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Saturday, July 25th, 2020

‘Filii prudentiores:’ a Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

[F]or the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light(Luke 16, 8).

In recent months, we have spent a great deal of time wondering; perhaps disbelieving, lamenting, complaining, worrying, and so forth. 

If I may be so bold as to say, it may be high time to stop such things. 

First, because we cannot be surprised by anything. I repeat, the Catholic Christian does not have the luxury of being surprised by human wickedness. If we are, this betrays a certain weakness of the interior life. To be sure, it is a weakness to which we are all subject, to one degree or another. But it is a weakness all the same. This is so for a number of reasons. First, because we know ourselves enough to know that we can be ignorant, stubborn, misguided, selfish, spiteful, and on the list may go. Impeccability is not in us. The prophet Jeremiah said it long ago: ‘The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable, who can know it?’[1]  

Second, therefore, being surprised by wickedness shows, at whatever level, that we have misunderstood the purpose of Christ’s coming. The Incarnation of the Word did not take place because all was well; because man can be trusted to arrange things harmoniously on his own. Christ did not found his holy Church because he knew that things would be just fine after his Ascension. No, Christ’s advent was on account of sin—that is, it was the remedy for sin. And this remedy was for all sin, not only the sort of sins that fit neatly into our sense of how things ought to be.  

Perhaps the Catholic people are undergoing the purification of their moral vision: a naïve, superficial view of the conflict between good and evil is no longer possible or helpful. In these difficult and startling times, it may well be that Catholics are being taught to be moral realists again.    

Our Lord seems to imply something like this when he warns us about the filii huius sæculi, the children of this world. The unjust steward is praised for his dishonest but clever scheme. We ought to stop to let that sink in. The man acted completely out of self-interest, even to the point of committing fraud: but the point is that he turned a dire situation to his best advantage.      

So yes, beyond learning to be moral realists again, there is another reason to cease our surprise and worry: it is time-wasting. Better that we should turn these difficult times to our spiritual profit, as the unjust steward went about making provision for his impending unemployment.

But how? It is certainly the case that dangerous times force us to decide about the sorts of people we intend to be; whether we will double-down on the observance of the Catholic faith—in all its parts and fulness—or whether we shall submit to compromise. That much is clear to you.

But then there are the specific virtues that may need a testing and bolstering. Troubled times are rife with occasions for making acts of trust in God’s Providence. If our material goods are threatened, best that we should begin to learn to be detached from them now. If we crave human respect or a good reputation, we can survey the multiple examples of how easy it is to lose them. If we thought only too little of heaven and the life to come, the changeability and imperfections of history will teach us to love our true homeland. If we are uncertain about our friendships, suffering will reveal their true worth. If we find it easy to love those who do good to us, now is the time to learn to love and forgive those who hate us. If heretofore we have taken prayer and the Sacraments unseriously, we can ask ourselves whether we think we will be able to die well without them.

How much more we could say. But we have been warned: the dark intelligences of this world have always been moving—not willy-nilly, but tactically. On the other hand, our Lord reproaches us for our casualness. Fortunately for us, the summer collects speak up for us; today is no exception:

Graciously increase in us, we beseech You, Lord, the spirit of always thinking and doing what is upright: so that we who cannot exist without You may have strength enough to live in accord with You.

 

 


[1] Jeremiah 17, 9.

{Art Credit: Alex de Andreis (1871-1939), At the Money Lender.}

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