Invisible King Made Visible

How do we grasp the idea that Jesus Christ is our king? After all, the closest thing we have to a king in the United States is LeBron James. We threw a lot of perfectly good tea into the Boston harbor, because we didn’t particularly like the idea of having a king.

Lebron championJust as well, really. Perhaps you remember how, when we began this particular liturgical year AD 2014, we discussed the three wise men looking for “the king of the Jews.”

Way back before the prophet anointed Saul or David as king, the holy people of Israel served God alone as their king. Hopefully you remember how we discussed this: The prophet Samuel warned the people, Don’t make me anoint a human king. Our king is God, the only true king.

King George III of England, on the other hand, had a lot of pretenses of majestic rule—and not a lot of the genuine article. He had jewels, and powdered wigs, and embroidered footstools, and sterling-silver tea settings, and crystal goblets for his claret. But he did not have penetrating insight, or thoroughgoing reasonableness of judgment, or expansiveness of imagination, or precision of speech, or love for the poor and vulnerable. So no one can blame us Americans for wasting so much of his tea.

King George IIIThe King of the ancient Israelites, however—the king of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, of Gideon, Deborah, and Ruth—their king had none of the trappings, and all of the real goods of kingliness. He was utterly invisible to the human eye, so there was never any question of diadems or gilded robes. But His absolute wisdom, His all-encompassing government, his universal compassion—all this demanded unqualified obedience, unquestioning loyalty, and unlimited devotion.

The invisible King of ancient Israel, ironically enough, can and does pass every test of suitability as a monarch that we independent-minded Americans could ever throw at Him. Because, really, it’s not that we Americans despise kings, per se. We despise kings who are not truly kingly. We despise kings who fail to be noble. The invisible King of the ancient Israelites not only is truly noble and kingly, He defines what these words mean.

But we would have the devil of a time obeying this King, and serving Him, and paying Him homage as we should, if He had not done one particularly remarkable thing. The Old Testament shows us how bad the ancient Israelites actually were at submitting themselves to an invisible king. Over and over again, they proclaimed their allegiance. And over and over again, they failed to render it. We would do no better than they did, if we had to reach out into the absolute darkness to find our king.

So the truly wise, truly just, truly open-hearted King—the One Who really does see all, know all, love all, embrace all—He united Himself with our human stock. He became a human king, a visible king—who still had none of the trappings, none of the empty pretenses and affectations—still had no chariot or ivory scepter or chauffeur or personal jet. To the contrary, He had sandals like everyone else; He walked from place to place like everyone else did; He worked with His hands and even knelt down and washed His friends’ stinky feet after a journey.

The invisible King became the visible man who had no visible affectations of royalty, but who did have all the invisible truth of it. The eternal invisible King became the visible human King, Who is the real King and the genuine definition of ‘king,’ namely:

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

Presentation of the Virgin and E Pluribus Unum

Carpacio Presentation of the Virgin

Saints Joachim and Ann knew that they had a lovely daughter, the offspring of their flesh, a young lass of our human stock.

We, too, know some sweet young ladies, I am sure–of seven, or ten, or twelve. We know how reassuringly human they are, and playful, and funny. We cannot doubt that our Lady had those qualities, when she was a girl.

But Joachim and Ann, attuned as they themselves were to the interior life of prayer—they knew also that their daughter had an altogether unique and wonderful interiority.

In the gospel reading at today’s Holy Mass, we read how the Lord Jesus drove the merchants out of the Temple, saying: “this is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!” He could have been saying those words to us, referring to our souls. O fallen man, your soul is a house of prayer, but you have filled it with thievery! It takes a lifetime of penance to cleanse the temple.

But Joachim and Ann’s daughter, they could see, had no thieves in her interior temple. She could goof; she could laugh, like girls will do. But there was no grasping; there was no desperation; no unreasonable anger, no inconsistency of desire. The young Mary wanted one thing, focused on one thing, rested her whole heart and mind on one thing: God.

This girl belonged in the Temple. Everyone who knew her could see that she herself was a temple. When Joachim and Ann took her to the Temple to learn the things of God, the temple of a pure soul came to the Temple on Mount Zion.

President gave a speech yesterday evening. I must say that I was truly moved by the peroration. He painted the picture of the people we know, the fathers and mothers and children who deserve a better life than “it’s no fun being an illegal alien.”

