19 February 2011

God's ridculous demands

7th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

One thing we know for sure about God: He ain't shy about demanding that we do great things. He ain't shy about demanding that we become a great people. But His demands for our greatness always come with an offer of help; He never simply demands perfection and then leaves us on our own. Since His help has often come in the guise of an invading army or a series of plagues or the mysterious puzzles of prophecy, we might think it better that He withdraw His help and let us do the best we can all by ourselves. But divine expectations are best met with divine assistance, especially if we are the ones who are expected to excel. Given our limits, our tendencies to falter, we know that the higher the expectation, the greater the need for help. If what God says to Moses in the Book of Leviticus is to be believed, then the only help for us is for God to make us gods: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” Jesus repeats this demand, “. . .be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We are to be holy and perfect as God Himself is holy and perfect. Can you imagine what sort of help we are going to need to meet this expectation?! God will indeed have to make us into gods. And this is exactly the help He offered us when He sent His only Son to live and die among us as one of us. He's offered His help—once for all—on the cross. Are you ready to receive it?

The question I'm asking sounds a bit strange, so let me make it perfectly clear: you are ready to be made into God? This really isn't such a strange question. The idea that we “partake in the divine nature” is an ancient Catholic tradition; it's as old as Christianity itself. The idea that the divine can dwell in the human is even older. In the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ, we have one person with two natures—one human, one divine. If we can believe that the Son of God was born of a virgin and lived and died among us, then it really isn't all that difficult to believe that we are saved from eternal darkness by becoming one with the Father through the His incarnated Son. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul puts the question succinctly: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” What other work do we have as Christians than to allow the Spirit of God to be poured into us, overflowing into anything, anyone we touch? Our wisdom becomes His wisdom; our love becomes His love; our hope becomes His hope. We become holy and perfect in the only way we can: we become God. . .with God's help. Without His help, we fall into the same trap that fell Adam and Eve, that hapless couple who believed the serpent when he told them that they could become gods without God. What did the serpent tell Adam and Eve that they needed? Knowledge. Not divine knowledge but worldly knowledge. Having enough worldly knowledge would not only enlighten them but it would transform them into gods as well.

They fall for it. And so do we. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. . .” Now, Paul uses “wisdom” rather than “knowledge” here. Knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing. Wisdom comes with the right use of knowledge. Knowledge is a tool; wisdom is an attitude. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in their pride, they came to know the difference between good and evil. What they choose to do with this knowledge is what makes them wise or foolish. Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to reject the kind of wisdom that comes from worldly knowledge alone, that is, wisdom based on knowledge that ignores God as the world's creator. He is not telling them to reject knowledge about the world but rather to reject the idea that you can be wise all the while denying that God is the world's creator. True wisdom—godly wisdom—starts with a spirit overawed by the presence of God in His creation. Wisdom based on worldly knowledge demands that we start with the world and work only within our human limitations, leaving God aside. What God demands of us in our progress toward His holiness and perfection is that we see, hear, taste, feel, and think through our trust in Him. In other words, we start by acknowledging that we are His creatures, and then we see, hear, taste, feel, and think of everything we encounter as a revelation of God Himself. This is how we start. But it isn't how we finish.

The gospel set aside for today is a continuation of last Sunday's reading. That reading ended with “Let your Yes mean yes and your No mean no. Anything else is from the evil one.” Jesus showed us then and he shows again today the difference between worldly wisdom and the wisdom of his Father. He sets one side against the other: “You have heard it said. . .but I say to you. . .” You have heard it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, “Offer no resistance to one who is evil.” You have heard it said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Why? Why would any sane person living in the real world offer no resistance to evil, love their enemies, and pray for those who persecute them? Jesus answers, “[so] that you may be children of your heavenly Father. . .” Worldly wisdom tells us that it is wise to fight evil, to hate our enemies, and to pray of their defeat. In a world without God, a world where there is nothing beyond death, nothing higher than the law of Might Makes Right, we would be foolish indeed to forgive, to show mercy, and to pray for our enemies. But we have vowed to pursue holiness and perfection with God's help. And this we cannot do if we are mired in the foolishness of the world. Think for a moment about the standard God has set for us. Jesus says that we must do these ridiculous things in order to be the children of our heavenly Father b/c “he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” If can't choose who gets God's sunlight and who gets His rain, how could we possibly decide who it is that He should love and forgive? And if we are saved by becoming God, then our love and forgiveness must fall on the bad and the good, on the just and the unjust alike. That's quite a demand. An extraordinarily high expectation. Thanks be to God that we have His help!

