Bad Superman

But that is at bottom the meaning of all modern hero-worship and celebration of the Strong Man, the Caesar the Superman. That he may be something more than man, we must be something less.  (Heretics, Ch. V)

In the above quote from G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics, Chesterton challenges the idea of Nietzsche that the strong should rule and dominate the weak.

Making Time for Humanity

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Have you ever noticed that Jesus speaks a lot about the end of time?  Sometimes His focus is mostly on the watchfulness needed like in today’s Gospel.  And just a few verses later is the parable of the ten virgins where five were wise and had enough oil and five were foolish and were therefore not present when He came.  But, sometimes He focuses more on the banquet itself and we hear in one instance how Christ invites everyone, but many turn Him down.  Now, in my imagination the five foolish virgins from the one parable sort of combined with the various people who say “no” to the great banquet and I think of that popular/mean girl in your high school class who had the worst rejection lines. 

Nervous high school guy: “Hey, would you like to go the dance next Saturday night…with me?”   

Mean girl: “Oh, I don’t think I can….I have plans to be washing my hair that night.” 

Now, not only is this a cruel rejection line because it is an obvious lie — that her time to wash her hair would obviously not be the main constraint to going out with this guy.  But, also the nature of the activity is so far beneath the invitation.  Washing your hair is simply not a very interesting activity.  To say that you choose washing your hair over spending time with someone is just not going to happen if you even modestly care about them…even as a friend.  Not that a girl needs to accept every invitation from every guy who asks her out, but an excuse this flimsy reveals a lack of respect for the other’s humanity. 

            Today is the beginning of a New Year and the beginning of Advent!  Before we prepare to receive Christ as an infant at Christmas, we always consider Christ coming at the end of time.  Image result for christ the judgeWhy?  Well, although it is backwards chronologically in time…it seems the appropriate order in terms of realizing who Christ is…When we consider Him in His glory as the Just Judge and Ruler over all of the universe, we get a truer sense of what He lays aside in order to humble Himself and be born in a stable.  Another advantage to considering Him as a judge, is that if this role makes us a little bit nervous – well, it is probably because of how we treat humanity.  We need still need Him to come to us first as a Savior before we meet Him as a judge….Come, Lord Jesus and teach us humility and how to love our brothers and sisters.

            So, we’re delving into Armageddon type stuff here and maybe you’re thinking: Okay, so I’ve seen a post-apocalyptic movies, but I still have some questions.  Maybe you’re thinking “Wow, the end of the world seems so exciting.  But, what if I die before we get there?  Will I miss all the fireworks?”  The answer is No.  According to St. Jerome, “That which shall happen to all in the Day of Judgment is fulfilled in each at the day of death.”  Or in the words of St. Augustine: “In whatsoever state a man’s last day shall find him, in the same state shall the world’s last day come upon him; because as any man dies, so shall he be judged.” 

           Or maybe you’re read the Book of Revelation – all of the plagues, the beasts, the lake of fire…and your question is: “What will be the sign that this is the end?”  In the very same chapter as our Gospel, His disciples ask this very question.  Jesus prepares us for many trials.  He mentions that there will be catastrophic wars and earthquakes and persecutions, and many people will rise up proclaiming that they know the answers or that they are the Christ.  Do not believe them.  When Christ truly comes you will not need anyone to tell you that it is He.  He will come in glory that leaves no doubt and needs no introduction.  Ahh, but it would seem that despite all of the calamitous signs, the greatest test might actually be a lull. Image result for falling asleep at the wheel That there is this period of seeming calm and the temptation to fall asleep at the wheel spiritually.  The Gospel today with the two in the field and the other two in the mill, and one being taken and the other left from each place.  Perhaps the greatest question of today: how do we live in such a way that we are taken off into glory and not simply left out in the cold?  To begin with we should acknowledge that this question is not simply hypothetical.  Yes, maybe we won’t be alive at the end of the end times.  But these kinds of events happen in all of our lives.  There are periods of great tribulation.  There are the blissful moments of marrying and giving children away in marriage.  There are those who want to claim all of the authority over your life as if they were Christ Himself, but they are not.  Whether we are in the big moments or in the lull – we could die and meet Christ in the midst of any of them.  We can dig deep and strive to love and climb the Mountain of the Lord, singing as in the Psalm, “Let us go rejoicing to the House of the Lord.”  Or we can put far lesser things first and tell God that we’re sorry, but we’ve got to wash our hair. 

