Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Captivated by Her Own Beauty

Captivated by Her Own Beauty:
Ezekiel 16:1-15

“Thus the word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations. Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem:

‘By origin and birth you are of the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, the day you were born your navel cord was not cut; you were neither washed with water nor anointed, nor were you rubbed with salt, nor swathed in swaddling clothes. No one looked on you with pity or compassion to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out on the ground as something loathsome, the day you were born. Then I passed by and saw you weltering in your blood. I said to you: Live in your blood and grow like a plant in the field. You grew and developed, you came to the age of puberty; your breasts were formed, your hair had grown, but you were still stark naked.

Again I passed by you and saw that you were now old enough for love. So I spread the corner of my cloak over you to cover your nakedness; I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you; you became mine, says the Lord GOD. Then I bathed you with water, washed away your blood, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you with an embroidered gown, put sandals of fine leather on your feet; I gave you a fine linen sash and silk robes to wear. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms, a necklace about your neck, a ring in your nose, pendants in your ears, and a glorious diadem upon your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver; your garments were of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. Fine flour, honey, and oil were your food. You were exceedingly beautiful, with the dignity of a queen.

You were renowned among the nations for your beauty, perfect as it was, because of my splendor which I had bestowed on you, says the Lord GOD. But you were captivated by your own beauty, you used your renown to make yourself a harlot, and you lavished your harlotry on every passer-by…’"

Parallels Between the Old and the New Church:

The Lord’s admonition to the House of Israel through the prophet Ezekiel contains a timeless message for the people of God. At the time, Israel had been divided and conquered by her enemies. Following the conquest, the people of God had also been deported to foreign lands. Sadly, they did not know when they would return.

However, before the crisis ravaged the House of Israel she was rich and self-assured. Even worse, she desired to be like other nations by worshiping their foreign gods. The Israelites had forgotten what the Lord had done for them in Egypt; that He liberated them from the bonds of slavery. Their ingratitude and forgetfulness is an important consideration because there are striking parallels between the House of Israel in the Old Testament and the Catholic Church.

As for the Catholic Church, from the founding of America during the 1600’s to the mid-twentieth century, she was an unwelcome pilgrim and an outsider in many respects. In fact, during the 1700’s she was persecuted. Some of her churches were even burned. And in the 1800’s the Church was tolerated but nevertheless ostracized by the mainstream of Protestant America. Keep in mind that it wasn't until the early twentieth century that Catholics began to make inroads into the public square. In 1928, Al Smith, the 42nd governor of New York, became the first Catholic Presidential nominee of a major political party.

However, with the popularity of the 1950’s weekly television program, Life is Worth Living, and the political ascendancy of Senator John F. Kennedy and his successful bid for the presidency, Catholicism was finally accepted into the mainstream of America by the 1960’s. Few know that from 1940 to 1960 the Catholic population in the United States had doubled. As such, it was no longer taboo to be Catholic. By this social acceptance on a nationwide scale, Catholics enjoyed an elevated status. But with any kind of privileged status comes a strong inclination towards social conformity; and with social conformity comes compromise.

Back to the Old Testament: When the Israelites finally settled in the Promised Land after wandering in the desert for forty years, they eventually felt at home. They too felt were accepted by their neighbors. As such they no longer desired to be ruled by God through the Judges of Israel. These anointed Judges enjoyed a special charism through which the Lord would govern his people. Nevertheless, the Israelites wanted to be like other nations who were ruled by kings.

The Price of Conformity:

The last of the Judges was the prophet Samuel. It was to him that the elders of Israel took their request. Samuel, in turn, went to the Lord on behalf of the people. God granted their wish. He said to Samuel, “Now grant their request; but at the same time, warn them solemnly and inform them of the rights of the king who will rule them." (I Samuel 8: 4-9)

Through this social conformity they went from enjoying freedom as sons and daughters under God’s governance to being reduced to indentured servants of the king. They failed to consider that the rights of kings at the time were considerable. In fact Samuel warned them of what an all-powerful king would be like:

• "The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot.

• He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.

• He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers.

• He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials.

• He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves.

• He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work.

• He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.

The Lord then adds: “When this takes place, you will complain against the king whom you have chosen, but on that day the LORD will not answer you." (I Samuel 11-18)

Being accepted by mainstream society, a good number of Catholics began to feel at home with society. The noble mission of ecumenical outreach to members of other religions and the world progressed into an outright conformity to other religions and the world. The distinction between legitimate ecumenism and conformism was blurred. Much of what makes a Catholic a Catholic was lost in the process. In short, when more Americans became dependent on a secularized State, these same Catholics followed. Like the Israelites, not a few members of the Church covet another king.

The cry, “We have no king but Caesar” echoes within the walls of many Catholic institutions. This, because they grow tired of the laws of God; the very laws which keep them free. And so they forge an allegiance with a political party or advocates of a big and powerful government. Is this not what many in our Church are doing? Many complain about the so-called “autocratic” nature of the Catholic hierarchy but have nothing to say about the looming threat of an all-powerful State. In fact, they welcome its perks.


God reminded Israel through the prophet Ezekiel about their humble origin and how He lifted her out of the mud. But, as the Lord Himself said, she was captivated by her own beauty. Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) also reminded Catholics of their dignity. In a sermon he said, "Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God's own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition.” By that time, the Church had been legalized and mainstreamed into what was left of the fallen Roman Empire. Still, she managed to remember her humble origins throughout most of the first millennium. But whenever the Church grew powerful during the second millennium, whenever she was captivated by her own beauty, she ended up paying a high price.

Today, we, the Catholics of the twenty-first century, are paying the price of a privileged status that was bestowed upon us by society during the 1960’s. In the process of becoming accepted by society, Catholics began to live like members of that society. In fact, today the average Catholic and the average American are hardly distinguishable in their sexual practices and political beliefs. No longer the outsiders we once were, we forgot what it means to be a prophetic “sign of contradiction” to all the sinful and disordered in society. We grew comfortable with the world liking us. It can even be said, like the Israelites, we want to be ruled the way others want to be ruled. Evidently, more and more Americans want to be ruled by an all-powerful State.

This was all made possible because we were captivated by our own beauty. But there is a cure to this amnesia. And that cure is to remember who made us beautiful.