The question remains: are you ready to receive His help and become God? To be holy as He is holy? To be perfect as He is perfect? St. Thomas Aquinas, quoting St. Irenaeus, wrote, “God became Man so that Man might become God.” Our only hope of achieving the holiness and perfection demanded of us is to surrender ourselves to the wisdom of God, and follow His Christ in all things. At the end of the day, our surrender is sacrificial love, giving of ourselves wholly in love for the sake of another. At the very least, this means restraining your pride—hourly, daily—and giving God thanks for every chance you have to be loving, forgiving, and merciful. All of us belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ himself belongs to God.

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Abel still bears witness. . .do you?

6th Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church

Think about all the ways that you can change yourself. Buy new clothes. Get a haircut. Lose weight. A little plastic surgery to perfect your already nearly perfect figure. You can learn a foreign language, or take up a hobby like stamp collecting or bungee jumping off bridges. Any change you make will be temporary; it will last only as long as you do. This includes tattoos and piercings. These changes are temporary not only b/c they are made to a mortal body—a body that will die—but also b/c the one who makes them is limited, a finite person. None of us is God, so how we alter our body or improve our mind will, of necessity, be impermanent. On our own we cannot change ourselves in ways that will last forever. However, there is one change we can make that will last forever: we can become Christ. With God's help, we can be transfigured into the sons and daughters of the Father in heaven. When Jesus transfigures in front of Peter, James, and John, we isn't just showing off or trying to overawe them. He's showing them (and us) our future, our desired end. Through him, with him, in him, we are transfigured, radically changed into men and women capable of becoming Christs for the world. 

Recall: just a day or two before Jesus transfigures, he had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ.” Though he gives the right answer, Peter doesn't really understand what this answer means. When Jesus tells his disciples what is destined to happen to him at the hands of his enemies, Peter balks and rebukes Jesus. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” We really don't know what Peter expected of Christ, how he imagined that Jesus' mission on earth would end. Jesus knows the prophecies and he knows how and why he will die. He tells the disciples that if they will follow him, they must pick up their cross and be prepared to suffer as he will suffer. Had he stopped there, the disciples might have run! And who would blame them? Promising persecution, torture, and death for your followers is not the best way to sell yourself as a leader. But Jesus wants his disciples (and us) to know the profound change that awaits all those who choose to follow him and do so faithfully. Rather than just tell them about this change, he shows them. 

On the mountaintop, Jesus is “transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white. . .” Moses and Elijah appear with him. They disciples are so terrified that they hardly knew what to say. As they were fumbling around for something, anything to say, a cloud appears and a voice booms out, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” If Peter and the other disciples had any doubts about how and why Jesus would suffer and die, those doubts vanished. They were to listen and learn. Jesus asks, “. . .how is it written regarding the Son of Man that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt?” Before the Son of Man can achieve what he sent to us to achieve, the words of the prophets must be fulfilled. Before the dazzling white robes of transfiguration can be worn, the bloody red rags of martyrdom must be torn away. His victory for us comes through suffering, through sacrificial love. For us to follow him, to take up our cross, we too must undergo a radical change, one we can start on our own but never finish on our own. Think on the changes you can make—not just superficial changes—substantial changes, changes in how and when you choose to love, to forgive, to show mercy. Abel still bears witness to God through his sacrifice. What are you prepared to sacrifice for Christ's sake? If you will be transfigured, the only answer is “Everything.”

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Coffee Cup Browsing

Unions protest for democracy in WI but actively work against democracy in their own ranks.

