Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Tares Sown Among the Wheat

Matthew 13:24-30:

[24] Another parable he proposed to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seeds in his field. [25] But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 

[26] And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the tares. [27] And the servants of the goodman of the house coming said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it tares? [28] And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? [29] And he said: No, lest perhaps gathering up the tares, you root up the wheat also together with it. [30] Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the tares, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.

Image taken from: https://allthechildrenoflight.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/wheat-tares_jenner1.jpg

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Once again, I apologize for taking some much time away from this blog. I can't even say I have a good excuse for it either. I'm currently not working, so I have plenty of time on my hands. Well, anyway, here I am, working on another of Jesus' parables.

This one is actually really easy for me, mainly because Jesus actually explains this parable in the Gospel. Far be it for me to think I can explain it any better than He can, but I will, I think, add some commentary that I find interesting, that may add some depth to the reading that might otherwise not be there--mainly because our society has lost a sense of what was commonly known back then, and didn't need explanation.

First, in case you were wondering, "tare" is a kind of weed that looks very similar to wheat, as you can see from the picture. You probably gathered that from the context of the parable itself, though. I just thought I'd clarify in case it was a lingering question in your mind. The Douay Rheims translates this word to "cockle", which is also a weed, but is characterized as stinky or noxious. For the sake of this post, I'll consider both kinds of weeds here, since they both add something to the parable that either alone does not.

So, this is one of a number of "seed" parables that Jesus offers in quick succession, each revealing a different aspect of the Kingdom. After Jesus has given these parables, and the crowds go away, the Disciples ask Jesus to explain this one in particular. This is what He says:

"[37] Who made answer and said to them: He that soweth the good seed, is the Son of man. [38] And the field, is the world. And the good seed are the children of the kingdom. And the cockle, are the children of the wicked one. [39] And the enemy that sowed them, is the devil. But the harvest is the end of the world. And the reapers are the angels. [40] Even as cockle therefore is gathered up, and burnt with fire: so shall it be at the end of the world. 

[41] The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity. [42] And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [43] Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." (Matthew 13:37-43)

Just one more word about the image of tares and wheat here. It is an interesting feature of these two plants that, though they are similar looking, as they ripen they become distinct in this way: the wheat stoops under the weight of the seeds, so it looks like it is "bowing" and it changes color (from green to tan), while the tares remain upright and green. As an image, it reminds us that we can recognize the Children of the Kingdom by their humility, and the children of the wicked one by their pride.

One thing that I often hear from very well-meaning people, who have the best interest of the Church at heart, is the notion that we ought to be excommunicating all these horrible Bishops and so-called Catholic politicians. However, what we're told, pretty well explicitly in this parable, is that God has deliberately allowed the corruption to have grown within His Church (and the wider world, of course). It was the enemy, the wicked one, who sowed these "noxious weeds", but God has chosen to allow them to grow together with the Children of the Kingdom.

But why? Isn't the danger of allowing them to grow together with the wheat that they will choke many of the wheat plants to death? Yes, but there is a greater danger in rooting them out, as we see in the parable: No, lest perhaps gathering up the tares, you root up the wheat also together with it. Removing the tares carries the greater danger of losing the wheat as well, and then there will be no harvest at the end, no souls to take to heaven.

What does this look like, in practical terms? Remember that the wheat and the tares look very much alike. Unless you are a seasoned farmer, you very likely would confuse the two. The idea here is that, in excommunicating a bishop for heresy, for example, during an age of the Church when most people are not very theologically knowledgeable, you may lose entire congregations of the lay faithful who love and are loyal to that bishop. Or perhaps you excommunicate a popular politician for promoting the use of contraception during a period when there is widespread confusion about the morality contraception. You may lose an entire country. What Jesus is telling us here is that it is better that only a few are lost, than all. Of course, that's not a callous disregard for those few souls that do become lost. We know that Jesus desires all souls to be saved. Nevertheless, in administering His Kingdom, and allowing us our freedoms within that Kingdom, He exercises practical judgments.

But who are the children of the wicked one? In His explanation, Jesus says "they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity." So, Jesus gives us two broad categories: scandals and workers of iniquity. A scandal, generally speaking, is an immoral action that has one of two outcomes: 1) it causes the scandalized person to believe that the immoral action is actually good, or at least amoral, or 2) it causes the scandalized person to believe that the organization (in this case the Church) that the person represents is an evil organization. It should be noted that someone who causes scandal doesn't necessarily intend scandal, and may not even realize what he is doing is wrong. A worker of iniquity is someone who deliberately sins and does wickedness.

This is a severe warning, in my opinion. Why? Because it means that it is incumbent upon us, the faithful, to ensure we do not cause scandal. If we are lackadaisical in our Faith, and don't ensure that what we are doing is virtuous and just, or that we are teaching the true teachings of the Church, and we, even inadvertently, cause scandal because we're doing something immoral, or passing on false doctrines in error, then we will be bound up and burned along with the doers of wickedness at the end of time. It is our duty, our obligation, to ensure that what we shine forth is only the goodness and truth of the Gospel. For, being Christians, we represent always, in everything that we say, and in everything that we do, Christianity, and the Lord Christ whom we serve.

There is, however, another aspect of this parable that I think needs mention. Jewish hearers of this parable might have been reminded of another story from the Tanakh: the story of Job. I will assume for the sake of brevity that you are familiar with the story of Job. During Job's trial, he defends himself, asserting strongly that he has been just in all things he has done. In chapter 31, Job begins listing curses that should be laid upon him, if he be found guilty of a number of various sins. The chapter ends with "[38] If my land cry against me, and with it the furrows thereof mourn: [39] If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money, and have afflicted the soul of the tillers thereof: [40] Let thistles grow up to me instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley."

Remember that in Job's time, it was commonly understood that if you were a virtuous man, then God blessed you with wealth and a large family and good health, etc., but the immoral man was cursed by God with disease and poverty and loss of kin, etc. Job had suffered great loss, which is why he was on trial. His neighbors believed he had sinned greatly, but he was adamant he was an innocent and just man.

I will say two things about the Job connection to this parable. First, keep in mind that the external appearance of a man does not reveal the worth of his heart. A man, whether he be a cleric or a lay person, should be tested against the truth of the Faith, and not by whether or not he's healthy, or rich, or popular, or accomplished, or well-traveled. Second, if we are living in a time when the field is filled with tares, keep in mind that, though it was the enemy who planted such seeds, God may very well have permitted this as punishment for our own unfaithfulness to His Gospel.

If you want my opinion, the ravages that have swept through the Church since the Second Vatican Council reveal to us that perhaps the faith didn't run so deeply in the hearts of Catholics than we might have supposed it did. I see, however, that the envisioned renewal is indeed taking root, especially among many of our young people.

