Amoris Laetitia Catena, Part II

amoris-laetitia-coverChapter 4 of Pope Francis’ letter on family love explains the phrases in St. Paul’s famous I Corinthians 13. Three selections, dripping with wisdom…

Love bears all things and hopes all things…

Married couples joined by love speak well of each other; they try to show their spouse’s good side, not their weakness and faults. In any event, they keep silent rather than speak ill of them. This is not merely a way of acting in front of others; it springs from an interior attitude. Far from ingenuously claiming not to see the problems and weaknesses of others, it sees those weaknesses and faults in a wider context. It recognizes that these failings are a part of a bigger picture. We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal. It is real, albeit limited and earthly. If I expect too much, the other person will let me know, for he or she can neither play God nor serve all my needs. Love coexists with imperfection. It “bears all things” and can hold its peace before the limitations of the loved one. (para. 113)

Each person, with all his or her failings, is called to the fullness of life in heaven. There, fully transformed by Christ’s resurrection, every weakness, darkness and infirmity will pass away. There the person’s true being will shine forth in all its goodness and beauty. This realization helps us, amid the aggravations of this present life, to see each person from a supernatural perspective, in the light of hope, and await the fullness that he or she will receive in the heavenly kingdom, even if it is not yet visible. (para.117)

Love believes all things…

This trust enables a relationship to be free. It means we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything. This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships. The spouses then share with one another the joy of all they have received and learned outside the family circle. At the same time, this freedom makes for sincerity and transparency, for those who know that they are trusted and appreciated can be open and hide nothing. Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are. On the other hand, a family marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its members to be themselves and spontaneously to reject deceit, falsehood, and lies. (para. 115)

Love endures all things…

Dr. Martin Luther KingHere the Pope quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at length:

The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls ‘the image of God’, you begin to love him in spite of [everything]. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never slough off… Another way that you love your enemy is this: when the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it… Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and so on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil… Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.

[Click HERE for Part I of the Amoris Laetitia catena]

What Does ‘Fish for Men’ Mean?

riverside-shakespeare

Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19)

Lord Jesus offered this invitation to the Galilean fisherman brothers, Peter and Andrew. He offers the same invitation to us: Come, Christian! Come, child. Follow me, your teacher and Lord. Follow Me, the one true Christ, into Whose mystery you have been baptized. And I will make you fishers of men.

He says this to us, right here and now, like He said it to Peter and Andrew.

They made their living pulling up their large nets, full of fish. They labored in the hot sun. They rowed; they hunted; they spread their nets; they waited.  Then they acted quickly, decisively. They pulled up the nets and dumped everything in the hull; they paddled hard to the shore; they sorted; they salted; the organized and stored.

But: To fish for men…What does it mean? Two-part answer. And I think we have to start here: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” (Isaiah 9:1)

We can fish for men because God caught us first. Almighty God has done two equally amazing things. He has laid out the heavens and the earth; He has knit everything together according to His design. He has given us life, existence. He has given us everything as a gift—above all, our very own selves. He has formed us, equipped us, empowered us, and presented us to ourselves, saying, Behold, child! I give you yourself as a gift!

And: Into this vast cosmos which He has arrayed so wonderfully, He Himself stepped, and He lived like us. He walked. He ate fried fish. He talked with His friends over a campfire. He has touched our homeland Himself, Personally, as one of Mother Earth’s citizens. The light of the world, Jesus Christ—tender healer, demanding teacher, crucified for us, risen, and ascended to the heavenly Jerusalem, the divine-human High Priest of our religion.

Edward Armitage Call of Apostles fishermenWe can fish for men because this Light of God has shone. The net we use? Nothing less than that same eternal and glorious light. Why would any human being toil and labor in vain, alone and friendless in a windswept universe arcing towards nothingness? No: our Maker made everything with a plan. He piled up the mountainsides for a reason. And Christ reveals the reason: everything Almighty God does, He does for friendship, for communion, for love. Orphans under a silent sky? No. When we pray, we pray to our Father. And He hears us, and loves us, and knows what we need a hundred times better than we do.

