Racism Reckoning

Last fall, our American bishops published a pastoral letter about racism. Unsurprisingly, very few people paid any attention.

The letter sags with bromides. It comes up short on specific facts. The usual mitered mafia approach.

(Click HERE if you would like to read my attempt at some specificity regarding racism in the diocese of Richmond in the first part of the 19th century.)

That said, even though the bishops came up well short of any real reckoning, given the shallow innocuousness of their letter, at least one local Catholic has strenuously objected to the idea of attempting any reckoning at all. (Letter to the editor of the Catholic Virginian, “Stop Apologizing…”)

Might I suggest that we all listen carefully to the debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, held in Cambridge, England in 1965?

The eloquence on display in this exchange seems to come from a lost age. But the argument has lost none of its force. The more I meditate on this debate, the more I think it is the right place to start.

You have to listen carefully to the whole thing. Baldwin rightfully emerges as the true hero of the night. But Buckley says some important things, too. Both speak with 1000x more realism than anything we are accustomed to hearing on television these days.

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Christian Idea of Health

Naaman the Syrian leper came looking for healing, for some kind of Fountain of Youth, to cleanse his corrupted flesh. The prophet Elisha healed him.  And the Lord Jesus healed the ten lepers who begged for His pity. They, too, had sought the “Fountain of Youth,” a way back to the perfect health of the Garden of Eden. [Spanish]

Christ came to heal.  He wills our health. God wills our true health, the health that consists in soundness of soul, as well as soundness of body.

We modern Americans obsess about our health. We, too, seek the Fountain of Youth. We chase it desperately, frantically. We live in abject fear of old age, pain, and death.

jp_iiBut do we really even understand what the word “health” means? Pope St. John Paul II put it like this:  “If we consider life as a mere consumer good, we reach a sort of cult of the body and a hedonistic quest for physical fitness.”

We human beings strive, with all our intelligence and scientific skill, to combat sickness and the suffering that goes with it.  Many people dedicate their lives to healthcare.  I daresay quite a few people reading this have given their lives to the work of healthcare.

But Jesus Christ alone teaches us what health really is. Jesus Christ is Himself the source of life and the Healer of the human race. His Body and Blood are the greatest and most important of all medicines. The Blessed Sacrament of the altar is the medicine of immortality.

Let’s consider Jesus Christ’s “health.” It begins with His interior communion with the will of the Father. Jesus declared that His life comes from the Father.  So: true health begins with this fundamental fact of our existence. We receive ourselves as a gift. From God. Almighty God gives us our life. If I imagine that health = total control of myself, my body, my powers, according to my will—well, then I have actually begun to understand health in a very unhealthy way.

Now, Lord Jesus lived a wholesome life, exercised temperance and self-control, worked steadily, kept His mind elevated, cultivated good friendships, knew how to relax. Like all His Jewish contemporaries, Jesus never “went to the gym.” For good reason. The ancient Greeks invented gyms, so the ancient Jews hated them. But our Lord nonetheless did the strenuous exercise we associate with a ‘fitness regimen.’ We can reasonably estimate that He walked an average of 20-25 miles per week through the course of His pilgrim life.

So: Jesus ‘stayed fit.’ He ate right and had a ‘healthy lifestyle’ for most of His time on earth. But there’s more: the God-man ultimately embraced human pain, suffering, and death. In fact, He became man for that precise reason: to suffer and die.

Rod of AsclepiusWhen we base our concept of health on Jesus Christ, a whole new horizon opens up for us.  We perceive that bodily suffering is not the absolute evil. And bodily suffering is not meaningless or a waste. Again, Pope St. John Paul II:

In celebrating the Eucharist, Christians proclaim and share in the sacrifice of Christ, for ‘by His wounds, we have been healed.’ Christians, uniting themselves with Christ, preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s redemption, and can share that treasure with others. Imitating Jesus has led saints and simple believers to turn their illnesses and pain into a source of purification and salvation.

Modern medical science has benefited the human race enormously. But science cannot by itself explain the fundamental reason why sickness exists. Medicine can succeed in curing particular illnesses by accurately diagnosing them.  But if the question is: Why do we human beings get sick at all? “Germs” is not the whole answer.

We get sick, and we die, because of the Fall. In the beginning, we fell away from God and lost His grace, which is our true health. We walked away from the Fountain of Youth. Doesn’t mean that any particular individual illness of any particular individual person comes as a punishment for particular sins. No. What it means is: In the beginning, God offered us, the human race, paradise and immortality. But we refused the gift, out of pride.

