Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mr. Mephistopheles, I Presume?

"Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?"

He will answer them, "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me."

This past Sunday's Gospel is probably among the most familiar Scriptures to the average believer. It contains a lesson central to the Gospel: that we meet Christ in our neighbor. And generally speaking, whether we act like it or not, I think we take this fact pretty much as a given. Sure, we forget about it in the hustle and bustle of daily life, and we do well to remind ourselves of the reality; but my point is that it is at least something to which we give occasional consideration.

But this Gospel gives us pause to consider another encounter that we even more often fail to perceive: the meeting of the Devil. He, too, underlies our daily humdrum and rigamarole and brings a cosmic dimension to our lived realities. We have an opportunity to encounter him, as well, in our meetings with others and the ways in which we respond to opportunities of sin or virtue. But I think we tend to miss his subtle wiles; and more than simply failing to encounter Christ in our neighbor when we shun the poor, the imprisoned, and the lonely, we may choose in place of that encounter to engage a sinister force, albeit masked. How often do we not simply fail to perform an act of charity, without choosing something in its stead - some easier or more comfortable activity, or something downright sinful?

A recent conversation brought this reality home to me. "What's the harm," a friend asked, "if I go to a party where sinful activity may be happening, as long as I don't directly engage in that activity?" Can tacit complaisance really be sinful? Can a Christian justly walk in the door, paying no attention to the shocking deficit of clothing per capita, the fishbowl full of condoms on the table, the plumes of mysterious smoke filtering in from the porch, the keg-stands being done in the kitchen, the indiscrete gropings on the dance floor, and go about enjoying himself with a smile and a dismissive laugh? "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do... and I sure as hell am not going to tell them."

When I was growing up, teachers over-simplified this issue. Or, maybe, then, it wasn't as complex. But this isn't simply a matter of checking Christ at the door. The party-goer in question could easily walk in wearing his "Passion of the Christ" T-Shirt, a big crucifix hanging from his neck, a latin motto displayed proudly on his cellular phone screen. The spirit of relativism has so gripped our society that hardly anyone at the party would be displeased by such a one's presence. And they might even let the Jesus-freak say a few words about the Gospel before amiably bowing out of the conversation in order to go fornicate in the corner, knowledgable of the fact that the "Christian witness" will simply shrug his shoulders and whistle his way across the room to another person with whom he can chat, all the while justifying his actions as preaching the Gospel; and, after all, "Jesus sat at table with sinners."

No. Rather, before all, Jesus sat at table with sinners. He rose from the table with Saints. Saints who had been nourished by His Word, by His Body and Blood, and would follow Him thenceforth.

Welcome to the party, friend, says Mr. Mephistopheles. We've met before. Oh, you don't remember? A shame. Well, no matter, we'll get reaquainted tonight.

And we let ourselved be duped. We miss this encounter and carelessly bear our Christian identity in such a way as to cast pearls before swine. The Crucified Christ is calling us to leave the table with Him, to witness to Him by our absence from such a place, perhaps by spending the time instead in adoration before Him. But we drag Him along by means of our iconographic t-shirt and kid ourselves that all is just as well.

In the spirit of this week's Gospel, I think we would all benefit by asking ourselves not simply when we have failed to visit with and minster to Jesus; but to whom have we chosen to make ourselves present instead? We recieve lots of invitations; there are plenty of parties to go to. Whose invitation will we accept today?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Catholic Literature News

Hat tip to Michelle Arnold for this one.

THE RONALD KNOX SOCIETY of NORTH AMERICA has hit the information superhighway with tires spinning. More reason to spend money on books - just what I need. But I'm grateful for organizations like this and Dale Alquist's for saving Catholic culture (really Western Civilization) from the likes of Dan Brown.

Speaking of which, my seminary recently was treated to lecture to NEA Chairman Dana Gioia which was very interesting indeed. The man is a great speaker, and an excellent poetry reader. His own poetry isn't too shabby, either.
By the way: Although it's a slim chance, if Dale Alquist happens to come accross this humble corner of the web and feels like giving a speech at Saint Charles, I know it would be well received, judging by the community's reaction to this presentation, and I'd be very happy to serve as a P.O.C.
If anyone has any suggestions of what type of club or organization I could start here at the seminary to celebrate good books by good people, please let me know. For example, if anyone knows what is entailed in founding a local chapter of one of the aforementioned groups, drop me a line. (joegrabowski[AT]comcast.net)