Bad Day, See You on June 15

Taken from gagthat.com

With regret I need to take a break from posting, as commitments press on all sides. God willing, I hope to return on June 15. I invite you to please join me again then. Let us pray for one another.

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. — The fox to the prince in Le Petit Prince

My mission in writing this Blog is to search with you for the heart of the world. What’s that heart? The Catechism (#25) says it eloquently:

The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.

To that effect, let me offer you some food to chew on in your heart. I will leave you with 4 meaty quotes, and one parting smile.

The quotes:

I was speaking the other day to an elderly woman at [my parish,] who’s lived as a member of the parish since childhood. What a rare bird! And she’s a character. She’s a daily Mass goer, involved in a number of social outreach programs. She’s someone you want to talk to when you are looking for a long-viewed and unvarnished opinion. She said some remarkable things to me the other day, when I mentioned to her about how difficult it was to get people involved in parish life when they’re always coming and going. You gotta hear this. Feel free to use it. It went something like this: “The problem these days is that people have too much to do. But what are they doing? They don’t have time for a cup of tea. They can’t spend ten minutes with you without reaching for their phone to see the latest update. They’re so busy keeping up with everyone that they don’t have real time for anyone. They’ve lost their patience with staying too long with the same people. You see, when you stay ‘too’ long with the same people you find out they’re a petty bunch. They’re annoying. Get on your nerves, you see. And then you see your own pettiness that they bring out of you. Not pretty. But if you don’t stick with them long enough to squirm, I think, Father, you’ll never learn love. Not real love. Love with dirt under the nails. Love means staying a long time with the same annoying people. It’s easy to flit from person to person or parish to parish. You never have to dig deep. Keeping the time short enough each time lets you hide from the hard work of love. The longer you spend time with people, the more times you have to forgive them. Ask forgiveness. You have to be patient. Put up with a lot. Mable, she’s our gossip. Henry snorts and coughs in the pew behind me. Betty’s the complainer. Larry’s the talker. A motley crew, all of them! But I love them all. They’re family. Didn’t choose ’em! I always say if they’re good enough to be God’s family, they’re good enough for me. So, Father, guess I’m not much help. Don’t know if you can change things these days. Only the good Lord can. But maybe it’d do some good if you gave a sermon now and again about what’s real love. I mean, love with staying power. Love means sticking around with people you don’t like. And if you do it long enough you just may learn, even if you still don’t like them, you’ve learned to love them. And learning to love, isn’t that the whole idea?”— Letter from a priest friend

…it is more important than ever for us to bear witness to truth of Christ’s love. It’s not necessary for us to march or protest or organize boycotts. It’s not necessary for us to form Catholic ghettos and keep the world from polluting the purity of our truth. Christ’s love and truth do not need our protection. We need his protection, that is, we need the protection that divine love and truth afford us. Not protection from the world. But protection from our own inclinations to borrow trouble and beg for compromise. We need to be protected from our own base longings to be included, to be applauded, to be honored by the world. The temptation for us now – right here in 2015 America – is to avoid being seen as backward-looking, ignorant, knuckle-dragging rednecks who just won’t “get with the times.” The more colorful the names we’re called, the harder we must love as Christ loves us. The heavier the fines, the harder we must love as Christ loves us. The longer we spend in the jail, the harder we must love as Christ loves us. The bloodier the violence (if we ever come to that!), the harder we must love as Christ loves us. We don’t love God and one another as Christ loves us in order to win the fight. The fight is won. We love b/c Christ loves us. And by loving him – even imperfectly – we become more and more like him. — Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P.

The Scriptures remind us, “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” … “Which means we love God only as much as we love the person we like the least.” — Servant of God Dorothy Day

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgement. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil. Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved. – St Seraphim of Sarov

The smile: a re-post of a music video my tech-genius son, Michael, made for me. Once I shared with him an idea I had about splicing a 23 second video clip I’d seen on the news with a song I like. He said, “sure,” and in a matter of minutes it was done. Here’s the result:

“Daddy!”

uccla.org

Re-post 2013

I love St. Thérèse!

Let me share with you a quote from her autobiography, followed by an adorable video of Ella Mae and her Daddy that — for me — captures the spirit of Thérèse’s love for God the Father.

