Sometimes, I feel like high school is nothing but competition, fostered by a societal system bent upon intellectual advancement. Social development, credit to the arts, and a true sense of morality can sometimes slip through the cracks of a rigorous schedule. Students are encouraged to have a solitary goal – success. I find myself falling into this quite often. But when is success ever reached? When is enough, well, enough? Over time, I am realizing that this drive to succeed must be tempered with humility, a difficult quality to strive for in a world bent on its own accomplishments. In today’s Gospel, Jesus addresses a parable to “those who were convinced of their own righteousness”. In short, he preaches to those lauded as 'successful' in each era.
Concretely, the parable makes an important point: humility is key. However, it is easy to doubt Jesus’ words and point out the fact that we do not live in a clear cut dichotomy of ways. In Roman society, faith was an integral part of all life. In the modern generation’s philosophy of Church/State separation, it would seem that the parable no longer applies. In reality though, it probably means more today than it did in Jesus’ time. In the Control-F generation (Abba’s term for the modern generation of students) there is not only the need for instant concrete gratification (as is received by the man in the temple from people in form of applause), but also instant mental gratification. Often, we tend to seek some kind of positive emotional response out of any situation we perform in, whether it is telling your parents about getting the best grade in the class on the science test (of course, you actually got about the same as everyone else) or telling your friends about your every social activity on Facebook. We are driven by the urge to forfeit our lives to the judgment of others, simply so that the judgment will come back with positive results to boast about. In the end, I often ask myself, “how much simpler will this action be if I just don’t make a big deal about it?”.
Today’s Gospel, more than anything, calls us to simply look and ask ourselves if our actions are for God or for the judgment of others. It can be a complicated question that will have an ambiguous answer. But if we can truly make an effort to not even raise “eyes to heaven”, instead living a life for God, we can hope to slowly shift the societal urge to impress to a more important one – the hope to impress God.
Over the last few weeks, I've begun to notice a common refrain from my Hebrew Scripture and New Testament students. Very often, they will say things like, "Yeah, Mr. Duns, Catholics don't take the Bible literally." So, then, how do we take it?
You see, the trouble is that the students are not making a very important distinction (If they did this already, I'd be out of a job!). The distinction is between a literal and a literalistreading of Scripture. Allow me to put on my teacher hat and help to bring out the importance of this distinction.
Catholics associate a literalist approach to the Bible with fundamentalists. On this view, if the Bible says that the world was created in six days then it was created in 144 hours. If the Bible says that humans were present at the very beginning of Creation, then the entire fossil record that shows no presence of human life for millions of years must be false. One might summarize the literalist position by saying: "The B…
I had the occasion recently to chat with a former student whose family I've come to know rather well over the years. Our conversation ranged over a number of topics and eventually I asked him about the campus ministry program at his university. His vague and somewhat stuttering response prompted me to ask, "Well, do you ever go to Mass on campus?" His response was disappointing but not surprising, "No, not really. I just don't get anything out of going any more."
I've written before that I think it one of the salutary features of the Mass to be boring. From morning to night, I am bombarded by a constant stream of texts, Tweets, Facebook messages, phone calls, and emails. I turn to edit an article and find myself moving the cursor to my web browser and reading an article; I decide I want to pray for fifteen minutes and discover that I waste the time looking for a perfect piece of music to accompany my meditation. I go for an evening stroll, deciding to …
As I settled into bed last night, consoled and joyful at the beauty of the Vigil Mass, it occurred to me that what I most value in a homily is the preacher's understanding of a question that rests upon my heart. The most meaningful homily, in my experience, is the one that elevates a question that has been burning within me and addresses it in a clear and moving manner.
This got me to thinking about how I would explain Easter to someone who asked about it. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I began to wonder how I'd explain it to my niece Emma who will turn five in August. Emma knows a lot of things: she knows about Dora, how to count in English and Spanish, her colors, her shapes, and she is starting to read. On any given day she is a princess and an explorer, a dancer and a cook. She loves Disney movies and believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and she knows nothing of the United States Tax Code. Her life is, indeed, charmed.