Posts Tagged ‘Junipero Serra’

imageBlessed Too Are the Paranoid

Sometimes the Beatitudes seem idealistic to the point of absurdity.  Take “purity of heart,” for instance.  What in the world does it mean to be pure of heart?  What’s so blessed about it?  And why would any intelligent person want to be pure of heart anyway?

At first blush the pure of heart appear to be little more than innocents abroad.  They’re the sort of people with whom conmen and muggers have a field day, because with them the pickings seem so easy.  They are the lambs who happily march off to the slaughter, oblivious to the fate that awaits them.  Who in their right mind would opt to be such docile prey?

Were Jesus to rework the Beatitudes for a 21st-century audience, and were he playing to the crowd, he’d definitely have to make some accommodation to modern tastes.  For one thing, he’d need to account for the street-smarts that many value as a virtue today.  Out would be ideals like purity of heart, because they only lead to trouble.  In would be a radically different perspective on the world, and better Beatitudes would naturally follow.

image“Blessed are the paranoid, for they will see enemies behind every bush.”  “Blessed are the deeply suspicious, for they’ll never be disappointed.”  And “blessed are the pessimists, for they shall see things going from bad to worse.”  Those would be Beatitudes better suited to our brave new world.

Well, here’s a chance for Christians to put on their counter-cultural hats and stick to the words of Jesus with a rigid literalism. The fact is, Jesus very likely meant what he said about the pure of heart, and he had not a shred of doubt that such people are truly blessed.

It’s important to keep in mind that Jesus never advised his disciples to be naive or simple, and on at least one occasion he counseled them to be sly as serpents and innocent as doves.  So attentiveness to the world and its ways is a must, he suggests.  Precisely because of that, the disciples of Jesus must be sure that their eyes always are wide open, so that they can survey the entire panorama.  They can’t spend all their time looking for the demon behind every door, because that’s only part of the picture.  In fact, there’s all sorts of other stuff going on, and they ought not miss any of it.

Given what’s out there to see, through what filter do we want to sift all the data?  Do we really want to gaze out with unabashed purity of heart?  Do we really want to be people in whom there is no guile?  What’s the benefit of such an approach?

imageOne quick pay-back is a freshness of vision as we see things we’d not noticed before.  If we’re open to others, for example, we might very well discover some of the goodness we had overlooked in them.  If we begin to trust others, we could very well conclude that a great many people are worthy of our trust.  If we begin to give others the benefit of the doubt, we might find that some people — if not a whole bunch of people — are trying to do the right thing and to do the best they can.  And as an added bonus, we just might realize that others trust us in return, and they try to give us the benefit of the doubt.

At the risk of reducing the Beatitudes to a series of either/or options, then, I do think that Jesus intended just such an approach when he speaks about purity of heart.  There are indeed two ways of looking at life, and we have to choose.  On the one  hand, we can look at life through the lens of paranoia, and we’ll see evil lurking everywhere.  In such a world the devil roams freely, unchecked, and things only get worse and worse.  People, as instruments of the evil one, can scarcely be trusted, ever.  And since people generally live up to the expectations we heap on them, we’re never disappointed when we expect the worst of them.

imageBut consider the alternative — the lens of purity of heart.  There’s no denying that the world is a mixed bag of good and evil, but the pure of heart are lucky enough to get frequent glimpses of the good.  They’re not afraid to draw the curtains open and discover that God is at work in the world after all.  The pure of heart also have the courage to let the scales fall from their eyes, just long enough to realize that God does some pretty awesome things.  And God does them through our friends and neighbors, and even through strangers.  Who would have thought!

Anyway, that’s my take on purity of heart.  The pure of heart get the chance to enjoy the big picture, and they’re privileged to see God using some very imperfect people to do great things.  Meanwhile, the paranoid have their work cut out for them too, even if the world they survey is much narrower.  Ironically, blessed indeed are the paranoid, because they always seem to find what they’re looking for.  But blessed too are the pure of heart, for they get to see God.  That’s not all that bad of a choice.


+On June 19th and 20th I was in San Francisco to attend the annual investiture of the Western Association of the Order of Malta.  I had two good reasons for being there, the first of which was my sponsorship of new member Maureen Wright, a long-time friend.  I was also a member of the planning committee for the investiture, so I had a personal stake in the smooth running of the events.

On the 19th the investees and their sponsors gathered for a two-hour vigil service at Mission Dolores, the 18th-century mission founded by Junipero Serra.  The next day we gathered for the investiture and Mass at the Jesuit Church of Saint Ignatius, a gorgeous baroque church on the campus of the University of San Francisco.

It was a good liturgy by the Jesuit definition, since no one got hurt.  All in all things turned out wonderfully, despite one small disappointment.  At the hotel entrance, as we waited for our transport to Mission Dolores, a small crowd had gathered outside.  Naturally we assumed they were there to greet us, but we were wrong.  They were waiting for the Boston Red Sox, who boarded the bus in front of ours.  And unlike the Red Sox, no one asked for our autographs, except when it came time to pay the bills.

image+Occasionally I write articles for various publications, and here is the link to a piece I wrote  last winter on Pope Gregory the Great, who served as pope from 590-604.  The article appeared in the spring 2014 issue of The Journal, the newsletter of the Western Association of the Order of Malta.  It is part of a series of profiles of several doctors of the Church.

+During the past week four of our monks in simple vows have been attending the annual formation program for young monks, held this year at Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA.  In addition to hearing about monastic topics, it gives monks in formation from houses across the country the chance to meet and compare notes.   Brothers Richard, Lucian, Eric and David are attending the two-week conference.

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