Babylonian Captivity

Ishtar Gate Babylon
replica of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, in a German museum

In our first reading at Sunday Mass, we hear about how they threw the prophet Jeremiah into a cistern to starve. Why? Jeremiah had prophesied that a foreign power, the Babylonian empire, would conquer Jerusalem and destroy it. [Spanish]

Was Jeremiah right about that? Yes. The Babylonians did conquer Jerusalem and destroy it. And they took the Jewish people into exile.

Babylon. The archaeological site lies outside Baghdad, in Iraq. The original Jew had lived in that area, before the Lord called him to the Promised Land. Correct: Abraham. Abraham’s hometown of Ur lay downriver from Babylon, towards the Persian Gulf.

The same Hebrew word gave us both “Babel” and “Babylon.” We know they had a tower in Babylon, of which God did not approve. Anyone know the ancient word for the tower of Babel? Ziggurat. Like a pyramid. In the pagan mind, a ziggurat served as a gateway between earth and heaven.

To punish that human presumption—our imagining that we can climb up to heaven by our own power—God Almighty allowed the human race to separate into different nations with different languages.

In our Sunday gospel reading, we hear the Lord Jesus declare that He came to bring division. But we must remember that human division actually began with our own delusions of grandeur, our own arrogance before God. Humbling ourselves before Him can unite us again. The Lord Jesus separates the humble from the arrogant. He unites the humble with God, and with each other.

tower_of_babel-erich_lessing
Tower of Babel by Erich Lessing

…Getting back to the exile of the Jews: that exile fell like a hammer blow upon them. Let’s recall what had happened before that. Abraham had occupied the land that God promised. And, by a miracle, the old man became the patriarch of a very large family. A famine then threatened the family’s survival. Again, by a miracle, one of Abraham’s great-grandsons happened to have control of all the granaries of Egypt.

Then the pharaoh enslaved the numerous descendants of Abraham. By a series of miracles, God raised up Moses and led the people out of slavery. They returned to the Promised Land. They built the Temple, according to God’s instructions. They thought they would live happily ever after, in a powerful and prosperous kingdom, ruled by a wise king.

Instead they wound up exiles. Pretty much right back where it had all began. The exiled Jews might have thought: We have nothing to show for the previous thousand years of dramatic national history. They might have despaired and simply given up on Abraham’s covenant with God.

But, actually, they did have a lot to show for their years of history as God’s chosen people. They had the Ten Commandments. They had the annual Passover and the other liturgical observances. And they had the Holy Spirit of God, speaking to them through the prophets, teaching them to hope.

The Babylonian exile taught our spiritual ancestors to do the basic things we do. 1. Base our lives on our faith in the Word of God. 2. Gather together to listen to the Scriptures and pray. 3. Confess our sins and try to purify ourselves of worldliness and vice. 4. Look forward to the final fulfillment of God’s plan, trusting that He is the Lord of all things and all time.

Jeremiah Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo’s Jeremiah, Sistine Chapel

The Babylonian exile could have meant the end. When Nebuchadnezzar deported the last Jews from Jerusalem and burned the Temple to the ground, all the other nations of the Middle East certainly thought: that’s the end of the Jews.

But it wasn’t the end. It was the beginning of another chapter. A chapter that involved trying to live humbly and faithfully under the domain of a worldly pagan culture.

Does the word “Babylon” appear in the New Testament? You might think not, since the city fell to the Persians five centuries before the coming of Christ.

But, in their writings, St. Peter and St. John both called the Roman empire “Babylon.” In that sense, “Babylon” means: any adverse circumstances under which the Christian faithful must live. Any realm governed by empty pride, outward show, and deep godlessness.

They threw Jeremiah in a cistern because they did not want to hear the truth: God had not made His chosen people an invincible empire destined to attract the world’s attention. Rather, the Lord had united a struggling band of sinners, who shared one thing: Needing a Savior.

St. Peter wrote: “The church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings…Greet one another with the holy kiss. Peace to all who are in Christ.” Let’s receive that brotherly greeting, and share it with each other. It’s meant for us, because we share in the same brotherhood. Exiled in Babylon, striving to hold fast to the one, true God.

