Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fun in Ill Annoy

I don't like the state of Illinois. I have had some of the worst experiences of my life in this state. I know it's not this state's fault but it just seems like bad things happen to me in this state. And tonight I added on to it.

I'm staying in a hotel in one of the suburbs of Chicago and, at 11:44 pm the fire alarm went off. Being an obedient person, I went down to the front desk area and was told not to go out in the cold air. I waited until the fire department came and they had to check out mysterious smoke on second floor. As I was standing in the lobby (which is also partially a bar) I overheard the bartender call the security guard. I looked over and saw the security guard getting in the face of an obviously drunk guy while his girlfriend (I later found out that was who she was) was telling him to sit down. Then a manager came and started pushing him out of the bar telling him that the comments he was making were the reasons someone would get thrown out. I started to walk away and I heard the drunk guy sprint at the other guy. The manager was yelling "Call the police!" and the drunk girlfriend was somehow standing beside me saying she had just punched a guy and her boyfriend was going to go to jail. The fire department called for a police over their walkie talkies and came to help in the bar area. I was cold and annoyed and afraid I would get pulled into a fight that I was trying to get away from. Thankfully, no sooner had the firemen begun to ensure that the drunk guy couldn't do any more damage, then another fireman came to tell us we could go back up to this room.

I've been in a car accident in this state. I've been pulled over for doing 2 miles an hour over the speed limit while going down a hill. The police officer gave me a warning. If I didn't have great friends from this state I would boycott it for the rest of my life. I should probably learn two lessons from this

1. Go outside in a fire alarm
2. Stay in a rectory with other priests

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Those tricky Beatitudes

To be a truly "sola-fides" protestant is to believe that our conduct has nothing to do with our salvation. It is, at best, an afterthought. Someone who is saved will act in a certain manner but the act itself does not show a willingness on our part to accept the salvation offered us, a willingness to lead a "saved" life. It's just like the exhaust from a car.

I've always wondered how these Protestants deal with those passages of scripture that seem to intimate the necessity for an active love in order to live a holy life. I'm sure that there are a myriad of ways of answering that question, especially in a group that has eliminated an interpretive magisterial voice. But, the most creative way that I heard this past Sunday came from a pastor preaching about the Beatitudes. I wish I could find his name or something since we could probably also find the text of what he said online. Nonetheless, according to him, the key word of the Beatitudes was "brothers". He said that the way we treat the Jews (Jesus brothers) will be the way we are judged. For the moment setting aside the fact that we are moving back into the realm of works salvation and that Jesus, in teaching in the Galilee, is likely surrounded by both Jews and Gentiles close to the Decapolis) and that there is no use of the term brothers in either Luke or Matthew and that Jesus explicitly includes "whoever does the will of my heavenly Father" as his brothers, there is a larger agenda going on here that we Catholics need to know.

Some Protestants are trying to force an apocalyptic agenda down the throats of the church that involves "restoring" Israel and the Temple so that Jesus will come again. They are sending huge sums of money to Israel in an effort to force this end-times agenda. Yet, ironically, the Catholic Church is the one turning to our younger rebellious brothers and sisters to remind them that you can't force God to do anything simply by putting together what you believe to be the perfect end-times formula. I think this is why the Catholic Church so often emphasizes phrases like "Do not be afraid" and "Do not be terrified" we we have these end-times formula. We do no know when Christ will come and believing that we can somehow coerce him into coming is not just silly, it's heretical.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Sun of Justice will rise

Apocalypse! End of the World! What images or thoughts come to your mind as you hear these words? Fear? Frustration? I’ve had several conversations with people recently on topics related to these concepts. Some people talk about Nostradamus and how he predicted that the world would end in the not too distant future. I’ve even heard the year 2023 thrown around as when he predicted it would end. Of course, if that date is true, it means that I still have 15 years of sinning before I shape up and get ready for the coming of the Lord. Other people see things like global warming and an ever-increasing need for fossil fuels as leading to the end of the world. They say that if we don’t switch to cleaner, renewable fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions we will bring about the end of the world. Others are concerned about the global terrorist threat and the threat posed by rogue, radical Islamist movements acquiring nuclear weapons. They see the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as key components to defeating the possibility of the third world war being the charm, if you will. And, while I have no doubt that all of that could bring about the end of the world, I always have to caution people that this is not exactly what we hear in the readings this time of year.

Yet, even as I make that statement, I know that there’s a great deal of hesitancy in Catholic clergy to actually talk about this. Our evangelical brothers and sisters make up for it, however, since some of them seen almost unhealthily fixated on the end of the world. I remember sitting down in Dubuque during college and watching a husband and wife team that would read a passage, usually either from the book of Daniel or the book of Revelation, (You know, those scary books of the bible) and then they would show how world events are directly related to them. Just to give one example that I remember from their program, there is an image of a dragon awaiting the birth of a child. In their interpretation, the dragon was President Clinton and the mother was any mother considering abortion. I was glad to learn in my scripture class that we didn’t share this one-for-one, belief that images in scripture point to concrete people nowadays.

We tend to believe that the images are timeless, that a one-for-one identification of these prophesies is, in general, more detracting from the meaning than adding to it. So, for instance, we hear in the gospel today that “"Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” A fundamentalist would say that the nations Jesus is clearly talking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the community of nations that were brought to fight against them. They would point to the tsunami that happened a few years ago in Malaysia because of an earthquake and the resulting famine and plagues there, as well as elsewhere, as mighty signs.

I think this is part of the reason that Catholic priests don’t like to talk about this topic at all. We focus on our own mortality or sin and avoid the topic of end times altogether. But, what should we say instead? If I read the gospel right, we shouldn’t be so focused on future events and signs that we lose sight of today. We must pay attention to Jesus when he says, “many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,’ and 'The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end." We shouldn’t be so afraid of the end of the world that we lose sight on today, on the preparation that we can do today. It’s like the distance runner who becomes so fixated on the end of the race that he forgets to look down and notice the pothole right in front of him. We should be constantly prepared for the God whose coming won’t be cloaked in shadows. When God comes it will be as clear as the sun rising in the East. We, Christians, shouldn’t be afraid of that thought. As the prophet Malachi said, “for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” We have been shown the love of the Son of God who has healed out sins and invites us into a new relationship with God as our Father. Now is the time to repent. Don’t put it off to some fictional time invented by a seer. Now is the time to have reverent love for the God who first loved us and calls each of us by name. Now we are in the end times, a time of hope and reconciliation. Don’t be terrified. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.