There has always been ocean lore that proclaims rogue, monster waves rising 80, 90, or 100 feet high or more. Of course, these are not eye-witness accounts. Men in wooden ships don’t survive such an encounter. There was the story of the Alaskan Tlingit Indian woman who returned from berry picking to find her entire village disappeared. The debris field evidence on the shoreline indicated that the ocean had risen up and fell upon the village. The wave would have been more than 100 feet high to cause the damage. Experts of the day dismissed stories about such waves because they seemingly violated basic principles of ocean physics.
WARNING: this post is excessively long and potentially soporific.
Recently I received a private email from someone who follows my musings. They expressed concern that I was “becoming political.” Their motivation was a recent posting on Calumny. In their view it seemed as though I was choosing a “side” in the on-going “political dialogue” (which is hardly much of a dialogue). And I was choosing a side – hopefully the side of truth and the teaching of the Catholic Church on the sin of calumny. That the backdrop is the unending, crafted message about voter and election fraud, is just the case writ large that serves to help faithful people understand the moral question about what they choose to repeat or assert.
The gospel for today’s readings is a familiar encounter with a leper at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The identification of the man who came to Jesus as “a leper” is not as precise as at first glance it may seem. Medical researchers who have examined the biblical data in Lev. 13–14 feel certain that the biblical term “leprosy” is a collective noun designating a wide variety of chronic skin diseases, not necessarily just Hansen’s disease. Regardless, anyone who was identified as a leper – from Hansen’s disease to a simple skin rash – was reduced to a lowest state of social existence, separated from family, friends, and society at large. It didn’t take much to be designated to the bottom of life.
I have always been interested in the stories of the Kings of Judah and Israel as accounted in the Bible’s books of 1st/2nd Kings and 1st/2nd Chronicles. When the topic is raised among most Christian people, I would suggest that people recall the reign of King David and the stories of his son, King Solomon – and conclude that the era of the Kings was a good thing. They easily forget that Saul was the first king and his reign did not end well. Nor did Solomon’s. And David had his own spectacular moral failures. Apart from King Josiah, the rest of the Kings of Judah and Israel are judged harshly by Scripture, failing to do their duty to God and the covenant people, falling prey to the corruption of power.
It not just kings of all place and times; it applies to Popes and Franciscans. Francesco della Rovere was a Franciscan and Minister General of the Order. He was noted for his humility and commitment to the values of the Franciscan Order. In 1471 he was elected pope and took the name Sixtus VI. In his time as pope he was noted for nepotism, lavish spending, and involvement in the infamous Pazzi conspiracy.
King, Popes, Franciscans: the English Catholic historian, politician, and writer, Lord Acton would have well understood their corruption.
Today’s gospel is a very familiar one and is part of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry according to the Gospel of Luke. The scene is set in a local synagogue and Jesus is asked to read from the Scriptures. as seems to have been the tradition, the invited reader was able to select a passage. Jesus chose to read from the Prophet Isaiah (61:1):
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Certainly the passage is meant to be understood by the listeners (and us!) as Jesus’ public testimony that he is the long awaited anointed one, the Christos. As the passage continues the listeners quickly move to “who does he think he is” and try to throw Jesus off a cliff as punishment for his blasphemy. I think the trajectory of the account quickly leaves the citation from Isaiah in the “rear view.”‘
What about us? Take some time and read Isaiah 61. The Word of the Lord is being spoken to the people of Israel in their Babylonian Exile. It is not only a promise of return to Jerusalem, but it is also a challenge of “if you say you are the People of God, then here is what I expect.” Just as Jesus promised glad tidings to the poor, liberty to those captive, sight to those blinded, and freedom from burdens – we are anointed by our baptism to offer those things in our age.
Today, in the midst of pandemic fatigue, viral uncertainty, and the loss of “normal,” we need glad tidings and to be people who bring glad tidings. We are captive to the pandemic, burdened by the necessary safety precautions, find it hard to see an end, and simply want to be free to hug family and friends. And yet, we are called to be Christ for one another, to bring the light of Christ into our lives and lives of others.
What about us? How will we fulfill our baptismal vows in which we too were anointed with Spirit of the Lord? There is a people in a modern captivity of this pandemic that need to hear the Good News.
Someone contacted me (via email) last evening expressing their concern that my re-posting of Calumny (re-posted) was a bit over the top as it, in their mind, drew a comparison between the “stop the steal” movement and the unfolding of events in post-1918 Germany that lead to the fall of democracy. That was not my intent – it was a discussion of the teaching of the Catholic Church on the moral consequences of the sin of calumny. Those consequences are simply a matter of history with all the people of the world paying a horrific price. And today is another event of history in which people stormed the US Capitol Building. It is an ominous sign of the effects of calumny in our time and place and its complete disregard for the truth. I believe it is but a moment of darkness, the will of the people will prevail, but we should never forget this moment.
In this moment, let us pray for peace, a peaceful transition of power – let us use words of prayer that uplift and heal.
17 In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.
Verse 17 tells us how to have something everybody wants to have. And v.18 tells us how to get rid of something everybody wants to get rid of. We, of course, do not like to talk about fear. We do everything we can to be free from it. Yet fear is an essential part of human existence and, like it or not, some fear will accompany us, always and everywhere, until the end. Continue reading
This originally posted in early December 2020 amidst all the “stop the steal” chatter – which has reached a crescendo not imagined. I thought the post worth repeating. We are morally bound to our words.
“Calumny” is not a word that finds common usage in most people’s everyday vocabulary. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines “calumny” as “the act of uttering false charges or misrepresentations maliciously calculated to harm another’s reputation.” The word came into English in the 15th century and comes from the Middle French word calomnie of the same meaning. Calomnie, in turn, derives from the Latin word calumnia, (meaning “false accusation,” “false claim,” or “trickery”), which itself traces to the Latin verb calvi, meaning “to deceive.” Calumny made an appearance in these famous words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry: be thou chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go.” Hamlet is basically tormenting poor Ophelia. He tells her that, as a woman, she will never escape slander.
When asked how they could possibly feed so many people, Jesus said to disciples “in reply, ‘Give them some food yourselves.’” I often think of this as the scriptural equivalent of “how do you eat an elephant?” One bite at the time. How are we to minister to the overwhelming number of needs in our life and communities? One person at a time… always knowing the we do so we the grace of God, the love of Christ, and community of the Holy Spirit.
Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. John Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia and the first male US citizen canonized. Neumann began life in Bohemia. He was a good son and excellent student. He entered the seminary in 1831 for his local diocese. But in his second year he was enthralled with the call for priests to serve in the United States – especially among the German-speaking peoples.
For those of you that were players committed to the Facebook app “Farmville” back in 2010 or 2011 (…or so), we are sad to report that FarmVille shut down last week. Daniel Victor (NYT, 12/31) commented that many technique FarmVille popularized – nagging notifications to friends and encouragements to check back daily to tend to your crops – are now being imitated by everything from Instagram to QAnon. Where FarmVille was the time-eating destination of friends and family – there are many social media apps that are as demanding, nagging, and lead one down the “rabbit hole” of lost time. Where FarmVille feared not to tread, everyone else followed. Alas and aloha.