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Spotlight Continues

Spotlight movie

The possibility of his returning to lawful courses and restoring to his fellow citizens their freedom and their rights was no longer open to him: because during the thoughtless days of his youth he had entangled himself in such terrible crimes and committed so many guilty acts that he could only return to sanity at the cost of his own destruction.

The ancient Roman philosopher Cicero’s description of Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse. Or maybe his unwitting prophecy of McCarrick and his confederates.

Where do we stand now? A year after the most painful and confusing August in the history of the Lord Jesus’ Church?

1. In a December report on the dioceses of Illinois, the state attorney general pointed out that the terms “credible allegation” of abuse, or “substantiated allegation” do not have a clear, standard definition in the Catholic Church in the United States.

Even though the disciplinary procedures of the bishops’ Charter for Protection of Children and Young People utterly rely on these terms.

James Grein speaking in Baltimore

2. No state outlaws inappropriate attentions that could constitute “grooming” for sexual abuse. Grooming, in and of itself, involves no civil crimes. But grooming certainly involves a profound betrayal of any priest’s–or any adult’s–duty.

Over the course of the past year, no ecclesiastical official has so much as attempted to define what constitutes grooming.

3. Earlier this month a former member of the bishops’ National Review Board published a list of myths about the Catholic sex-abuse crisis. He defended the decade-and-a-half-long record of the large administrative and educational apparatus that the 2002 Charter erected.

Dr. Plante insists that the bishops can reasonably claim: they basically fixed this problem in 2002.

But, doctor: What about the fact that most victims do not find the courage to speak out for many years? Couldn’t many cases of as-yet-unreported abuse since 2002 still come to light, thereby altering your statistics?

Dr. Plante insists: That’s outdated thinking. It used to be difficult for victims to come forward, but now it’s easy.

I think most sex-abuse victims would strenuously disagree.

4. Last August, Carlo Maria Viganò reported that he had informed Pope Francis about McCarrick’s thick Vatican file, which included testimony about McCarrick’s sexual abuses.

Viganò wrote that he told Pope Francis about McCarrick at a meeting they had in June of 2013. That is, well over four years before two lawyers in New York uncovered evidence against McCarrick, more or less by accident–leading to his eventual downfall.

A reporter asked the pope about Viganò’s claim, later that same day, last August. The pope would not answer.

In October, one of the pope’s assistants, in an open letter to Viganò, insisted that Pope Francis could not possibly be expected to remember such a detail. (Namely, that a sitting papal nuncio to the US informed him of a file on a Cardinal, containing information about the sexual abuse of seminarians.) How could His Holiness remember everything he deals with, in the rush of events that a pope confronts every day?

Archbishop Vigano

In May, the pope himself echoed that sentiment, in an interview with a Mexican journalist. He could hardly have remembered what Viganò told him.

In other words, no one ever has denied the truth of what Viganò said about his June 2013 meeting with Pope Francis. He told the pope about McCarrick. Pope Francis did nothing until five years later, when he had no choice but to act. He hadn’t acted previously because he “forgot.”

5. Last September our bishop promised his “full co-operation with any independent, lay-managed, authoritative investigation into the scandal of Theodore McCarrick.” As far as we know, no such investigation has occurred.

I hate to quote myself. But, at that time, when the Catholic airwaves coursed with prelates promising a thorough McCarrick investigation, I predicted:

“Maybe sometime next year we will learn that the pope quietly laicized McCarrick. And that, supposedly, will satisfy justice. When the good faith of thousands of American Catholics has been cruelly mocked.”

I take no pleasure in pointing out: time has proven me right.

Lying, self-interested mafiosi make lots of promises of future disclosures of information. But then they never disclose any. They make endless pledges to study and solve problems. But they never solve them.

mccarrick and wilton gregory

These problems did not emerge for the first time last summer. At the time when McCarrick preyed on his victims–back in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s–all these issues of Church governance already sat squarely on the table:

How do you foster an environment in which sex-abuse victims feel free to accuse the criminals? How do you verify accusations of sexual abuse? How can the Church give justice to victims in situations where the civil authority cannot, or will not, act? What rules must we have for priestly life that would prohibit interactions that could lead to sexual abuse?

