Well-meaning scientist condescendingly gets it all wrong

Today we welcome my wife Christina as co-author of this post!

Bill Nye is a hero to many millennials.  Once a mechanical engineer by day and stand-up comic by night, his ’90s PBS daytime show Bill Nye the Science Guy introduced our generation to biology, chemistry, earth science, astronomy, and physics in much more entertaining ways than our schoolteachers ever did.  In the past four years Nye has leapt back into the public eye for his Internet activism against scientifically-illiterate education and legislative proposals, especially in regard to climate change and evolution-vs-creationism.  When he speaks, millennials listen.

But Bill Nye is starting to go astray.  His weekly video commentaries on Big Think (“a YouTube for ideas”) nowadays frequently address questions that aren’t what most of us would call “scientific”, like free will, art’s relationship to science, and religion’s place in politics.  Earlier this week Big Think posted to Facebook an abridged version of Nye’s video from last September on what science has to say about anti-abortion laws.

The full video can be found here (we don’t pay for the fancy WordPress plan that lets us embed videos).

To spoil the ending: abortion opponents probably mean well and have sincere religious reasons for their beliefs, but their ignorance of what science says about fertilized eggs makes them want to pass laws that hurt women and distract society from more important crises.

The new video has been viewed over 8 million times in the past seven days, and it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that his arguments inform the scientific and moral outlook of many American 20- and 30-somethings today.  This is a shame, because Nye’s arguments are logically muddled and incoherent.  We say this not as scientists (which we are not) nor as religious believers (which we are), but as critical thinkers – the kind of thinking that Nye ought to be doing and teaching his viewers like he used to teach us about the world we live in.

Let’s walk through the transcript of the full video linked above.

Many many many many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans.  Eggs get fertilized – by that, I mean sperm get accepted by ova – a lot.  But that’s not all you need.  You have to attach to the uterine wall, the inside of a womb, a woman’s womb.

We have no idea whether “many many many many more hundreds” is an exaggeration or not, but of course Nye is right: not every fertilized egg implants, and plenty of them do simply die.  Nye introduces two distinct events: conception, the creation of a genetically distinct human organism when a sperm fertilizes an egg, and implantation, when the blastocyst (fertilized egg already undergoing cell division) attaches to the uterine wall and the mother’s medical condition of pregnancy begins.  Nye is apparently talking about implantation rather than fertilization/conception, and talking about it as a necessary step in the process of “becoming humans.”

Now Nye clearly doesn’t want to deal with any philosophical opinions about personhood, and neither do we.  But the scientific facts are clear: the fertilized egg contains a unique homo sapiens genetic sequence, and therefore it is a human distinct from either its father or its mother.   So clearly when Nye says “human,” he means something more than just a genetically human organism.  He means a human further along the pre-natal development process.  Let’s see if he’s about to make that clearer.

But if you’re gonna hold that as a standard – that is to say, if you’re gonna say “when an egg is fertilized, it therefore has the same rights as an individual” – then whom are you gonna sue? Whom are you gonna imprison?  Every woman who’s had a fertilized egg pass through her?  Every guy whose sperm has fertilized an egg and then it didn’t become a human?  Have all these people failed you?

Nye has switched to the legal discussion without clarifying when humanity begins.  (We’re not using the usual “when life begins” language, because he doesn’t use it, and we don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth.)  Moreover, he has failed to distinguish some crucial categories: “die,” “kill,” and”murder.”  Sure, plenty of fertilized eggs die en route to the uterine wall, but not a single anti-abortion bill targets these eggs.  And how could they?  Those eggs aren’t murdered, since no-one deliberately intervenes to make them die; they’re not even killed, since no-one intervenes to make them die at all, deliberately or otherwise.  There’s not even a negligence claim to be made.  No-one even knows these fertilized eggs exist at all until well after they happen to implant.  All abortions are of implanted embryos, so abortions are of blastocysts that could well qualify as human by Nye’s own account.

