Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
“I want to urge you in the name of the Lord, not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live. Now that is hardly the way you have learnt from Christ, unless you failed to hear him properly when you were taught what the truth is in Jesus. You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.”
The Second Reading for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time precipitated one of those series of thoughts which I feel urged to share with somebody. Let me say that another way: Today’s Second Reading from St. Paul gave me a handle to deal with some of the past week’s annoyances that I’d like to share with my readers.
Just the other day I ran across one of the blog entries I follow regularly where the author was terribly angry about the transformation of a seemingly attractive new church building in Austria into what looked like a staging area for training circus acrobats. I didn’t share the anger, which is pointless, but I certainly was scandalized thinking about Austrian Catholic “taxpayers” footing the bill for such folly, not to mention the liability insurance. Austrian Catholics must neither know nor care what is going on in their Church and how their money given to the Church is being spent. What parents in their right mind would sign the permission slips to allow their children to swing around in the rafters of the church building on a Sunday in place of going to Mass? We’ve obviously lost folks to something other than the faith if we need yellow crash helmets, harnesses and tons of block and tackle to get them into a church building.
Just as incongruous were two pieces of film I accidentally saw commented on TV: 1) a YouTube video of a Minnesota wedding where the whole bridal party danced and somersaulted down the church aisle to some disco song; 2) a “red carpet” celebrity sort of thing where some people jumped into a pool at a Los Angeles cocktail party and the commentator explained their silly behavior as something like a baptism experience. In 1), the small tube world witnessed the violation of a sacred space for the sake of the individualism of a couple who obviously wanted a church wedding on their terms and not God’s, and in 2) a TV commentator trying to mystify with the word “baptism” what was obviously “tomfoolery” probably inspired by an excess of alcohol.
“I want to urge you in the name of the Lord, not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live.”
It’s no wonder that many serious folks not only get upset but they also seek to arm themselves and protect their children from such and similar folly. Years ago, as “first world” Catholics we were taught to disdain the syncretism of quaint Catholic expressions elsewhere, but from the looks of things we’re not too far ourselves from carrying some blue sea goddess into the water off the beach in Rio. Not syncretism, but paganism would seem to be alive and well not only in Brazil. The battle would seem far yet from won when it comes to a regular and serious practice of the faith, faithfulness to the truth and to the celebration of the sacraments, especially of the Sacrament of Penance:
“You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires.”
In the couple verses from today’s reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians the word “truth” comes up twice. The question would seem to be: Why does falsehood or illusion hold such an attraction? If it didn’t, how else could you explain transforming a church building into a circus big top? Why else would someone deny the proper decorum owed, since time immemorial, to a church building and to a church wedding procession? Why attempt to explain or to excuse outrageous behavior in Los Angeles by throwing around references to the sacred ritual with water we call Baptism?
“Now that is hardly the way you have learnt from Christ, unless you failed to hear him properly when you were taught what the truth is in Jesus.”
Just as I can’t share my blogger friend’s anger over folly in faraway Austria, so I can’t be indignant about the other two TV blips either. All three are no more than indications of the wayward heart of man and perhaps of my personal need to be even more watchful over my own heart, my personal need to clean up my act and set a better example for others.
I remember reading the account of the three little children from Fatima and being impressed by the little boy in particular and his desire to do reparation for the sins and failings of others. Big or small, we could do likewise and with profit for ourselves and for our world.
It would be great to get beyond appearances for once and I rather suspect no harder today than it was at any time in the past. Nearly two centuries ago, at the age of 17 Pauline Jaricot, the young woman who founded in France what became the Pontifical Mission Society for the Propagation of the Faith, heard a sermon from her parish priest that made a deep impression on her. His words helped her recognize in herself a disappointing and infinite vanity that she then abandoned forever! On Christmas night 1816 Pauline made a vow of chastity and discovered her reason to live in devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and in reparation for the offences committed against the Sacred Heart of Jesus, also insulted by the excesses of the French Revolution.
It’s the simplest, the most straightforward, the genuine kinds of things which hit young people, like Pauline’s parish priest’s sermon did back in the early 1800’s. Let’s face it. We’ll never be flashy enough, polished enough, or cool enough to compete for that share of the grass and the flowers, which bloom today and tomorrow fade and feed the furnace. No amount of block and tackle will bring us victory, no matter how much liability insurance and no matter what kind of popular, taped or live music we close a blind eye to for wedding ceremonies which promise nothing until death do us part. We need to be genuine; we need to cling to Christ.
Let us allow St. Paul’s exhortation to really sink in:
“Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.”
Our Holy Father speaks regularly of the truth as central or key and as a teacher of the faith has done so consistently throughout his adult life. He recognizes as should we that things get out of hand not for lack of absolutes but rather for lack of confidence or conviction in the existence of not just “a” truth but of “the” truth which comes to us from God. On the one hand, it’s easier not to have to deal with Pollyanna’s red face and stomping when you tell her that girls don’t somersault in their wedding dresses, at least not in church. On the other hand, we owe it to the Lord to whom we give witness by the grace of our Baptism, not to give our son a stone, when he asks for bread, nor a scorpion, when he asks for a fish.
What’s the title of the Holy Father’s most recent encyclical letter? CARITAS IN VERITATE: “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity.”
The “devil’s advocate” might see no more than an appeal for sobriety in this little meditation. For who has a moment of “Sunday silence or rest”, I would hope these words would speak to the heart and perhaps offer a “handle” or a nudge to get on with the wonderful work together with Christ of casting out darkness and bringing light. CARITAS IN VERITATE!