Difficult Rock on which to Build

scale-of-1-to-10

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

These words of mine. Here the Lord refers specifically to His… Sermon… on…

On a scale of 1 to 10—ten being the most difficult—where would we put acting on the words of the Sermon on the Mount?

Right. Maybe about 70?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Ten points right there.

Stop judging. Remove the wooden beam from your own eye. Another ten.

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear… Do not worry about tomorrow. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth; store up treasure in heaven. Ten more points. Now we’re up to thirty, and we have hardly gotten started.

If your right eye causes you to lust after your neighbor, then pluck it out and throw it away. Plucking out your own lustful eye is definitely ten difficulty points.

Fast in secret; pray in secret; give alms in secret. That’s another thirty points.

Forgive others their transgressions. At least ten.

Love your enemies. Pray for your persecutors. Settle with your opponent on your way to the judge. Twenty-five right there.

Give to the one who asks of you. Offer no resistance to evil. When someone strikes your right cheek, offer him your other cheek as well. We have reached the point where we will need to use calculus.

Your light must shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father, Who blesses the poor in spirit, the mournful and meek, the merciful, the pure-hearted peacemakers, and all those who suffer persecution because they hunger and thirst for God’s holiness.

Sweet saints above! Pray for us that we might build our houses on this particular rock! We cannot manage a task that requires a 105105 level of difficulty, on a scale of 1 to 10. But with the grace of God we can do anything!

St. Andrew, Pasternak’s Magdalene, Lara and Zhivago

St Andrew

Saint Andrew watches over many Christian institutions. These include: our beloved parish here in Roanoke, Virginia, and the nation of Russia, among many others. Today we keep the saint’s feast.

dr-zhivago-boris-pasternakAt the beginning of his letter closing the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invokes the memory of St. Mary Magdalene. Actually, the pope recalls two women: the woman caught in adultery, and the woman who bathed the feet of Christ with her hair. But, according to tradition, and according to the great 20th-century Russian poet and novelist Boris Pasternak, those women are one woman, namely Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalen by Boris Pasternak (translation by his sister Lydia Pasternak Slater)

I

As soon as night descends, we meet.
Remorse my memories releases.
The demons of the past compete,
And draw and tear my heart to pieces,
Sin, vice and madness and deceit,
When I was slave of men’s caprices
And when my dwelling was the street.

The deathly silence is not far;
A few more moments only matter,
Which the Inevitable bar.
But at the edge, before they scatter,
In front of Thee my life I shatter,
As though an alabaster jar.

O what might not have been my fate
By now, my Teacher and my Savior,
Did not eternity await
Me at the table, as a late
New victim of my past behavior!

But what can sin now mean to me,
And death, and hell, and sulphur burning,
When, like a graft onto a tree,
I have-for everyone to see-
Grown into being part of Thee
In my immeasurable yearning?

When pressed against my knees I place
Thy precious feet, and weep, despairing,
Perhaps I’m learning to embrace
The cross’s rough four-sided face;
And, fainting, all my being sways
Towards Thee, Thy burial preparing.

II

People clean their homes before the feast.
Stepping from the bustle of the street
I go down before Thee on my knees
And anoint with myrrh Thy holy feet.

Groping round, I cannot find the shoes
For the tears that well up with my sighs.
My impatient tresses, breaking loose,
Like a pall hang thick before my eyes.

I take up Thy feet onto my lap,
Wash them clean with hot tears from my eyes,
In my hair Thy precious feet I wrap,
And my string of pearls around them tie.

I now see the future in detail,
As if it were stopped in flight by Thee.
Like a raving sibyl, I could tell
What will happen, how it will all be.

In the temple, veils will fall tomorrow,
We shall form a frightened group apart,
And the earth will shake-perhaps from sorrow
And from pity for my tortured heart.

Troops will then reform and march away
To the thud of hoofs and heavy tread,
And the cross will reach towards the sky
Like a water-spout above our heads.

