instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An unsettling thought

What if Jesus's visit home, as recorded in Luke 4:16-30, is meant to illustrate gratia mere sufficiens, the "merely sufficient" grace that does not result in the recipient acting in accord with it, which some distinguish from gratia efficax, the grace that effects the good God intends by giving the grace?

To put it less Latinly, suppose the townsfolk of Nazareth should have believed what Jesus told them in the synagogue -- "should," not because it just so happened to be true, but because they were given the grace necessary to make an act of faith in Jesus. And suppose their subsequent attempt at deicide can be understood as the logical consequence of resisting that grace.

That would be bad news, wouldn't it, for those who resist grace.

It would mean, I think, that the consequence of resisting grace is to trying to kill the Son of God as the grace resisted is to the grace of believing that Jesus is the Son of God.

Worse, perhaps, it would mean that Jesus will pass through their midst and go away.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ecumenical disputations

I only today noticed what an unexpected answer the Samaritan woman at the well gives Jesus when He tells her,
"You are right in saying, 'I do not have a husband.' For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true."
She's not interested in pursuing the husband angle further. Whether she feels shamed or defiant, she takes prompt advantage of this conversation with a prophet to say,
"Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem."
She poses a religious contradiction, seeking this prophet's judgment on it. She's a natural born theologian!

And Jesus, being Jesus, knows that it is through her desire to worship God as He desires to be worshipped, and through her hope for the Messiah, that she may come to have faith in Him.


Friday, March 25, 2011

A well-posed question

Sometimes I read 1 Thes 5:17 -- "Pray without ceasing." -- and wonder, "How can I 'pray without ceasing'?"

Sometimes I think the question I need to answer is, "How can I not?"


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The greatness of service

The NAB translates Mt 23:11 as, "The greatest among you must be your servant." The Douay-Rheims has it, "He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant."

The NAB's "must be" and the DR's "shall be" translate the Greek "estai," which as someone who knows no Greek I think simply means "will be." The verse may be an instruction to the greatest among us -- "Hey, great people! Be a servant to others!" -- but it could also be read as simply a statement of fact: as God measures it, greatness requires service.

What is it about greatness that requires service? I'll suggest this:

God alone is great in Himself. Humans are only great relative to each other, and the fallen human way (Jesus associated it with Gentiles) of expressing greatness is to lord it over others. The more a great man plays the lord, the closer he gets to bumping his head against the ceiling of playing the Lord, and we know how well that works out for humans.

What I mean is, we cannot become like gods by following the way of greatness. None of us is all that great.

But we can become like God by following the way of service -- specifically, the way of the greatest love, of laying down our lives for our friends. We know we can become like God in this way because we know this is the way of Jesus, Who is both God and man.

Once we become like God in this way, what do you know, we've become like Him in His greatness as well, because He will come and dwell with us, and we with Him, and He will acknowledge us as His children forever.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Judge not, medic yes

Today's Gospel reading includes that saying widely quoted by those who judge that others are judging others:
Judge not, and you shall not be judged.
In practice, the doctrine seems to be interpreted this way: "Whoever condemns what I do not condemn is condemned by this verse. (Oh, and by the way, whoever doesn't condemn what I condemn is condemned by other verses.)"

The rub, of course, is what to make of this teaching in light of the fact that there's plenty of obvious sinning going on around us. The Fathers came up with a variety of interpretations: categorically forgive the sins committed against you; don't condemn others guilty of lesser sins than you have committed; don't judge men lest the habit lead you to judge God; always put the best possible interpretation on actions.

Let me draw attention to St. John Chrysostom's comment (as quoted in the Catena Aurea):
He does not say, "Do not cause a sinner to cease," but do not judge; that is, be not a bitter judge; correct him indeed, but not as an enemy seeking revenge, but as a physician applying a remedy.
A judge and a doctor both are to evaluate evidence, allow for uncertainty, reach a conclusion, and instruct others to act accordingly. The key difference is that the judge acts for purposes of justice, while the doctor acts for purposes of health.*

Our God, we know, is a God of Justice and a God of Mercy. How Justice and Mercy embrace within God is a mystery, but perhaps Jesus is teaching us that whether we experience His Presence as a presence of Justice or as a Presence of Mercy depends on how others experience our own presence.

* It's probably worth pointing out that I can act as a judge all I want, but I have no authority to insist my judgments are carried out. Quite apart from Christian doctrine, it's silly for me to play judge. (The situation's more complicated for those who actually do have authority to judge, which is yet another reason to pray daily for our bishops.)

At the same time, I'm not particularly qualified to prescribe spiritual medicine in most cases. I recommend "prayer and fasting" more as nutrition than medicine for the spiritual life and encourage those in need to seek the guidance of those holy, wise, and gifted in these matters. Hence "medic," rather than "doctor," in this post's title.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The place of the test
From the desert of Sin the whole Israelite community journeyed by stages, as the LORD directed, and encamped at Rephidim. Here there was no water for the people to drink.

They quarreled, therefore, with Moses and said, "Give us water to drink."

Moses replied, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to a test?"
The test the Israelites put God to at Massah in the desert was not an extravagant one. They weren't looking for anything fancy or flashy, they were looking for water.

Asking God for water is what His people are supposed to do.

But the difference between, "You love us, give us water," and, "If You love us, give us water," is the difference between a prayer and a test, between a relationship of faith and a relationship of contractual obligations.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Is it March 11 already?

Today is a good day to begin a novena to St. Joseph.