It’s just a reflection of a deep scientific lack of understanding, and you apparently literally don’t know what you’re talking about.

OK, first, that’s just really condescending.  Second, we also don’t know what you’re talking about: fertilization or implantation?  Death or murder?  We understand the science; we don’t understand your argument.

And so, when it comes to women’s rights with respect to their reproduction, I think you should leave it to women.  You cannot help but notice – I mean, I’m not the first guy to observe this! – you have a lot of men of European descent passing these extraordinary laws based on ignorance.

Another red herring here.  Again, we’re not here to debate the legality of these abortion laws, whether they’re “extraordinary” or not.  But what do European males as such have to do with any of this?  What in their European-ness is relevant here?  And what is it about their maleness as such that disqualifies them from being able to weigh in on women’s health matters?  To claim that only a woman may speak on women’s matters is a fallacious appeal to authority, and to cast aspersions on legislators’ reasons for proposing these laws is a fallacious appeal to motive.  Neither of them takes on the content of the debate on its own merits, but diverts attention to the circumstances of the debate.

I’m sorry, you guys.  I know it was written, or your interpretation of a book that was written five thousand years ago, fifty centuries ago, makes you think that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse, they always have a baby.  That’s wrong.  And so to pass laws based on that belief is inconsistent with nature.

We have to say, Nye is correct that passing laws based on a belief that every sex act produces a child would be inconsistent with nature.  Unfortunately for him, we can’t fathom how any real person existing in the real world could honestly believe that.  Certainly any person who has had sex before, unless rather implausible odds are at play, knows that even unprotected sex often doesn’t produce fertilized eggs, whether or not they implant.  Nor does the Bible teach this in any of its 66-75 books.  We don’t expect Nye to have read the Bible cover-to-cover to figure this out for himself, but we do hope he would consult a slightly more authoritative source on Christian teaching than Monty Python.

Furthermore, we have here the fallacy of chronological snobbery, discounting the (wrongly characterized) testimony of something just because it is very old and dates from a time when plenty of beliefs were held that we now know to be factually unsupportable.  We know there are quite a few Christians who do take the Bible as a science textbook, and we agree they are wrong to do so.  But Nye doesn’t focus his critique on what the Bible teaches – he even concedes that he’s critiquing an interpretation rather than the book itself – but on the fact that it is so old, which in itself is neither here nor there.

It’s hard not to get frustrated with this, everybody.  I know – nobody likes abortion, okay?  But you can’t tell somebody what to do.  I mean, she has rights over this.  Especially if she doesn’t like the guy who got her pregnant.  Like, she doesn’t want anything to do with your genes.  Get over it.  Especially if she were raped and all this.  So, it’s very frustrating on the outside, on the other side.

We choose not to get sidetracked by the fact that law, of its very nature, tells people what they can and cannot do, and that this is precisely the lawmaker’s job.  Nor do we want to go down the rabbit hole of sexual ethics (though when it comes to preventing conception from rape, this article is worth looking at).  We do want observe that Nye here explicitly places himself “on the outside, on the other side” from the caricature of mainstream Christian thought, the straw man he has built for the purpose of this argument.  We also want to observe that it’s been quite a while now since Nye mentioned anything truly scientific, derived from empirical observation or experimentation.  A discussion that started with confusion over medical and legal categories has turned into something of a rant about telling people what to do.

We have so many more important things to be dealing with.  We have so many more problems.  To squander resources on this argument based on bad science, on just lack of understanding – it’s very frustrating.

At least he’s bringing up the science again, though we’re no closer now to truly understanding the science as he has presented it or exactly how it’s relevant than we were up at the top.   And “squander resources” is an odd phrase to use here, as though if we all just agreed to let abortion be we’d be a lot closer to solving climate change.  Human endeavor isn’t a zero-sum game.

