#WeAreN, like St. Sharbel

St. Sharbel of Lebanon, ordained 155 years ago yesterday

St. Sharbel of Lebanon, ordained 155 years ago yesterday

I know a Lebanese family in Washington, named Malouf, who say they are kin to Father Sharbel.

I am by no means an expert, but let’s go over these basic things:

God became a human being, born of a virgin from…

Nazareth lies in the northern part of the nation of Israel, which shares a long border with the coastal land of…

When the Son of God stood on the seashore in Capernaum, and looked to His left, He saw the highlands in the nation of…Syria.

Let’s go back a little further, 2,000 more years. Abraham came to the Promised Land from the city of Ur in…Chaldea, which is present-day…Iraq.

Abraham, Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus our Lord, St. Sharbel, all the Lebanese people we know, Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis—they all have one thing in common, namely hailing from the same general area, about the same size as Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia.

WeAreNThe Lord Jesus wept because of the hardness of this world and the sadness of death. We weep for the people of Syria and Iraq, especially the Christian people who have been targeted for brutal persecution. May the good Lord deliver them.

Planning a Talk

Makes life so much easier for the preacher when we have the same gospel readings on the weekdays that we just recently read of a Sunday. :)

We remember: the devil’s birds will eat the seeds of eternal life in us, unless we work on developing spiritual discipline of some kind, building our personalities on the foundation of faith.

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parableGod says, “I love you,” in the simplest, most straightforward manner. But maintaining the kind of interior quiet in which we can hear the Lord’s proclamations of love—in this noisy world, it can be harder than multivariable calculus. If we see things only on the surface, we encounter noise and agitation that manage somehow to both exhaust our minds and bore us to tears. It takes a lot of hard work to sit still and listen to God.

Speaking of noise in the world…I’ll speak for myself, but I can’t imagine that I am alone in this feeling this way: Over the course of the past two and a half years, developments on the national- and the world-stage have gotten considerably more complicated—and difficult for us Catholic Christians to navigate and deal with. I, for one, feel the weight of a great burden when it comes to sorting things out and finding the basic ideas that can help me make sense out of it all.

I have too much to say on this to fit in right now, so I propose to give a 20-minute talk.

The talk is called: “Conservative Enough to be Liberal,” and it covers the 1st, 6th, and 5th Commandments.

Come in person:

5:45pm Saturday, July 26th at Francis of Assisi, Rocky Mount

7:30pm Friday, August 1 at St. Joseph, Martinsville

And I will try to publish the talk here, too. :)

Two Kinds of Evil

“While everyone was asleep, his enemy came.” (Matthew 13:25)

devil sewing taresDoes God sleep? Sometimes God appears to sleep, and the Enemy sows weeds.

One of the questions our contemporaries ask us: How can you believe? When bad things happen all the time, and God does nothing? How can you believe in such a silent, absent, sleeping God?

The Enemy has sown weeds up and down the face of the earth. Smog chokes the air. No jobs for people with Masters degrees. More refugees living in squalid camps right now than at any time in recorded history. More conflict, less understanding. Immigrant children unwelcome. Unborn children unwelcome. Gridlock here, bombs exploding there. Hope on the wane.

And all the while, God sleeps—as the Scriptures themselves, in a parable told by the Son of God, relate!

Do we have a sleeping God Who doesn’t care? Who lets good people get cancer, because He can’t be bothered?

Continue reading

From Lackluster to Heaven

Tomb of St. Camillus in Rome

Tomb of St. Camillus in Rome

I know a man with a lot of bad habits. And, generally speaking, he is difficult to deal with. And he doesn’t take care of himself, physically or spiritually, like he should.

In spite of all this, he haunts churches. He is forever hanging around, doing this or that, and he seems to have a great interest in the Word of God and the teachings of the Church.

Yes, this man gives every impression of being a hopeless case. A thoroughgoing, hapless loser³. Nonetheless, there may be hope for him. Because, 450 years ago, there was a similar case.

Camillus de Lellis had a lot of bad habits. And people found him very annoying. But he, too, haunted churches and liked to listen to the Word of God. And we know for a fact that Camillus made it to heaven, because he wound up converting to a very holy life, and he has been canonized by Mother Church.

Lackluster, not really very healthy, and disagreeable. But often in church. Sound familiar? Your humble servant.

