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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Trust the Power of the Mass for Healing

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I was reminded of the “Healing Your Family Tree” phenomenon among certain Charismatics and Exorcists while reading about Msgr. Clement Machado and watching a few of his YouTube EWTN videos.  He claims to have had visions of the Blessed Mother and St. Patrick.  I am skeptical… but who knows?  The Church has many saints and seers.  The children of Fatima were given a vision of hell so as to pray more fervently for souls.

While Catholicism certainly encourages prayers for the souls of the dead, this idea of targeting sins and woundedness in past generations for current problems faced by believers goes back to the ancient Jews.  They believed that punishment for the sins of one’s fathers could be visited upon the children.  Our notion of Original Sin is an extension of this.  However, at least as a routine source of particular ailments, Jesus seems to dismiss this notion.

“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world’” (John 9:1-5).

While we would not deny our connection with those who have gone before us, if taken too far, we might fall into superstition or the occult.  The sacrifice of the Mass makes possible atonement but it is a sacrament that conveys grace and mercy.  It is not sorcery or magic.  Further, we cannot purely blame our problems on deceased family members.  We live in a broken world and sometimes we are our own worst enemies.  It may be that certain maladies are placed before us so that we might demonstrate or witness to a courageous faith.  Catholicism does not run away from all sickness and pain but often seeks to transform the dark realities.  They are opportunities for us to take up our crosses in following Jesus. There is already too much of a “victim mentality” inflicting our society— regarding ethnicity, gender, orientation and social status.  I am worried that such ideas as healing the family tree may often be misunderstood in this light.

We are all aware of the excesses of popular Protestant ministers who put on a big show in conducting “purported” healings.  Many pagans and so-called demonologists dangerously tinker with exorcisms.  Returning to the Catholic camp, there is a temptation, especially among the rising celebrity priests, to emphasize what they can do over what Jesus can do.  While the Church needs exorcists, it is best that the ministry be imposed upon the priest rather than enthusiastically embraced outside of an episcopal summons.  Indeed, while any priest can offer absolution and deliverance prayer, full exorcisms require the authorization of the immediate bishop.  (When I think about this issue my mind quickly recalls Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer, a wonderful defender of human life who fumbled in this area.)

Sharing information is fine, but sensationalism about the devil, exorcism and obsession can pose a real danger.  After the release of popular horror movies, chanceries are bombarded by phone calls of people who all think they are possessed.  While we battle powers and principalities, much sin finds its origin in the world of men and many who imagine they are spiritually afflicted are in actuality mentally disturbed.

During November there is a special emphasis upon prayers for the dead.  Yes, we can claim spiritual benefits for the dead and the living.  There is a two-fold action— uniting and breaking off.  A funeral Mass offered for the dead brings grace and we commend the deceased, particularly the souls in purgatory, to the mercy of God.  They are sped on their way.  We invoke the purification of God’s love, a fire that heals. Our prayer also joins us to the communion of the saints.  Simultaneously, if there are any negative spiritual elements, as with those who have rejected God’s love, then that bond is severed with the living.  The expression “rest in peace” can apply to the living just as well as to the dead.  But ultimate judgment is left to almighty God.  While there might be little or no fanfare, Catholics need to trust the sacraments, especially the Mass.  We need to encourage the offering of Masses for the dead and for healing in times of trauma.  This is the most effective and resolute manner of healing “the family tree.”

My late father back in the 1950’s spent time as a Trappist monk at Holy Cross Monastery in Berryville, VA.  He firmly believed that his life of work and prayer there, combined with the sacrifice of the Holy Mass, facilitated the translation of all our family ancestors from purgatory to heaven.  The emphasis should NOT be upon how links to the dead can plague us.  Rather, recalling that the poor souls are now helpless, we should intercede on their behalf.  As we prepare to celebrate All Souls Day, we should all recommit ourselves to praying for the dead.