These questions hardly arose out-of-the-blue last summer. If you want to blow your mind, dear reader, click this link and read the report submitted to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by Thomas Doyle, Ray Mouton, and Michael Peterson. In 1985. 1985.

Among victims’ advocates, that report came to be known at “The Manual.” The report raises dozens of disciplinary, legal, and pastoral questions. Questions that the prelates of the Church must find a way to answer.

Over 34 years later, most of the questions remain unanswered.

A lumbering, multi-generational mafia of incompetent frauds runs the Church. It’s a sad and evident fact, with no short-term hope in sight.

A couple weeks ago, a West-Virginia theologian named Michael Iafrate published an essay in the Washington Post about the crisis of leadership in the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

If you’ve followed my posts about Bransfield and Lori, you know the saga. Bransfield did wrong, and nobody paid attention for over a decade. Then everyone panicked last August. Archbishop Lori of Baltimore “investigated.” Bransfield got “punished.” New bishop installed. Case closed.

Iafrate concludes his essay:

From the start, some West Virginia Catholics including myself were suspicious of the investigation because Lori wouldn’t reveal the investigators’ identities and other basic details of the probe. We felt justified when The Washington Post report came out in early June showing that Lori was among the recipients of Bransfield’s gifts — using funds for which Bransfield was later reimbursed by the diocese. Lori received $10,500 in checks from Bransfield, The Post reported, and then redacted the names of gift recipients, including his own, from the report before it went to Rome.

The archbishop later apologized for the decision, but he told a West Virginia newspaper, “As you can see, it didn’t prevent me from authorizing a no-holds-barred report.” “As you can see” is funny language to use in reference to a report that remains hidden from the public.

Now that Rome has issued its sanctions on Bransfield, church officials want us to trust that the punishment fits the crime and that healing can now begin. But Lori’s tight control of the report and his misrepresentation of its contents still prevent us from knowing the truth about the crimes in the first place.

All of this suggests that the new system of bishops investigating bishops is simply a new face of the church’s textbook protectionism. At some point, the bishops could very well convince us that they are capable of investigating one another, and that justice has been done in West Virginia.

The only way to do that, though, is by atoning for Lori’s sins of omission through real transparency, including the release of the full Bransfield report and a full accounting for what happened in Philadelphia [Bransfield’s hometown, where he stands accused of sexual abuse, a diocesan “exoneration” notwithstanding]. Short of that, welcome to the same old story.

A full accounting for what happened with McCarrick? Looks like we will have to wait for Judgment Day for that. Because the mafiosi can only return to sanity at the cost of their own destruction.

Mary and Jesus, Intertwined

angels nativity

As we make our way through the year of grace, we encounter Lord Jesus and Our Lady at different stages of their pilgrim lives. And we see how totally intertwined their lives are.

At Christmas, we encounter Jesus newly born. And Our Lady, new mother. Good Friday we encounter Jesus dying on the cross. And Our Lady at the foot of the cross. Pentecost we encounter Our Lady praying with the Apostles for the Holy Spirit. And Our Lord pouring out the Holy Spirit.

Today Our Lady entered heaven, body and soul. Because Our Lord took her there, by the death-conquering power of His body and soul.

My point is: it doesn’t require rocket science for a Christian to grasp the inseparability of Jesus and Mary. God entered the world as a human being by taking flesh from the body of one person—His mother, Mary. Mary came into her own as a human being—became the person God had preserved her from original sin in order to become—by being Jesus Christ’s loving mother.

pentecost_with_mary

Jesus the eternal God would not have been our brother and Savior—were it not for Mary. Mary would not have become herself, without Her Son.

Now, God became man in the Virgin’s womb in order to do… what? To reveal the love of the Father. By consecrating the human race through His own self-sacrifice—the sacrifice that conquered death and gave us our true destiny. To live as children of God, forever.

Of course there’s no separating the Blessed Virgin from this mystery. She lived as a pure vessel of divine love. She joined herself completely to Christ’s perfect self-sacrifice. So she shares fully in the undying life that her Son lives in His risen body. She shares it so completely that the sting of death could not touch her.

