Resurrection Known and Unknown

resurrectionThe resurrection—Christ’s and ours—a fact, and a mystery. [Spanish]

What do Sunday’s Scripture readings say? The shepherd of our souls laid down His life in order to take it up again, by rising from the dead, in His body. St. Peter declared the resurrection to the Sanhedrin: Jesus Christ, the Nazorean, whom you crucified–God raised Him from the dead. And St. John applies the mystery of Christ’s resurrection to us: We shall be like Him. But St. John adds a caveat to remind us that we deal here with a mystery of faith: “What we shall be has not yet been revealed.”

Jesus suffered and died. They laid Him in the tomb. A night and a day passed, then the sun set again. At some time during that subsequent night, before full dawn, He rose from the dead.

Many human eyes saw the Lord in the flesh after He rose. He appeared to many witnesses, as we have seen in our readings these past three Sundays. The testimony of these witnesses can leave us in no doubt about the simple fact: the resurrection of Christ did occur. They could not have sat and ate with Him, if he had not risen in the flesh.

But the testimonies all refer to events after the fact. No one actually saw Him rise—that is, no mortal human being saw it. No human being was in the tomb with Him as He rose. Christ’s act of rising from the dead lies shrouded in the mystery of that holiest of nights.

As a man, Jesus passed over from human life as we know it, burdened by a fundamental separation from God, to human life as God intended it, perfectly united with Himself. The true Passover: Christ passing over from a mortal life in the body to an immortal life in the body.

The disciples who saw Christ after the resurrection saw the evidence that the Passover had occurred in His flesh. But they did not see the Passover itself. It is not something that mortal eyes can see. It is a mystery of faith.

passover seder plateIn the same way, our own eventual bodily resurrection from the dead lies shrouded in the deepest clouds of divine mystery. Yes, on the one hand, it is a fact. We can’t really doubt that Christ rose in the body. So we can’t doubt that we, too, will rise. Christ rose from the dead, in the body: fact. All the dead will rise, in the body: fact.

But what our life will be like then: Mystery. We don’t know. It belongs to “the age to come.” Jesus, the Head of the mystical Body, Who passed over to immortal life 1,985 years ago—He will return to the earth with His divinity not hidden, but fully manifest. The Age to come.

The cynical world will say to us Christians: How can you possibly believe in such ethereal mysteries? Do you not know that the body is a chemical machine? It decays after death, unto dust.

To which we reply: It is precisely with reference to the facts of death and dusty graves that we speak. Would you cynics have us believe that the life of man as we know it—which, yes, does involve chemicals and the weight of mortality, but which also involves love and beauty and the longing for heaven—do you expect us to dismiss all the spiritual nobility in human life as some kind of chemical fluke?

After all, what real alternative do we have to faith in Christ’s bodily resurrection, and our own? Should we hope for real happiness from something else? Like facebook surfing, or good wine, or getting a lapel pin after 25 years of service on the job? Or can we hope for some purely spiritual eternity, with no body? What kind of heaven would that be for us, anyway?

No: We flesh-and-bone mortals have one solid hope, the hope that Christ has given us. The bonds of love we form by His grace during this pilgrim life will in fact last forever in His divine kingdom, when all the dead rise.

little last supperWe Christians who believe in Christ’s bodily resurrection and hope for our own, even though we can hardly understand it—we are no credulous fops living in a myth. To the contrary: We confront the reality of our inevitable death as it is, and we deal with it in the most reasonable way possible. By humbly trusting that the Word spoken by Almighty God is true.

We Christians never said that Christ’s bodily resurrection is something that we mortals can altogether understand. But nonetheless it is an intimate reality, which we touch by faith whenever we come to the holy altar of Christ’s Body and Blood. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:

The ‘how’ of our bodily resurrection exceeds our imagination and understanding…Yet our participation in the Eucharist gives us a foretaste.

The mystery of immortal bodily life is close, familiar–a friend. Christ, already having passed over to immortal life in the body, does not dwell on some unreachable alien planet. He lives with us right here. He is always with us. He unites us with Himself when we receive Holy Communion.

