One of the most debated topics of philosophy and perhaps one of the biggest barriers to faith is the problem of evil. Put simply, man has a hard time reconciling a kind, loving, and just God with the pain, suffering, and evil surrounding him. Today’s Gospel cuts straight to the heart of this matter. Here we have good seed and weeds sown together in one field. Both are watered by the spring rain. Both soak up the summer sun. Both enjoy the cultivating done by the farmer. And both take nutrients from the same soil. But weeds and good seed don’t coexist peacefully. Weeds take the water and nutrients away from the good seed. Their overgrowth can blot out the sun, depriving the good seed of the nutrients it provides. So it was natural that the farmer’s servants asked if they could pull up the weeds before they had a chance to compete with the good crop. Yet the farmer instructs the servants to wait until the harvest when the good crop and the weeds will be harvested together, with the weeds being bundled and burned. There are two topics lately that have fallen out of favor to be preached on from the pulpit – hell and the devil. Yet these are unavoidable topics in this parable. As with all of Jesus’ parables the actors are always bigger than those he presents in His story. Jesus makes clear that the devil, the enemy of God the farmer, is the one who sows the seeds that grow into weeds. The seed is such an interesting choice of imagery as well. We know from Jesus’ other teachings that both good and evil spring forth from the heart of men – and what a better way to describe the heart of man than the seed – the very essence of life from which all else grows. When evil is in the heart of man the fruit is thorny, disruptive, harmful to the good crop, and ultimately utterly useless. Evil, left to grow, grows wildly like a weed looking to feed on and overgrow everything in its path. When the life of an evil man comes to its end – the harvest – Jesus makes it crystal clear that what awaits him is fire – the symbol of hell. And unlike a weed, which would simply burn up in the fire, the fire of hell is eternal. At this point you might be asking, how is this fair? A seed is to grow into what is made of. A grain of wheat becomes wheat, a seed of a weed because a weed. How is the weed destined to be anything but a weed, and therefore destined for the fire? Yet Jesus’ words once again ring true – what is impossible for man is possible for God! Only God has the power to change the heart of a man. Only God has the power to transform a weed into wheat Jesus’ life shows us time and time again that he has the power to change man’s circumstances and even their very heart. Today we will be reminded of God’s power to transform when we come to the Eucharistic table and we partake of bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. God can do this. God has done this. And God will continue to do this. And so, God being the creator of all things, brings the rain and the sun to both the good seed and the weeds. God, through His Holy Spirit, cultivates the soil and makes it ready for harvest. And this great Farmer is patient because He knows this is more than just wheat and weeds. This field is filled with the souls of his greatest creation. And so His patience with these weeds is not at the expense of the good crop, but as 2 Peter tells us ”he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Let us also then be reminded that the harvest is great, but the workers are few. We live, work, and play in a field filled with good crop and weeds. Tomorrow, after we get our food for the journey today, we need to run among these fields not sidestepping the painful thorns of the weeds, but watering them with the Grace that flows from this table of plenty. Because, unlike the harvest whose time is clearly marked, the end of our days can come at any time. We need to recognize this so that we not only continue to mature into the good crop, but to realize that the weeds around us may be pulled at any time where the fire awaits them.I, like many Americans, was very saddened to hear of the passing of Roger Ebert today. No matter what my feelings were with the quality of his reviews (I feel like, later in his life, he could often be very inaccurate on basic plot tenants when providing a summary) I still felt like his reviews MEANT something. As a kid, when a movie had TWO THUMBS UP that was always a sign that the movie was going to be good. What I think I admired most about Ebert was his ability to appreciate movies as art, but to keep his reviews in line with his midwestern sensibilities, which could be counted on by the mainstream movie goer. He loved great films, high concept films, indie films and the like, but also did not punish films that were meant to be popcorn fare and would still give them the approval of the worlds most famous and influential thumb since the Roman empire. Many of the comments on social media speak of Mr. Ebert going to that great balcony in the sky, where he will pick his argument back up with his long time sparring partner Gene Siskel , who passed away in 1999. But to talk like that would be to blatantly disrespect