The New Evangelization Needs Profanity

So a Pharisee invites Jesus over to his house for dinner. Check out what transpires, from today’s Gospel:

The Pharisee was amazed to see
that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.
The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
You fools!”

Damn. Move over, Kobe Bryant: Jesus is the real OG — Original Gangsta. 

Jesus was crazy.

In many ways, I think he was crazier than his cousin, John the Baptist. When someone dresses crazy and lives a wild, secluded life, there is no surprise in their madness. These people are supposed to be crazy. The only question is how much.

I doubt John the Baptist would’ve ever been invited to a dinner party. (Unless you count the time he made his appearance as a head on a platter.)

But Jesus was different. He showed up the learned in the Temple as a boy, people called him “Rabbi,” he gave public sermons and got invited to an uptight, classy person’s house for supper. The kind of person it’s considered an honor to dine with. People like this are, by strict definition, not supposed to be crazy.

You don’t act out at dinner parties, but especially not these ones. You just don’t. No matter what.

Jesus did. He told off the host, the owner of the house and founder of the feast. Jesus called him a fool. There is some thing rude about that, but there is also something supremely honest, authentic, and real about it too. Jesus called out the Pharisee for being shallow, superficial, and using his external piety to hide a deeper lie and infidelity.

Church folks often seem to think that kindness and being nice and piety and good manners will restore the Church. They’re dead wrong. We need rude people. People like Jesus. People who treat Pharisees with contempt and prostitutes with generosity.

As I’ve said before: the New Evangelization needs profanity. 

This is not an excuse for being off-putting for no good reason. God knows, we have plenty of that already. The profane rejection of the shallow surface of things, cuts and exposes the heart of the matter. Once you get there, everything changes. “Behold, I make all things new.” Those who can’t take the heat, go elsewhere. Those who are unsure whether they can or not, but understand that there is something important and real going on, they stay.

The remnant is serious. Insert the Early Church here. Gangstas, all of them.

I witnessed this growing up in the Church, on all sides. Take priests as an example: I’ve known priests who were rude like Jesus, too shallow and nice and forgettable, and monstrous, tyrannical assholes projecting tremendous pain and insecurity. Some of the rude ones were quiet men, soft-spoken and devout; but they didn’t have a dishonest or inauthentic bone in their body. When they spotted nonsense or triviality, they called it that.

Paul was no Jesus. He said it himself. But the tone and demeanor of his ministry emulated this aspect of Christ. In the today’s first reading, from his letter to the Galatians, Paul strikes to the heart of the matter at hand: “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

Love. The New Evangelization is all about a recovery of real love. Love that we can see and smell and feel in and out of the Sanctuary. Love that isn’t always clean and tidy. A kind of screwed-up sort of love. A love that tells someone to stop being shallow and stupid. A love that tells the downtrodden that things will probably not get much better on the surface, but there is reason for hope nonetheless.

The Gospel is not that if you buy this spiritual life insurance policy you will find peace and wealth on Earth and be assured a great afterlife. No. The good news is that there is hope in faith that works through love. Things may not change on the surface. In fact they may get much, much worse. But, underneath it all, beneath the pain and suffering, there lies a deeper magic, a deeper reality, a beauty ever ancient and ever new, a love Divine whom we can cling to, in hope.

To minister in times like these, we have to show that this is not a joke. Not a mere formality. And it is surely not participatory democracy. The theodrama of salvation history is tragic and profane, leading to redemption and the sacred. When heaven and earth meet, sparks fly.

Jesus had the presence of heart and mind to treat his host with a seriousness that was urgent and honest and jarring. Paul stood down the same prudish sentiments during his time.

Today the prudes are, by and large, the ones who seem least prudish of all on the surface. They project excess to cover insufficiency, abundance and riches to hide a tremendous poverty. All this excess and sexuality is deeply prudish. There’s no sex in sex, it’s just a projection of the lack of real sex and sensual love. A loving embrace between friends is more sensual than any pornographic scene in most of today’s sad excuses for cinema.