The New Civility?  WI teachers lead by example.  I'd really like to know if any of these placards make it onto any major MSM news show.  If not, then we know why the MSM has become largely irrelevant. 

Milwaukee archbishop backs unions?  Hmmmm. . .looks like the good archbishop is failing to distinguish between private sector and public sector unions.  

TN legislative cmte approves bill that will break the teachers' union ability to bargain collectively.  Excellent move!  Collectivism of any kind ultimately punishes individual talent and rewards individual irresponsibility. Is there a better example of this than the public school system?

At UC-Davis "religious discrimination" is defined as "Christians oppressing non-Christians."  By definition, Christians cannot be discriminated against.  This reminds me of a time when a friar told me that whites cannot be discriminated against b/c they are white!

Can Catholics lie in order to expose corrupt organizations like Planned Parenthood?  Shea does an excellent job of parsing all the distinctions and splitting all the right hairs.  Bottom-line:  lying is always a sin.  But there are levels of culpability.  

CARA report confirms what most of us what known for some time:  religious congregations that maintain basic Catholic traditions (habit, community prayer, devotions, etc) are growing rapidly.

Aussie priests threaten to boycott the new translations of the Missal.  Isn't it strange that those who push and push and push for change are so hind-bound and stubborn when it comes to change they don't like.

Why you shouldn't take your husband shopping with you

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17 February 2011

On tranqs, butter, and the MRI

With a horse tranquilizer, a tub of "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!," some prayer, some cussing, and an extra-large shoe horn, I made it into and out of the MRI machine this afternoon.  It wasn't so bad.

Waiting for the results. . .Thanks for all the prayers!

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Right Answer, Wrong Understanding

6th Week OT (R)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

You really can't go through life without being tested. In school, we take tests to measure our knowledge. In the doctor's office, we are subjected tests to evaluate our health. At work, we are given tests to evaluate our competence for the job. Our faith can be tested with temptations. Our sanity can be tested by illness, anxiety, trauma. We can even run tests on the viability of a marriage. Through the centuries, the Church has been tested. Heresies, schisms, multiple popes reigning simultaneously. Invasions, revolutions, suppression by the State. The most dangerous tests of the Church are usually internal. The Church in the U.S. right now is being tested by abuse scandals. The Church in Ireland and Germany are suffering just as the Church in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia is growing like Mississippi kudzu. At a vital moment in their training to become apostles, Jesus turns to the disciples and asks, “Who do people say that I am?” John the Baptist. Elijah. One of the prophets. Then the real test. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter speaks up first, “You are the Christ.” That's the right answer, but does Peter get a gold star for answering correctly? Maybe. If he had stopped there. Peter knows the right answer, but he doesn't know what it means. Jesus is the Christ. Do you know this means?

Inside and outside the Church, Jesus has been portrayed as a desert prophet, a learned philosopher, a mountain mystic, a monk, an eastern priest, a kindly teacher, an ascended master. He's been painted as a fierce judge of sinners; a shining, saintly father; a well-fed merchant, a Buddhist monk, and even as a Renaissance pope! We've read about him as a bomb-throwing Marxist revolutionary, a middle-class social reformer, a feminist campaigner, and a man dying from HIV/AIDS. Everywhere he is portrayed—in art, literature, religious texts—Jesus is always exactly what we need him to be, telling us what we want to hear. And it is for this reason, that Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” This question tests the understanding of those who follow him around in crowds, those who hear rumors of his works and words. Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” b/c he must know that those closest to him truly understand who he is and what he has been sent to do. They seem to understand his identity but not his mission. Not yet anyway.

