I give thanks for the thousands of people who listen to these reflections week in and week out.
In some weeks nearly ten thousand.
Who could have thought it?
Working in this humble farm,
on the remotest place on earth from any major land mass.
We sow our seeds.
We do an awful lot of weeding.
And we reflect.
I am an old man.
The sisters also are old.
My friends call me Forrest Gump,
it seems that God has seen fit to place me in significant places
especially with respect to the history of the Church
though I myself am not important at all.
And perhaps something of a fool.
The last couple of years have been challenging as we had to leave Haiti
then found everything we are now doing.
And now some of us must go the Mainland.
On account of that I will be taking a one-month Sabbatical leave.
And to say it plainly, I am all used up.
So, I ask you to forgive me for two things which I believe should never to into a homily.
First, this is a long homily.
It is also filled with personal information,
something else which I think a priest must never bring into the pulpit.
But I believe that the direction I have received from my spiritual director,
a Capuchin friar on the Mainland,
He tells me to share what I have been taught
to teach others what I have been given to know.
So, on all of these accounts, I hope you will bear with me
will return to these refections on the first Sunday in September.
A certain man sowed good seed into rich soil, but afterwards the Enemy came and sowed tares, or weeds, into the same soil. As in Eden, two ways are possible for humankind. The field of finest wheat signifies God's provision for all our needs. The wheat points to the Bread of Heaven, the Manna from Heaven, and the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cherish it as our safety in this world and our mysterious union with the Lord Jesus, Who is our salvation. He plants the wheat so that we might become "wheat minded" people, that we see the world in "wheat terms," and that our every thought be mediated by wheat.
But an Enemy proposes a different fruit, the tares. To become fascinated with them, to desire their "different" tastes, to experience their infinite variety, to explore the new and untried, may seem exciting, but they represent a choice: either the tares or the wheat. None of them together is possible. From a different perspective, we might say that wheat signifies our good thoughts, and the tares represent our unwholesome thoughts, which lead us away from God and in the end, in our individual finalities, away from His company forever.
This is the trajectory for all of us from Eden and then East of Eden. We begin with secure, daily relationship with God, Whom we know and see and commune with in the shade of the afternoon. His ways are our ways. Life with Him is good, and it is simple. Let us pause for a moment to say the obvious: goodness lies only in being near to God, Who alone is good. He is the source and summit of all goodness. To borrow St. Paul's words,
... whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there
be anything worthy of praise, think on these things. (Phil 4:8)
The loss of Eden equates to the loss of God and of the knowledge of right and wrong. For right or wrong have no meaning in and of themselves. If the early twenty-first century holds any lesson for us, it is certainly this one. When God is pushed into the deep background, with Him goes morality: goodness, decency, and right. They are replaced by the City of Man, to borrow St. Augustine's phrase, and all that man proposes. Inevitably man-made religion quickly devolves into libertarianism as each person seizes what seems right to him- or herself, and the ego (and id) replace God. This new religion proposes three commandments:
1. Don't judge me.
2. Live, and let live.
3. You have your truth, and I have my truth.
Yes, I know the Gospel teaching, "Judge not, that ye be not judged," but be careful of the additional layers of context, Greek language, and ancient culture all of which modulate meaning in the Gospels. The same Jesus told the woman taken in adultery to sin no more, and He told His disciples that if any man sin they are to be confronted and, finally, expelled from the congregation if they are not penitent (Mt 18:17). Finally, He told His Apostles that if they should meet with sin in house whatsoever they enter, and goodness is not received in goodness, "I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that [whole] town" (Lk 10:12).
In fact, "the great three commandments" of our time are really one commandment said three times: they are an imperative to "leave me alone as I invent my own morality." They are very like the New World before the arrival of established religion and a widespread constabulary. That world, according to our historical record, was libertinism run amok with no developed society to restrain it. In the twenty-first century, that same libertinism is amplified by our powerful telecommunications technologies. It is the "world without God" on steroids.
The rejection of moral rules, is not limited to the secular world, for it is found within the Church herself. My preparation for the priesthood included twenty-three years of university study, including seven years of seminary study devoted to Roman Catholic theology & spirituality, history, Scripture, and ancient languages. In addition, I took courses at a nearby Episcopalian seminary leading to the Anglican Diploma. Later, I served the Episcopal Church as a university chaplain and parish priest. During this period, I watched the Episcopal Church pitch overboard moral teachings whose home and stronghold had once been the Church. I was challenged in these courses to compose same-sex marriage liturgies (which I refused to do) or face expulsion from the program, and I was forced to take a General Ordination Exam having moral content that "previously had been considered unacceptable," to quote the Very Reverend Philip W. Turner, Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School, whose resignation from that seminary was required for upholding Christian morality. Like Father Turner, I went through that exam with honesty and accepted the consequences. In the years that followed, I watched the immorality of the Episcopal Church become the hallmark of the entire Anglican Communion in the Northern Hemisphere giving thanks that my own diocese, the historic Anglo-Catholic Diocese of Quincy, was among the last three strongholds, together with Fort Worth and San Joaquin, of the old Episcopal Church, and was in communion, not with the Episcopal Church per se, but with each orthodox diocese of the Anglican Communion worldwide. (I have always said on that account that I was an Anglican priest though not necessarily an Episcopal priest.) When the Episcopal Church attempted to depose me for my Christian convictions, consequently, I continued to be in communion with the only Anglicans I respected. I give thanks that I continue to be in communion with the bishops of the Global South, whose dioceses represent roughly two-thirds of all Anglicans on earth.