An analogy. For twenty-five years I have cherished a particular possession I have. It has traveled with me, through a dozen moves from seminary to parish to parish to parish. And it weighs a lot, like ten or fifteen pounds. It’s the collected works of William Shakespeare, all his plays and poems in one big book, with excellent essays about them all. The Riverside Shakespeare.

This ten-pound object could hold any door open, or serve as a tv stand, or keep a picnic blanket from fluttering away in the wind. But that’s not why I love this possession so much; that’s not its purpose. I love it because I can read it.

In the same way, a human soul can pursue all kinds of things–like fleeting pleasures, or selfishness, or worldly power. Or a human soul can sink into slavish laziness. But the true reason why a human soul exists is: friendship with God in Christ. When we live in the friendship with God that Jesus offers us, then we know ourselves, and we are ourselves.

Part Two of what ‘fishers of men’ means. In the net, the fish come together. We fish for men because the light of God draws us together, together in Him.

I’m not going to get into politics right now, other than to say this: Inauguration Day left me with the sense that our USA is experiencing a profound identity crisis.

A special day for patriotism. Indeed, we take pride in our great nation. But patriotism is meant to offer us a firm sense of who we are as a people. When we proudly say, I am an American! My home is the USA! that should have a clear meaning, a meaning that calms and comforts the soul. But we Americans struggle with that right now. We struggle to find the comfort of a calm home that embraces with sweet harmony all the people who live here.

Lord Jesus has the answer. People, come together around Me! He tells us Christians: fish with that net. Jesus Christ, alive and well, pouring out His Holy Spirit through His Church—He can and does purify, elevate, and ennoble the minds of everyone Who lives in His friendship, so that we can live in fruitful harmony together. Gathered around Him, each of us can exercise every particular faculty of our own unique, individual selves, and it’s all for the good of everyone around us! Jesus gives us that kind of communion. The life of God is perfect peace. And that peace fills the hearts of those who live in Christ, giving us a sacred bond of friendship.

Fish for men! He commands us. The Light of God has shone. Man can live free. Man can know and be himself. And mankind can live and flourish in common harmony—when we get caught up in the beautiful net that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Transition, Inauguration, the New

At Holy Mass today, we read St. Paul quoting from the prophet of Jeremiah. The prophet promised a transition to a new covenant. The Holy Spirit would move the heart of man. In our Gospel reading, we witness the Lord Jesus inaugurating the life of His Church by choosing His twelve Apostles.

St. Paul points out, “what has grown old is close to disappearing.” The world is old. At today’s presidential-inauguration ceremonies, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York read Solomon’s prayer in Wisdom 9; Solomon asks God to give him the wisdom to build the Temple in Jerusalem. Our new president swore to uphold the covenant by which we live in this land, the U.S. Constitution. We pray for justice and peace on earth. But all the things of this world are very old; they’re all on their way out; our life on earth ends in the blink of an eye.

Every day, however, the Lord pours out His Spirit. That is always new. Our life with God, by the grace of Jesus Christ, is always new.

In his inaugural address, our new president emphasized the significance of the transition taking place today. His slogans rang hollow, like politicians’ slogans usually do. But this particular gentleman solemnized his presidential inauguration with chilling, tone-deaf messianic pretensions.

…Today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another…For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost…That all changes – starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you…January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again…

…Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now…The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.

I tried to think of oratorical parallels. The gentleman who stood in the same place eight years ago had more than his fair share of messianic delusions of grandeur, too. But as President Trump spoke, this speech echoed in my mind:

Of whom ought we to think today?

The innocent and defenseless unborn children in the womb?

Tomorrow a lot of people will march in Washington, a Million-Woman counter-inaugural parade. They will stand up for a certain number of things I certainly believe in, like: this president is a shameless bastard and an obtuse dumbass. But pro-lifers received a dis-invitation to tomorrow’s Woman’s March.

Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway regards herself, like I do, as “a member of the pro-life rank and file.” The pro-life rank and file will march on Washington a week from today, as we annually do.

I think we should rejoice that pro-lifers will finally have some real political power. May they use it to build the culture of life.

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Should we think today of the poor people who have to live in fear of losing their healthcare? Or the undocumented who have to live in fear of deportation?

Should we think of the dogged journalists who really don’t appreciate the way our president brazenly lies to them?

