The Saint of Shakespeare’s Florence

Romeo + JulietActs III and IV of Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well take place in Florence, Italy.  While he was writing, St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi was living in a Carmelite convent in Florence, Italy.

Shakespeare was born two years before the saintly nun was born.  He lived on for almost nine years after she died.  In other words:  they were contemporaries.  Shakespeare began his career in the theater the same year that Mary Magdalen de Pazzi entered the convent.

The saintly nun died 409 years ago today.  She, too, wrote.   During this time of year, in the fortnight between Pentecost and Corpus Christi, in 1584, she professed her monastic vows and experienced mystical revelations.  More revelations came during the same fortnight a year later.  She wrote:

The Holy Spirit comes into the soul like a fountain, and the soul is immersed in it.  Just as two rushing rivers intermingle in such a way that the smaller loses its name, and is absorbed into the larger, so the divine Spirit acts upon the soul and absorbs it.  It is proper that the soul, which is lesser, should lose its name and surrender to the Spirit—as it will, if it turns entirely to the Spirit and is united.

Mary Magdalen de Pazzi book coverIn the spring of 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote to the Archbishop of Florence to celebrate the 400th anniversary of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi’s death.  The pope wrote:

The saint represents the living love that recalls the essential mystical dimension of every Christian life…Grasping the monastery bells, she urged her sisters with the cry, “Come and love Love!”  …May her voice be heard in all the Church, spreading to every human creature the proclamation to love God.

Among Shakespeare’s characters, we find a couple intense Italian women.  For instance: Juliet, of Verona, of the house of Capulet.  While the Bard was writing about the all-consuming love of Juliet for Romeo, St. Mary Magdalen was living such a love—for God.

Priesthood Anniversary Homily

I hate preaching about myself.  But today it seems like the Lord is practically begging me to do it.  Roman Missal has a special set of prayers for the priest to use, especially on his anniversary.  Usually I don’t use them, because I don’t like skipping any Easter-season prayers.  But this year, we had an unusually early Pentecost.  And, by pure God-incidence, the gospel reading at Holy Mass today includes:

There is no one who has given up houses, or brothers, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel, who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age—with persecutions—and eternal life in the age to come.

I think we can say that most of us priests spent most of our twenties meditating on that verse—when we were getting ready to go to the seminary, and in the seminary.

priestFor My sake.  Whatever we have given up, we have given up because of Jesus Christ.

Now, I don’t hold myself out as any kind of venerable philosopher or brave spiritual pilgrim.  I have enough trouble just answering all my e-mails in a timely manner.  But I can say that becoming a priest of the New Covenant in Christ’s Blood has been about: the meaning of life.  I don’t mind wearing black clothes, but that wasn’t the reason.

Let’s put it like this.  All of us receive a huge patrimony from the people that bring us into the world.  Our language, our manners, the food we get used to.  “Culture.”

All of this cultural identity gives meaning to life.  Family relationships, friendships, love, the importance of honesty, hope for a prosperous, peaceful, happy future.

But it’s not enough.  It doesn’t get you over the last, big hurdle, when it comes to finding meaning in life.  The last, big hurdle has multiple names, but they come down to the same thing in the end.  Death.  Solitude.  Silence.  The Unkown Foundation of all existence.

Jesus taught us to call The Unknown Foundation of all existence, the great silence, the unfathomable interior intimacy—He taught us to call Him “our Father.”  Jesus—the real person, living and very much in-touch with us.  He feeds us with His living Body and Blood, so that we can be sons and daughters of the heavenly Father, with Him.

I can honestly say:  When I was 21 years old, I became aware that the Blessed Sacrament really is God made flesh for our eternal salvation.  The basic Catholic dogma—the Real Presence—it is true.  And that makes everything else make sense.

I became aware of that, and I became a priest because of it.  I’m not particularly good at any of the pastoral things—leadership, virtue, etc.  But I can say Mass, in spite of all my faults and weaknesses.  And because of the Mass, life truly has meaning.  For me.  For all of us.

