Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 390

And as for you, Capernaum: Will you be exalted to heaven?
You will go down to the netherworld.

For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."

Growing up in the mid-western Catholicism of the 1950's I remember presumption as one of the more serious sins. Although I conformed to the six laws of the Church and the innumerable laws of civil society, I should not presume I would go to heaven or, to use the Protestant word, be saved. I should still cultivate an attitude of fear and trembling before the sacred mysteries of faith. The nun, the priest, the church, the sanctuary, the tabernacle and the Most Blessed Sacrament demanded and deserved great reverence. If I walked or drove past a Catholic church or cemetery I should sign myself with the cross; I should be afraid not to do so. 

This training met some resistance with the onset of cynicism in American society during the 1960's. Resistance to the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the furor around birth control and Humanae Vitae and many other circumstances created an atmosphere more tolerant of presumption. 

Advertisers in particular told me, "You deserve a break today!" Baby boomers were special, entitled and privileged.  Americans in general were supposed to colonize the world with our culture of privilege. There would be no more minorities; everyone had the right to think, feel, speak and buy whatever he could afford. Laws might prohibit abortion, guns, gambling, Sunday shopping, divorce, and recreational drugs but they could be changed for the entitled generation. With a new millennium even "same sex marriage," which had been both unmentioned and unimaginable, became not only a privilege but a right for those who wanted it. 

In this Brave New World everyone was saved; Hell, Purgatory and Limbo were no more. A Good God who loves everyone unconditionally must assume everyone into heaven immediately upon their death, regardless of their deeds. 

Theologians tell us presumption is a sin against the virtue of hope. Where hope stands in eager waiting before a generous God, presumption ignores the Presence of God. Where hope wonders what gifts might appear as unexpected adventures unfold and insurmountable difficulties arise, presumption wants no challenges . Presumption knows what it wants, expects and demands it. 

Where hope ennobles, presumption enslaves. Hope allows the Holy Spirit to bless one with courage when distressed and joy when disappointed. It recognizes the sovereign freedom of God to give and withhold gifts, and remains confident that His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches over me. Presumption disappointed plunges into angry despair. 

Finally, hope recognizes presumption and does penance for it. If I am disappointed I know it comes from my expectations and not from God's failure. Presumption cannot be converted to hope; it clings to itself and bitterly resents every challenge. 

In today's gospel Jesus uses the strongest possible language to warn against this sin. It must suffer the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, even as hope confidently waits God's mercy. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.