Following these tumultuous years, I was granted a three-year private tutorial under the former Rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome. This man had known several popes and had held several most-distinguished posts including the assignment to compose, with others, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, being prepared by John Paul II for Roman Catholics worldwide. The commission had divided the draft into four parts: The Creed of Faith, the Sacraments, Christian Life, and Christian Prayer. Christian Life, in turn, was divided into two sections: vocation and the Ten Commandments, which was understood, not without good cause and precedent, to be the foundation and bedrock for all morality.
When it was finished, the commission was duty-bound to send the draft out to all bishops of the Roman Communion awaiting their suggestions for revision. The commission was quickly inundated with demands, most of them from the U.S. Bishops, to remove the Ten Commandments from the Catechism on the grounds that the Church had transcended these years ago advancing to to a higher law. Commission members were dumbfounded. What were they to do? Ignore the bishops?! The authentic teachers of the Church?! No one is senior to a bishop. They are styled "Most Reverend." So, conflicted and perplexed, they requested an audience with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the highest office of the Roman Curia concerning matters of faith and morals. He probably was the greatest Prefect in the history of the Holy Office and then the CDF and one of the three greatest theologians of the twentieth century. His name was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. In response to their request, the Prefect walked into the room carrying a large book. They were invited to sit aroung a conference table where the book was set down at the head of the table, and Cardinal Ratzinger began to read:
And behold, one came up to Him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?"
And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good.
If you would enter life, keep His commandments." He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said,
"You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,
Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
In due time the Catechism would be promulgated by the Bishop of Rome. It is a sad fact, reported in the press and attested in Walter Cardinal Kasper's best-selling book, Leadership in the Church, that many bishops continue to view this book as an unwelcome intrusion in their dioceses, having no effective claim on them or their priests. I personally witnessed this resentment on the part of clergy during the years that I served the Roman Catholic Church in New England and became an insider in several surrounding dioceses.
Nearly a half-century later, let us ask where has this higher law has led us. This past July 5th, the Vatican police raided apartments associated with the present Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith forcing their way into a drug-fueled orgy of bishops and priests. Neighbors reported that this had been going on week in and week out for months with dozens of men attending the individual parties.
We should not be shocked to see that many young people abandoned the Church years ago. Sadly, they do no know the teachings of Jesus, they are not familiar with the Sacred Scriptures, they do not know the prayers of the Church, and their conduct of life is witness to a profound tragedy: they do not know the difference between right and wrong. I do not say that they are not well-intentioned human beings; I am stating a technical fact: the difference between right and wrong, which alone inheres in God. Indeed, we live in an unprecedented period of moral confusion with our young people rejecting marriage and family, God's basic building block for the entire human lifeworld, inventing their own moralities (or immoralities), and following a pattern of personal conduct that, at the very least, can be called ungodly. What was once commonplace — a husband and wife who loved each other raising their own children — has become the statistical "minority case" in America. Indeed, the young people I meet are not acquainted with God. God is simply not a part of their lives. And they do not perceive the perilous fact that the lives they live have separated them from God. And I am reminded of a priest fifty years ago who told me, though I did not believe it, "We are always one generation away from losing God forever."
We think of God as our Father, of His Son as our brother, but I wonder how often we realize that He alone is the source, the repository, and the teacher of right and wrong. His desire always is that we be alone with Him — whether it be Noah's family afloat on many waters or Abraham and Sarah in a wilderness. Abraham is called away from Ur of the Chaldees. The name Ur means earliest or original suggesting the very first of cities, and we are meant to think of Cain, the city builder, who rebelled against God. God chooses not to reveal Himself Personally and plainly within the City of Man, for there God is always rejected. Abraham and Sarah are called into one desert place after another to be alone with God. Moses and the Hebrew people are called to a place apart away from Egypt; the very name signifies ancient civilization. And what He reveals in these lonely places is ... Himself and His ways. No more; no less. For the knowledge of His rules for life, His "Book of Life," is our rock and our refuge. No matter where we go, no matter how much we may be persecuted, living with the safety of that Book of Life means that nothing can hurt us, not finally.
Rejecting God, on the other hand, is catastrophic. In Eden — the name enshrines perfect solitude with God — the forbidden fruit is clearly identified and marked off by a boundary. Whereas now, the tares and the wheat become more difficult to distinguish from one another. The tares are not in one bounded place, but everywhere. And the plants themselves are difficult to distinguish from one another especially during their early stages of growth; in their later stages of growth, when are able to see their hideous fruits, it is too late. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land has served to deepen this meditation, for I had thought it was a simple matter to sort goats from sheep. Who cannot tell these white balls of wool from the gangly black goat? But in Judea I discovered that the goats and sheep Jesus was talking about are nearly identical. I could not tell them apart. And I begin to imagine a world in which it is not possible to distinguish right from wrong, goats from sheep, or tares from wheat. Horrible to contemplate, for, to quote the sign that hangs above the Gates of Hell, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here."
it is this very ambiguity and fog that has produced a deadly indifference.
I hear the reply,
You have your truth, and I have mine."
I agree, that the loss of morality
is not as vivid in the space of hours as
a fire consuming whole towns
an earthquake swallowing a city,
but in the course of lifetimes,
it is far deadlier than anything we can imagine.
For it means that we are finally and irrevocably cursed,
separated from God,
living in a drugged carnality that no longer
knows purity, goodness, and beauty,
and does not care.
The dawn of that most dreaded day is well behind us.
Its sun has risen slowly, but, be certain of this:
it has already burned, even immolated, many, many lives.
it is a day that turns out to be not day at all, but rather darkest night,
a darkness that burns and torments the soul.
And I am haunted this morning by three words which Milton used to describe the essence of Hell:
"wandering mazes lost."
In the Name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Ghost. Amen.