Now, do we presume too much to think: Okay, Mary and Jesus, inseparable. I want to be, and can be, that inseparable from the Savior, too! Do we presume too much to aspire to that?

Hardly. That’s the whole idea. Mary is not something other than a Christian. She conceived a child by believing in the promises of God. She gave her own flesh and blood to Him, while she carried Him in her womb, because of her total dedication to His mission. She prayed with Him. She listened to His every word, in order to know the revelation of God. She believed all His teaching and obeyed all His precepts. She followed Him faithfully to the end.

Paolo_Veneziano_-_Coronation_of_the_Virgin

Mary’s inseparability from Christ is not beyond us. To the contrary: She has shown us how. How to intertwine our lives with His. How to intertwine our very identities with His. She is the saint that we can never go wrong imitating.

Her faith. Her humility before God. Her courage in obeying Him. Her patience with the unfolding of His Providence. Her perseverance. Her tenderness.

Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven teaches us what to hope for. Her life on earth was Jesus Christ. So of course she shares His heavenly life now. The inseparability extends beyond just this short pilgrimage of a few decades. Just so, the Christian, whose whole life on earth is Jesus, inherits the heavenly life of Jesus, when this pilgrimage ends.

Guess where else it occurs–the intertwining between Jesus’ life and ours? In church. At the altar. The Sacred Liturgy.

We most imitate Mary in sharing Jesus’ life when we participate in Holy Mass with sincere faith and love.

The Faith of Abraham and Mary

In our second reading at Sunday Mass, we hear some of St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11. St. Paul praises the heroic faith of the ancestors of the Messiah. We hear this sentence: “Abraham prepared to sacrifice his only son Isaac, reasoning that God could raise the dead.” [Spanish]

Maybe you remember that we focused on this, on Palm Sunday: Abraham’s faith in God’s power to raise the dead. That day we heard in the gospel reading about the repentant thief who said to Christ, as the Lord hung on the cross: “Remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”

titian-christ-and-the-good-thief

Only the faith of Abraham could have moved the thief to ask such a favor. After all, what kingdom could he possibly mean? Here’s a poor rabbi, dying unjustly in agony, with no prospects of any kind. No kingdom to hope for. Except if you reason that God can raise the dead.

We hear some more of Hebrews 11 Sunday morning. By faith Abraham set forth from his home and dwelt in a tent in the fields. Because he had his heart set on the heavenly city, prepared by God. By faith Sarah conceived a child, even though she had lived barren, way past her child-bearing years. By faith Sarah become the mother of countless descendants. The mother of God’s chosen people, the people that gave the world the Messiah.

Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. Then it actually happened; God exercised that power.

That’s why we frequent the local church building. That’s why we honor the Lord’s day on Sunday, the day of the Christ’s resurrection. That’s why the Holy Mass gives grace, gives life—because the sacrifice of the altar gives us the flesh and blood of Jesus, risen from the dead by the infinite power of God.

It’s also why we don’t just honor Abraham’s wife Sarah as our mother in faith. Sarah conceived by faith, to be sure, as St. Paul put it in Hebrews 11. But another lady conceived by an altogether more sublime faith. A virgin. And she gave birth to the child that Sarah’s son Isaac prefigured.

tanner-annunciation

Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, reasoning that God could raise the dead. But then the angel stayed Abraham’s hand. In the fullness of time, God accepted the sacrifice of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Son. She stood by His cross and offered herself to the Father along with Him. The Blessed Mother offered herself with pure faith in God’s plan. Reasoning that God can raise the dead.

Thursday we will keep the Solemnity of the final fulfillment of Our Lady’s faith. When Jesus, risen from the dead, raised His mother up to heaven. Raised her up to the eternal city, whose architect and maker is God.

The Solemnity of August 15 lifts our minds up to the final goal and spurs us on in hope and confidence. But it’s also a rough anniversary this year. Yes, fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock. But that’s not what I mean. As Providence would have it, exactly one year ago, on Assumption Day, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury released its crushingly damning report on abuse in the Church.

If we read widely, we can find two basic accounts of what has happened since then. According to one version of the history of the past year: the grand-jury report unfairly published old news as if it were new. The bishops had actually fixed the problem seventeen years ago. And the pope and bishops have shown even more decisive leadership during the last year.