When Jesus foretells his treatment at the hands of his enemies, Peter takes him aside and rebukes him. No more than the others, Peter doesn't want to hear what will happen to his teacher. If Peter had truly understood Jesus' mission, he would have understood that the Anointed One promised by the prophets would have to suffer. Scripture is clear about this. Peter's rebuke is a temptation for Jesus, a temptation to abandon his mission and stay with his friends. Jesus puts Peter and the temptation in their proper place, “Get behind me, Satan.” Because of who he is and what he must do, Jesus knows that his Passion has been prophesied and that this prophecy must be fulfilled. Like Peter, we want to spare Jesus his suffering, so we construct images, stories, whole theologies about Jesus that spare him the indignities of the whip and the cross. But to deny that he suffered for us is to deny both who he is and what he has done. Peter is tested. So are we. Peter's faith is weighed and measured. And so is ours. Jesus wants to know that we know both who is he—the Christ—and he has done for us—suffered, died, and rose again. To be the Messiah promised by the prophets is to be the One who takes on the sin of the world. We cannot tempt him to be otherwise. For the sake of our salvation, we cannot sugarcoat, paint over, or wish away the ugly brutality of the Passion or the crucifixion. Through his death on the cross, we come to God's glory with Christ on Easter morning.

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16 February 2011

Coffee Cup Browsing

Nice article on the Vatican's astronomer. . .

More adolescent clerical attention-seeking behavior.  The only reason for a priest to do something like this is to draw attention to himself.  He'll have a book out next month and then start making the Heretic Circuit (Call to Action, VOTF, etc.).

LifeSiteNews (a pro-life site based in Canada) is being sued by a dissident priest.  This lawsuit probably wouldn't make it very far in the U.S. legal system, but Canada's system is stacked with anti-Catholic ideologues and anti-free speech activists who hide behind "hate crime" laws.

What church-burnings, executions of Christians, and Muslim rage at Christian evangelization tells us about Islam.

Abuse scandals continue to roll out in Philly.  I would comment on this crisis, but what I have to say is not only not fit for a Christian blog but it would probably get me silenced as well.  And deservedly so.

Lefty website goes on a racist rant against conservative black politician, Herman Cain.

It's the spoons that done made me fat!  

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What if I don't want to see the Light?

6th Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

The early Fathers of the Church were deeply influenced by a philosophical system called neo-Platonism. Basically, this system is a revised version of Plato's views on reality and how we come to understand that reality. Compared to today's highly technical, nearly mathematical philosophies, neo-Platonism might be better described as literature, that is, a literary or imaginative way of getting at what's really real and how we know it. One of the key doctrines of neo-Platonism is that humans are enlightened by the divine, the darkness of our ignorance is illuminated by divine light. In the capable hands of our Church Fathers, “illumination of ignorance” becomes a metaphor for “salvation by Christ's light.” When Jesus heals the blindness of some poor soul, he is not only curing them of a physical deficiency, he's bringing them toward salvation as well. Given all of this, why does it take Jesus two times to heal the blind man in today's gospel? Why didn't he get it right the first time? Like the healing of a physical injury, the healing of the injury to our relationship with God is not always a “one and done” deal. Coming back to God takes some work on our part.

Catholics recognize that “getting right with Jesus” is not simply a matter of “accepting Jesus into your heart as your personal lord and savior.” Salvation is not a switch with an on and off position. Nor is salvation like pregnancy: either you are or you aren't. A well-worn metaphor for salvation is the Difficult Path, a long, treacherous road that leads from the valley to the mountaintop. Starting the hike to the top is not the same as being at the top. Another good metaphor is the Party Invitation. God sends out invitations to His heavenly banquet, inviting everyone to party with Him forever. Some accept and arrive on-time. Others accept but never get there. Others toss the invitation and still others reject it outright. What's common to all these metaphors is the idea that we are free to come to God or not. We can start the hike, continue on, and arrive safely—with God's help. Or we can stay in the valley or head back down the mountain if we want. Same goes for the invitation. We are invited to attend the party; we are not compelled. Salvation like healing can be a long, painful process b/c the work—the day to day labor—of being healed, of being saved is our work, how we choose to follow the orders of the Divine Physician.

