Deals in the Dark

I just saw the news over at Whispers in the Logia that the New York state government has redefined its own understanding of marriage. He quoted Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn: “It is mystifying that this bill would be passed on the last day of an extended session under the cover of darkness.”

To me, this resounds of another political action that took place at a “special session,” under the cover of darkness . . .

Men, who think they have power, casting out what is truly good in exchange for what is politically favorable.

This is a sad day for the State of New York, and for our nation. We have divorced ourselves from the true definition of marriage, and offered instead a cheap whore.

Abram’s Unrighteousness

Sarah Supplies Abraham Hagar by Adriaen van der Werff

In today’s 1st reading, we hear of the account of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar (Genesis 16). I have often seen people misinterpret this chapter or use it to prove what it speaks against. It has to be understood in the proper context. To get a bit of that, let’s look at yesterday’s reading (Genesis 15:1-18).

In Genesis 15, God tells Abram (who is at this point childless) that he will have a son. In fact, He tells Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. At this time, Abram and Sarai are quite old–beyond child-bearing years–but Abram trusts God anyway, and God “credited it to him as an act of righteousness”(Gen 15:6). That was good; Abram trusted what God said. Unfortunately, He didn’t trust God enough to make it happen. After not conceiving for a while, Sarai thinks: maybe this son isn’t supposed to come through me, so (instead of turning to God for help) she devises a plan to ensure that her husband has the promised heir. She offers her maid, Hagar, to her husband as a concubine. Though this may have been a custom for some people at the time, this was not what God wanted.

God created man and woman to enter into a marriage and remain in that marriage “until death do they part,” and the only way God wants man and woman to commit the marital act is within a marriage. God created the first covenant with Adam, the husband of a marriage. Here, Abram broke his marriage covenant by sleeping with a woman who was not his wife–both an offense against his wife (even though it was her idea) and an offense against God’s first covenant with man. As always, when a seed is planted by a bad act, bad fruits come.

Abram is generally looked at as a great man, and that he was, but he was not perfect. Here (and in other places) he chose poorly. Although he was trying to do what he thought God might possibly want, he forsook his conscience in order to accomplish the task. He chose to get an heir “his way.” To be sure, Sarai and Hagar were complicit in the act, so they were all accountable–they chose to get an heir “their way.” They all broke the marriage covenant, and there were consequences. Too often, I have heard people try to use this account as an argument against the Judeo-Christian view of marriage. They just don’t get it. Not every story in the Bible shows how to do things rightly–often it shows how not to do things, and this is one of them. Lesson of the day: don’t commit the marital act with someone who is not your spouse (also, there are right ways and wrong ways to bring a child into this world: don’t try to have a baby in a way that God does not want).

As we continue to read, we will see that the son of this union (Ishmael) is not the heir that God promised; Isaac is that man. As God’s messenger predicted (verse 12), much strife between Hagar/Ishmael and Abra(ha)m’s true heir, Isaac will come. This will lead to great contention and battles down through the years. The Muslims claim their lineage through Ishmael. The Christians & Jews claim their lineage through Isaac. Thus, we see in the many wars between Muslims and Christians/Jews that Ishmael and Isaac have been fighting down through the centuries, and it all started with a sin against the covenant of marriage. Obviously this story is one of what not to do.

Redemptive Suffering

Redemptive suffering is the concept of being able to suffer for someone else’s benefit. It is the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross: God took on human flesh man so that He could suffer in His human nature (His divine nature is perfect, so it could not suffer). That suffering was not for some sadistic purpose; rather, it was for atonement. Jesus died on the cross to help us. His death paid the debt of our sins. The picture above is of the “scapegoat” the animal in Jewish culture on whom the people’s sins were cast and who was driven away into the desert (a foreshadowing of Jesus who would really take the people’s sins away). Every imperfect act of ours separates us from God (who is ultimate perfection) and makes us the devil’s property (think of Edmund in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe–see the video below, particularly 3:20-5:20).

Sin also enslaves us–it is truly addicting (when we sin, it becomes more habitual to sin again and easier to sin more gravely). Prior to Jesus’ death, we had no way of repaying the debt of our sins, so even those “good” people still committed some sins in their lives, and their souls were not in a state where they could enter Heaven.

God loves us so much that He became one of us in order to die for us (see the rest of that movie clip, understanding Aslan as a representation of Jesus). Jesus’ death is applied to us particularly through the sacraments. In the Sacrament of Baptism, we are washed with water, but it is not just symbolic; it actually affects our souls. When someone is baptized, he is drowned; His life that he lived up to that point is ended–including all sin (Original Sin, which we inherit from Adam and Eve, and any actual sins, which we have committed up to that point)–and he is raised to a new life for God. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) applies Jesus’ death on the cross to us to forgives us of any sins we commit after Baptism (provided that we are humble enough to own up to them, that we tell them to God through one of His priests, that we are sorry, and that we intend to try not to do them again). The Sacrament of Holy Communion (the Eucharist) is the main sacrament. It is the bread and wine that are changed into Jesus’ Body and Blood at Mass every day. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is made present on the altar at every Catholic Mass. That sacrifice is re-offered to the Father, and then we are allowed to partake in it. We consume what used to be bread/wine and has now become Jesus’ Himself. We eat His living Flesh (offered for us) and drink His living Blood (shed for us) under the appearance of bread and wine. God became man to die for us and give us these sacraments (and the 4 others, which I won’t go into here).

In the same way, God also allows us to suffer for others. In our pain (of whatever sort: mental, physical, social, etc.), we can unite ourselves with Him on the cross and offer that suffering as a sacrifice to help other people. We understand that all suffering we go through now is trivial compared to the complete joy to be experienced forever in Heaven or (conversely) the complete agony to be experienced forever in Hell. We welcome suffering insofar as it makes us more like Jesus, who suffered for us, and enables us to suffer for others. Though I may have great pain in suffering (and I may lose a lot of temporal goods), it is worth it to save someone’s soul from eternal damnation. The suffering through which I go, I can offer up to God because He often wishes to use us as tools for bringing about His mercy. In His mercy, He might grant some sinner extra graces to see the wrongs in his actions, and recognize the harm he causes through his sins. This may be enough for the sinner to repent, to turn back to God and seek forgiveness. That may ultimately lead the sinner to be in Heaven instead of Hell for all of eternity. Thus, the sacrifices we Catholics offer up to God are acts of love–to love is to will for what is ultimately best for someone. While I may not like the daily trials which life throws at me, I recognize that they are opportunities to love people (those around me, or those whom I may never meet). They are opportunities to offer myself up and take their punishment on my flesh, so that they might one day return to a relationship with God avoid eternally separating themselves from Him: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” [John 15:13]