Mr. Ebert. Mr. Ebert did not believe he would be going to any such place. Nor did he believe his friend would be there waiting for him. Because, to Mr. Ebert, no such place exists. Mr. Ebert understood our need to believe such a place existed; he respected that need, but found it completely improbable. Today, when Roger Ebert smiled at his wife of 20 years and breathed his last he ceased to exist. Maybe not totally. In his own words, today he “live[s] on indefinitely in [his] constituent atoms, which will be recombined in dust, flowers, trees, the wind, other living beings, and eventually in cosmic stardust.” In a country that wants to become completely tolerant of all views, and to allow every man and woman to make their own choice in the privacy of their own hearts, minds, and homes we must not disrespect his choice. We must not insist, contrary to his desire and will, that he lives on in a great balcony in the sky. The balcony is closed. I wish Mr. Ebert would’ve examined why it is we all need to believe he is with Mr. Siskel somewhere. Why we desire for two men we never have met to rekindle their friendship so they could go back to doing what they loved in this life. Why it gives us great hope and joy that the balcony somehow, someway, IS OPEN. This innate feeling of ours – to believe in that reality of the afterlife – was just simply a premise not worth examining much* on his way to the conclusion that his atoms are now becoming cosmic dust. So Mr. Ebert grants us these feelings, but thinks they are not founded in any form of truth. And we must respect his wishes – and in doing so we must confront the very real question – where IS Mr. Ebert now? We can comfort ourselves with our own hopes for Mr. Ebert, but we must then ask ourselves an even more important question – what do I believe about what will happen when I die? *At least never in his public musings on the matter.I’m a bit of a geek, which is a surprise to no one. I happy to follow a security blogger by the name of Bruce Schneier. He wrote a very interesting post recently about how easy or hard it might be to hack the papal election. Definitely worth a read! http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/02/hacking_the_pap.htmlNo, I will not change the title. If you haven’t had a change to read Ed’s terrific piece entitled Sex on this very blog please take the time to do so now. ….. ….. Ok good. I was reminded of his piece when coming across this story on the WSJ. There was a quote that really struck me
Even if we no longer believe in a deity, a degree of repression is seemingly necessary to our species and to the adequate functioning of a half-way ordered and loving society.
It’s sad to me, that in a day and time when pretty much every important piece of Catholic belief and theology can be had by simply going to the Vatican website, that Catholic moral teaching on sex is still represented as “repression.” Perhaps I should forward the author Ed’s excellent piece. Now I don’t want to completely discredit the author. He’s attempting to make an important point – one that many in our culture are afraid to mention – that porn is bad. Like, life shatteringly bad. Like, men lose their jobs, homes, and families because of it bad. Yet in an increasingly permissive culture that doesn’t want anything negative to be said about their every-type-and-kind-of-sex-and-sexual-expression-better-be-accepted-by-you-or-you’re-a-bigot  sexual worldview, it’s just another thing that “religious” folks get their panties in a bunch about. So I’m thankful that the author got the ball past the fifty on this one, but to take it all the way home the true power of Catholic teaching on Sex, the true freedoms it provides, the Truth of our bodies, our souls, and our sexuality is the way to avoid such a tempting but devastating sin. It’s not about repressing one’s sexuality, like it’s a beast that needs to be caged, it’s about living in harmony with one’s sexuality, fully integrated into your person. Sadly, us bigots just don’t get it and want to ruin everyone’s fun. Just tell that to the literally hundreds of thousands of men (and women) who lives are in shambles – who cannot maintain an erection unless there’s a computer screen in front of them.  Who only get to see their children once a month because of women they never have (and never will) meet seduce them behind a screen, a smart phone, or an iPad. This is the world we live in.  Call me a bigot.  Call me old fashioned.  But the truth is, the crusade against this evil is not being fought with the weapon of shame, but rather of love, compassion, and an unmistakable call to freedom, dignity, and love – all things that man has tried to “repress” since the beginning of time.  Efforts made in vain once and for all because of the glorious Resurrection of the Christ.  