This is a 10 minute Thanksgiving Homily from today. It ties Jewish sacrificial meals to the Holy Mass. It also ties a little of the history of Israel to a bit of modern history in the United States, and how we thank God in the darkness.
A friend of mine who is a beautiful wife and mother of seven children was in a supermarket this week. A 50 year old man stopped her and then sarcastically asked her if she knew what “caused” having seven kids. She texted me about this and then added her and her husband’s thoughts on this:
Some days the world just wears you down and a part of you starts to feel like maybe you are a freak. Not just about having a lot of kids, but about everything. And then you realize you need to spend some time in adoration and start to once again see life through Jesus’ eyes and not the world’s. The world is so blind and hard-hearted that what is beautiful and sacred just can’t be comprehended by it.
Why is the world so hard-hearted to Christians today?
As I said earlier, it’s not because we’re being hateful on issues of sexuality. So why do Catholics constantly get mocked for following Christ and His Church in the silence of their homes? Is it because they’re secretly judging their neighbors and everyone feels it? Maybe…but I think today’s feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist can shed light on the psychology of the conviction of conscience.
Now, there’s a lot of Herods in the Bible but I want to consider Herod Antipas (20 BC-AD 40), the tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. He’s the one who mocked Jesus before His execution. He’s also the one who ordered John the Baptist’s death for having spoken out against his adulterous relationship.
Now, most Bible movies do a pretty good job at capturing the love/hate relationship between Herod and the Baptist because of this one very rich line in the Gospel: “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.”—Mark 6:20
I believe it was Earnest Hemingway, an unbeliever, who liked to travel the Deep South of the USA and listen to fire and brimstone homilies in Baptist Churches. Apparently it made him feel alive, or at least he heard these homilies “gladly.” This curiosity was also found in Herod.
But of the 2.5 million people populating first century Palestine, why would a somewhat-powerful governor like Herod move beyond curiosity towards the murder of a homeless man who had been calling him out for living with his brother’s wife? I mean, really—2.5 million people are silent about his adultery, and then one guy who is half-dressed in skins and eating crickets calls this magistrate out for a sexual sin many miles away on the Jordan River and Herod panics? What exactly got under Herod’s skin? Or better, what gets under Herodias‘ skin? The answer is that they secretly recognize John the Baptist as the mouthpiece of the one, true God they are running from.
As I wrote in a post called Mercy Killing of Consciences:
You see, if the final exterior agent of traditional Judeo-Christian belief (the Catholic Church) reflects the interior-but-objective, flickering, dying pilot light of your conscience that you’re trying to kill, then the Catholic Church is the one thing that is keeping your conscience alive…and you hate it. This is because long before rules were found in the catechism, they were found in your heart.
I know John the Baptist wasn’t a baptized Catholic, but killing John the Baptist was Herod trying to kill his own conscience, for Herod’s conscience was not created by Herod-himself in a relativistic way, but by God-Himself in an objective way.
That’s why Obama wants to stop the Little Sisters of the Poor in the HHS mandate . That’s why a 50 year old man in a supermarket harasses a young mother of seven. Both bullies know that that’s how they should have lived. If you think this is an exaggeration, then what other explanation would there be for them to go out of their way? It has to be personal conviction of conscience at how others silently live their lives for God:
“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us, and opposes our actions…the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange.”—Wisdom 2:12a, 15
I don’t know that supermarket stalker’s past, but statistically an American man of his age has already paid for one to two abortions, not to mention one or two dozen dead children from several decades of abortifacient-pills-induced sex. I don’t know this guy’s conscience, heart or past, but I’m just saying statistically this is the truth for an American male of his age. (Do the math if you want.) Of course he’s going to feel convicted by a Catholic woman who lived the way he should have. His conviction came out as sarcasm. Herodias’ came out as murder.
