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

Eucharist

 

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.

Steven Sotloff: Observant Jew. Grandson of Holocaust Survivors.

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ISIS recently released another video of their British Muslim terrorist, beheading an American journalist.

The journalist was Steven Sotloff, an American Jew with dual Israeli citizenship. According to reports, Mr Sotloff followed his religion, even in the extreme circumstances of captivity by ISIS.

He did not, understandably, tell his captors he was Jewish. He kept up his prayers and fasted on Holy Days by claiming that he was sick and couldn’t eat. The deep irony in all this is that Steven Sotloff is the grandson of holocaust survivors.

Think about that.

Mr Sotloff’s grandparents survived a genocide of Jewish people. Decades later in another part of the world, he was abducted and murdered as part of an attempt to force America to pay a ransom. The ransom would have been used to finance an Islamic killing machine which is bent on the genocide of Christians and other non-Muslim faiths.

The difference between Mr Sotloff and his captors is more than just the difference of the relative power of the murderer vs the murdered. It is, indeed, one of faith.

Steven Sotloff, James Foley and the man who murdered them each claimed to be men of faith. The difference is what their faiths inspired them to do.

James Foley, who prayed the Rosary while in captivity, and Steven Sotfloff, who fasted on Jewish Holy Days by pretending to be ill, were both capable of something that the members of ISIS are not: Compassion.

Their faiths inspired them to bring the stories of the helpless victims of war to the larger world view. They were the voices of the voiceless. They gave the whole world facts and information to help us view what is happening in the dark places of current history with at least some accuracy. Their work was a vital part of the empowerment of ordinary people, both in the Middle East and in the West.

ISIS, by contrast, is a destroyer. It does not build. It does not redeem. ISIS murders and rapes, tortures and lies. The videos it has put out showing the beheadings of these two brave men are themselves lies. These men were not murdered for some bizarre idea of retribution against American power. Their murders were acts of extortion in an attempt to get American dollars.

ISIS is not, as it styles itself, a great religious army. It is a band of pirates. There is no honor in ISIS. It is a disgrace to humanity.

Steven Sotloff’s faith, and that of James Foley, is evident in the good they did. We see what kind of men they were by the lives they lived. We see the life-giving power of true faith in the real God in these men’s goodness.

By the same token, we see what kind of men the adherents of ISIS are by the lives they live. When they stand before God, they will answer for their genocide, rapes, thefts, terrors, lies and destruction of whole societies.

God is real. And He is just.

I have no doubt that Steven Sotloff and James Foley took comfort in that as they knelt in the desert awaiting the knife. If their murderer has any knowledge of God at all, he will fear it.

Christianity: The Religion of Life

The Light of Life

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

 

In a world beset with narcissistic -isms, Christianity is the one light.

Every other philosophy, sooner or later, gets around to death. But the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is a message of life. And that light of life and love not only illumines our deepest darkness, it plants hedges around our most pitiless impulses.

In a world where the power to kill helpless human beings is labeled “compassion” or a “human right,” both compassion and human rights become matters of definition, and the defining is done by those who want to kill at will. What is in fact, monstrous, we call good. And what is in fact good, we call monstrous.

Christianity, with its unyielding call to life and love, is the light that shines in this darkness. And the darkness hates it.

This attraction — I cannot call it love, for love is not in it — to ever deeper darkness grows from our most selfish impulses. It creates an upside down world based on language mis-used that demands that everyone — everyone — accede to the lies of manufactured definitions of our finest words. Killing, we are told, is a “right” of the killer, as in abortion is a “right.” Murder is compassion, as in euthanasia is compassionate. Genocide is godly, as in the bestial behavior of Boko Haram and ISIS.

In this upside down world of lying definitions, we can pretend that homosexual couples are the same as a man and a woman, is the same as groups of people consorting sexually, is the same as … whatever. We can label the deliberate killing of people who are slightly different from the norm — such as those with down’s syndrome — a moral necessity. We can reduce women and children to commerce with surrogacy and egg harvesting, sex trafficking, prostitution and porn and call it variously, freedom of expression, creation of families and, once again, the “right” of the purchasers.

