Fatherly Advice

Fatherly Advice

Lk 4:38-44 Your Own Personal Jesus

Wednesday of the Twenty First Week in Ordinary Time
By Benedict Augustine
At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place.
The crowds went looking for him, and when they came to him,
they tried to prevent him from leaving them.
Despite the apparent shrinking of the earth through quickly evolving communication technologies, most human beings, even the most technologically savvy, have a hard time thinking outside their own immediate circumstances. Even in those moments of inspired internet activism, where people’s hearts (and not much else) go out to child soldiers of Kony, or the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, or Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe illegally poached, people can hardly imagine what life must be like in these other parts of the world. Indeed, this failure to connect with the real problems of other cultures always leads to quiet fizzle of all such concerns soon after they appear.
For the rest of their time, people will live their lives, utterly oblivious to the rest of the world. In the customized world of today, they pick their friends, their jobs, their spouses, their houses, and their worldviews. Instead of right and wrong forming the criteria of such a decision, most simply pick what suits them at the moment, not what the world needsAccordingly, most things in a customizable life are not only determined by a person’s whims, but it also has a timetable. Relationships do not last; jobs change continually; values change with the wind; homes do not exist; and life goals always shift.
Life moves quickly in the customized and connected world. It gives the impression of making great progress and building a great network of human connection. Never mind the fact that it changes course in contrary directions, often leading people in circles or in downward spirals; and never mind the fact that a spider’s cobweb has more strength and substance than the worldwide human variety. Beguiled by the illusion of improvement and sharing, so many people fail to realize that they have remained unchanged and shared nothing.
When confronted with the miracles of Jesus, the people of Capernaum cannot stand to have Him go. In a sense, they want to fit Him into their customized lives. He could be their local hero, start a local cult, and be that source of community and goodwill they always desired. Though healed by Christ, they do not learn from Him. They want to possess Him for themselves at the cost of denying the whole world a savior. Unlike Peter’s mother-in-law who immediately serves Christ, this community wants Christ to serve them in perpetuity.
While such thinking might be understandable, it is not excusable. God’s grace does not enter men’s lives so that they can resume their old habits. God wants to create new sons and daughters that serve, as His Firstborn did. He wants them to have the eyes of Jesus, eyes that see beyond time and place and look upon strangers as neighbors. Only this could allow His Church to grow beyond the troubled land of Palestine and span the reaches of the globe.
The people of Capernaum simply demonstrated a common failing that appears in all times, particularly today. They lacked the eyes that could see beyond themselves. While not as well-equipped as the typical modern teenager with a smartphone, they also wanted the customizable life, at least for their community. Little does anyone seem to expect that Jesus wants to customize all men and women’s lives to His Father insteadIndeed, for a true conversion, the disciple must conform his entire life to Jesus’, which means subordinating all concerns to Him.
Jesus must move on with His mission, not only for practical reasons but for spiritual ones as well. He must leave this people so that they may fill the hole He has created. Unfortunately, aside from the apostles who eventually leave that area to follow Him, the town itself does precisely nothing. Because of this, He condemns the town soon afterward: “Will you [Capernaum] be exalted? You will go down to the netherworld” (Mt 11:23).
If they could not have Him for themselves, on their own terms, they would not have Him at all. Christians could have known Capernaum like they now know Antioch, a famous center for the earliest Christian disciples; but they now know it as a desolate backwater filled with a bunch of idiotic yokels who merited one of Christ’s rare curses in the gospels.
What must Christ think of people today, living in a time replete with blessings, doing the same thing?
Fatherly Advice

Lk 4:16-30 Leave Your Valuables Behind

Monday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)


Rolling up the scroll,
he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, “Is this not the son of Joseph?”
He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb,
‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place
the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’”
And he said,
“Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.
But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
Why is no prophet accepted in his native place? I think the roots of this problem run deep—and not just for ancient Jews.For some reason, in our minds, we’ve drawn a dichotomybetween what is familiar to us and what is spiritual. We have church and God and the saints cornered off in one section of our minds, and we cannot fathom that God participates in the grittier parts of our daily life. This is simply untrue.

When I traveled to Costa Rica this summer, my roommates took me to see the national basilica in Cartago. The basilica is named for Nuestra Senora de los Angeles (or, Our Lady of the Angels), who is the patroness of Costa Rica. Every summer, practically the entire country of Costa Rica walks on foot to the basilica in a massive pilgrimage for her feast day, August 2nd. It takes the government (which, interestingly enough, is still officially Catholic) months to prepare for the volume of people who travel in. Meals are provided for every pilgrim, and if memory serves me right, people even sleep in tents in various places along the pilgrimage route. When I visited the Basilica, the first few people had begun to arrive to Cartago to pray in preparation for the feast day. There were trucks full of food in the street and people were starting to set up enormous medical tents in the town square. And then came the hundreds of people who wanted to get into the cathedral. There were men (bouncers, you may say)outside the cathedral doors who lined people up in a not-so-gentle way so that everybody who wanted to go inside could process through (on their knees!) to ask a favor of Mary. I was assumed to be a Protestant for my fair skin, so I was directed to a special side entrance and observed the spectacle from afar. It seemed so interesting, but even so, something about the huge hordes of people and the general bustle didn’t sit right with me. It seemed so not-spiritual. It seemed like a football game, almost.

