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Pentecost and Babel

As Christ Incarnated restores to human dignity the first man Adam, so Pentecost restores human unity to the disruption of Babel. Language, that means and measure of human communion, was the undoing of humanity at Babel. Again, just as in Eden, the motive was the aspiration of humankind to its own deification. The response from Heaven is to destroy the attempt. For, as God knows, as Satan knows well, and as man himself knows in times of truthfulness, in sobriety and humility, nothing is so calamitous for man as the loss of God. But in pride, drunk on self-worship, we forget what is most basic to our existence: We cannot both have God and be God. We must choose.

At Pentecost, miraculously, every man understood the word of God in his own language, for at Pentecost, the Apostles were endowed with that power to speak to men’s hearts in the language of Heaven. And those who had ears to hear did indeed hear.

And what does this mean on this plane where we live now? Locally, we have a young Polish priest in our parish, who took on the difficult task of learning our language. He speaks English fluently. He also speaks Spanish fluently—because we have a large Spanish-speaking population in our parish as well. He intends to be our shepherd and knows that he must speak the language of the sheep if they are to hear and know his voice.

On a broader plane, our popes have learned many languages and have spoken them fluently, albeit with the accent of their native tongue. They want to be our shepherd. Benedict XVI is multi-lingual, and I read somewhere that Pope St John Paul II spoke 14 languages! They never spoke to their sheep in a tongue foreign to them. The exception is Pope Francis, who refuses to speak English even to audiences composed entirely of English-speakers.

But those who want to deny Pentecost and embrace Babel have more than one means at their disposal. There is also the homicide called “stone-walling.” As everyone now knows, the real horror of the priest scandals, apart from the abuse of minors by priests, was the stone-walling by the bishops. Concerned entirely with self-protection and the maintenance of public image, they refused even to hear the cries of the victims; they denied them their very reality in order to deny the truth. What is that but to consign them to non-existence? And is that not murder? Strong word—but not to those who are victimized by this evil.

That works on a local level too. So many parish priests run from their parishioners, refusing to hear them, to talk to them, to engage with them. They deliver homilies from their safe distance, and they consent to hear confessions when they’re forced into spending the time for it. Otherwise, they keep to themselves, they socialize with each other, or with a small group of parishioners who, for one reason or another—it doesn’t finally matter—manage to be in the priest’s circle of friends. Few parishioners actually know their priests at all. They are stone-walled by their priests—whose habit is to pretend they’re not there so they’ll go away, they’ll disappear, they’ll cease to be. Buffered by deacons, sundry assistants, they claim overwork and intimidate those who seek them out and make them feel small.

And indeed, how many of us do that to each other? Ignore someone who’s a problem, who presents a difficulty we don’t want to deal with, or someone who has something to say that we don’t want to hear. And then, if they’re persistent, we can always find self-righteous reasons to condemn them for speaking…. accuse them of gossiping…or, down where I live, of not being “nice”…accuse them of anything that will allow us to shame them into silence.

Babel continues.

Teaching a Class on Chesterton’s Essays

A few weeks ago I guest taught a class for the Carolina Institute for Faith & Culture at Southern Wesleyan University. I’d assigned the students two of Chesterton’s essays, “The Architect of Spears” and “The Shop of Ghosts”, which is the focus of the lecture and discussion. The class was videoed so those wishing to “sit in” vicariously can do so by following this link:

Jigsaw Puzzles

I don’t know how old these puzzles are, but I’d guess that jigsaw puzzle metaphors are nearly as old as the puzzles themselves. People are always “putting the pieces together” or saying something like “all the pieces fit,” etc. The picture appears, enlightenment occurs, or an epiphany is experienced.

A jigsaw puzzle a good time-killer, patience-builder, and perseverance exercise. I see them in nursing homes a lot. They sharpen cognitive skills and improve manual dexterity. Plus, they can be completed alone; one doesn’t need companions or fellow gamers. They’re popular with old people. And that’s probably why I’ve taken to them now. The only difference is that I complete them on an iPad. Every morning, right after morning prayer, I turn to the daily jigsaw puzzle. And I noticed a few things:

You complete the border first. Whether your puzzle is small or large, what you’re doing when you complete a puzzle is bringing order to chaos. And the first step in that process is to set boundaries, limits, laws, rules, edges. You may also call these conventions or traditions. What you may not do is disregard them, consider them irrelevant, or attempt to complete the puzzle without them. Eventually, they will rule whether you like it or not.

Every single piece has its place. Regardless of how un-matching it appears or how misshapen, it has its place. And it’s absolutely necessary. Its place may be beyond your view at the moment but it will appear, sooner or later. Don’t get obsessed with finding its place; work on what you have and at the right time, the piece will fit perfectly in the place designed for it.

If a piece doesn’t fit, set it aside. You may notice that those pieces which surprisingly don’t fit are usually those you were so sure of. The more often that happens, the more quickly you learn that certainty about your judgment may need to be modified. You make fewer mistakes then.

There are no missing pieces. A piece may indeed be lost, but it doesn’t not exist. You just haven’t found it yet. Keep looking, especially at those pieces that appear unlikely. There are no mistakes in the puzzle. You must have faith in the designer of the puzzle.

And that’s the most important thing: No one assembles a puzzle of a blank, empty page. When the puzzle is completed, it will actually be something. It will not be nothing.

Sit down, armed with patience, with faith in the designer, and a willingness to submit to the design. Then assemble the pre-cut border and begin. Take your time. Don’t force anything. Real order arises from chaos; it is never imposed on it: Your purpose is not to create the design but to discover it.

I have come to see my daily jigsaw puzzle as a continuation of my morning prayer.