Thursday, October 15, 2020

Maturity, Wisdom, and Childlike Humility

In an old science fiction comedy movie from about 20 years ago, there is a scene where a scientist makes a comment about some visiting aliens. He says, "by definition, an advanced species will be peaceful". Soon afterward, the aliens land on the Earth and proceed to try to destroy every person on the planet. The irony is sometimes missed since the two scenes are a few minutes apart, but the point is clear if you make the connection. That is, however, the way most people today tend to think: technology equals peace and happiness.

Modern mankind tends to have the perspective (except for a few of us who refuse to accept every idea that is thrown at us from the scientific establishment) that newer is always better, and thus grown ups are always smarter than little kids (just ignore the fact that older folks today largely want to do everything possible to look like they are a teenager!). There is a sense in which age often leads to wisdom (though that is becoming less and less true). Yet, there is more to the picture than merely to say older people are smarter than younger people.

Being "advanced" does not always mean that one is more wise, and being older does not always mean that one is spiritually mature. There is actually a spiritual strength that becomes harder and harder to maintain the older that we get. Our advanced technology is clearly not a sign of peacefulness. As I have said more times than I can count, we today have become barbarians: barbarians with cellphones. It is remarkable that people still think that since we have technology that we are automatically wise; the massive amounts of hate and foolishness evident in modern society proves that to be false.

Yet, Jesus encourages us to become like "little children" more than once in the gospels. Let us think about children for a bit. We all know that children left to themselves are unable to learn for themselves what is right and wrong. They need to be guided and directed in what is best for them, because although they may be able to figure a few things out, there are some big issues that they need help with. This world is a dangerous place to live in, and no one is born with the knowledge of what happens when you walk into the tiger pen at the zoo.

Our spirits are like a child. They need help and guidance. Yet, because we are fallen, we do not always behave as a child. Instead we sometimes slip into wanting to be a grown up ("don't tell me what to do, I can make my own decisions in life!"). This means that each of us needs to recognize our need for help from others. When we fail to do that, that means we are acting "like an adult" when Jesus wants us to be like children. When this happens we are denying our basic needs before God.

This is the reason why teenagers tend to fall into a rebellious streak at times. They are still children by age (so they have very little experience in the world), but they want to be an "adult" and make their own choices in life. Thus, in doing this they are rejecting the humility of needing help and guidance, and trying to shake off any rules that they do not agree with. When we become adults, we all seem--in some way--to become too big for our britches. We do need to make decisions on our own as adults, but that does not mean that we need to make decisions without the help and guidance of others. Trusting ourselves as though we are completely self sufficient is the standard error of growing up. Just because you have the right to make your own decisions, does not mean that you know how to do so.

Sadly, there are many people who may read this and think that I am speaking only about others. Those who have not become "like a child" as Christ encourages us to do, are the ones who are blind to their "adult" pride. In other words, if we do not think we need help from others, we will presume we are fine without help from others (no, that is not redundant). Prideful faith does not humbly seek the assistance that can be found when we reach out in our times of need.

This is the reason why no one can make it through life unscathed. We all make wrong choices at times and mess things up around us. The problem arises when we insist on continuing to make our own choices without the help of others that we truly need. The end result of this is someone who has grown old, but not actually grown up. Many a man in his early twenties thinks that he knows everything he needs to know to get through life, but actually knows barely a fraction of what he thinks he knows. We could say that growing older hinders our ability to grow up.

We all need help at various times in our lives. Spiritually speaking, however, we need help every day, but are not always willing to seek it out. Primarily we need the help of our Almighty Savior; no one doubts that. The means by which He often grants us that help is through the strength of others around us. This is why God has set up the various structures and authorities in our lives (parents, clergy, etc.). Let us each seek to humble ourselves "like a child" and not keep trying to show off our supposed maturity, which is probably a lot less significant than we tell ourselves.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

What Every Catholic Needs to Hear!

 I strongly encourage everyone to listen to this homily by my dear friend and fellow Ordinariate priest, Fr. Meeks: 

Fr. Ed Meeks homily

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Majoring in Minors

 Although they were not dealing with a world-wide pandemic in today's gospel reading, it is interesting how there is application from it to our current situation. I am not going to speak to the legitimacy of many of the common claims about the Coronavirus outbreak (but there is serious reason to doubt much of the rhetoric), I think that we should all make sure that we are dealing with things in the way that our Lord Jesus wants us to do.

In the gospel today, a Pharisee criticized Jesus. Apparently the disciples had failed to wash their hands before eating (a standard Jewish practice). Whether for ritual or hygienic reasons, it makes no difference; he and other Jews wanted Jesus to have His disciples wash their hands. His response is interesting for our modern context. He does not say that they should not wash their hands (following proper rules for ritual practices is always correct, and good personal hygiene is also good and right). He does, however, say that the Pharisee was "majoring in minors". 

Our Lord tells him that he was a "fool" because he was so concerned with a practice of lesser importance that he neglected his spiritual health. Jesus says that the Pharisees might have looked nice and clean on the outside but inside they were full of "wickedness". He is, of course, speaking about priorities. What is your priority? Do you ever ask yourself if there is a conflict between your choices regarding the Coronavirus, and your choices regarding your faith? Which one, really, is more important to you? Your actions will reveal where your heart is at (regardless of what you may say verbally). 

I know that I have said this many times before, but it bears saying again, because there are quite a number of people who are imbalanced in this. They live in constant fear of catching a virus (which may or may not be deadly for them), but have very little fear of God (something our faith tells us is necessary). Do you have the same concern for proper reception of the Eucharist as you do for avoiding getting sick?

Our Lord does want us to be physically healthy; no doubt about it. Yet, in the gospel He does not pull any punches. Being more concerned about what is "outside" (our personal health) than what is "inside" (our spiritual health) is a "foolish wickedness". In Scripture, we see many times that we can only control a small bit of our physical situation, but we (by the strength of Christ) can control our spiritual well being by the choices we make in our spiritual disciplines. St. Paul says in one place that bodily health is a good thing, but that spiritual health is what really matters for eternity (1 Timothy 4:8). Do we really believe that?

What are you focusing on right now? Do you have the same amount of concern for your spirit as you do for your body? Or is one more a priority in your life? If so, which is it? We are all going to die someday; nothing can stop that (unless you are one of those alive on the day of the Second Coming of Christ). We can only put off mortality for so long, and the more effort we put into that action the less we will put into our eternal state. This is not an issue of finding a balanced ratio, it is an issue of what really matters when you stand before God. The strongest, healthiest person in the world has no hope on Judgment Day if he did not follow Christ above all else.