Two Good Priests Among Many

Conclave Mass 2005 St Peters

Mass “Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice,” April 18, 2005

 

“I am the good shepherd,” says the Lord.

Exactly ten years ago last Saturday, two men sat together under the dome of St. Peter’s basilica. Since that day, both of these two men have become very famous. It was the Mass to begin the papal conclave in 2005, concelebrated by all the Cardinal electors. One of these two men soon became Pope Benedict XVI. Eight years later, the other one became Pope Francis.

That day, the first of these two men actually gave the homily. Cardinal Ratzinger was then the Dean of the College of Cardinals, so it was his duty to preach the sermon at the beginning of the conclave. In his homily, he made the point that Christ had brought a time of jubilee, the ‘year of favor,’ to the earth. Pope Francis cited the same idea when he recently declared that we as a Church will celebrate a jubilee year, a Year of Mercy, beginning this December.

Christ has revealed the face of the Father, by dying on the cross for us. Now we live in the time of grace, the time of sincere love, the time of divine mercy. Cardinal Ratzinger said that in April 2005. Pope Francis said it in April 2015.

Pope John Paul II with Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio

Pope John Paul II with Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio

I know it might make me sound nostalgic and old, but I think it’s a good idea for us to imagine both Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Bergoglio concelebrating that particular Mass on April 18, 2005.

They both grieved the loss of a beloved friend who had died two weeks earlier. They both, I am sure, could hardly imagine the world without Pope John Paul II.

I am also sure that neither Cardinal Ratzinger nor Cardinal Bergoglio had any serious thought at that moment about becoming pope himself. They were praying fervently at the holy altar, praying that Christ the Good Shepherd would guide them, together with all the Cardinals, to do their sacred duty well.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily that day made a mark on me personally. Of course I was paying attention to everything, watching all the Youtubes, and reading all the translations of everything. It was in that homily that Cardinal Ratzinger gave his famous diagnosis of the “dictatorship of relativism,” the contemporary tendency to tolerate everything except the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must have the courage to preach the truth with love, he said.

Now, I myself don’t claim to be any kind of particularly respectable priest. I hope I teach orthodox doctrine, since I hardly have anything else to offer. I have above-average skills in solving crossword puzzles, but that’s about the extent of my talents. So I don’t hold myself out as any great shakes.

But I can honestly say that I have been, and am, willing to die for the fact that there is such a thing as truth, such a thing as The Truth. And that Jesus Christ teaches it, that Jesus Christ is it. If the dictatorship of relativism asks me to choose between Christ the Truth and more days on this earth, I hope to shout Viva Cristo Rey while they shoot, God help me.

Pope Benedict, that day before he became Pope Benedict, was saying: ‘The truth is that Christ brings the Father’s loving mercy.’ Now, ten years later, Pope Francis is saying, ‘The truth is that Christ brings the Father’s loving mercy.’

Benedict Francis kneelingNewspapermen, breathless anchorwomen, and other associated television chatterers have a tendency to paint a bad Pope Benedict/good Pope Francis picture. Meanwhile, plenty of bloggers, magazine columnists, and experts on the Sacred Liturgy, like to paint the good Pope Benedict/bad Pope Francis picture.

But I really think we should meditate on the two of them concelebrating that particular Mass on that particular day, April 18, 2005. Let’s see them there, beneath the huge dome, among their brother Cardinals, praying the Mass at the tomb of St. Peter. Praying that the merciful Lord would guide His Church into the future, so that all the people of the world could reach true fulfillment as children of God.

Neither of them were praying, “Lord, make me the pope!” We can say that for sure. And we can likewise be sure that neither of them were praying, “Lord, whatever you do, don’t make Bergoglio pope!” or “Don’t make Ratzinger pope!”

I think we can imagine that they were both humbly praying something like, “Lord, give us the shepherd we need. May Your holy will be done. Give us the loving shepherd, after Your own Heart, that You have chosen.”

Now, how do we know so clearly that they both prayed more or less like this, in their innermost hearts, on that day? Because we know what they both are, deep down. We know what they both have in common, which makes their differences, real as those differences may be, seem small.

Both of these two men, Ratzinger and Bergoglio, Pope-Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis—both have lived their long lives as devout Catholic priests. They are both the same, fundamentally: prayerful, dutiful priests. They both have really only wanted to do one thing: shepherd the flock according to the Heart of Christ. I, for one, admire them both and love them both very much. Above all, because they are such beautiful priests.