The recent flurry of debate about Andy Warhol’s gayness and Catholicism at Patheos Catholic this week bespeaks some of this prudishness to me. Warhol’s great mistake was not moral. It was aesthetic. He assumed that the everyday and the mundane needed sanctification through tortured, stylized human efforts. The great, humanist sin of modernity. He should have just left it all alone. His art protesteth too much. St. Francis is light years ahead of Warhol in this regard.

There is nothing edgy about being edgy anymore.The edge that cuts nowadays is actually a form of life that has its feet on the ground, in the shit and the mud, with it’s soul swinging for the heavens with reckless, crazy abandon.

Go to daily mass. Talk about it. That is VERY profane these days. Light up a cigarette and tell someone the story of how Jesus told off the Pharisee, and how crazy that was.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be painted as Pharisees and there is no reason to deny the truth: we are Pharisees. Read our blogs. Pharisees, everywhere. Read this post, for God’s sake! I’m a total fraud. “Kyrie eleison” But the present situation still remains: some people cannot evangelize because they lack the religious testicular fortitude to read Rolling Stone, without fear. Other cannot evangelize because they only read that and it’s cheap equivalents.

Our example is Jesus. A very rude houseguest sometimes. The Rabbi who humiliates you in front of friends and company, then dies for you afterwards. This is love. Total madness. Christ.

 (Read the follow-up: More Stuff on Gangstas)

  • J.

    Top shelf.
    A comment on this: “He [Warhol] assumed that the everyday and the mundane needed sanctification through tortured, stylized human efforts. The great, humanist sin of modernity. He should have just left it all alone.”
    Implication: Modernity (or Modernism?) supposes that the everyday needs sanctification through human efforts. But that’s wrong. The everyday is sacred already.
    Comment: The way in which the everyday is sacred already is not the way in which (say) ocean water is salty already. Suppose you doubt whether ocean water is salty; here’s the fix: taste it. Suppose you doubt whether the everyday is sacred; here’s the fix: ?
    Here’s the fix: Modernism. You pursue it; and you find, eventually, that the only meaning there really is is whatever meaning you create: God’s dead, and tradition’s out, and all that’s left is whatever you can impart meaning to yourself. But then suppose you come to doubt whether what you impart meaning to is really meaningful. Drum up all the stories you might, cook up all the arguments, talk as passionately as you can muster — Is it really meaningful? Pause. Um.
    Then what?
    Here’s what: Turn around. What’s there? The world, in its immediacy and familiarity. The red wheelbarrow, glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens. Seems sacred. Is sacred.
    Here’s the point: To recognize the world as sacred isn’t like recognizing the ocean as salty. It takes a certain preparatory stage — else it’s a sort of bourgeois cheapening of the whole project. And that preparatory stage might well be a fling with modernism — indeed, the modernist narrative is one that should end with this stage. The stage is sort of built into modernism, if one pursues modernism intently, and favors things like daffodils to things like despair.
    Here’s the damn point: It may well take “The Waste Land” to recognize the promised land. There’s a sort of effort needed to take the everyday as sacred, but it isn’t an effort of *making* the everyday sacred; it’s the effort of *seeing* the everyday as sacred.

    • srocha

      I think the rub is my own fault. By using the word ‘modernity,’ I was unwittingly mixing and matching with the term’s usage in the visual arts. Especially with Warhol’s move away from modernism into pop art. (Reminds me of the move to cultural studies.) I’m about to read a book on modernism by a fellow philosopher of education, but what I know about it is minimal at this point.

      In this post, however, I instead tried to pin Warhol to Descartes, et al. That modernity.

      But your point remains, beyond our language tango. The trouble of giving a serious and adequate reply would entail me rehearsing my meaningless sense of aesthetics. But, in a way, I you anticipate it with my showing. I am basically saying that recognition is not as important as what is given. So the ocean’s saltiness is precisely the sort of thing I am trying to press for. You could tie this down to many things, but in this post I was direct about that: St. Francis vis-a-vis St. Bonaventure’s Illumination Theology. A sort of panentheism.

      Whew! This is as hot as a comment box has gotten around these parts in a long while. Thanks, J.

