Emmitsburg Council of Churches

ABC's of the Gospel

Father John J. Lombardi

"A" is for abuse of religion; "B" is for Becoming the Temple; "C" is for Commandment, Crucifixion and Church. For details on these see below…

What do the cartoon series "South Park" and a renegade woman in California, same sex-unions, Catholic social teaching, "The Da Vinci Code," Danish cartoons, and, to boot, Jesus' zeal in the Temple all have in common? An abuse of Religion.

The actor-- "voice" of--Mr. Hayes (forget his first name, sorry!) left the popular cartoon series "South Park" because of attacks on Judaism, Christ and Roman Catholicism. He said there's a limit to satire, and the series over reached it by its incendiary ridiculing. His critique goes right against the grain of modernist liberalism's so-called "tolerance" of religious sensibilities. Give him a "check plus" for courage.

The renegade woman? She's Dr. Wafa Sultan, a Syrian psychiatrist, and in a breathtaking interview (New York Times 3-11-06) she passionately decried some of current Islam's suicide bombers, scare tactics, violence, illicit religious fanaticism--so much so that she left her religion and now considers herself a "secular." She said: "I believe our people are hostages to our own beliefs and teachings." And also said according to the story, "The world is not witnessing a clash of religions or cultures, but a battle between modernity and barbarism, a battle that the forces of violent reactionary Islam are destined to lose." Bravely she said: "We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church…only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and burning embassies. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them." We need, as has happened more recently, other Islamic leaders to decry the abuse and violence in the name of religion.

Meanwhile, same-sex-union-couples are allowed to adopt babies in Massachusetts, so the Boston Catholic archdiocese said even though it receives $100 million in help from the state, it cannot allow its Catholic Charities to place children in these illicit situations. Many oppose this maneuver and say the Catholic Church should actually place children in homsexualist situations rather than allow them to squander, and further falsely accuse the Church of prejudice and neglect. They thereby abuse our Religion of it's proper order and morality. Thankfully though, more orthodox people say the state should allow a moderate religious exemption clause to allow the Church to bypass this unfair "rule" and still receive monies. Why not?

In Great Britain now, Dan Brown, author of "The Da Vinci Code," is being tried in court for plagiarizing the book "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," which surmises that Jesus never died on the Cross, that he had a relationship and children with Mary Magdalene (a "Merovingian line"). This is an explicit abuse of and attack upon our Holy Religion, of doctrine (denying the atoning Death of Jesus), and against spiritual sensibility (Jesus' celibacy and purity), and Brown's mixing fact and fiction, thereby, confusing people. Attacks come in all kinds of forms.

The Danish "cartoon controversy" involves scatological-satirical depictions of, for instance, the Islamic prophet Muhammad dressed with a bomb in his turban. Liberalist author Ronald Dworkin defends this (in an essay in The New York Review of Books) by saying that religion, even though involving intense feelings and views-sacred ones-- should not be exempt from satire and ridicule. We've seen these past months how some have reacted to these attacks upon their religion-with some Muslims attacking the attackers: the abuse is like a vicious circle

Then there's Jesus. He, the Christ, sees the attack upon mysticism by mercantilism, moneychangers in the Temple trying to profit while rejecting the need for prophets. Jesus, in His zeal (Divine desire) fashions a whip and shows anger in the Temple and chases out those wishing to trump the Temple-and the Lord Himself.

Summing up: Our religious sensibilities are under attack by modernism-from all fronts, as seen by the above cases in point. Ridiculing religion has become fair game for so many.

What to make of all this?

Just as the actor said, there's a limit to satire; and so there's a limit to attacks upon our religion, making money from the Temple and religious practices. The "abuse excuse"-of religion itself (using violence in Islam or profiteering in Judaism or Christianity), of unproven mythology ("The Da Vinci Code"), satire (cartoons political or as a tv series), is never licit, no matter how tempting.