Below the sanctuary, the Cathedral has been converted into a museum of sorts, where the faithful can come and leave items in a box in front of the icon of Nuestra Senora de los Angeles. Usually, people leave things of value to them to give thanks for answered prayers or to ask for intercession. A popular devotion is to buy a little silver charm of your child or whatever else you need prayers for and place it in the box. Every month, the items are taken from the box and displayed in glass cases so that others can see them and also join in prayer for whoever left the items. At first, that was so weird to me—there were about five-hundred charms of little babies, and a good thousand charms of various deformed limbs. The Costa Rican national soccer team had even left one of their championship medals. Again, it felt weird to me. It seemed so worldly.
My skepticism went off even more when I saw the natural spring coming out of the side of the building, which was reported to have sprung in a period of drought during the Basilica’s construction. Everybody processed down to the spring with whatever containers they could find (some had pots and pans, some plastic water bottles) to collect the water for blessingtheir homes. Again, something about it didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t like that everything was so material. I didn’t like that everything was so tangible, so in-your-face. But then I realized my error. I didn’t like that everything was so human.
I think a lot of us have this fundamental misunderstanding about the faith. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we think that things of God must be other-worldly and clean and pristine, completely disassociated from the things of this world.That’s simply not true. In his book Letters to a Young Catholic(which I conveniently read on a Costa Rican beach the day after my Cartago adventure), George Weigel writes a whole chapter on the “grittiness” of Catholicism—in other words, the tangible and human aspects of our faith. So what, there’s a giant truck of food and an enormous red tent full of noisy people blocking the façade of the Cathedral? So what, there’s a church bouncer at the door? So what, people are bringing their cast iron skillets to collect holy water? That’s humanity. God loves humanity in all its grittiness. Here’s what Weigel said about this chapter in an interview with the Ethics and Public Policy Center:

Catholicism, I try to suggest, is a very gritty business: it’s about things we can touch and taste and feel and smell, just as much as it’s about ideas and arguments. Going to intensely Catholic places reminds us of that. And by “intensely Catholic places,” I don’t mean just churches, cathedrals, and shrines. I mean pubs and bedrooms, graveyards and libraries, monastic cells and concert halls – places that are “borders” between the ordinary and the extraordinary, between what calls itself “the real world” and the really real world of transcendent truth and love… Modern culture teaches us that stuff doesn’t count, that everything is plastic and manipulable. Catholicism teaches us that the world is sacramental – that it’s through the gritty stuff of this world that we meet God’s saving grace.

If we believe that our faith is reality—that the entire world and everything that happens is one big drama of sin, redemption, and salvation—then every place is the dwelling place of God. That’s not to say that we should abandon our churches or trash our cathedrals, or stop going to Mass simply because God is present everywhere. That’s not the point at all. The point is, we shouldn’t be afraid to let our faith be a little “gritty.” Grit is reality, and Jesus Christ lived in the gritty world just like you and me—that is the Gospel truth.

Fatherly Advice

4 Thes 1-2 To Whom Much Has Been Given

Sunday of the twenty-first week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)


Brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God– 
and as you are conducting yourselves– 
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
It’s Friday night in Nashville, Tennessee, and I can’t believe how lucky I am.

I’m standing in a small chapel in the upper room of the college Catholic house, praying the Compline with two other members of the University Catholic group on campus. I can hear the cars passing in the distance as the older girl sings the Salve Regina and the peace of Jesus being there is almost tangible.

Across the street and beyond, my classmates and fellow college students are having a “fun night.” Much of this fun will lead to hangovers in the morning and regret, and I can only feel sorry for those who are not feeling the peace I am at the moment.

Seven days ago I was in a hotel room in Nashville still reflecting on the many videos and blog posts I had read about what college was really like. I didn’t imagine anything specifically, but I was still scared. I was scared of missing my grandparents too much, not being able to be a good older sister for my younger sisters, not being able to make friends, not fitting in with the rest of my classmates.

But every time I think of the little worries, I say to myself, rather sternly, “God put you here for a reason, Sophie.” So much of my college search was choices, and God pointed the arrow towards the choice which I attend today. He pointed very clearly and directly, gave me an awesome roommate and great potential close friends, a challenging courseload, and said “to whom much has been given, much will be expected.”

