So I’ve been (slowly) re-reading the OT, in the form of the Ignatius Study Bible. (Kindles are awesome, and their Study Bible is superbly formatted for reference. This is rare in the e-book world. Yaay Jesuits! ) I already have a long Jesuitical diatribe written on the subject of orthodoxy, Pope Francis, and some wishy washy folks whose names I would rather not mention. However, it holds hope for the Jesuit order, so stay tuned if you are into that sort of thing. I will post it soon.In the Ignatius Bible, they have an entire article about parables and their purpose in the OT, and the NT. Primarily they are to take examples from everyday life, in forms easy to understand for the faithful, yet obscure the mysteries for those hostile to the faith, so the mysteries will not be sullied.
These ideas have blended with yesterdays homily, wherein the pastor discussed today’s culture being readily comparable with the mood and culture in which the Early Church found itself immersed. My husband disagreed. During the homily I had been nodding in agreement with our pastor. Having been a modern Neo-Pagan until fairly recently, I felt rather invested in my disagreement. On the way home from mass, he and I had an argument.
It was more in line with a polite debate rather than the way most people use this word today. These days ‘argument’ is primarily a euphemism for fighting. This by itself points to a sickness in the culture and it’s disfunction for training in right relationship. We can no longer call a spade a spade, nor do we remember the original meanings of words– so our communication becomes less precise and less meaningful. This is a problem, and I will talk about that a little later in this article.Anyway. About parables. These seemingly simplistic stories are a good way of talking about things that aren’t easily quantified. Our pastor talked about how the culture we live in now is a pagan culture, and that they hold a similar position to the Early Church.
My husband disagreed– saying that in the Old Days, while most people were pagan, they at least held enough philosophy amongst them to understand some basic truths that have been distorted to the point of destruction today. Then, people could agree that love existed, and what a family was for. They could generally say that there was a point to the rule of law, and that people should uphold the traditions of their elders.
In this day and age, we believe that civilization is an absolute, which filters through the air we breathe. It is there, we don’t have to maintain it, we don’t have to nurture it. Therefore, by this standard, the laws do not have to reflect reality, since no one can agree that reality exists. People think for the now, and forget that laws that help some people over others can be used against them when the regime changes. They even think that they are being righteous for legislating against nature, against generic equity and in favor of trying to correct the perceived imbalances of the world. They gleefully use the formation of law against those they view enemies. We are very lucky that horrors have not transpired already, and we leave ourselves– and our children– open to that eventuality.Furthermore, he says, we are in a state where many of our persecutors are people who call themselves Christians. They use the words of Jesus to turn against us, the way the Devil uses scripture to tempt Christ in the desert. The ears of the modern pagan shrivel at the name of Christ, they rebel when or misconstrue when, in the earlier days the moderns of the time would be desperately thirsty for order and sanity, and the novelty of the Risen Christ would bring them out of their muddle. The hearts are so much harder today than ever before, he reasons.
I could not argue with his depiction of the modern world on most points. I agree with both sides of this argument– to a point. I think there is a place in biblical history where we can see the trials of the modern Christian writ large. We certainly are living in a pagan culture. I just think that our good Pastor was looking at a time that was around 40-100 years too late for the mood of our current season. I think the world that Christ himself walked in was closer to our modernist brethren than the hungry gentiles who became Christians against terrifying odds.
However, I think we get an unreasonably rosy picture of the world of our Early Christian period pagans due to the great distance, and generalizations untempered by experience of the time. I actually think that our examples for evangelization should be Jesus’ experience, and not our Brethren in the Early Church.
Why? Because we forget what the jaded people from the Early Church had gone through. They’d witnessed already the Crucifixion of a man who had been found innocent of all wrongdoing by the supreme authority of the land. Yet he was killed in the worst, most humiliating way possible for political expediency by a bunch of hypocrites who claimed to be the chosen People of the Unknown God. They witnessed Christian after Christian fall to hideous death for his belief… so there had to be something in it.After all, Jesus was preaching the Kingdom of God. Most men he talked to did say they believed– and upheld– in the Kingdom of God. They said that they knew what God wanted, and had it all mapped out for their own benefit. They believed in their own expertise and their own knowledge of what was best for humanity– that is, them being on top, and everybody else doing what they said. Note also that these Pharisees did not necessarily feel bound by their own ideas, though because they could argue what they wished, they could make up exemptions for their own favorite sins. We see a lot of the same going on today. Most who bother to reference the Bible pick and choose what verses they want and exempt the rest in God’s mercy.
People were far more jaded, spoiled and decadent in Jesus’ time. They hadn’t yet suffered the fall of Jerusalem They hadn’t seen wave after wave of persecution, They hadn’t yet had Nero to blast off all the sophistry and nihilism that was so fashionable in the time of Herod. “What is truth?” is the rallying cry for the post modern mind.I have an entire article discussing the history of moral relativism with the intellectual advent of atheism– too great tastes that taste great together. I don’t say that all atheists fall into this– just most of them. Furthermore I talk about how pagans and atheists aren’t that different. There is more overlap than anyone is willing to admit, and paganism tends to bleed into atheism and vise versa.