Advertisements

Jesus is the Son of God

 

Christ blessing Savior World el Greco

To proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God. The Lord spoke to Saul from heaven, and Saul became St. Paul, a man with a mission: To proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God.

Jesus, Who reigns on high, Who pours out His Spirit through the life of His Church. Jesus, Who offered Himself on the cross for us, Who conquered death for us, and Who nourishes us with His own flesh and lifeblood from His altar. Jesus, Who teaches us how to live, by the doctrine and example He gives us in the gospels. Jesus, Who reveals that God is infinite, undying love, honest and true.

Jesus is the Son of God. That’s what we stand on. That’s what the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church proclaims by every aspect of Her life. Our Lord was born in Bethlehem twenty centuries ago, the only child of the sinless Virgin Mary. He came from heaven to fulfill His mission, which involved turning the tide of history by living His uniquely holy life. Before He ascended into heaven in the flesh, He gave us a mission: to proclaim Him–which of course requires studying Him, following Him, and receiving from Him the gift of true fruitfulness.

He is the vine on which we live; we are the branches of the vine. He is the Head of the Body; we are the members. Our peace lies in one place: His Heart. We find blessedness by doing His will.

“Spirituality,” Church politics, morality, “the Modern World,” psychological health, relationships, “fitting in”—it’s all an unmanageable mess for us sinners, except: We can solve it all, by fulfilling the mission that Almighty God has given us. To proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God.

Jesus, Who is alive, Who is real, Who has a Church that belongs to Him. Jesus, Who demands our total submission to Himself–to the point where we forget that there could ever be such a thing as life without Him. Jesus, Who gently and kindly wills heaven for everyone.

Even More on John 6 and Sandwiches

Falafel_sandwich
Falafel in a pita!

Why do we eat? We get hungry, and we eat to stave-off starvation. Plus, hopefully we find the experience pleasant. Also, we can commune with our fellowman very fruitfully over a meal together. The common meal makes the family.

Now, what if bodily death meant The End? The End of all this eating?

We nourish our bodies daily, but to what purpose—if bodily death means a total Sayonara? After all, our bodily death comes inevitably—no matter how well, and how sociably, we eat. Why stave off starvation then? If death means The End, then the whole business of staving off starvation for a few short, seventy or eighty years seems like a pathetic, desperate exercise in futility.

And if bodily death spells Todo Finito, then why try to eat well? Why cook well? Why try to make eating pleasant? I guess you could answer: Because tomorrow we will die, so let’s enjoy today with good savors on our tongues! But that seems empty and pathetic, too. The sweetness of a good meal loses its appeal when we think of ourselves as mere random conglomerations of chemicals.

paniniAnd if bodily death ends everything, then why eat together? Why build a family or friendships? None of it will last; our loves will die with our bodies. If bodily death means Tutto Chiuso.

My point is: The idea that bodily death ends everything—that idea is foreign to our experience of eating. The entire human enterprise of the table: it presumes that eternity somehow lies within our grasp. Somehow; we can’t conceive exactly how. But we know that human communion over dinner touches eternity somehow.

In other words, we feed on material food, yes—because we are material boys and girls. But we feed also on love, and on hope for friendship lasting forever. Hope and love make human meals human, as opposed to animal trough sessions.

Jesus Christ came from heaven to restore and fulfill human life. Yes, He brought something altogether new to the world. But His newness is not foreign to our human ways. His newness brings about the perfection of our present stumbles and flawed attempts at the greatness that fundamentally does belong to us.

We need to feed on the resurrected, immortal Body of Christ in order to eat anything else in peace. When we eat His Body with a clear conscience, what nourishment do we receive? How about the assurance of the hope that love lasts forever? How about: Eternal Life?

When we have that kind of confident hope, every plate of tamales, every lasagna, every bowl of pho we share means the coming of the Kingdom of God.

More on John 6, Sandwiches, Etc

The holy angels have no bodies. They “feed on” truth, on God, by gazing upon Him with their purely spiritual minds.

Ecce Agnus DeiWe human beings, on the other hand, feed on truth and bread, since we have souls and bodies. We need both truth and bread to survive and thrive. Without this nourishment, we perish.

