The Hard Teachings: Are You Going to Leave Me Too?

 

If you do not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you will no have life within you. Jesus Christ

The Eucharist was a scandal. Many of Jesus’ followers left Him when He explicitly told them I am the bread of life. 

It is popular today to cast Jesus as a Casper Milquetoast god thingy of our devising. According to popular cant, Jesus’ sole purpose in becoming human was to tell us that, hey, I’m ok and you’re ok. Do what feels good and so long as it doesn’t kill somebody else — unless of course it’s euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research or abortion, in which case, it’s a “human right” to kill somebody else — so long as it doesn’t kill somebody else that you’ve decided it is a denial of human rights not to kill, it’s fine by me.

Jesus’ living teaching about the mercy of God toward the weak and helpless, in particular women, when He said let him who is without sin cast the first stone has been transmuted to mean I can commit any sin I want and the Church is sinning if it says my sin is a sin.

The Eucharist was a hard teaching, a scandalizing teaching, on that day when Jesus first taught it. Many people left Him because of it.

But Jesus didn’t follow after them and try to smooth things over. He didn’t say C’mon back. I didn’t mean it that way.

His reaction — if you have deluded yourself into believing in the Casper Milquetoast Jesus of modern pop theology —  was downright unChristlike.

Stop grumbling among yourselves. He said. It is written, They will all be taught by God.

Then, he doubled down on his teaching about the Eucharist: My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink … Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. 

Finally, He turned to His disciples and said, Are you going to leave me too?

Not, notice, please, please don’t leave me; I was only speaking metaphorically.

He looked at them and without equivocation acknowledged that they were as scandalized by this teaching as those in the crowd, but, again, without wavering one inch on that hard teaching, asked them the real question that He asks each of us: Are you going to leave me, too?

It was a line in the proverbial sand. Stay or go, He was saying, but the teaching will not change.

He asks us, all of us, including our cardinals and bishops, this same question today.  Are you going to leave me, too?

Will the hard teachings of our Christ Jesus, Who was anything but a Casper Milquetoast, be too much for you?

Today’s Catholics wuss right by the hard teaching of the Eucharist. We’ve got that one down.

But the other hard teachings about the sanctity of marriage and human life, about the reality of hell and the fact that yes, Virginia, there is a satan, are too difficult, too embarrassing, too demanding of us in this post-Christian world.

We want to whittle Jesus down, to wear away His rough edges like a bar of soap, until we have a slippery little g god who won’t make things so tough on us. We want our silly addlepated little wimp of a self-made god who won’t trouble us in our desire to be accepted and loved by everybody, including those who are unknowingly following satan when they attack Him.

We want Christ without the cross, eternal life and salvation without redemption and conversion.

It hurts me! Sinners cry. It hurts to be “judged” a sinner just because I break these eternal rules. It rankles and angers me that anyone would think that the things I want to do are wrong.  So, stop saying that. In fact, tell me that what I want — whatever I want — is good and virtuous.

If the Church obliges, it will condemn these people to hell.

It will also condemn itself to inconsequence.

It is one thing to teach that this Church of ours is the cornerstone, that it was built on Peter the rock and that Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against it. It is quite another to arrogantly assume that the Church may change the basic teachings of the faith and teach that which is contrary to what Christ taught and that it will be A-Ok because Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against us.

The first is faith. The second is presumption.

Jesus did not mean whatever this Church does is holy because the Church does it. His great Apostle, St Paul, said quite clearly, God is not mocked. 

John the Baptist told the Pharisees, when they went into the wilderness to refute him for his preaching, that everyone — including them — was in need of redemption. He then smashed their self-justifying claims of exemption from following the laws of God. Do not say we are sons of Abraham, he told them. God can raise up sons of Abraham from these very stones. 

Jesus said it best, of course, when He said, A servant is not greater than his master.

That applies to those who wear the mitre just as it does to the rest of us.

Perhaps the hardest teaching in that day of hard teachings when Christ the Lord made clear beyond misunderstanding what the Eucharist really meant, was the answer He gave to those who walked away. It is written, they will all be taught by God. 

We have been taught by God made flesh. This is not some wimpy, politically correct little g god of our devising. This is a God who was reviled and attacked, mocked and betrayed and yet did not yield. This is a God who consented to be beaten, tortured, mocked, and horribly murdered; Who took on the bottomless alienation of all sin, Who became Sin, in order to buy us back from our perdition.