The blind man is probably not healed the first time b/c he didn't receive Jesus' healing for what it is: a gift. All sorts of perfectly reasonable objections to being healed probably popped up in the man's mind. If I am healed, I won't be able to beg in order to make a living. I'm used to being blind; it's who I am. Do I really want to see the world such as it is? As sinners, we make many of the same sorts of objections to being saved. I really like my favorite sins; I don't want to give them up. I'll be ridiculed at work if anyone finds out that I'm a Christian. Being charitable, hopeful, faithful is difficult. God demands way too much! And so, salvation comes slowly. The light of Christ creeps in, around the edges, and it slowly dawns on us that living in God's love is the only way to live. Once we realize that God's love shines constantly, that the light of His mercy never sets, and we stop testing the limits of our hope in Christ, we open the door to our heart and receive His light. Opening that door is our work, the day to day labor of allowing Christ to illuminate every dark corner, every dark crevice of our broken and bleeding lives. The greatest sacrifice we can make to God is the sacrifice of our repentant hearts. That's the key that opens every locked door, the switch that turns on all the lights.

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15 February 2011

Coffee Cup Browsing

Controversy Italian-style over the modernist tilt in new church designs.  The Church of Jesus the Redeemer in Modena, Italy is taking the brunt of the attack.   Ugly, yes.  But much, much better than some of the "Social Security Office" styles I've seen in the US.

Here's another church targeted for criticism.  The Borg has landed in Italy!  Take a minute or two to look around this guy's site.  His religious designs are indistinguishable from his secular designs.

Mysterious manuscript written in an untranslatable code dated to the 15th century.  You just know that some stoner grad student spent a weekend doodling nonsense on his roomie's last pack of parchment paper, knowing that centuries later we'd be trying to figure it all out.

The definition of regret:  Shirley Sherrod sues Andrew Breitbart.  Shirley's phone has been ringing off the wall with calls from D.C.  "Drop this suit!"

BOO!  Is the "Spirit of Vatican Two" is waning?  Yes.  Deo gratis.  The "rebellion in the nursing home" that erupted (?) last week in Germany can be counted as one of the last sighs of the '68 generation in the Church.  Again, Deo gratis.

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14 February 2011

(More) Prayers, please. . .

. . .for my maternal grandfather, Clyde Mitchell.  He's 98 y.o.  Over the weekend, he had another mild heart attack in the nursing home. 


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On strokes and MRI's (UPDATED)

Prayers, please. . .

Had a weird episode during Mass last Thursday.  It was sort of like a mini-blackout.  I did the fraction rite and went right to the priest's communion, skipping over everything in between.  I realized the omission only after giving communion to the servers.  Took me a second to recover.  After I got back home, the right side of my face, my right arm and hand were tingly/numb.  My BP was extremely high.  

Anyway, the tingling/numbness stayed with me all weekend, though just barely noticeable.  Went to see my doc this morning and he ruled out a bleeder-stroke but not a TIA.  He also wants me tested for MS.  Ugh.

Off for an MRI this afternoon and an ultrasound tomorrow.  

UPDATE:  A biblical image for you. . .two nurses trying to stuff me into an MRI machine. . .camel through the eye of a needle?  Yup.  Had to reschedule to use the Big Boy Machine.  

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God doesn't run an insurance company

Ss. Cyril and Methodius
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

I won't ask for a show of hands. . .but how many of us have said something like: “Lord, please give me a sign so that I will know what to do?” I'll raise my hand. From about 1981 until 1999, I prayed to God that He send me an unambiguous sign that He wanted me to be a priest. Never got one. Instead, what I got from Him was a message—delivered oh-so-painfully—that said, “Hey, here's an idea: how about an unambiguous sign from you that you're ready to become a priest?” What?! You mean I have to give You a sign? You mean I have to commit to this whole priest thing in order to know for sure if it's what You want from me? Yup. Unless you choose to trust Me, how will you know that a sign from Me is a sign from Me? I've been sending you signs for seventeen years, but you didn't recognize them as signs. So, I've been getting exactly what I prayed for all this time. . .but didn't know it? And said, “Duh. Yeah.” Like me (and you too, probably), the Pharisees have been given enough signs that Jesus is exactly who he says he is, but signs are meant to be read. If you can't read, all the signs in the world can't direct you, every sign in the universe won't help you. The key to spiritual literacy is trust in God. Without trust, we are spiritually illiterate.

