“What Is” or “Ought To Be”

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Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 7, 2018.

According to Business Insider, Millennials rank the world’s top 10 most serious problems in the following order:

10. Lack of economic opportunity and employment (12.1%), 9. Safety / security / well-being (14.1%), 8. Lack of education (15.9%), 7. Food and water security (18.2%), 6. Government accountability and transparency / corruption (22.7%) , 5. Religious conflicts (23.9%), 4. Poverty (29.2%), 3. Inequality (income, discrimination) (30.8%), 2. Large scale conflict / wars (38.9%), 1. Climate change / destruction of nature (48.8%)

I don’t know that I would agree with these exact problems, nor would I necessarily have them in this order, but I would agree with Millennials that these problems are real and concerning. I would add to the list the scourge of abortion and the increasing number of divorces, addiction, homelessness, and suicides. I would also add to the list the degradation of fertile land, the over fishing of the world’s rivers and oceans, the destruction of entire species, the unjust distribution of the world’s resources and the lack of governmental unity on all of the issues listed above. We are in a state of crisis and more than I hear, “How can I help?, What can I do?” or “To what degree am I contributing?” I instead hear, “Well, that’s just the way it is.”

Acknowledgement of the crisis as present and real takes very little effort and presents very little challenge, if any. It creates very little discomfort and does not require an evaluation and transformation of the way I live and engage in the world. In fact, simple acknowledgement of the problem appears either unconcerned, or a bit of a defeatist. Christians, of course, are neither. We care a lot and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to care about unity, healthfulness of relationships, and the planet of which God has called has called us to be stewards.

In the reading from the Book of Genesis today God calls Adam to be united to another like him. It’s the great story of what every man says when he meets his life-mate, and what I said when I met mine, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman, ‘for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.” Right when I saw Jill I knew she and I were one flesh. Almost fifteen years and two children later, it is more true than ever. It is not good for me to be alone and she is a fabulous partner for me in my life.

My wife helps me to be a better person. She challenges me to live up the the high calling I’ve received in Jesus Christ to be a man of character, strength, discipline and holiness. And I don’t care how many people mock the Church with regard to it’s stance on divorce and remarriage, its insistence on chastity and holiness within marriage, and it’s call to being open to life within marriage, I know from the deepest part of my being that this is the way it ought to be–Man and woman serving each other in mutual care and concern for each other, their children, their church, and their world. And to be clear, this is not only the Catholic Church’s teaching, this is the teaching of Jesus himself that we hear in today’s Gospel.

Jesus said, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”  In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.  He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (MK 10:2-16) Put plainly, Jesus is clearly against divorce, and so is the church he established. There’s just no way around it without clearly violating the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles in every generation who teach what he taught.

In light of the 6th Commandment, Jesus and the Catholic Church today call us to never lower the bar nor to settle for what is. Jesus and the Church challenge society to recognize and to strive for what out to be! I know from personal experience that tragedy, brokenness, violence,  and civil divorce do occur. The sinfulness of humanity cannot be ignored and the dignity and safety of people–and especially children cannot be jeopardized. But we cannot and must not be okay with the brokenness. As Christians we must admit that although this is the way it sometimes is, it is not the way it ought to be. Everything short of man and woman united together forever in love is less-than-ideal and should be recognized as so.

I remember giving a retreat on the beauty of the Church’s teaching on Holy Matrimony. More than a few people there were quite willing to voice their anger about their single family home–either the one they’re in or the one in which they were raised. One woman said, “My dad left us and my mom did the best she could with the cards she was dealt.” I agreed whole-heartedly. “That’s not the way it ought to be,” I said. Sadly, though, it is the way things too often are. I shared with her my own experience of a single mom striving mightily to put food on the table with three kids and an abusive husband. That’s not the way it ought to be. That’s not the way Jesus wanted it. That’s not the way the Church wants it. For the love of God, let’s never never lower the bar and settle for brokenness just because that’s the way it is. Let’s continue to talk about the beauty, unity, goodness, faithfulness, and life-long, life-giving companionship that ought to be!

And while I’m on what ought to be, Genesis also teaches about humanity’s stewardship and care for all of God’s Creation. The Biblical account of creation is NOT about things or no things, but that all things have their proper origin in God. God created every living thing, but important to understanding the proper relationship of all things to God and to each other, we read that, “The LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name.  The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all wild animals.” GN 2:18-24 Now we know that ultimately, none of these animals proved to be suitable to the man, but the naming of them is significant.

In the Hebrew tradition, which rings true still today, to name something is to claim a degree of authority over it. Not unlike a parent naming a child. To name a child or even a pet for that matter, is to say that the child or pet is now under that namer’s protection and care. The one with the authority to name has become its provider and protector. The Genesis account is quite clear that humanity indeed has the high calling of providing for and protecting the whole of God’s creation–plants, animals, rivers, oceans, and air. God created, and gifted us with the great responsibility of ensuring that his creation was cared for. The story of Genesis doesn’t just teach about things or no things, it teaches the right relationship between all things to God and to one another. Genesis teaches the right relationship of man to God, of man to fellow man, and man to the earth. Right relationships is the way it ought to be. Everything that falls short of that right relationship is what we call sin.