We disobeyed because Satan tempted us. But God knows better than Satan. The sickness and suffering that we experience because of Original Sin can involve agonizing deprivations. But, on the cross, the Lord turned all those agonizing deprivations into the doorway back to paradise.

Ghent Altarpiece Adoration of the Lamb

“Amen, amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Lord Jesus said those words to the sinner who begged for Christ’s mercy–even as they both suffered together on their crosses. “You will be with me in paradise.” The suffering Christ speaks these words to the suffering sinner.

We cannot base our idea of “health” on anything other than our hope for that paradise that Jesus promised us at that moment. The paradise of true and complete communion with God. The paradise of an everlasting Eden. Our idea of health must embrace the cross of the Christ Who suffered. Because His Cross is the only way that truly leads to the Fountain of Youth.

Bittersweetness about Vatican II

VaticanII

Everyone remembers the image of Pope John’s smiling face and two outstretched arms embracing the whole world. How many people were won over by his simplicity of heart, combined with a broad experience of people and things! The breath of newness he brought certainly did not concern doctrine, but rather the way to explain it; his style of speaking and acting was new, as was his friendly approach to ordinary people and to the powerful of the world. It was in this spirit that he called the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, thereby turning a new page in the Church’s history: Christians heard themselves called to proclaim the Gospel with renewed courage and greater attentiveness to the signs of the times. The Council was a truly prophetic insight of this elderly Pontiff who, even amid many difficulties, opened a season of hope for Christians and for humanity.

(Sept. 3, 2000. Homily of Pope John Paul II, when he declared his predecessor John XXIII to be among the Blessed.)

Today we solemnly remember St. John XXIII at the altar. We do not do so on the anniversary of his death, even though mostly we keep saints’ memorials on their death days. Nor do we remember John XXIII on the anniversary of his becoming pope, which we often do—when it comes to pope-saints. We keep the Memorial of St. John XXIII on the anniversary of… the opening ofVatican II.

Remember how we kept a “Year of Faith” to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II? I gave a three-month series of homilies on the Council documents.

John XXIII Vatican IIMy basic thesis about Vatican II: The original Apostles went out into a confused, semi-organized pagan world, to proclaim the Gospel and communicate the grace of Christ. We face a fundamentally similar task. The Fathers of Vatican II recognized this, with stunningly clear insight.

Now, little did any of us know how much morale-crushing filth still lay hidden under the hierarchy’s rug—back in the fall of 2012, when we celebrated fifty years since Vatican II, on October 11. Pope Benedict actually resigned during the vaunted Year of Faith. His abdication, and its chaotic aftermath, have served to pull back the curtain on the catastrophic misgovernment of the Church—a nightmare we still find ourselves living through.

So we find it almost impossible to reconnect spiritually with the hopefulness of October 11, 1962. With the hopefulness of St. John XXIII, as he smiled upon the bishops gathered from the four corners of the earth. Gathered at the Vatican, to find a way to give the modern world the Gospel.

Almost impossible. To recover that hopefulness. After the hierarchy has managed to pile betrayal upon betrayal.

But not completely impossible. Because the actual teachings of Vatican II still shimmer with beauty and truth. Yes, the Fathers did forget that original sin affects everyone, including bishops and popes. Original sin actually seems to affect bishops and popes more than anyone else. The Church used to know that perfectly well. But at Vatican II, they experienced amnesia about that particular fact, with dire consequences for us.

But: Even with all the body blows we have suffered, I still think we can hold to my Vatican II thesis. The original Apostles went out into a confused, semi-organized pagan world, to proclaim the Gospel and communicate the grace of Christ. We Catholics of 2019 have basically the same task in front of us.

Catechism #2764

Lord Jesus taught us how to live and how to pray. By our opening ourselves up to both of these areas of teaching, the Holy Spirit reforms our interior life, our desires, the deepest inner movements that orient our entire lives. As the Catechism puts it: “The rightness of our life in Christ will depend on the rightness of our prayer.”

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchIn other words, the Our Father teaches us what to want.

That God be glorified and His name honored. That His kingdom come and His will be done. That He sustain us with what we need today. That He forgive us and help us forgive others. That He save us from the worst moral challenges, which could cost us our souls, since we do not have the strength to resist the devil without God’s help.

We want to survive today, physically and spiritually, so that we can glorify God by serving as vessels of His infinite, loving mercy. By tomorrow this ordeal could end; that’s up to Him. May He give us the grace to glorify Him worthily today.