We must remember the point of St John's Gospel, the "B" of the "ABC's of the Gospel," that is Becoming the Temple. In St John's Gospel the point is, beside the abuse of religion, that Christ Himself Becomes the Temple. This Gospel scene prefigures His Death and Resurrection (Jesus says: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it" (Jn. 2: 19). The Jewish leaders think He is speaking literally about Solomon's historic Temple while He is actually speaking metaphysically about Himself as the (new) Temple. Remember, both historically and spiritually (as in the Mass) He is both the Victim and Temple, the Lamb and the altar,

The Temple by Jesus' time had been turned into a mercantile zone torn away from its mystical roots: money became the main matter, not sacrifice and redemption. Rather in St John's Gospel and in Jesus Himself we have "Mystical Symbolism" where many things/events stand for "something else." Here Jesus refers mystically to His Body dying and rising. While Jesus reveres the Temple (because humans need such things), He also becomes the Temple and thereby surpasses it: He will "rebuild it in three days." Thus: we need the mystical element in religion and this form of Bible reading, which has largely been lost in modernist readings and interpretations. We need today, just as in Jesus' time, to see spiritually and think mystically in the Ways of our Faith.

An abuse of Religion today involves divorcing us from our mystical roots, reducing it to moralism (just a set of "do's and don'ts" only); or mercantilism (money making, "savage capitalism" as Pope John Paul called some forms of profiteering); or marketing (packaging it to make it palatable to the many, lessening the prophetic nature of the Faith and our Church). Do you cultivate-and embrace-- the mystical elements of your Faith, or the servile mercantile only?

The "C" of the "ABC's of the Gospel" stands for Church, Commandant and Crucifixion. In this Sunday's second reading, St Paul (I Cor 1: 22ff) says that, somewhat famously, Jews demand signs (as in the miracles of Yahweh) and the Greeks search for wisdom (think of Plato and Aristotle), but what does the Lord deliver us?: a bloody Crucifixion. This topples our preconceived "religious-intellectual-supernatural apple carts." Jesus' Passion is counter- intuitive: we may want a political, sterilized strong Messiah Who delivers us from suffering and oppression but we instead receive bloodletting and Golgotha gruesomeness. Will anyone be faithful to this, or will you abuse Religion-God's Revelation and Sacred Atonement-and desire something different? "The DaVinci Code" delivers to mass audiences today a "sterilized Savior" and denies sacrifice, celibacy and, frankly, the scariness of Crucifixion.

Ditto for the Ten Commandments. Abuse of these turns them into, as Ted Koppel once famously said, "The Ten Suggestions." Some people today don't want "tough sayings" especially in an era of tolerance and relativism. And as for the other "C" of the Church, today some abuse or attack our sacred Religion by denying beauty and sacramentals and holy ornaments in our Temple-Churches because they think Jesus did away with this by becoming the Temple Himself. No, it's not either-or, either the Temple of Jesus or the Church but, rather, the new temple that is Jesus and our sacred tradition of beautiful churches, too (in that order, mind you!). Kathy Larivee, a Mom, secular Carmelite, wife and Grotto pilgrim, recently gave a talk here and quoted, of all people, the "Mystical Doctor" St John of the Cross, in saying that devotees of the Divine should use sacred imagery (stained glass windows, vestments, crucifixes, liturgical appointments, etc.) as "holy fuel" for meditation because we are weak and need imagery to "feed upon." From these earthy realities we may thereby "spiritually climb" to the Reality Itself, of God. Here is the most radical critic of attachments and abuse of religion, St John of the Cross, saying that we need "meditation objects" to enhance and inspire Divine desire in mature ways. Shouldn't we listen to this wise guy?

Now, another abuse of religion, perhaps more subtle is anger. There is proper anger and wrongful anger. In the Temple, Jesus showed anger, sometimes called "righteous indignation." Why (and this is all important)? Because by His rightly-ordered passion of anger He had zeal for the Temple (the actual building as the locus of worshipping souls): He didn't do away with the Temple, but purified it. We humans, however, since we are fallen mortals, sometimes use anger in the wrong ways: we allow our passion (a proper emotion within; other passions include love, sadness and fear) "to get the best of us." Instead of allowing passions for good, we let them possess us instead of us possessing them rightly. Go figure! We need to temper and balance our passions by our intellect, right judgment, by proper motivations and holy intentions. Jesus had all these balanced in Himself as theandric-God-Man-but we do not; we need to work at them and not abuse the passions. So: keep working at purifying your passions so they are ordered and balanced and holy.

The Most Blessed Trinity-God Himself-wants to dwell within the Temple of our Soul. So, this Lent, purify yourself and your inner temple by praying, fasting, and almsgiving so He can use you as a chosen, beautiful instrument. St Gregory Palamas, thirteenth century Eastern Orthodox theologian, says: "The deifying gift of the Spirit is a mysterious light and transforms into light those who receive its richness."

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi