Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Monday, March 22, 2004

...and then it made sense

Sometimes the best insights are tiny.

I was driving back, musing on the post-confession in-class experience (my students and I had been discussing confession in catechism class) when the Prodigal Son parable popped into my head (Hmm...I wonder Who put it there?) and the scales fell from my eyes (ew! that's figuratively! ew!) and it (the parable) finally made complete sense.

God, like the Father is not only ready to forgive us, He's ready to jump the gun to forgive us. All we, like the prodigal son who went off to spend his (father's)money on malt liquor and floozies, have to do is go back to our father. Like the father in the parable He will be so happy to see His child return that He will run to us (like--duh--the father in the parable) and not even let get us get a half-decent apology out.

Return to our father in repentance. That's it. That's all that God asks us to do if we want His forgiveness. Just go and pick it up. It's there waiting. When we do, His rejoicing is even greater than our gratitude or relief, hard as that may be to believe. We only have to be open to "the catch": that we must go back to him for that forgiveness. To a lot of people this seems like a scorching inconvenience*.

In the parable, the father saw his son coming from a long way off, which clearly implies the father was keeping a constant lookout for the wayward son (Now, just Who else do we know that would do such a thing?)...but notice the father didn't go rummaging for his son, didn't go up to him as he was exploring Exciting New Growth Opportunities in the Field of Swineherding** and didn't say "Gee, kid, that Purina's Pig Chow sure looks better than your lunch. Say you're sorry and we'll call it square. You can pay me back the money in easy monthly installments."

No. The father forgave him fully and totally and rejoiced but ONLY after he got the first inkling of the son's repentance. Because repentace requires committment. Repentance isn't the same as saying "Whoa, God. Sorry about that." Repentance is a committment and there can't be any committement without action. The son had to leave the Junior Assistant Pig Technician gig purely on the faith that his father would accept his being sorry. And his faith, like ours, will always be rewarded with more than we hoped.

It's outrageously relieving to know that when we turn towards God, He will:

1- Run, not walk towards us and
2- meet us more than halfway.

He'll even forgive us when we act like the older brother (which is entirely too bloody often; selfish twits that we are) who preferred sulking in self-righteousness than rejoicing in his brother's return and having a T-bone of fatted calf with him.*** Instead he whined and moaned about not having even a barbecued goat for his friends, who from the sound of it, were probably as big a bunch of whiners as he was. As we all are.

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." I checked, and the phrase "Well, only if we feel like it" isn't mentioned anywhere in there.

So let us all rejoice in the forgiveness we all receive from Him, and show that rejoicing by sharing it.

* These are people who'd be upset about streets paved with gold, because they'd have to stoop down to take the gold.

** Don't think that tidbit was lost on a Jewish audience of the time

*** This little bit was to let us know that as we are forgiven by God, so must we accept and share and rejoice in the forgiveness He has given others, especially those who have harmed us, even if we'd far prefer to see them eaten alive by wild rabbits.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Be careful what you wish for...

I just got an email from an observant-yet-heterodox Catholic friend in DC, wherein she asked (among other things--such as recipes for Thai grilled squid--which beyond the scope of this blog) how I read Scripture.

As I mentioned today in my ramble, as a Catholic, I believe Apostolic (i.e. Sacred) Tradition to be the lens with which I can see Sacred Scripture in proper focus. Having said that, the question which was asked of me (the answer to which I share with you) was not what I manage to find when I read Scripture, but rather what approach I take when I do.The "way" I came to my approach to Scripture was when someone had given my oldest son one of those The Human Body books, with celluloid pages. As you flip these otherwise clear pages, you go from the skin layer of the body, to the muscles, the nervous system, the innards, etc. Each layer holds different information, depending what you need to study. So it is with me when I read Scripture, except the pages don't get laminated to each other and therefore don't require a letter opener to see what's going on.The Good Samaritan is a great case-in-point. I have used it to:

1- Argue (successfully, he said humbly) against a Catholic-but-Socialist about the morality of private property (which, naturally, we should put to God's service although we have the free will to do otherwise)
2- Discuss the virtue of having a mindset closer to the spirit of God's wants for us, and less with mindless adherence to regulations (which just leads us to look for loopholes to try to circumvent God's will).
3- Assert that our moral obligations to our fellow man are individual obligations that apply to each of us, i.e., our obligation is to use our God-given time/talent/treasure to help our neighbor, not to use our God-given time/talent/treasure to make our other neighbor help the first one, because it's icky or inconvenient.

All that from one little hunk o' Scripture. Neat, huh? Christ told us "Seek and ye shall find" and I am becoming ever more certain this applies, more than anything, to Scripture. If you (not YOU-you) read Scripture just to read it, you will not derive as much benefit as if you read Scripture to see what insight God puts into your head about one of the series of thoughts percolating freely through your mind.* But you have to formulate a question. God loves us, but He's not going to do our homework for us, just like I don't do my son's for him, no matter how slick he thinks he's being when he asks.