The field is awash with tares right now, but Jesus revealed to us 2000 years ago, in this very parable, that He is still in control of the harvest. Rejoice in the Lord of the Harvest!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Return of the Unclean Spirit

Matthew 12:43-45:

[43] And when an unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. [44] Then he saith: I will return into my house from whence I came out. And coming he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. [45] Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is made worse than the first. So shall it be also to this wicked generation.

Praised be Jesus Christ!
Now and forever. Amen.
Boy oh boy, hasn't it been a while? Summer was very busy. Then I was working two jobs. Well, I figured it was about time I got back to this. If you were wondering where I was, I apologize, and I thank you for your patience.
So, if you've read my last post recently, you'll realize that I've already talked about this passage. In my post on "The Tree and Its Fruit", I talked about the fact that the house in this passage refers to ourselves, and the house swept and garnished house is a man living with virtue, but being empty, he is devoid of the life of grace, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, since I have already talked about this, I will talk instead about another layer of meaning that the passage holds. Whether we're talking about this, or any other passage in the Bible, there is never one single meaning that it holds. God's Word is layered with meaning, and you can reflect on each teaching of Scripture time and again and take something new from it, something deeper, every time.

As I like to say, context is everything. So what's the context here? Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for their unbelief and testing of Jesus. They are trying to trap Jesus in an error, in a sin. But Jesus responds by revealing His authority, and His greatness. "And behold a greater than Jonas here[...] and behold a greater than Solomon here."

This is the wider context. So, while Jesus' teaching can be understood on an individual basis, for we are indeed Temples (houses) of the Holy Spirit, His teaching is given in the context of the House of Israel. In this teaching, Jesus says repeatedly, "this generation". So, it isn't even just a rebuke of the Pharisees, but of Israel at large.

And Jesus doesn't make this criticism once, but many times, especially in His parables of the vineyard. Throughout the history of God's Covenants with man, God remains faithful, but man does not. In each generation, God sends His prophets, His angels to warn the people against their sins, to turn back to Him in faithfulness, remembering the promises of God, and the inheritance of their forefathers.

Repeatedly, God comes to His people to drive out wickedness from them. His desire is to turn their hearts back to Him, that Israel might be His dwelling place. He desires to live among His people. This manifests most tangibly in the Tabernacle of the Temple, where God's presence resides in the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies.

As a people, as a nation, as a Kingdom, God chose to dwell in their midst. He was the heart and soul of Israel, and their whole lives revolved around Him, around worship in His temple, around the seasons and holy days according to the Law. He permeated their lives.

But, when Jesus came to Israel, what did He find? "An evil and adulterous generation." Yahweh had come to drive out devils from the house of Israel, but the devils came back and made Israel worse off. The Roman occupation was symbolic of this. As a nation and as a kingdom, Israel's history shows us that whenever Israel turned away from God, were unfaithful to the Covenant, God allowed a neighboring power to come in and occupy their land. When Israel turned back to God and remained faithful to the Covenant, they were liberated, and Israel became strong again.

In this generation, Rome had occupied Israel, a symbol of their unfaithfulness. To bring God's people back to Himself, He always sent them a prophet, who was often not well received. And in this instance, it was not any different. The Pharisees and the people of Israel left their house empty. They turned their backs on God, and drove Him from their midst. They turned His temple into a market, as they assimilated into Roman society. They were adulterous because they courted Roman cult and culture. The Jewish leaders made deals with the Roman rulers. The Jewish people wanted liberation, but were not interested in turning their hearts back to God.

So, God departed from them. The devil who had been driven out represents the occupying nations from Israel's history, and the Romans are the return of that devil, and more, since the Romans brought with them all the cultures they had conquered: the Greeks, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, etc. And that tangible realization of God in their midst, the Temple, was destroyed by the Romans. God departed from them.

But Jesus instituted a Church, a new house, built on the Rock of Peter, the Rock who is Jesus, Himself. Against this house the gates of Hell will not prevail. No devils will prevail against this house. This Church will house the Holy Spirit, who will never depart from it, because the Church is Jesus, Himself, who cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, the Church is not exclusively Jesus. It is made up of imperfect members. Both individually and as a visible body. Therefore, we should take the warning and take it seriously. We must be a holy people, a Kingdom that is not adulterous. We should not unite ourselves to the world. Our cult and culture should be distinct. We ought not to conform ourselves to the world, but ought conform the world to Jesus Christ.

Let the Lord stand at the center of our Church, our kingdom, our nations, our families, our lives. Let our lives revolve around the Mass, the Liturgical Seasons and Holy Days. Let the Lord dwell in our hearts and in our homes and in our churches and in our legislatures and in our courts and in our universities. If we do not, the Lord will depart from us.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: The Tree and its Fruit

Matthew 12:33:

[33] Either make the tree good and its fruit good: or make the tree evil, and its fruit evil. For by the fruit the tree is known.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

It's a beautiful day outside, I've just eaten supper, and I've only got about half an hour before going out to visit a friend. So what I'm trying to say is, I have to make this quick. So let's dig in!

In the previous chapter, Jesus is seen upbraiding the crowds for their lack of faith, for choosing to be scandalized by Him, rather than being thankful for the wonders He was performing for them. In this chapter, we witness exactly what Jesus was talking about in the Pharisees. They are critical of Him, and even accuse Him of casting out devils by the power of Beelzebub, prince of the devils.

So, once again, we see Jesus chastising them in the chapter. He begins by demonstrating the absurdity of such an accusation. You're probably all familiar with the "a house divided" argument. He also makes a couple of other arguments, which I won't get into at this time. Rather, I want to focus on the image of the tree and its fruits that Jesus alludes to.

It's important to understand this context though. And immediately preceding this verse, Jesus says, "Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come." Then, He gives us this very well known image of the tree, saying "For by the fruit the tree is known."

He explains further, "O generation of vipers, how can you speak good things, whereas you are evil? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of a good treasure bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of an evil treasure bringeth forth evil things."

The image is actually really good, and pretty well understood. It's also simple. If  you have a good heart, you will do good deeds and speak good things. If you have an evil heart, you will do evil and say evil. This is very much in line with what Jesus said in the previous chapter, wherein he spoke of taking scandal. The disposition of the heart is what causes a person to be scandalized by others, even when the others are doing good!

Likewise here, when Jesus is doing good works, the Pharisees, rather than praising God and honoring Jesus for the good He is doing, instead accuse Him of being possessed, and casting out demons in the manner of a witch doctor.

Jesus is going a bit deeper here, however. These aren't just grumpy men who are irascible and moody. There's something more fundamental going on here, and the image of the tree is central to it. If a tree is producing bad fruit, what's happening to it? It's not strong and healthy, but rather it is sick, and rotting from within. Its core corrupted.

But the tree has a long and ancient heritage within Jewish lore. It goes right back to the Garden. Adam and Eve had their choice of fruit from any and all trees in the Garden, including the Tree of Life, but they were not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This language, this imagery, shows Adam and Eve in a perfect state, a perfect condition, in their Original Innocence. They were permitted everything except one thing: sin--which brings about within a person a loss of innocence and a profound understanding of the goodness of the good and the badness of the evil.