God feeds on nothing other than Himself; He possesses infinite life. He is obviously immortal—He’s eternal, the eternal source of all life–spiritual life and material life.

We understand from Holy Scripture that God formed mankind from the dust of the earth for the sake of giving us immortal life. Originally He made us to feed on the truth, and on the material largess of the earth–without ever experiencing the disintegration of the flesh.

But we disobeyed His law and fell away from the eternal source of life, leaving us to face the struggle to survive and the dissolution of our bodies back into dust.

God, infinitely merciful, became a man Himself, to unite our flesh with His life-giving power. He underwent our bodily death in His flesh. Then He conquered that death, rising again to a life no longer limited in any way by struggle or impending death.

But that’s not all: His work of uniting His death-conquering life with our flesh included the institution of the Mass and the Church. By instituting the Mass He instituted the Church, and vice-versa. The Mass is the life of the Church.

And the Mass is the way, perfectly suited to our human nature, by which we can feed on God. We cannot feed on Him like the angels do, since we do not see Him with spiritual eyes like they do. We need a bodily way to feed on the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of the Christ. That way is: the Holy Mass.

John 6 Ecumenism

Pope Francis Jay Wright Villanova ball
Now the Pope owns the NCAA Championship ball!

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life. (John 6:27)

We kept the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council a few years ago, between 2012 and 2015. But maybe some of Pope Francis’ more-recent teachings lead us back to the Second Vatican Council again.*

Here’s one question: Was Vatican II overly optimistic in focusing on what Protestants and Catholics have in common?

One side would say: Yes, Vatican II was wrong there. It was a betrayal of sacred Catholic Tradition and the Council of Trent to affirm that Protestants and Catholics share the same faith in Christ.

–But isn’t that’s going too far? There’s only one Jesus. And we all personally know Protestants who truly and sincerely believe in Him. So Vatican II was not altogether wrong to emphasize what we have in common.

On the other hand, the other extreme would say: No, Vatican II had no misplaced optimism whatsoever. Christian re-unification is right around the corner, if only we could get over ourselves!

–But that’s going too far, too. No reasonable observer can deny that, in spite of a lot of common enterprises, and a lot of good intentions, the last fifty years have not seen a whole lot of real ecumenical headway. Quite the contrary.

Ross Douthat To Change the ChurchDuring the third week of Easter we read from John 6 at Holy Mass. Seems to me like we Catholics could lay down this marker, and live at peace with it:

We believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And we believe that He makes Himself present on the altar at Mass to be our food unto eternal life.

It seems to us that these two aspects of the faith—namely the Resurrection and the Real Presence—are really one aspect. It makes absolutely no sense to separate them. And why would anyone want to?

_________________

*I have been reading Ross Douthat’s To Change the Church. Douthat illuminates things enormously, I think, by outlining the two alternative understandings of the past 55 years of Catholic history, “liberal” and “conservative.” But there’s more to the story, I think. And I want to try to bring it to light, as the opportunity allows.

Three Points on a Fresh Start

El Greco St Peter keys

In our first reading at Sunday Mass, from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear part of one of St. Peter’s early sermons. He explained to the people of Jerusalem the true meaning of what they had done. When they clamored in a cruel frenzy for Jesus of Nazareth’s death, they fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah–namely that He would suffer and die. Then Christ triumphed over death. So now the sinners who wrongly condemned him have the chance to repent of the evil they did. And make a fresh start. [Spanish]

In the Sunday reading from St. Luke’s gospel, we hear the Lord Jesus ordering this mission of reconciliation. Begin here in Jerusalem, where they crucified Me. Then go to the whole world, and declare: “God will forgive your sins. Repent. Choose life. Start fresh.”

God’s mercy extends beyond any limits we can imagine. He went, in the flesh, to the city full of fickle, self-centered numbskulls. He gently offered Himself there as a lamb led to slaughter. A perfectly innocent man, Who had never spoken an untrue word or done an unloving act–the perfectly innocent man offered Himself quietly. He submitted to death at the hands of desperately ignorant, cruel, maladjusted buffoons. Precisely because He loved them. He wanted only for them to have the chance to see the evil of their ways, and repent, beg mercy, and start fresh.

