Friday, August 03, 2007

A few more thoughts about Mary

Ever since the death of John Paul the Great, I have, through his intercession, felt closer to our blessed mother, Mary. John Paul was able to find Christ in a more profound way through his mother. A good Jewish Mother is always bragging about her son the doctor or her son the lawyer. This is Mary bragging about her son, the savior of the world, without saying a word.

Today the reading was the controversial one from Matthew 13 where Jesus goes home and his town folk ask...

“Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?
Is he not the carpenter’s son?
Is not his mother named Mary
and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?
Are not his sisters all with us?"

Of course, there is no little controversy about what this means. I believe it is clear that these aren't brothers of Jesus at all (see Catholic Answers on this topic) but cousins or step-brothers but Protestants want to degrade Mary as much as possible (without realizing that, in so doing, they are degrading the one who she bore) so they say these are younger brothers and sisters. I'll leave that aside for the time being. Instead, I had a bit of theological speculation. This will not come anywhere close to dogmatic truth so I don't think I could venture into the area of heresy but feel free to tell me if you think so.

Someday, each of us will "face our maker", if you will. And, we will be surrounded by a cloud of witnesses (okay, that was dogmatic, here comes the speculation) and one will be Mary, the faithful witness even when the disciples abandoned our Lord. At first, I wondered if Mary would be angry at all the people who made fun of her and chastised her in their lives. Of course, it's heaven so I don't think any of that would happen but I laughed a little thinking of Mary turning to Jack Chick (who will, of course, be entirely embarrassed) as she is standing with her crown next to her Son, the King of heaven and earth. He will have to face the fact that Mary's entire goal has been to lead us to Christ and that, even though he never acknowledged it, Mary undoubtedly helped him along his path of faith. The vengeful part of me just wishes that Mary would be able to slap him in the face.

But that's completely contrary to Mary and it tells me exactly why JPII keeps pointing me towards her. Once in a comment, I was asked why we catholics think that Mary is so important and I didn't respond. Here is one response: Mary is important because she shows us how we are supposed to act, how we are to love. Mary teaches us to cry out, "May it be done unto me according to your word" even before our savior brought about the salvation of the world when said, "Thy will be done."

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I guess he really is rude

Thank you to pastor Tim Rude of Windsor Heights for at least being honest... even if he only could do it when he thought what he was writing was private.

We all know that evangelicals hate the one true church because they want to turn faith into a purely personal endeavor that can be used to support Republicans. They hate Catholics because we don't give into party politics. We tell our people that they need to use well informed consciences to discern the best candidate. Abortion is an evil. But so is stem cell research and the war and all other threats to the dignity of human life. We tell our people to put forth the best candidate possible regardless of their faith perspective. But that's not the criteria for pastor RUDE. Catholics don't belong in politics. Just evangelicals. Or, at least, that's what he thinks in private communication with a candidate.

And when he gets caught, the pastor said he didn't mean to impugn catholicism. When he was writing publicly, he was a "recovering catholic" and thought we were part of the nameless, faceless Borg. Now he says he didn't want to say anything critical of Catholicism.

A few weeks ago, the catholic church was again criticized by Christians all over the world for making the same statement we have made since the second vatican council, namely that the fullness of truth subsists in the catholic church. At least we let people know what we believe and stick by it. These evangelicals will shake your hand in public, treat you like you are the Anti-Christ in private, and then come back to the table with hand outstretched claiming they still like you.

"Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one." Matthew 5:37

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah

I have to be careful at what I say this weekend. I probably should be used to that by now. Some of you might remember a few weeks ago when I had to be careful about what I said about the story of Bathsheba and David. I had to remember to explain a story from the Bible that some might think of as being rated R in a way that G ears could hear. There are a few stories that are like that and others that are kind of tricky to navigate like when Paul says in the second reading today, “You were also raised with him through faith in the power of God…” Some of you are, undoubtedly, aware that this was a bone of contention between us and our Lutheran brothers and sister up until a few years ago when we put together a common declaration outlining where we agree and where we disagree on this subject. I hear several priests and catechists who, in explaining this and passages like it, articulate a perfect Lutheran explanation and fail to note Catholic nuances. I can hardly blame them, however, since it really takes a keen theological mind to navigate the waters of grace and salvation.

I’d be content if that was what scared me about preaching this weekend. But it’s not. What scares me is the first reading and the truths and untruths that surround it. It would be easy for me to sprint past it on my way to the gospel and simply never mention the terms Sodom and Gomorrah, or Abram and these three men/angels/God or any of that. But, being a person that simply cannot ignore the elephant in the room, I will do my best in coming to grips with this controversial experience.

First of all, let me give a brief explanation as to how Abram found himself entertaining angels. Earlier in Genesis we heard that Abram and his brother, Lot, lived too close to one another. Their servants and shepherds fought one another too often so God moved them to a more spacious land. God had them both settle in Canaan. It says, “Abram stayed in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the Plain, pitching his tents near Sodom. Now the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked in the sins they committed against the LORD.” We read this passage not-all-that-long-ago in daily mass and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for poor Lot. Abram is promised progeny and great growing conditions while Lot is left to live in a town that makes the West Bank seem like the West Indies. So, a few chapters later, God is hearing some distressing things about what is happening in Sodom. Why is God surprised that evil is happening? We heard five full chapters before that “the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked in the sins they committed against the LORD.” To some extent, it goes back to the Old Testament belief that God can only take evil for so long. He wants us to repent, to seek to be forgiven for our transgressions. But, when we don’t do that, at some point God gives up on us and destroys us. So, he sends three Angels to go see if evil is really happening there and, if so, to destroy it. Our story today is intriguing, therefore, because had Abram not intervened there could have been a drastically different outcome.

Some of you may remember that two weeks ago I talked about my experience of Middle Eastern hospitality. Despite what is often portrayed in the media, when I lived in Israel and visited Egypt, I found that people were quintessentially hospitable. When you see a traveler, it is not just expected that you give water to him or her, but that you give them rest and a place to wash and some food as well. It’s part of their culture and very different from our attitude which tends to be more suspicious and fearful of strangers. Abram takes in the very angels sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Had they passed by, there is every bit of evidence that they would have simply destroyed those evil cities including poor Lot and his family. But, instead, Abram stands up to God. Let me say that again because it is so foreign in our ears; Abram Stands up to God and challenges him. Who is Abram to challenge God’s morality? But that’s the very point of this story. Abram, undoubtedly, wants to secure the life of Lot and so he gets God to spare the fifty, forty or even just ten inhabitants that are living a just life. And, when the Angels go there the next day and threatened to be treated with sexual violence, a most inhospitable act by the inhabitants of those cities, God first clears out Lot and his family, the only just members of their society who didn’t give into sexual immorality, violence and whatever else was happening there, before he destroys Sodom and Gomorrah.

It’s hard for us to think that this whole thing could have ended differently had Abram not spent time negotiating with God. It took Abram’s persistence, the same persistence of the neighbor who from the gospel, in order to ensure that justice triumphed over vengeance, that right triumphed over wrath. I think both of these stories are trying to get us to see the real power of prayer, especially in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. I think we set ourselves up for our prayers to fail all too often. Even though prayer is not magic and God is not a god that does whatever we want, we must still pray for, beg God for what is right. It doesn’t mean we are going to get the answer we want in the exact amount of time we want it. But, persistence in prayer shows God what is truly important to us and how important we think he is as well. If we stop asking, we not only show that we don’t really think something is important but we show God that we don’t trust in him. “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”