Originally written last year on the feast of St. John the Baptist, I can’t help but note that everything I’ve seen and read about Pope Francis leads me to conclude that between the two types presented in the title above, and in the narrative below, he is the former, and not the latter.
The Holy Spirit prefers the former type too, as He always has. Thanks be to God.
I’ll start this post with a portrait of where being a Christian badass usually leads you during a sojourn on planet earth. The painting above is by Michealangelo Carravagio, one of my favorite artists, and is on display in the Oratory of St. John’s Co-Cathedral, in Malta.
Simply titled The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, it is a depiction of the last moments on earth of the greatest of the children men, whose martyrdom feast we celebrate today. This is where Truth leads the faithful, and where the faithful willingly go in pursuit of, and in submission to, the Truth from Before All Ages.
If my use of the term “badass” offends your sense of decorum, please pardon me.
I argue that it shouldn’t offend you, as the meaning of the term is quite clear, whether your dictionary of record is Merriam-Webster, or whether you just go with your gut. The one defines the word as “ready to cause or get into trouble,” and “of formidable strength or skill.” The other agrees, and ups the ante with thoughts of “tough,” “hard core,” and “can’t be reasoned with.”
John the Baptist was all of these traits, and more. Because for the sake of all of us, and in obedience to Truth Himself, he did what most of us don’t have the temerity to do any longer. He spoke Truth to power, his comfort, and health, be damned.
He did it at a time when temporal power in Palestine was something long held by foreign empires, and retained by ample use of the lash, the sword, and the cross. He did it when there was absolutely no chance to effect regime change. The people he gathered around himself had no votes to cast, and no reason to listen to the seemingly mad ravings of an animal skin covered prophet, who lunched on locusts dipped in honey, except for one. He spoke truly and of the coming of Truth.
Why don’t we do the same now? Unlike Pilate’s muddled headed question regarding the nature of truth, and what it is, and who has it, John the Baptist knew it’s nature, it’s origin, and it’s Incarnation, even when he sought confirmation of this when he was locked in a prison cell.
You and I, immersed in the numbing comforts of suburbia, or of cosmopolitan society, with our party affiliations, our seemingly grace-given franchise, and our sense of freedom, rarely dare say a word to bring those in power nowadays back in line to the service of truth. And this is all while our dignity as human beings is being stipped away, the innocent are being slaughtered, yet we barely blink an eye as long as our comfortable little lives aren’t disturbed.
And yet they are disturbed, aren’t they? Rihanna, high priestesss of everything that is wrong with contempory society, sang it for all of us in her aptly titled tune Disturbia. Truth isn’t a respecter of persons, and has no problem warning us via prophets like John, or from the likes of Rihanna.
Or the likes of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who like Rihanna (granted an improbable paring) was quick to clarify that the cure for what ails us is to stop chasing our idols, and our tails, and confront the puzzle that Pilate so blithely washed his hands of. What was the Russian great’s message? The same one we’ve yearned for since forever. That Truth will set us free.
Pilate had the final say on power in Palestine, back when John received “the call.” Truth actually stood before him, and the Procurator found him to be without blemish. Still and all, he did what is always done when Truth dares to raise its voice, and threatens all that phoniness we hold dear, which is the status quo, even when we know how disjointed, destructive, and unreal, the status quo actually, truthfully, is.
And this very Truth, the one sacrificed on the altar of unreality, was proclaimed by the badass named John. He wasn’t quiet and unassuming in doing so, for he wasn’t a straw man, or a hollow man, either. Why are we such men (and I speak of all mankind) nowadays? Why when God has deigned that temporal power be recognized as being vested in us, the people, and in turn entrusted to our leaders, by us, in conformity to our will?
Why then is our will so weak? Is it not because we too, like Pilate, have shunned the truth? Is it not because we have watered our desires down to being satisfied by mere nostrums of happiness and pleasure, while we’ve left off the pursuit of the solid food of truth, the only food that can truly sustain us, left it on the table to grow cold, and eventually to rot and to mold?
