01 June 2010

Of stones and free will

Father Know-it-All's homily for Corpus Christi Sunday, from a few years ago.

Text follows YouTube links for those of us with non-functioning computer sound or slow dial-up.

(Couldn't get Part 2 to provide the code to embed, so here is the link to Father's website that has the two-part homily and the readings.)

First of all I’d like to congratulate S.N. [initials only] who was baptized a few weeks ago...
A member of our religious education class...
Who will be making her First Holy Communion today.
It’s a very appropriate day to do so, the feast of Corpus Christi [Latin for "The Body of Christ"].
So, as we say in Skokie (Illinois), "Mazel Tov" [literally means "good fortune" in Hebrew]
S.N. [initials only] will come up with her family at the beginning of Communion.
I hope you are all awake.
You’re all focused, are you all focused?
Because this a very strange sermon.
Not long, just strange.
Well, it may be long --- you never know.
It all kind of started at the Great Adventure Bible Class, about three or four weeks ago.
We were studying the book of Joshua.
And it had never occurred to me that Joshua really brings right into the limelight, I guess you’d say..
The problem of evil.
Not only does God permit evil...
I mean that’s a problem --- if God is so good...
All of us have been through this, I think...
If God is so good, and so loving...
Why are all these bad things happening to me?
I remember, I don’t know if you’ll follow this, but this cartoon in the Sun Times, "Mr. Boffo".
Maybe I mentioned this one...
Mr. Boffo is hiding behind a big rock, and there’s a voice in the sky, and lightening bolts and thunder.
And the voice says "Come out in the open so I get a clear shot at ya."
You know, some of us feel like that, don’t’ we?
I remember the line in the "Fiddler On The Roof":
"Lord, we know we’re the Chosen People, but couldn't You choose someone else for a while?"
But this is a problem we have.
If God is so good, why is there so much difficulty in my life?
And, on a grander scale, why is there so much evil in the world?
And more importantly, if you read the book of Joshua, and study the conquest in the Land of Canaan...
It seems that God not only permits evil, but He is its perpetrator.
I remember my mother decided to read the Bible cover to cover.
And about a book or two in, she gave me a call and said, "Richard, do you know what’s in this book?"
"I mean, really, it’s a challenging book!"
I gave a talk in Huntley [Illinois] a of couple weeks ago...
And I was kind of warned by the people who had invited me...
There's a woman here who is pacing back and forth, she has come here to ask you one question.
Somehow I was able to avoid her going into the hall.
But she sat patiently through a long and boring lecture to ask her question.
And her question was simply this --- that she was reading the story of Judith and Holofernes.
Judith was a heroin from among the Israelites.
And Holofernes, a general of, I think it was, the Syrians.
I don’t know, one of those people who are always trying to dislodge the Israelites.
But her question was --- how did this story make it into the Bible?
This woman seduced a general, drugged him and then killed him.
And this was all for the glory of God.
How in any way can that be Scripture?
This is a good question.
How can this be?
Well, I know a woman, she’s an older woman now, and a very dear friend...
Who was Jewish, and has become a Catholic
Maybe I told you about her...
But when she was a little girl
Maybe I told you about her...
She was a girl of exceptional intelligence.
And at a very young age, she was allowed to attend a yeshivah.
NOTE: A yeshivah is a Jewish institution for Torah study and the study of Talmud and generally cater to boys or men. A roughly equivalent women's institution is the midrasha.
Which was unusual itself in those days.
And she was asked the classic question:
"Can God make a stone so big that He Himself can not move it?"
Now, the Catholic and Jewish answer is:
"No, He would not make a stone so big that He could not move it...
Because, He has made creation as a mirror of His goodness."
Creation itself and natural law are extensions of God’s goodness.
It would be as if you stood in a mirror, raised your hand, and expected the reflection to lower its hand.
It just makes no sense.
That’s the Catholic and Jewish answer.
The Muslim and Protestant answer is:
"Yes, God could do that. He can do anything he wants."
I think this is something that a lot of people don’t know.
That the founders of the Reformation --- the reformers Calvin and Luther --- were very much influenced by Islamic thought that had come into the Christian world through Spain.
And Calvin especially, but Luther also, did not believe in free will.
And they believed that God, being absolutely sovereign, could do whatever He pleased.
Therefore, if God woke up on the wrong side of the bed...
Well, He could say that murder and adultery were good.
And they would be good.
So, the answer of Muslims and Protestants is YES --- God could make a stone so big that He Himself could not move it.
Well, this little Jewish girl in a yeshivah said, when asked the question:
"Can God make a stone so big that He Himself could not move it?"
She looked at her teachers and she said:
"Yes, He can. And He did --- the human heart."
And for that, she was thrown out of school.
God made a stone so big that He Himself cannot move it.
And that is --- the human heart --- in its freedom.
God has given us freedom.
And on the cross He subjected Himself --- to our freedom.
Well - why did God give us freedom?
Because freedom is the only necessary precondition for real love.
Your dog loves you.
I mean, there are a lot of dog owners here, aren't there?
And heaven forbid if anyone should say your dog doesn't really love you.
You are the giver of food, and possessor of the can opener, aren't you?
Your dog loves you.
And you know what?
Your dog’s love is more constant and more sincere than the love that most people you know have for you.
Your dog is always glad to see you when you come home.
And does not tell you that the laundry must be done.
Or the garbage must be taken out.
That dog loves you.
That dog does not love you in the way that you love.
That dog’s love is not predicated on freedom - whereas yours is.