God can do amazing things with even incorrigible people who hang around churches.

Rumour vs. Our Heavenly Patron

televisionFrom heaven the Lord looks down on the earth. (Psalm 102:20)

And what does He see? Does He see sober, quiet labor? Does He see us working for His glory, focused on Him, with love in our hearts for all our neighbors?

Or does He hear nothing but the babble of gossips? Does He hear us talking about people behind their backs, judging them on hearsay?

At the beginning of one of his plays, Shakespeare has ‘Rumour’ speak, as a character:

Open your ears; for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commenced on this ball of earth.
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
…Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures,
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wav’ring multitude,
Can play upon it. But what need I thus
My well-known body to anatomize
Among my household?

St Joseph shrine immaculate conceptionWe need to focus on one very important fact: The way people talk about each other on t.v. is not Christian. On the internet? God forbid–even more un-Christian still. And on talk radio.

I guarantee that when I turn on the t.v, within fifteen minutes I will hear people talking about each other in a way that is un-Christian, no matter what channel it is. It will either be fictional gossip or real-live gossip. But it will be un-Christian speech.

(And if you think I mean, ‘except EWTN,’ I do not. EWTN has self-righteous gossips, too.)

If my mind has grown accustomed to the way people talk on t.v., I will talk that way myself. And I will speak when I should not about things that I should not.

Let’s let good St. Joseph guide us. Let’s count up the number of speeches he gave, as recorded by the Holy Scriptures. O, wait. He didn’t give any speeches. Okay. Let’s count up the number of sentences he uttered, according to Holy Scripture. Oh. Zero. Okay, how about the number of words he spoke, according to the Scriptures.

[Birds chirping. Summer breeze blowing.]

Thank you, sweet St. Joseph. Please pray for us. May we share in your gift of holy silence.

Submission & Mt. Carmel

St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face

St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face

At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”

Third time in a month we have read the same gospel passage at Mass. We read it on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, two Sundays ago, and now, again, today. Just as well. We could read this passage every day.

Jesus reveals the Father. He reveals the Father to the simple and humble-hearted. In other words, He reveals the Father to contemplatives, like Elijah, and the Blessed Mother, and St. Therese, and all the son and daughters of Mt. Carmel.

The Father, Almighty God, the Source of all–not easy to know, not easy to see. Impossible, actually. But Jesus reveals the heavenly Father’s face, the inscrutable divine face. The Son of Mary reveals the inaccessible mystery.

In our reading from the prophet Isaiah, the Lord reproves the tool that forgets that it’s in someone’s hand. “Will the axe boast against him who hews with it? Or the saw boast against the one who wields it?” (Isaiah 10:15) In His human nature, the Son reveals, above all, submission to the will of the Father. What any child knows: I find myself on earth because of a greater power and mind, creator of all this beauty. What can I do other than take it in, and try to obey His grand design as best I can?

Click HERE for a two-year-old homily on Isaiah 10, involving St. Ignatius Loyola and Mother Teresa.

Macbeth

Sean Connery Macbeth

I never knew a performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth could so thoroughly enrapture a person, until the American Shakespeare Center (in Staunton, Va.) players did it to me.

They managed to produce the Platonic forms of all the characters. Macbeth: Martial, fraternal, and desperately in love with the only true confidante a man in such desperate, violent times can have, his wife. Banquo: The nobler of the two soldier-friends, but just barely. Duncan: magnanimous, not simpering. Macduff: tortured, but manly. Lady Macbeth: ravishing, graceful, and just imaginative enough to come untethered from reality.

To be honest, until I saw this ASC production, I did not adequately understand how seamless a masterpiece the play really is. Even the comic relief–the drunken porter muttering jokes to himself about souls arriving in the bad place, as he makes his way to the castle gate–serves the dramatic effect.

Continue reading

Scaring Off the Gospel-Pecking Pigeons

The Gospel of the Word was announced that all men by faithful acceptance of the same might be included in the kingdom of Christ and in this kingdom might attain everlasting bliss.

fortune cookieChrist Himself–His identity, His kingdom, His goal in all His works–He offers us the key to understanding all His parables.