Genesis Illegal Alien cdPresident Obama quoted Exodus. Our Catholic Bible offers a more precise translation: “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.”

The People of God know that this world offers no lasting city. Our true home lies above. ‘Resident-alien’-hood comes to us as a birthright, with Holy Baptism.

President said that our country is about more than what we look like and what our last names are. Amen to that. Then he added the usual throw-away phrase about religion: doesn’t matter “how we worship,” either.

Wrong.

How do we get where we want to be? That is: How do we get to the point where we embrace all men as brothers, because we have one common Father?

Only one human individual begotten of two human parents ever came into the world with that sentiment already at work in her beautiful soul. The rest of us have an intractable tendency to fight amongst ourselves.

America can only become the “America” of the beautiful vision by resting securely at the feet of the true patroness of this land, the Guadalupana, the immaculate Mother of God.

What we look like, and our last names, don’t matter. But how we worship not only matters, but is the key to everything. The religion that brings about e pluribus unum is the religion of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

A New Day

I make no secret of the fact that I ardently dislike President Obama. I find him obtuse in practically every imaginable way.

Nonetheless, this is a party I wish I could attend:

We are for this. As a Church, we wrote a letter asking for it.

So, this evening, let’s rejoice in a victory for the Gospel of Life!

Then: let’s wake up tomorrow morning, ready to fight on–for everyone else whose God-given rights are not protected by law, especially the innocent and defenseless unborn.

Vs. Cobble Hill/Brooklyn-Promenade College

Season opener against St. Francis College Brooklyn! Takes me back two decades to walks along Brooklyn Promenade and hanging out on Amity Street…

Alonzo Mourning’s son and Reggie Williams’ son both on the court at the end of the game.

Yeah, buddy! Season off to a great start.

The Hard Man with Plenty of Money

At Holy Mass this Sunday we read verses 14 to 30 of Matthew 25, the Parable of the Talents. Next Sunday, when we keep the Solemnity of Christ the King, we will hear the rest of the chapter. Matthew 25 enjoys great fame as a chapter. Next week we will hear: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…He will separate the _____ (sheep) from the _____(goat)s.”

When He does, the criteria for judgment will be: “I was hungry, and…(you fed me)” “I was thirty, and…(you gave me drink)” “A stranger, and…(you welcomed me)” “Naked, and…(you clothed me)” “Sick, and you…(cared for me)” “In prison, and you…(visited me)” The sheep will ask incredulously, When did we see you so, Lord? “Amen, whatever you did for…(the least of my brothers), you did for me.”

sheep-goatsIn other words, the divine King has not left us in the dark, when it comes to the Final Judgment.

He has painted a crystal-clear picture for us. Matthew 25. Goats don’t help the poor neighbor. Sheep help, without even thinking about it. Then, the sheep die, and wake up in heaven, and only then do they realize that the Lord Jesus Himself had visited them countless times, in His distressing disguise.

Now, I bring all this up not because I want to skip over our gospel reading for this Sunday. I simply feel that we need to take proper cognizance of this fact: the Parable of the Talents appears in the famous and crucially important chapter about the Final Judgment.

The Lord actually told two slightly different versions of this parable. Matthew’s gospel has a master giving talents to his servants; Luke has a king giving gold coins to his. A “talent” equaled the annual income of a skilled wage-earner. So the master of Matthew’s parable has as much money as the king in Luke’s.

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Maybe Democratically Incorrect, But…

obama-prayingBlessed Pope Paul VI, pray for us!

When Pope Paul still bore the name Giovanni Battista Montini, his father played a prominent role in Italian politics. Giorgio Montini tried everything to keep Mussolini out of power, but history ran a different direction. The Fascists won the battle, and innocent people died.

The premier English-language biographer of Pope Paul VI, Peter Hebblethwaite, holds the “official” Catholic theology of the early 20th century to blame. The Church would not officially endorse democracy. Therefore, Hebblethwaite contends, the Fascists won.

To this day, the Church does not ‘endorse’ any particular political arrangement. Now, the teaching of St. John Paul II certainly highlighted reasons why we might say that democracy seems to be the system most reflective of the dignity of the human person. (Which was revealed by Christ.)

Pope Paul VI's father

Pope Paul VI’s father

But: I think the position we American Catholics find ourselves in at this moment, in the late fall of AD 2014–this position, in which we find ourselves, goes a long way to showing why the Church cannot ‘endorse’ any particular political arrangement.