This tree was a tree of death, and eating its fruit brought death to humanity. More importantly, the Tree of Life which stood at the center of the Garden represents the Divine Life, or the Holy Spirit, residing within the heart of the person. Adam and Eve enjoyed communion with God in their Original Justice. Once they ate of the Tree of Death, the Holy Spirit departed them.

This is what Jesus is getting at when He's talking about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit comes to reside in each of us in the life of Grace, to blaspheme the Spirit is to drive Him out. Disbelief in His power, disinterest in the life He has to offer, unrepentance for your sins, and the notion that you have nothing that needs forgiveness are all manifestations of this blasphemy. Unrepentant deadly sin is the unforgivable because forgiveness requires receptivity to that forgiveness, and an opening up of oneself to the life of Grace, which is the Life of the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus is talking about a tree that is rotten to its core, and therefore produces bad fruit, He's talking about a soul that is devoid of that which gives it life: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the abundance of the heart, filling it with life and love. The Holy Spirit is that good treasure, and if we are filled with the Divine Life, His grace overflows out of us, and our fruits, our actions and words, will be filled with life and love. When we drive the Holy Spirit out, then what is our treasure? What is our abundance, but death, and loathing, and anger, and hatred, and accusation?

When Jesus says in verse 29, "how can any one enter into the house of the strong, and rifle his goods, unless he first bind the strong? and then he will rifle his house," the strong one here is the Holy Spirit, and we are the house. No one can enter into us (no demon can possess us), unless we first bind the Holy Spirit and let the demon in. But with the Holy Spirit unbound within us, no demon can touch us. We are protected from them, and the death that they bring.

But Jesus warns us. In verses 43-45, He says, "when an unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith: I will return into my house from whence I came out. And coming he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is made worse than the first. So shall it be also to this wicked generation."

It's a strict warning. Jesus is there to drive out the evil spirits from within us. He is here to free us from our sins and bring life to us. We may let Him do so, but if we do not let the Holy Spirit come within and fill our hearts, if we allow our souls to remain empty, neglecting prayer and fasting, then our souls become that empty, swept, garnished house. We may practice good virtues, but if it is not born out of the love that the Holy Spirit brings, then when that demon returns, and finds it empty, he will return with others and make our souls more desolate than before.

And isn't this the truth! How often do we confess our sins, but then neglect the life of Grace. We do not pray, nor fast, nor give help to the poor. We do not do those things Jesus commands us to do. And after a short time, we fall back into our life of sin, and often fall back into it more deeply than before. When we clean our souls, we must invite in the Spirit of God. We must persist in that life of Grace, keeping it alive. We must take the Eucharist often, and exercise those Gifts we received in Baptism and Confirmation.

Then, filled with the life of grace, we will bear good fruit. Be a living tree, and do not bind Spirit. Bear good fruit, not rotting fruit.

God bless you, and thank you for reading!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Children in the Markets

Matthew 11:16-19:

[16] But whereunto shall I esteem this generation to be like? It is like to children sitting in the market place. [17] Who crying to their companions say: We have piped to you, and you have not danced: we have lamented, and you have not mourned. [18] For John came neither eating nor drinking; and they say: He hath a devil. [19] The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners. And wisdom is justified by her children.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Hello dear readers! Before I get into this one, I just wanted to briefly share an astonishing insight that I had never had before, until after I had published my most recent post. I sat thinking about what I had just written, it suddenly the language between two of the passages I had referenced jumped out at me. The two passages are these:

Matthew 7:[24] Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, [25] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock. 

Matthew 16: [18] And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

There are three images Jesus uses in both: the rock, building a house on it, and standing against the storm. In the first, Jesus is telling us to build our lives, our households, our kingdoms on the foundation of His teachings, and we will stand firm in the face of tribulation. In the second, Jesus says that He's going to build His kingdom (the Church) upon Peter, and by doing so it will stand firm in the face of the trials that Hell will throw at it. The elevation of Peter here is astonishing, and until my last post, I had never drawn a close comparison between these two passages before. Of course, this is because Peter is graced by the Father with the truth of who Jesus is. In other words, it's because the Father is gracing Peter in this way, with sure truth, that the Church will stand firm. Therefore, what makes Peter the rock is the grace of the true Rock, God Himself. Nevertheless, that Jesus would make this declaration is startling to say the least, and an incredible gift to Simon bar Jonah. Amazing.

Anyway, just wanted to share that. Now, on to the next one!

Today's parable is given by Jesus in reference to the generation of people in Jesus' day. The parable itself is fairly straightforward. Jesus is comparing that generation to bored and dissatisfied children in a market--and He makes this a blanket statement because this is the treatment He is receiving by-and-large. Not that this applies to everyone back then, but it certainly applied to the majority of people.

So what about these children? They complain to their companions "we piped but you didn't dance, and we lamented but you didn't mourn." Without any context, we might be sympathetic to the children who are doing the complaining. I mean, after all, they've gone through all this trouble to enrich their companions with good music and moving lamentations, but they didn't appreciate it!

The truth is that this isn't about the companions at all, but about the children themselves. You can imagine children sitting in a market, having nothing to do. Their parents are either working, or shopping, so they're left to sit idly by while they wait. Bored, listless, restless, and irritated, they try to draw attention to themselves, but complain no matter how their companions react. The truth is, the children are just miserable and won't be satisfied no matter what their companions do. They are ready to complain about anything, and make accusations against their friends.

The problem Jesus is zeroing in on here is the problem of scandal. Earlier in this chapter, He says to the disciples of John the Baptist, "blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me." And then right after this, He begins rebuking the multitudes. For what? For being scandalized by Him. He says, "For John came neither eating nor drinking; and they say: He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners." The reason the multitudes weren't responding favorably to Jesus' miracles is because they didn't want to.

This is really what the sin of scandal is about. It's not about the person who causes the scandal. It's really about the disposition of the person taking scandal. Yes, that's right. It is a sin to be scandalized by others. Why? Because you intend to see only that which is evil in them, and you interpret their actions in the worst possible light.

After this teaching, Jesus then goes on to rebuke the cities of Corozain, Bethsaida, and Capharnaum because they had great miracles being wrought in their midst and they, rather than glorying in it, they instead chose to be scandalized by it, and to accuse Him of evildoing, rather than seeing the blessed goodness of it.

This chapter is the first of three on this theme. In this first one, chapter 11, Jesus is said to be going about teaching and preaching and performing miracles. Then He rebukes the crowds for their scandal-taking. In chapters 12 and 13, we get to see some episodes where Jesus is teaching and preaching and healing and the Pharisees, rather than exalting in His goodness, attempt to catch Him in false teaching and contradiction, and accuse Him of healing by the power of devils.

