28 August 2019

Except you ravish me

JMJ



The readings in the daily office follow a cycle through the year but on Saints days, other readings may take over. On some saints' days, two readings are moved in - the readings of the day are suppressed. On other feast days, only one reading is swapped in.

I find these days interesting. The saints day can fall on any number of other days, depending on when Easter was. Today, for example, was the Feast of St Augustine of Hippo. It was also the 21st Wednesday Tempus Per Annum. So the Bible reading for this Wednesday was paired with a passage from Augustine's Confessions. It was a serendipitous admixture of passages.

The passage from Jeremiah starts out accusing God's people of unfaithfulness but ends with, basically, calling them all - pardon my words - the spiritual equivalent of sluts.
For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. For long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds; and you said, 'I will not serve.' 
Yea, upon every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down as a harlot. Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine? Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, says the Lord GOD. How can you say, 'I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Ba'als'? Look at your way in the valley; know what you have done--a restive young camel interlacing her tracks, a wild ass used to the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind! Who can restrain her lust? None who seek her need weary themselves; in her month they will find her. Keep your feet from going unshod and your throat from thirst. But you said, 'It is hopeless, for I have loved strangers, and after them I will go.'
Although this was addressed to Israel it is true of much of the Church, at least in America. We have fallen in this way. There are, on a smaller scale in Orthodoxy the same problems we see in the Roman Church. But it was just as real and just as bad. Orthodoxy has her James Martins, her feminist women religious, her pro-choice politicians, her young people asking to live in sin, her court cases, her sexual abuse, her financial and racial scandals.

But all Christians, if we draw the circle wide, have fallen prey to an Americanism where we want to be comfortable being both in American and of America. We have become mirrors of our culture forgetting that sexual sins are just as bad as racial and economic ones. Forgetting that economic and racial sins are just as bad as sexual ones. We can't lead America to God if we won't go there ourselves.

This is us looking, for a long time, for a teacher who would say we're ok in our sins. We want to say "we worship God" but we really want to love strangers and go after them.

Then came the passage from the Confessions telling of Augustine's conversion and his love for his evangelist - who was God.
The light I saw was not the common light at all, but something different, utterly different, from all those things. Nor was it higher than my mind in the sense that oil floats on water or the sky is above the earth; it was exalted because this very light made me, and I was below it because by it I was made. Anyone who knows truth knows this light.
O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. 
Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
  but I outside, seeking there for you,
  and upon the shapely things you have made
  I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
  those things which would have no being,
  were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
  you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
  you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
  I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
  you touched me, and I burned for your peace.
See there? God ravishes the soul with the same glorious love-making that Jeremiah throws back into the faces of Israel.

Even more... God loves us so much that no matter where we have been, no matter how far astray... he is right there waiting for us.

He is shouting.
Breaking in
Flaring
Blazing
Banishing Blindness
Lavishing

And we are overcome with all the senses. 

 I gasped; and now I pant for you;
  I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
  you touched me, and I burned for your peace.

All the strangers we seek after... the thrills. Our divine lover can give to us if we but let him if we but be still, and rest in him. We go looking all over Oz for what we can find in our own back yard.

He will set us a blaze that will never die burning in our hearts with his love.

And we shall live eternally.

So let us pray with Mr Donne
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to'another due,
Labor to'admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly'I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me'untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


25 August 2019

Nec laudibus nec timore

Moloch by Jean-Pierre DalbĂ©ra


JMJ

The Readings for the 21st Sunday Tempus per Annum (C1)
Contendite intrare per angustam portam 
Strive to enter by the narrow gate

All these readings tie together: it's like someone had planned it or something. This morning in the office of readings, we got a passage from Zephaniah (1:1-7, 14-2:3) which left me breathless.
I will stretch out my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Ba'al and the name of the idolatrous priests;
those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens;
those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom;
those who have turned back from following the LORD,
who do not seek the LORD or inquire of him.
Process that:
The Lord's going to punish... within the Holy City and the Kingdom of Judah
Those who worship Baal and their clergy.
Those who go up on the roof and worship the stars.
Those who worship YHVH and also some other deity.
Those who have left off following YHVH.
And those who never bothered to follow YHVH in the first place - nor even tried to find him.
Again... all of these types of people are found within the walls of Jerusalem and the land of Judah.