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Church Scandal & the Devil

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Those who hate the Catholic Church are falling over themselves in blaming pedophile clergy for the abuse and scandals.  They absolutely refuse to acknowledge that the majority of cases are instances of homosexual pederasty.  These critics, that include major newspapers and other news outlets, are in collusion with churchmen who want to protect or hide “gay” priests in the Church and promote the growing acceptance of homosexuality in secular culture.  The devil as the great deceiver has not only corrupted some in the Church but many in our secular society.

When Pope Francis targeted Satan as the primary culprit of the crisis, many public officials, journalists and others roundly ridiculed him.  Article headers around the world heralded a distorted view of his remarks: “Pope Blames Satan Instead of Pedophile Priests!” A spiritual view was derided as a political deflection.  Given that many critics of the Church are also inimical to any and all religious affiliations, this should not surprise us— atheists neither believe in God nor a devil. Nevertheless, the devil is real and if it seems that he is spending an inordinate amount of time and energy attacking the Catholic Church the reason is that she is the house that Jesus built.  However, if he is present in the Church as an interloper, he is alive and well in modern society as a welcomed guest, or at least this is so in terms of his distorted values.  He wants to take ownership of the world and is willing to hide as the ghost in the machine.

Satan_Gustave_Dore_paradise_lost_the_devil_cast_out_of_heavenThe Pope warns us: “We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.” While other confessions broke away from Catholic unity, the legacy of the Catholic Church goes back to Jesus and the first bishop-priests, his apostles.  The devil hates the Church because she is the present-day realization of the incarnation in the world.  Christ is the head and his Church is his Mystical Body.  There is a profound unity.  Given that none are saved apart from Christ, the same can be said about the Church.  As the Mystical Body of our Lord, she is the great sacrament of encounter with Christ.  Even as the Church is composed of sinners and invites others by divine command, the Church remains holy because Christ is holy.  Our Lord’s redemptive work won the victory over sin and death.  However, the consequences must be unraveled throughout subsequent human history.  The devil has lost the war but he still seeks to steal individual souls.  Given the importance of the priesthood and the Eucharist as at the heart of the Church, the devil attacks where he can cause the most damage and scandal.  Just as he can numb the consciences of mothers about the tragic abortion of their children; he deadens the souls of renegade priests to their heinous acts against God’s children, making a sacrilege of their role at the altar and in the confessional.

None of this mitigates the priest’s own culpability for his sins.  Similarly the bishops have an obligation to insure a priesthood that is sanctified by grace and devoted to a service realized in sacrificial love.  They must be new Christs.  We can accept nothing less as it would come from the evil one.  Bishops and priests are called as ministers of mercy or reconciliation.  It is in this regard that we should not dismiss Satan’s efforts to tempt and corrupt priests.  We are not Donatists and the powers of the priesthood are not dependent upon personal holiness.  However, bad priests do not readily invite others to repentance and holiness of life.  Our Lord abhors duplicity.  Compromise the truth and few will listen to our preaching and teaching.

When the devil targets priests, he uses their own loneliness and brokenness against them.  He sows weeds from the beginning in secret.  Things that needed to be said were not said.  Weaknesses were not acknowledged or treated.  Truth was the victim throughout— in the psychological evaluation, in the acceptance into seminary, in the regular reviews of candidates and even as they prostrated themselves before the altar. Men who were afraid thought they could hide their cowardice and defects within the priesthood even though our Lord had admonished his apostles not to be afraid. Men who were not committed to celibate love came forward with divided hearts to be ordained.  Men who were not humbled by a call of service knelt before the bishop with princely dreams instead.  Men who pledged obedience became infected by the poison of Milton’s Satan who cried, “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” Did any of the rogues possess a genuine conviction to answer a calling from God? If so, what was it that changed their trajectory?  While some of these men deceived themselves; others were given help.

Most priests are good men who seek to realize the holiness of God and the forgiveness of sins, in their lives and in the lives of those to whom they minister.  But it only takes a few bad men to hurt many.  It only takes a moment of passivity or weakness or silence to become complicit in their crimes.