It is needful to remain little before God and to remain little is to recognize one’s nothingness, expect all things from the good God just as a little child expects all things from its father; it is not to be troubled by anything, not to try to make a fortune. Even among poor people, a child is given all it needs, as long as it is very little, but as soon as it has grown up, the father does not want to support it any longer and says: “Work, now you are able to take care of yourself”. Because I never want to hear these words I do not want to grow up, feeling that I can never earn my living, that is, eternal life in heaven. So I have stayed little, and have no other occupation than of gathering flowers of love and sacrifice and of offering them to the good God to please Him.

Okay, here’s Ella Mae:

 

Soft, hard violence

“The Slaying of Abel” by Pietro Novelli, c. 1640. Taken from canvaz.com

Repost 2012

Today’s Gospel [March 9, 2012] about the vineyard leased to murderous tenants led me to reflect on the mysterious role that violence plays in the coming of God’s Kingdom to humanity. From the time of Cain, man, created in the image of God, has sought to banish the divine image from the world and put in its place idols of our own making. The grotesque logic of the crucifixion of Jesus plays out to its full the logic of sin, as on the Cross humanity is finally given the opportunity to slay the rejected Image; and so reject the Archetypal Father. I’ve always thought that was the meaning of the enigmatic saying in Revelation 13:8, that describes Jesus as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Man, and the seducer of man, sinned “from the beginning.” All sin is an attempt to slay the rejected divine Image, the Son of God (cf. Colossians 1:15). Jesus came into the world to “reveal man to himself,” and by so doing to illumine our disfigurement that he might reconfigure and transfigure us into his own glorious Image: self-giving love.

“The Image of God,” by Eugène Delacroix, c. 1850. Taken from lib-art.com

But alas, “every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20). Man is a great mystery, a tortured blend of beauty and filth. As Blaise Pascal memorably said it is his Pensées:

What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!
Who will unravel this tangle? What, then, will you become, O men? Know then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Humble yourself, weak reason; be silent, foolish nature; learn that man infinitely transcends man, and learn from your Master your true condition, of which you are ignorant. Hear God.

It’s all so utterly astonishing to reflect on, and provides not only a window into our truest selves, but a dazzling portal through which we peer into the deepest character of a God who loves our mess. As St. Catherine would put it, God in Christ appears as pazzo d’amore; ebbro d’amore, “crazed with love; drunk with love.” And as it is with Christ, so it is to be with us.

We live in a world drenched in violence, even though it is often disguised by soft sounding virtues or lawless liberties that conceal bloodshed beneath clever and deceptive euphemisms. I need not name them, they are so obvious. If we can believe the redemptive crucifixion means anything, it seems to mean that God’s redeeming love prefers to encounter naked violence, violence that shows its true nature, rather than hiding itself beneath softly smiling apathy or murderous indifference. These are, in the words of Hannah Arendt, epiphanies of evil’s pathetic apogee: banality. George Studdert Kennedy’s poem, When Jesus came to Birmingham, captures this wonderfully:

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they nailed Him to a tree.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds—and deep.
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they only passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of His, they only let Him die.
For men had grown more tender, they would not wish Him pain.
They only passed down the street, and left Him in the rain—the winter rains that drenched Him through and through.

And when all the crowds had left the street.
Jesus crouched against a wall, and sighed for Calvary.

Taken from stuff.co.nz

Pentecostal Trinity

“Pentecost,” by István Dorffmaister (1729–1797). Taken from wikimedia.org

Re-post 2013

Although today is Pentecost, I was overcome by the nearing solemnity of Trinity Sunday — next week! — and simply could not hold myself back. I must speak of the mysterious Trinity, the Mystery of mysteries which the Pentecostal Spirit revealed to all creation when he sprang forth into time from the secret chambers of the Eternal.

Next week’s feast of Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost as a “dogmatic feast,” meant to allow believers an opportunity to contemplatively linger a bit longer over the “crater” left behind by the impact of God: the Christ-crash theologians call the “paschal mystery.” Once the Holy Spirit is poured out, not only is the public revelation of the Holy Trinity made complete, but the life of the Trinity — as we will celebrate on Corpus Christi — is opened to those who receive that revelation in faith.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Dominica Sanctissimae Trinitatis

O mes Trois! “O my Three!”