The crowds who followed John, and who later followed Jesus, were powerless to change anything, and yet we have been given this yearned for power to change everything. Regardless of this fact, we bemoan our powerlessness, and pray, if we pray at all, that no harm will come to us. We pray that we can just have our little fantasy of a pain free, undisturbed, life. We pray for the impossibility of a heaven, here on earth, founded by men. And every few years, we develop electoral amnesia, tune out truth, and vote hands-down for the lies and half-truths presented to us by the elect of either the Social Justice Fawning Abortopublican Party, or those of the Business, No Taxes, War and Torture Plutocratic Party, both of which scrapped following the causes of truth long ago.
Which reminds me of a story another badass prophet was told to relay to the people of Israel long ago. I’m no theologian, nor am I a biblical scholar, but I figure God knows how to grab our attention and sear a scene on our memory banks quicker than you can read P.J. O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores. It even stars two nubile sisters who practice the oldest profession with reckless abandon, much like the Abortopublicans and the Plutocrats.
As this passage is quite graphic, you may have never heard it proclaimed from the lecturn. It’s from Chapter 23 of Ezekiel and it’s been helpfully notated as The Two Sisters,
The Two Sisters.
The word of the LORD came to me:
Son of man, there were two women, daughters of the same mother. Even as young girls, they were prostitutes, serving as prostitutes in Egypt. There the Egyptians fondled their breasts and caressed their virgin nipples.
Got your attention yet?
Oholah was the name of the elder, and the name of her sister was Oholibah. They became mine and gave birth to sons and daughters. As for their names: Samaria was Oholah and Jerusalem, Oholibah.
So we’re talking about countries, not people? Whew! Feel free to think of the two parties playing these roles though, for the mind picture painted by God here is one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon, by design. I’ll be staying out of the way hereonin.
Oholah became a prostitute while married to me and lusted after her lovers, the Assyrians: warriors dressed in purple, governors and officers, all of them handsome young soldiers, mounted on horses. She gave herself as a prostitute to them, to all the Assyrian elite; with all those for whom she lusted, she also defiled herself with their idols.
She did not abandon the prostitution she had begun with the Egyptians, who had lain with her when she was young, fondling her virgin breasts and pouring out their lust upon her. Therefore I handed her over to her lovers, to the Assyrians for whom she lusted. They exposed her nakedness; her sons and daughters they took away, and her they killed with the sword. She became a byword for women because of the sentence carried out against her.
Although her sister Oholibah saw all this, her lust was more depraved than her sister’s; she outdid her in prostitution. She too lusted after the Assyrians, governors and officers, warriors impeccably clothed, mounted on horses, all of them handsome young soldiers. I saw that she had defiled herself—now both had gone down the same path.
She went further in her prostitution: She saw male figures drawn on the wall, images of Chaldeans drawn with vermilion, with sashes tied about their waists, flowing turbans on their heads, all looking like chariot warriors, images of Babylonians, natives of Chaldea. As soon as she set eyes on them she lusted for them, and she sent messengers to them in Chaldea. The Babylonians came to her, to her love couch; they defiled her with their impurities. But as soon as they had defiled her, she recoiled from them.
When her prostitution was discovered and her shame revealed, I recoiled from her as I had recoiled from her sister. But she increased her prostitution, recalling the days of her youth when she had served as a prostitute in the land of Egypt. She lusted for the lechers of Egypt, whose members are like those of donkeys, whose thrusts are like those of stallions.
You reverted to the depravity of your youth, when Egyptians fondled your breasts, caressing your young nipples. Therefore, Oholibah, thus says the Lord GOD: I will now stir up your lovers against you, those from whom you recoiled, and I will bring them against you from every side: the men of Babylon and all of Chaldea, Pekod, Shoa and Koa, along with all the Assyrians, handsome young soldiers, all of them governors and officers, charioteers and warriors, all of them horsemen.
