No Hand Wringing

The triune God makes us His people by Holy Baptism. He pours the Spirit into our hearts. We cry out, ‘Abba, Father,’ because He has made us His children. And we seek His kingdom, striving to build it every day, by exercising virtue and kindness, denying ourselves and living for the good of others.

The fact is that Jesus Christ has opened up a door for us, us human beings. A door we didn’t even know was there, until He opened it—the door to true life. The door to a life united with the immortal love of God.

Trinity ShieldGod Himself abandons Himself to the other Person. By that Gift of Himself, He attains His fullness. God is self-giving love. Christ has revealed that fact. Christ’s grace draws us into the adventure of loving as God loves.

If we are left to ourselves, the door to true life remains shut–because we inevitably succumb to the inertia of our selfishness.

But this is the Good News, which we should always have on the tips of our tongues: Christ has liberated us from the prison of our self-centeredness. He has given us the true way of life, the way of divine love.

A couple weeks ago, a lot of good Christians wrung their hands about the rising number of people who do not call themselves Church people. The “Nones.” As in ‘Religion: None,’ as opposed to consecrated nun.

I refuse to wring my hands, for three reasons:

1. When it comes to going to church or not going to church, the soul I have to worry about is my own. If I, hopefully a mature individual, honestly try to assess reality, I conclude immediately: I owe the Lord weekly worship at His altar, according to the ceremonies that He has established. Nothing could be more obvious.

So let me dutifully apply that conclusion to myself, since I am the one over whom I exercise sovereign control. Wringing my hands about any other full-grown adult, and their appearance or non-appearance at Mass, is a pretty big waste of time.

2. In the end, death will find us either in a state of grace or not. The two ways to get into a state of grace, if I am not in one right now, are: Baptism, Confession. How we responded to survey questions, put to us by well-meaning sociologists, won’t matter all that much on the Day of the Lord.

3. If the highways and byways of our land course with “Nones,” then God has a plan for every last one of them to be Catholic. Our job involves facilitating that process as best we can. And the best way for us to facilitate is: to walk always towards the door that opens to true life, that door being Jesus Christ Himself.

Yes, the primary avenue of Christian evangelization is churched parents churching their children. But we don’t need a survey to tell us that America finds herself largely un-churched in 2015. And it’s not the first time. America wasn’t heavily churched in 1815, either. Or: one week after the first Pentecost, back in AD 33–how churched was the Roman Empire then?

the_holy_trinityThat brings me to the other thing that people wrung their hands about a couple weeks ago. The President of the United States decided to give the churches of America a little lecture about how our worrying over the rights of innocent and defenseless unborn children has gotten in the way of our worrying about the poor.

Now, let’s be the first to acknowledge that we do not worry about the poor anywhere near as much as we should. The Lord asks us to make ourselves poor by giving to the poor. When we ourselves become poor, then we will have half a chance of actually being happy.

But we also have to acknowledge that we haven’t worried anywhere near enough about the innocent and defenseless unborn children, who are, of course, more poor than anybody. Which makes them richer than anybody in the deep wisdom of utter, total dependence.

Utterly and totally dependent–like embryos, like fetuses, drawing life from mommy through the downy uterine tissue and the umbilical cord: that is who we are. We are helpless nothings in the uterine wall of God–Who makes the sun rise, and fills our lungs with oxygen, and turns us into something beautiful.

Anyway, I have a question and a statement. Question: What kind of mental world do you have to live in, to set the interests of the poor against the interests of innocent, defenseless unborn children?

Lord, save me from ever entering such a mental world! What a strange place! Reality makes so much more sense–the real world where every human being has rights endowed by the Creator. Rights which I, at least, have to respect with untiring zeal, even if other people don’t respect them.

Statement: We will lead souls to Christ by selflessly loving the poor, starting with the innocent and defenseless children in the womb, and working our way up through all the age brackets from there.

How could we claim to belong to the love of Christ if we don’t love the people who need love the most?

If we, each of us, love the people who need love the most–the people of whom the world does not even think—if we love them, and think of their welfare before our own, we will gradually conquer every soul in this country. We will have a million priests and a gazillion Catholics.

Fig Tree-icide

Sometimes the gospel passages we read at Holy Mass can seem jumbled. And sometimes Lord Jesus seems to do inexplicable, arbitrary things.

Jumbled: He’s hungry. No fruit on the fig tree. Then He’s in Jerusalem, cleansing the Temple of moneychangers. The chief priests and scribes want Him dead. Next thing we know, He’s walking along again blithely with His disciples. He uses the withered fig tree to teach a lesson.