You wouldn’t know how big a human egg was if it weren’t for microscopes, if it weren’t for scientists, for medical researchers looking diligently.  You wouldn’t know the process, you wouldn’t have that shot, the famous shot or shots where the sperm are bumping up against the egg – you wouldn’t have that without science.  So then to claim that you know the next step when you obviously don’t, it’s troubling.

We have no idea what Nye is saying here.  That there are no Christian scientists, or at least none who understand the process of conception?  Ah, but we’ve already established Nye’s own confused presentation of conception and implantation.  It seems that Nye’s point is simply that “science” – which apparently here means technological advances that allow us to observe very tiny things, and people who know how to do it – is how we know more about the process of conception than people fifty centuries ago did.  Which is true, and also irrelevant.

The only way these comments make sense in his argument is if he assumes that the anti-abortion legislators, or pro-lifers in general, or perhaps even his caricature Christians in general, don’t do science and know nothing about it.  But even then, what does he mean by “the next step”?  Presumably the point about implantation being necessary to gestate a human; but being a human and being a gestating human are not the same category, as we already said, and Nye seems to have a blind spot on this.  And that’s troubling.

Okay, let me do that again.  Let me just pull back.

If you haven’t watched the video, Nye is shaking off some frustration that he’s built up during that rant.  Maybe his argument will get more coherent from now on.

At some point we have to respect the facts.  Recommending or insisting on abstinence has been completely ineffective.  Just being objective here.  Closing abortion clinics, not giving women access to birth control has not been an effective way to lead to healthier societies.  I mean, I think we all know that.

Nope.  Instead we have another non sequitur into sex education and contraception legislation.  Let’s just move on.

And I understand that you have deeply held beliefs, and it really is ultimately out of respect for people, in this case your perception of unborn people.  I understand that.  But I really encourage you to look at the facts.  And I know people are now critical of the expression “fact-based.”  But what’s wrong with that?

So if you listen to Nye’s tone of voice, it’s clear that he really is trying to extend an olive branch to believers; it looks more condescending on paper than it sounds in the video.  But here’s his assumption again that “fact-based” and “faith-based” have some diametrical opposition to each other.  We happen to be believers, and also to be completely on board with the fact-based results of scientific inquiry.  Nye’s inability to envision someone in our position is insulting.  And anyway, we’ve repeatedly said that his “fact-based” account doesn’t establish the argument he needs to make his point.

So I just really encourage you to not tell women what to do, and not pursue these laws that really are in nobody’s best interest.  Just really be objective about this.  We have other problems to solve, everybody.  Come on.  Come on.  Let’s work together.

We wonder what Nye means by “best interest.”  Scientifically?  Ethically?  In terms of public health, or individual health?  Since we’re limiting ourselves to the logical problems here, we don’t want to take on the ethical implications of the philosophical debate on personhood, though those of us who accept the argument that human-hood is coextensive with personhood would certainly say that abortion restrictions are in unborn humans’ best interest.  But here’s the thing: those who buy into this philosophical argument and those who don’t are both being objective about the scientific facts.  Facts alone don’t make an argument, anyway; they need to be paired with a philosophy that gives them order and argumentative shape.  Science tells what and how things happen; it cannot tell us what is right or wrong – moral categories Nye does accept, though he seems from other videos to consider them as products of societal evolution rather than as natural laws.

Nye must not simply write off believers as being uninformed or unserious about the biological facts.  It’s simply not true for many believers, and Nye seems to be chronically misinformed about the ways in which many Jews and Christians fully accept the findings of scientific progress and harmonize them with the tenets of their faith.

In the unlikely chance that Nye ever sees this post: Bill, we encourage you to take another shot at the argument you made in this video.  You built your reputation on being able to explain concepts in ways children can understand, and we think you owe it to your fan base, the future scientists and legislators of our society, to set aside all the non sequiturs and fallacious appeals and make a truly logical case.  We also encourage you to take the time to learn the most rationally coherent versions of why the “other side” believes what it believes, so that if you decide to make an argument against ignorance again, you can start from firmer ground.