Pope Francis has asked God’s people to pray the rosary every day in October so as to repel the satanic attacks and to exorcise the demonic presence from the Church.  Of course, we should always pray for good and holy priests.  Pope Francis tells us: “The Church must be saved from the attacks of the malignant one, the great accuser, and at the same time be made ever more aware of her guilt— her mistakes— with the abuses committed in the present and the past.”

The Pope has asked us to add to the rosary the traditional intercessory prayer to St. Michael:

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

A Scandal that Calls for a New Reformation

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“Christ himself, the model of priests, taught first by the example of his deeds and then by his words: Jesus began to do and then to teach. Likewise, a priest who neglects his own sanctification can never be the salt of the earth; what is corrupt and contaminated is utterly incapable of preserving from corruption; where sanctity is lacking, there corruption will inevitably find its way.”

– St. Pius X

We are taught as Catholics that the Church is holy because Christ is holy.  This is what gives truth value to the second mark of the Church mentioned every time we recite the Creed at Sunday Mass.  The Church is holy and it is by means of the teachings of faith and the sacraments that we can be made holy by grace.  This is what we believe and yet has there ever been a time when it was so very hard to believe? The Church is also composed of sinners; indeed, we are all sinners needing a Savior.  But when it comes to our priests and bishops, we like to imagine that they have a direct line to heaven.  They make little money, forsake a spouse and family and are at the immediate beck-and-call of their flocks.  The lesson that Jesus gives his apostles with the Holy Thursday foot washing is that the greater they would become, the more they would have to humiliate themselves as the servants of all.

Catholicism insists that both bishops and priests should remain celibate— placing the love of the Mystical Body or the Church ahead of all other loves.  At a time when most churches compromise on the moral teachings of Christ; the Catholic faith remains resolute about purity prior to marriage, about the permanence of marriage, about marriage as only a relationship between a man and a woman, about the nature of the marital act as open to the generation of children, and about the sanctity of human life.  The loftier the moral message, the further the messenger might fall when he is exposed as duplicitous.

Our priests witness the marriages of couples in love, consecrating unions with the favor of God and of his Church.  They baptize babies, transforming them from mere creatures of God into adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.  They absolve penitents from their sins, literally stealing the damned from the devil. At Mass they celebrate the sacrifice of Calvary so that we might offer ourselves with Jesus, the Lamb of God, as an acceptable oblation to the Father.  They give us Holy Communion, rations from that promised shore to which we travel as spiritual pilgrims.  Along with bishops, they offer confirmation, completing our baptisms so that we might be enriched by the gifts of the Spirit and made living temples of God.  They anoint the sick, perpetuating the ministry of Jesus in bringing healing to the hurting among us.  They bury the dead, preaching a message of hope that in Jesus love is stronger than death and victorious over the grave.  The priest is at the center of everything Catholic.  That is what makes the current scandal especially devastating.  The faithful are rightly disappointed and upset. Our shepherds are facing a crisis in holiness.

Contagious Scandal & the Loss of Reputation

Any one priest signifies every priest.  This collective appreciation has made the present crisis a damning one.  When the laity look at their priests, they immediately wonder, “Could he be one of those priests?” While regarding only a few, these dark revelations of sin and crime are sufficient in damaging overall trust.

Men presumed as truthful revealed as duplicitous liars.

These are the same men appointed as preachers of the Gospel.  The priest and pastor is the chief catechist of every parish and is entrusted with the faith formation of his people.  What becomes of the message or the Good News when the messenger becomes a witness of bad or scandalous news?  What becomes of his credibility when the mouthpiece of God not only stumbles in his witness but is unveiled as an agent of the devil’s anti-gospel? How can such a man speak to us about the truth when he has failed to put on the mind of Christ?

Men presumed as merciful exposed as sources for sin.