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We have been here before, and the USA has lived to tell the tale. We have had ill-equipped presidents who didn’t know much of anything. One of them served from 1856 to 1860. But not all of them handed off to their successors a nation on the verge of Civil War…

In his speech today, the president painted the picture of a blighted, bleeding nation. Thank God that’s not really the state our nation is in. We know how to love our neighbor. Let’s keep doing it.

 

 

The Mercy of Baptism

He is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. (John 1:33)

St. John the Baptist washed sinners in the Jordan River. People came from all over the Holy Land to repent of their sins and receive John’s baptism.

baptismDid St. John the Baptist invent baptism? Not exactly.

The ancient Temple in Jerusalem had water baths for pilgrims to cleanse themselves in. Ritual washing goes way back. Water cleanses our bodies. So the religions of mankind have added a spiritual dimension to this cleansing power. In other words, “baptism” is as old as the human race; St. John did not invent it.

But John did administer baptism to God Himself, the God-man Jesus Christ. Not because God needed cleansing. But because God wills to use water to baptize with the Holy Spirit, through His Church. Lord Jesus commissioned us to “go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

John said it: Christ baptizes not just with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Jesus pours out divine grace along with the water. So, yes: Catholic baptism is a religious cleansing ritual, similar to such washings in other religions. But that’s not all Catholic baptism is. Because here Christ acts through the ritual washing. God Himself produces invisible effects on the soul of the one baptized.

Jesus died and rose again for us, and He ascended into heaven. Through the sacrament of baptism, our High Priest applies to the baptized person the fruits of that mystery. Christ makes a Christian, a new anointed one. He unites the baptized person to Himself. Baptism cleanses us of sin. But the “cleanness” brought about by Christian baptism involves more than just pardon for personal sins. It involves unbreakable solidarity with Jesus Christ. In Baptism, Christ marks the soul with a permanent character. He “brands” the soul, so to speak, as belonging to Him.

Now, God possesses a firmness and permanence beyond what we can even imagine. We think of mountain ranges and vast oceans as being permanent fixtures, but they have nothing on the permanence of God. We also have a tendency to think that everything depends on us clever human beings. But it doesn’t. God works effects through His sacraments, effects that go beyond what we can understand. Baptism means God uniting Himself with us on His terms, not ours. As St. Paul puts it, “God must prove true, even if all men are fickle.” (Romans 3:4)

baptism-holy-card1If you pay attention to the Catholic press, you may know that lately various prelates and ecclesiastical big-wigs have emphasized the importance of “pastoral accompaniment.” We need to accompany everyone with supportive love, regardless of whether we approve or disapprove of how they behave.

To understand this, I think we need to meditate on what God affirms when He pours out the Holy Spirit on us in the sacrament of Baptism. He assures us: I made you in the beginning, and I made you out of love. I made you to reign in happy blessedness, as a member of the divine household. The nonsense of this world does not control your destiny. I will only good for you. I have a detailed plan for your life, which leads ultimately to heaven.

This doesn’t mean that baptized people can’t wind up in hell. You or I could wind up in hell tomorrow, if we don’t watch our p’s and q’s. Our choices have consequences. God’s law binds. The Lord does not lower His expectations of the morals of those He unites with Himself through baptism; he raises those expectations. God help anyone who knowingly chooses to break God’s law.

But if we think that Christianity simply means: “me being a good person,” we have missed it altogether. Because we are not good people.

Christ came to save us because we are sinners. We’re sinners who all deserve to go to hell. As St. John Paul II put it, in his encyclical on Christian morals:

No human effort, not even the most rigorous observance of the commandments, succeeds in…rendering God the worship due to Him…This fulfillment can come only from a gift of God. (Veritatis Splendor 11)

God loves sinners who deserve to go to hell. He died for sinners who deserve to go to hell. He came to affirm the truths that He affirms through the sacrament of baptism: Sinner, I love you. Sinner, I made you for happiness and glory. Sinner, I have a plan for you.

“Pastoral accompaniment” hardly means just chumming around and ignoring the Ten Commandments. Hanging out and talking sports hardly counts as “evangelization.” Much as I personally enjoy doing it. We can’t hide the fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes very challenging demands on us, precisely in order to help us find true happiness.

