A Modern Translation

The Church, I’ve been hearing, has to change, if she is going to have any leverage with men and women of our time. What that means, of course, is that they would like a sexual permission slip. It’s the only thing they care about. What’s it to them, after all, if the Church does not change her teachings, even if she could? They don’t obey them anyway.

But perhaps they are setting their revisionary sights too low. Why change the Bride of Christ, when you might as well go for Christ Himself? Why trick out the bride in lingerie from Astarte’s Secret, you can put new words on the lips of the bridegroom, or give him a new interest?

The Lord says that He comes not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. He is the true and only agent of moral evolution. He reveals the truth that had lain hidden in the shadows, or encrusted with local or tribal customs.  He is the refining fire, making ore into gold. So His teachings stretch our dust to infinity.

The law gives us permission, because of the hardness of our hearts, to pray curses upon our enemies. Jesus says, “Do good to those who persecute you, because then you will be like your heavenly Father, who sends down His rain upon the just and the unjust.”

The law gives us permission, because of the hardness of our hearts, to admire ourselves for our almsgiving, like the blandest of pagans. Jesus says, “Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

The law gives us permission, because of the hardness of our hearts, to put away our women for cause: nagging, burning the soup, and so on. Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

That is development, an unfolding, a bringing to consummation. It is like the difference between the soft pith of a sapling and the solid trunk of an oak. It is like the difference between the stuttering language of a child and the eloquence of Cicero. More: it is like the dim and fitful visions of good that we have in this life, clearing into the full serene vision of paradise.

Now then, we don’t want this development. We want to cover it over again. We don’t want to be racked from nothingness to the infinite. We want to huddle in the shell. We don’t want the house of the Father, wherein there are many mansions. We want the world’s hut, with mildewed pinups on the wall. We don’t want the Word. We want the stutter.

So we need a Jesus who will fit; a god we can put in the cave to stay. I translate His words accordingly:

“You have heard me say, let your yes be yes and your no be no. What’s the use? Consider the clods of the earth, how they crumble. Are not your words worth less than they? Be content with maybe. Say what you will, to make your days comfortable, because they are few, and they will pass.”

“You have heard me say, he who will not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. What’s the use? I accomplished nothing on the cross. I have no baptism of fire for refining the earth. Don’t bother. Be not too eager to cause other people to suffer, but at the same time be not too eager to expose yourself to suffering.”

"Buddy Christ" from Kevin Smith's 1999 film "Dogma"
“Buddy Christ” from Kevin Smith’s 1999 film “Dogma”

“Blessed are the modestly well off, for theirs are the good schools and the suburbs.”

“Blessed are they who chuckle, for they need not give a damn.”

“Blessed are they who believe in themselves, for they shall cover the earth.”

“Blessed are they who scoff at righteousness, for they shall be less than hypocrites.”

“Blessed are the indifferent, for they shall be left alone.”

“Blessed are the sly of heart, for they shall see porn.”

“Blessed are the compromisers, for they shall win elections.”

“Blessed are they who persecute the righteous, for they shall be called the children of God.”

“Blessed are they who use my name to do as they please, to win the applause of men, while putting down the ignorant and faithful, for theirs are the good schools and the suburbs.”

“You are the salt of the earth. The salt never loses its savor, so don’t worry about it.”

“You are the light of the world. If you put your light under a bushel basket, what difference will it make? Don’t worry about it.”

“You have heard me say, what God has joined together, and all that. I take it back. Divorce at will, but do try to be nice about it, and help your children to buck up.”

“You have heard me say that it’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of his heart, things like fornication, adultery, deceit, covetousness, murder, and so forth. Let’s not be so hasty. A man may fornicate, but that does not mean he is not a nice person. A man may betray his wife, steal his partner’s business, stab his neighbor to death, expose his neighbor’s child to lewdness, and lie under oath, but that does not mean he is not a nice person.”

“Be nice, even as your imaginary deity is nice.”

“When you pray, be not as the hypocrites, who go to Mass to celebrate as I have commanded them. I take back the command. Here’s how you are to pray:

Our friend in the sky, give us what we want, and stow what we don’t. Amen.

For the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who gave a feast for his son, and corralled everyone to join him whether they liked it or not. Now quit bothering me, and get lost.”