The parables of Christ do not fall into any other category of wise teaching. They do not offer wholesome morals like Aesop’s fables. They do not spell out helpful rules to live by like the sayings of Confucius. No one has ever successfully found a way to put the parables of Christ inside a cookie.

No, the gospel parables illustrate; they illuminate; they make visual and visible the as-yet-invisible reality of the Kingdom of Christ Himself.

Now, the Gospel. The Gospel of the incarnate Word of God. The Good News, euangelion. A seed. That God has sown in a field. And that we, too–if we would co-operate with God–must also sow.

Continue reading

St. Benedict, Sarabaites, and a Good Rule to Live By

St. Benedict delivering the rule

Before he gets into the details of his rule of life for monks, St. Benedict speaks of the kind of monk that none of his disciples should be:

In their works, they still keep faith with the world…They live without a shepherd…in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord’s. Their law is their desire for self-gratification: whatever enters their mind or appeals to them, that they call holy; what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.

Now, the life of the other kind of monk—the diligent, faithful, obedient one; the invisible one who quietly changes the sheets of the guest-room beds and washes the commodes before the sun rises, and then sings the psalms with the brothers in the chapel with a heart full of joy—the faithful monk’s life teaches us, better than anything else, what our Christian lives must be like.

Our goal is to reach the antithesis of what St. Benedict condemns. The greatest trap for any soul is to believe that what I will is what God wills. The greatest freedom is actually to will what God wills. The temptation is to regard as God’s those things that I like. The liberation is to like God’s actual things.

The way from the one to the other does not involve rocket science. No one needs special genius to follow the path from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. The way from calling my will God’s to willing what God wills is simple: Living for years, decades–an entire lifetime–as a humble son or daughter of Mother Church, going every Sunday to Mass and every month to Confession.

I do not claim to have any spiritual insight whatsoever. I certainly am not holy enough to lay down any rules. But I guarantee that this method will work. Doubt nothing that the Church teaches. Go to Mass every Sunday. Go Confession every month. Fifty to sixty years of this will do a person a great deal of spiritual good.

Immigration Policy and Human Decency, Part 10 million

Whoever will not receive you…it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Matthew 10:14-15)

Mark Greenbery border crisis Senate hearing

Nor exactly Mr. Charisma. But more reasonable than anyone else sitting there.

Sometimes the priest simply has to state the obvious. Like at a wedding I did when I was fresh out of seminary. The bride had starred on her college volleyball team. Her maid of honor had, too. The young volleyball star had found a groom of appropriate height, whose best friend, the best man, stood eye-to-eye with him.

So, as the wedding began, five people stood in front of the altar, all of them over 6’ 1”. So I had to say, ‘Yes, this is a wedding. It is not a practice for some kind of co-ed Olympic basketball team.’

US Mexico border wallComcast finally carried out its threat. They took away all the channels that we don’t actually pay for at the rectory, so all I have left to watch is CSPAN. Which is fine. I watched with great interest the night-time re-broadcast of yesterday’s Senate border-crisis hearing.

Here’s the obvious thing that the priest needs to say. When a child comes into our custody, into the custody of the federal government of the United States of America, we are bound by the most fundamental laws of human decency. We must seek out the child’s parents or closest relatives, and, by any practicable means, get the child into the care of his or her parents, as soon as possible.

This moral obligation cannot be qualified in any way by our immigration policies and laws. There is no human authority with the competence to alter the fundamental demands of human decency. If a child comes into my care, and I can find the parents, I must get the child home to his or her parents, wherever the parents are, whether they are ‘legal’ or ‘illegal.’ To do anything other than this would involve offending the most basic standards of human decency, which are an international law that guides everyone.

How could anyone fail to see this? How could a room full of technocrats sit around at a hearing about unaccompanied minors and not begin by accepting as a clear and evident fact that this is the moral duty of the US government? Then we can have a discussion about immigration policy, but only after we recognize that getting the children into the custody of their parents is our primary duty before God. Right?

Of course, all other questions are secondary. Aren’t they? After all, we are a decent, civilized people. We recognize immediately the obligations that adults have towards children.

Oh, wait. I forgot. We are actually a barbarian nation, in which thousands of innocent and defenseless unborn children get killed right under our noses every day.

No wonder we have Senate committee hearings in which technocrats dispute secondary and tertiary political matters ad nauseam while innocent children remain separated from their parents and in our custody.