If that list of people inside the Church doesn't scare you, then today's Gospel will. Listen to what Jesus says to those members of the Church, those who "ate and drank in [his] company," those he has taught.

I heard this so clearly last night, that the actual homily was lost: "I bet you thought Christianity was all about just being nice and trusting in Jesus. You're swearing by Jesus, but worshiping Milcom. God's got a message for you.

"Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough."

How many are the folks in churches (not just the Catholic Church, but all churches) who claim the name of Christ, but get lost in Newage Astrology and magic? It's only just "herbalism" or "crystals". How many Catholics fall prey to the Ba'als of this world: sex, political ideologies, secularism, abortion, birth control, racism, money. How many, thus, say they are Christian but, in fact, are worshiping another deity they have made up inside their head - or fallen for one that is offered by someone else.

It comes to me that "striving to enter" is not what we're about today. The heroic attempt to win salvation (take the gate of heaven by violence, Jesus says at one point) is not what we're about. We feel that we should just do enough, what is the minimum? Going all the way seems a bit much.

I thought of all the times, in fact, I had not striven to enter anything at all: when it was ok to get swept along by the tide - when I actively sought out ways to not-do Christianity. I feared for all the times that I didn't "Fail" to enter. It was not that I wasn't "strong enough" to enter. I just didn't want to.

How many times have we failed, as a people, to stand up?

I learned this week about Blessed Clemens August, Cardinal von Galen. His nickname, "The Lion of Munster," comes from the way he fought Hitler during the war. (His full name is awesome: Clemens Augustinus Emmanuel Joseph Pius Anthonius Hubertus Marie Graf von Galen.) Blessed Clemens did not pull punches. Hitler wished him dead but was advised that to kill him would result in the loss or rebellion of Catholic Germans. His preaching was bad enough, but to remove him would be worse. The Bishop (later Cardinal) was opposed to racism, the concentration camps, the marauding, the bullying. But he didn't stop there. After the war, he opposed the mistreatment of Germans by the forces of allied occupation. The British didn't want him to travel and tried to censor him. The Russians did the same.

This man was hated by Nazis and the allies. That's how you know you're doing it right.

His motto, which heads up this post, nec laudibus nec timore, means "not for (or because of) praise, not for fear". Don't fail to preach the Gospel out of fear of what men will do to you or out of fear of what men might say about you.

In this age, when the right hates Christians for our adherence to moral political ideals about the human person and the left hates us for our adherence to moral sexual ideals about the human person, when the left hates religious tradition because they can't use it and the right likes religious tradition because they can use it to hide behind, neither of them cares anything about Truth. We will be lost in the shuffle. Or worse. We can, like many "catholic" politicians, cave in and become left/right ideologues, forcing our religion to conform to some secular dogma. Or we can choose to do nothing nec laudibus nec timore. We can choose to make the Gospel and God's Kingdom the primary - in fact the only - goal of our action.

Or we can worship the Ba'al of sex, the Milcom of politics, the host of heaven. We can even just give up and walk away.

I don't want to.
I pray I won't.
I'm afraid that
I might.

Pray.

20 August 2019

An Infinity of Love

JMJ

Spillway at Fontana Dam, North Carolina

At our monthly meeting, the Dominican Tertiaries were discussing Aquinas' Summa, Part 1, Question 12. How God is known by us. I noted that this was where Aquinas and Palamas parted company. Article 1 states clearly (after ditching a few objections):
Unde simpliciter concedendum est quod beati Dei essentiam videant.
Hence it must be absolutely granted that the blessed see the essence of God.
But then there are 11 articles of rolling it back and what we discover is that Aquinas says, ok, the blessed can see God's essence but everyone is not equally blessed. This discovery of a hierarchy in heaven stressed our conversation for a while. It was agreed that the Theotokos as "higher than the Cherubim" - a title we do not use for any other saint - indicates a hierarchy; and it was also agreed that to us, here, anyone in that blessed dance is equally blessed because we cannot, from here, even look at the light directly. There was also concurrence with the idea that a humble Christian soul taking her place in that assembly would simply say - without envy or pride - this place and no other by his grace is where I dance to the divine Komos.