But we also can’t forget that all human beings fundamentally stand on the same footing before God–namely that His mercy can and does overcome all our evil. When we baptized people know we have done wrong, we can get right again by going to “second baptism,” also known as…confession. We can go again and again, because God never tires of forgiving.

Christ’s infinite and omnipotent mercy really is the pre-eminent power that reigns in the Church. Which is because, when everything is said and done, His infinite, omnipotent mercy is the pre-eminent power that reigns over all things.

So let’s help each other, and let’s help everyone we know, respond humbly to that bounteous divine love.

More Hebrews 2 + Our-Father Question

He is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:18)

Every day we beg our heavenly Father, “lead us not into temptation.” Thoughtful Christians rightly wonder sometimes about this petition. Would our good God lead us toward evil? This prayer doesn’t really make sense!

dog-cuffsThe problem here comes from translating Greek into English. To us, “lead” sounds like what a dog-owner does when taking Fido out for a walk. Fido prays, “Don’t lead me down the street with the mean Doberman! Lead me to the fire hydrants instead.”

But the Greek doesn’t imply this. It implies that God possesses the power both to protect us from temptation and to help us resist it when it comes.  God Himself wills no evil and tempts no one. He has made nothing that is evil in itself. In fact, within ourselves, in the depths of our souls, He has endowed us with powers of goodness that we don’t even know about yet.

That’s why our pilgrim lives involve ‘tests.’ If instinct alone guided us, we wouldn’t confront any tests. We would just chase squirrels and never become any better or worse.

But we have more than instincts inside us to guide us. We have the power to discern. We can strive and struggle to overcome every destructive impulse, and thereby blossom as the good people God made us to be.

Temptations come because we are actually better than we think we are. With God’s help, we can resist, and that brings out the hidden good person within. Being tempted is not a sin; the sin is to give in.

So let’s fight. Let’s hold our tongues instead of carping and gossiping. Let’s try to see the good in others, instead of judging them harshly. Let’s possess ourselves in patience, instead of flying off the handle. Let’s exercise our bodies and minds in prayer and wholesome enterprises, instead of letting ourselves grow dim-witted and lazy.

Yes, our pilgrim lives involves tests. We must pray daily for the grace both to avoid them, if it’s best for us to avoid them, or endure them, if it’s best for us to fight and win.

With God’s help we can pass the tests we have to take. We can earn A’s. Because “He is able to help those who are being tested.”

Migration and God

He is not ashamed to call us brothers. (see Hebrews 2:11)

Lord Jesus grew up in Nazareth. He lived there about 30 years. Then He migrated to Capernaum, which lies about 40 miles northeast of His hometown.

At first, He was a stranger in Capernaum. When He rose to teach in the synagogue for the first time, most people there would not have recognized His face. One person declared, however, “I know who you are, Jesus of Nazareth!”

earthsunWho I am has a lot to do with where I am from. Often you can tell what part of the U.S. someone comes from by his or her accent. Like, “Where are you from?” “Heeyyy…I’m from Brucklin!” Or: “Padner, I’m from Amarilla, Texas!” And some of us have migrated from places where people speak languages other than English.

But Jesus, the High Priest, the Holy One of God: He is not ashamed to call all of us brothers. He came to teach us a very important truth about where we all come from. Whether I come from Vietnam or Panama, Wisconsin or L.A., I come from God. We all, fundamentally, come from God. Every human being does. God knit each of us together in our mothers’ wombs, using His consummate artistry in doing so.

Let me give you one proof that we ultimately come from God, not just Iowa or Canada or France. Yes, it is true that people from the same place have a lot in common, especially their manner of speaking.  So people from the same place generally understand each other better than people from other places. Koreans generally understand Korean better than Austrians do, and Austrians understand German better than Tanzanians do.

But the proof that God is our true origin is this: Not all Austrians are the same. Not all Germans are the same. Or Japanese, or Mexicans, or New Yorkers, or Roanokers. God made each of us truly unique; no two human beings are exactly alike, and every human being has his own unique life to live. So sometimes a Roanoker might have a best friend who comes from Guadalajara. Sometimes Virginian women fall in love with Asian men, and they have Amerasian children.