There’s only one truth of how humans should live, and it’s entirely found in the Catholic Church, so we should probably stop apologizing so much. Yes, it’s true that we Catholics lost a lot of credibility in the priest scandals of the past 50 years that destroyed so many lives, and for that we do need to keep apologizing. But the Truth remains on walking billboards like my friend in the supermarket. She and many others are heroes and white martyrs of marriage, like John the Baptist was a hero of marriage carrying his red martyrdom in the picture above. They’re both formidable Marriage Defenders: one married, and one celibate.
I wasn’t so clear on this at first. Yesterday, I texted my friend back that I would have punched that a** in the face if I had been there in King Soopers.
Later, I realized that creeping behind that broken old creeper’s sarcasm was probably a hunger and even sadness for the family he had contracepted away. In the face of such brokenness and/or hostility (only God knows) it can still make us wonder how to act. Here’s my suggestion: Catholics are not called to act like weird-o-cult people who act strange in order to appear holy. But we are called to live normal, fun lives in a way that seeks Christ fully, especially in the Eucharist and in the daily Rosary. Doing simply that may make others say of us: “The very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others.”
Once we boldly but humbly accept the fact that our manner of life is unlike that of others, then it’s easy “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”—Titus 3:2-5
When I think of angels in adoration of the Blessed Trinity, I think of how the angels´ adoration is: cosmic, undulating, unified to an inter-galatic degree of gyrating glory, power, light and effusion.
Then I wonder: How could I praise God like that? Hands up? Sing louder? Better music? Everything except the Mass actually comes up short in reality, and even then the full glories of the Mass are not known except to a few saints, this side of the veil.
Why exactly are we left in dust and ashes on earth while the angels know quite easily how to orbit God in weightless joy, combined with all the weight of glory?
The answer is pilgrimage. This is all training to praise God like that. St. Therese wrote, “The world’s thy ship, and not thy home.”
If you remember from the last pilgrimage entry, we have to face the giants of the Canaanite tribes in order to get into the Promised Land. These giants are real-live demons threatening the New Covenant. As formidable opponents, we find a third of the angels fell before we were even conceived. Before that, their level of glory was pre-determined by God. As their slots are now open, it is the glory of men and women to fill into higher and higher places of glory in heaven. But this won´t be based on who shot the best laser-beams at the DC Talk show.
Our level of glory in heaven (1 Cor 15:40-43) will be determined by our level of suffering (Rom 8:17) lived with love (1 Cor 13.) That is, sacrifical love will determine how high of a slot of glory we take in heaven that literally used to be held by a fallen angel. We, however, will have our bodies within this new heavens and new earth.
Why did God ever let us get to this valley of tears? Well, we banished ourselves from the Garden by rebellion, but the angel guarding paradise with the flaming sword became not only a justice, but a mercy of God. The return plan would take 4,000 years, but God is faithful. Now we are in that time which “many prophets and righteous people longed to see…but they didn’t see.” (Mt 13:17) Yes, we were sent out on an adventure by Our Father—one which can now be lost with the most serious of consequences—but He gave us His only Son as the companion for every step of the journey. The journey where? Home. That’s where praise will be uninterrupted if we pass this gauntlet of a training phase.
This great departure and return has been called by St. Thomas Aquinas the Exitus and Reditus, the exit and the return to God. It’s a giant circle that is dangerous and fun. It is called by St. Maximilian Kolbe “Separation” and then “Union.” Either way, both show that we were set out on an adventure, a journey-quest, sent by God Our Father, with Jesus our brother to walk with us. The goal? Make it back home alive in a land of dangerous giants. Why must we leave home? Because our first dad, Adam, chose to leave home and chose death. Home was life. The pilgrimage was death. But the pilgrimage was transformed into life by the Second Person of the Trinity becoming a human.
By the incarnation of the Divine Word, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus turned the pilgrimage into the beginning of life (and fun) if we walk it with Him. We are the prodigal, pilgrim sons and daughters. Our family (human beings) had to leave the garden and now we learn how to fight for love.
