Are Americans intellecutally incapable of following the Gospel?

Gal. 1:11-19;
Luke 8:5-15.*

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, in Memory of the Fathers at the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

The Fourth Sunday after the Holy Cross.

The Holy Martyrs Nazarius, Gervase, Protasius & Celsus.

Our Venerable Mother Paraskevia of Trnovo.

The Passing of the Blessed Priest & Martyr Roman Lysko in 1949.

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1:22 PM 10/18/2012 — Last week, as we were continuing our exposition of Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, I made reference to how the Apostle would say the same thing about the true faith in Galatians that he said last week to the Corinthians; and, here he is saying it, in the Apostolic reading provided for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost.
     The point that he's making so forcefully here is that the truth he preaches does not come from any human source, but from God. He goes on to make several points in the letter, telling the Galatians that his commission as an Apostle did not have to come from the Twelve in Jerusalem, but rather from his own direct revelation from Christ at his conversion, and emphasizes the point by saying that he did not go right away to Jerusalem to get his “certificate of authenticity,” if you will, from Peter, but stayed for three years in Arabia, during which time he had his run-in with the King of Damascus that he spoke about last week in his letter to the Corinthians. He did, of course, finally make his way to Jerusalem, as he tells us today, where Peter, over the objections of the other Apostles, confirms Paul's Apostleship; and, with that, Paul is off again to convert more people to Christ.
     So, he's not wasting any time with the internal politics of Church bureaucracy; he has no time for it. He's on fire with the love of Christ. And this point is punctuated in this brief passage by his passing reference to the fact that he, himself, prior to his conversion, was a persecutor of the Church. I'm not sure exactly why he brings it up, unless it's just to emphasize for the Galatians the completeness of his conversion—that they have no reason to doubt his convictions at this point, especially since he now has his “certificate of authenticity” from Peter. St. John Chrysostom speculates that it may have been to illustrate that such a sudden conversion from such an opposite way of life could not have been possible without the direct intervention of Christ, which would support even further Paul's claim to Apostleship.
     But what I would like to offer for your meditation today is directly related to the manner of Paul's conversion, and which he, himself, states in the very first line of passage: “But I make known to you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11,12). Or, as I said just a moment ago, the truth he preaches does not come from any human source, but from God.
     Now, that may seem simple and straight-forward at first hearing, and its meaning self-evident, but it's necessary to let it sink in, because it goes against the grain of our American legalistic mentality which tends to view every behavioral convention as some sort of man-made rule. The notion of Divine Law is simply not a part of our communal psyche. Take, for example, the subject of abortion. Prior to 1973, abortion was illegal in this country; after 1973, it was legal. And you would be surprised—I would hope—how many people there are who, without batting an eye, would interpret that to mean that, prior to Roe vs. Wade, abortion was wrong, and now it's right. The secular, legalistic, rule-of-law mentality has so seeped into the pores of our societal skin, that many of our fellow citizens no longer have any moral compass to guide them other than the law.
     And I'm not simply speaking of atheists and other non-church going people; even believing Christians have a problem with this. I remember Bill O'Reilly, who openly identifies himself has a practicing Catholic, having an argument on his program with someone about something that was taught by the Catholic Church, and calling this particular teaching a “rule” of the Church. Well, when you call something a “rule,” the implication is that someone in the Vatican decided to make this rule, and that, sometime in the future, someone else could decide to unmake the rule; that's how purely man-made rules work. That priests of the Latin Church cannot be married is clearly a rule of the Church, that we must fast for an hour before receiving Holy Communion is clearly a rule of the Church, that we must participate in Divine services on Sundays and a few other days during the year is clearly a rule of the Church. That human life is sacred is not a rule of the Church, it's Divine Law; the Pope couldn't change it if it wanted to. The Church teaches it, but not because the Church invented the rule, but because she received that teaching from Christ.
     It's this distinction between the laws of man and the laws of God that our secular, legalistic society prevents so many people, even Christians, from grasping.
     Now, you and I know this instinctively: when we go to confession and tell Christ, through his priest, that we missed Church on a particular Sunday, we do so because we recognize that as a sin; but it's only a sin because the Church says it's a sin; and, Christ has given his Church that authority: “Whatever you declare bound on earth is bound in heaven.” If, on the other hand, we go to confession to confess that we murdered our mother-in-law, that, too, is a sin; but, it's not a sin because the Church says it's a sin, it's a sin because God says it's a sin: “Thou shalt not kill.” You and I understand the difference, but there are a lot of people out there who don't. To them, everything taught by the Church has the same authority. In their minds, the Pope could simply decide that abortion is moral just as he could easily decide one day to eliminate the Lenten Fast. That's the consequence of generations of Americans whose knowledge of the world around them, and even of their own Church, comes primarily from television, which is not under the direction of people of faith.
     So, in returning to the Blessed Apostle Paul's opening salvo—that the truth he preaches does not come from man, but from God—you can see how that statement, as simple as it sounds, is pretty loaded, probably even more so for us than it was for him. After all, he was first a Jew, then a Christian, who lived in an age of faith. We are Christians, too; but, we live in a very different world, a world in which the grace and providence of God is not presumed. And when someone approaches us, as happens from time to time, and asks us, “What does your Church teach about this?” it's incumbent on us to stop and think whether our answer, even if it's correct, may do more harm than good, depending on the words we use. Consider the question carefully: should our answer be, “My Church teaches this...,” or, rather, should it be, “My Church teaches nothing about this, but Christ, through his Church, teaches this”?

Father Michael Venditti

* Due to the "Lucan Jump," the Gospel read today is that for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost. Cf. the note appended to the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.