The Cities of Sin: the Gates of Hell?

The Cities of Sin: the Gates of Hell?

Second Chance written on rural road

for the cities of sin
Second Chance written on rural road

The cities of sin: the gates of Hell?

A most peculiar title, isn’t it? It’s language is disquieting, even frightening, more terrfying even than Covid19 and its endless vaccines and most assuredly anti-woke.

Sin…

Hell…

The Christian liturgical reading for last Sunday, October 24th was about the blind beggar Bartimeus. It’s one that always reaches out and grabs me. Bartimeus is the blind man sitting by the Jericho gate who annoys everyone with his increasingly loud cries begging “Jesus, have pity on me.”

Bartimeus ignores all the voices who try to silence him and calls out even louder, “Jesus, have pity on me.”

The phrase in the title, “the cities of sin,” is not mine, but Bishop Robert Barron’s, from his sermon on this gospel passage. Bishop Barron calls his homily, “Are You Blinded by Cities of Sin?”

The second phrase is my own. Used in this article primarily because an online friend’s artwork has prompted me to read Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Finally.

Maura Harrsion is an artist and poet whose art work on the Inferno sufficiently galvanized me to change, “I really should read “Dante’s Divine Comedy” some day” to “Do it!”

I am currently working my way through 100daysofdante, thanks to Maura. Hence I’m thinking about hell and am finding that Dante’s medieval words feel eerily relevant. To me and to each one of us.

Here and now.

More on Dante momentarily but first back to Bartimeus.

So what does the Bishop Barron mean by his phrase, “blinded by the cities of sin?”

Remember Jericho and Joshua?

Of course and we can’t help noticing that this passage makes a point of stating that Jesus and the disciples were leaving Jericho.

Okay, so?

Indeed.

Until I listened to Barron’s fifteen minute homily, I never stopped to think about that mention of Jericho. But it’s not just there for color. The city-Jericho- represents the cities of sin, Bishop Barron states unequivocally.

As usual, Bishop Barron packs his sermon with a bunch of great points for our rumination. Here are just a few:

  • Unlike many of those who Jesus healed, Bartimeus is named, indicating that he was known at the time of the gospel’s writing. Supporting the history or “facticity” of this gospel passage.
  • Bartimeus is sitting by the Jericho gates- the city whose walls were destroyed because it was the city of sin says Bishop Barron.
  • We who live in the cities of sin are blind. Bartimeus is all of us, the Bishop reminds us. For all us-to varying degrees- live in the cities of sin: the world. And so we are incapable of seeing clearly.
  • Bartimeus begs Jesus. Refusing to cower and cave in to the people telling him to shut up, he cries out even louder.
  • Bishop Barron asks rhetorically, isn’t begging the appropriate posture?
  • “Any of us who’ve gone through a 12 step program knows we cannot get there alone…”I have to give myself over to a higher power, I cannot do this alone…”

Okay got it but why the jump to the gates of hell?

Because we can read the “signs of the times.”

These first words pierce and then dig deep into our hearts:

“Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wilderness, for I had wandered from the straight and true.”

Yes, we Americans voted out perhaps one of the more despised American Presidents in our history.

To vote in the most radical abortion agenda in the world- called women’s health care by politicians who call themselves catholic. (small c intentional.)

Infanticide is now legal.

Even our 21st-culture-steeped reason can sense the yawning consequences of these, and many other, abominations on us individually and as a nation.

Approaching the gates of hell, the poet Dante writes in Canto lll, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here…thou shalt behold the people dolorous, who have forgone the good of intellect

In similar wise the evil seed of Adam
Throw themselves from that margin one by one,
At signals, as a bird unto its lure.
So they depart across the dusky wave,
And ere upon the other side they land,
Again on this side a new troop assembles.
“My son,” the courteous Master said to me,
“All those who perish in the wrath of God
Here meet together out of every land;
And ready are they to pass o’er the river,
Because celestial Justice spurs them on,
So that their fear is turned into desire.”

I italiciized Dante’s words because they fit all sin, all sinners. Sin saddens us (makes us dolorous) and is the consequence of forgoing the Good of intellect. Of ignoring, even mocking Justice.

For those souls in hell, it is too late to change.

What do we do? What can we do?

When Bartimeus rose, he “threw off his cloak.” Once more Bishop Barron tells us how significant is this small detail.

This was a poor beggar- his cloak his only property. It kept him warm during the chill of the night. Throwing it aside rendered him capable of surrendering, receiving, emptying. We too are poor. But our poverty is not material.

We are weighed down by knowledge, Fr. Paul Scalia writes that St. Patrick wore a breastplate with a prayer against “Every knowledge that blinds the soul of man…”

Freedom from blindness requires poverty, the willingness to lose our wealth and supposed control. In the 19thcentury South, the financial benefits of slavery blinded men to the grave evil of that institution. Similarly, we have arranged comfortable, autonomous lives around Scientism, a false notion of freedom, and the contraceptive mentality.

We wear a heavy cloak, not easily thrown aside. We will regain our sight only when we are willing to divest ourselves of all that our “knowledge” has gained us. In short, our problem is not only one of the intellect but of the will. We must be willing to change our lives radically in order to see clearly.

The Knowledge That Blinds

We need virtue and grace to renounce our addictions. Whether they be food, drugs, or to all the news that leads us to judge others, gossip, envy, curiosity, the need to follow even when we know better.

Virtue and grace do not come easily… unless we beg.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks Bartmeus.

“I want to see.”

A Goldfish jumping out of a small crowded bowl into a larger empty bowl
If you too have felt the nudge to read Dante’s Inferno,

please join me. Yes, Dante sticks to the tenents of the Apostles Creed: only baptized faithful souls can be admitted to heaven. But his gentle, loving treatment of virtous pagans like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle is magnificent. Dr. William Weaver, the accompanying video makes sure we don’t miss these graceful ideas.

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