Whatever our dark desire to degrade, exploit or kill other people, we can use our facile gift of language to construct a lie to convince ourselves that it is good.

This darkness slides over all life like sludge from a tar pit. It seeks, always, to take us back to the time before; before Christ, even before Abraham. It wants to take us back to the time when we used our big brains in the service of our reptile brains without the hedgerow of Christian teaching to fence them in.

Without God, without Christ, we are capable of anything. There is no bottom to our depravity, no end to our malignant craving for self-gratification. Because we are not animals. Or rather, we are not animals entirely. We are made of the same dust of this earth as any other living thing on this planet. But we alone of all the life on this planet teeming with life have the breath of God within us. We know that we are creatures. We know that we are finite and temporary.

And, if we will admit it, we also know that there is an Other, a being outside ourselves, greater than us, Who is both infinite and eternal. Our inchoate longing for this Other can haunt us. It can drive us to brittle anger and rageful hate that sends us screaming through our years, leaving a past of toppled lives behind us.

The terrors we weave of our unsatisfied longings for God and our refusal to live in the light of His life are the terrors that only a living soul, a creature made in His image who rejects that image in an irrational self-deification, could devise. We are not just animals. We are cathedral builders and bomb builders, poets and beheaders, we are slavers and freedom fighters, abortionists and mothers who lay down their lives for their child. We are the men who protect their families, and the men who kill their families. We are destroyers and builders, killers and nurturers.

No animal possesses this grandeur of good and bottomless capacity for evil. We do.

That is our darkness. It is the darkness of freedom that runs so frantic that it becomes a prison. We are, and we have always been, free. We are not spiders who spin the same web from one generation of spiders to the next. We are free. We can create. We can destroy. We can reject this Other, this God Who calls us but will not force us to love Him. We can even create alter-gods of our own devising, bastardized versions of the real God in whom we attempt to deify our deepest darkness.

The Light of Life that is Christ is the only beacon in the darkness of the hidden places in our own souls. The Gospel message is the message of life. Christianity is the religion of life.

The darkness fights to overcome it with weapons that appeal to our vaunting need to be our own gods. It uses our great facility for language, our enormous creativity, to shape the lies, excuses and bogus philosophies of false belief and disbelief that become tools for tearing down our common humanity and the walls of our civilization.

But the darkness, however many it pulls into its quagmire of lies, never overcomes the Light of Life. This Light shines through us, through ordinary weak and willful Christians who are as afflicted by the fallenness of this world as any other human. We are different in that, though we stumble on the path, we know the Way.

Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, is the bulwark against the forces of death. It shines the light of Life into the darkness of abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, egg harvesting, surrogacy, human trafficking, the destruction of the family and the whole range of degradations, humiliations, and destructions of the human person who is made in the image and likeness of God.

The howling hatred which is directed at Christians and Christianity is the rage of those who wallow half alive in the sludge and do not want to be awakened from their nightmare. Christianity is the religion of life. It defends life in this world, and, to those who are willing to accept Christ, it gives eternal life in the next.

We are not made for the sludge pits of evil that so many of us call home. We are eternal beings who are made for the Light.

Our great dignity is that of all the creatures and living things on this planet, we alone are free. God sets before us each and every day life and death. We can chose the life of His Light. Or we can chose the death of our many false gods and self gods.

It is no accident that the powerful ideas of the value of the individual, the splendid notion of inalienable human rights and the essential equality of all human beings came into existence within Christendom. Such ideas could not have come to fruition anywhere else. Only the Light of Christ, the enlightening mustard seed of Christianity which teaches that there is neither Greek nor Jew, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus, could have grown and blossomed into the progenitor of the idea of universal human rights.

This is not a Western notion. It is a Christian teaching.

Even the hairs of your head are numbered.

If you have done it for the least of these you have done it for me. 