Let’s thank the Lord especially at Mass on Good-Shepherd Sunday for all the prayerful, dutiful shepherds He has given us in our lives. None of us would be here right now, if it weren’t for the shepherds we have had. The priests who gave us our sacraments of initiation, who have heard our confessions, and who have fed us from the holy altar with the medicine of immortality, the flesh and blood of Christ our God. Thank you, Lord, for guiding us through the shepherds you have given us!

And Viva Papa Francesco!

Roanoke Catholic School 125th Anniversary Homily

Roanoke Catholic School

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. (John 6:54)

I am not especially good at anything in particular. I do very much enjoy running.

My dear fifth- and sixth graders, I think I was your age when I discovered that I love running. My father ran a 10K, and there was a “Fun Run” for the kids. About a mile or so. I got it into my head that I would run the Fun Run. I remember feeling like I was going to vomit when it was over, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Now, at such a ripe young age of ten, the idea of trying to run a mile in less than five minutes never even entered my wee mind. It was when I was your age, dear eighth graders, that I first met the most demanding man I have ever known in my life. My high-school track coach.

The immortal Coach Oliver 'Skip' Grant

The immortal Coach Oliver ‘Skip’ Grant

The feeling that I was about to vomit …it happened again. A lot. Through many merciless workouts presided-over by Coach Grant.

Then, when I was your age, dear 10th graders, all the stars aligned. It was a crisp spring afternoon. I never owned a pair of racing spikes, but that day one of the seniors on the team had a new pair, so he lent me his old ones. Our meet was held at the school with the finest track in the conference. And I managed to run a mile in 4:56. I guess I have been basking in the quiet glory of that moment ever since.

My point is: I started in one place, a place where the idea of running a sub-five-minute mile didn’t even exist. Then Coach Grant kicked the butts of all his runners into the kind of shape that none of us had ever imagined we could be in. A whole new kind of accomplishment lay within my grasp. I had a new horizon. Thanks to workouts that seemed designed to kill, I managed to reach the goal.

Seems to me that this is what “education” is. We start in one place, where the world is hemmed-in and small, even though we might not even realize it. Then someone generous gives us exercises to do, which we do not want to do.

But, by doing them anyway, we wake up one day, and the world is bigger, wider, brighter, and more interesting. Not only that. Now, thanks to all the toilsome work I have done under the guidance of someone who wants to see me succeed, I actually have the mental and psychological strength to accomplish something beautiful and impressive in this grand world.

For 125 years, right here on this lovely little plateau, teachers have been giving homework. For 125 years, students have been saying to themselves, “I really do not feel like doing all this homework.” For 125 years, parents of Roanoke Catholic students have been hollering in the house, “Have you done your homework yet?” And for 125 years, students here have been getting smarter, and more creative, and more interesting, and more capable.

But that is not all. Sub-five-minute miles come and go. Truth is, all our successes in this world come and go. Smarter and more creative and more capable—all of these can be for the good, but they can also be for the bad.

There is yet another horizon.

little last supperLike I said, when I was 10, I didn’t even know what running a sub-five-minute mile meant. When I was 15, I ran one. When you’re 14, it feels like endless studying and tons of homework. When you’re 23, you realize it means that now you have some skills that you can use to make the world better. The whole time, while you’re a pilgrim on earth, you wonder, What’s the meaning of life? And Jesus Christ answers: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live forever.

There is yet another horizon of ‘education.’ And there is only one coach, only one teacher who can lead us to it, help us reach it, carry us there: Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus, Who says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Who says: Give, and more will be given to you. Who says: Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me. Who says: Repent of your sins, and believe.

This school rightfully takes pride in all of our success as an educational institution. We commit ourselves to upholding the high standards that have been set by all the Roanoke-Catholic students and teachers and parents and coaches and administrators and staff that have gone before us. This is a celebration of the horizons of success that have opened up in this world for all the people who have come together here to form this institution.

But, above all, we praise and bless and adore our Father in heaven, Who has made us His children in Christ. Roanoke Catholic School has a lot of impressive ambitions. But the most important of them all is: We want to give glory to our heavenly Father.