Jumbled. Also arbitrary: He cursed the fig tree for bearing no fruit during the no-fruit season. Then He uses this act of tree-icide to teach a lesson about forgiving enemies and humble prayer.

Jumbled. Arbitrary. Incongruous. Well…

Fig tree appears as a recurrent theme in the doctrine of Christ. 1) The parable of the barren fig tree teaches us about the immeasurable patience of Almighty God. The short-sighted owner wants to cut the tree down, but the sweet, old gardener says, Hold on. Let’s give the tree one more year.

2) The signs of a fig tree ripening—leaves sprouting, fruit buds appearing, growing, softening—Christ invokes all this as an image of the coming divine judgment. We see the signs of fruit coming, and we know what season it is. Just so, we see the signs that all of us will surely die, so we know that divine judgment will come.

figTherefore, I would humbly submit that nothing about today’s gospel passage is jumbled, nor arbitrary, nor incongruous.

The fact that unifies it all is the same fact that unifies our lives. Christ has redeemed us. His Precious Blood has cleansed us and made us ready to withstand divine judgment.

Because of this, the temple of our consciences can be cleansed by our encounters with Christ crucified in the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. And these encounters make us merciful and forgiving, so that we can pray with eager, open hearts for the salvation of all and the coming of the Kingdom.

Christ cursing that poor fig tree was not an act of hard-hearted contempt for the environment. Quite the contrary. He cares so much about us that our souls are like the figs He so desperately wants to have. We ripen for Him by our honest encounters with Divine Mercy. And we bear fruit as apostles of mercy by patiently forgiving others, bearing with them, loving them to the end.

Reverence in Sirach

ecclesiasticus sirach

Reading from Sirach at Holy Mass today expresses the disposition that we would all wish to have, towards the work of the Creator. Sirach sings the song of reverence.

As the rising sun is clear to all
So the glory of the Lord fills all His works…
Each of the works of the Lord, as it comes, is good.
Can one ever see enough of their splendor?

(Sirach 42:15 and following. Chap. 43 also awesome reading)

The Creator pours out everything that is, out of the infinitude of His genius. What a gift, then: to behold reality for all that it truly is.

Generally speaking, virtue lies in moderation. But there are exceptions. May nothing ever moderate our appetite for the beauty of God reflected in His works. May we never be able to get enough!

In fact, the more virtuous we can become–the more chaste and temperate, prudent and generous in everything that we can manage to become—the more rapacious grows our appetite for the beauty of God, and we eat and drink Him in more and more ravenously, with every moment that our eyes gaze on what He has made. May we moderate all our other appetites, so that our appetite for the Creator can grow with absurd immoderation into an all-consuming obsession.

“Lord, I want to see,” cried Bartimaus. We do, too, Lord! We want to see the hidden depth in everything, which is You. You give bounteously—light, clarity, the gorgeous banquet of things as they are—you give all freely. May we receive with humble and grateful hearts. That is true sight: to receive reality for what it is, with praise for the Creator.

Give us the gift, Lord! Wherever we find ourselves, whatever occupies our minds and energies, may we behold how ripe the moment is for us to bless You.

Solitude, Sin, and the Chalice

He walked ahead of the disciples, toward Jerusalem, and they were amazed and afraid. Why amazed and afraid?

They knew, but did not understand. They knew that the Lord, the Prince of Peace, full of unadulterated love and truth–they knew that He lived to fulfill His destiny. Doing the will of the Father inevitably would come to mean cruel suffering and death. An innocent lamb slaughtered.

The disciples knew all this, because He had told them. But they did not understand. Let’s try it on for size ourselves. He asks us, just as He asked James and John, “Can you drink the chalice that I must drink and undergo my baptism?”

High Priest Passion of the Christ

Now, the irony of what Jesus goes on to say in this exchange offers us perhaps the greatest insight into the tenderness of His fatherly love.

He speaks here, of course, not with strangers, but with most-intimate friends. He has shared countless tender moments with James and John, as He has shared countless tender moments with us. Can you drink My chalice? They answer His question, “Yes, we can!” He knows perfectly well that No, they can’t.

chaliceWhen the time comes, when the vise tightens, when the accuser from hell heaps empty charges of evil and darkness against the true Light of good, when the Holy Face gets pummeled by buffets and spitting–at that moment, as we know, the hearts of these two friends did not prove themselves firm. When Jesus faced death, when He had to chose the truth over eating a meal or waking up in the morning ever again–He chose truth. –Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Most-High God?