These words, often spontaneously prayed aloud by Carmelite mystic Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, praise with intimate affection the highest mystery of our faith: the blessed Trinity. This foundational mystery of faith is the deepest secret of God. I had a systematic theology professor in grad school who, in a lecture on the Trinitarian dogma, made a memorable analogy:

Imagine if you had finally, after a very long time, mustered the courage to finally share with another person your deepest, most personal and intimate secret; a secret that touched on the core of your identity. Then imagine that this person, after hearing your words, yawned and, in a blasé tone, said, ‘So what else do you want to talk about?’ This is, I fear, how most Christians receive the divine secret that was shared with us in Jesus; a secret told at great cost to God! … if there’s nothing else you remember from this class, never ever allow yourself to think of the mystery of the Trinity without making at least a small act of gratitude and love. In other words, don’t ever consider the mysteries of faith without praying.

He then mentioned the famous story of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross when, in 1573 on Trinity Sunday, they were meeting in the convent parlor, speaking of the mystery of the indwelling of the Trinity in the soul. One of the nuns — Beatriz of Jesus — came to get Teresa only to find the two of them lifted off the ground, still speaking. My professor added, “It’s almost as if God’s sheer joy over John and Teresa’s love for His mystery moved Him to transgress the laws of gravity and pick them up like a father thrilled by his children. That’s how we are to approach this mystery. Okay, now let’s begin looking at the biblical evidence for this dogma…”

How blessed are we, O Christians, for who God is in his deepest nature has been made known to us.

Mary the Temple

We especially look to Mary, the New Eve, conceived at the dawn of the new creation, as the one first chosen to hear whispered by an Archangel God’s secret:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. — Luke 1:35

God first spoke this mystery into the very ground of her being the instant she came into existence in her mother’s womb. The Father bathed her, by his Spirit, in the Blood of the Word-made-flesh who was — O timeless God! — yet to be conceived in her womb. Pope Pius IX worded it this way:

The Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin.

Into Mary the heavens began to pour down the Word (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11), first in her heart, her freedom, and then in her womb. Beneath the brightness of Their luminous shadow, the Trinity made all things new, beginning in her who is the new Temple in the new City of God. In her womb, divine compassion bent over human suffering and entered the valley of the shadow of death, that we might not fear.

Dead Tree of Life

God’s inner mystery — the begotten Word and proceeding Spirit — is first revealed at the moment of creation, when the divine wind rushed over the primeval waters and the divine word called all things into being. It was into the tohu wa-bohu, the “shapeless and formless” void, that God first spoke light (Genesis 1:2). Likewise, at the inception of the new creation, the Word enters as divine speech spoken into the chaotic and murky darkness of human travail where faith looks futile, hope appears hapless and love seems lifeless (John 1:1-14). In Jesus, the divine Word is nailed to the Cross.

Te, fons salutis Trinitas,
collaudet omnis spiritus:
quos per Crucis mysterium
salvas, fove per saecula. Amen.

Blest Trinity, salvation’s spring
may every soul Thy praises sing;
to those Thou grantest conquest by
the Holy Cross, rewards supply. Amen. — Vexilla Regis

On the Cross, the Word who hung the heavens, hangs; the Word, who breathed life into us “in the beginning,” gasps for breath; the Alpha and Omega, the omnipotent All-Ruler, freely succumbs to the brutality of his creation so to manifest God’s summit of power: compassionate, tender mercy. Omnipotence is wielded in meekness as the blazing Sun of Righteousness sheds on mankind healing rays.

The Father is revealed on the Cross as the Lover of enemies as he hands over his own beloved Son.

The Son is revealed on the Cross as the One who freely embraces death out of love for his enemies.

The Spirit is revealed on the Cross as the reconciling gift of Love from Father and Son lavished on their enemies.

Taken from jesuswalk.com

O Trinity, secret depth of unfathomable love and Lover unto folly, you lay yourself bare before creation on the Cross in order to ransom slaves, to raise up the fallen, heal the wounded, pardon the sinner, restore the lost and allure back the faithless wife.

Why when we invoke God’s threefold Name do we sign ourselves with the Cross? Because on the Cross the Trinity fell into an eloquent silence. Revelation was complete (John 19:30), and They could say no more. On Pentecost, the Spirit’s coming adds nothing to “the word of the cross” (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18). Rather, the Spirit comes bearing the fullness of Christ’s pierced and fire-casting Heart, unleashing his Paschal treasures on creation (cf. Luke 12:49). The Spirit merely exegetes (draws out from) Christ Crucified and progressively knits us more and more firmly to the life-giving Cross, as St. John of the Cross says:

In giving us His Son, His only Word — for He possesses no other — the Father spoke everything to us at once and He has no more to say…We must then dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures: however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides. For this reason the apostle Paul said of Christ: In him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God. The soul cannot enter into these treasures, nor attain them, unless it first crosses into and enters the thicket of suffering, enduring interior and exterior labors, and unless it first receives from God very many blessings in the intellect and in the senses, and has undergone long spiritual training. All these are lesser things, disposing the soul for the lofty sanctuary of the knowledge of the mysteries of Christ: this is the highest wisdom attainable in this life. Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.