Pope Gregory I on the road to Emmaus

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Once again, from the 1960 Matins for today (Easter Monday); once again, my own translation.  There is some Latin wordplay in the second paragraph that doesn’t really work in English – but then, it doesn’t really work in Latin, either.

Dearest brethren, you have just heard that the Lord appeared to two disciples walking down a road, not quite believing in him but yet speaking of him.  But he did not show them a face that they would recognize.  So outwardly the Lord did to their bodily eyes what he was doing with them inwardly, in the eyes of their hearts.  For between themselves, inwardly they loved him, and they doubted: and the Lord outwardly came and was present to them, and did not show who he was.  So he showed his presence to those who were speaking of him: but he hid his recognizable face from those were doubting about him.

Indeed, he shared words with them, he rebuked the hardness of their understanding, he opened to them the mysteries of sacred Scripture which were about himself: and even still, since in their hearts he was yet a stranger to their faith, he feigned having farther to go.  By “feigned” [fingere] we mean “gathered” [componere]: just as we call a gatherer [compositor] of clay a potter [figulus].  For the simple Truth does nothing through duplicity: but he showed himself to them in the body in the same such way as he was with them in the mind.  They were to be tested as to whether, even if they did not yet love him as God, they could at least love him as a stranger.

But since charity could not be foreign to those with whom the Truth was walking, they invite him to their hospitality as a stranger.  And why do we say “they invite him”, when that Scripture says “they prevailed upon him”?  Evidently we should gather from this example that we should not only invite strangers to our hospitality, but even drag them!  So they set the table, they bring him bread and food: and they recognize God in the breaking of the bread, whom they did not recognize in the explanation of sacred Scripture.  So they were not enlightened by hearing the precepts of God, but they were enlightened by the doing of them: for it is written, “Hearers of the law will not be righteous before God, but doers of the law will be justified.”  So whoever wants to understand the things he hears, let him hasten to carry out in deeds what he has already been able to hear.  You see?  The Lord is not recognized while he speaks; he does permit himself to be recognized when he is fed.

Augustine in the Tenebræ of Holy Thursday

As we approach our annual remembrance of Our Lord’s Passion, we might read these passages of Augustine’s exposition of Psalm 54 and find it a fitting reflection on its own merits:

Graciously hear my prayer, O God, and do not disdain my pleading; look upon me, and graciously hear me.  These are the words of one who is hard pressed, who is anxious, who has been placed amid tribulation.  He endures much as he prays, wanting to be freed from evil.  It remains for us to see what kind of evil he is in – and, when he begins to say it, to recognize that we are there too, so that we might join our prayer with his as we share in his tribulation.

I am deeply saddened in my trial, he says, and I am greatly distressed.  Where is he deeply saddened?  Where is he greatly distressed?  In my trial, he says.  He has recalled the evil people whom he endures, and he calls this very endurance of evil people his trial.  Do not think that evil people are in this world for nothing, and that God can bring nothing good about from them.  Every evil person either lives so that he may be corrected, or lives so that a good person may be tried through him.

If only those who try us now would be converted and tried alongside us; yet, as long as they remain the kind of people who try us, let us not hate them, since we do not know whether one of them will persist in being evil to the end.  And frequently, when it seems to you that you have been hating an enemy, you have been hating a brother without realizing it.  We have been shown the devil and his angels in the sacred Scriptures, that they are destined for eternal fire.  Of them only should we despair of their correction, against whom we have a hidden battle.  The Apostle arms us for this battle, saying: Our conflict is not against flesh and blood (that is, not against people, whom you can see) but against principalities, and powers, and rulers of the world, of this darkness.  Perhaps when he said of the world, you understood demons to be the rulers of heaven and earth.  What he said was, of the world, of this darkness; what he said was, of the world of lovers of the world; what he said was, of the world of impious and unrighteous people; what he said was, of the world of which the Evangelist says, And the world did not know him.

