Sunday Thoughts: 1-5-20

Feast of the Epiphany

Reading 1: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thy eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side. Then shalt thou see, and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee, the strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee.

The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and shewing forth praise to the Lord.

Reading 2: Ephesians 3: 2-3A, 5-6

If yet you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me towards you: How that, according to revelation, the mystery has been made known to me… Which in other generations was not known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit: That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and co-partners of his promise in Christ Jesus, by the gospel:

Gospel: Matthew 2: 1-12

When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him. And king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the prophet:

And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them; And sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come to adore him. Who having heard the king, went their way; and behold the star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was. And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him; and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country.

Thoughts:

With the Epiphany, we have ‘wise men from the East’ coming to Jerusalem in search of the newborn King of the Jews, bearing suitable gifts to offer in homage. That is to say, pagan scholars from a distant land – probably Persia – have learned, by their own arts, that Christ the Messiah is come, and they have undertaken a long, arduous journey to behold Him and pay Him honor. Indeed, it is said that they are guided there by “the star,” and through counsels in dreams.

What does all this mean?

Consider these three men; scholars of a distant land. They are educated men, brought up to be philosophers, astrologers, masters of knowledge and the keepers of lore. They are, presumably, literate men. We can imagine them, in their homes or workshops or libraries, pouring through scrolls and manuscripts, committing vast reams of words to memory, even from boyhood. They were relatively wealthy men, as they could travel and bear gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

In the course of their research, perhaps, they found a pattern, or a prophecy. They saw “His star at its rising.” One can picture them looking over their work in awed wonder as they realized what these signs meant; one can imagine them telling their colleagues, trying to convince them of what they had found. Perhaps one or more of them needed convincing from the others. On the strength of their studies, they had faith enough to understand what that “Star” meant and to follow it for perhaps hundreds of miles to a little village in a backwater province of the Roman Empire, where they found a peasant couple and their newborn baby.

The timeline of the Gospels is a little ambiguous. The shepherds around Bethlehem, we know, were the first to hear of His birth and pay Christ homage in the flesh. My own understanding is that the second were Simeon and Anna in the Temple. Then third come these wealthy, educated pagans out of the East, bearing rich gifts and guided by the combined work of an angel of God and their own scholarship.

In so doing, these three eastern scholars unknowingly stand in the place of the entire non-Jewish world. Their presence so near Christ’s birth, and their attendance on him, shows that He will not only be a prophet and king to the Jews, but to all mankind.

They also reveal something else, which shall be crucial for the future of the Church, once it is established. They are a vindication of pagan wisdom, and a pledge that God has not abandoned the gentiles, but has been working through them as well as through the Jews, though in a different fashion. Their studies, their own lore led them to recognize Christ; therefore let no one condemn pagan knowledge or wisdom again. They don’t just bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh; they bring Aristotle and Cicero, Homer and Virgil, Confucius and Lau Tzu, the Ramayana and the Book of Five Rings. The three wise men come to say that there is truth in paganism, or at least the way to truth, and therefore these things are to be cherished and studied, for there can be nothing good but what comes of God and leads to Him. “The strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee.”

Consider, finally, the humility of these men; here, surely, is that pure love of knowledge that is the mark of the true philosopher. Their lore tells them that Christ, the King of the Jews, is to be born in a distant land, the Messiah of a faith they do not practice, and of a people who, ostensibly, are of no account. Seeing that it is so, they undergo great hardships and dangers to bear costly gifts for His honor. They followed His star wherever it went; that is to say, they followed the truth wherever it went, not only in abstract thought, but in concrete action.

This was, indeed, the purpose of all ancient thought, and of all knowledge up until the end of the Middle Ages; we learn things, not that we may change them or manipulate them, but that we may better submit to them. We learn what the world is really like so that we might live accordingly. The purpose was to change ourselves; not the world. The three wise men following the star were following the path of the true man of knowledge: to conform our lives to the truth, wherever it leads.

This is the one common feature among all those who recognize Christ: humility, the willingness to recognize things higher than oneself and conform to them. It is present in the poor shepherds living in and around a tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere, and it is present in rich scholars from Persia. The chief question we have to ask is, is it present in us? Do we seek to follow that star, wherever it leads? Is our main concern, “how can we change our lives to better conform them to the truth?”

Or do we greet the knowledge that something may disrupt our own ideas, our own plans, and our own comfort by being “troubled” by the idea and seeking to silence it at all costs? Is our main concern how we can interpret and use the world to suit our needs and wishes? Do we regard that star, not as primarily true or false, but convenient or inconvenient?

AMDG

 

New Year’s Verses

Chapter 2 of the Book of Sirach always strikes me as the perfect Bible passage for the New Year.

Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation. Humble thy heart, and endure: incline thy ear, and receive the words of understanding: and make not haste in the time of clouds. Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.

Believe God, and he will recover thee: and direct thy way, and trust in him. Keep his fear, and grow old therein. Ye that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy: and go not aside from him, lest ye fall. Ye that fear the Lord, believe him: and your reward shall not be made void. Ye that fear the Lord, hope in him: and mercy shall come to you for your delight. Ye that fear the Lord, love him, and your hearts shall be enlightened.