But then the conversation ended and we moved on to other topics.

Thomas goes on to explain theosis, and the intellectual process (the learning process) by which grace reveals to us the Divine Essence, first through hints, then through actions and, in the final analysis, through direct contact. Thomas calls theosis deiformitate in Latin, "deiformity," and says we shall grasp the divine essence to the degree of our deiformity.
Hence the intellect which has more of the light of glory will see God the more perfectly; and he will have a fuller participation of the light of glory who has more charity; because where there is the greater charity, there is the more desire; and desire in a certain degree makes the one desiring apt and prepared to receive the object desired. Hence he who possesses the more charity, will see God the more perfectly, and will be the more beatified.
I left it there until today when we came to the feast of St Bernard of Clairvaux.  In today's Office of Readings we cite St Bernard, writing 200 years before Aquinas as saying,
The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return. Should not a bride love, and above all, Love’s bride? Could it be that Love not be loved?
 Rightly then does she give up all other feelings and give herself wholly to love alone; in giving love back, all she can do is to respond to love. And when she has poured out her whole being in love, what is that in comparison with the unceasing torrent of that original source? Clearly, lover and Love, soul and Word, bride and Bridegroom, creature and Creator do not flow with the same volume; one might as well equate a thirsty man with the fountain.
  What then of the bride’s hope, her aching desire, her passionate love, her confident assurance? Is all this to wilt just because she cannot match stride for stride with her giant, any more than she can vie with honey for sweetness, rival the lamb for gentleness, show herself as white as the lily, burn as bright as the sun, be equal in love with him who is Love? No. It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the perfect union of two hearts that complete and total marriage consists. Or are we to doubt that the soul is loved by the Word first and with a greater love? 
Bernard has us wonder how it is possible that we - mortals as we are, and finite - can Love God, who is infinite and Love himself. How it must this relationship be ordered since it cannot be one of equals. How will she match "stride for stride with her giant" in love? Bernard sees that the bride loves the bridegroom by virtue of his love for her: God's love pouring into us allows us to love God - and others.

This, then is the heavenly hierarchy: CS Lewis and Dante see it extending through Purgatory and Hell. Our capacity to love - possessing more agape - is the degree to which we can be "Deiformed".

The smallest part of infinity is also infinity.

If our heart is open to God's love we can love him with the infinity he pours through us. We can love him as he loves us at least briefly.

The saints love us in the same way: with that infinite love that is not their own - yet is.

It pours out of them more perfectly on to us, for the act of Kenosis is the supreme act of charity. The saints shed on us God's love for us as we, opening, begin to pour it back and on our neighbours like streams of living water rising from within us.

Baptism begins the flow, Eucharist and Confession, prayer and meditation, contemplation and adoration, open and flow out the spillways on to those around us and return it thereby back to God. We cannot love infinitely from here, but we can love infinitely if God loves through us.

Here, in this place and no other, by his grace will I dance.

15 August 2019

The Last Enemy



JMJ

The Readings for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:


I have been having Senior Moments. I'm 55, these are to be expected. Actually, I'll be 55 in two weeks so close enough anyway...

I have been having Senior Moments: by which I mean I forget things. Where's my wallet? It's in my pocket. Where are my glasses? They’re in my hand. Where are my keys? Where are my keys? No really, where are my keys? They're not in my bag they're not in the pocket where they should be. They’re not in the coat. They’re not in the shirt I wore last night. They’re not in the pocket where they shouldn't be. They’re not in the other pocket of the coat. They’re not in the other bag that I haven't used in a week. They’re not in my pants from last night. Wait a minute. They’re in another pocket in the pants that I'm wearing. They are in a different pocket than I've ever put them in before. I have a sign on my door: it reminds me to carry my wallet, my phone, my keys, my rosary, and my teeth.

Senior Moments...

But the other day, I had one that terrified me: I was going to take a shower. Then there I was standing in the kitchen wrapped in a towel. I was dry. The towel was wet. So I knew I had taken a shower but I couldn't remember it. The floor was wet in front of the shower. I open the door the inside of the shower was wet. I could not remember having taken a shower. Still can't. I remembered later that I opened the shower to spray the after-shower cleaning stuff and I noticed that the guy who comes in twice a month to do things around my apartment, had actually scrubbed the chrome inside my shower. I remember noting that. But I don't remember taking a shower. It was terrifying because I’ve not lost a few minutes in time before. At least not that I remember...