El Greco Virgin MaryAnother account sees something different: An institution in the grips of a problem it appears unable to solve, because the entire leadership is compromised. This second point-of-view has multiple versions, casting blame on homosexuality, or abuse of power, or on a communist plot to infiltrate the Church.

Let’s thank the good Lord that, in the midst of all this, He has kept us close to Himself. He has continued to pour out the grace of faith, faith in His only-begotten Son. He has kept us in His Church–not by blinding our eyes to the problems, but by rooting us so firmly in our faith in Christ that we can face the problems honestly.

When the Lord drew our Lady up to heaven, He freed her completely from all the pain and confusion of this fallen world. He united her with the truth about God’s love. And the truth about herself. That she was made for eternal love. He made us for eternal love, too.

We exist because of God’s all-conquering love. He formed us out of nothing, so that we could give Him glory, by becoming ourselves in full. By trusting God enough to step forward without fear, into the future He has prepared for us.

On Good Friday, the thief said, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” As he said that, Mary stood there, quietly offering her broken heart to the heavenly Father. She trusted in God’s Providence even at the moment when her only son died. Both the repentant thief on his cross next to Christ’s, and our Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross–they both thought along similar lines: They reasoned that God can raise the dead.

Having that kind of faith opens up a road before us. A road that leads to a city with celestial foundations. A city free of abuses, of cover-ups, of lies, of confusion. A city free of shootings and violence. The city of peace and truth. Faith in Christ lead us to the city whose architect and maker is God.

Catholic Holocaust Remembrance Day

Women in Auschwitz May 1944
Birkenau, May 1944

From now on, as we celebrate the memory of this new saint every August 9, we cannot fail to remember the Holocaust.

–Pope St. John Paul II, at the canonization of the Jewish philosopher Edith Stein–who had become Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

She did not die on August 9, 1942, in a wild frenzy of racist violence. She died in the due course of the Nazi’s systematic implementation of an explicit policy–a policy they had developed over the course of two decades.

According to National-Socialist racial doctrine—which Hitler and his allies openly proposed as their party platform during the 1930’s—Jews had ‘infiltrated,’ had ‘invaded,’ had aspired to ‘conquer’ the German nation. Hitler alone had the clarity and courage to ‘fight back,’ to enunciate clearly that Germans must preserve the purity of their race.

St. Edith Stein
St. Edith Stein

The Nazis declared this the fundamental national priority. The presence of Jews in the life of the German nation was not, in their eyes, the simple reality of history. It was a problem. The #1 problem.

Hitler and the Nazis unapologetically proposed this idea as the basis for an entire political, legal, and military regime. The power that martyred Sister Teresa Benedicta was not a band of bloodthirsty marauders, obvious monsters, or stereotypical jackbooted thugs. No. A political alliance, based on Hitler’s ideas about German blood, developed an extensive technical and bureaucratic organization. Over the course of a decade, the Nazis established their idea as the organizing principle of German national life.

At Holy Mass today, we hear Moses rejoicing in the gift of God’s law. He revealed it fully on the cross, when the soldier pierced His Heart: the eternal law of love.

We human beings can go wrong. Our laws do not always correspond to the divine decree revealed in the wounded Heart of the Savior. We must constantly search ourselves for the evil of racism. And pray that, by the grace of God, we will see each other as who we truly are–one human family, with the loving God as our Father.

Forty-Five Years Ago This Morning

Philippe Petit WTC first step

Philippe Petit WTC tower

Philippe Petit WTC profile

Philippe Petit hardly imagined that terrorists would destroy the buildings twenty-seven years later.

He had also walked between the towers of Notre Dame, in 1971…

Petit Notre Dame

He hardly imagined that the cathedral would burn 48 years later.

It’s a sin recklessly to risk life and limb. But Petit seems to have known what he was doing.

And trusted Providence.

 

Patron Saint

 

ars ceiling
Inside the Basilica in Ars, France

Rich in what matters to God. (Luke 12:21) [Spanish]

Here’s a quote from a preacher who died 160 years ago Sunday:

Man by himself is nothing, but with the Holy Spirit he is very great. Man is all earthly and all animal; nothing but the Holy Spirit can elevate his mind, and raise it on high. Why were the saints so detached from the earth? Because they let themselves be led by the Holy Spirit.