Four Walls to Pray In

saint-gerard-roanoke-picture2

mainly of local interest to St. Gerardians in Roanoke, Virginny…  esp. click: Trinidad 2016

God has poured His divine love into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul tells us. God, the infinite, triune love, “takes delight in the human race.” He fashioned us in His own ineffable image. God has made us His friends, opening His mind and heart to us by sending His Son, the divine Word made flesh. Made human; made one of us. He gave us the mysteries of His Body and Blood, for us to celebrate together, surrounded by four walls, gathered at His altar.

We human beings can unite. Sometimes it seems impossible. Sometimes the antipathies and misunderstandings which separate us from one another seem overwhelming. How can this race that fights and argues and alienates each other, with petty meanness—how can we come together as one family?

In Christ. In His Body. In the Holy Mass, we are one, the children of one Father. Church: church is true communion and love, patience and forbearance with each other. Church is hope for humane manners and open communication. Church means that we can be better than our selfishness and laziness, better than our petty insecurities. The Mass lifts up our fallen selves and makes us who we were made to be.

I have much more to tell you. I hope you can bear it now. God delights in the human race. The very same human race that cannot operate without funds. Church means communion. Someday, communion will come free and easy. But now, in this fallen state, we need money. Church means making financial sacrifices to serve the mission God Himself has given us.

We have a plan here for St. Gerard’s. Many people have come together to formulate it. The centerpiece of the plan: that we would pray in this building in the way that it was originally designed to be prayed in—with the Blessed Sacrament as our rising sun, with everyone facing the Sun together.

We need money. We need everyone to make a serious sacrifice in this campaign. We need everyone to continue to give just as much in the weekly collection, and also pledge that same amount also to this Living Our Mission campaign. Double the giving, in other words. If everyone does that, we will make our goal, and we’ll be able to do the work that we have set out to do.

Macbeth in Canada

Stratford Shakespeare bust

with a bust of the Bard

Few things satisfy a person like Macbeth, performed without gimmicks, without extensive script-cuts.  Without nonsense.  Just the subtle workings of ambition, of manipulation, and of craven hopelessness.  Then the revenge of honesty and the restoration of order.  With good witch scenes in the middle.

Tomorrow, we get to see As You Like It.

Thank you, dear people of St. Joseph’s in Martinsville, who gave us this trip!

Can’t come to Canada without reading Francis Parkman.  In Montcalm and Wolfe, Parkman formulates a fascinating thesis:  What we call the French and Indian War–the part of the European Seven Years War fought in the American colonies–marks the decisive turning point in modern history.  The hegemony of medieval authoritarianism–incarnated in the French colonial system–got crushed, unleashing the forces of the English Enlightenment, which proceeded to rule the world.

Parkman wrote before our 20th-century sensibilities about the native tribes in America.  He knew how much closer the French got to the Indians than the English ever did.  Frenchmen married Indian women.  And of course the French hoped to share their religion with the Indians.  But Parkman did not regard the French interaction with the Indians as inherently virtuous, as we sons and daughters of latter times might regard it.  (The North-American Jesuit martyrs are among my most-beloved heroes, so I certainly regard the French interaction with the natives as amazingly virtuous!)

Anyway, Parkman’s thesis begs the question:  Where does the war between the Roman Church and the Enlightenment stand now?  In the 1880’s, Parkman saw a decisive victory achieved in 1763.  But aren’t we “Romish zealots” still standing and fighting?  We Romish zealots may yet decide the course of the 21st century.

Painting Pentecost

Jan Joest

Jan Joest

Titan Pentecost

Titian

Giotto Pentecost

Giotto

Book of Hours Pentecost

from a Book of Hours

El Greco Pentecost

El Greco

When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, in order that He might continually sanctify the Church…He is the Spirit of Life, a fountain of water springing up to life eternal.

…The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted children.

The Spirit guides the Church in the way of all truth.  He unifies Her in communion and in works of ministry…By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church keep the freshness of youth.  He renews Her and leads Her to perfect union with Her Spouse.  The Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord, ‘Come!’