Are you going to leave me too?

That is the question.

It’s up to each one of us to decide what we will answer.

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Know, Trust and Don’t be Afraid

detail-from-the-creation-of-adam-michelangeloFrom what I gather, I’m doing this retreat so wrong that it hardly qualifies as a retreat. I think I’m supposed to go sit in a room and keep silence, waiting for God to speak to me. But, to be honest, if I went off in a room and kept silence for days at a time, I would probably sleep for a couple of days and then start trying to dig a tunnel through the floor.

It’s just not me.

My best idea of a retreat would be, if I had a horse, to saddle up and go for long meandering rides while I think and talk to God about what I’m thinking. I understand going off into the desert and wandering as a retreat. I can understand lying on your back and looking up at the stars. But locked inside four walls with a candle and a holy portrait? Not so much.

Since I don’t have a  horse, I play the piano. And I’m finding the piano fills me up with pleasure that seems holy and pure to me. I also care for the people I love. I read. I kibitz. I spend time with friends. But mostly, I talk to Jesus about what ails me.

A retreat for me is taking time to be with God and trusting that He wants to be with me as well. If He has something He wants me to do, He’ll tell me.

I use the phrase that I am going to “seek the Lord” when I talk about these withdrawals into the Holy Spirit that I do from time to time because that phrase seems to make sense to the people who hear it.

But I don’t “seek the Lord,” for the simple reason that He hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s with me all the time. Sometimes I ignore Him for days on end and just go my way. When I do that, he’s like a parent, watching while Her child plays and rambles; not interfering, but there.

I don’t truly “seek the Lord” because all I have to do is what any one else has to do; acknowledge His presence and talk to Him about the things that are troubling me. There’s no formula for interacting with the Holy Spirit. If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit is with you and in you every moment of every day. He loves you and His viewpoint is much broader than yours.

One thing I have read in the book I’m using for this retreat (Consoling the Heart of Jesus) that I don’t get at all is the rather tortured explanation as to why we need to console Jesus when He’s in heaven. I was confounded by how difficult the thinkers the author quoted make this simple thing.

Here’s my non-theological explanation for what I didn’t know was a question: Jesus is God. He made everything, everywhere, including — get ready for this — time. If Jesus made time, He is outside of time. He is not part of our linear time that flows inexorably from one moment to the next in a steady measurable procession that you can, well, set your watch by.

My son and I had a discussion with another homeschooling mom back in the day about the first chapters of Genesis. I kept saying that, while the description in Genesis is true, it is expressed in poetic terms. Specifically, the word “day” does not refer to a 24 hour, solar day. First, there was no sun when God began His creation. Second, God is outside of time. The term “day” is a non sequitur to Him that He uses for the benefit of our understanding.

She didn’t get it.

Finally, my 11-year-old son said, “I don’t think God sees time as a line the way we do. I think He sees it as a dot.”

That is probably pretty close to the truth in that God, being the creator of time, and being outside of time, sees all of creation, from beginning to end, constantly and as one whole. I don’t think that when He says He knows our days and the future of our world, he is saying that He is predicting what will happen the way a prophet or seer would. I think in God’s eye view the end and beginning and everything in between is an eternal now.

What does that mean to the idea of consoling Jesus for His sufferings while he is now in heaven and far from those sufferings? Just this: Everything is now to God. Jesus is at Calvary in the same way that, when the actual physical event occurred, He died for you and me two thousand years before we were born. It’s not a trick of theology. It’s a matter of perspective. God’s perspective.

I think my rather odd ball way of retreating is an echo of that understanding of God. I met God when I was driving my car on the way to make a speech. The Holy Spirit filled me up with God’s love in a moment and from that day to now, has never left me.

That experience and what I’ve learned from this continuous presence of the Holy Spirit, shapes the way I approach God and the way I do a retreat.

I drop out from public activities and go to a period of praying because I get battered up by life and I need the healing and solace that just being with the Lord gives me. I need to be loved and God never fails to love me when I just stop and let Him.

But I do not go into long periods of “discernment.” I have learned that if God wants me to do something, I won’t be able to get out of it. It’s that simple: If He wants me to do something, He’s gonna to tell me, and if I don’t get the message, He’ll keep on telling me until I do.