           The part that we forget or we have never heard much about is the middle coming of Christ.  Let’s be clear: He’s coming at the end of time to judge all of creation.  And thankfully at Christmas, we get to celebrate how He has already entered definitively into our dark world to live for each of us.  But through His Cross – through His willingness to experience the full height and depth and breadth of death – and love us from every corner that we can’t see and are afraid, He is always coming back into our lives.   With the ability to step into the confessional and into the Communion line, we should have the confidence to let go not only of our worries about this life…about missing out in the raucous, but empty feasting that diminishes us, but we are drawn towards the confidence to put others before ourselves. Image result for eucharist Even those who seem to be our persecutors.  Strengthened by Christ’s Abiding Presence, hidden but strong, we can even be happy to suffer for others.  It is when we are resigned to love Christ no matter how inconvenient it might seem that we truly take the sword that has pierced His heart and use it as the plow to turn over our own hearts in repentance.  For Christ has come that He might glorify His Father through all of our humanity.  If we meet His Body in the lowly, and offer Him our time – then on that great day He will not reject us, but offer us eternity.  

Ceasing to be a Giant

The modern world, like Mr. Wells is on the side of the giants; the safest place, and therefore the meanest and the most prosaic. The modern world, when it praises its little Caesars, talks of being strong and brave: but it does not seem to see the eternal paradox involved in the conjunction of these ideas. The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt, to be strong. The only way in which a giant could really keep himself in training against the inevitable Jack would be by continually fighting other giants ten times as big as himself. That is by ceasing to be a giant and becoming a Jack.  (Heretics, Ch V)

 

The above quote is from G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics.

Christ Victorious

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Saint Melito of Sardis once wrote a famous letter in which he imagined what Christ could say to us after His great victory on the Cross.  Here is an exerpt:

“The Lord, though he was God, became man. He suffered for the sake of whose who suffer, he was bound for those in bonds, condemned for the guilty, buried for those who lie in the grave; but he rose from the dead, and cried aloud: “Who will contend with me? Let him confront me.” I have freed the condemned, brought the dead back to life, raised men from their graves. Who has anything to say against me? I, he said, am the Christ; I have destroyed death, triumphed over the enemy, trampled hell underfoot, bound the strong one, and taken men up to the heights of heaven: I am the Christ.

Come, then, all you nations of men, receive forgiveness for the sins that defile you. I am your forgiveness. I am the Passover that brings salvation. I am the lamb who was immolated for you. I am your ransom, your life, your resurrection, your light, I am your salvation and your king. I will bring you to the heights of heaven. With my own right hand I will raise you up, and I will show you the eternal Father.”

Look Towards the Resurrection in All Things

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This weekend, I started off by noting that the theme for our readings is clearly the Resurrection.  However, seeing as the first reading and the Gospel are so strong here, the second reading (usually from Paul) is not as emphatic.  Seeing as every Sunday should connect with the central teaching of the Resurrection, perhaps Paul’s reading to the Thessalonians is used between the two readings today so that his more blatant Resurrection passages can be saved for other weekends.  Consider these words to the Philipians:

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul is urging us onward.  We shouldn’t be stuck in our past.  And I then brought in an example from Protestant pastor Francis Chan and used nearly word for word his sermon from this video.  Please take a look.

But everything we do will bring us reward or regret.  Christ tells us that we are all alive to God.  Let us live as St. Paul describes in his first epistle to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air.

Only one receives the prize, but if we live for Christ to the point that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us – than we will all partake of the Resurrection that He has won for us for our lives will be united with the perfect and eternal Jesus Christ who has for us a joy that never ends.

 

 

Steeds of Hope

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Before the gods that made the gods

          Had seen their sunrise pass,

          The White Horse of the White Horse Vale

          Was cut out of the grass.

Not too far from Oxford in England there is an ancient mystery in a hill.  Tribal people of the bronze age, perhaps some 3000 years ago cut a massive stylized figure of a horse into the top of the hill and filled it in with crushed white chalk so that it would endure – and endure it has until the present day.  It would be kind of like if you took a sand trap from a golf course, but made it almost 400 feet long and you made it by hand.  Now, the grass still tries to creep in and obscure this image that can only really be seen by the air, and so the people had to take great care to keep the grasses back, for during the periods when there was little interest in preserving the horse – the people suffered great problems and distress.  It was in the time of their great diligence when they reached beyond themselves and cared for this strange offering to their gods that they were blessed.    

            There’s a poem that involves this horse, and a great battle between the earliest English Christians and the Vikings.  And the Christians themselves have some respect and love for this horse, knowing that it was not built with Christ in mind – and yet they guard it all the same seeing in it a glorious reflection of God’s design.  And they not only persevered, they cared more for the world that they were told not to live for than those who lived of it alone.  Because the Christians lived in the world, but apart from it – drinking in faith, they were able to love the world that their Lord had died to save and to hope for even more.

            I went and joined many from Holy Infant Parish yesterday at Planned Parenthood for the 40 Days for Life.  If I could pick a theme song for that place of misery it would be “Welcome to the Jungle” from Guns and Roses.   Most of the lyrics are too dark and frightening to bring up in this context and do not fit Church in general, but the one that strikes me so perfectly is “Welcome to the jungle it gets worse here every day/ Ya learn to live like an animal in the jungle where we play.”  Each day our country gets deeper into this violence against women and children – and we devolve from a society back into various tribes that now totter so very close to open an all-out contest with each other.  

            The people driving into the clinic had no hope as they were screamed and whistled at by the clinic escorts to ignore the pro-lifers trying to give them information for an ultrasound.  These people have been promised too little in life.  That they will not even be able to make it as mothers in this world, because they will find no assistance – which is untrue….another verse of that battle poem goes:

 

Our towns were shaken of tall kings

          With scarlet beards like blood:

          The world turned empty where they trod,

          They took the kindly cross of God

          And cut it up for wood.

Perhaps a temptation right now to harden ourselves.  There is so much fear.  There is so much anxiety about our future as a country and as the world in general.  Apparently Nietzsche once told his readers to “be hard”.   Chesterton replied by writing that “A great man is not a man so strong that he feels less than other men; he is a man so strong that he feels more.” 

            Why is it that we so often fail to do much?  St. Therese of Liseux put it really simply: We obtain from God as much as we hope for from Him.  And when we are comfortable we may not really feel the need to hope for our brothers or ourselves.  Perhaps it’s the bleak election season from which no one is able to hide, but there was poverty on the sidewalk with those praying for life.  Where there is poverty, there can be great hope and there was.  

            The woman in the Gospel today who goes to the unjust judge is a figure for the Church.  Christ her husband, has died and while she awaits His return she goes to the judge and demands justice for her children.  I can only think of the Supreme Court, another appropriate reflection of our society – and yet persistence eventually wins the day for this widow.  What an encouraging parable for us to imitate – her unhindered desire and zeal for the truth.  

            There is a theology book that caught my eye the other day.  The author was talking about how Christ did not come down to earth and become man merely to take away sin.  The “motive can be no other than the boundless love which God display’s after man’s sin, contrary to all expectation and beyond all our notions,” he writes.  So, getting rid of sin is just the beginning of God’s work.  Perhaps we would like God so often to lift away our pain and then just leave us alone to enjoy ourselves.  But that has never worked out very well in the past.  The author goes on, “And further, we deny that the elevation of fallen man was the only end or at any rate the highest end, and that the love for man was the only motive or the highest motive of the Incarnation.  The glory of Christ and of God Himself is the highest aim, and the love of God for Himself and for Christ is the highest motive of the Incarnation.”  Image result for ancient horn

            You should have seen the feisty widow yesterday at Planned Parenthood.  Today marked 100 years since Planned Parenthood was founded, but the Defenders of the Unborn contingent organized a large group to walk back and forth 7 times, like the Israelites in battle….they even produced two trumpets made of horns and blew them 7 times in various directions.  The walls of Planned Parenthood did not crumble, but that was not the point.  The walls of fear that held our hearts in siege were lifted with the mighty blare.  God, may we become a people that loves You and one another to the glory of Your Name the Kingdom for our children.