So this chapter really sets up the next two, and gives them their proper context. The fundamental sin of the Pharisees, and those who follow them in this regard, is the sin of taking scandal. We should heed these words carefully, and always offer the benefit of the doubt to our brothers and sisters in Christ who appear to be sinning. Perhaps they do so unwittingly. We don't know. Rather, we should recognize the good that they are doing, or the good that they are professing. We ought not to take scandal in others.

Let us listen to the words of Jesus, when, in finishing His prayer to the Father at the end of this chapter, He says, "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light."

Let us shed the cares of this world, our recalcitrance and cynicism, entrusting everything to His care, and instead let us live in the joy of the Gospel, delighting in the Lord and in one another.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: The House upon Rock

Matthew 7:24-27:

[24] Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, [25] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock. 

[26] And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, [27] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

There are three parts to the Sermon on the Mount, found in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew. The passage above is how Jesus ends the sermon. So, that's the context we're in when Jesus says "Every one therefore that heareth these my words..." These words that Jesus is referring to are His whole teaching on the Mount.

If you asked me to summarize the three parts of Jesus' Sermon, I'd probably put it this way: the first part pertains to right action, the second part pertains to right relationship, and the third part pertains to right judgement. Roughly speaking, these three parts correspond to the three spiritual faculties of will (action), heart (relationship), and intellect (judgement). In the first part, Jesus speaks about those actions which make us holy, blessed (the beatitudes), and which we ought to do for our own good, and for the good of others. In the second part, Jesus teaches us how to pray, how to fast, how to properly relate to God. In the third part, Jesus teaches us right judgement, how to exercise our intellectual faculty for good.

And at the end, He tells us that not all those who cry "Lord, Lord" will enter heaven. Why? To some, He will say, "I never knew you: depart from me." The answer is in the passage above, that we must both hear His words and do them. We must fast and pray, we must exercise right judgement, we must keep the commandments, and exercise the beatitudes; we must pursue God.

He who does these things will be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock, and he who does not will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. Both men will be subject to the same calamities--rains, floods, blowing winds--but the house that is built on rock will remain standing, and the one on sand will fall.

What's Jesus really getting at here? Well, it's very interesting because the Jews had an old image of the Lord God as a rock of refuge and strength. Consider Psalm 17:2-3 (in some Bibles this is Psalm 18:2):

[2] I will love thee, O Lord, my strength: [3] The Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer. My God is my helper, and in him will I put my trust. My protector and the horn of my salvation, and my support.

This word firmament is often translated as rock. Here, the Lord is the rock, the place of refuge. Also, consider Isaiah 22:20-25:

[20] And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliacim the son of Helcias, 

[21] And I will clothe him with thy robe, and will strengthen him with thy girdle, and will give thy power into his hand: and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Juda. [22] And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open. [23] And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father. [24] And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, divers kinds of vessels, every little vessel, from the vessels of cups even to every instrument of music. [25] In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall the peg be removed, that was fastened in the sure place: and it shall be broken and shall fall: and that which hung thereon, shall perish, because the Lord hath spoken it.

Here, Eliacim is being delegated as, essentially, prime minister to the Kingdom of David. The Lord says He will "fasten him as a peg in a sure place." A sure place is variously translated as "a firm place", "a wall", "a steadfast place"... in other words, a rock. As long as he is fastened to the sure place, he will be a throne of glory, and when he is detached from that sure place, that throne will be broken and shall fall, and whatever was hung thereon will die.

God is that sure place. As long as Eliacim is Faithful, Israel will be glorified, and when he is unfaithful, the kingdom will fall. Jesus reminds us again of this reality later on in Matthew 16:16-19, when He appoints Peter as prime minister over His Kingdom using the same formulations:

[16] Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. [17] And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. [18] And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [19] And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

We are shown a great mystery in Jesus' passage at the end of His Sermon on the Mount when He tells us that whoever hears His words and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The first part of this mystery is that by giving us this simile, Jesus is declaring equality with the Lord God of Israel. Yahweh is the rock and refuge of Israel. Jesus here declares His teachings to be foundational, a rock and refuge. This is affirmed in the way chapter 7 ends: [29] For he was teaching them as one having power, and not as the scribes and Pharisees. Indeed, throughout Jesus' sermon, He references certain commandments given by God, and gives a new commandment for each, essentially declaring He has the same authority as God.

The second part of this mystery is that there is a certain closeness between God, Himself, and the teachings, the doctrine, that He hands to us. While in the Old Testament, God is Himself the Rock of refuge and salvation, here Jesus' teachings, and obedience to them, are the Rock of refuge and salvation. We should not be lead to believe there is a change here, that somehow God has distanced Himself, leaving us to rely on His teachings only. Rather, we should come to realize that He and His Doctrine are inseparable. To hear and do what Jesus teaches us, is to enter into Him, into that which makes Him who He is. He declared Himself to be "the way, the truth, and the life". Thus, to enter into right action (the way), and to enter into right judgement (the truth), and to enter into right relationship (the life), is to enter into Him. This is why He declares of those who do not hear and do what He teaches and commands, "I never knew you."

The third part of this mystery is that He there is also a certain closeness between God and His Church, and in particular Peter (or the Petrine Office). In Matthew 16:18, Jesus identifies the Petrine Office as the Rock, giving that office the power to bind and loose (that is, the power to make and dissolve laws--not moral laws, but what we would call canonical laws, or laws of the Church).

Thus, the Rock of the wise man is threefold: God, Himself, is our rock of salvation, God's teachings, His Doctrines and Commandments, are our rock of salvation, God's Church, and in particular the teachings and laws of the Petrine Office, which are always consistent with Biblical and Traditional Church Doctrine, is our rock of salvation.

Therefore, let us built our house upon that firm foundation: God, His Law, and His Church.

God bless you, and thank you for reading!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Pearls Thrown Before Swine

Matthew 7:6:

[6] Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Continuing on with the same discourse, Jesus presents us with this bit of wisdom, "Give not that which is holy to dogs." Here, Jesus cautions us to be careful about sharing holy things to others. Why? Because they--the dogs and the swine--may trample it underfoot, and then turn on you.

Remember that Jesus has been discoursing about judgment. He begins by warning us not to condemn others, but to offer right judgement, because how we judge others will be how God judges us. Then, He continues by warning us that if we want to help others overcome their sins, we must first root out sins from our own lives. Now, He's warning us that, once we've cleaned out our eyes, to be careful about who we offer our help to. What help is that? That which is holy.

When we root out sins from our lives, we invite the Holy Spirit within. We become one with Jesus, who acts through us. Then, when we have received this, His holiness, into ourselves, we are called to pass it on, to share it with others. Then, we are now ready to help our brothers cast out the specks from their eyes.

