The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Remembered

 I will never forget you.
Isaiah 49:15

            The religion of Jesus Christ teaches us that high in the noble catalogue of divine attributes, perfections properly so called, is God’s omniscience, a compound of the Latin words for “all” and for “knowledge.”  Newman pointed out the folly of following reason where in the nature of things reason cannot go.   The word omniscience is a verbal pointer down a path whose end we can never reach.   The mind of man cannot really comprehend the truth that there is One before whom all of time, with its texture of events and thoughts and actions stands open, One who knows what we see as past and what we see as future in His present, who knows what we have done and what we will do, One for whom there is in fact no tomorrow, One who knows our ends but whose knowledge does not cause us to follow the path we choose.   Isaiah tells us that He knew us in our mother’s womb (49:1) and Our Lord teaches us that Our Father knows what we need before we ask (Luke 6:22).  

In the quiet of the night and in noonday glare we know that we are never alone. In the nineteenth century a favorite motto, inscribed beneath a seeing eye, was “Thou Lord Seest.”   It is innate to the created order that every creature is known to God, and it is the gift of Pentecost that the baptized are known through their supernatural sharing in the divine life.   No creature is ever forgotten by the Creator, and it is certain in a personal and particular way that the baptized are never forgotten, never alone, for Jesus’ promise that He would send the Comforter was fulfilled, indwelling God’s holy people.    He promised that we would abide in Him and He in us (John 15:4).  He is nearer to us than our own hearts.

God’s knowledge of every creature is not the knowledge of a spectator but the knowledge of a Father, of a Creator who made them, and indeed more.  Knowing us He does not leave us alone, for divine love does not neglect, it informs.  His providence goes before us.   Providence means “to provide for,” “to see beforehand,” and the word denotes the fact that God prepares our way, a way not free of evil and its effects but the way He has provided.   True, we are not compelled to walk in the way He has given us, and for those rebellious choices He has heuristic remedies.  “The Lord disciplines him whom He loves and chastises every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6).   

          Our Maker will always remember us.    He has kept us in His love all the days of our lives.   Just as we were in the mind of God at the foundation of the world, at our birth, and on every day of the path we choose, just so He will remember us at the end, for the meaning of our lives is made clear when we see Him face to face.  

We are our memory, and while it is not possible that God will forget us, it is possible that we may forget him.  For this reason the greatest gift is not the reiteration of the law but the gift of a person who is to be remembered throughout all time.   Jesus prescribed a certain action and He gave that action a certain purpose.   The action was the ritual breaking of bread and drinking from a cup, offered with a blessing, that was associated with a supper the teacher shared with His disciples, the chaburah rooted deep in the popular culture of Israel, in this case made holy by its taking place at Passover, with the one offering no ordinary teacher but the Son of God.  This traditional sharing of bread and wine became the central action of the Christian world as it was elevated from ritual to sacramental reality and given a divine purpose.    The bread and wine would become the body and blood of Jesus.   The supper would be eaten not merely as natural nourishment but as supernatural food and that for a purpose, so that Jesus would be remembered throughout all times and ages.   “Do this in remembrance of me.”    The Greek for “remembrance” used in the institution narratives of Luke 22:19 and First Corinthians 11:24 is not the simple word mnēsis which means “remembrance” or “that which is retained in memory,” but the word anamnēsis, which attaches the prefix ana, a preposition that is characteristically associated with upward motion.  Plato uses it to describe the act by which we bring something up from the realm of the forgotten but not forgotten.  Even in ordinary use when we bring something up we are bringing it from the storehouse of things remembered into this present. The institution narrative is the Lord’s command that we bring Him into our present under the form of bread and wine, and it was ever understood in this way for the Eucharist did not bring to memory Jesus’ deeds in Galilee but brought the divine-human person into our present, there to inform memory until He comes again.  

Christ does not forget us, but we may forget Him, even those who live in His Church may grow forgetful.    This forgetting, our failure to remember our Maker may begin with rebellion, but in modernity it more commonly begins with neglect, and from that neglect flows sin. The vast apparatus of modernity, with its noise, its technological enchantment,   the steady polemic against tradition, its successful deletion of pain from ordinary experience, is framed to encourage forgetfulness, and especially forgetfulness of God.   It is possible to look into the world and to see both in the Church and outside it a human race that has lost interest in God, if by God we mean One who informs our thoughts and conditions our behavior.   This forgetting of God who will never forget us has an awful cost. “They became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools…. Therefore God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts” (Romans 1:22–24).   