  • J.

    “… recognition is not as important as what is given.” — I suppose that seems right, insofar as ‘what is given’ (i.e. what’s out there in the world) is metaphysically prior to its being recognized, but emphasis on this point I think misses what real dispute we may have. It may well be that the world is sacred in just as immediate a way as the ocean is salty — but we don’t experience the world’s sacredness as immediately and obviously as we experience the ocean’s saltiness. In fact, I want to claim, to experience the world’s sacredness takes some training. Some effort. And this effort is an effort to learn to see what is already there. But it’s a *learning to see.* And it’s not something someone can just decide to do and thereby accomplish it. Most often, it takes a person, a guide: ‘Turn around. Look at what’s really there. Notice these features of it. Think of it in this way.’ Again, this isn’t to say the world *needs* sanctification through human efforts; it’s just saying that human effort is often needed to see the world as sanctified.

    Aside: Please, more stuff on gangstas. That’s serious. A real sense of what’s important, and a composure such to call out what’s not for what’s not. Aristotle called it ‘megalopsuchia.’ OG.

    • srocha

      I see your point now. Loud and clear. I’d reply by saying, “well sure, most of the time, sometimes this is the way the sacredness of the world is shown to be what it already is.” But here, as a Catholic, I think we have a nifty device called the Liturgy that does this constantly. A book I’ve been slogging away at titled “Liturgy as Mystagogy” is all about this. The point is that the sacredness of everything is many times best understood by the unlearned. This is also not true. What brings the folkloric, agrarian experience of Nature together with the aristocratic artist — Monica and Augustine, the head and the heart? For me this is THE most important educational question we face. This is the Platonic notion of education: the cultivation of desire. So, again, I am willing to grant that the immediacy of the given must be brought close and made intimate SOMETIMES, but for those who, by God’s grace (and that is the key), live within the structure and rhythm of the Liturgy, this process occurs rather naturally.

      Last thing on this: I also believe, giving a nod to psychoanalysis, that some of the effort you describe is not so much realizing, but, rather, realizing what you already realize. Learning what you already know. No, not recollection. But it kinda looks that way, huh? Hmm…

      Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Antioch. And Jesus is at his gansta tricks again in the Gospel. I think your petition for more gangstas will be fulfilled by noon.

      Always a pleasure, J.

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  • Ted Seeber

    I decided to follow the example on my Blog. True, it’s a bit of a poser- but my experience on the board of directors of Our Peaceful Place backs up what I say- and I challenge the Good Without God people to join me!

    • srocha

      I’m a poser too! Thanks for joining me. I like it.

  • Mary

    I guess you win the award today for offending. I don’t know really know what else to say except that I find the content totally offensive; unbelievable actually.

    • srocha

      I am hoping that I’m not falling into a trap here, perfectly set by splendid irony, so I’ll be cautious and simply accept the award, in honor of the first Offender mentioned in this post.

  • DeaconJR

    Hi, Sam–you wrote:

    “Church folks often seem to think that kindness and being nice and piety and good manners will restore the Church. They’re dead wrong. We need rude people. People like Jesus. People who treat Pharisees with contempt and prostitutes with generosity.”

    Actually, Sam, the “Church folks” are dead *right*. Being “profane” will do *nothing* at all to restore the Church. Jesus Himself was neither profane nor rude–rather, He was/is something we are not–He’s God.

    I have on several occasions seen people try to utilize Jesus somehow as the poster child for being insulting, flippant, sarcastic, rude, and even unkind–all justified because it’s directed at some “other” who doesn’t seem to see in themselves some form of hypocrisy so clearly seen by the one trying to defend being “profane” by claiming it’s actually somehow “sacred” because Jesus “did it.”

    But that’s dead wrong. Jesus never treated anyone with contempt. And neither should we. Too often we forget that Jesus words and judgements are those of the God-man. It is a Divine Person calling the Pharisee a “fool”. A Person Who can do what you and I cannot–He can and did read minds, hearts, and souls to perfection. As such, Jesus’ seemingly harsh or rude “judgements” were actually *sacred*, not profane.