However, we must now exercise right judgement. We cannot offer this holiness, we cannot offer Jesus and His Holy Spirit to everyone. Why? Because not everyone will treat with the right reverence and respect that gift which you offer to them. Jesus calls such people dogs and swine. Animals who will trample that which is holy underfoot. And since that holy gift which you offer is coming from you, because it is a gift which you first received, they will then turn against you and tear you down as well.

Jesus shows us this right judgement later in Matthew. He uses the same language and reminds us of this teaching.

Matthew 15:22-28:

"[22] And behold a woman of Canaan who came out of those coasts, crying out, said to him: Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David: my daughter is grieviously troubled by the devil. [23] Who answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying: Send her away, for she crieth after us: [24] And he answering, said: I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel. [25] But she came and adored him, saying: Lord, help me.

[26] Who answering, said: It is not good to take the bread of the children, and to cast it to the dogs. [27] But she said: Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters. [28] Then Jesus answering, said to her: O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt: and her daughter was cured from that hour."

It may seem cruel for Jesus to speak this way to the woman, calling her a dog. His language was not personally directed, however, as we can understand now that He was referencing and earlier teaching that He had given. The woman was a dog not because she personally was a dog, but because she was a Canaanite--a non-believer. It is to the non-believe, the one who is an historical enemy of the Faith that we must exercise caution when offering the holy gift we have received.

This does not mean, of course, that we should not share the Faith. Indeed we must! But we must exercise right judgement. Is the person open and receptive to that which we have to offer? The woman in the above passage was. She was humble, and worshiped Jesus, and accepted that she was not worthy of the gift He has to offer. It is this Faith that Jesus rewards.

Jesus knew she had this Faith. He's God, and is capable of reading the hearts of people, which He demonstrated repeatedly throughout His ministry. So, even though He knew her Faith, He still spoke to her in this way. Why? Among other important reasons, He did so to demonstrate how we must exercise this judgement. We must be careful who we offer the holy gift of Jesus and Faith to. If we discern that they will profane God and His grace and turn to harm His holy people, we must refrain from giving them the "bread of the children," in order to protect it. If, however, we discern that there is openness to that gift of God, then we should give it freely, and rejoice in their faith!

One final note. Jesus speaks about two kinds of people here: dogs and swine. I'll offer my interpretation of these two categories. In Jewish kosher laws, swine were considered unclean, and could not be eaten. They were, themselves, unholy creatures. Dogs were not considered as such. Thus, I discern two categories of people: 1) dogs--those who are not of the Faith, but are indifferent to it, and 2) swine--those who are not of the Faith, and who are actively against it, who promote that which is unholy and sacrilegious, and who wish to destroy the Faith. The dogs are those who would profane that which is holy by ignorant disrespect, and the swine are those who would deliberately trample that holy thing into the ground, and then attack those who are of the Faith.

We must be discerning about who we share our Faith with. Share it, but make sure it will be received with due respect.

God bless, and thank you for reading!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: The Speck in Your Brother's Eye

Matthew 7:[3]-5:

And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother' s eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye; and behold a beam is in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother' s eye.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Do you remember Jesus' teaching that the eye is the lamp of the body? This continues in that vein, somewhat. In this case, we see motes and beams that are in the eye--which, if we continue in the same thought pattern, causes darkness within. What Jesus is alluding to here is sin.

We have a tendency, don't we? To see the sin in others, but not in ourselves? It's because observation of others is easier than observation of the self, because one is more passive, and the other more active. You have to actively examine yourself to see where your faults lie. You don't really have to do that with others. You just kind of notice it. It's there in your face, especially if it's a sin that you happen to take pride in avoiding, yourself.

But, Jesus isn't comparing apples to apples here. It's not like He's saying, don't clean the speck out of your brother's eye, when there's a speck in yours. Rather, it's more like apples to oranges. He's saying, don't try to clean the speck out of your brother's eye, when there is a beam in your own.

Not only are you a hypocrite for behaving this way, but you're also ineffective. How can the blind lead the blind? If you are in grave sin, how can you expect to help your brother with his venial sin? Look to yourself first. Find healing from the Lord for yourself first.

So, there's two things here. There's "seeing" the mote in your brother's eye--this pertains to a judgmental attitude, which is hypocritical when we have beams in our own eyes. There is also "saying," "let me cast out the mote" of my brother's eye--this pertains to ineffective help, but also has a certain quality of judgment to it. This becomes clearer when you examine the preceding verses.

Judge not, that you may not be judged, For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.

The "seeing" is the judgment your judge, and the "saying" is the measure you mete. For, do we not, in our effort to "correct" our brother, exact a certain amount of justice upon him?

Consider this: you are at Mass, and you notice a family coming into Mass late. How do you react internally, and how do you react externally? Internally, do you say to yourself, "come on people, don't you know it's a sin to come in to Mass late?" You have just "seen" the speck in your brother's eye. But you, holding this judgment in your heart, are guilty of not discerning the Body--the unity of the Christian family--because you now hold something against your brother that you have not settled with him before offering the sacrifice.

Now, what do you do externally? Do you approach the family after Mass and "correct" them for not coming to Mass on time? Now you are "saying" let me take out the mote, but meanwhile you are causing humiliation, and are guilty of harming their reputation.

With what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Let us first recognize the beams in our own eyes, the great sins that we have to triumph over. And then, recognizing the magnitude of these sins, let us approach our neighbor with an attitude of offering them the benefit of the doubt; perhaps they do not know what they are doing is a sin. Be merciful, and you shall receive mercy. Be forgiving, and you shall be forgiven.

It's okay to help your brother, and to draw out the sin from his life. Just make sure not to become a hypocrite in the process.

God bless, and thank you for reading!

The Parables of Jesus: Serving God and Mammon

Matthew 6:[24]-34:

No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment?

Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature by one cubit? And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith?

Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Happy Palm Sunday! Are you excited to be entering Holy Week? I am! It's the most important time of the Liturgical year. All the graces the flow from the Sacraments through the rest of the year, draw from the Easter Triduum. That's why there's so much going on this coming week! So exciting!

Anyway, on to my post!

For me, this teaching has always been fairly straightforward. However, upon further reflection, there are certainly some things to note.

To begin, Jesus says you cannot serve two masters. Note, Jesus uses the word "master" here. Within the context of the day, a master was a slave-owner, or one who had working servants. I think that helps to clarify the comparison Jesus is making here. As a slave, or even as a servant, although to a lesser degree, you served only one master. You were not owned by two, and split your time between the two. And if you were and did, then it is as Jesus has said, you would either hate one and love the other (because the demands of one might be greater or less than the other, and the reward of one might be greater or less than the other), or you will sustain the one and despise the other (because you will tend, inevitably, to spend more time in service to one than the other).

Consider a more modern-day example. Have you ever worked a job wherein you had two managers, or your position was ambiguous, and two of the higher-ups had some claim to be your manager? I have. I work as a project accountant. Typically, that means you work on site, but your direct manager is in the head office. Well, in that scenario, there will be a non-accounting supervisor on site, who will demand time and work from you, and that will often clash with the work priorities that your manager in head office demands of you. It's very difficult to satisfy both demands, and you always end up having to choose between the two which to prioritize.