The marriage vows that you took, were for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
Where does the love come in?
Does it come in the better or the worse?
In the richer or the poorer?
In the sickness or in the health?
When you keep vigil at the sick bed of someone you love, you ask:
"Why am I doing this?"
Well, for love.
When you endure sorrow and suffering, the love that you offer is all the more bright for the darkness that surrounds it.
You know that.
So, God has given us freedom --- in order that we might love.
Now... are you listening?
This is a very un-understandable part of what I want to say this morning.
If Jesus is not the Son, the very Heart of God...
If Jesus is not the visible image of the invisible God.
If Jesus is not God's love made Flesh...
Then God is, in fact, a savage.
He is cruel beyond imagining.
It’s very quiet in here, isn't it?
Let me say that again...
If Jesus is not God’s love in the Flesh...
If God did not become man...
Then God is a savage as some people think He is.
If God had given us freedom.......
And then stood aloof from us...
And watched from heaven...
As some little boy standing over an ant hill with a magnifying glass.
You see --- Calvin and Luther, as I said, did not believe in freedom.
They believed, as do the Muslims, in complete predestination.
That God had created some people to show His love.
Us --- depending on who "us" is.
And He has created some people to show His justice.
Them --- whoever you want "them" to be.
Now Hitler and Stalin designated certain groups of people to suffer for a while in order to exterminate them.
But --- if Calvin and Luther and Mohammed were right...
Then God has created a group of people to suffer infinitely and eternally.
He makes Hitler look like a Boy Scout.
If God stands aloof from our suffering --- then God is truly a savage.
But God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son.
You know --- another fellow, who is also a Jew, fell madly in love with a young girl who was both Greek Orthodox and Charismatic.
I mean Greek Orthodox and Charismatic ! ! !
This was a convinced Christian.
But, as often happens, you fall in love with someone before you realize it’s a very bad idea.
Well, they came to see me.
And he was grieved because...
Had they children, though those children might be able to become Jewish through conversion; he could not pass down his name to them.
He was a Levite.
You see, Levites and priests, still have identities among Jews.
And they have special roles in certain services.
But because his children would be converted to Judaism, their mother, being a Gentile, he could not pass down his Levitical inheritance.
And I thought about it.
And I thought "You know you do things for people you love."
And in a sense, for love --- you part with your own inheritance.
And I said:
"Think about Abraham."
God asked that Abraham sacrifice his son --- for love.
And you know when you think about it, we Christians believe, I told this young man, that the sacrifice of Isaac and Abraham was not canceled.
We read the bible, and we think that God withheld the hand of Abraham permanently.
But He didn't.
Because you see, Jesus, if we are correct, was Son of God --- and son of Abraham.
Because --- you’re Jewish if your mother is Jewish.
And so because Mary was the daughter of Abraham...
Jesus was a son of Abraham.
It's as if God withheld Abraham’s hand, and said:
"Wait! Wait! We will do this together."
"You, Abraham, and I will sacrifice our Son."
That’s what I mean, when I say, if Jesus is not the very Heart of God...
God’s love in the flesh...
Then God stands aloof from the suffering of humanity.
But God does not stand aloof..
He enters into the heart of our sorrow.
And He subjects Himself to the evil which freedom perpetrates.
And He who is all powerful on the cross, becomes powerless.
And He is at the center, not only as God, but as Man.
He is the victim of the freedom He gave us.
500 years before His birth, the prophet Isaiah said to King Hezekiah:
"Behold! A virgin shall conceive, and you shall call His name Emmanuel - God is with us."
God is not the God that those who think of Him as arbitrary and aloof.
He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who accompanies us in every sorrow.
Sorrow and suffering being the price of love.
And because His sorrow and our sorrow are not separate...
Every tear is counted...
Every sorrow has meaning...
Every pain is dear to the heart of God...
His eye is on the sparrow.
And He watches you.
He is not distant from your sorrow.
But as you weep, He weeps.
And as you love, He loves.
God with us. Now...
He died --- He rose from the dead.
And He stood on the Mount of Olives, looking over his beloved city, Jerusalem, torn then, as now, with strife and war.
And He looked at his disciples and said:
"Behold, I am with you. All days --- until the end of the world."
And just as I believe that had God NOT descended to Earth...
To share our sorrows as the Person of Jesus of Nazareth...
I too believe, that if God were not present in each tabernacle, in the form of bread and wine...
Then Christ Jesus would have been a liar as He ascended to the Father.
He said: "I am with you all days."
And when He changed bread and wine into His body and blood, His humanity, His divinity, His real Presence....
He fulfilled His promise.
And He waits for you in every tabernacle.
And at every Sacrifice of the Mass, you join your sorrows to His, your weakness to His weakness, and His triumph will be yours.
It is the Sacrifice of the Mass --- that’s at this place, this morning, that you tie the sorrows of your heart to His heart.
And taking His flesh and blood into yourself, in the form of bread and wine, you become who He is.
And His sorrow and His joy --- become your sorrow and your joy.
Your sorrows become His --- inseparably and eternally.
God made two promises that we celebrate today on this feast of Corpus Christi:
He said the virgin shall conceive and be with child...
And you shall call his name Emmanuel --- God Is With Us!
And on the day of His Ascension, he fulfilled that promise and made it eternal...
Saying "Behold, it is I, Emmanuel. I am with you --- all days."
God is not arbitrary.
He is not cruel.
He embraces you in your sorrow and lifts you to His throne.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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