These are the men chosen to give flesh to the Divine Mercy in the ministry of the church.  Who would want to go to confession to such rogues?  Many might think that their sins pale in comparison to such reprobates.  While the efficacy of the sacraments is assured; it is understandable that the faithful would feel stained or polluted by association with these men.  Is it all just empty words and gestures? Compounding the problem, they sometimes substitute malice for mercy and draw others as accomplices into their lives of sin.  How can such men draw us into the love of God when they do not have the heart of Christ?

Men presumed as healers caught as sadistic destroyers.

Jesus condemned the pharisees for placing unnecessary burdens upon good people.  As an antidote he delivered the freedom and healing that belongs to the children of God.  Priests were called to mend souls and to give hope, not to breach their victims from the family of God or to give them cause for despair.  The miscreants in the news destroyed innocence and purposely misdirected the faith trajectory of people’s lives.  They placed their own sexual gratification over sacred promises and the good of persons.  How could they live with themselves, exchanging the joy of right relationship with God for a cruel transitory delight toward others?  Even if there were a failure to love, did they not fear God?

Men presumed as pure are brought to light as defiled.

Priests are commissioned as eschatological signs of Christ’s kingdom.  This is a basic premise behind the promise or vow of celibacy.  Celibacy is not the same as chastity or virginity.  Rather, it is a wondrous way of loving others.  We are corporeal-spiritual composites, creatures of spirit and flesh.  The purity of the body is supposed to immediately signify the virtuous nature of the soul, the existential resolution as one who loves the Lord so tremendously that it spills over in concern for the neighbor.  As opposed to the pattern of the rich man going away sad because of his many possessions, it is the follower of Jesus who seeks to abandon earthly satisfaction so as to be rich in Christ.  What happened to this singleness of purpose in these men?  How is it that they could be satisfied with the carnal man when they were pledged to something greater, the one who lives in the Spirit?

Men presumed as holy are divulged as devils.

We are all called to be saints.  That is our fundamental purpose in life.  Christ as the new Adam comes into the world to restore an innocence that was lost by sin.  The priest is charged as an instrument of the Lord to dispense the divine mysteries in making this objective possible.  His ministrations allow us to enter in the saving paschal mystery.  Here is where the sins of these men become a kind of blasphemy against all that is holy and good.  Instead of realizing their role as sharers in Christ’s priesthood and extending his saving works, they look to the wimpish failure of the first Adam; indeed, worse than this, they play the role of the serpent.  Do they not see how they have been thoroughly soiled as slaves to the devil?  Have they stopped believing entirely?

We are told that a priest, even in mortal sin, can validly administer the sacraments.  This is one of the great absurdities of faith and yet one necessary to insure the efficacy of the sacraments in the life of God’s people.  Of course, while a bad priest might do some good, his bad character often sours the milk and corrupts or tears down what is built up.  This dissimulation probably constitutes a special wound in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Our Lord is pained by the priest who is a cheat or hypocrite, even as he is supposed to be “another Christ” at the altar.

It remains a conundrum that a priest might take his people to the very gates of heaven but himself be unable to enter.  While we might think that the graces of priesthood would make it easier for him to go to heaven; certain authorities have argued that it makes the prospect of hell more pressing and dangerous.  Why?  The more one is given, the more for which one will be held accountable.  The priest knows better and cannot claim ignorance.  Everything needed for salvation is immediately available.  That makes any neglect inexcusable.  Further, because he has been configured to Christ by his ordination, the devil targets him for every temptation and assault.  At his altar, at his desk, in his car and in his bed he is always in the midst of a fierce battle with the prince demon of perdition.  Priests who forget this will immediately stumble.  The senses are especially targeted.  The scandals of late all appeal to the flesh and sexuality.  The sins committed are virtually unimaginable.  Minds are clouded.  Hearts are hardened.  The devil will take any crack he can find to pierce the priest’s soul— smoking, drunkenness, gluttony, sloth, anger, jealousy, whatever.  The devil may have failed in his temptation of Christ; but starting with his apostles and coming down through history to his priests and bishops of today, he has found men who sometimes falter and even become his property.  Judas may not be the only bishop-priest in hell.