            How one escapes this blindness in a forgetful world is difficult to say.   Perhaps there is a book or a teacher.    Some unexpected witness or circumstance of life.   We do have one Biblical example of sudden recollection:  the story of the rebellious son who took his patrimony, wasted it on vain objects, and finally was so far reduced as to desire the food given swine.  He had forgotten who he was.  But then he remembered his father’s house, came to himself, and said, “I will arise and go home” (Luke 15: 11–32).   The Church has never maintained that this forgetting of God, this failure of memory, is a merely natural event; it is always encouraged by the Other Side.   Nor is remembering Him in a way that makes Him the center less than supernatural.   Who remembers and who forgets is answered by the solemn doctrines of providence and predestination and election, truths which like God’s omniscience tempt the mind to go further than it can.       

But there is this fact:   if you have not forgotten God, you are among the Blessed.    Give thanks.   

 

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

I will make you a light to the nations,
That my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth
Isaiah 49:6

 

William Norman Ewer (1885–1976) was a writer for the London Daily Herald  and during the 1920s a part-time spy for the Soviet Union whose fame rests significantly on his couplet  “How odd of God to choose the Jews.”   Clever in itself, perhaps these words would not have grown memorable had they not evoked consent in western imagination.  November 1917 saw the publication of the declaration, ever after to bear the name of its author Arthur James Balfour, that committed His Majesty’s government to “view favorably” the establishing of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, opening a new chapter in which the corporate existence of the Jewish people would trouble the politics of the Mediterranean world.  George V, in whose name the Balfour Declaration was issued, is reported to have said, “Fools, gave away somebody else’s country.”  Continue reading “The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time”

Thoughts for the New Year 2017

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
 the old has passed away,
behold, the new has come.
 II Corinthians 5:17

And he who sat upon the throne said,
“Behold I make all things new.”
Revelation 21:5

 

Without the most stubborn resistance, everything in nature is falling apart, running downhill, tending to decay and dissolution over a longer or shorter period of time.   If one does not brush one’s teeth, clean the car, paint the house, these things do not just sit there, they enter actively into the process that leads from the fullness of being to nothingness, causing pain and difficulty along the way.  On an existential level, this is why whatever can go wrong will, and why, statistics to the contrary notwithstanding, the toast will fall jelly side down.     Continue reading “Thoughts for the New Year 2017”

Thoughts on the Readings for Christmas Day

The Story of Christmas

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin…and the virgin’s name was Mary.

 Luke 1:26

In the beginning the greatest festival of the Christian year celebrated the founding event, the resurrection of Christ from the death that was the destiny of everyman until Mary Magdalen, then Peter, then the other disciples saw Jesus, Him alive, walking with them on the Emmaus road, known in the breaking of bread, not an apparition or an idea but so real that Thomas could thrust his hand into his wounded side. The evidence that he lived was given to many; Paul recites the list:  “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (I Corinthians 15:5).  Perhaps the author of John’s Gospel was one of these, for he wrote, “The word was made flesh, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only son of the father” (John 1:14). Continue reading “Thoughts on the Readings for Christmas Day”

“The Risks of Repudiating Reality: Timely Lessons from Lewis’s The Abolition of Man”

Lewis Tolkien Society
2016 Banquet

 “The Risks of Repudiating Reality:
Timely Lessons from Lewis’s The Abolition of Man”

 by Ken Myers

 

 In 1998, during the centenary of C. S. Lewis’s birth, I had the privilege of interviewing philosopher and ethicist Gilbert Meilaender, prompted in part by the reissuing of Gil’s book The Taste for the Other: The Social and Ethical Thought of C. S. Lewis, originally published in 1978.

 During our conversation, we talked about the distinctive qualities of Lewis’s writings, particularly his works in Christian apologetics. Gil said that he thought that Lewis’s success as an apologist was tied less to the cogency of his arguments, and more to the vitality of his imagination

 “His work is so fundamentally imaginative, I think he’s not so much trying to argue anybody into thinking something as he is simply trying to help us understand what it would mean to believe something, through the enormous gifts he has for illustration and metaphor and story. A great deal of what he does is simply trying to think through what the world looks like from a Christian perspective, make it understandable and make it come alive for us.” Continue reading ““The Risks of Repudiating Reality: Timely Lessons from Lewis’s The Abolition of Man””

Modernity and the Magician’s Bargain

Modernity and the Magician’s Bargain:

Why C. S. Lewis Believed Science Must Repent

by Ken Myers

PDF of this article: ken-myers_repentant-science

In the past few years, we have witnessed the publication of a number of books by very angry atheists. The tone of these books has been remarkably intemperate; “Jeremiad” is a term that comes to mind, but it’s not an apt term to describe these books, since it suggests some higher cause being served; intoning prophets were channeling divine wrath, not simply their own, and the last thing authors like Richard Dawkins and Steven Weinberg want is to identify their complaints with some transcendent cause.