I have managed to get a few years under my belt now hearing confessions. And it seems to me that a fresh start is the key idea, the decisive aspect of the business. Three brief points on this.

1. No one can give him- or herself a fresh start, all by him- or herself. The fresh start has to come from God, because God alone possesses the resources to give me a fresh start, anytime and every time. I need to give myself a break, of course, and start over with myself. But without some heavenly help to do that, I can’t manage it. After all, I don’t have the skills to fix everything that I have broken.

jerusalem-sunriseGod, on the other hand, never has a day when He’s too tired, or sick of it all, or discouraged. The passing of time, and my repeated falls and weaknesses, do not deplete the Lord’s storehouse of newness. He has an infinite number of new beginnings available to deploy at any time, and He can easily fix things that to me look irreparably broken.

2. We gain access to this divine fountainhead of youthful re-invigoration by wanting to change. The men who yelled, “Crucify Him!” and the soldiers and officials who closed their eyes to Christ’s innocence: at some point they realized, through the working of their consciences, that they had participated in something truly wrong, terribly wrong. They didn’t want to live in such a dark place anymore. They didn’t want to be the men who callously crucified the Christ. So they welcomed the preaching of St. Peter, with weeping, and with hope for a better day. They knew they had done wrong, and they did not want to do wrong again.

3. I think all of this helps us to resolve a perennial Easter-season mystery. Why did the Lord Jesus appear only to a chosen group after He rose from the dead, and then vanish into heaven–without appearing openly to everyone? He could have made his victory crystal-clear and indisputable, removing all doubt. Why didn’t He?

Well, why did He become man in the first place? To astound people, as if to compete with George Lucas or Pixar Studios for the most wow-able visual moments? To prove how awesome He is–to make everyone believe? Did He come to cultivate His popularity, or get elected president, or improve His standing in opinion polls? Did He come seeking money, or comfort, or a Maserati, or a beachfront condo?

Hardly. Christ came to reconcile sinners with the Father. To reconcile foolish, malicious, selfish, lazy, weak, nasty, moody, grouchy, unrealistic, proud, deluded, egomaniacal, obtuse, snarky, judgmental, petty, gossiping, klutzy moral nincompoops. To reconcile us wiith our good, unendingly patient Creator. The only-begotten Son of God came; He died; He rose: for the forgiveness of sins. For a new beginning.

God needed nothing. He became man to give us a fresh start. That fresh start is right there, in our grasp. All it takes is: a searching, painfully honest encounter with the unvarnished truth–the truth that we and the Jerusalemites who killed Christ are in the same boat.

Right there, on our knees, weeping over the horrid things we have done–there we find Jesus, risen from the dead. And He says: Forget it. We’re starting fresh.

The παρρησία of the Apostles and Us

El Greco Pentecost

Parrhesia. Childlike boldness in praying to our heavenly Father. And fearless boldness in bearing witness to Christ before men.

Christian boldness springs from our conviction that God has spoken His Word of love in Christ. And we—obtuse and klutzy as we are—serve that Almighty Word.

Gamaliel the Wise counseled the Sanhedrin during the first Easter season: Leave these ‘apostles’ alone. If they act out of real obedience to God, then nothing will stop them anyway. If not, then their misplaced fervor will die out on its own.

So the Sanhedrin had the Apostles flogged and released, instead of jailing them pending execution. And St. Peter and Co. rejoiced—for having the opportunity to share in the sufferings of the crucified Word of God.

This parrhesia—our bold conviction that the Gospel of Christ is altogether true; that the man who fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish is the Anointed One—this “parrhesia” is one of our Holy Father Pope Francis’ favorite things.

