“Who are my mother and my brothers?” Missing Out on Messianic Madness (Part II)

David A. Pitt, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Liturgical and Sacramental Theology

Loras College, Dubuque, IA

Contact Author

In 1851, Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright presented a paper to the Medical Convention of Louisiana demonstrating the existence of a previously undiagnosed mental illness among slaves: drapetomania (from ????????, meaning “runaway slave,” and ?????, meaning “mad” or “crazy”).  The observation of this well-respected physician was that “the cause, in most of cases, that induces the negro to run away from service, is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable.”  Should a slave be afflicted by drapetomania, Cartwright suggested that the cure should very literally be “whipping the devil out of them.”  Prevention was also possible – “if treated kindly, well fed and clothed, with fuel enough to keep a small fire burning all night, separated into families, each family having its own house – not permitted to run about at night, or to visit their neighbors, or to receive visits, or to use intoxicating liquors, are not overworked or exposed too much to the weather, they are very easily governed – more so than any other people in the world.”  Cartwright’s classification, which he supported biblically as well as scientifically, was immediately lauded by some and, just as quickly, ridiculed by others.  An extreme example, to be sure, drapetomania is now dismissed as an example of “quasi-science,” and is added to a list of conditions once, but no longer, considered as mental illnesses.

The example of drapetomania is consistent with the theory of mental illness proposed by Michel Foucault in his 1961 book, History of Madness.  Madness, he argued, is best understood as a social construction.  Our modern conceptions of mental illness emerge from the Age of Reason – a period which, according to James White was a period that was “not necessarily atheistic; it simply made God emeritus” (47).  In the Enlightenment, all persons, created equally, were equally able to pursue objective truth.  Those who refused to do so were deemed mad, and they were consequently incarcerated (along with other moral degenerates who rejected reasonable living) to protect society from corruption.  Once isolated, the mad could be scientifically studied: asylums became medical institutions where moral judgment and scientific observation intermingled; and madness eventually became mental illness.  In short, Foucault argued that the scientific method is not actually an objective standard for assessing mental illness, but it is here constructed by moral judgments which precede and influence the method.  Being declared “mad” depends upon the cultural conditions in which “afflicted” individuals are seen.  In this light, it is easy to understand why drapetomania was affirmed by some and rejected by others.

As we have already seen, in the Gospel reading for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, and Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time, Jesus is named as mad by his family.  Nathan Mitchell, summarizing the work of John Meier, writes that Jesus was “jobless, homeless, a vagrant, a grown man with no visible means of support, unemployed and perhaps unemployable, an uninvited ‘house guest’ who relied on the kindness of strangers… [who] lived – deliberately and voluntarily it seems – outside the institutions of marriage, parenthood, and family…  Far from being a poster child for family values, Jesus chose a life on the margins of respectable society, highly irregular and suspect” (78).  Meier himself continues in A Marginal Jew, volume 1: “By the time he died, he had managed to make himself appear obnoxious, dangerous, or suspicious from everyone from pious Pharisees through political high priests to an ever vigilant Pilate.  One reason Jesus met a swift and brutal end is simple: he alienated so many individuals and groups in Palestine that, when the final clash came in Jerusalem in A.D. 30, he had very few people, especially people of influence, on his side” (9).  Thus, if Foucault is correct, then the charge of Jesus’ relatives may have been appropriately leveled.  Insofar as anyone is mad, it is precisely because they are perceived as mad by those around them.  Jesus unreasonably lived on the margins of his society.  He refused to conform to the reasonable standards dictated by his culture.  What other answer, besides demonic possession (which the scribes charged him with) could there be?  One might even go so far as to say that by such standards, those who cried out “Crucify him!” were the ones behaving reasonably.

No doubt, the prospect that Jesus was “out of his mind” is difficult for us to consider.  Once again, if Foucault is correct, then madness and morality are intermingled.  How could Jesus, the Son of God, be mad, if that would imply that he is immoral?  Perhaps this is why Mark 3:20-21 is so infrequently heard in the liturgy?  It almost certainly accounts for why some interpretations attempt to revise the charge, and why some translators take such great pains to rework those verses (compare, for example, the New American Bible, Douay-Rheims, King James, New King James, and The Message!).[1]  That we are uncomfortable with this possibility is not, ultimately, because we have the objective tools necessary to determine Jesus’ mental state.  Indeed, the benefit of hindsight here seems to be that we can insist that Jesus was not mad – but that the divine wisdom incarnate in Christ surpasses human understanding!  Rather, it seems to me that something far more dangerous has actually happened.  In order to deny the charge that Jesus was mad, the madness (i.e., shocking nonconformity) of his ministry has been softened and “rationalized.”

