Dickens Was Right


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” (opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859)

Charles Dickens could have been describing many things that we experience in the early part of the 21st century. Before you move on, read that paragraph again and ask yourself if it describes any part of  life that you experience.

“It was the best of times…” Almost daily I find myself rejoicing that the Holy Spirit led me into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I anticipate going to 6:45 a.m. Mass and getting my day started with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist! I am energized by practices that give life to me in the Church.

“It was the worst of times…” Almost daily, at least since the end of July of this year, I find myself weighed down by the reality of what is going on in the Catholic Church. Everyday, it seems, a new revelation comes forth that keeps this “summer of scandal” moving into the “autumn of atrocity.” What makes things worse for me and many is that we want answers and those seem slow in coming.

“It was the age of wisdom…” There is so much “wisdom” running around. We see it daily on TV, in social media, etc. King Solomon warns us in Proverbs 3:7 NRSV, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” So much of what we call wisdom today is not moored in the Author of all wisdom.

“It was the age of foolishness…” The absence of God’s wisdom leads us to another characteristic of our times, foolishness. We live in a “silly season” to put it euphemistically. Don’t get me started, but when we believe everything that certain folks with a Ph.D. behind their names tell us, it’s hard to look at ourselves in the mirror and see sanity.

“It was the epoch of belief…” Gallop tells us that 90% of Americans believe in God. Pew Research tells us 80% of Americans believe in God. Great! But the truth of the matter is that belief is not enough. In his letter St. James says: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (2:19 NRSV). So you could say that believing puts us on par with the demons! Ouch!

“It was the epoch of incredulity…” As I mentioned a few days ago in this blog, church attendance in general, and weekly attendance at the Mass in particular, has dropped dramatically. For all the belief, there is a lot of incredulity. Fewer people believe in the distinct Christian doctrines, even some as key for Catholics as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

“It was the season of Light…” I could go on, but you get the idea.

Last night I attended a wonderful event in our parish, the St. Peter Senior Ministry Fundraiser: “The Age of Beauty.” Our parish has the only senior ministry in south Jersey that ministers to beautiful seniors Monday through Friday. Because my wife, Charlotte, volunteers there, by extension I feel I am part of it. For this event artist Linda C. Dennin painted a portrait of each of approximately 60 seniors and staff of the ministry. What joy there was in the hall throughout the whole evening!

I engaged in conversation with many of these dear brothers and sisters, people who have loved Christ and His Church all of their lives, a half dozen of them in their nineties. I thought about how one by one they will leave a gap in our parish, a parish they love, and what will the next and succeeding generations do to take their place? Right now these seniors are confused and hurt that a cardinal they respected has been discovered to be a predator of seminarians and a child sex abuser. They are even more hurt that this was covered up by prelates they trusted to care for the flock. I tried my best to encourage them, to assure them that Christ has not given up on his Church, but the pain is deep!

In these times, good and bad, even very bad, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He will make His Church holy. Let’s hold on tight and pray!

Our Wisdom Is Foolishness to God

Boy, we don’t like to hear that! All of our accumulated wisdom from over seven billion people multiplied over millennia of time adds up to a bunch of foolishness. Today’s first reading in 1 Corinthians 3:18-23 from the lectionary says, “Let no one deceive himself, if anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God” (3:18-19 NABRE).

We are so wise in our own eyes. We have libraries full of books. We have an internet of knowledge that just doesn’t stop. Someone is always writing another book. Someone is always adding more data. Where does it stop? As long as we have life and brains we will continue to produce more stuff. Yet all this wisdom is foolishness to God.

Any wisdom that does not point to God is faulty to begin with. It is based on a faulty foundation, or like the house that Jesus described in Matthew 7, it is built upon sand, and then comes along a storm and it is washed away.

This wisdom, we could even call it conventional wisdom, claims that we know best, that we can fix our own mistakes, cover our own sins, justify our actions, say the right words about wrong things and no one will be the wiser. What a wake up call we get when we find out our best laid plans have within them a fatal flaw. Eventually we will pay the piper!

Scripture warns us that our schemes will not work: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh…” (Galatians 6:7-8 NRSV). And “Bread gained by deceit is sweet,
but afterward the mouth will be full of gravel” (Proverbs 20:17 NRSV).

These days there seems to be a preponderance of “sweet bread” being served up–by political leaders who call down God’s blessings on us, but tiptoe around or blatantly support the “sacrament” of abortion, by church leaders who insist there is nothing too much amiss with flowery speeches or by keeping silent, by average Christians who speak one thing and live another, and perhaps most dastardly, those of us who offer up “wise words” about the human condition, but in doing so deny the wisdom of God. It’s just a bunch of gravel in the mouth!

I honestly struggle sometimes about how honest I should be. I’ve related here a couple of times, dear reader, that I didn’t want the responsibility of writing this blog because I knew I couldn’t offer up my own wisdom and gently lull you to sleep. Truly we all have to give account before God regarding our words and deeds, what we have done and what we have failed to do. I know my own faults, even my grievous faults, so I can’t take lightly the truth, but seek to speak in love, for my own soul’s sake and maybe yours, as far as it is my responsibility. I am chilled to the bone when I read Ezekiel 3:18-19.

If I say to the wicked, You shall surely die—and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade the wicked from their evil conduct in order to save their lives—then they shall die for their sin, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked and they still do not turn from their wickedness and evil conduct, they shall die for their sin, but you shall save your life (NABRE).

Warn me of my foolishness, dear reader, and allow me to do the same for you. May we find ourselves sowing to the Spirit, so that we may reap eternal life from the Spirit (Galatians 6:8). That’s the wisdom of God!