Pope has used the word parrhesia over and over again in his teachings. And he has dedicated an entire section to the word parrhesia in his new exhortation to holiness. Let me quote the Holy Father:

Holiness is also parrhesía: it is boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world. To allow us to do this, Jesus himself comes and tells us once more, serenely yet firmly: “Do not be afraid.” …Parrhesía describes the freedom of a life open to God and to others…

Look at Jesus. His deep compassion reached out to others. It did not make him hesitant, timid or self-conscious, as often happens with us. Quite the opposite…

Parrhesía is a seal of the Spirit; it testifies to the authenticity of our preaching. It is a joyful assurance that leads us to glory in the Gospel we proclaim. It is an unshakeable trust in the faithful Witness who gives us the certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

God is eternal newness. He impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar… He takes us to where humanity is most wounded, where men and women, beneath the appearance of a shallow conformity, continue to seek an answer to the question of life’s meaning. God is not afraid! He is fearless! (Gaudete et Exsultate 129-135)

Then the pope quotes himself, from the speech he gave as a Cardinal, right before the conclave elected him pope.

We know that Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts. We read that in Scripture. But maybe He wants to go out “to escape from our stale self-centeredness.”

Some people find the pope controversial. A lot of people don’t. Regardless of whether we find him controversial or not, we have to hear what he is saying here. We have to let the Vicar of Christ remind us about this fundamental aspect of Christianity: Every human being searches for the meaning of life. And we cannot live in the truth ourselves if we do not take the risks necessary to form relationships with other human beings searching for the meaning of life like we are.

Especially the ones we do not want to form relationships with, because they do not presume the same things that we do. Relating to them is hard. It requires the very hard work of sincere communication. Which we can’t do without working hard at understanding ourselves. Which will ultimately lead us to the point where we have to acknowledge: we are fundamentally just as weak and clueless as any confused child.

But God loves us anyway. That is the Gospel!

Crying and Laughing: Dreamers

Just as you cannot understand Christ apart from the kingdom he came to bring, so too your personal mission is inseparable from the building of…that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace…A person who sees things as they truly are and sympathizes with pain and sorrow is capable of touching life’s depths…unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes.  (Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate 25, 76)

Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor…Ill humor is no sign of holiness. “Remove vexation from your mind” (Ecclesiastes 11:10). We receive so much from the Lord “for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17), that sadness can be a sign of ingratitude. (Gaud et Exul., 126)

Mercy Toward the Enemy

Whoever lives the truth comes to the light. (John 3:21) The light of calm, sober truth—which we can only reach by a patient search. A calm, patient search for truth. For instance, when an accused criminal faces a trial in a court of law, governed by fair rules.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote us a letter Monday, exhorting us to seek holiness by practicing mercy. Mercy not just towards the people we like, but towards everyone who needs help. After all, the Lord taught us to love our enemies.

osama-bin-ladenSo: Get ready for a doozy of a homiletic application. After all, this week marks the anniversary of two deaths.

The first one is the martyrdom of the Polish saint, Stanislaus. He died at the hands of a lawless monarch, who had kidnapped and plundered, and abused his power up and down the land. St. Stanislaus, as the bishop of Krakow, condemned King Boleslaw for this. So the king killed the bishop with his own hands, during Mass.

Now, St. Stanislaus recently had a very-famous successor as Bishop of Krakow. When Pope John Paul II visited his former cathedral to venerate the relics of St. Stanislaus, he referred to his holy predecessor as the “patron of moral order for the Polish people.”

Moral order. A sober society of law, justice, and peace, governed by the calm light of truth. That’s the ideal of Poland, and it’s our ideal, too. Truth, justice, the American Way. Terrorists have attacked that ideal by killing innocent people, especially on September 11, 2001. Decent people rightly condemn the terrorists for having done that.

But:

The other anniversary this week is what some people regarded as President Obama’s finest hour. Zero dark thirty happened seven years ago, during the second week of Easter. I remember reading John 3:16-21 at Holy Mass right after learning that we had killed Osama bin Laden.

VATICAN-US-OBAMA-POPEBut I cannot call that President Obama’s finest hour. Because he should have expressed one regret about what happened, and he never did.

Perhaps we never could have captured bin Laden alive and tried him for his crimes in a court of law. But it would have been better if we could have. If bin Laden had been tried, according to the rule of law, he might rightly have received the death penalty. But applying the death penalty without a trial—that is not what we stand for. That’s not the American Way. That’s not moral order.