The transformed perception of Jesus’ ministry may well be due to the effects of sin and evil.  While original sin has long afflicted humanity, the Enlightenment enshrined humanity’s pride in its own knowledge of good and evil, masquerading it as virtue.  It is helpful here to consider the understanding of demons that undergirds the RCIA.  Heinrich Schlier argued that Satan and evil spirits “exist by influencing the world and mankind in every sector and at all levels… They withdraw from sight into the men, elements, and institutions through which they make their power felt” (28-29).  The challenge is immediately apparent.  Evil makes itself appear “normal” by incorporating itself into people and things around us; and the presumption that human knowledge of good and evil is sufficient ultimately blinds us to its presence by offering false comfort that what is “normal” is “good.”  Following both Foucault and Schlier, the declaration against Jesus by his family that “he is out of his mind” is actually an indictment of themselves and their ability to understand God’s will.  Rejecting the foolish wisdom of God by naming it (demonic) madness, they have instead enthroned human wisdom which, unbeknownst to them, is (demonically) corrupted.  This situation becomes even more dire as we progress through history.  For the frequency with which we have heard the stories of Jesus has rendered them unshockingly familiar – a seeming result of original sin.  No longer perceived as a minister of madness, Jesus instead embodies the virtue that we have constructed.  Lip service might be paid to the notion that humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, but more alluring is the alternate version of “divine wisdom” in which we create God in our own image.  And all the while, we are lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that our rationality and morality are in full continuity with that of Jesus.  In baptism Christians are saved from the bondage of original sin, but are then given the responsibility of co-operating with that grace.  The rational person, truly enlightened – or illumined – must be willing to set aside their own predispositions in order to recognize that it is God who saves.

We thus finally arrive at the great significance of Mark 3:20-35 for us.  That Jesus is opposed by religious authorities is this passage is consistent with much of what frequently occurs within Gospel narratives proclaimed throughout the liturgical year.  That Jesus is opposed by his relatives is not only unique, but is also contrary to much of what we otherwise hear.  It is disconcerting because in baptism Christians are claimed as God’s own children – brothers and sisters in Christ.  Unlike the Synoptic infancy narratives, or the Johanine description of the crucifixion, the stark question that Mark 3:20-35 asks is this: what kind of family members will we be?  Will we be like those Marcan relatives, trusting in the justness of society’s morality?  Will we rest on a titular relationship, baptized in name, but certain of our ability to save ourselves (or to compel God to save us)?  Will we be like Cartwright’s ideal slaves, lulled by the lure of being “well fed and clothed… each family having its own house,” knowing that life could be so much worse?  Or will we be like those Marcan disciples, fumbling along after Jesus as he scorns what has come to pass as justice?  Will we choose to embrace the life embodied by Christ, baptized to be flickering lights in the darkness?  Will we be like those slaves afflicted by drapetomania, setting out against all law and against all odds, throwing off the shackles of slavery, without fear of death?  Of course, we know that one path is reason, the other path is madness.  But which path is which?

[1] About this passage Morna Hooker writes “His family represents the Greek phrase ?í ???’????? – literally ‘those from beside him’.  In both the LXX and contemporary Greek it meant ‘relatives’ or ‘friends’.  Since the narrative begun here is taken up again in v. 31 with the arrival of Jesus’ mother and brothers, the phrase must refer in this context to Jesus’ relatives.  They intended to take charge of him; the very (??????) is a violent one, and is used in 6.17 and 12.12 of arrest; their purpose was therefore similar to that of the authorities.  They is most naturally interpreted of the relatives; they believed Jesus to be out of his mind.  Since madness was often regarded as due to possession by a demon, it is arguable that their judgement on the situation was close to that of the scribes in the next verse.  Mark gives no explanation for their belief.”  The Gospel According to St. Mark (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 115.

