactly right.”  And maybe—just maybe—they will then visit a Pro-Life web site and find something they agree with.  And maybe—just maybe—if we don’t dismiss them offhand as murderous, godless barbarians, they won’t dismiss us offhand as closed-minded, bible-thumping rubes.  But we have to model for them the behavior we want to see.  As hard as it is, we have to come to them with open hearts.  And maybe--just maybe--there will be an alliance of two hearts that we never expected.

 

 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

EVIL


    I like to joke with my Junior Ethics class that it is my job as a priest to make sure that none of them ever have fun. As with most jokes, there is some truth in it. Being bad is often fun. Otherwise, everyone would be good wouldn’t they? However, it’s only fun in the short term.  In the long term, being bad makes you miserable.  So while it may appear that I am trying to keep my students from having fun, in fact, I am trying to teach them what I (and countless other stupid people before me) have learned from experience, namely, that every evil choice we make costs us some of our God-given freedom—and it is precisely “for freedom [that] Christ set us free”.  

    The truth of this, however, is hard to get our heads around.  Ever since Adam’s fall, we have thought of our freedom as the ‘power’ to choose between good and evil.  But that power is an illusion because every evil choice makes us a little less free. 

Saint Augustine used this riddle to explain the enigma of evil’s fake freedom:  “What,” he asked, “was the motive for the very first sin?”  [Not the sin of Adam, mind you (we know his motive) but the sin of Lucifer—what was the motive of that very first evil deed?]  Bear in mind that Lucifer, in his pre-fallen state was perfectly happy, perfectly content, perfect in every way that a perfect creation can be.  Because everything God makes is perfect and good.  The answer, reasoned Saint Augustine is that the motive for that very first evil act was…wait for it…nothing!  Evil is a vacuum.  It’s something that should be there, but isn’t.  So that makes sin is a “misdirected good.” 


As Saint Thomas Aquinas was fond of pointing out, when people do bad things, they are, in fact, pursuing a lesser good at the expense of a higher one. I like candy.  Candy is good.  I steal candy so I can taste that goodness—but if I steal that candy from a baby, I lose some of my humanity in the process.  And the more babies I steal from, the less human I become.


That’s not a good example. My point is—and I’ll say it again—that with every sin, with every evil choice we make, we actually lose some of our freedom. “So stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”  Confess your sins, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.”