By the cross, I’ll fall down on the ground,
I shall bite my lips till I draw blood.
On the cross, your arms will be spread out–
Wide enough to hug the whole wide world.

Who’s this for, this glory and this strife?
Who’s this for, this torment and this might?
Are there enough souls on earth, and lives?
Are there enough cities, dales and heights?

But three days–such days and nights will pass–
They will fill me with such crushing dread
That I’ll see the joyous truth, at last:
I shall know Christ will rise from the dead.

Mary Magdalene is one of Pasternak’s “Zhivago Poems,” that is, the poem is included in the novel as the work of the fictional hero.

I read Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago because Thomas Merton thoroughly recommends it in his book Disputed Questions. Many people love the picturesque movie version of Dr. Zhivago, with Omar Sharif. If you want to continue to love the movie, don’t read the novel. The movie becomes laughable once you’ve read the six hundred pages of prose-poetry that Hollywood managed to turn into a lugubrious comic book.

Prose poetry like Lara’s description of the love she shared with her Yura (the doctor of the title), as she reflects after his death:

They loved each other because everything around them willed it, the trees and the clouds and the sky over their heads and the earth under their feet. Perhaps their surrounding world, the strangers they met in the street, the wide expanses they saw on their walks, the rooms in which they lived or met, took more delight in their love than they themselves did.

Ah, that was just what had united them and had made them so akin! Never, never, even in their moments of richest and wildest happiness, were they unaware of a sublime joy in the total design of the universe, a feeling that they themselves were a part of that whole, an element in the beauty of the cosmos.

This unity with the whole was the breath of life to them. And the elevation of man above the rest of nature, the modern coddling and worshiping of man, never appealed to them. A social system based on such a false premise, as well as its political application, struck them as pathetically amateurish and made no sense to them.

Much more to come re: Pasternak and Zhivago, dear reader. In fact, I want to offer you a different translation of Mary Magdalene, which I can’t dig up just now, but which I think is actually better than his sister’s translation–which, to my mind, sacrifices too much for the sake of retaining the rhyme scheme. Just wanted to share this much with you in honor of our parish’s patron today.

Pilgrims

Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see. (Luke 10:24)

A state of mutual incomprehension exists between Catholic and non-Catholic, which I would like to try to clear up.

For instance, regarding baptism. Apparently, many non-Catholic Christians see baptism with water as unnecessary, a purely external ritual. We, or course, revere Holy Baptism as the essential instrument God uses to make us His children in Christ.

baptism-holy-card1The non-Catholic school of thought revolves around the idea that the salvation of my soul ultimately turns on my act of faith in Christ my Savior, my Redeemer. Hence the question, “Are you saved?” And the answer, “Yes! Because I confessed Christ as my Savior, Redeemer and Lord!”

We Catholics recognize, of course, that Holy Baptism entails faith. Baptism is the original sacrament of faith. When infants get baptized, someone must profess the faith and promise to teach the faith to the child as he or she grows up.

But I think the central point of mutual incomprehension is this: We Catholics assume that God exists, and operates, and accomplishes great wonders, beyond the scope of what our minds contain.

We do not understand religion as something fundamentally inside my own mind. Instead, we think of ‘faith’ as: a mind reaching out towards the infinitude of God.

I can say, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Redeemer,” and, of course, I do. And it pleases God when I believe that and profess it. But my saying something about what I have in my own mind, at this or that moment in my life, doesn’t definitively settle anything. The matter of my salvation won’t get settled until I draw my last breath. And God alone controls when that will be.

The non-Catholic emphasis on what I think equaling religion has a mirror image: the secularist school of thought which holds that it is absurd for us Christians to claim that Christ alone brings salvation to mankind. “How arrogant and provincial to limit God to your own religion!”

Now, it would indeed be absurd for us to think that Christ alone brings salvation, if the salvation brought by Christ depended completely on what this or that individual thinks or says at this or that moment.