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Reflections on the Christian Life: How Our Story Is God’s Story and Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College.

  • jim walsh

    Are you being sarcastic?

  • ron a.

    Very interesting post!

    Can we say the bishops are naive if they think giving in to all the sexual matters will restore the Church? Really, will it end there? Or will the Modernists then just go on to other things, e.g., Christ not divine, Eucharist not body and blood, all religions the same, etc., etc.,—with no end in sight; eventually, to the complete destruction of the Church? Though not on the current agenda, for many, far too many, aren’t there untold new verities just waiting for expression?

    But—first things first!

    • KM

      Let’s primarily examine ourselves and pray for the bishops and all clergy. Jesus told us that the “gates of hell will not prevail.” Let us pray for the Church and TRUST what Jesus has said.

      • ron a.

        KM—I firmly believe that the “gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church of Peter, Chrysostom, Augustine, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Henry Newman and all the other Saints, living and dead; but, that’s not what we have here. Their Truth is not this “Truth”. Know He doesn’t change

        The Revolution in iniquity is that the apostate has decided to remain and destroy from within. Coincidentally, this may be the employment of World Communism. It remains to be seen if THAT will work.

  • Michael Dowd

    A work of inspiration Anthony! You have captured the moment. A moment that is not being resisted but rather encouraged by some in the Vatican. How could such a thing happen we ask ourselves? The devil is having his day. Let us pray for Pope Francis that he will perceive reality the same way you do Anthony and act accordingly. And let us pray that God make His will known in a way that will be clear to everyone.

  • Scott Walter

    Tony, thanks for inventing a new indoor sport. My entry for the anti-beatitude event: Cursed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall tick people off and lose elections.

  • Rich in MN

    What I find so painful is not only the relentless evil that seeks to destroy every marigold and mirror in its path, but also how many people with sincere hearts can get swept away by “private revelations” that often strike me as little more than gnosticism in new packages.

    I have a dear friend who has received private revelations of heaven via celestial journeys from her “spirit guide,” Orin (see “Orin and DaBen”). She is convinced that there is no hell. People like Hitler and Stalin and people who don’t recycle plastic are just in a lower echelon of heaven. They will come back to the physical world (whether on Earth or some other inhabited planet) to learn why brutally murdering millions of people was not a very enlightened thing to do. I have tried to tell her that the Catholic Church has always been skeptical of private revelation because Satan and his followers have a real power and a strong desire to deceive. But she is positive that Orin is a good spirit and that she is not being deceived. And there is certainly a lot of quasi-eastern pop-spirituality out there to substantiate her rather polyanna beliefs.

    Oh, and did I mention that she also supports fornication, contraception, abortion & SSM? Someone once said, “Any healthy tree bears good fruit while a decayed tree (sapron dendron) bears bad fruit.” Oh wait, didn’t he actually said, “Every tree eventually bears good fruit”? Yeah, that’s right! I had almost forgotten….

    • St Donatus

      It sounds like your friend isn’t having private revelations, she is being visited by the other god, the god of the underworld or one of his demonic minions.

    • Paul Vander Voort

      A good tree can bear bad fruit if a bad branch is grafted on to it.

  • Mary Lee

    Thank you Mr. E! I was feeling a little down and discouraged but you gave me a wonderful laugh! Thank you…

  • pj

    Well done.

  • Stanley Anderson

    It has happened several times now, that the day or so before a column by you appears here, Dr. Esolen, I experience something that sort of prefigures your theme. Weird. Same with this column today, though perhaps a less momentous experience than previous occurrences. Still…here it is:

    Last night, in a bit of lighthearted antics, I was reading aloud to my wife, Angelee, the Gospel for the Feast of the Annunciation. I picked up just after the angel Gabriel has greeted her to her greatly troubled and pondering reception and has told her not to be afraid. I read this:

    “…Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever.”

    But, not unlike your translations in today’s column, I re-translated the next part thus:

    Mary said to the angel, “Wai-wai-wai-wait! Baaackup there a moment, Gabe…How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

    Angelee immediately had reservations, and told me that Mary was responding more
    innocently than that. I agreed. I had instead a humorous image in my mind. I hope, in its lighthearted intention, it is not too irreverent to post here, but rather reflects and teases us — well, me in self-mockery, at least, Angelee being exempt in this case — about our own fallen nature in projecting our own motives and interpretations onto God’s Word. It is not intended to mock Mary directly.