Illumination of fifteenth-century English Psalter. Taken from aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com

In hoc signo vinces; omnia vincit amor, “In this sign, conquer; love conquers all.”

No more words. Please join me in praying our Trinitarian Creed. It captures in serene words –does it not? — what was revealed to us at the cost of the violent death and glorious resurrection of the eternal Son. Listen here:

“Hear me, O Lord! Hear me!” 1 Kings 18:37

Coptic Pentecost icon. Taken from youthirsty.org

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire. — T.S. Eliot, “The Four Quartets, IV”

“Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to paradise, our ascension into the kingdom of heaven, our return to the adoption of sons, our liberty to call God our Father, our being made partakers of the grace of Christ, our being called children of light, our sharing in eternal glory, and, in a word, our being brought into a state of all “fullness of blessing,” both in this world and in the world to come, of all the good gifts that are in store for us, by promise hereof, through faith, beholding the reflection of their grace as though they were already present, we await the full enjoyment.” — St. Basil the Great, “On the Holy Spirit”

Come, true light.
Come, life eternal.
Come, hidden mystery.
Come, treasure without name.
Come, reality beyond all words.
Come, person beyond all understanding.
Come, rejoicing without end.
Come, light that knows no evening.
Come, unfailing expectation of the saved.
Come, raising of the fallen.
Come, resurrection of the dead.
Come all-powerful, for unceasingly you create, refashion and change all things by your will alone.
Come, invisible whom none may touch and handle.
Come, for you continue always unmoved, yet at every instant you are wholly in movement; you draw near to us who lie in hell, yet you remain higher than the heavens.
Come, for your name fills our hearts with longing and is ever on our lips; yet who you are and what your nature is, we cannot say or know. Come, Alone to the alone. Come, for you are yourself the desire that is within me. Come, my breath and my life. Come, the consolation of my humble soul. Come, my joy, my glory, my endless delight. — St. Symeon the New Theologian, “Epiclesis”

“And what does this new and powerful self-communication of God produce? Where there are divisions and estrangement he creates unity and understanding. The Spirit triggers a process of reunification of the divided and dispersed parts of the human family; persons, often reduced to individuals in competition or in conflict with each other, reached by the Spirit of Christ, open themselves to the experience of communion, can involve them to such an extent as to make of them a new organism, a new subject: the Church. This is the effect of God’s work: unity; thus unity is the sign of recognition, the ‘business card’ of the Church in the course of her universal history. From the very beginning, from the day of Pentecost, she speaks all languages. The universal Church precedes the particular Churches, and the latter must always conform to the former according to a criterion of unity and universality. The Church never remains a prisoner within political, racial and cultural confines; she cannot be confused with states not with federations of states, because her unity is of a different type and aspires to transcend every human frontier.

From this, dear brothers, there derives a practical criterion of discernment for Christian life: When a person or a community, limits itself to its own way of thinking and acting, it is a sign that it has distanced itself from the Holy Spirit. The path of Christians and of the particular Churches must always confront itself with the path of the one and catholic Church, and harmonize with it. This does not mean that the unity created by the Holy Spirit is a kind of homogenization. On the contrary, that is rather the model of Babel, that is, the imposition of a culture of unity that we could call ‘technological.’ The Bible, in fact, tells us (cf. Genesis 11:1-9) that in Babel everyone spoke the same language. At Pentecost, however, the Apostles speak different languages in such a way that everyone understands the message in his own tongue. The unity of the Spirit is manifested in the plurality of understanding. The Church is one and multiple by her nature, destined as she is to live among all nations, all peoples, and in the most diverse social contexts. She responds to her vocation to be a sign and instrument of unity of the human race only if she remains free from every state and every particular culture. Always and in every place the Church must truly be catholic and universal, the house of all in which each one can find a place.” — Pope Benedict XVI, 2010

Ethiopian icon of Pentecost, c. 1391. Taken from armenianstudies.csufresno.edu

Regaining wonder with 21 pilots

My oldest daughter is now a huge fan of a group called 21 pilots, and she especially loves their song, Stressed Out.