James and John were standing with the rest of us then. Standing among the doubters, who wonder whether the Kingdom of Christ is real. When God was condemned to death, He stood utterly alone and friendless, with the entire human race arrayed with the accuser–a race that can’t, won’t believe.

But what did Jesus say to James and John? He said, Yes, you will share my chalice. My Father has assigned your places. All that must be done for you to take them is for me to die in unimaginable solitude. Then we can come together again. You, too, will fulfill the will of My father–with Me filling your souls with Myself.

The mystery of Christ’s utter solitude in His Passion. The mystery of our own helpless struggle with the evil angels of our nature. Faith, redemption, hope, and the future open up before us when these two dark pits meet. Then we greet the crucified Christ with adoring gratitude, begging Him, “Lord, I do believe! Let me come into Your kingdom with You!”

St. Philip Neri Homily for the Seniors

Four hundred twenty years ago, St. Philip Neri died. In Rome. People called him “the Apostle of Rome.” Which is strange since the Apostle of Rome is of course Saint…..?

St Philip Neri Guido ReniWhat’s the biggest church on earth, built over the tomb of…..?

The first pope…..?

Rhymes with Derek Jeter…..?

But St. Peter came to Rome how long ago? Nearly 2,000 years.

Between four hundred and five hundred years ago, what we call “The Modern Age” began. And just like the Lord gave “Fathers” to His Church in ancient times, He gave the Church four special fathers at the beginning of the Modern Era. St. Charles Borromeo, Pope St. Pius V, St Ignatius Loyola, and St. Philip Neri.

Today we find ourselves at the dawn of a new age for a certain group of people among us. These people will soon make a huge transition, to what we might call “the Adult Age.” Right. The Senior Class.

Do you mind if I try to boil down the teaching of the Fathers of the Modern Church? Into a few simple guidelines?

1. Love Jesus Christ more than anything else in life. Do not let a single day go by without expressing to Jesus how much you love Him.

2. Know your catechism. Know the Nicene Creed, the seven sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and the Our Father by heart. Meditate regularly on the Creed and the Commandments.

3. Go to Mass at least once a week and Confession at least once a month.

4. In the course of our daily lives, opportunities to pray often arise. Always take them. Opportunities to visit the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle often arise. Always take them.

Can I boldly venture to tell you something that I don’t know for 100% sure, but I am pretty doggone sure? Here it is:

The people who have lived during the Modern Age, who have followed these guidelines of the holy fathers of 500 years ago–the people who have followed these guidelines have wound up in heaven.

Heaven is full of Italians, Spaniards, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Germans, Dutch people, Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, Mexicans, Africans, Brazilians, and Americans–business people, teachers, doctors, lawyers, researchers, repairmen, statesmen, housewives, mothers, aunts, dancers, actors, writers, technicians, restaurateurs–heaven is full of all these kinds of people, who have lived their lives during the past 500 years, and have followed these guidelines.

Live long and prosper, dear seniors, soon-to-be graduates! We are very proud of you! Stand tall, love God, stay straight. And do us even prouder by living an adult life primarily focused on getting to heaven.

New Assignment

Rev. Nick Mammi

Rev. Nick Mammi

Rev. Matt Kiehl

Rev. Matt Kiehl

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…as ’twere with a defeated joy,
With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole (Hamlet I.ii)

Thus do we priests greet a change of pastoral assignment.

On August 1, soon-to-be-Father Nick Mammi will become the pastor of the Rocky Mount and Martinsville, Virginia. A great blessing for the people.

Maybe a co-incidence that my tenure ends just as David Letterman’s does. “The four-year parochial nightmare for St. Francis of Assisi and St. Joseph is now over.”

…I will become the pastor of St. Andrew parish in Roanoke. Also Administrator of St. Gerard parish.

Bishop has assigned me an excellent curate, soon-to-be Father Matt Kiehl. Father will assume the role of chaplain at Roanoke Catholic School.

…Can’t believe I have to leave my beloved home of Franklin/Henry County. Can’t wait to serve God in Roanoke…

May God be praised and blessed and adored for His goodness!
And may He console us sorrowful ones.

Church of St. Andrew, Roanoke, Va.

Church of St. Andrew, Roanoke, Va.

St. Gerard, Roanoke

St. Gerard, Roanoke

Holy Spirit Was and Is

LEXUS RC

We read at the end of chapter seven of St. John’s gospel, the Lord Jesus promised that “rivers of living water will flow from within” the one who believes in Him. St. John explains that the living water is the Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit has come at certain points in time with outward signs. Tongues of fire. A luminous cloud. Speech in many languages. A dove. An anointing.