So who are you choosing between here? God and mammon. The word mammon, by the way, does not appear anywhere in the Old Testament, but only in the New, and is typically understood to mean money, wealth, riches, worldly interests, or "that which you put your trust in." So, does Jesus mean greed here? Is He talking about vice? Not specifically, I don't think. Look at what He follows this with.

"Be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on." If mammon is wealth, or worldly interests, Jesus is drawing our attention to that which our riches are directed--food and clothing. We pursue possessions in order to secure our basic necessities. At least as a minimum. We can, of course, go beyond this, as a matter of competition--to have the biggest car, the highest brand clothing, the biggest house, etc., are status symbols. But at this point we've moved into the realm of vices, but Jesus doesn't go that far, He's talking about the basic necessities--we should not even worry about those.

Then He makes a really stark point. Birds don't "protect" themselves against future hardships. They simply live, going about their lives without worrying about what they will eat. When they're hungry, they eat. A wheat doesn't worry about what it wears, yet wheat is clothed by the design of God. And birds live and die, and the wheat today grows, and tomorrow is burned in the fire--but we are of much more importance. We are made to live with God forever. Remember that. That's what God intends for you, that's why He created you in the first place. If He looks after these things that live and die and cease to exist, so fastidiously, then how much more will He look after us, who He has made to live with Him forever?

So what? Does that mean we don't think about tomorrow, at all? Do we not make plans, and work to store up food, and make money to feed and clothe ourselves? Yes, of course we do these things, especially if we have families to care for. The answer to this question which Jesus offers to us is this: "Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice." Seek first the kingdom of God. Make it your first priority. Do all these other things, but recognize that they are secondary to God. Seek God first.

Don't be surprised when you see wicked men with money beyond imagining--they have made it their master, and they serve it first before all else. We do not, but that's okay, because God takes care of us. Our wealth is the wealth of His love, the virtue of our lives, the peace which this brings to our souls, and the love of family and friends. They might have a lot of money, but they do not have these other things.

Finally, remember Jesus' last word on this: "Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. There is enough evil in each day that you must battle against in your service to God, your master. You shouldn't have time to worry about tomorrow. Focus on fighting against evil, focus on serving God, seeking His kingdom and justice, and don't worry about the rest, for "all these things shall be added unto you."

Thank you for reading, and God bless you!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: The Eye is the Lamp of the Body

Matthew 6:[22]-23:

The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be!

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Jesus warns us about what we allow into ourselves through our eyes (and by extension, all of our senses). He uses the metaphor of light once again. When we look at the sun, a bright and healthy sun illuminates the earth, and life grows and thrives. However, if that light is blocked off, darkness covers the earth, cold sets in, and life withers and dies.

The word "single" in the quote above is variously translated as "healthy, clear, perfect, sound, good". So, if you were confused by that, this is what He means by it. If your eye is healthy, your body will be filled with light. That is, you can see, the world around you is clear, and you can navigate it without fear of harm.

If your eye is evil, that is, not well, then your body will be filled with darkness. You will be unable to see the world about you, you will walk in fear of harm, and be unable to navigate the world with certainty.

Jesus then says "if the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be." If you find is strange that Jesus calls "light" "darkness", well you're not alone. I found it odd as well. But there's a reason He does this. Consider Isaiah 5:[20]: Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. We can, ourselves, call the darkness light. We can exchange in our own hearts, the light for darkness.

There is a subtle truth that Jesus is alluding to here: there is light, or darkness, that emanates from within, and whatever we have within us, we pursue outside of ourselves, and then draw it back into us, either brightening the light that we already have, or darkening the darkness that is already within us. This is why He says "the darkness itself how great shall it be".

And we observe this don't we? The desires of our hearts, we chase. But if those desires are wicked, then what we allow into our bodies through our eyes (and senses) will also be wicked, and this darkens our hearts further. But if our desires are good, then what we allow in through the senses will also be good, and brighten our hearts all the more.

The warning, then, is this: protect that light, and only allow into your eyes that which is also light, and good, and wholesome, and holy. Otherwise, you way extinguish the light that is within you, and cause your heart to be darkened by evil.

Remember, this teaching is given to us in with the wider context of the treasure of our hearts. Go back to Matthew 6:[19]-21: Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.

For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. Let your treasure be God in heaven. And protect that treasure by protecting your heart, and only allowing into your heart that which is good and holy.

Protect your eyes from the glamour of worldly goods.

Thank you for reading, and God bless you!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Light of the World

Matthew 5:[14]-16:

You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

I'm just going to jump right into this today. No preamble.

So this one is very similar to Salt of the Earth. It's given to us in the same context: that of the beatitudes, and actually follows immediately after the Salt of the Earth. So what about it? Why does Jesus call us the light of the world?

To explain what He means, He makes two other comparisons: a city seated on a mountain, and a candlestick. A city on a mountain cannot be hid. Also, a candle is not lit to be hidden, but to bring light to all in the house. So, there's really two elements to this.

The first is that you, being a city seated on a mountain, cannot be hidden. Jesus is the mountain. Our Faith is the mountain. The Church is the mountain. And we, being seated here, cannot be hidden. Those who know who we are watch us. They watch what we do. They see us, and they measure. As the Church, we proclaim absolute morality, we declare truth, we profess that we hold the whole truth. Therefore, since this is our claim, our declaration, our profession, people observe to see if we measure up to that Faith. Whether we like it or not, we are that city seated on a mountain. We are automatically, by declaration of our Faith, representatives of that Faith, and how we behave is how we represent.

The second is that you, being a candle lit by God, are not intended to be hidden under a bushel. No, God has lit you up in order that you might shine before all men, that they may see, and seeing the truth, bring praise and glory to God, who is in heaven.

So, not only can you not hide yourself, but doing so is against the will of God. This teaching is, as I said earlier, given to us in the context of the Beatitudes. This is important. This informs how it is we are to shine before others.

When Jesus says, "that they may see your good works," He intends for us to understand these works to be in relation to the beatitudes. The beatitudes, strictly speaking, aren't works though. All in all, they are either dispositions or things that happen to you because of your disposition or Faith. That doesn't mean there aren't works that are associated with these. Briefly, I will say a few words about each beatitude in this regard, just as I did in the last post.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. When one is humble, he is not above any kind of work. Look at Mother Theresa for an example here. She went into the garbage pits of India to offer whatever comfort to the people living there that she could offer. That is poverty of spirit. If you're a manager at a large corporation, are you too good to do the basic, menial tasks? What about those works that don't garner any recognition or praise? Do you do those? Don't be afraid to do the things people don't normally want to do.