There’s a great line in the chorus:

Wish we could turn back time to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

Here it is:

It reminded me of a song I loved when I was around fifteen years old by Supertramp, The Logical Song. Here it is:

I liked that song at the time because it expressed my own inchoate frustration with the experience of teen life stripping away my previous love of life’s simple beauties and natural wonder. Between the ages of two and thirteen I was head-over-heels in love with the natural world, and progressively alternated my future plans for a lifetime career in four stages: Entomologist, Ornithologist, Horticulturalist, Meteorologist. As I recounted a few months ago in a post:

Some of my earliest childhood memories include a rapt fascination with the natural world. My dad says I would sit in front of an ant hill for lengthy periods of time, when I was 4 or 5 years old, and stare in motionless attention for half to three quarters of an hour. I can still recall — and feel — the throbbing joy I would feel smelling the sweet scent of those hot pink Spring azaleas and watching the bumble bees dart from blossom to blossom siphoning out the nectar with frantic excitement.

I also remember that, when I was around age 7, I would regularly steal away into a small patch of dense woods near our house, thrilled at the prospect of hiding away in secret solitude. There, very many times, I sensed a warm and joyful presence that seemed to emanate (for lack of a better word) harmony from the otherwise unruly tangle of sights, sounds and smells. I am convinced now it was God I intuited.

At age sixteen or seventeen, I would sometimes sit outside in the evening as the sun set looking with sadness at the overgrown gardens I once tended with great love and passion, or the dilapidated birdhouses I’d eagerly cleaned out and repaired between nestings. I wondered why I did not care anymore, why high school pressures or worries about the future had stolen from me my capacity to live in the present with abandon.

When I (re)gained my Christian faith at the age of twenty, I suddenly found my early love reviving. Somehow, what the Evangelicals (who helped bring me back to faith) called being “born again” took on a remarkable meaning: the wonder and awe of childhood, which had been stolen from me, was renewed and restored. In fact, I remember, only days after my faith came alive, looking at an azalea in bloom by Landis Hall and plopping myself on the ground and just gushing in joy over it. I thought, “Wow, this is how I used to see things.” The late Avery Cardinal Dulles expressed this, too, in his conversion memoir in 1946:

But then, in 1939, one grey February afternoon, in Harvard’s Widener Library, I was irresistibly prompted to go out into the open air . . . . The slush of melting snow formed a deep mud along the banks of the River Charles, which I followed down toward Boston . . . . As I wandered aimlessly, something impelled me to look contemplatively at a young tree. On its frail, supple branches were young buds . . . . While my eye rested on them, the thought came to me suddenly, with all the strength and novelty of a revelation, that these little buds in their innocence and meekness followed a rule, a law of which I as yet knew nothing . . . . That night, for the first time in years, I prayed.

Now and then, when I am stressed by life’s demands these days, I reflect back on my childhood when life was much simpler. Not easy, but simpler. I head down to the shore of Lake Pontchartrain and I find my seven year old self, in memory, sitting quietly by a local pond and catching tadpoles, without a care. Christ is sitting with me, making insignificant comments about just small things. I chant Psalm 103, which I love so much, and ask the Lord to renew in me His own love for the created world.

My soul, give thanks to the Lord
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings.
It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion,
who fills your life with good things,
renewing your youth like an eagle’s…

Defusing the F-Bomb

Re-post 2013 [edited edition]

In September of 2012 I posted this piece on vulgarity and its relationship to a distinctively Christian vantage. Thanks to newadvent.org, my daily readership shot up from ~60 to nearly 9000 in a 3 days. I wrote it as a reflection on the f-word, which I believe is especially disgusting as it specifically degrades the beauty of the marital act.

After writing the post, I picked up a (non-religious) book on the topic — Swearing: The Social History of Foul Language, Oaths, Profanity in English, by Geoffrey Hughes. Hughes’ book makes clear that swearing has, of course, always been around. What I found most intriguing was the remarkable creativity in the universal human search for shock-value language that irreveres reverence, speaks the unspeakable, publicizes the private, ridicules the serious, profanes the sacred and the undresses modesty. What has changed in the last 50 or so years, Hughes argues, is that there has been an explosive growth of sexual profanity, while blasphemy (waning under secularism’s waxing) is on the decline. In addition, the social boundaries that contain profanity have progressively dissolved, ever more democratizing vulgar culture. I will not explore blasphemy much here, but see the Catechism’s discussion.