“He is out of his mind:” Missing Out on Messianic Madness (Part I)

David. A. Pitt, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Liturgical and Sacramental Theology

Loras College, Dubuque, IA

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In countries where the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) is given the status of a holy day of obligation, that feast is celebrated on the Thursday following the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  But in countries such as the United States and Canada, where Corpus Christi is not a holy day of obligation, the solemnity is transferred to the Sunday following Trinity Sunday (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, 7c) – most recently June 10.  As a consequence, while more Catholics in these latter countries were enabled to feast the saving power of the Eucharist, they did not hear the Gospel reading appointed for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Mark 3:20-35.  They did not hear Jesus’ family declaring that he was an embarrassment because he was insane (3:20-21) – a claim unique to Mark.  The non-hearing of this pericope on Sundays is actually quite typical here, as is the non-hearing of the uniquely Marcan verses on weekdays.  In this first post I will offer reasons why these texts are not frequently heard.  In the second post I will discuss why I consider this situation to be a genuine loss.  The lengthier narrative, and especially its first two verses, substantially contributes to understanding what it means to be identified as a member of the Body of Christ.

Catholics in the United States and Canada (and other countries where Corpus Christi is transferred to Sunday) do not often get the opportunity to celebrate the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time for entirely calendrical reasons.  The necessity of preceding Advent with the 34th week in Ordinary Time requires the arrangement of the previous weeks in Ordinary Time to accommodate this progression.  Depending on the relationship between the date of Easter and the date of the 1st Sunday of Advent, the week in Ordinary Time after the Easter Season can range between the 6th and 12th.  But three Sundays that fall within those weeks in Ordinary Time are superseded by Solemnities: Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi.  If, as happened here this year, the Monday after the Easter Season belongs to 8th week in Ordinary Time (i.e., Pentecost replaces the 8th Sunday), then Trinity Sunday replaces the 9th Sunday, and Corpus Christi replaces the 10th.  In order for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time to be celebrated in countries such as the United States and Canada, post-Easter Ordinary Time cannot begin in the 8th, 9th, or 10th weeks.  As this chart shows, however, this happens more often than not (57 occurrences in the 80 year period between 1970 and 2050).  Presuming the transfer of Corpus Christi, in the 80 years beginning with the introduction of the three-year lectionary, there are 22 celebrations of the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Of these instances, only 6 occur in Cycle B: 1970, 1973, 1991, 1997, 2018, and 2024.  When Mark 3:20-35 is next read during a Sunday Mass, it will have been 21 years since it was previously read.

A critical component of this Gospel narrative is contained in Mark 3:20-21.  It is here that Mark introduces the reader to Jesus’ family – and these first impressions are not favorable.  Their rejection of Jesus because of his apparently scandalous behavior leads them to protect themselves by insisting that he is insane.  As such, they are paralleled by the scribes in a narrative likely inserted into the original family story by Mark.  As Morna Hooker has argued, “Both offer false explanations of [Jesus’] activity, and are therefore blind to the truth” (114).  Knowledge of the content of these two verses helps us interpret Jesus’ response to his family in 3:31-35.  On the basis of 3:20-21, Jesus’ question, “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” and his insistence that “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” clearly excludes the family that has sought to drag him away as if he were in a strait-jacket!

Yet even though Mark 3:20-35 is read annually in the weekday lectionary, the important first two verses are not generally heard.  The narrative begins on Saturday (3:20-21) of the Second Week in Ordinary Time, and continues on Monday (3:22-30) and Tuesday (3:31-35) of the Third Week.  The troubling first section is thus located on what seems to be the least popular day of the week for attending Mass.  What my own cursory survey of Mass options across the states of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa (i.e., the states between Notre Dame and Loras College, the institution at which I am located) reveals is that the number of weekday Masses on Saturday declines substantially from the number of Masses on every day between Monday and Friday.  Presuming the accuracy of the data, in the 15 dioceses in those states Mass is celebrated at different 1945 locations.  Saturday daily Mass was held in 518 of those locations (26.6%), while Mass was held on the other weekdays in an average of 1222 locations (62.8%).  Even on Monday, the day in which the fewest number of locations hosted a Mass (1061), the number of Mass locations more than doubled those for Saturday.  Admittedly, the number of locations in which Mass is celebrated does not correspond perfectly to the frequency of attendance at those liturgies.  But such striking data surely implies some commentary on attendance tendencies.  Might one even use this tentative data to make general claims about Catholics across the United States and Canada?  If it is safe to do so and presume that Catholics in the United States and Canada are attending daily Mass in fewer numbers on Saturday than on other weekdays, then the number of Catholics in those countries hearing the portion of Mark 3:20-35 appointed for Saturday (Mark 3:20-21) is smaller than the number hearing the rest of the narrative.  As such, the critical context for interpreting the rest of the narrative is frequently unheard by Catholics.  Further exacerbating this difficulty in Canada is the note contained within the weekday lectionary when Mark 3:20-21 occurs: “Some may prefer to read the gospel in no. 255 [John 10:31-42 – the rejection of Jesus by religious authorities] or 325 [Mark 6:1-6 – the rejection of Jesus by residents of Nazareth].”  While the general theme of rejection is continued, Jesus’ family is absent!