*In my case said message is not infrequently placed in my head with the aid of a Divine Louisville Slugger. Artistic representations usually depict St. Michael the Archangel as the one with the Heavenly Bat, but I expect God the Father fields that task Himself.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Why I am a wacky funster for Christ

In a torrential email exchange with a friend, the question (finally) arose of how I could be so, well, whimsical and yet be all pious and orthodox 'n' stuff. This took me aback, for well over a nanosecond, until it dawned on me God's message is a joyful one.

So...why should I (or any other believer in God's redemptive love) be dour about this joy? That sounds bizarre and counterintuitive. The Chief Pagan Officer at Pagans Inc. could very well ask "Gee, why do you look like your parakeet contracted ebola if your God has such good news?" before he turned his back on whomever he was addressing to resume reading marmot entrails to see when he should start fermenting his mead or sack Constantinople or whatever it is that pagans do.

We have good news from God.

Or, to put it another way, if we* were terminally sick and dying and somehow we found (and took) the Magic Bullet Antidote...would we be quiet about our cure? Would we be nonchalant? Nooooo, we'd be laughing and telling every single person we came across, because THEY could very well get that sickness and they could certainly benefit from this antidote.

This still leaves me wondering why He loves me enough to have done this for me. I suppose He loves me because I am His child and therefore made in His image and likeness (which in and of itself is a mighty big sacrifice, but I digress) and like every loving Father, He wants me to come home to Him, where He has all these treats.

So, if God has, in the person of Christ, made such terrible sacrifices** FOR THE EXPRESS PURPOSE of providing us with a joyful, eternal life...wouldn't it be ungrateful to suppress our joy? I'm sure God doesn't want us to react to His gift of salvation the way my oldest son reacts*** to a birthday gift of, say, socks.

So, if we have faith (and we ought) that what God has in store for us is even better than we could wish for****, we can't HELP but be in a stellar mood. And when we are ungrateful enough to pout, well, let me just add--ask me how I know--one should take due care in processing the Eucharist, because God likes to issue reminders.

*I mean this in the editorial "we" sense, not that you and I and also probably any passersby--whom you've called over hollering "C'mere. c''s another one!!"--should be lumped together medically to prove this analogy)

** A lot of people gloss over the terribleness--and the necessity thereof--of the blood sacrifice, and if they had editorial powers over Scripture, I'm sure our Lord's Passion would have been renamed our Lord's Inconvenience. I also figure these people are strongly tempted to begin the Our Father by saying "To Whom it may concern."

*** You know the look that kids give and that hollow "Yeah. Thanks. Really." that passes as gratitude.

**** I Corinthians 2:9 : "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him." So there.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

As promised

I meant to tell you this yesterday, but the overwhelming nature of having a classroom of 14 year old children (I'm a volunteer catechist, for those of you who didn't buy the program) asking intelligent questions and examining their conscience with earnestness derailed my thoughts.

I had a particularly crummy afternoon on Saturday, you know the kind. In my frustration, as I was praying, I said the following to God: "God, I know that You use all things--good and bad--for my own good and I know You love me. But I'm not liking this a whole lot, nope, not at all." In His infinite mercy, He smote me not. He didn't even smack me around, which I probably deserved. The crumminess abated. But on Sunday, as I went up for Communion, I had my oldest son by the shoulders (he might wander off otherwise) and seeing this, Father placed the Eucharist in my mouth. I held it in my mouth and as I knelt to pray, I looked at the altar and as I went to swallow...I choked! I coughed (not a BAD cough, but the cough you get when a bit goes down "the wrong way"), not hard, but for a good solid minute. I managed to swallow it properly and the discomfort passed. And then it hit me. The Eucharist is good--vital...crucial even--for me. Yet last Sunday the Eucharist made me choke and cough. That was because God was telling me the things (circumstances, people, words, messages, etc.) He has placed in my life are for my benefit. While sometimes these things are not easy to take, it is important to accept them all and to respond to Him with faith, because He loves me.

Just like I love my sons and sometimes have to administer (sometimes with very great physical exertion) medicines that taste in ways best described by Very Rude Words. But that medicine, bitter as it may be, is necessary. The bitterness is something of which I am mindful in the medicine, and it's not something I administer without caring or maliciously. Rather, it is the most expedient way to make theis sick kid feel better. So now I am reminded God is listening to me and He loves me, and that no matter what, I know all the things that happen to me (us) are for my (our) greater benefit and by extension, His greater glory. Now all I need to do is keep that present in my mind.

A (very) brief introduction.

This is entirely TOO cool.

I was thinking--marveling, really--about the Roman Empire, and the absolute majesty of God it demonstrates; because He took a millennium to craft something that would be in place so that when Christ became a sacrifice for our sins, the instrument of that sacrifice (i.e. the Roman Empire) would be the vehicle by which His message was spread throughout the world. So it is with the Internet. We will never see the hand of God, but we should (must!) rejoice when we finally recognize His fingerprints...or e-fingerprints.

P.S. A wacky-but-true insight-du-jour follows.