But that definition of religion is foreign to us Catholics, and that makes the supposedly absurd and provincial aspect of Christianity disappear. God becoming man, and the Blessed Virgin giving birth to Him in Bethlehem, is the central fact. Not what any individual human being says or does about it. The almighty power of the one, true God accomplished this fact, the Incarnation. The total effect of this fact–namely the salvation of the world—extends way, way, way beyond what my mind can grasp.

What we can grasp is: We walk through life as pilgrims. I think that this idea of us human beings as pilgrims is the key, if we want to try and clear up the mutual incomprehension between Catholic and non-Catholic.

We human pilgrims have a relationship with the unknowable God, based on what He has revealed to the human race by becoming a man in Israel 2,000 years ago. This God Himself knit us together in our mothers’ wombs and set us on our pilgrimage. And our journey leads towards Him.

That’s what we Catholics understand “religion” to mean, I think: Living as holy pilgrims, heading towards the divine mystery revealed by the star of Bethlehem.

Happy New (Liturgical) Year! We present: the Baby Thief

If the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  (Matthew 24:43)

Two points regarding this sentence uttered by Jesus Christ:

1. Petty thefts occurred every night in ancient Israel. Most people lived in small homes made of mud bricks. Your roof served as the bedroom. A thief could quietly claw a hole in the mud at the foundation of the house, crawl inside, and steal your valuables as you slept. Then you wake up in the morning, climb down the ladder to start making breakfast, and all your pots and pans have disappeared! Not to mention your figs and wine.

2. In this parable, the thief who breaks into the house represents…The Lord. The Son of Man. The Messiah. God’s anointed. Maybe that seems strange, God stealing things. Doesn’t mean thou shalt not steal no longer counts as a commandment. Thou still shalt not steal. But God will come like a thief. To steal what?

That appears to be the question. What does baby Jesus come to steal? Little baby Whose birthday comes in exactly four weeks, the newborn Son of Man. He came suddenly into this world–to steal something.

paul simonTo answer this question, let’s consider this: One image appears repeatedly in the first reading and psalm of today’s Holy Mass. The Temple of the Lord, the house of Jacob, the house of David, the great stronghold of the city of Jerusalem: not a mud-hut susceptible to burglars. Rather, a fortress of peace.

“May peace be within your walls! …From His holy mountain, God will instruct us in His ways, and we shall beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” Peace.

We might complain that the western world has lost the Christian faith and no longer knows the reason for the season. But everyone knows: Christmas means peace. The newborn child comes to Bethlehem as the Prince of Peace. God Almighty, the awesome, the terrifyingly holy: He has come to the world as a defenseless baby, armed not with spears and arrows, or flaming thunderbolts, but only with ‘eyes as clear as centuries.’*

What does He come to steal, this gentle baby Son of Man? Doesn’t His arrival, in and of itself, steal our pretexts for hating each other? Doesn’t He take away our reasons for violence? Doesn’t baby Jesus invade our little egos, so as to clear out all the self-serving nonsense that we keep stored in there, that sets me against my brother?

I may find myself desperately attached to the idea of myself as a bigshot. I may base my entire worldview on “us good people” vs. “those dirty people.” Maybe I have convinced myself that I deserve all the fanciest new voice-activated gadgets, like the little canister that I can talk to and make my lawn-sprinklers come on, at my command. And I’ve decided I will use it against my annoying mailman.

wise-menBut the little baby of Bethlehem comes to dig into us, into the little mud-huts of our souls, and steal every self-aggrandizing delusion out of our egos. When I contemplate the Prince of Peace, laid in an animals’ manger; when I reflect that this is God Almighty–my sense of my bigshot self has to go out the window.

I meditate on Our Lady nursing the cooing baby, and I have to recognize: God has acted with this kind of peaceful compassion towards me. Even though I certainly don’t deserve it. Even though God really has every right to distrust me or even smack me in the face. But instead He comes in peace.