Just as we see happening in the weekday lectionary, both through occurrence on infrequently celebrated Saturday liturgies and/or through intentional avoidance, controversial treatment of Jesus’ family is minimized in the other two Synoptic Gospels.  The authors of the Gospel according to Matthew and according to Luke simply excluded Mark 3:20-21 from their accounts, and treated the two following portions of Mark’s text as separable units (see chart below).  Matthew retained the order of Mark, but inserted 16 verses of teaching material between the episodes.  Luke, on the other hand, rearranged these two portions and separated them by 3 chapters.  And while Mark 3:20-21 serves to introduce Jesus’ family, in Matthew and Luke readers encounter Jesus’ family in far more favorable and well-known circumstances.  Both Joseph (Matt 1:20-24) and Mary (Luke 1:26-38) choose to trust in God rather than in social convention, agreeing to God’s invitation to become parents to Jesus.  As a result, Jesus’ questions about who should be considered to be his family are already answered in Matthew and Luke.  In the relative absence of any claims to the contrary, the popularity of the Matthean-Lucan perspective on Jesus’ family strongly influences how Mark 3:22-30 is heard.

Mark Matthew Luke
Jesus’ Family (1) 3: 20-21 (Sat. OT 2)
Jesus and the Scribes 3:22-30 (Mon. OT 3) 12:22-30 11:14-23 (Thurs. Lent 3; Fri. OT 27)
Jesus’ Family (2) 3:31-35 (Tues. OT 3) 12:46-50 (Wed. OT 16) 8:19-21 (Tues. OT 25)

Simply put, what all of this means is that Roman Catholics in countries such as the United States and Canada rarely hear Mark 3:20-35 and the claim within it that Jesus’ family thought that he was “out of his mind.”  In such places, the Gospel text has only occurred three times since the introduction of the three-year lectionary, and will only occur three more times before 2050.  Further, while the controversial claim is appointed to be read annually, if it is read at all it is read on Saturday – the day of the week that seems to have the fewest masses celebrated and, likely, the day of the week with the lowest overall Mass attendance.  Whether circumstantial or intentional (or some mixture of both), the non-hearing of this text is problematic, for – as we shall see in the next post – acknowledging that Jesus was perceived as being crazy by his family should decisively impact how baptized Christians conduct themselves as his adopted brothers and sisters.


Inklings of a New Evangelization: Of Myths and Maps

Miriam Marston

Assistant Director of Theology Programs, Theological Institute for the New Evangelization

St. John’s Seminary, Boston, MA

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In my last post, I introduced the general direction of this column, namely, that I would look at how the mission of evangelization can be inspired and aided by the work of the two most famous Oxford “Inklings”: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  I now want to break open the discussion of subcreation.  In particular, I’d like to look at the role of stories and (spoiler alert!) how they have the fantastic capacity to point us in precisely the direction we need to go, almost like a map which can anticipate the deep desires of our heart.

I begin with an excerpt from a poem:

The heart of Man is not compound of lies,

but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,

and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,

Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.

Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,

and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,

his world-dominion by creative act:

not his to worship the great Artefact,

Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light

through whom is splintered from a single White

to many hues, and endlessly combined

in living shapes that move from mind to mind.

Though all the crannies of the world we filled

with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build

Gods and their houses out of dark and light,

and sowed the seed of dragons, ’twas our right

(used or misused). The right has not decayed.

We make still by the law in which we’re made.

Tolkien wrote the poem “Mythopoeia” for his good friend Lewis, who was wrestling with Christianity à la Jacob.  It is too long to include in its entirety here, but the whole poem (which is worth a read) may be found here.

Here, Tolkien tells us a few things:

1)      freedom is God’s great gift to each of us.

2)      no sooner do we realize that we are free that we start to misuse that freedom – for instance, to build altars to all the wrong sorts of gods.