Jesus calls us all brothers. Jesus loves and understands us all. He died for us all, because we are all sinners. Homegrown Americans and migrants alike—all sinners, all redeemed by the blood of Jesus of Nazareth. And He gives us all a share in the only life truly worth living—the life of His divine brotherly love.

Epiphany to the Skeptics

Moses encountered God at the burning bush, and the Lord revealed His own name. The tetragrammaton. A word which pious Jews will not pronounce. Obscure ancient Hebrew, with a practically indecipherable meaning. God’s ancient name…how do we put it in Latin? Ipsum esse per se subsistens. In English? He Who Is. Of old, God declared His name: “I am Who am.”

Moses burning bushNow, if anyone else said something like this, we might wonder about his or her social skills. “Hi. Nice to meet you, I’m Father Mark. And you are?” “I am Who am!” “Okay…”

But God rightly taught Moses a very important truth by saying this incomprehensible name. We cannot comprehend God. We cannot claim to know the ‘god-ness’ of God. He is He Who is. Which makes exactly as much–and as little—sense to us as it should.

Who are we to demand more information from the One Who made us out of nothing? After all, if He were not Who He is, we wouldn’t be who we are. We wouldn’t exist, if God did not freely give us existence. There wouldn’t be any air, much less trees, and the earth, and milkshakes and snow and stuff. God is Who He is, namely He Who is. And comprehensible things, like chickens and hamburgers, can and do exist because God the incomprehensible gives life and being to everything that exists and lives.

The obscurity and incomprehensibility of the name God gave to Moses confirms the wisdom of the religious skeptic, the agnostic. The one who doubts human assertions about God. The one who doubts pagan charlatans, soothsayers, snake-oil salesmen, and all the other irrational frauds who spout endless nonsense, claiming to have a divine mandate to do so. Teaching us to make deals with the Almighty, or even play little tricks on Him. So that I can get rich or healed or find a new boyfriend or girlfriend—all through my astute negotiations with the Lord.

To all the mega-church prattle about getting rich quick through faith healings and emotional exuberance, the religious skeptic or agnostic responds: Why should anyone believe any of that? Why should anyone believe a single thing Pastor Paula White says? How can anyone claim to know so much penny-ante trivia about the great and majestic God? Like that if you give somebody a high-five at the right moment during a praise song, you’ll then certainly become the president of your own company? Please! says the skeptic. Give the unknown God a little more respect than to think He can be manipulated to conform to our own selfish dreams!

Villalpando MagiWhen God said, My name is Yahweh, He meant: Don’t claim to know what you don’t know about Me. If you think I make sense to your small-time mind, you’re on the wrong track.

God makes perfect sense to the holy angels. But we human beings don’t have the intellectual wattage to grasp just how much God makes sense. God makes so much sense that He makes the things that make sense to us seem like they don’t make any sense at all. Remember: Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, those who mourn, the meek, and the persecuted.

Now, if God had stopped speaking to mankind after He told Moses His ineffable name, then every intellectually honest person would have to be an agnostic. We would have to regard religion skeptically. We would hesitate to accept anyone’s claims about the unknowable God. We would distrust all the pagan priests and fortune tellers and tea-leaf readers of this world.

But the unknowable God did not stop teaching us about Himself after answering Moses’ question about His name. To the contrary, that episode at the burning bush was just the beginning.

The ancient Israelites who followed Moses held fast to their faith in the unknowable, transcendent God. And they did what honest agnostics must do: They waited for a moment when the Unknown might make Himself more known. No honest agnostic can deny to God the prerogative to reveal Himself if He so chooses, when He chooses, in the way He chooses.

So the Israelites waited, eschewing the pagan nonsense of their worldly neighbors. And then God did what no one expected. He Personally became a human being. He Who is is a man, born of a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, of Nazareth in Galilee, whom the magi visited in Bethlehem. The Unknown made Himself known by becoming Jesus.

Yahweh Hebrew

The ancient Tetragrammaton

Consistent agnosticism requires a lot of intellectual discipline. But believing in the Incarnation requires much, much more. We believe in the God-man. If it hadn’t happened, we’d be agnostics and skeptics. But it did happen. God revealed His own divine light, a light brighter than ten million gazillion suns. And that light shines on the face of Jesus. That light shines through Jesus’ eyes.