One hundred sixty years ago Sunday, the Rev. Father John Vianney breathed his last, in Ars, France.

The French Revolution broke out when he was a toddler. The government prohibited the celebration of Holy Mass. Thirteen-year-old John Vianney received First Communion at a Mass celebrated by an underground priest, in a remote farm house. They blocked the windows so no one could see the altar candles burning inside.

Napoleon Bonaparte re-established the Church in France three years later. As a teenager, John Vianney revered as his heroes the priests who had risked their lives to keep the faith going in France.

st-john-vianney-confessionJohn left his farm to get an education so he could become a priest. He had trouble with the books, but he got ordained. Three years later, he became the pastor of the obscure country town of Ars. At that time, only a handful of old women ever came to the parish church.

Father Vianney would remain there as pastor for 41 years. For four decades, he gave relentlessly strict sermons.

Does everyone know St. John Vianney’s great claim to fame? His reputation as an insightful and holy confessor began to spread throughout the country. People began to come from all over, to go to confession to him. So Father Vianney wound up hearing confessions for 18 hours a day.

The train company had to open a special window at the Lyon train station to sell tickets for the train to the little farm town of Ars. An average of 20,000 penitents came every year.

The priest lived on a few boiled potatoes per week and just a couple hours sleep each night. He said His Mass, recited his breviary, taught catechism, and visited the sick daily; he preached on Sundays and Solemnities. And he heard thousands upon thousands upon thousands of confessions.

When Father Vianney finally died at age 73, they preserved the parish church and rectory just as it was. They encased the little church in a basilica, to hold the saint’s tomb. The pope proclaimed St. John Vianney the patron saint of parish priests.

I had a chance to make a pilgrimage to Ars shortly before I was ordained. I was a transitional deacon, so I got to hold the chalice at Mass. It was a chalice used by the saint himself.

Because of St. John Vianney’s selfless pastoral love, devotees of the saint have a special devotion to his heart. They keep his heart in a separate reliquary, in a small chapel outside the basilica. The Knights of Columbus sponsored a tour of St. John Vianney’s heart through the US this past year. Anyone get a chance to visit the relic? The closest it came was Alexandria, VA.

During my seminarian years, the austerity of St. John Vianney’s life mystified and frightened me. Subsisting on a meager weekly portion of boiled potatoes. And hardly any sleep.

st-john-vianneyBut then I, too, got ordained. And started hearing confessions. I realized: the saint didn’t live like that for its own sake. He just had a lot of people lined up, waiting to reconcile with God—and he didn’t want to keep them waiting any longer than he absolutely had to.

“Rich in what matters to God.”

St. John Vianney simply did not care about anything other than God and the salvation of souls. Nothing else interested him or distracted him. He prayed, “Lord, grant the conversion of my parish. I am willing to suffer whatever you wish.”

Now, I myself can eat more tamales in one day than the number of potatoes St. John Vianney ate in a week. I get up early—but nowhere near as early as he did. You do not have a very holy priest. But I can honestly say: nothing interests me more than all of us getting to heaven together.

“The eyes of the world see no farther than this life, but the eyes of the Christian see deep into eternity.” A quote from St. John Vianney’s instruction to his people about the Holy Spirit. He went on:

“The Holy Spirit is like a man with a carriage and a horse, who wants to take us to Paris. We only have to say Yes, and get in. It is an easy matter to say Yes. Well, the Holy Spirit wants to take us to heaven. We have only to say Yes and let Him take us there.”

St. Francis Portiuncula Indulgence

portiuncula

The medieval town of Assisi sits on the top of a hill in Umbria, Italy. In the town square, young St. Francis removed his rich garments and embraced his life of Christ-like poverty.

On the plain at the bottom of the hill sits an ancient chapel. It honors Our Lady of the Angels. Was originally dedicated on August 2, shortly before Assumption Day. It was eight hundred years old at the time of St. Francis, eight hundred years ago.