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council extolled the Holy Spirit with these words.

Inspiring words.  But what about paintings?  Let me confide in you that I have never found a painting of Pentecost that I like.  Eminent sacred artists have produced impressive renditions of Pentecost.  And, of course, our own Stephen Brailo, of St. Andrew’s in Roanoke, has done for us a beautiful new baptismal mosaic, in honor of our former pastor.  Msgr. Miller will visit next week at the 11:30 Mass for the dedication.

brailo mosaic

new mosaic at St. Andrew’s in honor of Fr. Tom Miller, by Stephen Brailo

No offense to any of these artists.  Of all the events depicted in Christian art, Pentecost poses the greatest challenge.  For an obvious reason:  The subject of the work of art is

Invisible.

“It is better for you that I go,” said the Lord Jesus.  “Rivers of living water will flow from within the one who believes in Me.”

The one who believes.  Faith.  In the invisible.

Christ made the invisible God visible, by becoming a man.  But then He ascended to heaven, out of our sight.  From the true Temple above, He pours grace out of His own human Heart, upon the whole earth. It is better for us that He went.

That’s the thing about paintings of Pentecost:  Jesus isn’t in them.  He had completed His earthly pilgrimage by then.

The great artists have painted Christ, in the various events of His pilgrim life, so as to depict visibly the invisible life within Him.  But painting the third divine Person, Who comes as a gentle wind, a breath, tongues of flame, a dove, an anointing, an interior inspiration…  Well, I’m no artist.  But I do know that painting something invisible is downright difficult.  I think our Stephen Brailo deserves a lot of credit!

The Holy Spirit does make Himself perfectly visible in one way, though.  By filling the hearts of the people He makes saints.

The Invisible shows Himself whenever a Christian bears witness to the hope that is in us.  The unimaginable Spirit comes into view when someone has the courage to reach out in love.  The gentle Spirit speaks when a parent or teacher or friend gives good advice, or soothes the pain, or encourages.

In other words, the invisible Holy Spirit is as visible as the living, breathing Church.  The Church, consecrated in truth, burning with divine love, marching with certain hope towards the glory that awaits us.

How about this, dear artists?  The third Person of the divine Trinity left Himself so difficult to paint, because He Himself is a painter.  The Master Painter.

He painted the adorable natural world, using a brush that could make a universe out of nothing.  He painted the unique beauty of the High Priest of all creation, Jesus Christ.  And now He paints us—whenever we allow His holiness to overcome our sinfulness, and we do something good for God.

End of Acts + 15th Anniversary

Atomic fireball candy

Official candy of Pentecost weekend.  (h/t Mrs. Kate Campbell)

Every day during the Easter season, we have read at Mass from the Acts of the Apostles. Might seem anti-climactic to trail off, like we do today, with St. Paul still in custody. It’s not just our Lectionary readings that end anti-climactically.  The book itself ends that way.

But:  in point of fact, the great climax of the New Testament actually does come in today’s first reading at Holy Mass.  Roman procurator Porcius Festus says, of the prisoner:

His accusers…had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died, but who Paul claimed was alive. (Acts 25:19)

He is alive.  It changes our whole point-of-view.  That’s what it means to participate in the life of the Church:  to stand with St. Paul in this claim.

We Christians don’t hate the world.  We just see it in a different light.  We make a pilgrimage here.  We make our way to a goal.  Death does not mean the end of everything.  It means the end of strife.  Hopefully, it means the beginning of glory (or at least purification for glory.)

Now, it’s not every day that we wake up to find the diaconate in the news.  Fifteen years ago today, I made my public promise of celibacy and was ordained a deacon.  Celibacy doesn’t mean hating the world, either.  But it does mean that you see it in a different light.

Most professional men and women meet people with the hope of some future interactions.  “Let’s stay in touch.  Maybe we can do business together someday!”  Networking.

We priests meet a lot of people just shortly before their deaths.  I have met a good 100 people within hours of their deaths.

Let’s do business someday!  The business of glorifying God in the kingdom of heaven, for all eternity.