3)     one of the fruits of this freedom is our calling to be active participants in the ongoing creative work of God.

We might be thinking: “what? Participate in creation?  Moi?”  “I’ll just sit here in this little corner of the universe, trudging along in perfect anonymity (that is what humility dictates, after all), thank-you-very-much.”  Tolkien wants to draw us out of that comfort zone, by telling us to boldly claim the God-given right to sub-create, which, among other things, will help reverse any unhappy trends of anonymity and uniformity.  We don’t have to just sit back and watch the glory of God unfold before us:  we can actually participate in it, and contribute to the splendid activity.  It’s as though God has placed a gigantic canvas before us, handed us a paintbrush and invited us to start painting.

A friend of mine once asked the fair question:  well, that’s all fine and well for the artist-types…what about us engineers, scientists, or mathematicians?  I don’t think I’m over-reaching by suggesting that neither Tolkien nor Lewis were limiting sub-creation to novelists and poets.  As writers, yes, they had a keen sense of how the creative agency translated into the written word.  But as Christians, they would have been equally aware of the reality that not one person was fashioned outside of the mind of God. Tolkien’s reference to the white light splintering into “many hues” is a way of saying that the creative possibilities are boundless.  For instance, I am in awe of anyone who can solve a complex algebraic equation.  Truly, I say to myself, this person is created from the extraordinary mind of God!  Each time I witness such a person elucidate an incomprehensible mathematical problem, I’ve had the great privilege of glimpsing something new about God’s creation, something which points to the immensity of the divine imagination.

The poem also helps to address one of the last stumbling blocks that Lewis came up against before his conversion:  the Gospel story is a myth, a fairytale… beautiful, yes, but only mythological. Perhaps you have heard this sweeping claim as well, casually dropped in to the conversation, with an air of invincibility, as if to put the matter to rest.

The nub of Tolkien’s reply?  Well, yes, Christianity is a myth, but it is a true one. 

Which means Lewis did not have to leave behind all the good stories he’d loved – the pagan ones, the Norse ones, the pre-Christian classics which shaped his earliest worldview.  They are all — each and every one — taken up into the marvelous and miraculous story of Christ (which turns out to be more than a little relevant to the story of each of us).  This is a reassuring fact to bring to the table, for there might be a common apprehension that one might have to abandon all the other stories in exchange for the Gospel.  Lewis discovered that he did not have to choose between myth and Gospel.  He could have both, and by receiving both, he was given that much more.

After his conversion, Lewis wrote in his essay “Myth became Fact”:

“The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact.  The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history.  It happens– at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences…but by becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.”

And so perhaps we have some difficulty believing that Sleeping Beauty was awoken by true love’s kiss, but we can easily believe that she slept.  Every story (even the ones of the fairy or mythic variety) possesses some measure of truth.  And it is the job of evangelization to seek out these grains of truth, wherever they may be, and sow them in the fertile ground of the Gospel message.  Thus, the Good News makes its way through the world, one heart at a time.   This means that evangelical efforts should not recoil before the fruits of culture (secular, after all, does not mean profane).  Anything true, good and beautiful is fair game.  But we should remember the lesson taught by those artificial fruit snacks (the ones which boast of being made with 15% actual fruit).   There’s nothing wrong with eating them (in moderation, naturally), but sooner or later, we’ll probably want to try the real thing.  Good stories are like that:  most often, they contain nuggets of life’s deepest truths, but they are not the whole story, just as a strawberry flavored nutri-grain bar is not an actual bowl of freshly picked strawberries.  It is like a map, pointing us, nudging us along, towards the genuine article.

Near the end of his essay “On Fairy-Stories”, Tolkien reminds the reader that the word “spell” means “both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.” We see both meanings operating in the word Gospel…Godspell.  There is no greater story.  There is no stronger enchantment.  So strong, in fact, that it will break the chains of sin and death and raise us to new life, if we only let the Word take hold in our hearts.

Next time, I’ll look at Tolkien’s take on the story of creation as an example of how human storytelling can reveal intimations of a Divine authorship working behind the scenes, and, in this way, bring us even closer to the heart of the Christian narrative.

Happy, Happy Friday: Love to Let Go (June 8, 2012)

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

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OK, so this video’s not nauseatingly, cotton-candy-y, Smarties-esque, preteen-perfume-line-ish sweet. It’s just sweet:

What would it be like to have disembodied hands just hand you random objects? I mean, you’ll probably never know, but at least you can stop to think about it: it’s a nice break from thinking about that guy who’s driving 55 mph in the fast lane on the interstate. Anyhoo, HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY, PEOPLE!!!