And so this morning, I checked with one of my fellow coworkers of advanced age. She said, no: this is normal. Then she and I did an organ recital, let the reader understand.

Senior Moments...

St Paul says, Novissima autem inimica destruetur mors. The last enemy to be conquered is death.

Senior moments: my recent brush with cancer, my teeth falling out, your blood pressure, your eyesight, your liver disease and even - if you’re young enough not to have any of these yet, your very lack (compared to my having) is a sign of mortality.

We will both die. Remember. You too will die.

Mary’s falling asleep in the Lord, and her bodily assumption into heaven means that Senior Moments matter. When like to picture Mary as a young virgin. We think of her as beautiful, calm, loving, tender. We see light radiating from her beautiful peach colored face. If we have a more realistic icon, like the Tilma of Guadalupe, we see light radiating from her brown face. But she's always young. By the time of her death, however, she was old and decrepit. She was frail. She was weak: she needed a doctor all the time and she needed a young man to take care of her. St. John of Damascus teaches us that she freely chose to follow the pattern established by the maker in the fall. She became old, she weekend, and she died. But for Mary, death became something new. In fact for all Christians death is something new. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin teaches us not only Senior Moments matter but matter matters to God. Mary's falling asleep in the Lord and her bodily Assumption into heaven means not that God changes us into Spiritual Beings but that God changes our matter into what it was meant to be.

Let.
There.
Be.
Light.

We know, at this point in time, that light is both particles and waves. Somehow those particles and waves can coalesce into rays of light are matter - yet not - and that somehow those particles and waves form the tiniest quarks of matter, form the atoms and the cells that make up our bodies. Light courses through the chromosomes that make us into men and women, through the cell division and growth that brings us to maturity. Light radiates through the life that we have, and God, the Father of Lights, has entered in and restored what was lost.

Mary, as the Ark of the New Covenant, as the jar that contained the heavenly Manna, as the temple that held the glory of God, as all of Heaven that contains the Divinity not even a bit; Mary is a sign that you and I are living beings of matter becoming light.

Not some ghostly, fake “spiritual” light but physical light, living and breathing in the presence of God.

The scripture says that at the Transfiguration Jesus’ entire being became light. But it was still Jesus.

So also with you and I: the last enemy to be conquered is death. And when, in God’s time, death comes for you or I, by Mary’s prayers, we will spit in his eye. And he will laugh with us.

The Divine fire will catch us and raise us in glory in ways that we cannot imagine. Let there be light. “Not this body with all of its inconveniences,” said Father Albert, tonight at Mass (the seed for this meditation). Not this body with all its inconvenience and pain. But this body freed of inconvenience!

Mary's Assumption means where Jesus has gone we can go too. Mary's Assumption shows us that life is not ended for God's faithful people: it is only changed. No more senior moments. Only pure joy that we will never have to remember: because it will never end.

10 August 2019

The Luminous Mysteries of the Broken Road (reposted)


Antiphon: God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

In your baptism, O Christ, our God, you opened the pathway of initiation for us, into your Mysteries. I thank you for all who have moved me along this path, awkward and jerking though I have been. I've been on my way in for so long. And I have to thank those men who held the door open: the Pastor at the Marietta Baptist Tabernacle that wouldn't know a trinity from a hole in the ground, and did it all wrong... but he taught me how to swim. And Pastor Pinto who gave me communion first. And Jim Lowery who got me wet again - this time in all the right names, and it stuck... Then Paul Moore with Henrician hands, but wait we'll try again. And Bill Swing, who welcomed me back into Christ's flock after I had gone a Paganing. And then Father Victor, who Confessed, Chrismated, and Absolved me into the Church Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. There was another turn unexpected, and Father Michael welcomed me into communion with Peter. God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