But the Holy Spirit comes, first and foremost, as an invisible spiritual gift. The gift operates inside us, not outside. The gift elevates the soul of a human being, from within.

Continue reading

He is Alive + Germans on the Synod + Blue Bloods Sexual Morality

SynodRoman procurator Porcius Festus recounted the facts with perfect simplicity. “A certain Jesus had died. Paul claims he is alive.”

In all honesty: What could possibly galvanize us more than this deadpan account of the situation in Acts 25?

Who are we? Are we not the people who claim that this certain Jesus, who had died, is alive?

Fifty years ago, pope convened the Second Vatican Council to help us get back to this utter simplicity. Lots of smart Germans came to Rome. And the newspapers and magazines buzzed with Vatican-II gossip.

Some of us might get the feeling that we’re right back in the early 1960’s again, when it comes to Catholic-Church gossip. Because of all the smart Germans and the Synod on the Family.

There is a somewhat-famous letter to the Synod Fathers, signed by a few hundred American priests. I signed it. We signatories urge the Synod to re-iterate the fundamental teachings that—at least to me—seem obviously to go hand-in-hand with saying that Jesus is alive. Namely, that God gave us marriage the way He gave it to us, that everyone should go to Confession, resolve to sin no more, and strive to live chastely according to one’s state in life.

…I give the German Bishops Conference credit for publishing thoughtful responses to the Holy See’s Synod-preparation questions. I, for one, thank the Germans for publishing an English translation.

The Catholic press has highlighted some of what the German Bishops have written. To my mind, though, these two following passages most require meditation and a response:

1. The significance and orientating power of the Church’s teaching may not be drawn into the relative and arbitrary here, nor may the significance of the individual conscience be weakened or indeed circumvented as the final subjective decision-making instance of the individual. In this tension, it is necessary to make the doctrine of the Church, in the sense of a responsible formation of conscience, repeatedly newly known but also comprehensible. The Magisterium is faced here by the challenge of repeatedly verifying, honestly and self-critically, whether the teaching really can be imparted to people in all aspects and differentiations. As was already the case with the questionnaire in the run-up to the Extraordinary Synod of 2014, the feedback from the dioceses once more points clearly here to the fact that, in particular, a number of sexual ethical aspects of the Church’s teaching are neither understood nor any longer accepted…

Somewhere in the middle of this argle bargle we find what I believe constitutes the all-important turning-point of morals: Am I humble enough to admit that I need moral teaching? If I am not, then what is the point of the Church trying to speak in a way that I will accept?

The inescapable fact for Mother Church, when it comes to teaching on sexual morals, is: Christ chaste. How can anyone or anything other than the chaste Christ serve as the foundation of our moral teaching?

Nothing else can. If I am willing to learn from Christ how to live, then what the Church says–what She has always said–about chastity will feel like cool water in a desert when it enters my mind. If I am not willing to learn from the chaste Christ how to live, then why would the Church bother trying to make sense to me? She never will anyway.

2. …Most couples live together for several years prior to a civil and church marriage, and regard marriage as a further, and certainly significant, stage in their lives together…Pastoral care that regards such unions as sinful pure and simple and accordingly calls for conversion is not helpful as it contradicts the positive experience that couples have in such living arrangements. Values such as love, faithfulness, responsibility for one another and for the children, reliability and willingness to reconcile are also practiced when people live together and in civil marriages, and these deserve recognition in a Christian context. Pastoral care should be provided to young people in particular, and this must appreciatively support and accompany their various attempts to enter into and practice relationships.

Again, a lot of argle bargle. The clearer version of this approach appeared in the next-to-last scene of “Open Secrets,” Blue Bloods, season 4.

Blue Bloods Erin and Nicky

Nicky: Just ask me, Mom.

Mom: What?

Nicky: Ask me if I’m having sex with Ben.

Mom: Are you?

No. But we have talked about it.

Oh?

Come on, Mom, you can’t really be surprised. Most of my friends have already done it.

That is not a good enough reason to have sex for the first time. Do you love him?

I don’t know. I mean, he’s a really great guy, and I really care about him. And I feel like I’m ready. Go ahead, let me have it. (sighs)

Okay. Well, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am not going to yell and scream. Do I wish that you would wait until you were sure if you were in love? Yes. But we both know that’s not up to me. You are a beautiful, smart young woman with good judgment. When the time is right, you will… make the right decision. And if you need to talk about anything, I am here.

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…Dear reader, can I say it? Will you mind? This is BS.