Blessed are the poor.

If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that you may have life and that you may have it abundantly. 

Christianity is growing rapidly throughout the world, even as we are moving into a new age of martyrdom. It is growing the way it always has: By voluntary conversion. People who are attracted to the Light, who hunger for Life, are drawn to Jesus because He is the Light and the Life.

Christianity is the religion of life because Christ is the Light of Life.

And the darkness will never overcome Him.

Book Review: If Daddy is a Cipher, Who is God the Father?

BC HowtheWestReallyLostGod 1

To join the conversation about How the West Really Lost God, a New Theory of Secularization or to order a copy, go here

How the West Really Lost God, a New Theory of Secularization, is an important book. It’s the kind of book that is bound to provoke discussion. It will be lauded and excoriated.

That’s because it deals with important issues and advances an argument for a new explanation of much-discussed social trends. A lot of people have a social or professional stake in the old-school explanations of why secularism has taken hold in the West. Many social scholars have based their life’s work on the gradualist explanation of secularism.

Social scientist gadflies, such as Dr Richard Dawkins, are attempting to base new socio/political movements at least tangentially on those same explanations. When someone comes along and advances a new theory about what has become a kind of social science cant, the reactions will be strong and varied.

This is exactly what has happened with Mary Eberstadt’s fine book, How the West Really Lost God, a New Theory of Secularization. Ms Eberstadt’s premise is that the rise of secularism is linked to the demise of the family. She does a good job of establishing a historical correlation between these two trends, going back hundreds of years.

The theory she advances in her book is that this is more than a correlation, that the destruction of the family leads directly to a lessening of religious fervor, specifically as it relates to Christianity. In other words, she’s saying that strong families buttress the practice of religion and the loss of family weakens it. She is saying that the loss of family, which began with the industrial revolution, is the primary cause of the rise of secularism.

I am not sure exactly what I think about this. I agree that the correlation between the loss of family and the rise of secularism is there. I also agree that single people go to church less.

I do think she Ms Eberstadt is correct that the loss of family is a real factor in the rise of secularism. But I tend to think that there are economic forces at work here that underlie the loss of family that are probably the true, root, cause. I also think that the two things feed on one another. Declining religion also leads to a decline in family.

My opinion, which is not based on research, but is just my opinion, is that one of the main reasons that a smaller percentage of single people than marrieds go to church in today’s society is because they feel compelled to engage in sexual activities which the church forbids. Notice I said “compelled.” Sex is a powerful, even overwhelming, drive in young people. Young human beings go through a period of years in which their hormones are running so strong that no matter what they’re doing, sex is in their minds somewhere.

However, much of the sexual behavior they engage in today is being pushed on them by adults. Sex education, the media and even their own parents push them toward sexual awareness before they want it and then toward sexual activity before they are ready for it. They are often coerced into sexual activity at a point when they are actually scared of it and would, if allowed to make free choices, much rather just talk and giggle about it for a few years.

They are also forced, by the way adolescent social life is currently constructed, (again by adults) to engage in sexual activity whether they want to or not in order to be one of the group. At that point, their sexuality is no longer their own and it is not so much a response to raging hormones as it is a coerced situation.

Progressive churches often fail to offer a bulwark or any sort against this, while traditional churches, just tell young people to stay pure and not engage in sex outside of marriage. Church does not give kids, even those in intact families, the resources to deal with the cultural landslide of influences pushing them into early sexual activity. What churches do is make them uncomfortable about what they are doing. They are betrayed by progressive churches who are actually part of the problem. They are simply given mandates with no real comprehension of what they are facing or support in facing it from traditional churches. It is easier, once they reach the age where they can decide, just not to go.

Once they are married, they usually find it possible to comply with church sexual teachings and their social group, both at once. The dissonance is removed. They can go to church again.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. All this sexual activity weakens or even destroys the bonds that sex forms between spouses. It contributes to the rise of unwed births, and once people are married, their prior sexual promiscuity makes it easier for them to break their vows.

