Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

And now we get to the good part....

There is a body of thought in psychology today that holds that when you dream, all of the characters in that dream are really you. Leaving aside the question of whether this is true, plausible or wildly erroneous, it illustrates a principle I wish to shed light upon, namely this: When we read Scripture, all of the characters to whom God speaks are, in one way or another, us.* When Christ calls X and says "Hey, X, stop doing that and follow me." He is really speaking to us, for us to stop wasting time on irrelevant matters and follow Him.

This comes to a head in the passage from St. Matthew's Gospel (16:15-17), a passage I consider the pivotal moment in the Bible, the moment on which everything hinges. It may not be anyone's favorite (there are other passages I, myself, like better), or the most dramatic, or the most heart-rending. But it's the passage nobody can ignore. The Douay-Rheims version** of the Bible has it like this:

Jesus saith to them: "But whom do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.

The pin in the hinge of all Scripture is the question Jesus asks his disciples (and, by extension, every single solitary human being who has ever read or heard the passage) "But whom do you say that I am?" It's a question we can't ignore. It's also important that we pay ver-r-r-r-ry close attention to what Christ didn't ask. Notice he doesn't ask: "So, um, guys think I'm the Messiah or what?"

The question is not a yes-or-no proposition. The option to say "Nope, you don't look too Messiah-nish to me." is not available to us. It's like the difference between a true/false question and an essay question. Christ is asking us for an essay. Some people said (and will say today) that Jesus was a nice guy, a prophet, a whack-job, a political opportunist, a suicidal vagrant, a nonexistent figment of the imagination (or the conspiratorial nature) of the twelve apostles, etc.

As Christians, we know St. Peter hit it right on the nose. "Thou art Christ." Not only is this a result of our faith being given a voice, but also the result of a validation of applying ourselves to pondering the matter with diligence. We can safely reason, f'rinstance, that if Christ was merely "a nice guy" he would not gone on and on about His divine nature, calling Himself Lord of the Sabbath and forgiving the sins of strangers who never harmed Him personally (as only God could do) and all that divine jazz; the same goes for any halfway decent prophet***. If Jesus were a passenger on the Cookie Truck**** He wouldn't--couldn't!--have handled the traps placed before Him, like the woman-caught-in-adultery or paying the tax to Rome. All of the other possible answers melt away just as readily.

So this leaves us with the answer St. Peter gave...Jesus IS the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah. Which, in turn, puts us in something of a bind. Because if Jesus IS the Christ and we acknowledge as much, well, um, that means we have to pay attention to what He says and listen to those He sends forth (and, by extension, those appointed as successors to and by those He sent forth, etc.) and, as we all know that's not always so bloody easy or--and take it from me--so bloody convenient.

But once we realize that Jesus = Messiah, the toothpaste is out of the tube. We CAN'T act differently. Once you walk with Him on the road to Emmaus you can't unlearn His teachings because it would conflict with your plans to go partying-until-you pass-out for the weekend, or because helping the poor, sick, and homeless is, um, y'know, icky.

Once you realize what road you are walking, the only option you legitimately have is to walk boldly and with good cheer.


* No, that doesn't mean we have to start building an ark or fleeing to--or from, or both--Egypt, or anything like that. Get with the program.
** Sure it's a bit more frou-frou than the NAB, but I find it more poetic. If you want to read the somewhat drier NAB version, here ya go.
*** Can you imagine Elijah, Isaiah or Jeremiah telling people he was the begotten son of God? Well, me either.
**** I totally got this from Barney Miller.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A teeny, tiny little slip of a miracle

Here's the thing. My wife was mired in one of her eleventy gazillion projects and it fell upon my shoulders, as The Dad, to take the two boys to a birthday party. The party happened to be in Ft. Lauderdale*. Since my wife was hauling stuff around, she needed the minivan, and therefore I stuffed those whom I had offsprung into my silly little sports car and headed out to the party. So far, so good. Up on I-95, about halfway there, I get sandwiched in a lane between two big ol' SUVs, both of which want to wander aimlessly into my lane. I opt to mash on the gas pedal and get away from these drivers, whom I consider as obvious a counter-argument to Darwinism as I can imagine.

Normally this results in the car going WAHHHHH-BWAHHHHHH and it fairly zooms to the horizon. But, in this case it just led to a teeny-tiny faint pop under the hood. Uh-oh.** But the car kept running, only it was low on power. I had a suspicion and hope of what it could be. While on the interstate, I could cruise along without too much trouble, but once back on surface streets, the car stalled.

What does this have to do with anything, I can hear you ask? (Stay with me here)

I pop the hood and look around. My hopes were confirmed, it was just a turbo hose that, when I accelerated, had just popped off. All that needed to get done was to lossen the hose clamp, put the hose back on and tighten the clamp and be off on my merry way. One catch...I need three (average adult-sized) hands to do this little bit of surgery. Having only the two, I was handicapped in my efforts. It was hot, I was sweating like OJ Simpson under oath, my hands were getting singed*** and I was officially Not Having Fun.