Parents, grandparents, young people, all you dear people of God. I ask you, I beg you: If you ever hear me suggest that anything other than chastity before marriage can make you happy, punch me in the face.

Young people, do not have sex before marriage!

I would give my left kidney, my left lung, eye, and hand, if it would help all the young people I know and love to believe in themselves enough to follow Christ chaste to a truly happy life.

…Two other fundamental flaws with the German bishops’ responses:

1. They claim that the church in Germany is pro-life. But how obtuse in the area of embryology does a person have to be–to claim to be both pro-life and indifferent to the use of artificial contraception at the same time? It is impossible. Artificial contraception involves early abortion as a matter of course.

2. Jesus Christ does not openly appear anywhere in the document.

…Now, some Catholics seem to imagine that 2015 is 1963 all over again, when it comes to ‘ferment’ and ‘change’ in the Catholic Church. But this imagination ignores one very significant thing. A book that weighs approximately 1 ½ pounds. Compiled by the smartest German of them all.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

If we want to be the people who claim that Jesus is alive, the Catechism is our lifeblood. What the German bishops say? 85% bilge-water.

Ascensiontide Theology

Ecce Agnus Dei“We celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of Your Son, his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven…”

When do we say this? After the consecration at every Mass. The Holy Eucharist recalls to our minds not just the Passion and death of our Redeemer, not just His conquest of death, but also His Ascension into heaven.

Now, the Mass Christ instituted recalls His Passion and death very vividly and clearly. His words declare His saving death: “My body will be given up for you.” “My blood will be shed for you.”

That said, the very same words of consecration declare His Resurrection as well. Because: He lives to give us His flesh and blood. If He were still dead, we could hardly receive Him bodily into our midst, in the Blessed Sacrament. We can have Mass because He is alive. Pretty clear.

Now, what about His Ascension? For our Ascension-tide theological question, let’s try to figure this one: How does the Holy Mass commemorate Christ’s Ascension?

tabernacleWell, we could say this: The whole business of the Mass involves the celebration of Christ’s Passover. He passed over from life as a pilgrim to life in glory. Passed through death to eternal life. We cannot see the life that Christ the man shares with God. Our eyes do not now have the capacity to see that.

Which means that the Lord’s very in-visibility in the Mass commemorates His Ascension. He passed beyond our sight when He ascended, and He appears in a way that we cannot see at the consecration at Mass.

That said, Christ’s invisibility in the Mass is by no means absolute. If it were, we would celebrate Mass just by closing our eyes and looking at the inside of our eyelids. But we don’t do that.

At Mass, we see a sacrifice, carried out by a priest, with a priestly people united around the altar. All that is perfectly visible—and it is a visible manifestation of Christ, ascended into heaven. Because He ministers in heaven as our eternal High Priest, forever offering Himself, in perfect love, for us.

So: Holy Mass recalls Christ’s Ascension to our minds, both by what we don’t see, and by what we do.

“Knowledge” in CCC 2751

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priest

We think we know things. But we really don’t.

I thought I knew how to paddle a small boat. But it turns out that, if you want to paddle properly, the main force of your stroke has to come from pushing with your upper hand, not pulling with the lower.

Who knew? I learned this yesterday during the annual 10th-grade Roanoke-Catholic-School kayaking trip. Which of course included the obligatory excessive splashing of Father.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurch…The Catechism has a brief, lapidary explanation of the priestly prayer of Christ in John 17 (which we read at Holy Mass this week). I find it one of the hardest parts of the Catechism to understand. So, during the seventh week of Easter, I always try to re-read it.

Here’s the concluding sentence of this section of the Catechism:

The priestly prayer of Christ reveals and gives us the ‘knowledge,’ inseparably one, of the Father and the Son, which is the very mystery of the life of prayer.

See what I mean? A mysterious sentence.

The knowledge the Father has of the Son, and the knowledge the Son has of the Father–a single, unique knowledge. Who has it?

Well, Lord Jesus tells us: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” (Mt 11:27)

Humbling. We don’t really know anything ultimately worth knowing; we don’t know lambshanks from shinola, unless the Son reveals to us the unique knowledge that He has of the Father. That fact constitutes a prevailing theme of the priestly prayer of Christ, in John 17.

But what does the Son say, after He says, ‘no one knows nada without Me?’ He says: Come to me, all you weary lambs, who struggle and strive and sweat and cuss under your breath– Come to me, and I will give you rest for your souls. Learn from me. I am gentle and humble of heart. My yoke is easy and my burden light.

It’s not so hard. Prayer. Life. All He wants us to do is to say the Our Father every day and mean it.