God has eyes and hands and feet. God has what we have—all of it, except sin. God could have continued to dwell in mysterious obscurity, remaining the ineffable “He Who is” forever. But He chose to become a child, a boy, a carpenter, a rabbi, an innocent man wrongly condemned, a victim of cruel crucifixion, a dead man, and a man who rose from the dead.

The unknowable God reveals Himself. So the agnostic discovers true knowledge of God. The skeptic discovers something to believe in.

We don’t believe in empty promises. We believe in Jesus, and His promises. God became the son of a pauper couple, Who took up His bitter cross, because His kingdom is not of this world. Nothing could be more intellectually demanding than believing in this incarnate God. Which, to any true skeptic, makes it all the more certain that it’s absolutely true.

Pawns of the Force

From our first reading at today’s Holy Mass, taken from St. John’s first letter: The one who acts in righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Now, who is this ‘he?’ He is the incarnate Son, the eternal Word made flesh, the revelation of the triune love of God, Jesus of Nazareth.

We go on to read: Whoever sins belongs to the devil…the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.

Luke on approachTwo points.

1. St. John’s fundamental message in his letter is: God is light and love; hatred and darkness come from the devil.

There really is a Force, and it really has a dark side. And the dark side really has exercised destructive power over the human race from the original Fall of man.

But God came in the flesh to do battle with the devil and defeat him. So light and love have triumphed and are triumphing.

2. These fundamental underpinnings of moral reality give us the humility we need to achieve true happiness. We human beings do not possess the greatest intelligence, nor the most-powerful wills, in the cosmos. God and the devil both have more smarts and more power than we do.

So human freedom doesn’t mean you or me acting independently. It means you and me co-operating with the divine grace of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus. And His grace is: Love. Selfless love. The love He showed on the cross.

Yes, morals involve making personal, independent decisions. We don’t obey like dogs or donkeys. We can sin, or we can act righteously, and it lies in the power of our knowledge and freedom to choose one or the other.

But our personal, independent moral decisions take place in this far-greater context: the cosmos-sized battle between good and evil, in which God is conquering the devil, by the power of Jesus Christ’s love, for the salvation of the world.

When we recognize that we are, so to speak, little players in the much larger game of good vs. evil; when we perceive that the drama of history is in fact God playing chess with the devil, then we can peacefully and happily take our place as pawns.

Let me allow the good Lord to use me for good. I can trust that all will be well. I don’t need to see the grand scheme; that is for God alone to see. I just need to love my neighbor with Christian love right here and now.

A Traveler’s Octave Highlights

st-patricks-2016

St. Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan received a thorough cleaning and restoration between 2012 and 2015, with scaffolding everywhere. Now the building shimmers, inside and out. I couldn’t believe my eyes; it’s like walking into a brand-new French cathedral in the year 1225, except the tourists all have smartphones, and outside the sidewalks have cordons and Jersey walls to protect the Trump Tower (from Saracens or other enemies?)

…Did you take a chance? and go see Manchester by the Sea? I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie I admired so much as a work of art.

The dramatic climax comes near the middle, like in a Shakespeare play. You love the hero, and you pull for him, and in the end he tosses every conceivable Hollywood expectation out the window he broke with his bare fist.

Few people cry less readily than I do. But I wept during a scene that follows chicken parts falling out of the freezer.

Don’t go unless…you want to hear ‘redemption’ whispered, almost inaudibly, instead of shouted at you in stentorian tones; you can tolerate a lot of bad words and objectionable morals; you like Massachusetts accents; and you believe in art actually trying to imitate life–the inner beauty of people confronting reality in full, even when the wind blows cold.

Dear writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, you have a new fan.

manchester-by-the-sea

Pro-Life Christmas

cab-calloway-hepstersdictionaryWhose birthday is December 25th? The Lord Jesus! Also: Isaac Newton, Clara Barton, Humphrey Bogart, Rod Serling, Cab Calloway, Anwar Sadat, Karl Rove, Annie Lennox, and Jimmy Buffet, to name a few.

Before all the ages, in the bosom of eternity, the Son of God was, is, and ever will be born of the Father in the Holy Spirit, the undivided Trinity. Today, the Son of God was born a man, a human being, a human child.