We say we believe that Christ feeds us with His very own Body and Blood from the altar. That’s the faith of the Catholic Church; that’s the faith of Roanoke Catholic School. The world might think we’re crazy for believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but we don’t care. We believe it anyway.

This isn’t just an excellent school with an illustrious 125-year history. This isn’t just a place of academic and extra-curricular success. This is a place where we meet Christ, the Son of God. This is a place where we learn from Him as His disciples, where we seek His mercy, and where we grow strong in spirit by feeding on His Body and Blood. We have a lot of grand horizons. But the most important one is: Eternal life with God.

Last Day

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day. (John 6:40)

He will raise us on the last day. A last day will come.

Not just a last day of school, or a last day of work, or a last day of the Masters.

There will come a day when we will truthfully say, “No more ‘unscripted’ visits to New Hampshire by aspiring presidential candidates. No more having to charge my cellphone. No more mortgage payments. Todo finito–all these worldly cares.”

ezekiel bonesI guess this is one of those fundamental convictions about reality which separate the believer from the pagan. That a Last Day will come. Justice will be done. Redemption will be won for the servants of Eternal Love.

But, as the Fathers of Vatican II put it in Gaudium et Spes, this cognizance we have of the inevitable Last Day—which cognizance makes all these other days look different, puts them in a different light—this cognizance of ours does not make us despise these current days. It actually makes us care about them all the more.

After all, the Last Day could be today. Tomorrow is the 451st anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, not to mention the day when we will celebrate the 125th anniversary of Roanoke Catholic School. But maybe we’ll never make it to tomorrow. Maybe the Lord will demand our lives from us this very night.

Will I face Him having been fair to all the people I have a duty to be fair to? Will I face Him having cared for people who bear the oppressor’s rod and suffer the whips and scorns of outrageous fortune? Will I face Him, and find mercy for my sins, because I have been merciful to other people myself?

Pagans don’t like to think about such things, I don’t believe. But: attending Mass, when we really think about it, requires us to examine ourselves like this every time. At Mass: here we are, in our bodies, the very bodies which will rise on the Last Day. And here He is, Christ our Lord, in the Blessed Sacrament. If this isn’t a dressed rehearsal for Judgment Day, I don’t know what is.

Perfect love casts out fear. We have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, like holy St. Paul did. But when we are used to meeting Christ in the flesh, which we do whenever we go to Mass, we need not fear the Last Day. It won’t be any more terrifying than a Mass at which we could see everything—see everything that we now believe in, without seeing.

Anthony Trollope’s The Bertrams

Above all, I recommend keeping the Ten Commandments. Secondly, I recommend reading Trollope.

I have three of his Barchester novels under my belt. But I will defer commenting on that particular shire for now. (In Trollope’s Shire, the hobbits are Anglican clergymen.) The years march on with the relentless hope of the fertile earth in Barsetshire. We will consider that fundamentally happy world some other time.

In 1859, Trollope took a break from publishing Barchester chronicles. That year he gave us a novel which his devoted fan Cardinal Newman found to be disturbingly “melancholic and skeptical.” Trollope more or less said that he came to dislike The Bertrams himself. But I think it is a heartbreaking masterpiece.

My new favorite person ever, Anthony Trollope

My new favorite person ever, Anthony Trollope

Near the end of The Bertrams, the two bachelors around whom the plot revolves find themselves on-board ship, returning from Egypt to England. (This novel involves a couple elegant interludes in the Arab world.) Also aboard the ship: two young widows, homeward bound, having lost their husbands to disease in colonial India.

One of the widows is particularly pretty. Both take vivacious advantage of the quick intimacy of shipboard life. They need husbands, and they have no intention of losing the chance.

Both of the bachelor-heroes love women back in England. But one of those women is married to a third man, a rising star of Parliament. And the shipboard bachelor who loves her could have been a rising star of the world himself, had he not flailed his way down another path. He resorted instead to bohemian circles and tried to understand the meaning of life and find true religion.

This bachelor has a nasty, aging, avaricious Croesus for an uncle. But the principled young man will not try to curry favor. He has no concern one way or the other whether he winds up in his uncle’s will.

The Bertrams TrollopeIn other words, this young man—George Bertram—has shown himself a willful, splenetic, self-destructive, and irresolute vagabond. He can manage to be faithful to only one thing: his unshakeable desire to live in the truth.