Since I have seen unrighteousness and opposition in the city.  Pay attention to the glory of his cross.  That cross for which his enemies insulted him is now drawn on the foreheads of kings.  Its effect has proven its power: it made the whole world its home not by steel, but by wood.  The wood of the cross seemed deserving of ridicule to his enemies, and as they stood before that wood they kept shaking their heads and saying, If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.  He kept stretching out his hands to an unbelieving and oppositional people.  For if the one who lives by faith is the righteous one, then the one who has no faith is the unrighteous one.  So when he says unrighteousness, understand faithlessness.  So the Lord kept seeing unrighteousness and opposition in the city, and he kept stretching out his hands to an unbelieving and oppositional people; and yet he kept waiting for them and saying, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

But the now-anonymous compilers of the liturgical tradition that now gives us the matchless Tenebræ Matins and Lauds for the Triduum perceived a particular usefulness for this passage on Holy Thursday.  Consider the responsory verse they paired with it:

My friend betrayed me with the sign of a kiss: The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him: he made this evil sign, he committed murder through a kiss.  The wretch threw away his price of blood, and in the end he hanged himself on a tree.  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.

Now, revisit the parallel passage from Augustine – indeed, the passages that directly precede and follow this responsory:

Do not think that evil people are in this world for nothing, and that God can bring nothing good about from them.  Every evil person either lives so that he may be corrected, or lives so that a good person may be tried through him.

If only those who try us now would be converted and tried alongside us; yet, as long as they remain the kind of people who try us, let us not hate them, since we do not know whether one of them will persist in being evil to the end.  And frequently, when it seems to you that you have been hating an enemy, you have been hating a brother without realizing it.

And now, if you can, take a few minutes to reflect on just how the Catholic tradition – indeed, the public prayer of the Church, a theological statement in its own right and the supreme expression of Catholic piety – holds in perfect paradoxical balance the legacy of Judas Iscariot.

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The Venerable Bede: The Church at sea, the Lord on the land

From today’s (Saturday after Ash Wednesday) Matins reading (1960 edition):

Bede the Venerable on today’s Gospel: And when it was late, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and himself alone on the land. And seeing them labouring in rowing, (for the wind was against them,) and about the fourth watch of the night, he cometh to them walking upon the sea.

Again, my own translation:

The disciples’ labor at their rowing, and the wind against them, means the various labors of the holy Church, who attempts, among the waves of a hostile world and the breath of impure spirits, to reach the calm of the heavenly homeland like to a trusted harbor on the shore.  So it is well said there that the boat was in the midst of the sea, and He was alone on the land: since often the Church is not only afflicted but even defiled by the pressures of the pagan peoples so much that – if such a thing be possible! – her Redeemer seems for a time to have utterly deserted her.

This is the reason for that saying of her who is caught among the waves and storms of trials breaking upon her, and seeking the aid of His protection with a groaning cry: Why, O Lord, have you withdrawn so far away?  Why do you look away in times of trial?  Then she relates the saying of her persecuting enemy as well, adding in the continuation of the Psalm: For he said in his heart, “God has forgotten; He has turned away His face, He will not see it again.”

But He does not forget the prayer of the poor, nor does He turn away His face from those who hope in Him: nay, rather, He assists those who strive against their foes, that they might conquer, and He crowns them as victors forever.  That is why this also is clearly said, that He saw them laboring at their rowing.  The Lord certainly does see them laboring on the sea, though He Himself is situated on the land: since even if He seems for a while to delay expending his aid on those who are troubled, nonetheless He is strengthening them by the gaze of His kindness, so that they do not fail in their trials: and eventually, revealing His aid and conquering their adversities, He frees them like by treading upon the swells of the surges and calming them.

Augustine on hypocritical fasting

From today’s (Ash Wednesday’s) Matins reading (in the 1960 edition):

Augustine’s commentary on today’s Gospel: And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.