People aren’t as committed to their husbands and wives because they’ve left too many pieces of themselves with their priors. They find it easy to think of divorce in times of trouble. They also find it easy to engage in extramarital sex. Divorce is just as easy as sex for people like this, and for the same reasons.

The upshot of this is that more and more children grow up in partial families with only one distracted and overwhelmed parent. They may never have seen their father. They may not know who their father is. They may grow up in homes wrecked by divorce with absentee fathers or parents who hate one another and are constantly dragging one another into court over custody and child support.They can’t form families of their own when they grow up because they don’t have any idea what a family is.

This is more than the loss of family. It is the destruction of normal child parent relationships and the introduction of acute insecurity, abandonment and isolation on a primal level into children’s developing years. It leads to partially dismembered adults who cannot form normal permanent relationships or commit to any other person.

Meanwhile, the Church tells them that God is their heavenly father, the church is their home, and heaven is their ultimate home.

The best reaction those metaphors are going to get from children who’ve grown up in one of today’s chaotic, shattered and almost non-existent families, is huh? More likely they will respond with a rejecting anger.

After all, if Daddy is a cipher — or worse — then who is God the Father?

How the West Really Lost God, a New Theory of Secularization is an important book. It dares to break step with the accepted explanations for how we got here. The fact that it also raises questions as well as answers them, is a mark of its relevance to today’s world.

I think anyone interested in discussing why Western Civilization has turned toward an increasingly totalitarian form of secularism should read it.

 

Why Did Jesus Have to Die, and Why Does the Resurrection Matter?

Resurrection

Calvary is the fulcrum of history.

Everything changed on that hill called Golgotha 2,000 years ago. Three days later, when the stone rolled away, God put His final redemptive imprimatur on the story of our salvation.

Before that Day in the garden outside the empty tomb, when He looked at the woman and said, Mary!,  Solomon’s ancient wail of “Vanity, vanity; all is vanity,” was the summation of the reality of human existence.

But Calvary and what He did there, the garden and Who the woman met there, changed all that forever.

Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, for you will surely die, God told them.

“You will not die,” Satan countered, in one of the deceptive lies disguised in a seeming truth that he uses so often against us.

They ate.

And they did not die.

Then.

But death was born into the world with that first bite of disobedience. The scales fell from their eyes and they knew. They fouled their primal innocence with willfulness, and they knew shame; first the shame of their nakedness, and then the shame of their fallenness.

Their first action was to hide from God because, as they told Him, “We were ashamed because we were naked.”

God’s answer illuminates their changed condition, Who told you that you were naked?

Their second action was to blame one another.

Primal innocence was gone in a single bite of the apple of disobedience, replaced by primal love of self.

Humankind denied this loss throughout its history, denies it even to this day. Self-will battles with God’s will in each of us every moment of our lives. And yet, there is in each of us, encoded in our souls, a haunting memory of who we really are, and an inchoate longing that will not be silenced for what we have lost.

“Our hearts are made for thee,” St Augustine said. And so they are.

God-longing is a part of the human condition, as is a hunger for transcendence and lost innocence. Separated as we are, this longing festers into resentment and denial, while the hunger congeals on our souls as hubris and self-worship.

The curse of lost innocence drives us to rageful disobedience. It ensnares us in our own desires and, if we let it, murders us with the excesses those desires breed in our lives.

Throughout human history this pull of longing for God and lost innocence has played against the push of the hubris of our self-aggrandizements and twisted desires. The tension it creates drives us into a universal acceptance of insanity. We kill one another and we kill ourselves in as many ways as the human story can devise. Our blood-soaked history of suffering and misery has one message: We cannot save ourselves.

The God-hunger encoded in us and the God-image inside of us, drive us to seek propitiation. From moloch to corporatism, we feed our lives and the lives of our children into the empty maw of false gods of our devising. We seek our lost transcendence in debauchery and achievement; in doing good and doing bad; in war making and peace making; in causes and rights and laws.