He finds himself on deck with the prettier widow. His future opens before him like an impenetrable night. He rolls the dice, and offers himself to her. She bats her eyelashes, but she hesitates. Maybe this fella doesn’t have quite enough money?

In the nineteenth century, young people had to contend with the question, love or money? Like they do in the twenty-first century. Of course, in the nineteenth century, divorce involved such agonies and ruinations of oneself that is was best regarded as all but impossible. Like in the twenty-first century.

In 1859, the National Review (of England, not the USA) excoriated the newly published Bertrams for unfairly portraying the profession of a clergyman as morally superior to that of a lawyer. We might find that criticism rather laughable now.

What I do not find laughable at all is the beautiful and heartbreaking climax of the novel, which actually occurs near the beginning. (All good stories are at least two-thirds denouement.)

Trollope knew the Holy Land. He despised the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, like many Protestants of his day. We will leave that to the side for now.

But Trollope, like me, loved the Mount of Olives. Twentieth-century Barluzzi churches dot the hill now. But in the mid-nineteenth century, pilgrims just sat on rocks amid the Jewish graves and looked across the Kidron Valley at the Temple Mount, and the city beyond, where the Savior carried His cross and was crucified, and rose.

Trollope put George Bertram on that spot, had him gaze at Jerusalem, had him choose to dedicate his life to the service of Christ and His Church, in a humble country parsonage, fame and money be damned.

But George abandoned his resolution.

The rest is the heartbreaking tale told in The Bertrams, peppered with delightful comic relief, and insight as deep as I have encountered into what truly makes a human soul independent and free.

The Messiah We Actually Got

st albans psalter road to emmaus

The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:35)

On the way… Where? On the road to… Emmaus.

The two disciples moped along, downcast and directionless. Jesus had been crucified. His body had gone missing. And these two disciples did not understand. Then, on the road, they met a mysterious stranger who wanted to know what was eating them.

“We thought he would redeem Israel. But now our hopes are dashed.”

The stranger replied, “Seems to me you have missed something crucial here. Have you never read Isaiah 52 and 53? Psalm 22, 34, and 69? Exodus 12? Wisdom 2? Zechariah 12?

“What kind of Messiah did you think was going to come? Was the Messiah going to redeem Israel without uniting Himself with the suffering of His people? Without offering Himself as the truly pleasing sacrifice to the Father? Without establishing the religion of the new and eternal covenant?

“After all, the blood of bulls and goats does not atone for sins. Man, left to his own devices, stands helpless before inevitable death. Something that overcomes the separation between man and God had to happen.

“God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways not our ways. Human beings see crucifixion as the most shameful death imaginable. Human beings see what happened on Good Friday as discouraging, depressing, totally dispiriting. But God can turn a wooden cross into a gilded throne. God can turn heartbreak into triumph.”

tabgha loaves fishes multiplication mosaicThen the stranger proceeded to break bread with the disciples, and… Whoa! He has risen from the dead! And He’s right here! And what were we worried about?!

So the two disciples ran back to Jerusalem to tell everyone else. These two disciples, who had despaired only hours earlier, were probably saying things like, “The heavenly Father has turned the Master’s cross into a throne of glory. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The grave could not hold Him, and He can turn bread into His immortal flesh!”

The two probably went on and on like this, and St. Peter was saying, “Yes, I saw Him, too,” and the rest of them were like, “Sure, guys. Sure. Maybe you need to get your heads examined…” Then:

‘Peace be with you, my lads.’

OMG. It’s a ghost!

‘No. Touch the wounds. Touch the nail-marks.

“And, listen, give me some food. Getting crucified, and then rising from the dead, makes you hungry.”

What kind of savior do we think we want? Do we want some pure spirit who has nothing to do with the trials and tribulations of our human pilgrimage? Do we want an ideal for a savior? Or a theory?

Or do we want some kind of human “savior” that grows up in a mansion and goes to Harvard? The kind that wins lots of prizes during an illustrious career and then retires to Cabo San Lucas? The kind that everybody feels comfortable with? So comfortable that, when he is confronted by contradictions and threats, he backtracks in a heartbeat, saying “Oh, no, when I said the Pharisees were a hypocritical brood of vipers, I didn’t mean you…”

No.

I think we want a Messiah Who grew up a carpenter, suffered heroically for His beloved friends, conquered death by dying for the truth, and reigns supreme in a realm too sublime for us even to imagine.

