(Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13)
Are we good, or are we wicked? A question we may have stopped asking, settling for a belief in a fundamental, infinitely perfectible humanity; or for a belief that we can never be totally free from sin here on earth. I myself believe in the second option, but I also have observed, which supports my opinion that we aren’t very good, that we are too caught up in the crises of the moment in the world and in the Church to be able to take a breath and ask the question: Are we good, or are we wicked?
Jesus told his disciples that they were wicked, and I’m sure Jesus doesn’t make mistakes. And if they were wicked, are any of us any better? Have the passing centuries seen a progressive improvement in the behavior of His disciples? Or in the rest of the world for that matter? Are we better people in 2022 that they were in AD 30-33?
I know that there is the popular opinion that answers that question in the affirmative. We have, people say, made progress. We have more tolerance, and we allow more people more rights. But if we would sit each other down for a face-to-face and heart-to-heart, we would come around to admitting that we know that we’re not very good. There’s still so much more progress to be made—we fall so woefully short—we just can’t make it over the hump into human paradise.
What if, however—and what about those who have done—we did as we are told and asked the Father for the Holy Spirit. Something only possible to those who believe that God is their Father, is, actually, The Father.
The real question, the one we almost never ask out loud—those of us who still believe that we’re going to die—though we may secretly ask ourselves—though most often it’s a very deep secret—is: In spite of the fact that none of us are very good, will God still let us live?
A fundamental Catholic belief is that of adoption—ours by God. He is our Father, and we are His children. The deepest Christian identity—deeper than gender or sex or ethnicity—way deeper that ethnicity—is that of being a child of God. In order to answer the question—What are you?—most truly we would have to say, “I am a child of God.” And that before and beyond anything else I am. For if I’m not a child of God, then what am I? A passing shadow, a hazy wisp of morning fog, a here-today-gone- tomorrow, no more substantial than gossamer thread in spite of the best public health mitigations, or the most technologically advanced miracle vaccine.
We have yet to achieve our desired control—a desire which is infinite—over our passing away. That is probably why there is so little, if any, public discourse about it. When was that last time any of us had a discussion about the brevity of human life?
The lack of control over the passing away that is human life is also a lack of control over being good. In order to be good and not wicked, as Jesus thinks we are, we would have to control our thoughts and behavior all of the time. Everyone would say that that’s not possible. If someone is in control all of the time, then they’re probably mentally ill, or at least extremely uptight. No one thinks such control is possible, or even desirable—what would that do to life’s spontaneity?—and everyone knows that we can’t control the day of our departure; unless we commit suicide and that would defeat the purpose of wanting to finally be able to live forever here on earth.
How long have we been wicked? Well, there is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah; that goes back quite a way. There is also Adam and Eve and the original sin, and that goes back to the beginning. How long? Since the foundation of the world. We’ve never been very good and we still aren’t.
Abraham bartered for 10 good people in Sodom. He bartered in vain. There weren’t 10 good people in Sodom. There were maybe six—Lot and his family, and since Lot offered the lusting Sodomites his two virgin daughters, he may not have been all that good either.
When the two angels came to Sodom, they told Lot that they would pass the night in the town square. Lot reacts as I would react to anyone wishing to spend the night on the streets of St. Louis. “A good way to get shot.” He manages to get them into his house and its hospitality, at which point the town, all of it, “to the last man,” show up. Then we discover what Lot, though maybe not Abraham, already knew, that there wasn’t one good man in Sodom.
Is there one good man on earth? Today? There are saints—or else how could holy Church declare anyone to be a saint?—but saints come from an assent to being adopted by The Father as one of His children. We don’t have to agree to being one of His children. He doesn’t force it on us. We can choose to be bad which is what anyone is until he dies in Baptism.
God does something to us in Baptism that is beyond our control. It is also something we wouldn’t willingly do on our own. What he does is kill us. In Baptism I die, then I am buried, then He raises me to new the new life that is not this life lived like the not very good people live it now, will live it in the future, and have lived it from the beginning.
After Baptism, we call upon God as Abba but not because we are deserving and good and in control. The death of Baptism, like natural, inevitable death is the complete loss of control. Faith and hope are knowing that there is a life after that complete loss of control.
Jesus leads his disciples to knowing that they are to ask for the Holy Spirit by telling them to seek, to ask, and to knock. The asking, seeking, and knocking are completely generalized and totally unspecified. Ask for what? Seek what? Knock where?
He doesn’t say, and we don’t know. That’s the point—We don’t know what to ask for, or what to seek, and at which door to knock. This is sure—We will ask for the wrong thing; what we seek will be for the wrong thing, and we will knock at the wrong door. The solution isn’t to find out what to ask for, or what to seek, or the door with the most desirable of prizes behind it. The solution is to ask the Father for what He will give—the Holy Spirit.
God is for most of us today the personification of the super welfare state—a dispenser of goods and services—mostly medical services. He is not so for the saints.
I write this on the feast day of St. Mary of Magdala. She, the legend goes, sought to get rid of Pontius Pilate—the career bureaucrat par excellence; though more brutal than most; though most are brutal in a banal way. She had the courage to go see Tiberius Caesar carrying with her a hard boiled egg. When she told the Caesar that Jesus had risen from the dead, he told her that was the dumbest thing he had ever heard in his life. The egg she held in her hand might as well turn red. And it did.
So, too, our lives. We carry our lives in our hands. Believing, knowing, that we rise from the dead in Christ Jesus, our lives also turn red.