At the wedding, O Christ, you changed the water into wine. The things we offer are not divine, but what we offer in good faith, you take, and change, and elevate. And all the things I thought I'd have to carry all this way, you let me drop. All the things that were not according to your plan. But each one taught me by not being yours, each one held me in arms that were not love... but so nearly there... that I could not but keep looking, more and more, in the right direction. Do what ever he tells you, and you said, love... and I tried loving and even through I was wrong, you took it - and drew it deeper into yourself, the jars were full, the guests were drunk: and you brought out the best wine last.  God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

In preaching and proclaiming the kingdom, O Christ, you laid out in words, in simple human terms, the divine truths of all time. And I would be woefully arrogant if I did not know and see all the places you have taught me. I would not be me if it were not for Pastor Pinto, Pastor Lowery, Jeanette and David, my Sunday School teachers, these people gave me love for the Bible. And Pastor Lowery opened the door to John Wesley's writings - and they, in turn, showed me the Church Fathers. And Mr Witkowsky opened my high school brain to history, and Dr Carlson confirmed the Freshman me in those mysteries. Jim Carse showed me the Tao and Games, and Frank Peters (SJ) showed me the Torah and the Church. Nina and then Starhawk danced me round the spiral for ten years, then Shadwynn called a change and Donald and Rick brought me back to Christ. And then they again opened to me the Fathers as well: and so out again to Fr Victor and Fr Joseph, to a wider Dance with Sare and Cam. In the end, though, stumbling along, it was Steve and Steve and Mom and Dad pointing the way. Then Michael. And again Father Michael, and last, my little brother, Joey... God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

On the Mountain, your truth was revealed. All things that are, are yours. Nothing that is isn't yours. Only, without you, nothing alone is strong. Your light is all - and there is naught but darkness where you are not. And by your light, we see light everywhere. And so I can thank you deeply, that I have known the joys of all the wrong places, and I have known those pains as well. I have never once stopped looking, but you were always further along, just a light around the corner. A couple of times I thought, let me rest here... but no, the light was higher up the mountain; further up, and further in. You were in the cloud and I, unknowing, stumbled right into your arms. God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

Bread and wine are your body and blood. And Christ, there, is the mystery in sum. The things of this earth are made divine - see it in water, see it in the wedding, see it in the words we use to proclaim you, see it by your light in all light: this broken world, is transubstantiated by your grace. The whole damned thing is lifted up and blessed and broken, and it is you that we receive when we take it up in love. Every fracture, every quake, every tear, every wet eye, sobbing lung, and running nose, is held up in your hands, every broken heart is not healed but rather is iconified by the offering, made into your image which is the only true image there ever was, is, or ever can be. What is not you is not. And under the weaving of failure, runs the water of blessing, changed into the wine of love. Under the waving of the rotted grains of earth is the bread of heaven - and the whiskey of life. You, God, this broken road, is your narrow path destroyed by us in our pride, and damning ourselves to walk the other way, you went behind us and said, "boo". Interception! God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.


04 August 2019

Mammon of Wickedness

JMJ

Read the Parable of the Crafty Servant
At that time, Jesus spoke to His disciples this parable: There was a certain rich man who had a steward, who was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear of you? Make an accounting of your stewardship, for you can be steward no longer.’ And the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do, seeing that my master is taking away the stewardship from me? To dig I am not able; to beg I am ashamed. I know what I shall do, that when I am removed from my stewardship they may receive me into their houses.’ And he summoned each of his master’s debtors and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred jars of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bond and sit down at once and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bond and write eighty.’ And the master commended the unjust steward, in that he had acted prudently; for the children of this world, in relation to their own generation, are more prudent than the children of the light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves with the mammon of wickedness, so that when you fail they may receive you into the everlasting dwellings.

Notice that it doesn't start out to by saying "The kingdom is like..." this is less a parable than an illustration in a homily. It has a point. But the point is so confusing! Today when I meditated on it I came to this idea...
At other times Jesus reminds us that "harlots and publicans" will enter the kingdom before the snarky righteous. If that is so... would we not want them praying for us? If we went about the world judging folks for their morality when they were not even yet Christians would we not be doing the same? 

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was a rich man from Turin, Italy.  He secretly cared for the poor with his personal income, doing errands, buying needed things, tending the sick and the dying. It is believed that in one such outreach he contracted Polio.  He sickened rather quickly in June of 1925 and then...