If you’re interested, here are my wandering thoughts for your own reflective consideration.

+++

The Vulgate on vulgarity

Today I want to try thinking about the f-bomb with the mind of Christ. Let me reflect on a few relevant biblical texts.

James 3 is a mini Gospel of the Tongue, decrying the use of language unbecoming creatures created to sound forth blessing. For example:

If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.
If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies…
In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze.

The tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.

Matthew 12:34-37 offers Jesus’ approach to language:

…from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks. A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

In Colossians 3:8, St. Paul reminds the Colossians of their prior pagan manner of life:

…in this way you too once conducted yourselves, when you lived in that way. But now you must put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths.

The Scottish Biblical scholar William Barclay (who was Venerable Fulton Sheen’s favorite biblical scholar) made this comment on the above Colossians text:

There can never have been a time in history when so much filthy language is used as it is today. And the tragedy is that today there are many people who have become so habituated to unclean talk that they are unaware that they are using it.

Revealing Language

The Jewish view of language expressed in the first two chapters of Genesis sees human language as a premier sign of God’s image. For Christians, human language is also seen as an icon of God’s eternal Word who became flesh and spoke among us (cf. John 1:1-14) to reveal the true majesty of Godlike language. The vocation of the Christian united to the Word in Baptism is to, as St. Paul says so succinctly in Romans 12:14, “bless and do not curse.”

After reading Fr. Brendan Purcell’s book, From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution, I was left breathless by the thought of the billions of years of cosmic history preceded the sudden appearance of human language (especially pp. 225-39). The immensity of the time-space backdrop to the emergence of human beings, and of language, for me lends serious gravitas to the meaning and purpose of our existence. It made me think of my grandmother’s scolding words to me when I would, as a child, scarf down her homemade meals: “Tommy, slow down and appreciate your food! Do you know how many hours of work and how much love went into making that?”

Humanity, as the crown of God’s vast creation, lends creation words to bless the Father of the life-creating Word. Humanity thus conceived can best be described by the word eucharistēsas, as one “having given thanks” (Luke 22:19). Which is why the Eucharist is the most natural habitat for human language. As “priests of nature” (per St. Maximus), our vocation is to speak to the Creator in the name of every creature, and as prophets to speak to every creature in the name of the Creator. This is why I have always found such beauty in The Canticle of the Three Youth in Daniel 3:57-88, or the line in the preface of Eucharistic Prayer IV which reminds us, as we sing the Sanctus, that in the Mass we are “giving voice to every creature under heaven.”

A person of faith here must ask: is the f-bomb consonant with my vocation?

“You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

In Baptism, our bodies become Temples of the holy Trinity.

Temples, as in naos, the word for the inner sanctuary of the Jewish Temple, the Holy of holies (1 Corinthians 6:19).

A friend of mine, who works in construction, expressed this very vividly to me once. After undergoing a dramatic conversion back to the Catholic faith, he said to me one day, “I can’t even cuss any more, cuz now I know the Holy Spirit’s inside me listening!”

You might say that the antithesis of divine indwelling is demonic possession. I recall a number of years ago speaking with a priest who was a seasoned exorcist, who said:

One universal characteristic of exorcisms is that the inhabiting demons know how to curse and blaspheme in all languages; blasphemy, vulgarity and profanity are their native tongue. Jesus said when the Devil lies, he’s being true to himself [John 8:44]. The same is true for their abuse of language against the design of the Creator.

Why? Because they’re in the business of concealing, not revealing God.

One last thought

I remember in July of 1987, about 5 months after my “conversion experience” to a living faith, I was working in a factory in the machine shop. The men there were good and hard working men, many of them had been there for decades. And they cussed all the time.

After coming to faith, I made the decision to never swear again. Prior to that I was very foul mouthed.

One day during our lunch break we were talking shop, which I always enjoyed. Profanities were flying. I thought to myself, “I can’t take this holier-than-thou facade any more.” So I jubilantly threw into the conversation the f-bomb. They all stopped dead in the middle of the conversation. It was supremely awkward. The bearded elder of the group said, “Nope. That ain’t who you are, Neal. Don’t lower yourself.” As they continued on with their vulgar chorus, I made an inner resolution to be myself.

Taken from brandonacox.com