Blessed are the meek. As I talked about last time, meekness is about being in control of your passions. Works associated with this require gentleness. To have a kind word, when you want to shout at the person who's being aggravating. It is not being forceful, when you want your way, but being willing to fulfill the will or desire of another instead. Show restraint. Don't gobble down that cake like you're going to die tomorrow. Show moderation. When everything around you is falling apart, or all your friends are drunk, you're in control, collected. You don't need to indulge yourself to be happy. Only serve the Lord.

Blessed are they that mourn. No, this doesn't mean be weepy all the time. It means to be sensitive to the suffering of others, and to be sensitive the ugliness of sin and injustice. The work that draws from this is to seek to comfort others in their sorrow and pain. It is to be able to sit in silent support of the one who is weeping in sorrow, and not try to fix the problem because you're uncomfortable by the crying. Just be there, when you're needed. Accept others' vulnerability, and be willing to be vulnerable.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice. This one might seem more obvious, but I think it's a bit nuanced. Justice is also translated as righteousness, in some Bibles. There's a reason for that. We tend to think of justice as being on the right side of the law, for having "justice served," and making sure people are punished for their crimes. That's a part of it, but that's really only a part. Justice, in the Christian understanding, is the manner in which God intended to things to be. For humanity, that means being righteous, and holy. It means being in union with God, and communion with our neighbors. He who hungers and thirsts after justice, seeks always the will of God. Holiness isn't something we are forced to do, but don't really wanna. Rather, it's something we thirst for, something we crave. Pray. Read Scripture. Practice virtue. Do penance. Fulfill the righteous requirements of this holy religion that is our Faith.

Blessed are the merciful. In the prayer that Jesus taught us, the Our Father, we ask God to forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. We have to be merciful to those who seek mercy, and we have to have a heart willing to forgive those who have not yet sought our forgiveness. Otherwise, we will be subject to the same judgment by which we judged others. If we are merciful, God will be merciful to us. But it's not just for our sake. Having a merciful heart means understanding how often and how deep God's forgiveness for our own sins is. We ask forgiveness in Confession, then the next day we go out and sin the same sin, and we do this over and over again. Yet, God forgives us. The magnitude of the sins we have committed against Him for exceeds whatever has been done against us. Recognize this, and forgive. Tell the person who has sinned against you, "I forgive you". It can be transformational.

Blessed are the clean of heart. Do not use people. Do not look at pornography. Don't have cheap sex. Don't look at people like the next opportunity. Be self-donating. Listen, even when you don't want to. Look for the beauty that rests within all people. They are made in the image and likeness of God. Give your time and energy to people, not for your own benefit, but because they are dignified persons worthy of your time and energy. Volunteer your time. Do good for others without expectation of return.

Blessed are the peacemakers. When you're in a fight, it's very easy to allow things to escalate, especially when you want to win. Being a peacemaker means looking for the good in the one you're fighting with, and offering them the compliment. It means accepting defeat, even if you have the upper-hand. It also means being attentive to the sources of conflict, and managing things--your own behavior, as well as others, and environmental factors--in such a way as to reduce the possibility of conflict arising. Recognize that God intended us to live in communion with one another, not in disunity. This also applies to inner peace. Be attentive to the conflict that exists in others, and yourself, and look for ways to help resolve that conflict.

Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake. You say you believe that this or that is the right thing to do--that it is righteous? What if someone laughs at you for it? What if you get kicked out of school for it? What if someone attacks your family and loved ones to teach you a lesson, or to shut you up? Are you willing to suffer for what is true and right and good? Jesus is calling you to this. He expects this to happen to you. Stand firm. Remember, you are a city seated on a mountain. Let them come.

Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake. If you are willing to suffer for your principles, you must also be willing to suffer for Him. Remember, Jesus doesn't say, "blessed are ye if they revile you." Rather, He says, "blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you[...] for my sake." You will be persecuted. You don't need to worry about going out of your way on this one. When you profess your Faith in Him, they will do this to you. Again, do not falter. He is with you. You are the candle that God has lit, and you will not be hidden, but will shine for all in the house to see. Shine bright, and let them come.

God bless, and thank you for reading.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Salt of the Earth

Matthew 5:[13]:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

You are the salt of the earth. Remember that! It's a short passage. It's not really, technically a parable. But we'll work with it anyway.

I've seen explanations of what it means to be the salt of the earth by people who go through all the different uses that salt has, such as that it's a preservative, or it's used to soften meat, or it has healing properties. However, I happen to think it's pretty clear what meaning Jesus intended to give it. He says, "but if the salt lose its savour..." He's really talking about the flavour that salt gives to food.

So, what? Is Jesus saying we should be flavourful? Well... kinda, yeah.

Let's take a step back for a moment and shed some context on this passage a little bit. Jesus says this during His sermon on the mount. In fact, He has just concluded the Beatitudes. Thus, it is within the context of the beatitudes that we ought to understand this passage.

Jesus tells us "blessed are the poor in spirit[,] blessed are the meek[,] blessed are they that mourn[,] blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice[,] blessed are the merciful[,] blessed are the clean of heart[,] blessed are the peacemakers[,] blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake[,] blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake." Then, immediately after this, He says "you are the salt of the earth". He follows this up with a warning, "if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men."

So here's my reading of it. To be the salt of the earth, we must be humble, and meek, and mourn, and hunger and thirst after justice, and be merciful, and clean of heart, and be peacemakers, and suffer persecution of justice' sake, and suffer persecution for Jesus' sake. And if we don't do these things, then we are "good for nothing but to be cast out."

But why!?

There is a two-fold answer to this. Jesus makes it clear that each of these beatitudes comes with its own blessing. Humility brings the kingdom of heaven. Meekness brings possession of the land. Mourning brings comfort. And so on. But these are all for the benefit of the one being beatified. However, this is also a benefit to others, to those who come in contact with such a person. It is here that I believe Jesus brings in the "savour" of being salt.

We could eat food plainly, but most of us like to spice it up. Plain food or rich food, both offer the sustenance we need to live, but most of us, being offered a choice between something plain and something rich, would opt for the rich food over the plain. We do this because it's pleasing to our senses. It is more enjoyable. Salt is a common mineral that we add to food to make it more savoury, more enjoyable. What happens if salt loses its ability to enhance food? Well, we'd throw it out.

Likewise, we must be "salty". We as Christians are supposed to enrich the lives of those around us. We are supposed to be attractive, in order that our lives might draw those around us to Christ. We do this through the beatitudes. The beatitudes make us beautiful, and attractive to our neighbors.

But how? Well, I'll briefly say a word or two about how each of the beatitudes does this.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. The humble person recognizes exactly the truth about themselves. They neither boast, nor self-deprecate. They recognize that everything they accomplish is by the grace of God, but also recognize that their yes, and their action is a necessary part for that grace to be brought to fruition. So, such a person neither comes across as arrogant, nor falsely humble. Simply put, they have no need to talk about themselves, and are more interested in you. That's attractive because you know they have a clarity of mind that ensures they won't exaggerate your own greatness or diminution, but will see you just for who you are.