I said this would be a doozy of an application of our Holy Father’s exhortation for us to practice mercy. But can we doubt that—even at the very moment when he breathed his last, after suffering a mortal blow—can we doubt that Saint Stanislaus prayed for king Boleslaw, the very man who had just killed him? Can we doubt it? After all, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them.” King Boleslaw and St. Stanislaus might be friends in heaven now.

Maybe, when Osama bin Laden died seven years ago, he went straight to hell. But we should not think that he did. We should assume that he is in purgatory, having been redeemed somehow by the omnipotent power of the blood of Christ. And we should pray and offer sacrifices for the repose of our enemy’s soul. It’s not easy to say, but we have to find a way to say: “May Osama bin Laden rest in peace.”

If we can’t bring ourselves to do that, then we’re not as holy as we should be.

Exhortation to Holiness, Kind Of

pope-francis_2541160k

Thank you, Holy Father, for giving us an exhortation to holiness. May the good Lord grant us the humility and grace to heed your words.

I am not for being suspicious of the pope. I am not for thinking the pope is “too liberal.” He’s our pope. We only have one. The more fools we, if we do not love him.

But there is something odd about this exhortation to holiness, and I cannot hold my tongue.

Pope Francis’ spiritual father, St. Ignatius Loyola, wrote at length about the vows of poverty and obedience, in the Constitutions of the Jesuit order. But the founder of the Jesuits got stingy with his words when it came to the vow of chastity. He wrote: On the matter of Jesuit chastity only one thing needs be said. Jesuits ought to imitate the purity of the angels. That’s it. –Pretty parsimonious, as far as giving the would-be angel something to go on.

ignatiuswritingBut not as parsimonious as our Jesuit pope

Gaudete et exsultate exhorts us to holiness over the course of 176 paragraphs, without ever using the word chastity at all.

Or purity. Or the word sex.* Holy Father never mentions the sixth commandment, or any of the Ten Commandments, other then the eighth (in para. 115, against slandering on the internet.)

Chapter Three includes a commentary on the Beatitudes. In commenting on “Blessed are the pure of heart,” Pope Francis refers to the Lord Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:19. The Holy Father quotes Christ: “from the heart come murder, theft, false witness, and other evil deeds.” But when we read the gospel verse we find that the Lord didn’t actually say ‘other evil deeds.’ He said “adultery, unchastity, and blasphemy.”

Is this not odd? This utter silence on the subject of sex, in an exhortation to holiness? In the year 2018? Maybe “chastity” is too abstruse a word? But the Holy Father repeatedly uses the words “gnosticism,” “Pelagianism,” and “semi-pelagianism.”

Now, I’m also not for having a siege mentality when it comes to the sexual revolution. In my experience, most people still know deep-down that a chaste life is a happier and better life.

But: Do we not face a problem? The billion-dollar pornography industry, with all its inhuman degradations? Young people highly confused about how to find the path to a lasting marriage? How do you publish an exhortation to holiness in AD 2018 that doesn’t have the word chastity in it?!

This reminds me of when I served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, before I entered the seminary. The five of us Baltimore volunteers–three men and two women, all between 22 and 24 years of age– we lived in a slightly ramshackle house on the edge of the ‘hood. The kind, fatherly Jesuits who lived nearby often visited us. They liked to do our dishes after dinner.

Let me re-iterate. We were all between 22 and 24 years old. Three men and two women, living under one roof. We needed guidance in the area of sex. Desperately. But none of our Jesuit fathers ever brought the subject up. Ever. I had one for a spiritual director for two years. I brought the subject up once. He did not want to talk about it.

Like I said, I am not for criticizing the pope. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. If I were writing an exhortation to holiness, I would insist on daily meditation on the inevitability of death. And I would encourage the fear of hell. But I’m not the pope.

However, I cannot let this particular matter pass in silence. I am dismayed by this omission. The young people of the West are groaning under the weight of utter confusion when it comes to sex and marriage, and our pope’s 2018 exhortation to holiness doesn’t even mention the subject.

__________

*The word lust does appear once, in a parenthetical list of vices, para. 159.