Why are the scribes and Pharisees spiritually illiterate? Probably the most significant reason is that they have—over the generations—built up a religious tradition that demands physical evidence of God's will before they trust in Him. This shouldn't be surprising. After all, God appeared in a burning bush; gave them the commandments carved in stone; He lead them out of slavery in Egypt by parting the Red Sea, sending them pillars of smoke and fire; and provided them with manna from heaven to eat and water from a rock to drink. All tangible, easily interpreted signs of His presence. The scribes and Pharisees follow the rules and wait for more signs. So, asking Jesus for a sign that he is the Messiah comes naturally for them. But Jesus, “No sign will be given to this generation.” Probably b/c they wouldn't be able to read it anyway.

If you've been praying for a sign and you haven't gotten it yet, ask yourself: would I recognize a sign from God if I got one? And if I got one, would I be able to read it? Here's an even better question: if I trust in God to provide for all I need, trust in Him to be with me through hell and high water, what difference would a sign make? Trust is not based on evidence. In fact, the very definition of trust includes the idea that we believe in, have faith in something or someone in the absence of supporting evidence! How many times have you heard someone say, “Of course I trust my husband/wife/kids/friends. . .but I need to be sure, I need proof”? That's not trust. That's insurance. And God is not the CEO of an insurance company. He doesn't issue policies against disasters in exchange for premium payments. God provides, and we trust Him to do so. With trust in Him comes spiritual literacy and everything becomes a legible sign of His good will, His love for us.

If you are asking for a sign, ask yourself why. Why am I asking for a sign? Am I anxious? Am I demanding proof? Am I waiting to see which path is easier? When faced with a choice, ask yourself, which choice will bring me closer to God? Which path will help me to grow in holiness? Become more charitable? More peaceful? God provides. He will bless your choice, giving you all the grace you need to come to Him perfected in Christ. So, give Him a sign that you are ready to receive all that He has to give.

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13 February 2011

Comets, Zombies, & Righteousness

6th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

A comet slams into the earth, causing massive earthquakes, tidal waves, firestorms: the comprehensive collapse of human civilization and the beginning of a new Ice Age. A few, small pockets of humanity manage to survive—those living on mountain ranges and far from the coasts. Each community fights to survive. They must find food, clean water, medical care. There is no law, no church, no military, nothing left to guide the survivors but raw, individual instinct and the will of the strongest among them. Some few still talk about right and wrong, some few still invoke the name of God, or the authority of the Bible, and some even appeal to reason when the more savage choices have to be made. But who is God? What is the Bible? Where is reason? Six billion people have been reduced to a few hundred scattered across the world. The choice is live or die. What I have just described is the plot of one of the very first novels I read as a kid, Lucifer's Hammer, published in 1977. From the moment I opened the cover of this book, I was hooked on Doomsday fiction, apocalyptic literature. Of course, what I described could be the plot of just about every disaster movie made since the 1950's. Hollywood is still making Doomsday movies—2012, The Road, Independence Day—and they've been diligent in producing my favorite Doomsday sub-genre, the Zombie Apocalypse movie! Why do these sorts of stories fascinate us? What is it about the collapse of civilization and the destruction of humanity that appeals to us? Here's a guess: we want to know what might happen if there were no rules, no law, no consequences. Could we be moral without the threat of punishment?

Now, you have to be wondering what zombie movies and novels about comets have to do with the gospel. Besides the fact that Jesus is talking about Judgment Day—who enters the Kingdom and who doesn't—we have in the gospel a lengthy lesson on what it means to be a moral person. Jesus is teaching on the Law: how he has come not to abolish it but to fulfill it. In the longer version of the reading, he says, “. . .until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law. . .” He goes on to warn that anyone who breaks the commandments will not enter the Kingdom. However, those who obey the Law will be the greatest in the Kingdom. So, to be a moral person, a person held in high esteem among the hosts of Heaven, you must obey the Law. Sounds straightforward enough. But then Jesus does what he does best. He throws a curve, adding, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” You should understand immediately that the scribes and Pharisees were renowned for their obedience of the Law. But here Jesus tells his disciples that their righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. Mere compliance is not enough. Something more is required.

