Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

24 July 2016

Obstruction of Justice

Today is World Youth Day. Instituted by Pope Saint John Paul II, this has been an annual celebration of the youth of the world, who are not only the Church's future, but her present as well.  While WYD is observed every year, Pope Francis thought it would be a good idea to hold the current biennial en masse celebration in Krakow, JPII's hometown, especially because it is the Year of Mercy, and Mercy was perhaps the greatest cause in his pontificate. The theme for the celebration is always taken from scripture; this year's theme is Matthew 5:7, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." 

By giving us the prayer we have come to call The Lord's Prayer, it is true that Jesus wanted to give us the paradigm of prayer "after His own Heart." That's one important thing that people seek from their spiritual mentors. But he also wanted to remind us of how everyone stands before God as beggars, totally dependent upon Him for everything we have and are.

At the same time, Jesus wants his disciples to seek the fullness of life (cf. John 10:10--which was the theme of WYD 1993, which I was privileged to attend). The abundant life that Jesus promises is far more than a list of goods or services that we might demand from God as if they were terms of surrender or for returning a hostage. We're talking about nothing less than participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity.

Is it possible not to want that? More to the point, is it possible to live as if we didn't want it–is it possible to choose against it? Jesus himself insists so. 

While even the pagan philosopher Aristotle noted that everyone desires happiness and fulfillment by nature, it's just that everyone's vision of happiness doesn't line up appropriately with each other's vision–and quite often they fail to line up with God's vision. We can in fact have a scorpion in hand when our son asks for an egg. When Jesus suggests so, we may think it preposterous (and certainly He meant the question rhetorically), but He sneaked in a grain of truth. All of Jesus's parables and comparisons reflect His keen understanding of our fallen human nature.

In this respect he is consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures that He learned. Say what you will about the content of the Old Testament, its divine and human authors knew well our tendency toward selfish corruption. As we read from Genesis, God couldn't even find ten righteous people in the city of Sodom, so He followed through on the decision to cleanse it by fire. As a literal event it may be hard to understand, but in principle not at all. 

Perhaps you've seen this election sign. Given the contemporary state of politics, one might be tempted to cast such a vote.

The Church's Catechism (1867) picks up on a centuries-old teaching tool that lists sins that cry to heaven for vengeance. Not that any sin is acceptable, but these are so heinous in God's sight that He demands immediate and total redress. 

First is the blood of Abel. Recall how God told Killer Cain, "Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!" (Gen 4:10). The balance of the universe is thrown off by willful murder. Our dignity in the Heart of God ought to be our dignity in each other's hearts; when we treat each other otherwise, we are debasing our own dignity.

Then there is the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah alluded to in today's first reading from Gen 18. It has long been understood as sexual activity that physically contravenes human nature, involving persons of the same sex, or by extension persons of the opposite sex who have made a point of separating the two appropriate purposes of marital love: union and procreation.

More recent authors have demonstrated an amplified sense of their sin, to include a lack of concern for the needy. While this fits in with the other examples of vengeance-seeking sin, the most salient example is the one herein cited. Consult this article for more details.

The cry of the Israelites oppressed in Egypt (cf. Ex 3:7-10) also seeped out of the soil. Having heard it (of course God knew of it, but the Scriptures speak poetically), God decided at length to intervene through the initially unwilling agency of Moses. He may have been carrying around the guilt of his earlier Egyptian homicide, as if to object that he was in no place to advocate the cessation of oppression. That God deems otherwise attests to His mercy.

God's outrage at the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan is variously attested in the Hebrew Scriptures. These folks in particular were already disadvantaged, lacking their customary means of security. Israel of all nations should know better than to treat anyone as second-class citizens, because she herself had been so considered in her day.

Injustice to the wage earner is also reprehensible to the Lord. When people in power withhold the funds necessary to live a decent life, that is oppression along the lines of the offenses mentioned above.

These sins have one commonality: the intentional obstruction of human flourishing. We may wonder why God does not seem to punish these crimes immediately and unmistakably. Perhaps that will remain forever scandalous. But the consequences of these actions nonetheless proceed. The world is basking (basting?) in them right now.

Our heavenly Father invests us with understanding, freedom, and passions to respond gracefully to Him and to our fellow human beings. Again, we may wonder why God does not prevent people from failing to respond gracefully. But the perhaps central component to today's parable is a dual persistence: God's in allowing us to recognize our sins, repent of them, confess them, and to live forward with renewed attentiveness; and our persistence in doing those very things as often as we sin.

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