After all, those terrible things either happened before Jesus to those who ‘deserved it’, or people who ‘didn’t count.’ By the time that our apostles were wandering across the nations, they’d seen the fall of Jerusalem. They’d seen the Cesars after Augustus who was famous mostly for being conscious of his need to mollify all of his masses, instead of merely using one as a wedge against another. Or perhaps I should say, he had the subtlety to be able to get away with political imbalance. Those that followed him simply did so without pretense or craft, thus resulting in greater and greater horrors.The pagan gods ultimately did not have the answers for lives so terrible. They needed a God who suffered with them, a God who was not simply powerful, whimsical and dictatorial. By then they were hungry for a God who was like them, yet Universal and awesome. Especially a God of Universal Truth. Today, well, we haven’t seen value in the things that our grandparents held dear. They were debased by the culture in a misguided attempt to build Heaven on Earth using our government– and the governments of the Christian World. Sound familiar? Just like how Jesus was dismissed by the teachers of the day because he did not bring back the political state of Israel. Instead, he humbly established a Spiritual Kingdom which has no temporal authority save the binding and loosing of that which is in Heaven, and the monumental task of tending souls. Hint: It’s the Catholic Church. That is why we have all those awesome buildings and gilded crosiers and rich fabrics and prince like dwellings in Rome. This is also why we have ambassadors. We are earthly representatives of Heaven, and we should use the feeble riches on Earth to make a weak and dim reflection of the Glory of Heaven. Why? Because it is the best we’ve got, and we should always give the best we have to God’s greater Glory.
But where do parables fit into all this? I believe that, in an attempt to make Heaven on Earth, we have watered down the meaning of the Word to the point where all the explanation in the world won’t do us much good. I think we can lecture until our lips turn blue and the world won’t give us the time of day.
What we need are parables. We need good stories that anyone in the street can relate to. Stories about people they might know, stories that are simple and to the point. Stories that whisper of the mysteries of Faith, why we do what we do, but demonstrated in a way that’s not sanitized and castrated of the world that we know is there for the sake of a kind of purity that they don’t recognize as possible.
To make matters worse, no one remembers where words come from. Their meanings are altered not only by natural drift over time, but through campaigns of political correctness and a sort of mind control. When the temporal reason starts to falter, the concrete meanings become less potent, and thus people are less capable of communicating in a meaningful manner. This way, much hand-waving, manufactured consent (or that is, formalism– the tendency to agree with those you want to impress without understanding what you are agreeing with) can come out of a simple misunderstanding and trust that it means what you want it to mean, and not what they mean.
Conversely, it can also foment dissent among those who fundamentally agree with each other, thus legitimate political cohesion is rent by grave misunderstanding. This is the double-edged danger of Humpty Dumpty thinking. This also means that our finely honed reason and well executed argument, falls not only on deaf ears, but ears ‘fortified’ with near invincible ignorance. This is a serious problem.So to truly engage the culture, I think we need parables again, as Jesus taught us. The words on a page are thin gruel, having been improperly used in the modern world. A simple story only uses things you can point to, which maintain their original meanings thus the implications can be preserved against the campaign of fuzzy logic. It also preserves against the misuse of those misguided into thinking that easier is better, and the earnest words of the kind but deluded soul.
This misuse has rendered out the Holy Spirit of our classic tales. This means these simple words fall to the ground as words of ash instead of Holy Fire. We need new parables that a modern man might relate to, for he is as far from tending the soil or sheep as a suburban commuter is from Planet Koozebane. But they need to be infused with the authentic teachings of Christ as informed by the Catholic Church. I believe that Pope Francis is working from this angle– not speaking only to the Faithful, but also to the World in simple acts they may understand.
Yet, those articles and lectures about proper Church teaching are not merely vanity. They are we as the faithful removing logs from our eyes before we wipe away dust motes– and tears from the eyes of the world.
This snowstorm of erudite articles in the Catholic blogosphere are there for a reason. This is, so that we may correct ourselves, so that we might evangelize the culture when we are ready. That is when we bring forth our parables so that the humble of heart– even those untaught or, even those with malformed conscience may glimpse at the God of Love. Yes, He reaches out for them even here, even now, even through all the morbid haze of misrepresentation and debasement.
To be clear that I am not saying that the stories that “everybody knows” are trash. Far from it. We must look at them anew but in light of the truths they reveal that have been distorted and hidden from view. We need to choose carefully what we reveal– to make sure we do not mislead, that we do not think wishfully, or to hide a light under a basket.
The True God still calls but he whispers in parables that we may be drawn ever closer to the Living Water of Divine Truth. We can reflect that Truth and Kingdom in our actions, but we cannot build it out of laws and political wrangling. Those things are ultimately fleeting. It must be the movement from within in the oldest Story made new to a jaded world that already thinks it knows what we know. It must be built as God builds it– by His Might, and not our Will.