My brothers and sisters, we have not been good stewards. That’s the way it is. Over fishing, over hunting, poaching, poor land management, pollution of the air, land, and sea are just the beginning. The 7th Commandment recognizes that this earth is not mine or yours to destroy, but is instead a stewardship to be respected, to be used with care, and treasured for future generations to enjoy. To fail in this regard is to to steal from future generations. And stealing is a sin!

Click here for an amazing resource for our Church’s many teachings on Care for Creation and Stewardship of the Earth from the US Catholic Bishiops website. It is an excellent primer with links to a variety of church social teaching on the environment and care for our common home. It would be worth your time to peruse the Bishop’s website. It has a ton of useful topics, teachings, news, and resources.

The story of Genesis has much to teach us about marriage and family, sin and grace, about the earth and all that inhabit it, and the way things ought to be. Let’s not lower the bar and settle for the way it is, we are about working toward and striving mightily to achieve together what ought to be!

For Reflection:

How familiar am I with Jesus and the Church’s teaching on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony?

To what degree am I involved in strengthening my marriage and family, and helping to support other marriages in crisis?

How much do I concern myself with the environment and familiarize myself with what the Church teaches in that regard?

How much do my own spending habits, consumption, and lifestyle negatively impact the environment and the poorest of the earth?

By catholicevangelist

Welcome, Friend!

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 30, 2018.

Today’s reading from Numbers and the Gospel today make one thing abundantly clear, namely, that God is calling upon, blessing, and raising up workers to do his work and his will…and we might not know anything about it. Deal with it. And if you’re smart and holy, give thanks.

There are far more workers in the vineyard of the Lord than any of us can possibly imagine. Don’t quench the Spirit! Let it burn like a disco inferno!

I know it is quite popular to say to those who weren’t there, “You don’t understand, you just had to be there.” Well, actually, that’s just not true with God! Numbers makes that clear. Eldad and Medad not were not with the others when God’s spirit descended upon the 68 elders!

You can just imagine how it went during Joshua’s roll call…”Eldad!? Has anyone seen Eldad!? Okay, last time, Eldad!? Well, you know the ‘ol saying boys,” Joshua must have said, “you snooze, you lose!” Well, turns out that God was using Eldad and Medad anyway! And all those present weren’t very happy about it!

“Hey!” I can hear them say, “what the heck are they doing, man?! They were called, but they’re not qualified! You must be present to win! EVERYBODY knows that!” They no doubt complained to Joshua, who then complained to Moses, “Make ’em stop!”

Make ’em stop?! Are you kidding me?! Keep them going! Moses said, “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!” You see, Moses knew it wasn’t about him at all, or those there on that day either, it was only about God’s work in the world. How excited Moses must have been to discover what God was able to do without him. Whew! That relieves a lot of pressure! Nm 11:25-29

Moses either knew all along, or was able to see that very day, that God’s plan of salvation is unfolding, and God can use even those not present to receive the Spirit in the ordinary way. Moses knew that some of those called by God might receive the Spirit in an extra-ordinary way known only to they and God. It’s by their fruit that you’ll know them. You’ll know because they will prophesy in His name. How exciting!

The Second Vatican Council in the document Gaudium et Spes #22 affirmed this truth when it wrote, “Since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”

And the CCC 847 says it like this, “Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.

And in today’s Gospel, the apostle John plays the role of the new Joshua, son of Nun, and Jesus plays the role of the new Moses. Crazy that in the approximately 2,050 since Moses taught that important lesson, Jesus had to teach it again.

Today’s Gospel reads, “At that time, John said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’ Jesus replied, ‘Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.’ Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

And here we are 2,000 years later trying to teach the same. Some things never change, I’m afraid. So many seek to place limits on God. Too many want to think that their way is THE way that God is advancing the Kingdom, or worse, that they’re the only ones doing God’s work.

Hear the words of Moses and Jesus, look around and gives thanks to the environmentalists doing God’s work, to the peacemakers doing God’s work, to the Social Servants doing God’s work, to the teachers, plumbers, nutritionists, administrators, vegans, Republicans, Iranians, women’s rights activists, lawyers, Muslims and others of good will all doing the work of advancing God’s kingdom of justice and mercy and peace.

Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, introduced the notion of the anonymous Christian wherein he declares that people who might have never heard the Christian Gospel might indeed be saved through Christ. One might even say that just because they weren’t in the room, doesn’t mean they didn’t receive the Spirit! And certainly, at the very least, we might agree with Jesus that whoever is not against us, is for us. It is, after all, by their fruits–either thorns or berries–that you will know the true prophets of God, (MT 7:16-20) regardless of by what name they are known.

For Reflection

Do I sometimes believe that it’s “my way or the highway?”

Am I open to the prophetic voice irrespective of its origin?

Do I listen attentively to all people, even if I don’t agree with them entirely, knowing that there could be a kernel of God’s truth in their message?

Am I a prophetic voice of reason and truth at work and in my home?

Do others hear God when they hear me?

By catholicevangelist