    I saw a scene in my head of the angel Gabriel gazing up to the heavens with hand over heart in “proclamation mode” blathering on about the glorious things he was sent to tell her, completely oblivious to the fact that she had essentially shut down after that first phrase, “…you will conceive in your womb…” All she could think about was the angel’s disconnect about the conception part, never mind what would happen after.

    So, humorously intended, but with a serious point, I think (now, after the fact), in light of your column today. For this example, and I think for virtually all of your humorous translation examples above, God’s intent in the “blesseds” — and even in His seemingly “negative” admonitions — is to bring the glory of fullness to our life when we would prefer dim blurry incompleteness or flat-ness or even emptiness.

    I often use the illustration of an old torn and faded black-and-white Polaroid snapshot of the Grand Canyon. We might very well gaze at it in the longing and hope of someday actually travelling there to stand at the edge and look out over the glorious vista. But if the faded picture replaces that desire and we now say we would actually prefer that flat image to the real thing, something has gone terribly wrong. And I think that is what has gone terribly wrong with our modern society, and at its heart, is what the humor of my “translation” of Mary’s reaction above (along with your examples) is getting at.

    For in reality, Mary is responding to the wholeness of the glorious message Gabriel has just told her. It is not just a question of the physical mechanics of conception, but of all that that beginning points to. If we could but see our own family conceptions as dim Polaroid snaps that point us in longing toward that Glorious Annunciation and conception, we would be better off than the modern immediate pleasure center and chemical factory view of sex. As you write, “they would like a sexual permission slip. It’s the only thing they care about” (which suddenly gives me the image in my head of a student pridefully clutching a grade school hall pass to go to the restroom during math class. Sorry. I always prefer to get SOMETHING about mathematics into a post if at all possible, no matter how strained…)

  • Bro_Ed

    Well done. A clever and thoughtful piece. Your reference to Matthew 5.44-45 reminded me of a short poem by Ogden Nash which I think fits in with the spirit of your essay:

    The rain from heaven falls alike
    On the just and unjust fella,
    But mostly on the just because–
    The unjust stole the just’s umbrella.

  • Francis Miller

    Great essay. I have used the ridiculous opposite case often to help understand the Gospel message and most often the absurdity of it is apparent and understood. Unfortunately, with younger folks I have found the silliness or absurdity is not so evident. As with the following: “Blessed are they who believe in themselves, for they shall cover the earth.”, “Blessed are they who scoff at righteousness, for they shall be less than hypocrites.”, “Blessed are the indifferent, for they shall be left alone.”, “Blessed are the compromisers, for they shall win elections.” I have found that these are not necessarily seen as silly or absurd. Losing the force of humor by needing further explanation, loses the impact.

    • St Donatus

      That is because the young have been so poluted by the Mass Media and our educational system (both Catholic and public) they can’t understand it. When will we get Bishops and priest who will speak the truth with boldness as Jesus did? Thankfully there are a few orders and seminaries that are starting to bring out priests with guts. Now we need Bishops who will back them up rather than force them to apologize (or transfer them to nowheres land) every time someone gets their feelings hurt.

  • T. Audrey Glamour

    If one plunged into this article without taking in the first two paragraphs, one might think they had clicked onto something from the National catholic Reporter.

    • Patti Day

      aka Fishwrap

  • Nancy Lynne

    Why did you single out, “theirs are the good schools and the suburbs”?

  • Chris in Maryland

    Perfect pitch!

    “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.” (Revelation 3: 15-18)

  • Gail Finke

    “Be nice, even as your imaginary deity is nice.” — You hit the nail on the head right there!

  • There is nothing new under the sun. Scripture tells of a type of this story that is playing right before our eyes. The Jews, Israel, type of the Church, have lived through this:

    11 In those days lawless men came forth from Israel, and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles round about us, for since we separated from them many evils have come upon us.” 12 This proposal pleased them, 13 and some of the people eagerly went to the king. He authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. 14 So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, 15 and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.
    – Cf. 1 Macc 1:11-15 (RSVCE).

    PS “Buddy Christ” – What a blasphemous image!

  • Glenn Holt

    You eat one piece of forbidden fruit and the next thing you know is you think you are God.