That’s the real Messiah, foretold by the prophets, attested to by the Apostles, who lives with us in the breaking of the bread. The Messiah we never could have foreseen. But Who–now that He has done what the prophecies declared He must do–certainly is the best Messiah possible, the only Messiah possible, our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Four Feeding 5,000s

Your unworthy servant at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves on the Sea of Galilee

Your unworthy servant at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves on the Sea of Galilee (back in ’08)

…Speaking of the idiosyncratic ancient manuscripts that make up our beloved Bible…

Reading St. John’s account of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, like we do at Holy Mass today, gives us particular satisfaction.

All four holy gospels recount this miracle, and only this one. Yes, all four gospels tell us about Jesus healing blind people. But in each instance, it’s different blind people. And, yes, of course all four gospels tell us that Jesus rose from the dead. But they recount different appearances of Christ after He rose.

So the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 binds the four gospels together. This miracle is like a strand of golden twine that ties the four books into a single bundle. Must be uniquely important, then, this miracle.

God fed the wandering Israelites with manna from heaven, as Moses led them through the desert to the Promised Land. And, of course, God continues to feed us wanderers with the Bread of sincerity and truth, which we receive from the holy altar of Christ’s sacrifice.

So maybe we can say: The miraculous feeding of the 5,000 offers us the best-possible image of God providing for His beloved people. The moment gives us the singularly vivid picture of Divine Providence. If we can imagine and meditate on the miraculous feeding, then we can begin to grasp how we fit as individuals into the grand divine design.

In his account, St. John tells us what time of year it was. Passover was near. Early spring.

The grand divine design involves our having a springtime picnic together, a picnic that will last forever. He provides the food.

Fact and Mystery, Con’d

The second week of Easter means readings from John, chapter 3, at daily Mass. An extremely fascinating chapter for many reasons. But one of the reasons has to do with punctuation marks.

mark gospel manuscript fragmentSt. John wrote his gospel in what language? Don’t know for absolute sure, but probably Greek. The oldest copies that we possess are in Greek. And the oldest copies we possess have no punctuation marks whatsoever.

So the question arises: Who said the world-famous John 3:16?

Did Jesus say those words to Nicodemus, as part of the conversation narrated at the beginning of the chapter? Or did St. John himself reflect on the conversation, and write “for God so loved the world…” himself?

And who said the words we hear at Holy Mass today? Did John the Baptist say them, as part of his testimony to his cousin? Or did John the Evangelist write them, reflecting on John the Baptist’s speech?

Can anybody help me here? Scholars?

Fact is, the scholars don’t know. John 3, as a chapter, certainly gets the prize for “Chapter When We Most Wish that Koine-Greek Manuscripts Had Punctuation Marks.”

Now, “the one whom God sent speaks the words of God.” (John 3:34)

‘The Bible’ can be an idol, like any other idol. If we think that the Bible is anything other than a collection of ancient manuscripts, written at particular places and times, by particular men; if we think that “the Bible” is some kind of golden token we can easily grasp, magically making us righteous—if we think that, or anything like that, we are idolaters.

Christ blessing Savior World el GrecoThe fact is: the Bible is an unwieldy collection of ancient manuscripts, translated by human beings into many languages. We can never really understand the Bible without recognizing this.

That said, when we read one of these handy translations, or if we just listen carefully at Mass over an extended period of time, we also clearly see: This unwieldy collection bears witness to the One Whom God has sent. The One Whom God has sent is a man, the man who knows God, because He is God.

Every word of the unwieldy collection of strange manuscripts, every letter of every word, with or without punctuation—every single jot and tittle is more precious than all the Crown Jewels. Because all these markings on paper, taken together, give us the unique testimony which the triune God has made about Himself.

God has not left us to endure unending silence from heaven. He has spoken. Christ is His Word. And if we want to hear and know Christ, we have to let the unwieldy collection of ancient manuscripts become a food for which we hunger more than for breakfast, lunch, and dinner combined.

Fact and Mystery

Two quick points about Jesus rising from the dead.

1. People who love Jesus want Him to have risen from the dead. Everything He said and did fascinates us and captivates us so much, we can’t believe it all ended on the cross.

billie-jean-jacksonBut we cannot allow ourselves to believe in any beautiful legends, just because we want them to be true.

