During this time of year we see many horror movies on TV. The Halloween season tempts us with visions of demons and hell. CS Lewis once wrote that he thought he knew what hell was – this existence for ever; and that is probably not far from the truth. Not being with God forever is a major aspect of hell; when we turn our back on God eternally. Of course this isn’t all that hell is; Jesus talks about pain and suffering and eternal torment where Satan is king and love is absent. But, and this is my opinion, those torments pale in comparison to being Godless. I can’t think of any worse punishment than me turning my back to God, source of any and all good, and not being able to experience love. Our whole existence is meant to love, love God and love those around us and to not have that? What anguish – what despair – what loneliness!
Sadly, CS Lewis, in his comment on hell, was also being prophetic about humanity – about the path mankind is heading down. Society is giving us all sorts of self-centered reasons and philosophies that seem liberating but all the while just leading us into the ego-centric whirlpool of turning within and shutting God, true Love, out. And at the same time God is being forced to the sidelines if not banished from the social mindset totally. How much easier is it to allow this to become our eternal state if this is all we are familiar with? Satan’s job is becoming so much easier.
But that is what we are here for, to be the light of love in this darkening world. Christians all across the world are called to shine forth the vision of true humanity, the fullness of mankind – to witness to what completes us, what truly liberates us. The Holy Father wrote: “the essential characteristic of man is his likeness to God, his capacity for love…” This love; not the false love of self-centered desires, is the inner spark that we can shine. This light of God glimmering through us is a threat to Satan precisely because it is powerful lure to those in mankind who haven’t seen it. Satan can’t compete with hope, and that is what we offer. Satan can’t replace love, and that is who we introduce. Satan is defeated with true joy and peace; because it comes from the hope and love who is God.
So in this season of goblins and ghouls, we can, in fact join in the celebration by witnessing to love; by pointing those around us away from the visions of hell to the Beatific vision. We can celebrate joyfully by making fun of Satan; because we walk with the light of Christ; knowing that eventually we will be with Him face to face – if only we walk with Him here.
Today’s Gospel gives mankind a powerful message about how we are treat each other, it relates to us the most important aspect of interpersonal communication; in short how to build our societies. Buried within Jesus’ answer “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” is the important answer for the pivotal point facing every group and society. The Pharisees proxies, in one important aspect, ask Christ: do we follow mankind’s institutions and constructs only; or do we follow God’s only. And Jesus returns with the answer both!
Man is created in the image of God Himself we are both corporal and spiritual. We are both creation and the image of the creator. We live within this world and are citizens of the next. The history of mankind, especially the last century shows only too well what happens when we give to Caesar only. When mankind turns within itself then the brutality of the relativistic and positivistic mindset comes forward. We cannot hope to understand ultimate truth and love if we are the ones who get to determine it. Our fallen nature distorts our ability to love correctly.
On the other hand; when we give to God only, our relation with God, our religion, eventually becomes our own personal fantasy; our faith becomes a static, stale picture of who we hope God is like and no growth can happen. We remain who we are and become recluses in our relationship with mankind as well.
Jesus, in His answer tells them and us that we are to live within both worlds. We are to follow God’s plan and meet His demands for us, His creatures, and in this way we will grow in our knowledge and love of the one who created us. We will find out who we are truly meant to be – we become fully human. We are also to live in this world and follow the demands of our society because we are social creatures, and interaction is how true love is actualized and thus realized by us. In doing so we also help those around us come to understand and love as it is meant to be. We live within the heavenly vision here on earth so that earth can reflect that vision.
To certain extent there is no exclusivity in Jesus answer to the Pharisees’ minions we are to do both. If we don’t then we fail both.
I am in trouble, big trouble! I let God down, even more I have let God down by keeping someone from being chosen. Today’s gospel relates to us Jesus’ powerful parable in which we can see he is really talking about the heavenly banquet. Towards the end of the reading we hear this ominous passage: “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, `Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to the attendants, `Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
As I was listening to these words this morning, at the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help – where 150 years ago our blessed Mother Mary told Sister Adele to ‘Teach my children’ it struck me that I am the cause of that man not being dressed as he should. When I heard “But he was reduced to silence.” it dawned on me that the man didn’t have an answer as to why he wasn’t dressed appropriately – he wasn’t taught properly; he hadn’t been given an example of how he was to live. I failed in being the witness that we are all called to be at every baptism, whether we are there or not.
At every baptism we hear the following words directed to the newly baptized:“… you have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” And we all reply ‘Amen’. These words are spoken to the newly baptized but they are also a commandment from God to each of us – we are to show this child of God how to keep this garment unstained.
So, as I sat there licking my wounds and listening to Bishop Ricken of Green Bay reinforce my failure; as he related self-satisfied Catholics to those initially invited to the wedding feast – I thought of how hard it is to witness and wondered what could I do to change my failure of inaction into Christian action. It was then I heard this Bishop modify a popular western U.S. phrase used when you want to tell a person to suck it up and be a man: “Cowboy Up!” the bishop said followed quickly by his modification “Disciple Up!” Indeed, disciple up; be the person Jesus expects all His followers to be. Be the christian God expects every newly baptized person to have in their life to help with their white garment of Christian dignity – to make sure they are properly dressed at the wedding feast.
Well is seems I have a choice; I either need to stop going to Marian apparition sites or ‘disciple up!’ And after the many baptisms I have done on those innocent children the choice is already made – and I will reflect on it the next time I go to Our Lady of Good Help.
I am taking an online class for deacons on Pastoral Counseling, and right now we are in group discussions on burnout. Each of us, and there are 12, have added our reflection on what causes burnout and how to combat it. One thing that stands out is that we seem to think that it happens easier when we sacrifice our dialog with God in favor of doing for others. Almost to a person this seems to be the case. I think this is true of any Christian – when we reduce our dialog with God our actions, be it Christianly or not, will eventually wear us thin. When this happens we run the very great risk of losing site of God’s message. We might think we are being good disciples in our works but we are missing the all important piece of our life – the part that strengthens us to help others – God’s personal relationship with us.
In today’s gospel we hear Jesus tell the Pharisees and elders “Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” And is seems to me that he was pointing out to the religious leaders that in be busy doing what they perceived as sacred things they missed the message God was giving them. They missed what it meant to be a follower of God and as a result they were hurting themselves.
My prayer for all of us is that we prioritize our lives as God would want. First, love God, talk with God, take the time to be truly in this relationship; then love our neighbor as our selves. We can’t help our neighbor in this most important journey if we are drained, burned out, lost to God’s loving communication. We run the very risk of being like the Pharisees and leaders, who missing the message run the risk of God taking away His companionship and sharing it with others.