They shall invade you with armor, chariots and wagons, a horde of peoples; they will array against you on every side bucklers and shields and helmets. I will give them the right of judgment, and they will judge you according to their standards.
I will direct my jealousy against you, so that they deal with you in fury, cutting off your nose and ears; what is left of you shall fall by the sword. They shall take away your sons and daughters, and what is left of you shall be devoured by fire. They shall strip off your clothes and seize your splendid jewelry. I will put an end to your depravity and to your prostitution from the land of Egypt; you shall no longer look to them, nor even remember Egypt again.
For thus says the Lord GOD: I am now handing you over to those whom you hate, to those from whom you recoil. They shall treat you with hatred, seizing all that you worked for and leaving you stark naked, so that your indecent nakedness is exposed. Your depravity and prostitution brought these things upon you because you served as a prostitute for the nations, defiling yourself with their idols. Because you followed your sister’s path, I will put her cup into your hand.
Thus says the Lord GOD:
The cup of your sister you shall drink,
deep and wide;
It brings ridicule and mockery,
it holds so much;
You will be filled with drunkenness and grief—
A cup of horror and devastation,
the cup of your sister Samaria;
You shall drink it dry,
its very sherds you will gnaw;
And you shall tear out your breasts;
for I have spoken—oracle of the Lord GOD.
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: You have forgotten me and cast me behind your back; now suffer for your depravity and prostitution.
Then the LORD said to me: Son of man, would you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then make known to them their abominations. For they committed adultery, and blood covers their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; even the children they bore for me they burnt as food for them. And they also did this to me: on that day, they defiled my sanctuary and desecrated my sabbaths. On the very day they slaughtered their children for their idols, they entered my sanctuary to desecrate it. Thus they acted within my house!
Moreover, they sent for men who had to come from afar; when a messenger was sent to them, they came. On their account you bathed, painted your eyes, and put on jewelry. You sat on a magnificent couch, set before it a table, on which to lay my incense and oil. The cries of a mob! The shouts of men coming in from the wilderness! They put bracelets on the women’s arms and splendid crowns on their heads.
I said: “That worn-out one still has adulteries in her! Now they engage her as a prostitute and she…
And indeed they did come in to her as men come in to a prostitute. Thus they came to Oholah and Oholibah, the depraved women. The righteous shall certainly punish them with sentences given to adulterers and murderers, for they committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. Indeed, thus says the Lord GOD: Raise up an army against them and hand them over to terror and plunder.
The army will stone them and hack them to pieces with their swords. They will kill their sons and daughters and set fire to their houses. Thus I will put an end to depravity in the land, and all women will be warned not to imitate your depravity. They shall inflict on you the penalty of your depravity, and you shall pay for your sins of idolatry. Then you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
Unforgettable, that’s what that is.
Our lack of fidelity to truth, and our shunning of the relentless pursuit of it, the aspiration to gain knowledge of it, and the steadfast upholding of, and the application of its’ dictates to our every challenge, is at the root of all that ails us as a people, and as a society.
The trustees of our popular sovereignty (not to mention our popular culture) tell us half-truths, if not outright lies, and we are satisfied? The Truth came to set us free, and yet everywhere we are in chains because we fear to give truth its proper place? Because we hesitate to hold our leaders accountable to it? Well that isn’t badass, nor is it Christian. What it is, is cowardly.
So the next time you find yourself lamenting the woes of your favorite political party (which ever flavor you prefer above) remember the story of the Two Sisters and remember the persons who gave birth to them. Then call to mind what Il Papa proclaimed in today’s audience: The Truth is the truth, there is no compromise.
Word. And coming from the head of the pillar and bulwark of truth, his thoughts are worthy of our attention. For if you’re curious where the buck stops in these matters, go look in the mirror and ask yourself one question. Do you want to live forever?
Calah Alexander -Pope Francis, Teaching Me to Walk the Walk.
Robert Royal – Day Nine: A Spirit That Surprises.
Deacon Scott Dodge – Pope Francis: What’s in a name?