My own translation – a little freer than I usually like, but the only way to produce a good English version of the Latin.

From these commands it is obvious that all our focus should be directed towards interior joys, lest by seeking outside for our reward we conform to this world and lose the promise of happiness – which is more stable and firm the more interior it is – by which God chose us to become conformed to the image of his Son.

But in this passage we should especially notice that one can be ostentatious not only in the splendid display of material things, but even in mournful drabness itself; and that is more dangerous, for it deceives in the guise of servitude to God.

So the one who shows off in excessively cultivating his body and in splendid clothing or other things is easily convicted as a devotee of the world by those same ostentatious things, and he does not mislead anyone with his fake image of holiness.

But the one who, in professing his Christianity, makes others’ eyes focus on himself by his unaccustomed squalor and mournfulness – when he does it by will, not undergoing it out of necessity – he can be appraised by his other deeds: is he doing this out of contempt for gratuitous cultivation, or out of some kind of ambition?

For the Lord commanded us to beware wolves in sheep’s clothing.  By their fruits you shall know them, he said.

So when the very things which, under this disguise, he either is pursuing or wants to pursue start to be taken away or denied him by some kind of trial, then it will inevitably appear whether he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a sheep in its own.

For if it is true that pretenders often assume a spare and minimal attire so as to deceive the gullible, a Christian should not on that account entice others’ attention with gratuitous adornments.  The sheep should not abandon their native clothing just because wolves sometimes dress themselves in it.

(St. Augustine, The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount II.12.40-41)

A word on the Synod

First, sorry I’m writing this weekend’s post a day late and missed last weekend’s post altogether.  As a token of my contrition, here’s a photo I took of Pope Francis when he was in DC.

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It is a school day for me today (Hurricane Joaquin decided to spare us), so I don’t have time to make this a very well-edited post.  But now that it’s begun, I do think I need to acknowledge that the Synod of Bishops begins in earnest today.

I don’t want to, though.

Because I’m burned out about it already.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that our American media have zeroed in on three salient topics of conversation the Synod Fathers will be taking up this month: the status of homosexual persons and their relationships in the sacramental life of the Church; the status of civilly divorced, un-annulled, and civilly remarried persons and their relationships in the sacramental life of the Church; and the simplification of the canonical process for declarations of marriage nullity.

I’m sure I also don’t need to tell you that our American secular media failed to represent any of these three issues accurately, treating nullity like “Catholic divorce” and completely failing to distinguish between the Church’s  membership,  ministries, and sacramental communion when it comes to the civilly remarried (if they remembered to make that distinction at all) and persons with disordered sexual orientations.

What has been the most depressing, and for me the most soul-crushing, is that our American Catholic media has also largely forgotten that these are not the only three issues at stake in this month’s Synod.  I’m not providing links this time, partly because I don’t have time to look them up, and partly because I don’t want to give the conspiracy theorists and partisan pundits any more visibility.  Not only have they reduced the Synod to these three matters, but they’ve constructed apocalyptic narratives about progressive or ultra-orthodox camps attempting to “rig” the Synod in their ideological favor.

Not to say that there isn’t some truth to that – there is plenty of reliable anecdotal evidence out there that the Swiss and German Bishops’ conferences have been manipulating media coverage, the African Bishops have felt shut out of the global conversation, the Italian administrators of the Synod drafted reports that didn’t reflect the actual course of discussion within the Synod, etc.

But very much to say that if the leading Catholic voices in America have allowed themselves to be drawn into the seedy politics of fallen humanity and lost sight of the spiritual and human truths at stake in this Synod, they have become part of the problem.  They are giving scandal to the faithful no less than the politicking Bishops are, and frankly it is shameful.

So my advice for the next three weeks (to you and to myself): ignore all media coverage of the Synod.  Ignore the secular media outright, since they have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to matters of faith and probably don’t realize that and wouldn’t make any effort to fix it if they did.  Ignore the Catholic media (perhaps making an exception for the reliably level-headed John Allen), since they’re more likely to obscure the working of the Holy Spirit in the Synod Fathers’ discussions than to draw attention to it.