It is a terrible business when the weak link of faith is the shepherd. The weapons to hurt souls and to attack the Church then come from the very hands of the priest— hands that were consecrated for the chalice and the host.  We as Catholics become our own worst enemies.  It is at such times that we must remember that our faith is placed ultimately not in men but in God.  We should also recall the saints, for theirs is the true legacy of the Church.  Instead of running away, it becomes all the more imperative for God’s people to keep the faith and to demand fidelity and holiness of their priests.  All sins might be forgiven, but the sins against innocence must not be forgotten.  A reform of the Church will mean that some higher churchmen will have to step down, certain priests will have to be removed from ministry and others will have to embrace a heroic apostolate of penance and sanctity.  This is not a time for window dressing but of a true moral reform, to deal both with a hostile secular modernity and a rigid clericalism that makes careerism and a fear of scandal into higher imperatives than protecting God’s flock from the robber and the wolf.

If we enter into the light (not afraid of what will be unmasked) and not in the darkness (where the roaches of sin hide), then we will truly walk with Christ.  As opposed to the clamoring enemies of the Church who see the current scandal as the death knell for Catholicism, maybe it is an unavoidable summons to “grow up” and to become a more effective and genuine witness for Christ in the modern world?  Divine providence is most unfathomable when God draws something of the good from the misdirected evil of men.

The Heat & Controversy Continues…

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The three bishops essentially cite Pope John Paul II. The argument seems more and more with the historical Magisterium itself and settled doctrine. Here is one instance:

“The other principle is that of truth and consistency, whereby the church does not agree to call good evil and evil good. Basing herself on these two complementary principles, the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of penance and the eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions” (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34).

When it comes to the “ordinary magisterium” and opinions that conflict with settled doctrine, filial correction is an act of loyalty. Indeed, silence would be the act of betrayal.

While annulments are now free (they used to cost a thousand dollars or more) this is the first year in the Archdiocese of Washington (so I am told) that we have not had a backlog of cases. Many couples in irregular unions now feel that annulments are unnecessary and that they can freely return to the sacraments. I have had several people in my parish drop writing their cases while citing news about the Pope and “changes that are coming.” Misunderstandings abound… but there is also legitimate confusion where there should be clarity.

There are a number of voices that interpret any criticism or request for clarification as disloyalty to the Pope and as dissent.  However, one cannot be a dissenter when he or she stands with the long-standing and immutable doctrines of the Catholic faith.  One critic said that we should immediately discount the remarks of these “no name” bishops.  But note that they quote the saintly Pope John Paul II of living memory!  Further, Bishop Athanasius Schneider is not a “no name” bishop. He is a man dedicated to Catholic truth and one who has paid his dues in terms of faith witness. Although he is German, his family was sent to a gulag by Stalin. His mother was imprisoned and martyred in 1963 for helping and sheltering other Christians and a Ukrainian priest. He grew up in the outlawed underground Catholic Church and took his early sacraments in secret. He is the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan and titular bishop of Celerina. He has added his voice to many others in regard to the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. While whole conferences of bishops have offered correctives, as in Poland, there are notable names daily added to the list as having serious concerns. The names (to name a few) include Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Chaput, Archbishop Sample, the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, and two respected Catholic philosophers, John Finnis and Germain Grisez.

Popes can interpret but they cannot reverse or make up new Church teachings. The case must be made, as Cardinal Wuerl suggests, that Church praxis and discipline can change without altering Church doctrine. However, it has not yet been made and many of us cannot imagine how it might be done. One cannot legitimately silence a debate or discussion with ecclesial authority when the overwhelming gravity seems entirely with traditional and perpetual teaching. Those who claim to be following the Holy Father are suggesting that we can invite those in adulterous unions to receive the sacraments, including both the Eucharist and confessional absolution. A number of priests feel, as I do, that this would make us accomplices in the mortal sin of others (who are neither contrite nor who have a firm purpose of amendment).