My job isn’t to “discern.” It’s to obey. And there are times when that obedience is not cheap.

I do ask, and have been asking a lot during this retreat, things like “Was I wrong when I said that?” “Did I behave like a jerk?” “Do you want me to change about that?” I’m so willful and given to doing things on my own initiative that I need — and pray — for God to guide me away from doing the wrong thing while thinking it’s the right thing.

But mostly, I find myself face to face with God and He changes me inside by loving me. I’ve said it many times: God does not change what we do. He loves us and that love changes what we want to do.

There’s more, and I’ll talk about it in the days ahead. But for now I want to emphasize one thing: Seeking God is like a child, crying out for its mother in the middle of the night. The minute you say you need Him, He is there. Because He was always there.

That was the experience I had at my conversion. He was there, right there, and He always had been there. I had willfully shut off my awareness of Him. But the moment I reached out, He was there.

All you have to do is trust and know that. Even in times of peril, grief, chaos or terror when the white noise in your head blots out everything, He is still there. You can’t hear Him, because you are drowning Him out with your keening. But He is there, and He won’t leave you.

You don’t have to earn His love and you can’t make Him stop loving you. Nothing you can do will stop Him from loving you and nothing you can do will make Him love you any more. You are His child.

Know that. Trust it.

And don’t be afraid.

 

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Blog Different

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Dear friends.

Don’t take that as an indifferent salutation. Take it as a heartfelt greeting. Dear friends, dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

I need a break from writing about ISIS/Ebola/Politics. I need to spend time with Jesus.

I’m going to review the book I’ve been using for my do-it-yourself retreat in a couple of days. But I want to talk about one thing it mentioned and my reaction to it now. The book is titled Consoling the Heart of Jesus, which fits the retreat it gives exactly.

I’ve been reading it prayerfully, which is to say that I often pause in my reading to pray about the ideas I’m encountering. To be honest, the whole idea of me, consoling Jesus, almost hurt me, and not in a selfless, good way. It upset me in a selfish me-me way.

You see, I’m the mom, which is to say that I’m the consoler. I console my mother on almost a minute-by-minute basis. Without my constant care and tending, she slips immediately off into deeper dementia. Clinging to me helps her also cling to the rest of the real world. I console, on a less fraught basis, my kids, my husband, my sister, who was widowed a year ago and is quite ill with MS.

I don’t so much console as shield my Mama from the anguish of dealing with the family drug addict.

The only person I have to console me is Jesus. I go to Him for consolation many times a day.

When I prayed, I told Him that, in almost the same words I wrote here. I am the consoler for so many people Lord, and You are the only One Who consoles me. If I have to console You, too, where will I go for me?

As I was praying this, the verse, If you have done it for the least of these, you have done it for me entered my mind. I took that as an answer to my prayer. Consoling Jesus — for me, at least — is consoling Mama and the people around me.

I’m telling you this to give you a sense of what I’m going through right now, to help you understand why I can’t come back to this blog just this minute and write about the ugliness of the world. I need rest from the world of hate and death.

I am grieved to the core by the monstrous misery of our world, and my only consolation is Jesus.

That is why I’m sharing this with you now.

I’m going to Blog Different for the month of November. I seriously considered not blogging at all for a month and just going off to pray. But I want to talk about Jesus. I want to write about Him.

So this month, I’m calling a King’s X on most of the things I usually write about. I am also going to back away from writing so much. I’m going to take a month-long retreat to pray and seek the consolation of Christ and I will, as the Spirit leads me, make you part of that retreat along with me.

This has happened to me before; this lost, flattened, need to go away and just be with Christ. I imagine it happens to you sometimes, too. I’ve learned that I can trust Him with these times. He will bring what He wants out of them and it will be an enormous surprise to me what it is.

In the meantime, I have one favor to ask. Will you include me in your prayers? Also my Mama and my family, including the poor family drug addict. Rest assured that I pray for all of you on a regular basis.

 

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The Word Exposed: The Christian Family

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Life Sentences Without Parole Serve a Necessary Function in Good Governance

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According to an article I read in The Guardian, Pope Francis has issued a call to do away with life sentences, calling them a ‘hidden death penalty.’