So how can I hate my neighbor? How can I lash out at that bad driver? How can I continue to pile up loot and chase after silly trifles, without giving at thought to other peoples’ struggles?

The Prince of Peace came to turn enemies into friends. St. Augustine described how we will, please God, sing Alleluia together, in heaven. Here’s how the saint put it:

O, what a happy alleluia there–how carefree, how safe from all opposition, where nobody will be an enemy, where no one will ever cease to be a friend!

A very clever thief, this baby. We contemplate Him, born of a penniless mother, in a stable with the animals. The bottomless peace of His humble birth steals every pretext I could possibly come up with to harbor resentment in my heart. He fleeces my soul of all the empty pride I have piled up there, the lies and half-truths that make me think I’m better than so-and-so. Just by being born in peace, the Son of Man steals all that and carries it away like a thief in the night.

Then, all we have left is: His divine love. These little mud-huts we have for souls can become His everlasting Temple, the stronghold of God’s peace.

____________

* from Paul Simon’s “Born at the Right Time”

If Religion Comes Up…

at dinner, some advice:

At the end of the liturgical year, we find ourselves reading the end of the Bible at Holy Mass.  We read in Revelation: those who have won the victory sing the song of Moses in heaven, adoring God, and saying to Him, “your righteous deeds have been revealed!” (Revelation 15:4)

thanksgiving-BeverlyHillbilliesThe Holy Bible contains the account of the righteous deeds of Almighty God, the work He has undertaken in the course of history. His works make our lives mean something; what He has accomplished gives us hope for eternal life.

So we rightly cherish the Holy Bible as an essential gift. We can’t imagine life without the knowledge that the Bible gives us. Certainly we would not understand life at all, if we didn’t know what the Bible teaches. We wouldn’t be able to deal with day-to-day life, if we didn’t constantly nourish our minds with reading the Bible.

The books of the Bible bear witness to the fundamental fact: Almighty God has established a covenant with His chosen people. This alliance that binds us to God involves specific historical things, like: the land of Israel, Moses and his staff, the ancient temple, Jesus laid in a manger, baptism with water, oils blessed by a bishop, and bread and wine consecrated on an altar. Our covenant with God is no generic ‘religion.’ God established the covenant through the specific events narrated in the Holy Bible.

All that said, though: the God of the Bible is bigger than the Bible. The God of our covenant is bigger than His covenant with us. The God of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is bigger than the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

The content of the Bible itself forces us Bible believers to have the humility to acknowledge: We do not know everything there is to know about God. Neither the Bible, nor the Church that has given us the Bible, have all the answers. We do not have the “God market” cornered.

God is God, and He has a plan for everyone to get to heaven.  The Bible reveals that magnificent fact.  He has a plan for everyone to get to heaven, including people in the mountains of west China who have never heard of the Bible, or Pope Francis, or a Thanksgiving turkey.  God has a plan for the salvation of every human being.  And our little role in that plan involves, above all, our being humble.

The Human-Size Divine Rock

titian-christ-and-the-good-thief

Titian, Christ and the Good Thief

Not exactly the world’s typical picture of a king.  A man–scourged nearly to death, a crown of thorns on his head, nailed to a cross–conferring an honor upon a supplicant.  And not exactly the typical royal favor, either.  Not a dukedom, or a large purse, or a military command.  “Today,” this unlikely crucified king said to the repentant criminal, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

The second chapter of the book of the prophet Daniel recounts a dream of the Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar.  The Lord revealed the dream and its meaning to young Daniel, who then praised God, saying, “He reveals deep and mysterious things!”

Daniel knew that Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his dream the image of a man. “The head was of fine gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of bronze, the legs of iron, and the feet partly of iron and partly of clay.”

Daniel interpreted the various parts of the figure’s body as a succession of kingdoms: gold for Nebuchadnezzar’s own kingdom, silver for an inferior succeeding kingdom, then bronze, iron— and then a final, brittle kingdom of iron and clay.