In fact, I was having so little fun I was fully prepared to speak to my engine using the sort of frank and vigorous language I would never use in front of a priest or religious**** when I caught sight of my children. (Since the a/c shust off when teh car stalls, I the windows were opened, and the slightest vocal expression of displeasure on my part would have been plainly audible) On the fly, I amended what I was going to say and instead of THAT I blurted out:

(follow me here)

"Mother of Mercy!"

Literally 3 seconds later, a guy in a minivan pulls up in front of me and says "You need help? I used to work on those Italian cars until I retired last year***** and I can give you a hand." He helped me position the hose thingy, tighten it and in 2 minutes my car was good as new. He even gave me a suggestion for a little jury-rig for making sure this never occurs again.

Seriously, this sorta stuff Just. Doesn't. Happen. That was divine intervention right there. This is unquestionable in my mind. Yes, it's a trivial little something BUT, if prayers for the smallest things are answered above and beyond our hopes, (and instantly!) how can we feel abandoned? How could we possibly lose faith? The whole thing left me rattled in a very good way. Not quite like touching the hem of His garment, but kind of like brushing up against one loose thread kinda hanging off the cuff of His cloak. I was speechless the whole party, save for explaining to people how 3 seconds after saying "Mother of Mercy!" I was sent the help I needed. Which, I guess, is my first episode of spontaneous evangelism. (If all of a sudden I start proclaiming the Good News in Swedish, or Dutch or Swahili, I'll let you know.)

Praise God,


P.S. Thank you Lord (and thank you, Mary, for asking on my behalf!)

* Think of a drive from, say, Encino to Marina del Rey.

** A LOUD pop would have been ver-r-r-r-r-ry bad news, it would have meant a blown turbo and $$$$$$$ to fix.

*** Turbo engines get VERY hot.

**** In 8th grade I let something along these lines fly when I didn't see Sr. Agnes behind me and, well, let's just say the paramedics were worried for a while.

****** Seeing as how this is a car brand that has never sold 10,000 per year--this is less than what Chevy sells in a week--in the US, this is RIDICULOUSLY IMPROBABLE

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A li'l bit of tough love from Jesus

Here's something that caught my attention from yesterday's Gospel reading (St. Matthew, 15:21-28, for those of you playing at home). I include the text--from the NAB, but use whatever you have handy--in italics and my comments interspersed throughout.

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
We see Jesus doing this a lot. He speaks in public--often to SRO crowds--and then steps back to pray or to give a bit more "background" to His disciples.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
"Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon."
This is a very pivotal moment in Scripture. Here is a Canaanite woman who not only recognizes Jesus' divine nature but also His being the fulfillment of the Messianic covenant. Professional theologists--at least the good ones--often refer to this as a Very Big Deal.
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.
Notice what St. Matthew writes. Jesus did not say a word, but He didn't make a gesture to her or speak about her.
Jesus' disciples came and asked him,"Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."
Which is a vast improvement over wanting to call fire down upon those who bothered them.
He said in reply,"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
This is another Very Big Deal. Like the dog that didn't bark in the Sherlock Holmes story, what Jesus does NOT say is monumental. He does not say He was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but to them. Jesus is to fulfill the Messianic promise, but not ONLY fulfill the Messianic promise. The Messianic promise is the vehicle by which the light of Christ will radiate to the far corners of the world.
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me."
Even better! Not only does a woman (don't think this is lost on the patriarchal society of that time and place) who is not from Israel (don't think this is lost on them either) acknowledge Jesus as the awaited Messiah but by doing homage to Him, she acts upon that knowledge.
He said in reply,"It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."
Christ does not refer to the house of Israel as the children and Canaanites (and Romans, Samaritans, Texans, Bulgarians, etc.) as dogs...although He certainly seems to give the impression he is saying that, He is testing the Canaanite woman.
She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."
The woman responds to the challenges Jesus places in front of her with persistent faith.
Then Jesus said to her in reply,"O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."
And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.

The moral of this passage is twofold:

1- Once we have acquired the knowledge of Jesus as the Savior, we have to act in a manner markedly different than before we knew that. If you are driving on the highway at 70mph, your behavior should change once you see the sign that reads

Area Ahead
Speed Limit

This is what the woman does, she acknowledges Jesus' role and then (by doing the Homage Thing) acts accordingly.

2- The woman asks for Jesus' help, and He does not immediately respond. In fact, it seems as if He's never going to grant her request. But her faith--borne of her knowledge of who Jesus really is--will not allow her to quit. Perseverance in faith, that is something Jesus rewards.