Instead, just read the working document for the Synod.  Notice that those three hot-button issues are 1-2 paragraphs each in a 16-page document.  Look at the chapter and section headings.  Reflect on the much larger, much more fundamental questions.  How does the family foster faith?  How can it do so when the spouses may not even know their faith?  How does a post-Christian secular world, including the media, stack the deck against healthy families?  What can the Church do to help?

And notice that Christian doctrine is never in question.  No Church teachings will change at this Synod.  Practices may change; emphases may change in light of the needs of this day and age; but we will not emerge from this Synod with any less Christian truth than we had before.  If all goes well, we may even gain some.

And then remember that the Synod, unlike an Ecumenical Council, is only a consulting body.  It has no legislative power of its own.  It makes recommendations to the Pope, who decides what sort of statement or changes to make (if any) after a few months.  Even the final report on the Synod that comes out later in October has no “authority” like an Apostolic Exhortation does.

So read the text linked above, reflect on it, pray on it, pray for the Pope, pray for the Synod, pray that the Holy Spirit guide the Synod to remain faithful to the Word of Christ and the eternal truths put in place by the Father while also advancing the pastoral care of souls in the modern world.  And then forget about the Synod and go on with your lives.  As Padre Pio is quoted as saying: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”

Pope Francis and Saint Matthew

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First, I don’t know what’s happening, but Rocco Palmo is not exactly on top of his game with posting the full texts of Francis’ homilies and speeches in Cuba.  You can find them, though, at Edward Pentin’s blog for the Register.

Second, I was about to write a whole long thing about the special relationship Pope Francis has with Saint Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist, whose feast day is today.  Lo and behold, this post says it all better than I ever could have done.  Please take the time to reflect on it, as it reveals a very important side of Francis that you won’t often see in press reports.

Here, though, is the text of Saint Bede the Venerable referenced in the article above, part of the Office of Readings in today’s Liturgy of the Hours (mostly translated by me, since the 1980’s breviary isn’t very accurate):

Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: Follow me. Jesus saw Matthew not so much with the sight of bodily perception as with that of his inner mercy.  He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him by having mercy on him and choosing him, he said to him: Follow me. But in “Follow me”, he really said “Imitate me”:  “follow” not so much by how he directed his feet as by how he carried out his way of life. Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

And he rose and followed him. It should not be surprising that, at the first sound of the Lord’s command, the tax collector abandoned the earthly wealth that used to worry him and, neglecting his work, attached himself to that band of men which, he thought, had no riches at all. On the outside, the Lord himself used words to call Matthew; on the inside, he taught him how to follow by an invisible impulse, flooding his mind with the spiritual light of grace by which Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had the ability to give incorruptible treasures of heaven.

As he sat at table in the house, behold many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. This conversion of one tax collector gave an example of repentance and forbearance to many tax collectors and sinners. And as a beautiful and true anticipation of his future status as apostle and teacher of the nations, no sooner was Matthew converted than he brought with him a flock of sinners to salvation; he began his duty of evangelizing, which he would come to fulfill with great growth in merit and power, while he was still in the first rudiments of faith. Furthermore, if we want to see what Matthew has done with deeper understanding, not only did he provide a material banquet for the Lord in his earthly residence, but far more pleasingly, he prepared a banquet for him in his own heart through faith and love, as the Lord himself attests to it when he says: Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

On hearing Christ’s voice, we open the door to receive him when we freely make our assent to his promptings, whether they come secretly or openly, and when we give ourselves over to completing the things that we know we must do. And Christ enters so that we might dine with him and he with us, for he dwells in the hearts of his elect through the grace of his love, so that he may ever refresh them by the light of his presence insofar as they advance more and more in their longing for the higher things, and so that he may nourish their zeal for the things of heaven as though it were for a greatly pleasing meal.