 

 

A Tale of Two Super-Lame Videos

Thank you, America magazine and usccb, inc. for producing web videos to foster our mission.  I just wish they served the purpose.  Shouldn’t our New-Evangelization-elical videos mention Someone–namely Lord Jesus, our Savior and our God?

Jesus came to save sinners, and He gave us the sacraments so that we sinners can get to heaven.  For Holy Mass, we need bread and wine.  For Confession/Penance/Reconciliation, we need:  a Christian conversation between penitent and priest about morality.

That conversation cannot begin without the penitent asking him/herself:  Have I killed an innocent person, stolen something, lied, committed adultery, or fornicated?  We call those fundamental no-nos.  The Lord forgives when we confess, and blesses us sinners with grace.  So that we can go and sin no more.

Does it make us “mean” when we say this:  1. If you are married to one person, you can’t have sex with anyone else?  or 2. We love you as a gay person, but sodomy offends God?

Mean, maybe.  But honest.  And humble.  Because these are moral principles that we couldn’t change, even if we wanted to.

Everyone is welcome at Mass.  Welcome to commune with God in love and truth.  The truth that sodomy is wrong, or that no one can justly give him or herself an annulment–we can’t change these truths.

God made sex for making babies.  We didn’t create, male and female.  So we can’t say that God made sex for casual recreation, because He manifestly did not do that.

We believe in religious freedom for a reason:  Because the Church of Christ must proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, and everyone has the freedom to embrace the truth.

The spiritual dimension of man, our relationship with truth–a relationship that transcends our physical bodies–that, too, God made.  It can’t be removed.  No surgeon can perform a soul-ectomy.

Do we believe in religious freedom because it’s in our US Constitution?  If that were the case, then non-Americans would miss part of Catholicism.  But they don’t.  When St. Justin Martry died 1600 years before James Madison was born, the saint did not lack anything in his Catholic religion.

Our U.S. Constitution may very well qualify as a political document of unparalleled magnificence.  I don’t consider myself qualified to judge such matters.

But Christ’s Church does not live and die by political documents.  We live and die for the Gospel.  Our holy martyrs have taught us the truth about religious freedom.

Thomas Jefferson and Co. deserve their props, to be sure.  But we owe our first allegiance to Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude, Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and Co.

For us, “religious freedom” is not a political issue.  It means that we are willing to suffer and die, if necessary, rather than let go of Christ, His Word, His Church, and His sacraments.

Evangelical Trump Letter + Herod or Pilate?

Trump-Taco-BowlI won’t have any grandchildren of my own, of course.

But when your grandchildren ask, “What did Father White say when they nominated Trump for president?” I want there to be an answer…

Pro-life, pro-immigrant, not Trump, August 19, 2015

Dark-skinned babies north of the Rio Grande, September 5, 2016

E-mails, September 10, 2015

Church first, America second, February 23, 2016

Voters’ Guide, February 27, 2016

Pro-life? March 30,2016

Some of our brother and sister Christians, from both sides of the political aisle, have published a letter. I would have signed it, if anyone had asked me–though I can’t call it the most well-written document I have read this morning. The letter concludes with a helpful, concise resume of Mr. Trump’s “offenses.”

Some passages of the letter:

The ascendancy of a demagogic candidate and his message, with the angry constituency he is fueling, is a threat to both the values of our faith and the health of our democracy. Donald Trump directly promotes racial and religious bigotry, disrespects the dignity of women, harms civil public discourse, offends moral decency, and seeks to manipulate religion. This is no longer politics as usual, but rather a moral and theological crisis, and thus we are compelled to speak out as faith leaders….

This is not merely an electoral debate in which Christians hold legitimately differing policy views from one another. Rather, it is a public test of Christian truth and discipleship. History records other moments that beckoned churches to publicly confess the truths of faith in order to confront political movements that represented a deceitful and dangerous attack on the gospel—-to try to clarify faithful Christian witness in a time of crisis.

Crisis, indeed. Like I said, I would have signed the letter. Tell your grandchildren.