It’s only a week into college (three days of classes), and already I know that God has blessed me so much.Even though I went through an incredible amount of anxiety in the college search, God really does eventually lead you into the light. In the past week, I’ve met about six other strong Catholics in my freshman class and talked to my mum more than I did when I was at home. I’ve discovered that I friends quickly and started to meet many of the people in the University Catholic group. My classes are incredibly interesting and the science of the world grows more complex every day.

In the Reading, Jesus exhorts us to “conduct yourselves to please God.” This is great advice for college. Even when other classmates are making decisions they may regret, I will still love them. I’ll still try to spark up conversation in the stair well and in a particularly long line. I’m still going to pray for the welfare of my class. And I’m going to try to start attending daily mass next week, at least once a week, so that I can see Jesus more often in the Eucharist. Because I have been given “instructions…through the Lord Jesus” and I’m not going to let Him down.  
Fatherly Advice

1 Thes 2:1-8 How Not to Start a Church

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
By Benedict Augustine
“Nor, indeed, did we ever appear with flattering speech, as you know,
or with a pretext for greed–God is witness–
nor did we seek praise from men,
either from you or from others,
although we were able to impose our weight as Apostles of Christ.”
After the Resurrection of Jesus, the apostles have a difficult task: they must go and convert hostile people to Christ. Not only this, but they cannot coerce people with empty promises, business connections, or some influence with the Roman emperor. They must essentially start from scratch: they have no money or any formal establishments, no famous converts, or any academic reputation—Paul is as close as they come to a legitimate scholar.
In such a situation, any reasonable person hoping to “win friends and influence people” would resort to smooth tactics of sincere flattery and non-confrontation—good old fashion religious salesmanship. He would “seek common ground” with those who disagreed, accommodate different tastes, and above all, avoid argument. As Dale Carnegie says, “The best way to win an argument is not to have one.” Instead of arguments, the reasonable proselytizer shares “his story” and talks about a common vision in which all men can aspire. He would compliment other religions and lifestyles, “celebrating” their “courage,” or their “honesty.” With nothing to lose, and whole church of desperate vain people to gain, the smooth talkers would have seduced the whole Roman populace in a short amount of time.
In addition to promoting a positive message in a positive style, they should have directed to their message the powerful, not the poor. By ingratiating themselves with the Sanhedrin, the Imperial Court, or at least some prominent barbarians tribal chiefs, they could have cut through centuries of tireless preaching. After a useful series “dialogues,” Peter and Paul could have come to a compromise with Emperor Claudius—maybe by promising a place in heaven, or performing a miracle for his benefit, or granting him a religious title equivalent with one of the Persons of the Trinity—and save themselves the persecutions of Nero, Decius, Diocletian, and other bored emperors.
If this happened to be unfeasible because of the brutal nature of Romans conditioned by a brutal religion and a brutal government, the apostles could have invented an enemy to bring people to their cause. It worked for the Jews, and it would work well six centuries later for the Muslims. They could have formed ethnic/nationalistic identity unto themselves and formed an “us vs. them” movement. Angry Romans would find their frustrations expressed by the Christians who would scapegoat barbarians, the emperor, tax collectors, the military, the law, the schools, and dishonest merchants; and then promise a fairer system for all, ordained by God Himself—though they would have keep the details of such a plan hazy.
Unfortunately, Christ does not allow His disciples to weasel their way into unsuspecting people’s hearts. He does not let loose a pack of Christian lobbyists into Rome, or Christian demagogues in the countryside or public forums to ignite a populist movement. Despite having the option on multiple occasions, Jesus Himself does not take control of an army, like Mohammed, or seize the culture, like Pharisees or the French Enlightenment’s literati. Spurning such earthly, predictable, courses to power, He relinquishes these options, and tells His disciples to do the same.
In flat contradiction to prescribed methods, the disciples do not make friends, but enemies. They do not avoid argument, but argue quite bitterly, even with sympathetic audiences. They do not compliment or flatter, but condemn all wrongdoing in the plainest language. For the most part, they seem utterly unimpressed with the officials and emperors, not even noticing them so much as to insult them; Paul, and arguably Jesus too, advise their audiences to keep their heads down and simply stay out of politics. Finally, instead of finding a convenient scapegoat, they become the scapegoat.
For any student of history, the spread of Christianity makes no sense, and indeed, Paul’s letters make no sense. Neither he nor his readers have anything to gain from this. They could have spared themselves the indignity of acting as a “nursing mother” to addicts, perverts, paupers, hypocrites, and idiots.  They could have “played the game” like any other ambitious person.
That is, unless the Gospel of God were true. Only truth, nothing less, could lead such a group of men to such insanity (or extreme sanity, depending on how one sees it).  
Politics will inevitably corrupt the false religion, however noble its origins or ideals. It will assume the character of populism, cronyism, nationalism, utopianism, and even nihilism. When the Church and her members cling to the truth, with all their body, mind, and soul, they may thwart these human patterns and retain their heavenly destiny.
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