So we have to ask: Is it true?

If one of the students of Roanoke Catholic School said to me, “Father, yesterday afternoon I walked downtown for a haircut, and I saw Michael Jackson,” I would not hesitate. I would reply, “No, you didn’t.”

Or if one told me, “Father, Father, my Boy Scout troop was hiking the Appalachian Trail up McAfee’s Knob, and we came to one of those camp shelters, and there was a man in there playing the harmonica, and it was Abraham Lincoln,” I would say, “No, it was not.”

People do not generally rise from the dead. When you dead, you dead.

Is it true, nevertheless, that Jesus of Nazareth did rise from the dead?

The reasonable answer is: Yes. The New Testament contains thoroughly convincing evidence. Eye-witness accounts that sound like believable eye-witness accounts almost always sound–that is, scattered, deriving from multiple points-of-view, but in agreement regarding the central issue. Also, no one ever found the body. Plenty of people certainly tried. The chances of it having been stolen away and hidden are practically zero, since the tomb was guarded during the only interval of time when it could have been stolen. Also, there’s the fact that the Apostles, over the course of a couple decades, gladly went to their deaths because they were sure that Jesus had risen from the dead.

No–of all the facts of history, including the fact that people do not generally rise from the dead, the resurrection of Jesus is one of the more well-established ones. Doubting it is much less reasonable than believing it.

Point #2
: Even though it is a fact, however, we would be fools if we claimed to understand it.

Yes, Jesus rose, and saw His friends, and talked with them, and ate food. After forty days, He ascended in the flesh into heaven.

But: Do we know what it is like to be a man who has risen from the dead? We most assuredly do not. We persevere in hope that we will find out, when everything is said and done. But in the meantime, our belief that this particular man’s resurrection offers us the hope that makes our lives worth living: that is more than history can prove.

So the Resurrection is no beautiful legend. But it is a mystery of faith. Everything about it that makes it important for us lies way beyond our ability to comprehend.

Two Cents on Iran Negotiation

1. I for one agree wholeheartedly with the idea that, with the passage of time, the USA and Iran could grow much friendlier. Looks like the potential agreement could mean that, in ten years, Iran could build a nuclear bomb. But ten years from now, the world could look altogether different to us. Iran could look more like a friend.

2. Problem is, we have to put ourselves in Israel’s shoes. Israel has no choice but to prevent Iran building a nuclear weapon–by whatever means necessary. While you and I can luxuriate in thoughts of less-expensive Persian rugs, the Israelis must presume that, on the day that Iran has a nuclear bomb, they will launch it at Israel.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Doesn’t really matter who controls the Israeli parliament, Likud or the liberals. If you’re responsible for the continued existence of the state of Israel, you have to presume that Iran wants to destroy you.

3. The Israelis, therefore, will do anything and everything to prevent the final success of these negotiations. They will almost certainly succeed in preventing a final agreement. And, in fact, by doing so, they will actually be doing us a huge favor. Because…

4. For the USA, there are really only two future scenarios vis-a-vis Iran. The good future scenario involves Iran becoming friendlier not only with us, but with the Israelis also. But, from where I am standing, I do not see the kind of diplomats at work who could bring about this result. Obama and Co. do not have that kind of game to bring to this court, so to speak.

5. Therefore, lacking a de-escalation of tensions between Iran and Israel, if this agreement (as very sketchily outlined) were to go into effect, the Israelis would have no choice but to attack Iran. They would be bound by the logic of self-defense to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. A war would begin. And where would the USA stand at that moment?

I will tell you where: Tied up in knots by our un-examined, knee-jerk, political acid-test relationship with Israel.

The news-cycle vibe has it that Obama and Netanyahu don’t like each other; the USA-Israel relationship is strained by personality conflicts. But that, actually, is not the problem at all. Dislike between American president and Israeli prime-minister is a passing thing, not a big deal in and of itself.

The problem is: we as a country have such an unquestioning loyalty to Israel as an ally that we cannot hold their self-defensive military logic in check. They will do what they think they have to do to defend themselves (for which no one could really blame them), and we will have to come to their aid no matter what they do.

So: Given that the alternative is almost certainly a war, the best scenario for this summer is the collapse of the Iran deal. Israel and her friends will bring about such a collapse one way or another, I think. The whole business will probably appear very ugly to the great idealists of a more peaceful world, like myself. Even tragic. But hardly blameworthy, all things considered.