My children behold the generations of men: and know ye that no one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded. For who hath continued in his commandment, and hath been forsaken? or who hath called upon him, and he despised him? For God is compassionate and merciful, and will forgive sins in the day of tribulation: and he is a protector to all that seek him in truth. Woe to them that are of a double heart and to wicked lips, and to the hands that do evil, and to the sinner that goeth on the earth two ways. Woe to them that are fainthearted, who believe not God: and therefore they shall not be protected by him.

Woe to them that have lost patience, and that have forsaken the right ways, and have gone aside into crooked ways. And what will they do, when the Lord shall begin to examine? They that fear the Lord, will not be incredulous to his word: and they that love him, will keep his way. They that fear the Lord, will seek after the things that are well pleasing to him: and they that love him, shall be filled with his law. They that fear the Lord, will prepare their hearts, and in his sight will sanctify their souls.

They that fear the Lord, keep his Commandments, and will have patience even until his visitation, Saying: If we do not penance, we shall fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men. For according to his greatness, so also is his mercy with him.

Welcome to 2020, everyone.

At the Everyman, Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

The Everyman asked me to tackle the question of salvation outside the Church, following Bishop Barron’s infamous interview with Ben Shapiro. Fortunately, I’d just been reading up some on the subject.

This one’s probably gonna generate some controversy; if you have a comment, please either leave it at the ‘Everyman’ site, or under this post.

The reason for this is inherent in the Christian claim. Christ came to save mankind from his sins, and by His saving death and resurrection He has opened a path to Heaven for those who follow Him. Salvation, in other words, is the exception, not the rule; we are not naturally directed to heaven. “wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and those who enter through it are many,” says the Lord (Matt. 7:13). Christ is not, as His Excellency said, the “privileged route” (whatever that means), He is the only route.

Our Lord is very clear on this: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37), “To as many as believed in Him, He gave power to become sons of God” (John 1:12) and so on.

Christians, amid the heresies and schisms of the first few centuries after Christ, taught from very early on that there was one Church, which alone was the Body of Christ on Earth. Membership in this body is an essential part of following Christ, and hence there is no salvation outside it.

This is a hard saying (though not quite so hard as it seems, as we’ll see), but as with many of the hard sayings of the Catholic Church, it ultimately comes down to the question of whether the Church is what she claims to be, namely, the Bride of Christ and His instrument upon Earth. If she is, then of course there can be no salvation outside of her, since there is no salvation apart from Christ.

Go here to read the rest.

On Being the Prodigal

Our Lord doesn’t specify how long the prodigal son was away in His parable, but one must imagine it to be a fairly long time, given that he had the chance to spend all his money, enjoy the company of harlots, live lavishly, and so on. I bring it up because I think that parable applies aptly, not just to us as individual sinners, but to the civilization formerly known as Christendom in general.

Like the prodigal son, the last few generations have taken our inheritance (the wealth, grandeur, and security that our fathers labored to produce), told our ‘Father’ to go to Hell, and set about spending every cent we have on lavish living, fondly imagining the security and wealth piled up before we were born will last forever without our having to do anything about it. Thus, we declare anything inconvenient to our chosen lifestyle to be ‘outdated,’ imagining that the results will continue even after the cause is removed. We toss off the family, free enterprise, hard work, letters, tradition, and the most basic ideas of culture in favor of a ‘do what you want, welcome everyone’ attitude. We think nothing of tearing up the basic foundations of society, like marriage, the church, and the community, because we fondly imagine the stability they created will continue without them. We preach multiculturalism because we assume that the results of our cultural norms are permanent and will endure if the culture changes.

In short, we squander our inheritance.

The sin of the prodigal came in dishonoring his father by taking his inheritance for granted as a right rather than a responsibility. Whatever he had from his father, he threw away because he assumed he didn’t have to do anything to maintain it and it was simply his to do with as he liked. We moderns do the same with the rich inheritance of the west, assuming that the relative peace, security, and wealth that we enjoy is ours by right, rather than the hard-earned product of labor which is our responsibility to maintain.

I can picture the prodigal son at his lavish parties telling his new friends all about his father and brother; how his father was a senile old fool and his brother a stuck-up hypocrite, much as we treat our forefathers with contempt and ridicule even as we enjoy the fruits of their labor and despise our ‘brothers’ who actually try to live up to their responsibilities.

Now, as you know, this isn’t to say the ‘elder brother’ is model to follow: he has his own failures and temptations. Perhaps, in the end, it is better to be the prodigal, but only after the prodigal returns. At the moment, we’re still living it up, though there are signs that the great famine is coming, where we’ll long to eat the husks that are given to the pigs. Perhaps after that we’ll come to our senses and seek forgiveness, and maybe then we’ll be in a position to criticize the behavior of the elder brother.

At the moment, though, we’re not in much of a position to criticize anyone.