Democracy is a complicated, messy business. Meanwhile, we strive to keep our eyes focused on the crystalline facts of fundamental human rights.

Is it ‘correct’ for us to pray and hope as follows?

A sitting President, duly elected–though hardly a champion of our Catholic principles–arguably intends to subvert the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution, in the interest of accomplishing a goal which we would not hesitate to call the vindication of human rights–namely, that families should not be subject to arbitrary separation, that people of all races enjoy the prerogative of migrating as they think best, and governments cannot interfere with that, failing a good reason– Can we Catholics, who love democracy and America–can we hope and pray that the President will stick to his guns and unilaterally grant legal ‘amnesty’ to as many of our brothers and sisters as possible?

We can hope and pray for this. And we should hope and pray for it.

May the democratically elected President, who says and does a lot of things that we hate–may he stand firm, and subvert the Constitution, and do the right thing!

Philemon and Cabrini

Holy Mass on Mother Cabrini's tomb.  She was beatified 76 years ago today!

Holy Mass on Mother Cabrini’s tomb. She was beatified 76 years ago today! (photo credit Mr. Dan Shanahan)

Hard to imagine any document more truly ennobling to the reader than St. Paul’s letter to Philemon. My dime-store summary:

Dear Philemon,

Your beloved slave Onesimus (whose name means ‘useful’) found me here in prison. Since running away from you, he has become a Christian, like you. As I know that you aspire to a true practice of the religion of Christ, I point out the following to you.

1. You owe me your life, as if you were my bondslave in the Lord, since I preached the Gospel of salvation to you and baptized you. I won you from the devil. You are, in the sight of God, my chattel.

But as I, too, strive to follow in the footsteps of the humble, divine Servant of mankind, I will not give you any orders. I leave you free to choose what you believe is the best course.

2. Mr. Useful, according to the calculus of this passing world, has a discrete monetary value to you, as your slave. By running away from you, he has effectively robbed you of that amount. If you wish, I myself will pay you that debt in cash, in order to make you whole monetarily.

3. Now that he, too, has been redeemed by Christ from the eternal slavery of sin, you must regard Mr. Useful as a brother. No longer just useful, but now beloved. I would rather that he stayed here with me–since he really is remarkably useful! :) But that would be stealing; that would be me forcing your hand—which I will not do. So I send Mr. Useful, my beloved brother, back to you, who are also my beloved brother. I will not use either of you.

I request, I beg you to be useful to me, and treat Mr. Useful as something more than useful.

Love, Paul

Being useful can lead to a person feeling used. The Christian never uses another human being as a means to an end. Because the Christian is free with the freedom of God.

Seeing a fellow human being as a slave, as a means, a tool—to see the world that way is the worst slavery of all. It means being trapped in the jail of a world without love.

But if I see in my neighbor’s eyes the doorway to an invisible throne room, where a human person chooses the good, chooses love, chooses God—if I behold the tabernacle of freedom in my neighbor, then I have been liberated from the slavery of using people. And I live now in the wide-open freedom of the only absolutely free One, namely God.

Beautiful Church

"I don't know what he's talking about.  I'm from New Jersey."

“I don’t know what he’s talking about. I’m from New Jersey.”

“This Temple has been under construction for 46 years!” (John 2:20)

King Herod ruled when the Lord Jesus was born. Herod’s son Herod “ruled” when the Lord was crucified. The earlier Herod had great vision and skill as a builder of magnificent buildings. He laid out the plans to transform the small, unassuming second Jewish Temple into the enormous complex that Jesus drove the oxen out of.

Anybody know what happened on February 22, 1987, and then on November 25, 2001? On those dates, the Bishop of Richmond solemnly dedicated the buildings of our cluster parish churches. It hadn’t taken a full 46 years to build either of them. But it took plenty of blood, sweat, and tears.

Anybody ever been to the National Shrine in Washington? Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Washington has one very significant thing in common with Rome. Both cities have one huge Catholic church, which everyone thinks is the cathedral, and then another large Catholic church, which actually is the cathedral.

The Pope's cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica

The Pope’s cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica

The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is not the cathedral of Washington, D.C. Anybody know what the actual cathedral there is? Right, St. Matthew’s.

What exactly is a ‘cathedral’ anyway? To know that, we have to know what a ‘cathedra’ is. Anybody?