Repression is not the answer, freedom is.I question the logic of a man who believe that man’s disregard for the nature of things can change the very climate of the planet he lives on but would equally have no effect on the social fabric of which he participates in. If you’re like me, you’re probably eagerly anticipating next Tuesday – voting day – not so much because you get to cast a ballot (and don’t get me wrong, that’s a super awesome responsibility) but because we can officially get out of the political cycle that inundates us with political ads, yard signs, bumper stickers, and all around annoying Facebook (and blog – irony!) posts about the election. Of course, with every political cycle, abortion becomes a large hot button issue. And it seems like we’ve all become very accustomed to hearing the following: “Except in cases of rape or incest.” It seems that, for a pro-life candidate to seem “moderate” enough, he or she must ardently profess this exception (we will leave the life of the mother to another discussion) I must, at this time, make something very clear: Rape is awful. As a man I find myself woefully inadequate to discuss this topic. I cannot begin to understand the complexities of rape and the damage it does to its victim. I also want to be clear that I am not some blockhead chauvinist who completely misunderstands why this is such a weighty issue. As stated, rape is awful. It’s terrible. And – specific to gender – is a completely lopsided crime. When a man rapes a woman, he suffers no noticeable temporal consequences. Yet a woman who is raped, and if conception happens during rape, now has a 9 month burden that can imperil her life, her ability as a wage earner, and cause her unspeakable psychological damage. With that caveat out of the way: Along comes Todd Akin and “legitimate rape.” There’s no way to justify that man’s ignorance on this subject. And I won’t waste a lot of screen time doing so. But, unfortunately, his comments have put flesh on the straw man argument against such a rape exception. And what this means is, a slightly more nuanced view – like Richard Mourdock’s – ends up getting lumped together with Mr. Akin. Which is an incredible shame. Now I don’t know Mr. Mourdock or his politics, but I do feel like we must examine what he said, and furthermore examine his clarification. Here is what he said exactly: “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Now let’s be fair to the man and realize that he was on live television in the context of a debate and a big red “time is out” flashing light in front of him. His words, at first glance, do lack nuance and can be incredibly misconstrued. If you examine the comment you might have two questions “Did that man just say that rape is intended by God?” or “Did that man just say that life that comes from rape is intended by God?” I think anyone with any semblance of charity and sanity can easily dismiss the first question. (However if you still struggle, here is how he clarified his remarks: “God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick.”) And so it makes us truly examine what we believe about life. Is all life sacred? Is God involved in the creation of every new life? Or does God only involve himself in “wanted” pregnancies, but recuse himself from “unwanted” pregnancies and pregnancies that are the result of rape? And if we dare say that God is involved in the creation of every new life. And we have the courage to profess that all life (born AND unborn) is sacred, then is Mr. Mourdock really that off base? But of course those making civil law may object to the above paragraph. So let’s take God out of the equation for a moment (silly, and ontologically impossible, but let’s try). What makes a society just? Is not the protection of the most innocent life just? Is not protecting the rights of innocent life, who in no way can fight for itself, just? And furthermore, can two wrongs make a right? Can the abortion of a life created by means of rape ever make right the absolute injustice of rape? It can be tempting to think that it is moral to allow for the “exception in the case of rape.” To think that “This is awful and completely unfair, in just this case abortion should be legal to even the score” but again we have to ask the same question – can two wrongs make a right? Can fighting injustice with another injustice lead us to believe that we are a just society? * As believers or non-believers we must answer those questions. As Catholics we are then bound furthermore by our belief in the sanctity of all life. And as people of good will, if we think this through and realize that justice must be done, we then must do all that we can to support a woman through her pregnancy. We must find every conceivable way to reduce her burden and suffering and to do everything we can to care for the child, whether it is kept or given up for adoption. That is true justice. THOSE are the kind of services that a government should be funding at nearly half a billion dollars a year. And punitively we must find a way for the agressor to pay his fair share as well. Punitively rape should not only be met with jail time but financial punishments as well that can be paid to the woman to help in the care of her unborn child. Sadly – the political machine lacks any ability for real dialog, and Mr. Mourdock becomes just like Mr. Akin in the eyes of many, but the uncomfortable issue of rape and abortion will continue to be there – and we must all have an answer for it. Not only to inform our consciences on how to vote, but to also help direct us towards the common good of supporting women who are victimized in such a terrible way, and also to support and sustain the gift that life, even life conceived in such a way, is to the world. P.S. This post was written on an Apple computer, founded by a man who was given up for adoption.   * I had wanted to make the following case, but I felt like it hurt the flow of the blog post but I didn’t want the thought to go away.  As a society it seems like we are on a course to try to “unbelieve” there are any real differences between a man and a woman.  And I think this issue makes us come more in touch with created reality.  That the overwhelming lack of fairness in the consequences that a female victim of rape can suffer are a sign of how different we are as man and woman.  And I wonder if that plays into the issue at all.  I wonder how much this “exception” tries to also correct this “lack of balance”  That, if we can just abort the consequence a way, we can truly try to make man and woman the same.  And this is what happens when a society desires sameness – instead of equality – between genders.A great read by Cardinal Francis George. Here’s the post.“I was sensitive to the fact that, for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs, and so forth” – President Obama After I had heard that the president stated his support for gay marriage I was listening to and reading various reactions in the media. Of course there were the standard “this group hates it / this group praises it” sort of reports. But when I listened to the commentary by many pundits I heard some of the same patterns that echo what the president stated above. Today on WLS Roe Conn and Richard Roeper were both in agreement with a sentiment along the lines (and I’m paraphrasing here) of marriage is a religious institution, and if churches don’t want to recognize it, that’s fine, but whatever you want to do is up to you, it doesn’t affect me. And that got me to wondering.. is that true? Is marriage just a “religious institution?” Is it simply something that Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other people of faith just one day came up with and now has stuck around for generation after generation? Is it, as the president states, something rooted in tradition and in religion? To me marriage goes beyond the blessings in a church, and goes beyond a couple as well. To me a strong marriage is the foundation of a strong family. And strong families are the foundation of a strong and just society and THAT is why what two other people do DOES affect me. Not only me, but it affects our entire society and way of life. So the question that I think this entire debate begs but that no one often asks is, does gay marriage (and eventually families raised by gay couples) help contribute to a strong and just society? This to me is a foundational question, and when the commentary by people like the president and other talking heads misses this point it makes me wonder how strong their position is. The issue here is not then the secularization of marriage, because at the end of the day marriage should not just be relegated to the religious realm. It shouldn’t just be seen as a “powerful tradition” , marriage should be seen as the bedrock of a just society. And when our lawmakers, policy makers, and opinion shapers miss this point it makes me very concerned that they want to make any changes to it. Now obviously my position is that I do not support gay marriage, nor a gay lifestyle. But I do wish that anyone who wants to engage in this debate, who wants to be a man or woman of good will, who wants to discuss this issue openly and honestly, that they do at least have the rule of engagement that sees marriage in the bigger scheme of human affairs and its absolute importance for a just society. Because that, to me, is where the true debate it. That, to me, is where we really should be questioning whether or not two people of the same gender should be making a life long commitment, and then bring children who could never be naturally conceived by them into their commitment. Whether those two people and their eventual attempt at a family can contribute to a just and well formed society, that is the question, and really should be our national rule of engagement on this issue. Sadly I am afraid that this argument is often made on the grounds of romantic notions of love. Or to put it another (relatively snarky) way, the same country that “loves” Jersey Shore and Two and a Half Men is the same country that is making emotional appeals based on “love” and is looking to radically alter the course of a human institution that is as old as history. So in the end I am interested in hearing more from both sides on this issue, but I hope the rules of engagement are clear: civil discourse without hatred or bigotry, and a view of marriage outside of just simple “love” and as the foundation of a just society. Who knows? With those rules we might just be able to find a way to true civility in discourse. I’ve received some feedback for my first Ratpuregate post so I wanted to clarify my thinking on this issue. I also learned an