Marco Tosatti’s sensational blog, in my estimation goes too far. He writes:

“La mia fonte in Vaticano mi ha confidato che ieri sera Bergoglio si è trattenuto a Santa Marta con diversi ‘addetti stampa’ vaticani e ‘consiglieri’ vari per una riunione sul come affrontare questo nuovo ‘imprevisto’ della Correzione dei Vescovi di Astana. La fonte mi ha detto che Omissis era furibondo. E’ andato su tutte le furie. Perchè non sopporta nessuna opposizione. Lo hanno sentito urlare: ‘Se ne pentiranno! Se ne pentiranno amaramente!’. Riferito ovviamente ai coraggiosi Vescovi che hanno ‘osato’ contraddire il neovangelo della neochiesa: l’Amoris Laetitia.”

This is really more gossip and possible calumny than information that furthers the discussion. I just cannot imagine the vindictiveness that the blogger suggests. Absent is the charity exhibited by the many bishops and priests wanting clarification while rightly professing fidelity and respect to the Holy See.

The best posture is to pray for the Holy Father and for faithful and loyal clergy who are trying to safeguard the truth while showing real compassion to sinners. Pray for the couples and families as well… many of us want to bring them spiritual medicine, not placebos.

Heaven & the Comedy of God

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One definition of humor is this:  “complying with the wishes of someone in order to keep them content or happy with us, no matter how unreasonable such wishes might be.”  It is in this vein that we might understand God and heaven as having a sense of humor.  It may be that in the kingdom that which is serious and that which is comic somehow coalesce or become one.

There is much about the truth of Christ which consoles and challenges, and yet, simultaneously there is much that seems absurd. Creation itself is not immune from the comic.  It should be warned that trying to discern this element in God might inadvertently lead to a kind of cynicism.  For instance, focusing on God as the author of creation, I have heard it remarked: “Why did God make the most fertile females in the world, only sixteen years old?” Teens that are least able to deal with the needs of children easily have babies while established and mature women struggle to have offspring.  Those who work with crisis pregnancies often shake their heads in bewilderment.  We can laugh or we can cry about it.  God’s ways often seem unfathomable. It is almost as if intelligent design took a wrong turn.

Turning to salvation history, the ministry of Jesus begins with a humorous oddity.  His mother tells him that they have run out of wine at a wedding banquet.  Our Lord is curt, what has this to do with me— my time has not yet come?  Mary tells the servants to do as he says.  He has water poured into jars.  The stewards are already imagining the disappointment of the gathering when they get water instead of wine.  But miraculously water becomes wine; indeed it is the best wine so far.  Who would have thought such a thing?  Surprise!

If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out!  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! Call no man your father!  You must be born again!  He who loses his life will save it!  He who does not hate mother and father is not worthy of me! Let the dead bury their dead! Hebraic hyperbole gives an emphasis to the demands of Christ, but still they seem crazy to our ears.  If we were to view such matters in a literal way, we would find ourselves set firmly within a Monty Python script.

There are some elements of the Gospel that readily lend themselves to joking.  Even the questions of Jesus can be funny.  A blind man comes up to Jesus and our Lord asks, “What do you want?”  Is it not obvious?  It may be he was hoping that someone would ask for sins to be forgiven, but the given response was more than likely.  He says, “I want to see!”  No surprise in the response here, only in the question.

When a woman is caught in adultery, our Lord tells the crowd, let the one without sin cast the first stone.  The text relates that they all walk away and that our Lord, who could condemn her, forgives her instead.  A contemporary joke version has a stone sailing past Jesus and plunking the woman on the head, knocking her down.  Surprised, Jesus looks around and then says, “Mother, I told you to stay home!” (This is a Catholic joke as we understand Mary to be the sinless or immaculate Virgin Mary.)