I recommend prayer for a miracle, specifically the miracle of a channel of communication opening between Iran and Israel. Crazier things have happened.

Early Christians, During Early Years of Christianity

Lord Jesus rose from the dead, fulfilling the mission that the Father had given Him. Christ then said to His Apostles, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” Regarding the people to whom He was sending His Apostles, Christ added, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That is, because the Apostles and their successors bore witness. Blessed are those who have believed the testimony of the apostles.

caravaggio_incredulity_st_thomas1Now, ‘apostle’ means… what? One who has been sent. Christ Himself is the original apostle, sent by the Father to redeem the world. Then Christ postled His Apostles, sending them on a mission to all the redeemed world. “Missionary” means… what? One who has been sent. Missionary apostle, apostolic missionary; bunny rabbit, Easter rabbit, Easter bunny.

Then we read, from the Acts of the Apostles, “with great power, the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of Jesus.” As St. John put it, these missionaries, these Apostles, begot children for God, because, “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God.”

Hence: By virtue of the fruitful mission of the Apostles and all their missionary successors, we have a family. With God Himself for the Father. And, what do we read? In this family, “No one claimed that any of his possessions were his own, but they had everything in common… There was no needy person among them… Those who owned property would sell it, and give the money to the Living Our Mission campaign.”

easter basketOk. Let’s imagine that Jesus just recently rose from the dead. After all, in the grand scheme of things, 1,982 years is not a long time. The apostolic mission could last another million years, or billion, or gazillion, for all we know.

So, we do well to consider ourselves among the early Christians. We should count ourselves among the first generations of those who believe in Christ. We are among the early-born children of the heavenly Father, begotten by faith in Jesus. We can consider ourselves practically as founding members of the great family of the Church. This family may yet unfold for another 10,000 or 100,000 or 100,000,000 generations. Provided we don’t melt all the glaciers or have a nuclear war. In the year 202015 AD, they will look back and think of us as having been born just shortly after St. Paul.

So we rightly pray in the Eucharistic Prayer that the Lord would include us in the fellowship of the original saints, like Peter, James, John, Cosmas and Damian, Anastasia, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, and Lucy. In the grand scheme of things, all these saints were practically just walking the earth, like yesterday. Just the day before yesterday, St. Peter himself presided over the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Pope Francis is the 266th pope. But, before everything is said and done, there could be 266,000 popes. Only God knows how many popes there will be.

pope-francis_2541160k

266th out of 266,000?

Therefore, let’s consider ourselves on the ground floor, so to speak, when it comes to the mission.

Shouldn’t we, then, have the same spirit among ourselves as they had in Acts, chapter 4? A community of one heart and mind? Doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements and rub each other the wrong way sometimes. Among those who had “one heart and mind,” according to the Bible, some had been circumcised and some had not. And some of the circumcised men insisted that the uncircumcised had to get themselves circumcised. And, of course, that would be without general anesthesia, or even local. Meanwhile, the uncircumcised men certainly did not have a mind to be circumcised without anesthesia on a Saturday afternoon, before evening Mass.

So they had disagreements, to be sure. But they trusted in the loving power of God, in the promised Holy Spirit. They trusted that faith, hope, and love, would get them through, so long as they stuck together.

We had a hard winter this past winter, here in these parts. We had some Sundays when trying to drive to church posed a little danger. And, of course, as a family of faith, we have our misunderstandings among ourselves, our bad moments, our stresses, our sicknesses–plenty of difficulties to get through together.

Now that winter is over, praise God! hopefully we all perceive just how crucially important it is for us to be at a particular place when it’s time for Mass. Namely: church.

The idea that early Christians, original Christians, founding fathers and mothers of God’s family on earth–the idea that those who someday will be legendary heroes of Christian faith, the idea that such people would miss Mass without some kind of seriously serious reason–like having been arrested, for instance, for having tried to tell people about Christ–the idea that original, founding-father and -mother Christians would choose something else over attending Mass? Absurd, or course. As we read, they held everything in common, they loved each other like a family. The uncircumcised men would have bit the bullet if they had to…

May the good Lord keep us united in love, in faith. And may He help us always to be generous with each other. Our generosity with each other begins with our presence at Holy Mass every week.