Blessed are the meek. This is not humility, nor is it strictly gentleness, though the meek person is certainly gentle. Rather, the best way I've heard this quality described is within the context of horse-breaking. A horse that has been brought under the mastery of the owner is said to be "meeked". This image is especially useful if you think about the wild stallion, full of passion and energy, being brought under the control of a good master. It is strength and passion under control. People who are in control of themselves--not wimpy or weak, just in control--are attractive people, because you can have confidence they will not lose themselves in fits of passion--and perhaps cause you harm.

Blessed are they that mourn. To be able to mourn is a strength. This doesn't mean someone who is always weepy, or who cries at every commercial on TV that has puppies and babies in them. Rather, it is to be mournful when appropriate: at the loss of a dear loved one, or in the face of evil and in the havoc that such evil ravages in peoples' lives. This kind of mourning reveals a tenderness to suffering, and requires a person to be vulnerable before others. These kinds of people are attractive, because they allow you a certain freedom in also being vulnerable--without judgment.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice. These are the people who hold to a high standard of morality, whose principles are of a supreme quality. In the face of sin, injustice, crime and wickedness, they strive always to uphold the truth, justice, and righteousness. They do not seek vengeance, but righteousness. These are not the people who say, "I respect your truth", and then go on their merry way, meanwhile people are suffering because of moral relativism. They stand firm in the certainty of what is good, and pursue it with all their energy. This is beautiful, and you can be certain that, in times of necessity, they will not abandon you, but will fight for you.

Blessed are the clean of heart. Purity of heart is to be able to look at another person and see only the beauty of their personhood. They are creatures of the Almighty God, created in His very image and likeness. To look upon them is to catch a glimpse of the eternal Creator. They are not objects to be used for lecherous self-satisfaction. They are subjects to be loved and cherished for their own sakes. People who have such cleanness of heart draw others to them naturally, for they know they will not be used.

Blessed are the peacemakers. We all seek peace. We understand that conflict is sometimes necessary, when no other option suffices. However, the peacemaker seeks peace first, in all circumstances, and only resorts to conflict as a final means. But for the peacemaker, conflict can only ever be a final means--for the sake of peace. Peacemakers are attractive because they work to bring about that which we all seek by nature, peace in our lives, both internally and externally, and even if you are tormented inwardly, a peacemaker can allow your outward world to be peaceful enough to exorcise the conflict within.

Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake. If you are principled enough to suffer for what you believe is right and good, people will be drawn to you. Why? Because when push comes to shove, they known you will stand firm for a cause that is for their good. Even if you're not doing it for them, the fact that your principles are beneficial to them is enough.

Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake. For very similar reasons as the last beatitude, but in a stronger sense, people will be drawn to you if you are willing to suffer for the sake of another person. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend. That's a beautiful thing.

So be beautiful. Be the salt of the earth in the lives of your friends and families. Make your life beautiful by practicing the beatitudes. Don't live lives of mediocrity. Don't be bland. Otherwise, you may find yourself cast out.

God bless, and thank you for reading!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Introduction

Praised be Jesus Christ

Now and forever. Amen.

Hello dear readers. It has been a while since I last posted. If you're still visiting, I want to thank you. If you're new, welcome!

I've decided to do a series on the Parables of Jesus. There's a great deal that can be said on this topic. There are some great articles available online that discuss what, exactly, parables are, the way Jesus uses them to teach us, how many there are, the differences between the Gospels, etc.: here, for example.

In short, a parable is a story whereby one thing is compared to another. Between the various Christian denominations, there is no consensus regarding how many parables there are. That might seem funny, but the disagreement has to do with how Jesus' teachings are categorized--yes there are differences between metaphors, similes, parables, etc.

For the sake of completeness, I'm going to use the list given here. Now, I know that not all of the verses listed there are parables, but that's okay. I'm going to be using the term here in an imprecise manner to refer generally to any teaching that Jesus offers wherein he makes a comparison, story or otherwise.

Now, just in case the link I've provided for the list breaks sometime down the road, I'm just going to list the parables here. In the order that they appear in the Gospels:

You are the Salt of the Earth, Matthew 5:13
You are the Light of the world, Matthew 5:14-16
The Eye is the Lamp of the Body, Matthew 6:22-23
Serving God and Mammon, Matthew 6:24
Seeing the Speck in your Brothers Eye, Matthew 7:3-5
Pearls Thrown Before Swine, Matthew 7:6
The House upon Rock and the House upon Sand, Matthew 7:24-27
Children Chanting in the Markets, Matthew 11:16-19
The Tree and its Fruit, Matthew 12:33
Return of the Unclean Spirit, Matthew 12:43-45
Tares Sown Among the Wheat, Matthew 13:24-30
The Hidden Treasure, Matthew 13:44
The Pearl of Great Price, Matthew 13:45-46
The Dragnet , Matthew 13:47-48
The Conversion of a Scribe, Matthew 13:52
The Unmerciful Servant, Matthew 18:23-35
The Laborers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16
The Two Sons Asked to Work, Matthew 21:28-31
The Body and the Vultures, Matthew 24:28
The Sleeping Householder and the Thief, Matthew 24:33
The Wise and Foolish Virgins, Matthew 25:1-2
The Talents, Matthew 25:14-30
New Cloth on Old Garments, Mark 2:21
New Wine and Old Wineskins, Mark 2:22
The Sower and the Seeds, Mark 4:3-8 
The Mustard Seed, Mark 4:31-32
The Wicked Tenants, Mark 12:1-9
The Fig Tree, Mark 13:28
The Blind Leading the Blind, Luke 6:39
The Two Debtors, Luke 7:41-43
The Good Samaritan, Luke 10:30-36
The Friend at Midnight, Luke 11:5-8
The Rich Fool, Luke 12:16-21
The Barren Fig Tree, Luke 13:6-9
The Seats of Honor, Luke 14:8-11
Invite the Poor, Not the Rich, Luke 14:12-14
The Guests Who Refused the Banquet, Luke 14:16-24
Building a Tower, Luke 14:28-30
The King Goes to War, Luke 14:31-33
The Lost Sheep, Luke 15:4-7
The Lost Coin, Luke 15:8-10
The Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32
The Unjust Steward, Luke 16:1-8
The Rich man and the Beggar Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31
The Ten Lepers, Luke 17:11-19
The Unjust Judge and the Pleading Widow, Luke 18:2-5
The Pharisee and the Publican, Luke 10:10-14
The Good Shepherd, John 10:1-21
The True Vine, John 15:1-17

Now, I'm not going to offer a reflection on one in this post. I'll do that in my next one. This was really just a heads-up that I'd be doing this. I'm looking forward to it! I hope you enjoy these reflections as much as I do (or hope to)!

God bless, and thank you for reading!