Our Lord tells parables that are familiar to us but which were ridiculous to his first listeners.  Which among you would not leave his ninety-nine sheep to go in search of the one lost lamb?  Later, he speaks about the shepherd rejoicing in having found it.  However, in truth, most shepherds would have written it off.  Why risk all the rest to thieves and wolves? And yet, this good shepherd regards the least of his flock as having a value commensurate with all the rest.  This is crazy but it is part of the irony or humor of God.  Then there is the story of the good housewife.  She tears her house apart in search of a lost coin.  When she finds it she has a party with her friends that probably amounted to more than the coin’s value.  Again, his listeners, probably frugal women, would have thought the whole business was crazy or nonsensical.

Take the last place at gatherings.  You must become like little children.  Sell all that you have and follow me.  The one who would be the greatest must become the least servant of all.  Our Lord never lets up.  The absurdity is amplified as the topics become more grave or important.  Thousands have followed him to an isolated location.  When asked to dismiss them so that they might find sustenance, he tells his apostles to feed the crowd themselves.  All they have are a few fish and a little bread.  Nevertheless the multitude are fed and there is food left over.

His humor is so severe that one day most of his followers walk away. He says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood then we can have no life in us.  Today, the guys in the white suits would be coming to take him away.  And yet, it is precisely this Eucharist that has sustained the Church for two thousand years.  Indeed, these are the rations from the promised shore to which we travel as pilgrims of faith.  We must become a parable people.  We must become fools for Christ.

Everyone likes to receive a gift or reward, so Jesus assures us of a litany of favors. Our Lord gives a series of benedictions, assuring us that we will receive the kingdom, will be comforted, inherit the land, have justice satisfied, know mercy, see God, become God’s children, and one more thing—know persecution, including torture and murder.  It sounded pretty good until that last bit.  But such is the humor of God.  “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).

“For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike. We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment “(1 Corinthians 4:9-13). Our Lord writes his straight lines with our crooked ones.  He shows his greatness, not by calling the best of men but making the least and the weakest into his ministers and messengers.

These are the ones that make up the great saints of heaven.  Yes, the joke is on us, but it is a joke that brings not brief laughter but eternal joy.  The infinite and omnipotent God has filled his house with the likes of thieves, prostitutes and traitors.  Just as he could change water to wine and wine and bread into his flesh and blood, he can transform the weakest of sinners into the greatest of saints.  I suspect, albeit in a spiritual manner, there erupts a celestial guffaw that the children of heaven appreciate and which leaves the devils of hell scratching their heads.  They do not get it and that is why they have cast themselves outside the gates to paradise.

The greatest humor or ironic sign of contradiction is found in the heart of the incarnation.  It is here that we discover the full scope of infinite power, love and humor.  The perfect Spirit, the Creator of this and all dimensions and universes, the one who is truly omnipotent and omniscient, the one that stands outside and yet sustains all that he has made— makes himself almost infinitely small, weak and subject to all the petty jealousies and enmity of humanity.  The devil is the first to distance himself from God in utter disbelief— something ridiculous and impossible happens— the great Unmoved Mover moves… and the Word becomes flesh.

Art, Poetry & Song in Heaven?

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The question about art, music and poetry in heaven is more complicated than we might initially acknowledge.  These three efforts at creativity can either be directed to the bottom feeders or they can target the heights of inspiration and hope.  There is a vast difference between pornography and the human forms that speak of God’s creation and salvation history in the Sistine Chapel.  There is no comparison between a vulgar rap song that espouses violence and sexism to a sweet solo of Ave Maria or a full chorus and orchestra giving us Faure’s Requiem or Handel’s Messiah.  There is an infinite distance between simple rhymes for children or off-color limericks for dirty old men and Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dante’s The Divine Comedy or Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven.

Believe it or not, I have heard arguments for music in hell.  Indeed, certain authorities intimate that the devil or Lucifer had a certain charge over music in heaven.  If so, this explains something of the terrible depth of his fall from grace.  It might be discordant, but the arts can both reveal and conceal.  I suspect that in hell they do the latter.  A fumbling king might imagine he has real greatness if only the trumpets blow and the fanfare is exalted enough.  Art can give us a counterfeit beauty, as a mask to cover the ugliness around us.  An intricate and moving poem can give a sense of mystery and importance, even to the mundane or hollow.