In the shorter version of the reading, we have three examples of how our righteousness can surpass the righteousness of mere compliance. Jesus uses murder, adultery, and oath-breaking to illustrate his point. Under the Law, killing another person, sex with someone who isn't your spouse, and swearing a false oath are all grave sins. The Law outlaws these behaviors. The act of murder, the act of adultery, the act of swearing a false oath are all forbidden. Since Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, he teaches the disciples that these behaviors remain sinful. However, good behavior does not produce surpassing righteousness. Something more is required. He says, “You have heard it said, 'You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery; Do not take a false oath.' But I say to you, do not be angry; do not lust after another' and let your 'yes' mean yes and your 'no' mean no.” Surpassing righteousness springs from a clean heart as well as clean hands, from both a pure spirit and a pure body. You refrain from murdering your neighbors. . .but do you refrain from hating them? You refrain from committing adultery. . .but do you refrain from lust? You refrain from swearing false oaths. . .but is your word alone honorable? Actions are born from intentions. And pure intent is the mother of righteousness.

For all that he teaches us about living in right relationship with God, Jesus has nothing at all to say about living through the Coming Zombie Apocalypse. He really doesn't say much about Global Warming—er, I mean “climate change”—or nuclear annihilation, or the devastation of a global virus outbreak. All he has to say about the End Times is that on the Day of Judgment, the goats and sheep will be divided. The goats will be tossed into the fire, the sheep raised up to heaven. If you want to be among the sheep, live now in surpassing righteousness. If you prefer to be a goat, then revel in hatred, anger, lust, adultery; worship false gods, refuse to help those in need; basically, believe and behave as though the only thing that matters to you is your survival. Given the choice to live or die, what won't you do? In the movie, The Road, a man and his son travel the roads of an unnamed country after the world has been more or less destroyed. There are no animals, very little clean water, no plant life; nothing resembling the rule of law except the sort of rule that comes from the barrel of a gun. The man and the boy spend their time scrounging for canned food, bottled water, and sleeping under pieces of plastic. When they are awake, they have to run and hide from gangs of roving cannibals. Along the way, the man tries to teach the boy about hope. The boy listens and learns. But every time their lives are threatened, the man abandons hope and resorts to surviving by any means necessary. The boy notices the contradiction and wonders if his father genuinely nurtures any hope at all. This movie (and the novel it's based on) provide us with an opportunity to see what happens when the power of the law to rule humanity is destroyed. How do we behave when there is no law, no church, no military, nothing to guide us, nothing to reward or punish us? If our movies and novels are any indication of what most of us would do, then we are in deep trouble. A life of surpassing righteousness can never be about mere survival; it is a life lived in constant hope.

And hope—like faith and love—is a virtue, a good habit. If hope is to be a constant in your life, a rock-solid, bottom-line reality, then your answer to God's call to holiness is going to have to be Yes. Let that “Yes” mean yes. If your “Yes” means “Maybe,” or “When I can,” or “If it's convenient at the moment,” or “When things are good,” then your “Yes” means No and that is from the Evil One. Hope is a choice. Sirach says, “If you choose you can keep the commandments. . .if you trust in God. . .He has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose. . .Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” Choose to listen and obey. Choose to trust and love. Choose life and goodness. Immense is the wisdom of the Lord! Choose His surpassing righteousness as your own and live in constant hope. Let your “Yes” to His invitation mean Yes. In the face of unemployment, sickness, a death in the family, comets, zombies, nuclear annihilation, whatever comes, let your “Yes” mean yes. Whether you are preparing your taxes, walking on the beach, dating your high school sweetheart, or trying to save your marriage, let your “Yes” to God's righteousness mean Yes. Anything else is from Evil One.

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