 But I can’t escape the irony of the tone of righteous indignation in these books. Rarely has the case for the superiority of cool rationality been made with such irrational heat. Commenting on Richard Dawkins and on a number of hysterical op-ed pieces published when the film version of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe came out, sociologist Frank Furedi observed that “the vitriolic invective hurled at Christian believers today is symptomatic of the passions normally associated with a fanatical Inquisitor.”1 Such violent rhetoric gives one little confidence in the premise that religious belief is the main source of violence in our world, and that eliminating religion would leave room for intrinsic human niceness to flourish.

 Some of the anger is clearly related to the fear of religious extremism in a post-9/11 world. Many complacent secularists can’t imagine that anyone in the twenty-first century would suffer a minor inconvenience in the name of religion, let alone give one’s life and take a few thousand other lives along with them. Suddenly, people who had been superficially celebrating diversity and tolerance and the rational manageability of human life came face-to-face with a diversity they couldn’t fathom, let alone tolerate or manage, and some of them seem to have come unhinged. But I believe there is a deeper fear evident in the rhetorical style of many of the antireligious screeds in the past several years. While these writers insist that belief in God is irrational, they believe firmly in the modern liberal assumption that the hope of human progress could be realized through two principal mechanisms: scientific advancement and, in sociologist Craig Gay’s summary phrase, “the liberation of individuals from the repressive constraints of religion and tradition.”2 It’s bad enough that religions continue to inform the private lives of individuals, but when religion questions science, especially the science of evolution, then all hopes of human progress are threatened. Continue reading “Modernity and the Magician’s Bargain”

The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Not This One, Not Now

 Many will come in my name, saying
“I am he,” and “The time has come.”
Do not follow them.

Luke 21:19

 Coronations, elections, and even putsches can be times of great joy. Government matters; politics always has consequences, and good citizens play their part. Sometimes political involvement evokes excitement and a sense of significance. But this is not always the result of political involvement.  One might take as a historical case study the Tudor regime.  To be close to the Tudor crown was to live in the shadow of the headsman’s axe.   Henry VIII made Cardinal Woolsey the greatest man in England.   Woolsey died a fortunate death, expiring before the warrant for his execution was put into effect. Thomas More was Henry’s friend; elevated to the Lord Chancellorship in 1533 and beheaded for failing to show enthusiasm for Henry’s marital politics in July 1535.  Thomas Cromwell served Henry unquestioningly.  He was made Duke of Essex in April 1540 and beheaded in July. Henry’s cousin the Countess of Salisbury was executed in 1541, because of the pro-Catholic activities of her son Reginald. The Duke of Norfolk was fortunate.  Henry died before he could sign the warrant for Norfolk’s death.  Richard Rich was less fortunate; the lies he offered to bring More to the block, were, as far as we know, never repented.   Such behavior seems impossibly hyperbolic, but recall that the tyrannies of the twentieth century were especially effective in destroying those who came too close to the political flame.   Survival in the Nazi court or in the politburo was a full-time vocation. Continue reading “The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time”

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf,
but everyone deserted me.
May it not be held against them!
But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles hear of it.
And I was rescued from the Lion’s mouth.    
The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat
and will bring me safe to His heavenly kingdom.
To Him be glory forever and ever.

 II Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18

Modern scholarship has raised plausible doubts that Paul wrote by his own hand the letters to Timothy and Titus that bear his name.   These letters seem to reflect an anxiety that the Churches are under attack from within and display an interest in encouraging the orderly life of a Church properly obedient to its bishops in the midst of false teaching and moral failure.   This situation seems to many to locate these letters in the eighties or later, long after Paul’s martyrdom in the sixties.   Others have argued that certain texts in the Pastoral Epistles seem to speak in Paul’s voice known from his letters to Rome and to the Galatians, as in the text from Second Timothy above.  Continue reading “Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time”

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Beyond the Ordinary

Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet hearing his word.
Martha was busy with serving.
Mary has chosen the best part.
Luke 10:39, 40, 42

The short verses of Luke 10:38–42 are among the best-known in Sacred Scripture, describing as they do the encounter that took place between Jesus and the two sisters, Martha and Mary, in Martha’s house in what Luke describes as “a certain city” but which we know from the Gospel of John was Bethany, a village near Jerusalem. While Mary sat near Jesus to hear his words, Martha was busy serving up supper, and when Mary did not rise to help, Martha asked Jesus to remind her sister that shewas needed in the kitchen. Jesus replied, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary, and Mary has chosen the better part. Martha had at that time thought it her duty to prefer the ordinary stuff of life to the words of the Jesus. Continue reading “Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time”