By contrast, what could an artist in heaven possibly paint that could better express the transcendent than the God and heaven that surrounds him.  His picture would be a poor copy.  The only true artist in heaven is God.  He has painted a masterpiece with the blood of the Lamb.  We are all a part of his great work and yet when one steps back from the depiction of all our faces, only one face is seen, the face of Jesus, God’s Son.

We speak of the Eucharist as a foretaste from the heavenly banquet.  I suspect that the best and most solemn hymns also grant us a tiny sampling from the heavenly choir.  There is something in the soul that vaguely remembers music from before the fall.  A note here, a piece of melody there, and suddenly we are conveyed to another plateau of existence. The celestial choir eternally sings the praises of God.  While on earth music can raise our hearts and voices to God; in heaven, we are already there— music can only express this abiding presence and the truth that we are made for God and must give him the glory.  Singing God’s praises in heaven might be like breathing on earth.

As for poetry, the greatest works seek to crack open the mysteries of God— to apprehend a fleeting truth.  Poetry and music are kindred threads.  The mystery they target is realized in heaven, but when it comes to the kingdom it has swallowed us up— filled us— transformed us.  God is the poet in heaven and we have become his poem.  All poetry in heaven is love poetry.  God takes the initiative because he loved us first.  We are called to the marriage banquet of the Lamb.

“My lover speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, For your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely’” (Song of Songs 2:10-14).

Is One Free to Sin in Heaven?

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There are some questions that can be regarded as silly.  Why?  It is because they focus on a fallacy.  For instance, take this question:  Given that God can do anything; can he make a rock too heavy for him to pick up?  If the answer is YES, then he is not all powerful because he cannot lift the rock.  If the answer is NO, then he is not all powerful because he cannot make such a rock.  What is the answer?  The assertion is nonsense because it contains an inner contradiction.  Similar conflicts are found as in the biblical temptation scene.  Some will argue that if the devil’s temptations were real then Jesus could have potentially given in and sinned.  However, temptation does not necessarily imply the possibility of succumbing.  In the case of Jesus, it was impossible.  Sin is by definition an act of disobedience against God.  However, Jesus is a divine Person.  God cannot sin against himself.  Similarly, the question is raised:  if the saints of heaven are free then are they free to sin?  The problem is how we understand freedom.  While it might be misused in this world, it is perfected in the world to come.  True freedom means loving obedience to God.  The misuse of freedom or a false freedom is realized in sin or disobedience to God.  Indeed, it is to embrace bondage to the diabolical.

Free will and moral perfection are in sync for the saints of heaven.  While sin is possible for those who only see dimly as through a veil, such is not possible for those who see God face-to-face.  When confronted by the greatest good, which is God, the will is immediately disposed to embrace it.  There is no apparent good.  There is nothing which can compete with it.  Arguably even the angels knew some sort of demarcation when they were tested.

It can also be argued that our ultimate decisions were already made during our mortal lives.  Our orientation is fixed with death.  Along these lines, certain theologians argue that the unborn and children who die before reaching the age of reason might be given the opportunity for making a choice in regard to their eternal destiny.  Many suspect that their personal innocence and the intercession of the parents and/or the Church would nudge them to make free decisions in loving God.  But this is speculation, no matter how optimistic the Church might be in their regard.  In any case, the denizens of heaven, both human and angelic cannot change their minds.  They have freely turned their backs to sin and have set their sights on almighty God. Coincidentally, such is also the state of hell and the slavery they have exchanged for freedom. We read the following in the fourth book of Milton’s Paradise Lost:  “Nay, cursed be thou; since against his thy will / Chose freely what it now so justly rues. / Me miserable! which way shall I fly / Infinite wrauth and infinite despair? / Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell…” (line 75)

 

Sin in heaven would be a violation of the very identity of the saints.  Their wills are united to that of Christ.  They have been made holy as God is holy.