    You and I can stake no such claim to divine certitude when it comes to attempting to “judge” others in this way. No, for us it remains merely an unholy exercise in the profane.

    We don’t need rude people or profane behavior. Nor does rudeness and profanity lead to sanctity.

    The new evangelization will only be weakened by such “imitations” of Christ, as any claim to trying to be “rude like Jesus” is an illusory power grab in which we seek to appropriate a divine prerogative for ourselves.

    No, the Church folks are quite right–kindness, truth spoken in love, the pursuit of personal holiness rather than profanity–this is what we mere mortals are called to.

    God bless you,

    Deacon JR

    • srocha

      Dear Deacon JR,

      I take issue with two aspects of your reply.

      1. Your seem to import a lot of your own understanding of the term ‘rude’ into my own use of it. You might consult the follow-up, particularly where I engage with Paul’s fruit of the Spirit and offer the example of Ignatius of Antioch. But even in this post, there were carefully placed guards against going too far in the other direction (e.g. the three kinds of priests I’ve known, and more). Until you account for the whole, your argument against the part will actually fail to grasp it entirely.

      2. Beyond the language game, there is a more serious, theological confusion. It begin in a faulty Christology that separates us from the humanity and example of Christ. Again, I think if you read this and the follow-up with more care, you’d find it more clearly articulated; especially in terms of how to read Paul alongside Christ. But this theological mistake reveals itself most in your confusion between what is profane and what is sacred. I doubt I can convince you of the fact that I am not denying the sacredness of the world (see: comments about Warhol), but I hope I can give you reason to wonder whether you have fully understood what the terms ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ refer to, what their relationship is in the structure of these essays, and what theological reasons there might be to see them that way.

      I hate to sound so harsh, but the failure of your imagination and the knee-jerk reaction to the terms ‘rude’ and ‘profane’ are precisely the attitude I am critiquing, in love, in these posts.

      Thanks for reading and the reply and happy feast of St. Luke!

      • DeaconJR

        Hi, Sam–thanks for the reply.
        I stand corrected, having re-read your post minus the fog of last night’s Cards/Giants rain delay :-) . I think I see your point.

        I think my above comment has its point and its place (relative to those who do indeed defend real rudeness and contempt for brother Christians via the example of Christ), but I see now that it is definitely misplaced here.

        Sorry I misunderstood, but thanks for your help in clarifying this post for me!

        God bless,

        Deacon JR

        • srocha

          Deacon JR,

          What a generous and most Christian reply! Not because you agreed with me, with your own reservations of course, but because you did the work of taking a second look, come what may. I only hope to do the same. Thanks for such a wonderful example.

          • DeaconJR

            Likewise, Sam–God bless, and be assured of my prayers and support for your contributions to the Catholic blogosphere! Deacon JR

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  • Randy

    This reminds me of the gory pictures debate in the pro-life movement. I wrote about it a year ago after going to a conference divided over the issue

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  • Timothy

    Just started reading you today (after your First Things Column). Win.

    • srocha

      Thanks, Timothy! Hit me up sometime; we’re neighbors!

  • Bryan

    Nice post and I agree wholeheartedly. As an amateur philologist, I would also point out that the “naughty” words we use today would be unrecognizable to the folks of Our Lord’s time. It is the sentiment that is important, and Our Lord demonstrated clearly that he was not afraid to step on toes in the service of His Mission. He called names, flipped tables, and came to bring a sword.

    However, there is one thing I have to say: That crack about John the Baptist was way out of line. I can appreciate the raunchiest of humor, but you’re talking about a real person and very holy man who was brutally murdered by the same forces who conspired against Our Lord. In fact, and I’m not saying this to be cute, but that was some bullshit.

    Other than that, great article. God bless.

  • Jane Hartman

    Only Jesus has the right to call someone a fool. We are prideful and arrogant in calling Jesus profane or even rude in this instance. I don’t agree with you – bad language will only hurt our credibility as Christians. Jesus may have been provocative, but he was never profane.

    • srocha

      You may want to tell that to the all the prophets and many of the saints, too.