important lesson: you should try to avoid heavier topics when looking out over San Francisco Bay from your executive suite at the Hilton – sometimes there is a time and a place for deeper thought. : ) Before I clarify my point it’s important to point something out. First – Mr. Camping should be pitied and also feared for his ability to mobilize the campaign he did. Pitied because he has squandered quite a bit of his fortune on such a foolish pursuit; feared because he was able to take so many other people with him, many of whom risked much more than he did. The point I wanted to drive home which, upon further reading, I missed the mark on is this: why was the whole world so fascinated with this? Facebook, Twitter, Google News, TV news, print news have been frenzied over this prediction. Why? There are some who think it was like watching a train wreck with Mr. Camping and his followers being the ill-fated train. Others who think this was a way for anti-religion to run amok. My thesis is simple, different (and I strongly desire to restate it): we are hardwired for God, and this event – to me – proves it. Now this is not just some whimsical and romantic notion, it’s also a sobering one as well. There are parts of us – deep down in places that we don’t quite understand – that recognize our separateness from God and our need to reconcile ourselves back to Him (groaning, as it were, for redemption). How many times have you been in a conversation, heard someone make an off-colored remark, and say “Man you’re totally going to hell for that!” Judgement Day, our day of reckoning before God, has a way of subconsciously being in the midst of our culture.This prediction took that innate, subconscious thought and brought it to the forefront of our national (and even international) conversation unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. For me I see this as opportunity. I see this entire episode as something that confirms that the harvest is plentiful – that people are still thirsty for God, and that we should not give up hope in our evangelical efforts. That, no matter how far our culture tries to run away from God, it is so very quick to bring our separateness to the front pages of our newspapers.  Certainly there have been many jokes, some of them vicious, about Christianity in general about this whole thing.  But I also think it’s a natural human tendency to joke and even vilify that which makes us the most uncomfortable.  Yet, beyond all of this lies the fact that news editors everywhere spent considerable resources to report this story.  I just can’t quite accept that this has had so much attention just as a means to hate on Christianity. I genuinely believe there is a “good” spiritual aspect to this entire situation.  For me, I hear the groaning of creation crying out for redemption. And I hear it as a drum beat to be called to the battle of New Evangelization (because frankly we need to not let the Mr. Campings of the world guide the national discourse). This is my thesis and my argument, and I wanted to clarify it. This also helps you, dear readers, to engage in disagreement. This is my argument – feel free to agree or disagree, but at least (and I HOPE) it has been now well stated. I hope this clears things up. And Josh, don’t give up yet….The only thing more fascinating than someone spending $100 million on a campaign advocating a bunk prophecy is how much play this has gotten in the press. Flipping through the channels in my hotel room last night, talk about Harold Camping’s bold (and now, utterly false) prediction was inescapable. Now I know atheists are planning post rapture days on Sunday and those who utterly despise religion are using this to show the foolishness of the entire faith enterprise, but I think this points to an all together wonderful and escapable truth – we are created for God. A recent study by a professor of psychology from Bristol Univrsity has put forth a proposal that our brains are literally hard wired for God. While I don’t propose to know the science behind this, I, for one, believe it. And I think this entire rapturegate (I hope I’m the first one to throw “gate” at the end of the word rapture in the history of media) is a fascinating case study in the inescapable metaphysical reality of God. We are created by God, for God. It’s in the deepest parts of us. St. Paul teaches us that the whole of creation groans for the salvation found in Christ. It just so happens that every once in a while, an event so bizarre makes that groaning obvious and ever present for us. Jesus was spot on when he told His disciples “the harvest is plentiful.” So – while Harold Camping may be an absolute (and filthy, filthy rich) nut – even his insanity displays the glory of God. Our world is crying out for our Creator. We, the poor banished children of Eve, desperately desire all we were created for. These are the stakes of the New Evangelization. You can decry our society and all of its ills, point out all of its flaws, and all together give up on it. Or you can flip on the television, hear this wonderful groaning, and wake up to the New Evangelization. The workers are few. Are you willing to sign up?