A few weeks ago, I attended a day-long training to become a home visitor for our local conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The most compelling part of the training was the section on what poverty looks like, from the perspective of the person living through it. This segment of the training was led by a man who was born and raised in some of the roughest areas of Chicago and Minneapolis, who was hired by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as a teen and loved and accompanied for years, through numerous trials and triumphs. Today he is a college-educated husband and father, a successful manager and talented speaker on the state and national level, and a Vincentian for life.
The training was thought-provoking and convicting; it, along with learning more about my own ancestors’ struggles with poverty before I was born, led me to want to dig deeper—which in turn led me to another unread book on my shelf: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.
Sinclair was an influential muckraking journalist, author, activist, and political candidate at the turn of the 20th century. The Jungle is his fictional but detailed and realistic account of power, corruption, and poverty during this time, particularly in the stockyard district of Chicago. The book follows one immigrant family from Lithuania, who moves to America on the promise of plentiful work for good wages, and finds a corrupt system of capitalists and politicians of every stripe, at every level, keeping prices high and wages low, controlling everything from housing and food supplies in the neighboring slums to law enforcement, inspections, and elections—and driving workers to desperate measures to avoid death by illness, exposure, or starvation.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”Mark 2:3-5
[At the time of this writing] I’ve spent the past 10 days quarantined due to a positive COVID test. Aside from one rough evening, I felt pretty good overall—the usual post-holiday fatigue and January congestion. But it doesn’t take much. When sick or injured, I am a pretty poor patient. I never manage to suffer in silence for long, and I tend to put everything on hold until I feel better. The weaker my flesh, the less willing my spirit.
Mark’s gospel shares the account of four friends who bring a paralytic to Jesus. Unable to get close to him on the ground due to the crowds, they climb to the roof, open up the thatching, and lower the paralyzed man on his mat before Jesus. The Lord sees the man in his plight. He sees the great faith of the man’s friends. So what does He do?
Jesus forgives the paralyzed man’s sins.
Think about that for a moment. From the crowd’s point of view: They have gathered around Jesus with great expectations. They are listening to His teachings, but they have heard He is a wonderworker. No doubt they were holding their breath in expectation of a miracle for the paralyzed man. From the standpoint of the four friends: Can there be any doubt that their hope for their friend was physical healing? And from the paralytic’s point of view: Even if he was a devout man, I’ll bet there was a twinge of disappointment when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” rather than, “Rise and walk.”
I was talking with our son Trevor the other day and used the phrase “more money than God.” It occurred to me as I said it that the phrase could be taken two ways:
- The first is the typical way: So-and-so has a greater amount of money than God has. (Not that God needs money…)
- The second is more ominous: So-and-so has more money than the amount of God he has.
The second interpretation is the one Jesus warns us against, most concisely in Matthew 6:24: You cannot serve both God and mammon.
What is mammon? Wealth and riches, particularly in excess. Historically the word was thought to reference a demon or god associated with material wealth.
I’d like to think we’re not at risk of placing money ahead of God. We are not wealthy by US standards; we live on a budget and give to the church as best we can. Several years ago, Jodi and I began to dig out of debt—and while that journey is ongoing, last week we shared a short video outlining why we are supporting the parish’s BOLD FUTURE campaign.
We are blessed, we know it, and we are trying to share those blessings. Surely we have more God than money in our lives…right?
“He who says he has done enough has already perished.” – St. Augustine
One of the great, geeky pleasures of having college-age offspring is that my older sons are making great book recommendations from their own reading. I finished one such book this weekend: Servant of God Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness. My oldest son, Brendan, recommended it to me, and numerous times during the past few months, as I was sharing what was on my mind and in my heart, he asked me if I’d finished it yet.
I now know why: Day’s journey is very different from my own, but my desire to work and to serve appears to have a similar destination.
Last Wednesday I imagined myself the self-reliant man’s man, scaling Mount God to conquer Him—then shared my gratitude that He forgives my folly and makes Himself small enough to be digestible for His fallen creature.
I’ve said before that the Enemy will gladly you ride you whatever direction you’d like to travel, and so it is this past week. I went to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and my confessor was inspired to give me John chapter 6 as a penance: “Just read through it and reflect on it.” If you are following the daily Mass readings, these are the gospel passages for these middle days of the Easter season, beginning with the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water, and ending with the famous Bread of Life discourses, in which Jesus insists that His disciples must eat His flesh and drink His blood, sacramentally speaking.
I’ve been down this road before and did not expect anything profound. But this time, I was struck hard by the worldly desires of the crowd who follows Jesus, as well as their fickleness: Continue reading