Not sure if the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration fits into this anywhere.  But that’s not my point. Because:  After the prophet Daniel has described all this, another, completely foreign element enters the picture.

Daniel

Daniel in the Sistine chapel

So far, we have the figure of a man.  Yes, it’s strange that this figure is composed of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and clay.  But the form itself—a man standing—that form easily finds a home in our imagination.  Anyone can picture a man standing.

But Daniel continued, describing Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: “As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand.” A stone cut out by no human hand.  Sounds like a big avalanche, or an asteroid falling from the sky.  Impossible for us to imagine clearly.  Then what happened?

“It smote the image of the man on its feet, and broke them in pieces, then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold all together were broken to pieces, and became like chaff on the summer threshing floor, and the wind carried it all away, so that no trace could be found.”

Again, not exactly easy for us to picture in our imaginations.  For me, it calls to mind the spectacle of the shiny Twin Towers in New York collapsing into a huge, noxious pile of dust.  The human figure in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream–“mighty Man,” the kings of history, man dominating the earth—it all disintegrates into nothing.

Then Daniel continues: “The stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” Daniel interprets this: “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people.  It shall break in pieces all the other kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.”

Now, of course, we must understand this Old-Testament revelation as a prophecy of the reign of Christ. God Himself intervening directly in the political organization of mankind, establishing a unique community, His chosen people, united under our unique king.  The Christian Church, united in the faith and love of Christ, has fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy.

The fact that no human hand cut the rock that became the mountain: Surely this represents the absolute “otherness” of God. The fact that He exercises His omnipotent power on his terms alone. No human idea, no human conception, no human image can represent the divine sovereignty. No wise man would ever pretend to grasp the inevitable divine plan. We can only submit ourselves to His rule with humble faith, saying “Our Father in heaven, Your kingdom come; Your will be done.”

twin towersBut the revelation of Daniel 2 does not completely disclose the kingdom of Christ. One crucial aspect of the eternal kingdom only got revealed later, when the fullness of time had come.

The rock not cut by human hand does indeed represent the transcendent awesomeness of God Almighty.  God’s sovereignty nullifies every human conceit, every presumption on our part to understand on our own terms the ultimate meaning of the events of history.

But: in the fullness of time, God revealed that this crushing rock is, in fact, a human being, a man. A humble man. A man of gentle love, Who does not break even a bruised reed or quench even a smoldering wick.

The divine rock that crushes every delusion of grandeur in man came as a man with no delusions of grandeur.  He submitted to scourging and crucifixion even though He committed no crime.  He promised paradise to the penitent man dying beside Him—an impossible, laughably preposterous promise, which this perfectly honest king then proceeded to fulfill.

Christians, rejoice! It turns out that the rock that crushes the pride of man and establishes the endless domain of God has fallen from the sky as nothing more violent that the king Who died for us on the cross so that we could reign with Him forever.

St. Peter’s and the St. Peter’s of Roanoke

Vatican Piazza

My house shall be a house of prayer. (Luke 19:46)

Some people say that New York City serves as the capital of the world.  But everyone who has ever visited the real capital of the world knows that ain’t true.  All roads lead to…

What does the grand edifice built over the tomb of Simon Peter represent? To see a picture of it—or, even more, to lay eyes on it in person—summons many feelings and associations.

St. Peter’s basilica represents Tradition.  For 1,952 years, Christians have prayed at Vatican Hill.  Lord Jesus promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church, built on the rock of Peter.  The basilica represents that permanence with a unique divine guarantee.

Pope Francis occupies the oldest office in the world.  We think of the U.S. Presidency as a tradition-hallowed office.  Next year we will inaugurate our 45th.  Pope Francis is the 266th pope.

But St. Peter’s represents more than just ancient, unbroken tradition.  Because the place hums with the visits of our contemporaries, from the four corners of the earth.  The basilica represents the universality of the Catholic Church.