Chesterton v. Relativism

 

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H.G. Wells

 

Mr. Wells says truly enough, that a thing which we have seen in one connection as dark we may see in another connection as light. But the thing common to both incidents is the mere idea of light– which we have not seen at all. Mr. Wells might grow taller and taller for unending aeons till his head was higher than the loneliest star. I can imagine his writing a good novel about it. In that case he would see the trees first as tall things and then as short things; he would see the clouds first as high and then as low. But there would remain with him through the ages in that starry loneliness the idea of tallness; he would have in the awful spaces for companion and comfort the definite conception that he was growing taller and not (for instance) growing fatter (Heretics, Ch V).

The above excerpt is from Chesterton’s Heretics.

The Self and Mankind

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The one defect in his splendid mental equipment is that he does not sufficiently allow for the stuff or material of men. In his new Utopia he says, for instance, that a chief point of the Utopia will be a disbelief in original sin. If he had begun with the human soul–that is, if he had begun on himself–he would have found original sin almost the first thing to be believed in. He would have found, to put the matter shortly, that a permanent possibility of selfishness arises from the mere fact of having a self, and not from any accidents of education or ill-treatment. And the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones (Heretics, Ch.V).

The above exercpt is from G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics.  Here he critiques H.G. Wells and Wells’ idea of how mankind can all be stuffed together into one fairly homogenous utopian society where everyone gets along.  Chesterton asserts that man’s inclinations towards self-interest and sin are factors to consider.

 

Welcome To Boot Camp!

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Good morning Trainees!  I call you that because in a very real sense this life is boot camp – it is only training for the true glory not of warfare, but the glory of heaven.  Now, if you were to join up with any of the armed forces – army, navy, air force, marines – whichever…they would throw you into a barracks with some random people…and they create some pressure.  You see, pressure and stress, for as much as we try and avoid them – they teach us a lot about how we are doing.  So, the military will get these trainees to stand in formation and then appoint a leader to give the marching orders.  They get issued various simple pieces of equipment – some PT gear, a canteen, a hat, a locker that has to be kept in scrupulous order.  The point is: none of it has any real value in the real world.  They are told to go from the barracks to the mess hall – point A to point B – and yet everything they do is being watched and evaluated and they make mistakes.  That’s when you learn how to work together.  You see in the best of in the best of situations when the pressure ratchets up we can handle it.  It’s called grace under fire – we don’t shrink from responsibility and even cover for others.  That’s real leadership and it builds trust.  But, often enough fear takes over.  People blame others.  You find out really fast in that environment that even if it wasn’t your fault, it doesn’t help to point anybody else out – you’re doing push-ups anyway as a group and now you’re doing more for quibbling.  How do we handle the various things of this world – none of it is going to last.  Do we prize the things and the experiences and the money over people? 

            The story of the steward actually reminds me of a different story.  Do you remember the servant who begs for mercy for the 10,000 talents that he owes and he is forgiven?  The story is very sad, because he doesn’t emulate the master’s mercy when he comes upon someone who owes him.  Instead, even though the man only owes 100 denarius, he grabs him by the neck and demands that he pay everything back and puts him in prison when he can’t pay…and we know that then the same is demanded of this merciless man.  In a very different spin, today’s man does not expect any mercy from the master, but he still had a choice to make.  He could have tried to cover up his excesses – the fact that he wasted a lot of oil and wheat by fixing the books so that the servants beneath him would have to pay more.  He could have made it look like they just had bigger debts to pay and that was the reason for the shortfall in the stockrooms.  But instead, he knows he’s only going to be fired once, and so he says fine, I’ll make it look like I was an even lousier steward than I was.  I’ll give these guys beneath me a break so that they’ll owe me when my job is gone.  

            How wonderfully shrewd we are in looking out for ourselves in this life!  One Church Father wrote that “in worldly matters we are philosophers, in spiritual matters fools; in earthly things we are lynx-eyed (in other words we can see in the dark), but in heavenly things we are [as blind as] moles.”  Just like the dishonest steward – we will all be giving a report of our stewardship at some point to God – we don’t know when.  This life we must give back to Him.