DAILY CATHOLIC THURSDAY February 18, 1999 vol. 10, no. 34
Pat Ludwa's VIEW FROM THE PEW
To print out entire text of Today's issue, go to SECTION ONE and SECTION TWO
"Remember man that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return." Words we hear once a year. Words which should always be in our minds, words that are most often missing throughout the rest of the year.
Like it or not, one day we will all come before the author of life, our Lord, for an accounting. We won't be allowed a lawyer to speak for us, no loopholes will be found. No rationalizations, it will be yes and no.
Yet it seems we go out of our way to avoid thinking of these things. Sometimes it's as if we think we'll all retire to some lake front cottage and play with our grand kids until the second coming.
"The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:17-21).
One of the strongest sermons on this was given during a funeral Mass. The priest closed the sermon by saying; "Not one moment of the future is promised anyone. So live each day, each second as though it were your last." With that he turned back toward the altar, took two steps, and fell over dead.
Now, for many, this translates to 'live, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die'. But this is not the attitude of the Christian. For many, the Sacrament of Penance is something to be done either haphazardly, or whenever, maybe on our death bed. (Ever wonder how many Catholics were on board those plane crashes? How many thought they'd go to confession later?)
Another tact is to say that God is love and therefore God wouldn't send anyone to hell. True enough, God doesn't send anyone to hell, we do. We show who our true god is by how we live our life. When I was younger, I felt the 1st commandment was outmoded; "I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me" (Genesis 20:2-3). I mean, who worships Baal, Odin, or whatever any longer. Now we see these other 'gods' making a come back. We also see other 'gods'. Money, power, sex, etc. " Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Now we've all sinned. We've all fallen into one of these, or are still struggling with them. But isn't the key word here, struggling? "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'" (Lk. 18:10-14). The tax collector isn't making excuses for himself, nor, in particular, is he trying to excuse himself. He may not even be able to stop sinning immediately, but he isn't trying to pardon himself. But the Pharisee is another matter. " The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector" (Ibid).
Today, we hear the same kind of talk, only now, it's the faithful who are often put into the light of the tax collector. Stand up for the truth, for the Church, and you're liable to be grabbed by an 'enlightened' mob and stoned. (Figuratively speaking) Ever notice when someone speaks out against the homosexal lifestyle, they're automatically labeled closet homosexuals, homophobic, or some other 'derogatory' label? Speak out against abortion, and you're labeled as anti-woman, behind the times, etc.
We never hear of the sin of presumption. Not just the presumption that we'll have a chance to get to confession on our death bed. Nor even the presumption of someone's guilt of sin, but the presumption that everyone is going to Heaven.
One classic argument for a certain sin is that "it's who I am, God made me this way." The First Reading from this past Sunday sets that straight for we do have a choice. " The Lord hates all abominations, and they are not loved by those who fear Him. It was He who created man in the beginning, and He left him in the power of his own inclination. If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish. Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; He is mighty in power and sees everything; His eyes are on those who fear Him, and He knows every deed of man. He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and He has not given any one permission to sin" (Sirach: 15:13-20). Sound familiar? Yet so many say this is a lie. They say we shouldn't fear God, misinterpreting what that means. Fear of punishment is only part of it, fear of hurting the Lord is the greater part. But they say that because they do not fear the Lord, they can sin and not be concerned, relying on God's mercy to look the other way. That we can keep or reject His commandments as we will with no fear for the consequences. Life and death.
How can I explain this silliness? Let's say you were given this proposition? You can do whatever your heart desires, regardless of how illegal. The cost? You must spend the rest of your life in a prison cell. Too small to stand upright, too small to lie down, cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Would you do it?
When I posed that to my daughter she said, "No, I would have to be a nut?" Why then risk an eternity of torment for what is essentially a millisecond of illicit pleasure? If eternity were like a 10-mile stretch of road, our life here on earth wouldn't even register. "But it's natural. I can't believe God would punish me for something that's natural!!!!" Yes, it's natural, but... "What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man" (Mark 7:20-23).
Yes, all these things are quite natural for man. But this is what Christ came to call us from. To change our hearts, to follow Him, to die to ourselves.
Lent is the time when the Church encourages us to sacrifice, to do penance, and reflect on how we've all fallen short of the glory of God. But Lent isn't just a 40-day period of the year, but it should be an ongoing practice. It should get us into the habit of daily converting our lives to God. To daily die to ourselves and pick up our cross and follow Him.
As St. Francis of Assisi writes: "Our lower nature, the source of so much sin and vice, should be hateful to us. Our Lord says in His Gospel, It is from the heart of man that all sin and vice comes. (cf. Matthew 15:18-19) We are bound to order our lives according to the precepts and counsels of the of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so we must renounce self and bring our lower nature into subjection under the yoke of obedience; this is what we have all promised God. [In our baptismal and Confirmation vows] All those who refuse to do penance and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord are blind, because they cannot see the true light, our Lord Jesus Christ. They indulge their vices and sins and follow their evil longings and desires, without a thought for the promises they made. In body they are slaves of the world and of the desires of their lower nature, with all the care and anxieties of this life; in spirit they are slaves of the devil. They have been led astray by him and have made themselves his children, dedicated to doing his work." (Letter to the Faithful; St. Francis of Assisi; Omnibus of Sources, pages 95;97).
Many are convinced that the millennium means an end of the world, and/or a great chastisement. But for many, the end of the world comes today, tonight, tomorrow, next week, next month. Maybe me, maybe you. Are we ready? Will Christ see us as His servant, or are we our own 'god'. And if we are our own 'god', then why would God make us spend an eternity with Him? If we echo satan and say, "I will not serve", can we be assured of being before His throne in paradise? Or will God allow us to spend eternity with our own 'god'?
"Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).
Pax Christi, Pat
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