That’s what has struck me during my visits to St. Peter’s.  In front of that church, the paths of all the peoples of the world meet.  People from all continents, all colors, speaking all languages, meet–in one common expression of faith in Christ.

St Andrew

There’s more.  St. Peter’s basilica represents the magnificent beauty of God.  God, Who, through the Incarnation, has united Himself with our humble, human capacity to express ourselves through the arts. Michelangelo and Bernini are not themselves gods.  But they knew how to give God glory.

The huge artfulness of the building and all its many adornments represents this fact: the Lord walks with us through our earthly pilgrimage.  He does not despise our love for beauty, even though our art can never fully capture His Image.  Rather, He uses our human capacity to make beautiful things to lift us up to Him.

Now, some of us get to celebrate the Mass commemorating the dedication of the Roman basilicas in another very meaningful building.  I think we can call our church on the hill “the St. Peter’s of Roanoke.”  After all, his brother is our parish’s patron.

Everything I’ve said about St. Peter’s in Rome could be said about St. Andrew’s in Roanoke, too—if the Roanoke Valley constituted the whole world.  St. Andrew’s represents all the Catholic tradition of our valley, and it is the crossroads of the Christian faithful here, where the beauty of God shines.

St. Peter, St. Andrew:  Pray for us!  Help us to stay faithful, and to rejoice in the priceless gift of being Catholic!

Quiet Profit in the Parable of the Minas/Pounds

The nobleman called in ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins.  One of them gained ten more, and then took charge of ten cities.  I think we can deduce that this emphasis on ten should remind us of the Ten…

moses_ten_commandmentsRight.  Commandments.  We have a lot of friends in this life.  But none of them help us more than our dear friends, the Ten Commandments.

The parable takes a little turn: we only hear about the success or failure of three of the servants.  The other seven go without further mention.

Now, the hero of the parable turned a 1000% profit on his original endowment.  The second hero earned 500%.  The hapless, timorous, self-centered goat of the parable earned a big goose-egg.

Can we safely assume that the other seven earned somewhere between nothing and 500%?  Can we assume that they gave it their best shot?  But, not having heroic qualities, they turned a respectable, but unremarkable, quiet profit?

I hope I can accomplish that much.  I give credit to all of you heroes who can accomplish so much more.  All of us have endowments of some kind, and we can turn a profit for the glory of God by loving our neighbors fearlessly.  If it’s only a 50% or 75% profit, maybe we won’t wind up in charge of any cities.  But at least we will have loved God with all that we had.

Revelation 3, Ezekiel 16, Pope

pope-francis-the-name-of-god-is-mercyThe heavenly voice told St. John to write: “I advise you to buy from me white garments to put on, so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed.” (Revelation 3:18)

Shameful nakedness.  That image might remind us of chapter 16 of the book of the prophet Ezekiel. (One of the PG-13 chapters of the Bible.)  The Lord speaks to the city of Jerusalem as to a beloved adopted daughter. He found her as an abandoned, unwashed newborn.  He cared for her, cleaned her, dressed her, and adorned her with jewelry.

Then she grew conceited.  She consorted with many strange lovers.  She engaged in abominable sacrileges and exposed herself over and over again.

But even after all this, the Lord had a heart moved with compassion for His beloved adopted daughter, Jerusalem–His people.  At the end of Ezekiel 16, the Lord declares, “I will re-establish my covenant with you, that you may remember, and be ashamed, when I pardon you for all you have done.”

Pope Francis remarked that he considered these words addressed directly to him personally. The pope wrote:

For me this is one of the most important revelations: you will continue to be my chosen people and all your sins will be forgiven. Mercy is deeply connected with God’s faithfulness.  The Lord is faithful, because he cannot deny himself…You can deny God, you can sin against him, but God cannot deny himself. He remains faithful.