But I am hardly endorsing the other candidate. Washington Post quoted one pro-life evangelical lady: “Who would Jesus have voted for, Herod or Pilate?” Such a situation confronts the pro-life voter.

Washington Times Jan 17 1991Now, while we find ourselves on the subject of humble boasts I could make to your grandchildren:

On January 14, 1991, I participated–with at least one of the signatories of the above letter–in a march protesting the war in Iraq.

Yes, I protested not only the second Iraq war, but the first one, too (known as the Gulf War). I can remember the welcome taste of the hot black coffee some left-wing organization offered us marchers at the corner of 22nd St. and Massachusetts Ave. on that damp, chilly night.

Anyway, I bring this up because, if you ask me, the real problem we have is: “the cult of the presidency.” Mr. Gene Healy wrote a book with that title, and a sequel.

Here’s a concatenation of quotes:

Americans have looked to the presidency for far too much. The hopes and dreams we’ve invested in the office have transformed it into a constitutional monstrosity, too powerful to be trusted and too weak to deliver the miracles we crave…

Most of the complaints dominating the airwaves and the op-ed pages [insisting that the federal government stop the BP Deepwater Horizon oil leak in spring 2010] smacked of a quasi-religious conception of the presidency…[emphasis added]

Our government has become a runaway train–and presidential elections increasingly look like a struggle to determine who gets to sit in the front cab and pretend he’s driving.

Ten-Point List of Easter-Season Instructions

Everyone knows who wrote Acts of the Apostles? I mean, besides God. The human author. Right! St. Luke.

So: not only do our first reading and gospel for Holy Mass on Ascension Day have the same human author, but also: the two readings form one continuous passage from St. Luke’s work. We just read them in reverse order. Our gospel reading comes from the end of St. Luke’s first book. And our reading from Acts is the beginning of his second.

St Luke

St Luke

We read from Acts 1, “In my first book, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day He was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles.”

“The day He was taken up.” What day was that? Today! Ascension Day.

A day of transition: The transition between St. Luke’s first book and his second. The transition between Christ’s ministry to the human race on earth, and His ministry to the human race from heaven.

He made us essential to His ministry from heaven. We read that, for forty days prior to his transition from earth to heaven, the Lord Jesus gave instructions to His apostles. For the forty days after He rose from the dead, Jesus remained on earth, instructing.

Do we know exactly what those instructions were?

Yes and no. We can’t exactly download the podcast. For us to know and understand the instructions Christ gave during the original Easter season, we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Only when we get to heaven, please God, will we fully know and understand everything.

But let’s speculate a little, about the instructions He gave. What if He rendered them in the form of a ten-point list?

1. My friends, you saw Me die. But I live. When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.
2. Break the bread, in memory of Me.
3. Do not be afraid.
4. Gird your loins, and light your lamps, for you do not know when the final hour will come.
5. Sell what you have, and give to the poor, and 6. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
7. Love one another.
8. Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
9. Rejoice and be glad! Your names are written in heaven.
10. Be good to your mom.

St. Paul’s Areopagus Confidence

areopagusLet’s pause and admire the serene confidence with which St. Paul stood and spoke in the Athenian Areopagus.

Fearless.

Fearless, first of all, because he knew that his speech appealed to something that dwells in the heart of every human being:  the desire for God.

As we read at the beginning of the Catechism…

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself…This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. Man cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.  (CCC 27)

St. Paul was fearless also because he preached the answer to the question of man.  Man’s desire for God is a question, a question that words cannot adequately express.  God Almighty, Who has a Word more sublime than our human languages, has answered.  The answer is Jesus.

We, too, can stand and bear witness, with the same serene confidence that St. Paul had.  If the Athenians had chosen to stone St. Paul, he was ready.  If they had chosen to embrace him and demand more attention, he was ready.  If they chose to ignore him, he was ready.

St. Paul stood and spoke because he loved.  He loved the unseen God.  He loved the Word of God, Jesus Christ.  And he loved the Athenians, because he loved everybody.  We can love all the Roanokers, and everybody else we know–and stand and bear witness fearlessly, too.