Faith: Best Defense is a Good Heart

Recently I watched Bill Maher’s 2008 comedy/documentary film, Religulous, a play on the words religion and ridiculous. As the title suggests, the the film is not subtle about its intent or treatment of the believers it mocks [think Borat Gone God]. Although I am a believer, I found the film useful in that it catalogs the typical attacks on people of faith. Given Maher’s well know adversarial views towards faith, it was surprising to see someone like Francis Collins put himself in a position of having to trust the line of questioning and editing by those hostile to his beliefs.

It was unsurprising to see many every day people — believers unprepared to defend those beliefs in coherent sound bites, let alone after editing for comedic effect — made to look foolish as they struggled to explain their beliefs under mostly playful taunting by Maher. It reminded me of the Grouch Marx line about not wanting to be part of any club which would have me as a member. To paraphrase, the last people you want defending the faith on film are those who don’t see how a Borat-like interview might make them look bad.

There was one pleasant surprise. I heard an obvious inconsistency in Maher’s attacks. When told that the New Testament does not contradict the Old Testament, but rather fulfills it, Maher’s reaction was that he was unimpressed given that the New Testament writers had the advantage of tailoring their work to fit Old Testament narratives they were familiar with. The problem with that assertion was that Maher immediately then proceeded to make an issue of how the virgin birth is only mentioned in two Gospels [Matthew & Luke] as a reason to doubt its accuracy. So in the first example, the Bible’s consistency is seen as contrived and in the second example, a lack of consistency is evidence of its unreliability.

Predictably, this Sunday’s ethernet homily by Fr Vallee sheds wisdom on how to think about and possibly defend the Good News:

The Gospel tonight presents us with a frightening and apocalyptic vision. Does it not strike you that passages like these have an oddly surreal and dreamlike character to them? There is a priest I once knew, not a terribly intelligent or well-educated priest, who insisted on interpreting these passages literally, as if Jesus were coming down to our parking lot any second now in a fiery chariot so that he could beat up the bad people and carry the good people to heaven. This interpretation is not only idiotic, it is heretical. All the way back to Augustine, the basic sense of Scripture has been understood as allegorical, not literal.

The key to understanding passages like this passage is to understand its dream-like quality. God speaks through human instruments and He speaks human words, in a human way. … The Apocalyptic passages from Luke are very much like Christian opera. They present us with beautiful and dramatic symbols which help us to understand what it means to be Christian in a sinful world. But they do not predict the end of the world, as if God were some sort of divine fortune teller.

To have faith is to learn to dream the dreams of God. The Gospel gives us a vision or a symbol of what life can be. To believe is to learn to live within that symbol and dream the dreams of God….

If you cannot grasp the beauty of that image with your heart, you will never understand what it means with your head. The apocalyptic passages of Luke, like the startling visions of John in Revelation, are not descriptions of how the world will end; they are extraordinary and operatic symbols that tell us what in means to be a Christian here and now in a world full of disgrace — and even more full of grace.

The email address to request to be put on Vallee’s email distribution list is Cioran262@aol.com. To see the entire homily click on ‘read more.’ Search for other Fr Vallee homilies in this blog by entering ‘Vallee’ in the search box in the upper left hand corner or look for Fr Vallee in the Labels.

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Fr Vallee Homily on Luke Prophecy — November 14 2010

I. Apocalypse
In today’s Gospel we are given a strange and scary vision of the end. We will be getting a lot of this as Luke’s Jesus approaches Jerusalem. Fire on the earth, wars, famines and plagues are predicted. Seems like some things never change! Remember before 2000, all of our computers were going to blow up at the same time. The comet was going to bring about the Apocalypse. Right until the present day, if the Tea Party people are to be believed, we are on the verge of socio-economic and moral meltdown. Jesus could not be more clear: “Yes, times are tough they always have been and always will be. But if you walk by faith and not by fear, not a hair on your head will be harmed.” There is always a good reason to panic and a better reason to have faith, which is why I was not a member of the moral majority and cannot join the Tea Party.

II. Philosopher
When I am not here at St. MT/Kevin’s, I teach in a seminary. I have one of the strangest of all jobs: I am a philosopher. It is my job to ask annoying and unanswerable questions, which doesn’t make me a lot of fun at parties. Anyway, here goes with the annoying questions: What do these strange and scary words from the St Luke’s Gospel mean? Do they literally predict a Second Coming or is there some deeper meaning?

III. The Gospel
The Gospel tonight presents us with a frightening and apocalyptic vision. Does it not strike you that passages like these have an oddly surreal and dreamlike character to them? There is a priest I once knew, not a terribly intelligent or well-educated priest, who insisted on interpreting these passages literally, as if Jesus were coming down to our parking lot any second now in a fiery chariot so that he could beat up the bad people and carry the good people to heaven. This interpretation is not only idiotic, it is heretical. All the way back to Augustine, the basic sense of Scripture has been understood as allegorical, not literal.

IV. The Key
The key to understanding passages like this passage is to understand its dream-like quality. God speaks through human instruments and He speaks human words, in a human way. Imagine if you went to the opera and saw Hansel and Gretel. In order to understand the opera, you must understand the literary form of the fable. If you do not, then you will completely misunderstand the work and think that there really are old witches who cook and eat lost children in the forest. My priest friend has made the same mistake with the words of Scripture. The Apocalyptic passages from Luke are very much like Christian opera. They present us with beautiful and dramatic symbols which help us to understand what it means to be Christian in a sinful world. But they do not predict the end of the world, as if God were some sort of divine fortune teller.

V. To believe is to dream the dreams of God
To have faith is to learn to dream the dreams of God. The Gospel gives us a vision or a symbol of what life can be. To believe is to learn to live within that symbol and dream the dreams of God. Our Lord Jesus is daily becoming present in our lives. He comes with all the power and glory of heaven made manifest on earth. His is the King of kings and Lord of Lords and we are washed clean in his blood. Most importantly, if we walk by faith, not fear, not a hair on our heads will be harmed.

If you cannot grasp the beauty of that image with your heart, you will never understand what it means with your head. The apocalyptic passages of Luke, like the startling visions of John in Revelation, are not descriptions of how the world will end; they are extraordinary and operatic symbols that tell us what in means to be a Christian here and now in a world full of disgrace — and even more full of grace.
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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