The Catholic Thing
On “Closed Minds” Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S.J.   
Tuesday, 04 February 2014

How is it that seemingly good people, especially on life issues, often end by advocating and doing terribly wrong things? Why do they then vigorously deny that what they do is bad? Why do they make every effort to destroy anyone who accurately describes what they do as evil? I am often asked such questions. How to respond to them?

The Gospel on Tuesday, Second Week, Ordinary Time, is from Luke 3. It concerns the man with the “withered hand.” I have always thought this to be a remarkable passage. Jesus comes back to the synagogue. He has walked through the countryside. The disciples ate some of the grain along the way. They are thus accused of violating the Sabbath. But Christ responds to the watchful Jewish authorities that even David’s men ate the reserved breads on the Sabbath when they could find nothing else. “The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Christ then applies the phrase to Himself – “the Lord of the Sabbath.” This affirmation could only mean that He identified Himself with God.

What happens next? A man with a shriveled hand presents himself. We have no reason to suppose that the hand was not seriously deformed or that the incident was made up. Christ knows that He is being carefully watched. The Jewish leaders were looking for something with which to accuse Him. They had already implicitly judged Him guilty of blasphemy, worthy of death. But they are cautious. Their conduct infuriates Christ. What does He do?  He orders the man to come before Him.

Christ asks the watchers a question: “Is it lawful to do a good deed on the Sabbath, or an evil one?” The leaders know this question is dangerous. So they do not respond to avoid being made to look bad before the synagogue. They “remain silent.” Christ looks at them “with anger.” Their silence is malicious. If the man is cured, even on the Sabbath, it is obviously a good work. The devil cannot perform such a feat. No one can call it evil.

Yet the Pharisees intimate that such a deed would violate the strict laws about Sabbath work. They think man is made for the Sabbath. The Law rules every contingency. Even a good work is prohibited. But they obviously recognize something contradictory here. This awareness is why they remain silent. They do not want any logical examination of their views. They do not want to look bad. But neither do they change their minds.

        The Man with the Withered Hand by James Tissot, c. 1890

Mark tells us that Christ “was deeply grieved that they had closed their minds.” He did not say: “They know not what they do,” but “they closed their minds.” They did not want to see what was happening before them. They implicitly accepted the logic that, if someone is cured on the Sabbath, it can only be done by the Lord of the Sabbath. They refuse to admit who it is standing before them.

Christ tells the man to “stretch out his hand.” He does so. “His hand is perfectly restored.” If it were not made whole, Christ would have been mocked as an impostor. But the hand is restored. The Pharisees there do not ask for a medical examiner to check. Obvious to everyone watching, from the man himself to other spectators, the hand is restored. The Pharisees may not like it, but they see the healthy hand.

What explains the actions of the synagogue leaders? They deny the implications of what they have just witnessed. They close their minds. They acknowledge no logic in the Bible that would allow them to grant the implications of the event they witnessed. That would require them to follow Jesus, not their own opinions.

Next comes one of the most astonishing and ominous passages in all of Scripture. The Pharisees go “outside.” What for? They “immediately begin to plot with the Herodians how they might destroy him.” Evidence of divine authority does not count against the Pharisees’ own understanding of divine authority. They deny divine authority in the name of divine authority.

If anyone ever wonders how or why intelligent believers or thinkers can stand before evident truths of reason or revelation but still deny them in favor of their own preferred opinions, here is the reason. We should not be overly astonished by those, even “believers,” who reject basic elements of faith or reason because it does not agree with their views about what God “should” hold, but evidently does not.

Is this reaction unusual? I think not. It happens every day among us. Does it still “anger” Christ? I suspect so. The leading opponents to the faith, as Jewish history teaches us, are often those supposedly closest to it. Its greatest enemies are within the household. They know what they do. They “close their minds.”

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic and The Modern Age.
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Comments (9)Add Comment
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, February 04, 2014
Disobedience is the primal sin - of Satan and Adam. It effectively says: "I refuse to see; I refuse to hear; I refuse to understand; I refuse to obey; I refuse to serve."

The words of Satan are something worth meditating on: NON SERVIAM.
written by Avery Tödesuhl, February 04, 2014
Yes, we betray Christ whenever we turn our backs on truth. To cease to pursue the truth, to accept a truncated view of reality, malformed by opinion or ideology, means ceasing to follow Christ, who is the Truth. This was given a lengthy exposition by Bernard Lonergan S.J. in his work "Insight".

"Seemingly good" people or movements, can't be truly good unless they follow Christ. But they can't be said to be following Christ if they contradict or contravene the teachings or ministry of Christ's Catholic Church.
written by Ted Seeber, February 04, 2014
I want to hear more in a later article about how pro-life people go wrong.

I want to examine my own conscience for this.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, February 04, 2014
“For they hear these things and do them to whom it is given;” says St Augustine, “but they do them not, whether they hear or do not hear, to whom it is not given. Because, “To you,” said He, “it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” [Matt. xiii. 11] Of these, the one refers to the mercy, the other to the judgment of Him to whom our soul cries, “I will sing of mercy and judgment unto Thee, O Lord.” [Ps. CI. 1]”
written by Seanachie, February 04, 2014
No one should do or advocate doing terribly wrong things. That is clear in any activity including pro-life advocacy and support. But, "keeping an open mind" relative to life issues may put one on the slippery slope to "toleration" of anti-life positions which, for me, begs the question of the value of "keeping an open mind".
written by Peter Shafton, February 04, 2014
What a great article by James Schall. Yes, there are none so blind as they who WILL NOT see. In today's world we tend all too often to pick out what we find comfortable to follow, in the Church's teachings, and just ignore the rest.

We hope and pray that when the final curtain falls HE will not equate us with that 'brood of vipers' of His time on earth.
written by Jack,CT, February 04, 2014
Fr Schall,
Wonderful piece,truly!

I often wander as I did at a wake last week how he
handles the "Mixed bag" of our sins?

I have always felt that Priests make a mistake when
they practiclly "Cannonize" the deceased,what a
horrible disservice to the dead.

As I grow older and we all start passing from this
life I sit at these services watching the "Young"
cling to the idea that the burden of death will
allow Total forgivness!

Note: Pray for All Poor Souls!

written by Bruno, February 04, 2014
I can't help reading your article and shaking in fear. Everytime a Pharisee appears...

How can a man be blamed, by God, for loving God? That is not the case, you will say. It is not God that those Pharisees loved, but their own views of him. But hadn't they learned that a king who dared to be merciful and spared the enemy's head was in the wrong (I forgot his name)? That love of God and His Law was imperative, and faithful Abraham was commended for it even when, or because, he would sacrifice his own son for it?

I further ask,, what have we but our own views? Can we love God independently of our own views? You can say you don't know,, but we can subject to the Magisterium, in humility. But weren't the Pharisees subjecting themselves to their own Teachers and Doctors as well?

Don't those things intrigue you? Is there an answer, somewhere?
written by Chris in Maryland, February 08, 2014

I think that the answer lies in the mystery of evil, where for fallen man, even the practice of faith can be distorted by us, where the devotion to God, which is always a response we owe Him, becomes something we worship "in and of itself," and we might become, as we are warned, like stone, we can no longer respond to Him, because we cannot see Him, we cannot hear Him, and we cannot feel Him.

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