Daily Archives: March 26, 2012

Part 2: Jesus and the Saints On Detachment.

Continued from Part 1: “Attachment to ‘Freedom’ Is Not Freedom.”

Jesus says “No man can serve two masters: he will hate one and serve the other. . . . You cannot serve both God and money.” The entire teaching of Jesus is about detachment. Jesus tells us “Blessed are the poor.” He tells us “consider the lilies of the field.” He tells us that when a man demands our cloak, we give our tunic as well. He tells us to turn the other cheek in the face of violence. He tells us that the man who saved his surplus grain was a fool and should have given it to the poor. He tells us to be perfect we must sell all we have and give it to the poor. He tells us that any of us who does not hate mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter is not worthy of Him. He tells us that the dead bury their dead.

Yet we read these passages, and we quickly jump to, “That doesn’t apply to me.” Priests reassure us in our homilies that Jesus’s seemingly extreme teachings must be modified with “common sense,’ and they assure us that the modifications the Church makes for our human weaknesses (such as legitimate self-defense or telling us it’s OK to collect “moderate” interest) are the norm, not the exceptions.

The early Christians understood all this, because they knew they were putting their very lives on the line just by professing Christ. Even today, around the world, more Christians are martyred every year than under the entire history of Roman persecution. The message of the Resurrection–that Jesus raised Himself from the dead, so He was God, and not only that but He opened Heaven to us so we no longer had to fear death–was so fresh in their minds that they were willing to sacrifice everything for it. As the centuries have passed, sadly, we’ve become inured to it. We’re too familiar with it, so we don’t realize how radical it is. We’ve been taught that everyone goes to Heaven.

As Christianity became gradually more accepted in Roman culture, some Christians began to grow more worldly and modify Christ’s teachings to adjust to worldliness. Others, however, chose intentional sufferings to replace the persecution they no longer suffered. They went out into the desert and lived as monks and nuns and hermits. St. Jerome wrote a famous letter in which he said he thought a desert priest who was going back to the city to serve as a bishop was sacrificing his salvation by doing even that.

The saints write about detachment. St. Ignatius of Loyola, for example, warns us that the angels only had that one choice. They made one choice and merited eternal hellfire for it. We talk about “mortal” and “venial” sin, yet even a single venial sin merits our immediate death and eternal damnation–mortal sin just merits it moreso. However, God in His mercy veils Himself from us in this life so we have an excuse: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We are blessed with lack of wisdom, unlike the poor angels. However, the more we claim to know, Jesus warns us, the more we will be held accountable. But we should not presume upon God’s Mercy. We never know when He will take us.

One person gets hit by a car. Another dies in a terrorist’s bomb. A teenaged boy is shot in “self defense” by a gun-happy “Christian”. A law-abiding citizen is shot to death by a drug-addled teenager out for money. Another person dies in an earthquake. Unlike those who are blessed with a “happy death” and the opportunity to receive formal reconciliation with the Church and God through the Sacraments, these poor individuals are killed suddenly and unexpectedly, cut down in the prime of their sins. Maybe some of them were in states of grace. Maybe some were given a chance to be forgiven through an extraordinary act (Our Lord told St. Faustina He calls to every soul 3 times before death). Maybe not. Is “freedom of choice” worth that gamble?

Yet we read St. Ignatius, or similar warnings in other saints (Bl. John Henry Newman said that it would be better for all the stars to fall from Heaven than anyone ever commit a single venial sin), and we balk at their “austerity” or “extremeness.” “I can’t handle thinking about Hell.” “Why would a loving God condemn people to Hell?” (The real question is, “Why would a loving God force people to go to Heaven who don’t want Him?”)

So when saints, like John of the Cross, talk about detachment, we say, “Oh, they have such a negative view of things.” Yet the process of negation is what this post-Fall life is about. Jesus says so. We have to give up our attachments to everything that isn’t God.

Part 1: Attachment to “Freedom” is not Freedom.

In his installment of _The Catholicism Project_ on Purgatory, Fr. Robert Barron talks about this island in Ireland that’s one of the original “retreat centers,” dating back supposedly to St. Patrick himself. This island is known as the “gate of Purgatory,” and it has a harsh climate. People arrive on Friday, and they get down on their knees. They crawl on their knees and pray. They are not allowed to eat or sleep, or lay down or stand up, for 2 days, and attendants hit them if they do. From Friday through Sunday morning, they crawl on their knees on the rocks and pray, until they arrive at Mass.

Back when the angels were created, God gave them a choice. We don’t know what it was, because the Bible doesn’t tell us, but the usual consensus is that God revealed His plan to create human beings and then have the Word become incarnate among us, and Lucifer balked at the notion of having spirit “tainted” with matter–and, worse, of having to bow down to the God Man. Whatever the exact cause, we know God gave the angels one “choice.” They had a “choice,” and Lucifer, the greatest of all angels, said, “Non servam!” One lowly archangel replied, “Who is like God?” And for that he gained the name “Michael,” meaning “Who is like God?” and was appointed as the new chief of the angels.

Lucifer got 1/3 of the angels to join with him in rebelling against God, and for that one “choice,” God cast them all out of Heaven–FOREVER. JUST ONE choice.

When God *did* create the first man and woman, He gave them complete freedom over creation. He put them in Paradise. He gave them physical immortality. They lived in total peace. We don’t know a lot of particulars about their situation, such as how long they were in that state, but mystics and theologians have offered many speculations over the centuries. We *do* know that God told Adam to care for and guard the Garden. We do know that the Serpent–whom Revelation identifies with the Dragon, Satan, whom mythology experts tell us is cognate to the giant serpent/river god of the Canaanites (not simply a garden snake)–slipped in the garden because Adam was shirking his duty. We know that the serpent tempted Eve–and that Adam was standing right there when it happened.

We know that the temptation was to “be like Gods who know the difference between good and evil.” In other words, Satan tempted them with ‘freedom of choice.’ We know that God gave them only *one* taboo, and they violated that one taboo in the name of choice, and because of that we now have a lot of taboos, and we have our freedom limited by concupiscence and original sin.

We know that our redemption was begun when the Patriarchs said “yes” to God when He made seemingly strange demands of them: pray for a child. OK, now that I’ve given you that child, I want you to sacrifice him. OK, you were willing to do it, but I don’t really want you to. You passed the test. Go away from your homeland into the land I’m giving you. Just kidding. Go into Egypt. Suffer in Egypt. Go into the desert. Suffer there a bit. OK, now go back to the land I promised you. Part the Red Sea. Part the Jordan. Destroy Jericho by marching around it. Fight Goliath with a sling shot. Tell X that he/she/they needs to straighten up, even though the message will likely get you killed.

Our redemption was at hand when a lowly Jewish girl said, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done,” and He prayed those words at Gethsemane before accomplishing our redemption on the Cross-which He accepted voluntarily.

And today, Satan blinds people to the slaughter of God’s children by getting them to proclaim their “freedom of choice,” “My right to do whatever I want with my body.” But it’s not “your” body; it’s God’s. And the life inside that body is also God’s. You are not the master of your own fate. God is. Your choice is to conform to God or not.