So I know it’s hypocritical for me to pick on slow drivers since I drive around my hometown like I’ve got 60 years to get wherever I’m going, but there’s other drivers out there who make life interesting for folks:

-The person who has their turn signal on for half a mile. The whole time you’re behind them, you’re on tenterhooks wondering, “When will this happen? Are they going to turn onto somebody’s front lawn? Because the next right turn’s not for three miles: did they forget to turn their signal off, or are they just really really looking forward to turning right?”

-The person who’s turning into a store…EVER…SO…SLOWLY. I’m not saying you should take that turn like you’re in “Lethal Weapon” but seriously, driver-person: you need to let the rest of us move on with our lives. Unless you’re just really savoring turning into that ice-cream store, and then I can’t blame you.

-The person whose bumper stickers are in really small font. It drives you crazy wondering, “What are they trying to tell the world here? Is he trying to tell me that I’m really nearsighted and I should get my vision checked (how thoughtful of him, really)? If I tailgate this guy and rear-end him, will the cop understand that I was just trying to read the sticker on his car? Or will he think I need to get a hobby? Is this driver deliberately taunting me with a size-8 font bumper sticker?”

-The person with the horse trailer behind their car. Sir, that’s really distracting: since I am part of the gender that includes everyone who wanted a pet horse when they were 7 years old, you’re just killing me, Smalls.

Anyhoo, we can keep on moving along 😉


Youtube clip of the week:


Here’s the good news: we don’t HAVE to like everyone to be good Christians. We aren’t called to sit around and try to manufacture feelings of liking for the people that drive us crazy, make us angry, or hurt our feelings. The plain fact of our broken existence is that, right now, we just aren’t always compatible to the point of liking one another. And while this isn’t the way it will always be (we hope), it’s what we have to work with at the moment. Frankly, God isn’t about manufacturing feelings so much as He is about shaping a will that can persevere (like the US Postal Service) through all weather.

But we ARE called to love one another, which is ultimately a choice of the will. As C.S. Lewis says, the Christian idea of love or ‘charity’ seems like a cold and emotionless thing to a world that’s used to thinking of ‘love’ in terms of deep emotions and selfless feeling. But this ‘love’ won’t make us be generous with our enemies or turn the other cheek. Pure emotion just isn’t enough, and we can’t depend on it. In the end, Christian charity is “not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” We hear this definition from C.S. Lewis and mentally turn to the people who bother us most, gritting our teeth as we prepare to be compassionate and generous towards them, revealing in our manner and character the love that God gives His children THROUGH His children. And it’ll be tough, people.

But there’s another side to this ‘charity’ entirely, and it has to do with the people we most cherish and value in this world. These are the people for whom we have a DEEP love, in the sense of willing their ultimate good and also willing their continued presence in our lives. But what happens when the first sense of love conflicts with the second? What if we have to let them go their own way, enabling them to freely go where God leads?

Then we have to remind ourselves of the ultimate good we can do for one another: not to make the other person laugh, not to give them gifts or a sense of self-worth, but to help them home to God. As George MacDonald puts it, “To make a man happy as a lark, might be to do him grievous wrong: to make a man wake, rise, look up, turn, is worth the life and death of the Son of the Eternal.”

In loving those we cherish most, we have to will their ultimate good and true happiness WHETHER OR NOT we ourselves are part of that happiness. If their best chance for closeness to God is to part ways with us, then we have to let them go. We can’t tell them how to be a saint, nor can we be the ‘end-all-be-all’ of anyone’s happiness. There’s only one true destination, and people, we definitely aren’t it for each other. As much as it smarts and hurts to recognize that we can’t be more to one another than we’re called to be, with it comes relief. After all, Someone infinitely wiser and better than ourselves holds the people we love in the depths of His Heart, and He carries the burdens that our shoulders cannot bear for one another. What could be better than that, really? And as we think it over, we realize…it’s more than enough.