I know that the Holy Father comes from Argentina, and that he lived through a brutal regime in which the government engaged in random arrests, incarceration, torture and even murder of its own citizens. I have no doubt that his feelings about life sentences are informed by his own life experiences. I would guess that, if I was looking at the issue from the perspective of brutal, totalitarian regimes, I would agree with him about this.

Under those circumstances, life sentences can indeed become a “hidden death penalty.”

However, life sentences are also a necessary alternative to the death penalty. Without life sentences, there would be no option in dealing with certain types of criminals except to put them to death.

The reason I say this is that there are people who are too dangerous to ever be allowed to walk free. It is as simple and as hard as that. Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson (and his girls), the BTK killer and all their kin must be kept from the public in order to maintain the public safety.

There are three alternatives here.

1. Let them out after a few years and then go to the funerals of their new victims.

2. Keep them locked up.

3. Kill them.

I have chosen to keep them locked up. The reason I made that choice was that I did not want to use the death penalty to kill them. However, if the choice was the death penalty or letting them out to kill again, I would be forced to chose the death penalty.

A just and stable government is always the greater good. That is the controlling principle by which I operated while I was an elected official. I think it should be the controlling principle for all governance.

It is impossible to have a government that is either just or stable if killers are allowed to roam free to kill at will. It is also a fact that certain crimes against persons and society are so grievous that the perpetrators must, in justice, spend the rest of their lives outside of society.

This flies in the face of Christian mercy, of the idea that all people are redeemable. I know that. But it is a necessary component to good governance and establishing a legal order which places a sufficient weight on the value of human life,

You may not kill people.

That has to be the bottom line for all good governance concerning human life. The wanton murder of an innocent human being must be set aside as a crime so grave, so final, that its finality is reflected in the punishment. I am not advocating an eye for an eye. I do not favor the death penalty, and I’ve got the votes and the scars to prove it.

But I believe absolutely that a just and stable government is always the greater good. The horrors the people of Argentina experienced under an unjust government are just one example of what can happen when those who hold the power of state use that power in unjust ways.

In order to maintain what the Founding Fathers called “domestic tranquility” we must have prisons. We must have just laws and redress from government abuse of its power. Every citizen must have the right to seek redress through the courts. And we must have laws that place sufficient gravity on the value of human life to protect the citizenry.

I believe that life sentences, including the option of a life sentence without parole, (which I authored legislation to create in Oklahoma) are a necessary component in maintaining the public order, and an equally necessary alternative to the death penalty.

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Conversion Story: Anna

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St John Paul II: The Pope Who Changed History

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Pope Francis Explains the Power of the Eucharist

 

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The Synod, One More Time

 

I was bugged all day long yesterday by one of my own posts. The post in question in this one. It was the post in which I compared the recent Synod on the Family with the United States Congress.

I tried twice last night to write another post, essentially taking back some of the sharp-edged harshness of that one, but I couldn’t get there.

Here’s what I finally came around to.

I was wrong (and this is what was bugging me) to paint all the bishops who participated in the Synod with one brush. In truth and in fact only a smattering of the participants managed to set things on their ear with their reinterpretations of the Gospels along popular lines. The Synod participants as a group backed away from this and issued a final report that stood in accordance with 2,000 years of Christian teaching on the family.

The reason I couldn’t write a major I-was-wrong about that post as a whole is that I don’t honestly think I was wrong. I believe the Synod was a failure, and the reason it was a failure was the polarization among the bishops themselves. Faithful Catholics read that final report with a massive “thanks be to God” that it didn’t do harm. Unfortunately, it also didn’t do much good.

The things I said in the post are my honest assessment of a few of our bishops. The major positive accomplishment of the Synod is not the final report. It is that it may have shone the light of reality on some of these woefully out-of-touch men. Since the whole of Church governance is built on the bishops, that is, if it’s true, a significant and healthy thing. It is also why ducking our heads and pretending that they aren’t, in fact, out of touch and trying to lead us down the broad way, is a form of disloyalty to the Church.

Powerful people need the truth more than most for the simple reason that they so seldom hear it.

I may be wrong, and if it turns out that I am, I will not hesitate to say so. But for now that’s what I think and I can’t unthink it just because the people in question are bishops of my Church.