The chapel languished in disrepair then. The Lord inspired St. Francis: “Repair My house!” So Francis and his companions renovated the little chapel and made it their home.

stfrancisAnyone been there? My dear mom, my late aunt, and I visited on November 16, 2008, along with a group of pilgrims. That was my third visit.

The Portiuncula now sits inside a large basilica. And they built replica portiunculas at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, and in downtown San Francisco, CA.

The Lord promised St. Francis that anyone who wants to honor Our Lady of the Angels and visits the Portiuncula—or visits any parish church, on the anniversary of the dedication of the Portiuncula—can gain a plenary indulgence.

You just have to recite the Creed, pray the Our Father, pray for the pope’s intentions, renounce all attachment to sin, and confess and receive Holy Communion sometime within the same fortnight.

A plenary indulgence helps a soul get to heaven. Either my own soul, or a soul in purgatory.

As Luther pointed out, selling indulgences involves the grave sin of simony. But obtaining an indulgence by praying and renouncing sin? Good to do.

Baptism Homily Inspired by Summa Theo. II-II Q164 a1 reply1

st-thomas-aq

Imagine if our tongues were made of uakitite, or synthetic boron nitride. (Mononitride rocks, as hard as diamonds.) We could hardly taste anything, then. Or if our nostrils were lined with titanium. Couldn’t smell. Or if our hands were made of stainless steel.

St. Thomas Aquinas pondered this, by way of an explanation for our fragile mortal bodies. God made us human beings to perceive His glory, beginning with tasting, smelling, touching, hearing, and seeing things—using our five bodily senses. Which means that we need bodies forged of atoms—but atoms arranged with the kind of suppleness necessary to receive impressions from exterior stimuli.

In other words, in order to perceive reality as God made us to do, our bodies necessarily possess an inherent chemical instability. The very physical quality that makes them capable of tasting, smelling, and feeling things—it makes them mortal, also.

baptism-holy-card1The elements of the human body have to fall somewhere between the hardness of quartz and the softness of eiderdown–in order to register the taste of basil pesto and the smell of the briny sea. Rocks don’t feel or smell. And rocks don’t die, either.

Now, this would qualify as a genuine tragedy—the sensing, living human being, doomed to dissipate into dust, eventually. Were it not for Jesus Christ.

All the delicate, mortal jumble of perception that a human being is—the Lord united it all with the immortal absoluteness of God Almighty.

He submitted Himself to the disorder of the desperate, sinful world—which unjustly killed Him. Why? So that all our perceiving of things could lead to God, instead of to oblivion. Jesus makes this soft flesh immortal, by the mystery of His cross and resurrection.

Holy Baptism initiates us into this: Jesus’ Christ’s 100%-human eternity.

Liguori + Final Judgment

Basilica St Alphonsus Liguori Pagani Italy

St. Alphonsus Liguori died 232 years ago today. His body lies in the Redemptorist basilica in Pagani, Italy.

Not that we count St. Alphonsus among the pagani! The town presumably got its name from the ancient pagani of Pompei.

Reminds me of a couple I knew, in a former parish. The Pagans. Mr. and Mrs. Pagan. Devout Catholics. Not pagans.

Anyway… In His preaching and teaching, Lord Jesus clearly announced the final judgment. He left us in no doubt about it. The Catechism puts it like this:

The conduct of each individual and the secrets of hearts will be brought to light. The culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing will be condemned. Our attitude toward our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love

To break that down:

Salvation on Judgment Day begins with: believing in God and His saving Christ. Faith in Jesus comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit. But we have a responsibility to accept that gift, and to live by our faith in the triune God.

Second: The Judge will say, “As you did to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me.” The Lord will judge us according to our co-operation with divine love, in all our interactions with our fellow human beings.

So: We will face Jesus Christ as the judge of our whole lives, He Who knows all and sees all, Who understands us better than we understand ourselves. This is a supernatural fact that God Himself has revealed to us. We believe it with utter conviction, because of the authority and trustworthiness of God Almighty, Who revealed it.

We know neither the day nor the hour. So we live with an eye to the final judgment and the life to come. In the meantime, the more fully prepared for judgment we are right now, the more deeply do we grow in friendship with God .