Friends, I hope you each have a GRAND and GLORIOUS day J and I send along to you, as ever, my



Happy, Happy Friday: Where Judas Fell (June 1, 2012)

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

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PRELUDIO: In the words of the great British television “programme”, “And now for something completely different.”:

Someone told me that they must play this organ piece on repeat in Heaven, but if it’s not your style then here’s this to brighten the glory of FRIDAY:



So even though we’ve figured out how silent monks sing the Hallelujah chorus, so many pivotal questions about the universe remain. A few of the most deeply troubling include:

  • Why do psychics have to ask your name? And why do they need TV commercials: can’t they just tell you their hotline number telepathically?
  • Why is all dryer lint a whitish-bluish-gray even though the clothes in the dryer are a bunch of different colors? Where do all of the other colors go, the washer? Narnia?
  • Why do people dress up to go to fancy receptions when they could just accomplish the same thing (conversation) by dressing in sweatpants and sitting around on couches at home and eating raw cookie dough instead of weird little appetizers with caviar?
  • Why do some dogs bark at the doors that ONLY family members ever use (like the door from the garage or the door from the backyard? Really? Does the pizza guy EVER go through there?)
  • Why do small dogs act like they’re Rottweilers and Rottweilers don’t care how huge they are (or forget about it completely when they greet you at the door and enthusiastically plow you down)?
  • Why don’t sheep shrink when it rains and yet the cotton shirt you just bought shrinks so much that you could put it on a hand puppet? How is this justice, people?
  • Was God just feeling really whimsical when He invented the platypus, the puffer-fish, and that one lizard that shoots blood out of its eyes as a defense mechanism? And what was He thinking when He invented leeches, ticks, and those bugs with too many legs that hang out in the upper corner of your bathroom for a week? We’ll just have to trust that He has a plan there.

And now that we’ve taken time to thoughtfully reflect on these questions, we can keep moving along 😉

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, Where Judas Fell

Youtube clip of the week:

So people, we know how Judas Iscariot’s story ends: he betrays Christ, and when he tries to give the blood money back to the temple priests, they scorn the offer. And then Judas takes his own life. But what killed Judas Iscariot? We see greed at work in his heart, but greed will also make a man fight to stay alive at any cost. So why does Judas die (or rather, why does he decide that he can’t continue living?)

In the novel Sophia House, a priest says that Judas didn’t believe in forgiveness. Specifically, Judas believed that he had done something unforgivable, and when he believed so completely in the lies spun by his despair, he decided that anything was better than life, even death. Judas had given up all hope.

OK, so this Heart has begun on a heavy note, but it doesn’t end there. Just keep going, folks.

Hope in God’s mercy is a door leading out of a prison cell. Judas felt that God had permanently given up on him, when in reality God gives us as many chances as we need. And God doesn’t dole out these chances grudgingly, as though He expected better and has been disappointed by our weakness. I can imagine that instead, God says, “At least they know I haven’t given up on them. At least they still hope enough to ask for forgiveness.” And every new beginning, every gift of mercy is a reminder to us that God never will give up on us, not even in the dark times when we feel like giving up on ourselves. If we close a door, God finds a window: if we close a window, God comes in through a hole in the basement, and so on as long as we are living. He will always offer us freedom from our darkness.

We don’t know what it was like to be in Judas’ position of betrayer, but Saint Peter does. The same door was offered to both of them, and Peter chose the door leading out of despair even though he might have crawled through it on his knees. His repentance found strength in God’s mercy. He chose to believe that perfect love not only casts out fear, but also despair. Peter believed in forgiveness and trusted that there is no wound of sin in us that God’s mercy cannot heal. Do we choose the door of hope that leads into our freedom? Do we ask God to help us love and know ourselves as He does, and when He shows us something broken but beautiful, do we trust that He sees the truth? Do we know that He loves us?

Sophia House describes each of us as an icon that reflects Jesus Christ, and that though we are sullied and scratched, the master painter can restore us to our full beauty. Christ has told us to be perfect and that nothing is impossible for God: we have to remember that the command and the promise go together, because the first without the second will only lead us into despair and the two in union with one another form the door that leads into life. God offers help, healing, and freedom: we only have to trust that He has shown us the way out of our shadowlands into His marvelous light. We have to place our hope in His promise of divine forgiveness that never fails.

Friends, in our faith God shows us the path to all true joy: we just have to believe it with our will even when we feel nothing in our hearts. Trust that even in times of darkness and doubt, our way out is through hope. And I send along to each of you, as ever, my

Love, prayers, JOOOYYY!!! And a HAPPY HAPPY (and most blessed) FRIDAY!!! HOODAALALLYYY!!!