The phrase “Our kids are on loan from God” may be over-used among certain families, but I remember that the first time I heard it. I was blessed because the family who said it really, really meant it. I was stunned at the sincerity of the parents who told me that. It was during my first year of priesthood. After Mass, I asked this family about their kids, and the parents said: “We know that they’re just on loan from God.” Perhaps that philosophy is the greatest medicine against the “cult of the child” that can fester a skewed adoration of one lone child. It’s also great medicine against the opposite “We had a child to fulfill our emotional need” syndrome. Both parenting techniques will lead the poor kid to a psychologist’s chair by the age of 14.
But if the kids are on loan from God, then the one goal is: heaven… not Harvard, not Yale, not Wall Street. Why would God trust anyone with the precious souls He has created? This is the mystery of responsibility, how our actions have eternal outcomes. But also we have to recognize the great mystery of the exitus and reditus of pilgrimage here. The child goes forth (exitus) from her Origin (God.) Then, the parents’ job is one: Return (reditus) the child to her true Origin. This is why God is Father as no man is father. This giant circle is the pilgrimage of earth, and we have to get as many home safely as possible.
St. Augustine wrote “God promised eternal salvation, everlasting happiness with the angels, an immortal inheritance, endless glory, the joyful vision of His face, His holy dwelling in heaven, and after resurrection from the dead: no further fear of dying…He wanted, through His Son, to show us and give us the Way that He would lead us to the goal He has promised…It was not enough for God to make His Son our guide to the way; He made Him the Way itself, that you might travel with him as leader, and by Him as the Way.”
Thus, the glory on this earth will not feel like an angels´s spreading of the six-wings. Rather, it will feel like the arms stretched on a cross.
This is a series not on my current pilgrimage, but on the Theology of Pilgrimage. A priest-friend from Denver once said to me: “Pilgrimage isn’t just another analogy for the Christian life. Pilgrimage is the reality of the Christian life.” That may not sound too profound at first, but the more I meditated on the Old and New Testament, the more I realized that every book of the Bible fulfilled these words. It is no wonder that he had walked the Camino a few times.
I’m in Spain now, but when I wrote this post, I was flying from India to Spain. Flying over the Red Sea, I look at the computer map of our location and I notice we’re directly south of the spot where Moses miraculously crossed with half a million Hebrews.
That was 3300 years ago. As I look through the plane window, I see the most majestic, mysteriously-straight clouds lighly separating me from the greatest Old Testament miracle. I can even see the shores of the sea that God miraculously parted at the lifting of the hands of Moses…and then closed upon the armies of Egypt.
So, I have to wonder: Why did God have the Israelites wander in the desert for so long before getting them to the promised land? Of course, Scripture is clear it was a punishment for rebellion. But there was also something to be learned within the pilgrimage: It was to divest Israel from treating Adonai like another addictive-idol.
The book Grace and Addiction, although written by a non-Catholic, has an important commentary about loving God in freedom:
Full and freely chosen love for God requires searching and groping. What would happen to our freedom if God, our perfect lover, were to appear before us with such objective clarity that all our doubts disappeared? We would experience a kind of love, to be sure, but it would be love like a reflex. Almost without thought, we would fix all our desires upon this Divine Object, try to grasp and possess it, addict ourselves to it. I think God refuses to be an object for attachment because God desires full love, not addiction. Love born of true freedom, love free from attachment, requires that we search for a deepening awareness of God, just as God freely reaches out to us.—Grace and Addiction by Gerald May, p. 94
This is the theology of pilgrimage: What it takes people of every vocation to die in sanctifying grace so as to experience the beatific vision. It’s not all pain, but we’re going to see how detachment is God’s surgery in our life to remove idols of comfort so that He can have us behold Him forever.
In the next sections released on Saturdays (if I can find hostels with computers so as to write posts as I trek across Spain) we’re going to explore this detachment, this journey and the final destination.