America was deeply torn after the Civil War. The fighting may have ended, but divisions had not been healed. Reconstruction, if anything, made matters worse. Policies did not quite appease the southerners, while northerners felt betrayed. And blacks in the south were not in a tremendously improved situation.
Tassel of the Cloak
God is in everything, be it sports or music or history or business or wine-making or church or whatever. Everywhere we look there is a spiritual metaphor to be found. Some metaphors may be hidden, some overt. I will attempt to point them out to you. That is the purpose of these laconic reflections. They are mostly intended to be fun and interesting. Perhaps, though, the reflections will provide you some guidance. Perhaps they will lead you to see everything through a spiritual lens, thus appreciating Catholicism all the more. When Jay Cutler throws a Hail Mary at the end of the half, might you move beyond your frustration with the Bears' offensive ineptitude and think of the Blessed Mother? Just an example.
These reflections will only be an introduction to deeper spiritual and theological truths. Hence the title, The Tassel of the Cloak. When David cuts off the tassel of Saul's cloak and shows it to him (cf. 1 Sam 24), Saul realizes that David is not his enemy. That moves them into a new relationship. Likewise, the hemorrhaging woman's grasping of the tassel on Christ's cloak in Luke 8:44 opens the door to her healing and conversion. The tassel was merely an entryway. The mundane anecdotes and simple spiritual lessons I provide are, in my opinion, the tassel. There's much more to Christ's Cloak. I hope you will experience it. So, please, go ahead and "Touch the Hem of His Garment." That is, by the way, the title of a Sam Cooke song.
Imagine the United States of America is invaded by China. Think of the movie Red Dawn, if you've seen it. We have been conquered and most of our American culture has been banned. One day—remaining in our hypothetical scenario—an individual comes along and claims to be the leader who will free us from our oppressors. We believe him. We follow him. When it comes time to implement the plan to overthrow the invaders, our savior drops a bomb. The problem is with us, not them. We, he says, need to convert. We are shocked. We are offended. And so when the Chinese arrest our leader and sentence him to death, not only do we not object, we approve of his killing.
I'm a bit out of my element in meditating on Jesus the gardener. Full self-disclosure: when I see the flower bed outside the rectory, I see an ash tray for my cigar. Nevertheless, let me try. Our souls are an orchard and Jesus is the optimistic gardener. At least that's how I interpret the parable of the barren fig tree (cf. Lk 13:1-9).
“Indifference” by G.A. Studdert Kennedy:
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
“All things, everything great and small, most ephemeral or most lasting, everything that compels men to work or dooms them to idleness, everything that calls out a moment's interest or lays the grasp upon the heart, all these things, whether men believe it or not, or even think of it, have one supreme, one eternal result: the making of character.”
These are the words of Fr. Basil Maturin. The Irishman was a convert to Catholicism, highly regarded for his ability to preach, to write, and to counsel souls with compassion, particularly students. In his early 20th Century classic, Christian Self-Mastery, Fr. Maturin reflected on how every event or experience in this life is intended to mold us to our true self. That is, if we abide by the universal principle: do what you believe right, avoid what you believe wrong. Regardless of your culture or creed, everyone must do what is good for himself. If he doesn't, then he will have a poor character and will be unhappy.
The Cellist of Sarajevo, a 2008 novel by Steven Galloway, is a brilliant read and, in my opinion, contains an image of Christ. The basis of the story is a local cellist who plays every day at 4pm, for 22 days straight, the Adagio in G Minor by Tomaso Albinoni, a 17th Century composer. The cellist is unyielding in his resolve to honor the dead. He plays on the site of an attack that killed 22 people, despite mortar shells landing nearby and sniper bullets whizzing around him. In the midst of the war-ravaged city, this cellist's somber music is a beacon of light. His music allows the citizens to escape the desolate situation; to experience heaven in hell. Here, for instance, is the impact the music has on a female character of the story, a sniper named Arrow: “She didn't have to be filled with hatred. The music demanded that she remember this, that she know to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness. The notes were proof of that.”
Christ's physical body on earth was beautiful. Yet, it underwent much suffering. As a fresh baby Jesus was exposed to the cold air of Bethlehem and the hot, desert winds with bits of sand of Egypt. As a young man he labored as a carpenter and was surely cut at some point. As a man he walked hundreds of miles; slept in fields and caves; was hit by rocks in attempted stonings; smacked and scourged and suffocated and speared. Jesus's body was indeed beaten down. There is a reason in the Apostles' Creed we immediately go from “was born of the Virgin Mary” to “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” We don't want, in our Catholic faith, to give the impression that Jesus was a Greek God, never unharmed. Unfortunately sometimes artwork gives this impression. Paintings show Jesus with a perfectly groomed beard or milky white skin.
As you watch the Oscars this weekend, keep in mind Hollywood's Catholic roots:
I could go on, but I'll stop there. Now, back to your viewing...
Why do good things happen to bad people? Perhaps the story of Jacob from the Old Testament (cf. Gen 27-35) can give us some insights. Jacob was, to put it simply, a bad guy. He deliberately tricked his father Isaac into giving him the inheritance, when it was intended for the older son Esau. (Isaac, by the way, was also a pretty mediocre figure.) Jacob bartered for his wife, had concubines, stole from his father-in-law, fought again with his righteous brother, and had sons who were likewise murderers and liars (you know the story with Joseph and the coat.) Jacob even had a wrestling match with God—literally! And what happens to this miscreant? Not only does he not receive punishment or misfortune, he gains prominence! Jacob will become one of the forefathers of Israel. In fact, the name Israel is derived from Jacob (cf. Is 45:12). It means ‘one who does battle with God.’ God will even deign to refer to himself as The God of Jacob (cf. Matt 22:32).
Ernest Hemingway converted to Catholicism, attended Sunday Mass, visited shrines, and arranged for a priest to conduct prayers at his graveside. Yet people still see him as irreligious, if not an atheist. When I read The Old Man and the Sea, which was published in 1952 and for which Hemingway won the Nobel Prize, I indeed see a Catholic.
The story is simple (spoiler alert!). The old man finally snags a gigantic marlin. He reels in the 18-foot fish after five exhausting days only to have it eaten away by sharks. When he returns to shore, there is merely a skeleton tied to his boat.
There's a saying that Christ's mysteries are our mysteries. It's based off the theological principle that the realities of Christ's life are enduring. In other words, the Resurrection didn't just happen two thousand years ago and now it's over. The Resurrection is ongoing. Jesus continues to rise; the world continues to be renewed. Likewise, Jesus continues to suffer and be crucified; our sufferings add to Jesus's for the continual redemption of the world.
Well, if that's true, then it means Christ continues to descend into hell. That's right, Jesus descended into hell on Holy Saturday. We say this in the Apostle's Creed: “he descended into Hell, on the third day he rose again from the dead...”
“Once religion sinks in, it stays there—deep down. The lads who get religious training, get it where it counts—in the roots. They may fail it, but it never fails them.” George Herman Ruth Jr. uttered those words in 1946, two years before he died. Babe was a product of a Catholic education. He was raised a Catholic and attended St. Mary's College. It was actually at that Catholic school that a teacher, Brother Mathias Boutlier, encouraged the boy to play baseball.