We try to achieve a lost immortality by looking as Ted Bundy did, into the eyes of those we kill and persuading ourselves that in that moment when the light of life fades we are like gods. We attempt to overcome our finite hopelessness by doing good works, and advancing humankind through the achievements of our efforts and our minds.

But in the end, we are but dust. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

God does not force us. He doesn’t reach down and re-invent us back to our lost innocence.

That is not cruelty as some claim. It is love and longing. Love, to be love, must be freely given. Our love for Him must be ours to give or withhold, or it is not love at all.

So God led us gently over long years and slow changes to the moment when He stepped into our history as one of us in order to offer us a Way. Jesus had to die because by dying He became the ultimate sacrificial lamb, the complete propitiation for our sins. He made it right by offering Himself in lieu of us on the altar of life and death.

He was our Passover lamb and Calvary was the ultimate and final Lord’s Passover.

If that is true, then what is the meaning and the necessity of the Resurrection? Wasn’t dying on the cross enough to redeem us?

The answers people give are all true. The Resurrection demonstrates that Jesus is God. The Resurrection is a sign of the resurrection that awaits all of us who accept Him and go through the open doorway of redemption that He represents. He is the Way in a literal and absolute manner. We enter into the Kingdom through Him.

But I think there is another ultimate meaning to the Resurrection. Calvary wasn’t the only way that God could have restored us to Himself. It was the only way He could do it and leave us free.

The Resurrection was the great undoing of that curse we cursed ourselves with in the garden. If you eat of the tree of knowledge, you will surely die. 

You will not die, Satan told us, and left out the word “today.”

We believed the lie, and the curse of death, real death that is separation from the Light, entered humanity.

The Resurrection broke that curse. God Himself entered into death, took on the curse, and experienced its depths. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, Jesus cried from the cross as He experienced the cold annihilation of The Alone in its absolute form.

I’ve have written about The Alone that we inflict on one another with our cruelties. But that Alone, which is a foretaste of the pit of hell, is nothing but a foretaste. The real hell, the true Alone, is complete separation from God.

We experience shades of this hell in the bitter blackness of our sinfulness. I have lived a bit of it, both in things I’ve done and things that have been done to me. The pleasure people take in hurting other people is a dark thing that swallows their own humanity.

We can cast other people into The Alone with our rapes, tortures, murders, greed, gossip and pretentious claims to superiority. Every time we do this to another person, we experience a bit of the cold blackness that such actions come from.

The curse of the fall is our daily experience, and that curse is death. The Resurrection broke that curse. God entered into our cursedness and experienced its shattering consequences. He, Who knew no sin, became sin for our sakes.

Then, on the third day, He shattered the curse like a glass by breaking death itself. He cast off death and arose from the grave.

This was different in every way from miracles such as raising Lazarus or the little girl or the young man who was being carried to his burial place. The difference is that He didn’t stand outside death and undo it for a time, He entered into death and dissolved it for all time.

Physical death is a huge thing to us. But to God it appears to be almost trivial. Jesus raised people from the dead as easily as taking a drink of water. Little girl arise, He said. He took pity on a mother’s grief at her son’s funeral procession and raised the young man with a word. Lazarus, come forth He commanded and Lazarus walked out of his tomb.

Physical death isn’t the great divide that it is to us to One who sees both sides of the experience, to the One Who created life in the first place.

The Resurrection isn’t another casual raising of someone from the dead so that they will die again in a few years. The Resurrection is an everlasting casting off of ultimate death altogether.

Eat, and you will surely die. 

You will not die … today.

I am the Way … all who believe in Me will never die. 

The Resurrection is the end of death. It is the Way out of getting what we deserve.

And it leaves us free. We can accept Him and love Him … or not.

Love is not love unless it is freely given.

To Heaven and Back: Dr Mary Neal’s Near Death Experience

I reviewed the book Dr Mary Neal wrote about her near death experience a few months ago.

She describes her experience in this video.

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