Christ’s birth gives every birth meaning. God’s coming into the world as one of us reveals the divine love which moves the heavens and the earth. We call the mystery of God’s becoming man the… Incarnation. Today the Incarnation occurred.

No, wait! That’s inaccurate. And when priests fall into inaccuracies, Santa justly withholds their presents.

God was born a child on Christmas Day, in Bethlehem. But the Incarnation occurred not on December 25th, but on… let’s see: Math. Nine months… March 25th! The Incarnation occurred when the baby Jesus was conceived. Christmas celebrates the beautiful and successful birth of a divine child Who had been human, alive, and growing for nine months.

Now, we of course want to celebrate Christmas in spirit and in truth. And we might as well celebrate Humphrey Bogart’s, and Clara Barton’s, and Annie Lennox’s birthdays in spirit and in truth, too. That means celebrating the Gospel of Life. Christmas is the feast day of the Gospel of Life. We celebrate Jesus’ birthday, and everybody’s birthday, with holy joy—because we are pro-life.

What does this mean? Well, what does Jesus’ birth teach us? It teaches us that, when a child gets conceived in a woman’s womb, God acts. God reveals a plan, a grand plan that only He fully knows. A child, conceived and growing; a mother selflessly, naturally lavishing her as-yet-unborn child with everything, through the ineffably intimate relationship of the womb—something so complex and amazing that our little human minds cannot comprehend it all: God acts in this process with such a surpassing demonstration of His powerful loving care, that all we can do is revere this holiness with awe and dedicated service.

Who gave us the inspiring phrase “Gospel of Life?” Let me give you a hint. He began a letter he wrote to the whole world with this phrase, “Gospel of Life, Evangelium Vitae.” He had already defined the world-wide pro-life movement by his courageous leadership. In his encyclical letter, he laid out the Biblical and philosophical foundations of the pro-life movement. He explained how the movement actually began way before Roe v. Wade. The pro-life movement began with creation itself, and with God’s reaction after the Fall of Man, when He answered human violence with gentle compassion. The man who gave us the phrase “Gospel of Life,” the undisputed hero of the pro-life movement; from heaven he guides us and aids us still: Pope St. John Paul II.

John Paul II on the MallSomeday historians will look back and take stock of the 20th century, and the 21st, and they will recognize the enormous moral significance of Pope John Paul’s pro-life movement. With the benefit of some perspective, free from the fever of our contemporary political alliances, our children and grandchildren will look back and see the destruction that the culture of death did during our times. All the unnecessary pain and suffering for mothers and fathers, doctors and nurses, whole families; indeed, whole communities. Succeeding generations will look back and see clearly how the culture of death gave rise to terrible economic problems, to hopelessness and guilt on a grand scale, to a spiritual malaise throughout the Western world.

That’s for future generations to assess fully. Right now, though, we already know the basic answer. We fight the culture of death by rejoicing in the birth of the Son of God, and in every human birth. We fight back by taking our place near the manger, where the pro-life Church gazes with love at the divine mystery of conception, pregnancy, and birth.

When we take our place here, celebrating Christmas, we have no choice but to stand up for all innocent and defenseless unborn babies, and for all those who love them: their mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles.

Because, when we find ourselves next to the newborn babe in the manger, we clearly perceive that violence has no place here, in this sublime mystery of conception, pregnancy, and birth. As the prophet Isaiah put it, declaring the Gospel of Life: “Every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for flames, because the Prince of Peace has a vast dominion, which is forever peaceful.” The cruel violence of abortion is completely foreign to the peace of God’s kingdom. Visiting Bethlehem spiritually cements this truth into our minds.

Now, don’t accuse me of bringing politics into Christmas Eve. Our Catholic adherence to the Gospel of Life runs much deeper than any political affiliations we have. But, of course, being pro-life has political implications. We rejoice in the victories won this past Election Day by candidates with a pro-life message.

These victories mean that we have to pray all the harder and remain all the more vigilant for opportunities to participate in building up the culture of life. May the year to come see us living out in practice, day in and day out, the spiritual worship that we take part in at Christmas, beside the holy manger of the newborn Son of God. May He give us the strength and clarity we need to live 2017 as truly pro-life Christians.