God faithfully keeps His covenant with Abraham, sealed with the Precious Blood of His Son, shed to save sinners.

The Mercy of God and the Election

american-flag

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

We rightly fear the omnipotent One.  He made everything out of nothing.  His power dwarfs our capacity to conceive it.  Everything exists solely by His pleasure.  Without His will sustaining us–and sustaining the sky, and the earth, and the air–without His constant gift of existence, everything would crumble, collapse, disintegrate, vanish.

Jesus said, “All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone…Awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” (Luke 21:6)

The one thing that separates us from chaos and ultimate nothingness is: the divine good pleasure.  True wisdom involves acknowledging this fact.  If we find ourselves enjoying good things in life, it’s because God has made them and keeps them in existence, to give as gifts to us.

The wise person fears the awesomeness of the great Giver of all, Who is truly, wonderfully, magnificently good.  His power dwarfs us, and so does His goodness.  We do not measure up to it.  Rather, we receive from His largesse as unworthy beneficiaries.  He blesses us so abundantly because His love flows so freely.  Not because we have any claim on Him or any “rights” before Him.

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priestWe fear Him. But, in spite of all this, He makes amazingly friendly and intimate promises to us.  “Fear nothing,” He says, “because I myself will give you wisdom.”

The God we rightly fear does not choose to tower above us.  Rather, in the midst of all the great flux of events over which He exercises sovereign control, He moves toward us and embraces us.  By uniting Himself with us in Christ, God Almighty has Personally entered into His own creation, fragile as it all is.  He meets us right here, and clasps us to His bosom.  He makes us His friends, the friends of the King.

By the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, we participate in His sovereignty over all things. We share His permanent solidity, His serene transcendence.  Created things pass.  We human beings, too, are created things that naturally pass.  But, by His grace, God has joined us to His permanent Self. So we do not pass, but rather we endure forever, with Him.

Divine Mercy.  Pope Francis gave a book-length interview, published under the title The Name of God is Mercy. The Holy Father puts it like this: “Mercy is the divine attitude which embraces; it is God giving Himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive.”

Next Sunday, the Jubilee Year of Mercy will come to an end. But of course the end of the Year of Mercy doesn’t mean that, starting a week from Monday, a Year of Strict and Severe Judgment will begin.  No. God’s mercy endures forever.

Logo for Holy Year of MercyNow, we Americans have elected as our president a man who, by any reasonable estimation, is simply not a good person.  I don’t mean that, had the outcome on Tuesday been different, we would then have elected a good person. I’m not saying that.  But that’s all moot now anyway.

The man who will assume our presidency in January has lived the life of a sybarite, a liar, and a braggart. That’s not all.  There’s another two-syllable word that begins with ‘b’ which suits him perfectly.  But I won’t use that word in pulpit oratory.  I guess we have had unsteady, lying braggarts for presidents before.  And we somehow survived.

But the whole business of government involves co-operation.  And the whole business of co-operation requires trust.  And we have a president who I, for one, wouldn’t trust with five dollars of my own money for even fifteen minutes.

Christ is king.  Prayer works.  It just doesn’t always work in the way that we, with our small minds, expect.  We have, as a country, gotten ourselves into a very serious mess.  Getting out of it will cost us a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

Let’s have the humility to admit that we got the president we deserve.  We elected a man of no character; therefore, we must have serious character flaws ourselves.

Let’s close the Year of Mercy by humbly acknowledging this.  Taking collective responsibility for the great act of irresponsibility that America as a whole has induldged in, with the year-and-a-half-long mess of a presidential election that landed us in the uncharted territory where we are now.

If we put our foreheads to the ground before God and admit, Yes, Lord, this is our fault!  We find ourselves lost in the woods, and we got lost by our own nonsense!  –If we do that, then we can hope for divine mercy and gracious assistance from heaven.  Gracious assistance to help this body politic through the entire weird, unpredictable ordeal that we now face.