Although he was lying on his death bed on July 3rd, he could not forget his closest friends - the poor.  It was Friday, the day he would normally visit them, and he wanted the usual material assistance to be brought to them. He asked his sister to take a small packet from his jacket and, with a semi-paralysed hand, he wrote the following note to Giuseppe Grimaldi: "Here are the injections for Converso. The pawn ticket is Sappa's. I had forgotten it; renew it on my behalf."
When the priest who was attending him asked, "What if your grandmother were to call you to heaven?", he replied, "How happy I would be." But he immediately asked, "What about father and mother?" The priest replied, "Giorgio, you will not abandon them; you will live in spirit with them from heaven. You will give them your faith and your self-denial, you will continue to be one family."  These few words were enough to ease Pier Giorgio's final human concerns and he smiled, nodded his head and said, "Yes."
His earthly suffering ended at seven o'clock in the evening on July 4, 1925. His funeral was a triumph with the sight of hundreds of his poor following the coffin.  Then it became known to everyone, even to his own family, who Pier Giorgio truly was.
Although I believe this man was a Saint, he was made a saint in no small part by his love and charity, and the prayers of those he had affected.

We can't hold the world to a standard of Christian Morality. In fact, I can't expect Christian morality of most folks who call themselves Christian. Why would I try to enforce my understanding of divorce, marriage, and birth control for example, on others? We are not legalists: only following the law will not save anyone. If a country's entire legal code were based on laws tracible to the scriptures and yet no one had faith, that country would be as lost - maybe more so - as any other heathen nation.

The only reason we like "blue" laws is that they make us feel smug and safe.

Should I not rather pray for them, do charity, share generously even with the fallen and - if asked - preach the Kerygma, the basic plan of salvation? 

Once they desire to come into the Church, then we begin forming Disciples who have a moral code, a fasting tradition, and a promise of adherence to the magisterium of the Church. Which is to say that RCIA should be more of this second phase, Didache, rather than the first phase which should happen on the streets, in offices, in parks and shops, in the places where all of us evangelize.

Harlots, publicans, and all sorts of "the fallen" will enter the kingdom before me. Drug addicts, drug dealers, racists, "the other political party" (which ever that is)... I should ask them to pray for me as I dress their wounds, feed them, welcome them, and treat them like the fully-human, image of God that they are. I should welcome legal changes that protect them from abuse, that elevate their status as human persons - and that draw them out (not force them out or punish them out) of their fallen lives. For their work dehumanizes them even so.

But what about the political activism of the Church in areas like social justice? Why should the Church care about - and be politically active around - immigrants, suicide, racism, the death penalty, and abortion, to name a few such areas? Because these laws impact the human person and affect the ability of the Church to even share the Kerygma, to do her job in the public square. She cannot care for the poor, the sick, the outcast, the voiceless if the structures of society are engaged to marginalize them, brush them aside, or kill them. Some levels of dehumanization are final. And to be avoided.

And that - dehumanization in and by the world and rehumanization in the Church by God - is what drew hundreds of thousands into the Church in the Roman world. Slaves and Masters found themselves equally redeemed children of God before the Altar. Plebs, Freedmen, Barbarians, Patricians, men, and women, could kneel and sing together before the God that made them all.

It was entirely destructive of the Culture of Death that Rome had built, denying the equal personhood of everyone around them, sucking their wealth into her yawning maws, paving the wilderness with roads that - yes - helped spread the Gospel, but also ended the cultures that were colonized, destroyed the countrysides to which they came, and carried the Roman army to every corner of the known world. The practice of Rome was to divide and conquer: to fester local rivalries into wars, then to take sides and crush one side whilst fully colonizing the other. 

The Church had to use those same roads to come behind and heal the damage Rome had done - in some places all too well. The Church had to convince the Celts to evangelize the Danes and the Saxons; later she had to convince the Normans that the Saxons and the Celts were Christian people too.

Only humans can enter the Kingdom of God. The world, the flesh, and the devil will do everything to remove that notion from your heart, the Church must work, pray, and love to keep that notion firmly implanted in you, our culture, and our laws. It's possible that at the Last Day, the intercessions of your Divine Image may save me. Even if you never go to Church.