Plumb and Level

“The Plumb Line and the City” (portion) by Clark Fitzgerald at Coventry Cathedral


The Readings for the 13th Thursday, Tempus per Annum
– Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church

But never again prophesy in Bethel; for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.

Matthew 8:25 (NABRE)

SUNDAY I was able to attend Mass at our Cathedral. This was the first time I’ve been there for a Sunday. The homily was quite good, calling us all to being Catholics who confess the Whole Faith and to avoid becoming “Catholic, but…” Most interesting was the way the preacher linked “Catholic, but…” to all extremes in the Church from the “Catholic, but traditionalist” which I took to mean those folks who reject the Novus Ordo Mass and have serious doubts about Pope France, as well as those who are “Catholic, but I reject…” certain teachings. It was interesting to me (as well as edifying) that he saw fit to warn us about both camps and saw them as equally dangerous.

Notice that the priest in our reading who warns Amos about the King’s Anger is also the priest who reported Amos to the King. Although it was not read on Wednesday because of the Solemnity, today’s reading follows on the passage where Amos sees a plumb line or a “plummet” as the NABRE has it. It’s a sign of how out of whack everything is in Israel: nothing is right and God can see it.

See, I am laying the plummet
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will forgive them no longer.

Amos 7:8

The Man In Charge, Amaziah, didn’t want Amos rocking his boat so he kicked him out. But, also, he didn’t want the King to think he was coddling this troublemaker, so he reported him. It’s very likely that if Amaziah had not reported Amos someone else would have. But if Amos is doing God’s work, shouldn’t Amaziah have listened? And he’s a priest and so should know better, right?

Recent events have dropped a plumbline into the middle of the Church and our nation. I don’t mean to take a side on the recent court case, for I believe that was as pyrrhic a victory as we could have ever imagined. See this essay by my brother in Christ. This sentence is so good that I quote it to urge you to read the entire essay: “Furthermore, to ban abortion (which, of course, Dobbs only permits, but does not do) without any jurisprudence of natural law, without any teleology of nature, and without ascribing any meaning to the human body is only accidentally similar to the Divine Law on one subject.” Then from that sentence, I harvest this but one phrase to continue on: accidentally similar to the Divine Law on one subject.

When Amos’s prophecy drops a plumb line in the midst of Israel it shows how out of kilter all of Israel is when compared to God’s law. The recent court decision, “accidentally similar to the Divine Law on one subject” can now serve the same purpose for it shows out totally out of whack literally everything else (including our pro-life movement) is when compared to God’s law. We cannot but fail to see how we’ve propped up an entire social order on liberal economic assumptions but have done nothing to correct the social order (save by one very minor cosmetic action). Most of the folks I know rabidly supporting abortion at this time are not, themselves, going to benefit from this decision: they are too old, they are male, they are not married, or, they don’t have sex with women. But they recognize that this decision puts a kink in the liberal social order which they know is of a piece. The lack of plumb is not visible to those who have eyes to see.

And so they cry foul to the prophet and, at the same time, report the prophet to the authorities just to be on the safe side. When the full extent of Catholic Social Teaching includes not only sexual issues, but also injunctions against usurious capital, hoarding of wealth, and lack of hospitality to the stranger (eg), people who pick from the list like a menu will object to those who insist on the whole banquet. The banquet itself contains many things that we just can’t have in our modern world, like the absolute dignity of all persons as defined by God, and not by our economic system.

We are entering a phase in the late decline of our society when those – Clergy or Laity, politicians or pundits – who say they are “Catholic, but…” will begin to point fingers at actual Catholics to protect themselves. They will be like Amaziah: seeking to protect their social standing they will tell the prophets to hush up – and report them to the Authorities. Those who insist on the whole faith (that is the meaning of Catholic – whole) will find themselves to be rather like Amos in the coming days. Let us pray to be whole.

It will be an interesting time.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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