We need to thank the bishops who stood against all the nonsensical ideas and backed away from the theological cliff. Hopefully next year we will see developments that actually support and aid the family as well as develop pastoral practices to heal the reality of those who are living the lies of our broader culture.

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4 Ways the Synod on the Family was Like the United States Congress

How was the Synod on the Family like the United States Congress? Here are four ways.

1. We switched from hoping that they would accomplish something good to praying that they didn’t do any harm. By the time the Relatio came out, most faithful Catholics were just hoping and praying that the Synod managed to get through the next week and adjourn without trashing the sacraments and deep-sixing 2,000 years of Catholic teaching. We were no longer looking to the Synod for leadership, and we were certainly not expecting anything that would actually help Catholic families in they struggle to live our faith in a post-Christian world. We were just hoping that they didn’t start re-writing the Scriptures to suit the ACLU and the scriptwriters in Hollywood.

2. The Synod didn’t seem to be concerned with us, or with the Church. It gave the appearance of being all about the bishops’ private agendas and their fights with one another. At least a few of the bishops seem to be in rock-star envy of Pope Frances. The sound of one’s own voice is addicting, and several of our bishops appear to be in serious need of a sound-bite 12-step program. None of this would have mattered if they had not used their time on air to attack one another, (one of them even took off after the Pope) and to prattle on about their great desire to re-make the Church in their own image. It was a sad, sorry display of ego-driven sniping, carping tom-foolery by men who claim they speak for the humble Carpenter of Nazareth. 

3. The Synod exposed a number of the bishops as men who are too insulated, too flattered, too pampered and too proud of themselves to properly do their jobs. Does anybody tell these guys they’re full of it when they’re full of it? Does anyone in the circle of people around them remind them that they are but dust? I’ve seen, up close and personal, how easily constant flattery and being treated as if you were special can destroy a person’s equilibrium. I’ve seen it enough that I recognize its effects on a person when that person is in front of me, or, as in this case, on a news video. A number of our bishops need a year or so of sacking groceries in a t shirt and blue jeans to get their minds right. 

4. The Synod talked about Religion with a capital R, but it didn’t seem to care about faith and following Christ all that much. Was I the only observer who noticed how often these men talked about themselves and one another and how seldom they referenced Our Lord? Jesus was mostly absent from their comments, as was faith. They did not give me the impression that they were trying to follow Christ and Him crucified. I mean that. They were singularly lacking in humility, gentleness, common kindness and common sense. 

All in all, I was relieved when these boys in red and black wrote up their final results and went home. I am not looking forward to the next go-round at all.

I don’t want pious play acting from my bishops. I certainly don’t expect perfection. In fact, I know that they are as incapable of perfection as any other person who walks this planet. I know and acknowledge what so many Catholics, priests and bishops collude in trying to ignore: These men are just people. I don’t want perfection. I would know it was a lie if they tried to pretend it. I certainly don’t want the stuffy royal distancing that would help them maintain a false facade of holy perfection.

The day is past when the Church can grow and witness to the Gospels on a  diet of religious cornflakes and Queen Elizabeth waves from distant clergy.

We don’t need CEOs in miters, playing to each other. We need men who are alive with the call to convert the world. The Church has lost its missionary fervor. It must regain it.

All I ask of my clergy is authenticity. I don’t mean a fantasy, never-sinned perfection. I don’t care if my priests and bishops fall down and skin their knees. I don’t hold that against them any more than they’ve held my sins against me. We are all down here in the pits together in this life and we need to forgive and love one another without grinding our failures in each other’s faces.

My concern about the bishops who made all the noise at the Synod isn’t that some of them are rather obvious snobs and that some of them are in love with being in front of a camera. Being a show boat is probably one of the job requirements for being a bishop. If you’re the sort of person who detests being the center of attention, you probably would never want to be a priest in the first place.

My concern — and it is a concern, not a condemnation — is that at least a few of them are getting dangerously close to abandoning the call of every Christian on this planet, which is to follow Christ the Lord. We are — all of us, from back-row pew sitter to prince of the Church, required to yield ourselves over to Him and His leadership.

I didn’t see that in this Synod. What I saw was a lot of in-fighting and politics, a tiny bit of faith-talk when it fit the scenario and an overwhelming me-me-me. In that it was remarkably like that other all-too-human deliberative body, the United States Congress.

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