The cathedra is the seat from which a bishop teaches, sanctifies, and rules the Christian people of his diocese. Simply put, then, the cathedral is the bishop’s church.

Who is the bishop of Rome? Papa Francesco, of course–the world’s most beloved Italian-American. Everybody thinks St. Peter’s is his cathedral. But it isn’t. St. Peter’s Basilica is where St. Peter’s bones are. San Giovanni in Laterano is the pope’s cathedral. It’s on the other side of town, in a more ancient part of the city of Rome.

St. John Lateran took about ten years to build, originally. It was solemnly dedicated 1,690 years ago this Sunday. The church has undergone a few expansions and renovations since then, involving people like Michelangelo and Bernini.

Buildings can help us a great deal, since we are not wolverines; we are not jaguars; we are not caribou. We cannot spend all our time outside. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have places inside, where we can celebrate Mass. And it helps us pray when these places express our faith in their appointments and adornments.

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Invested in Sheep

sheep

One important thing for us to try and remember when reading the Holy Scriptures: For the ancient nomad, there was only one bank account you could have, namely animals.

We get statements in the mail. The ancient nomad heard the sound of his wealth bleating in the clover. We write checks or execute electronic fund transfers. The ancient nomad sheared, or slaughtered, or sold a few head.

We make deposits. The ancient nomad bred his animals, or acquired more by shrewd dealing. We talk to accountants about income projections for our savings and investments, with an eye to retirement. The ancient nomad ran his hands over the stubbly backs of his lowing animals and prayed: May no disease, no thief, no predator bring you to grief, O future of mine.

We fear stock market crashes. The ancient nomad feared wolves in the night.

Ninety-nine sheep huddled together, on the way to the fold, as the sun sets: Safe. Money in the bank.

On the other hand, one lone sheep, on a hillside somewhere: Tasty looking.

God has no need of us. But the mystery of Christ’s revelation teaches us this: Even though the heavenly Father enjoys perfect happiness and blessedness from ages unto ages, He nonetheless imagines a future with us. We are His precious money, His wealth, and He has an immeasurable zeal for the safety of His investment. He showed us on the Cross how intense is His desire to cash us in, when the time comes, at full value.

Hating People, Secularization, and Suicide

If any one does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

The Lord apparently put this another way, on a different occasion. In Matthew, we read that He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me, or son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.”

No contradiction between these two statements, though. If we consider family loyalty of the utmost importance, which we naturally do. To put our family ties even in second place, after God, after Christ—doing that can seem, to family members who would insist on having first place, like hatred.

elgrecochristcrossBut let’s keep going: If anyone comes to me without hating even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

At yet a different point in His pilgrim life, the Lord Jesus predicted His Passion, and the Jews listening to Him asked, “He is not going to kill himself, is he?”

Whoever does not carry his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

Seems to me like we have long since reached the point where successfully interpreting all this is way above my paygrade. So let me quote St. John Chrysostom:

“He means not that we should place a beam of wood on our shoulders, but that we should ever have death before our eyes.”

Always have death before our eyes.

Listen, I love to stay up late and watch election returns as much as the next guy. At the same time, I’m also just as much against “rampant secularism” as the next religious guy. But I think we need to pause and think about what “secularization” really means.

St John Chrysostom in St PatricksThe saeculum, the century, the current age, involves: elections, smartphones, getting married, having children, cars, college basketball seasons, hamburgers, turkeys, Thanksgiving-dinner arguments, highway construction, tv shows and movies, e-mail and appointments, traveling for work and/or pleasure, having a job, sleeping, buying and wearing clothes, catching colds and getting over them.

By all the same tokens, the saeculum, these years in which we live, also provides us with our one and only known opportunity to: praise God, be kind, welcome strangers, help people who need help, seek the truth and stand up for it with courage, learn, read, see beautiful things and listen to beautiful music, grow, expand our minds and hearts by seeking and loving the Good and the True.

To live for this life only is a kind of suicide. By this time next century we will all be dust and ashes. No one will remember even a single one of all the fascinating comments we made.

That said, committing suicide is also a clear form of suicide. These days we have now–they come from God, out of His infinite love. Even the hardest of them–especially the hardest, most painful days—they come as the most precious gifts.

Every second of every minute of every day He gives us serves a purpose: We can love Him and our neighbor right now. Thereby transforming ourselves, little by little, into something that can actually endure forever, like God.