Today one of the biggest structures in Seattle came down. At 8:30 this morning strategically placed dynamite charges exploded causing our old sports stadium to collapse upon itself. When it was constructed twenty-five years ago, it seemed permanent if anything was. Whether or not you liked the design, no one thought it would have such a short life span. The implosion of Kingdome with its 443 tons of steel is an apt image of our world. Those things we consider most durable will one day be reduced to rubble and dust.
The same happens in our individual lives. Last week I was talking to a man my age (early fifties) who told me how his moods go up and down with the stock market. He has an impressive portfolio and every hour he checks to see how he is doing. If their value increases, he is happy; when it drops, he gets depressed. But last week, as his spirits fluctuated with the Dow Jones, suddenly it struck him how ephemeral all this was. One of the tiny blood vessels in his brain could tear, the sporadic pain in his chest may not be acid reflux or the driver next to him might get distracted and quickly change lanes. Our lives are so fragile, yet we delude ourselves by thinking a fat stock portfolio will give us security.
If money offers no security, if all buildings are destined for the ashheap, what will really endure? We have the answer in today's scripture readings.
In the Old Testament lesson (Exodus 20: 1-17) we hear about the most lasting law ever given to mankind. A few weeks ago the Holy Father visited the site of this great revelation - Mount Sinai (also call Horeb). This law - the Ten Commandments - has lasted not just because God inscribed it on the two stone tablets. Much more important, he has written it on every human heart. Even the people who discount us Christians as "moralist" themselves wind up appealing to some aspect of that universal law. I remember a guy who violently disagreed with me about abortion and accused me of wanting to impose my morality on others. In doing so he charged me with being dishonest (according to him I was acting out of hidden motives) and duplicitous (I supposedly did not care about other human life - like the mother or someone on death row). Notice that he was presuming common moral rules ("you shall not lie," and "you shall not kill"). And he was right. Deep down we all recognize that law. It is written on our hearts. Inventing a new one would be like trying to make a new solar system or a new primary color.*
The moral law, with the Ten Commandments as its great expression, will endure till the end of time. Still our readings today reveal something which is even more enduring. When human history has completed its course, the Commandments can be returned to the Ark. We will not need them any more. But something more important will continue beyond time itself. Jesus says, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it." As John's Gospel makes clear, this prophecy rooted in the Old Testament, would be fulfilled in Jesus' own risen body.
Sometimes we think of the Resurrection as a kind of confirmation of Jesus ministry - God the Father accepting his Son's sacrificial death on the cross. In that view it vindicates his message and actions. But Jesus is not just one more Ulysses who goes thru harrowing experiences and comes out victorious. No, it is precisely his Resurrection which gives meaning to any other Odysseus - including stumbling, faint-hearted ones like you and me.
Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it. (John 2: 13-25) Jesus' rising from the dead is both the center and the goal of human history. His risen body will outlast all the mighty buildings of our world, as it did the great Jerusalem temple which was demolished in 70 A.D. When human striving has finally ceased, the glory of his body - the Church - will shine for all eternity.
St. Paul saw a glimpse of this future. For that reason he could disparage even signs (miracles) and wisdom. He asked his hearers instead to embrace a man who received capital punishment. (1 Corinthians 1: 22-25) And not a "civilized" death sentence like lethal injection, but a deliberately brutal one - slow asphyxiation by being tied to a beam till thirst and blood loss caused the muscles to give out. The cross was the electric chair of the Roman Empire, only its victims were not hidden from view but displayed as a warning. Paul's hearers, including young children, had seen criminals executed that way. They knew well the kinds of activities which might put them at risk of such an ignominious death. Yet St. Paul proclaims the very foolishness of the cross is true wisdom, its weakness true strength. How? Because of the one reality which endures forever - Jesus risen body. Pray God, we may be foolish enough - and weak enough - to forever belong to him.
*Friedrich Nietzsche, the great "immoralist" philosopher, himself illustrates this truth. His call to go "beyond good and evil" is seen as the epitome of relativism - the "whatever" approach to life and truth. However, he did not mean there is no good to be sought or evil to be denounced. Otherwise his own writings would have been quite slim. What he wants to get beyond is "conventional morality" which had indeed become shriveled and self-seeking. He used his biting wit to expose the hypocrisy behind a certain smug moralism. Although Nietzsche tried to shock by rejecting some parts of the moral code - like pity or compassion - he exalted other aspects such as courage or striving for excellence. What he proposes as the way to excellence seems calculated to appeal to a healthy adolescent: he contrasts Apollo (god of wisdom and order) with Dionysus (god of wine and merry making) and suggests that the ubermensch will free himself from constraints by worshiping the latter.
What Nietzsche did not accomplish was to do away with the moral law itself. One hundred years after his death, its demands still make themselves felt in every human heart. To rewrite it in some fundamental way would mean abolishing humanity itself. It would be like wanting a multiplication table where two times two equals five - a quick gain for some investors but in the long run would undo the whole economy. Though it might strike some students as overly rigid, the multiplication table will always be with us. The same is true of the moral law.
Homily for Year A (RCIA Readings)
Carl Sagan and the Moral Law
From the Archives:
Year A (RCIA):
Why So Dissatisfied? (2008)
The Scent of Water (2005)
What She Desired (2002)
The One You Want (1999)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Hitler's Pope: Comic Book Approach to Church History
Parish Picture Album
(Fr. Narciso Valencia's stay at St. Mary of the Valley)
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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)
National Petition to Stop HHS Mandate - important updates
Conscience Protection - Bishops Vow to Fight Coercive HHS Mandate