Paul Simon Way Ahead on the Amazon

As we read at Holy Mass today: The Lord sent the prophet Jonah to the non-Jewish Ninevites. And the Lord sent a non-Jewish Samaritan to help the robbers’ victim, in the parable. This Sunday we will read about the ten lepers Jesus cured. The only one who came back to say thank you? A Samaritan. A foreigner.

The Lord founded a cosmopolitan Church. Not like the magazine Cosmopolitan. But in the sense that true religion resonates with people of all languages and races. The Lord sent the Apostles to all nations.

Rosary Prayers

For most of us, the Amazon basin counts as “foreign land.” Anyone ever visited?

It became a little less foreign for us Paul-Simon fans back in 1990. He followed up his album Graceland with an encore, involving Brazilian musicians. I wore out my cassette tape of Rhythm of the Saints, by listening to it like a thousand times. The song “Born at the Right Time” can still bring tears to my eyes.

Paul Simon was twenty-nine years ahead of the Vatican. Everyone heard of the “Amazon Synod” in Rome? I, for one, long ago lost track of what exactly the point of all these Roman synods is.

Anyway: the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the grace of His mysteries, belongs to everyone, of every language and nation. Our Lady’s Rosary has “delivered” the Gospel, and the grace of Christ’s mysteries, to souls seeking God, all over the world, for centuries.

You can’t go wrong, listening to some Paul Simon every once in a while, to cheer yourself up. And we definitely can’t go wrong, praying the Rosary daily.

Hobbits, Small and Big

earthsun

Lord, increase our faith! (Luke 17:5) [Spanish]

The Christian faith defies definition. Our faith is something mysterious, since it involves: our finite minds somehow touching, somehow knowing the infinite God. Holding the Christian faith means receiving a gift from heaven. And co-operating with it, mentally.

We express our faith in the… Creed. We believe in God Almighty, Creator of all, Lord and Giver of life. We believe that He made everything out of nothing.

Why does earth orbit the sun–the third planet out, in this particular little solar system–with Venus our neighbor inward, and Mars one planet out? Because of physics and gravity? Well, yes…except then you have to ask: Why then is there a sun and an earth and a Venus and a Mars, and physics and gravity? Because of the Big Bang? Maybe. But if there was a Big Bang, then you have to ask: Why then was there a Big Bang? Our faith gives us a certain answer: Because God wills.

The infinite Power has an infinite Will, which wills that the universe exist, and that we exist, exactly as things stand, right now. If He willed otherwise, things would be otherwise.

Let’s ask ourselves this: Is our faith in this infinite, omnipotent God a comfort to us? Or is it terrifying?

Maybe it’s a comfort?  God governs everything with His inexorable power. So we can let go of our delusions of grandeur. We can accept that, in the great sway of the divine government, we are very small. Like little hobbits occupying an obscure corner of the cosmos, living on earth for a brief moment in the grand scheme of years. Our little pilgrim lives will pass away as swiftly as they came.

God is big. We are small. God can move mulberry trees at will; we are small enough to fit under a mulberry tree. So we can shed our Messiah complexes and enjoy our dinners in peace. May God’s will be done. Knowing the future is above my pay-grade.

But wait: This is a little terrifying, too—the greatness of God, and the littleness of us carbon life forms on the third rock from the sun. I mean: Do we matter? We believe in the awesome infinite God, Who has laid out the heavens and the stars. We ourselves huddle here like so many little specks of life on a little planet. Do we matter?  Our smallness can just about overwhelm us.

Let’s go back to our original question. What is the faith that we pray the Lord will increase in us? The holy Catholic faith. Which believes in God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things, the visible and the invisible. And our faith also believes in–part two of the Creed–Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.

Do we matter? Well, the infinite God, Who cracks mulberry trees in half at will, by thunderbolts and hurricane winds—He made Himself one of us. He became incarnate and walked the earth.

And we have to seek precision here. God did not ‘incarnate’ Himself in the form of some fleeting vision. He didn’t even just send an angel. The holy Incarnation has no ephemeral aspects. He took our human nature to Himself in such a way that He Personally became one of these little semi-hairy creatures, who take up a tiny patch of territory on this little, remote planet, for a fleeting period of time, punctuated by daily dinners.

elanorgamgeeGod is a man. From the first Annunciation Day forward, He always will be a man. And that is His most awesomely powerful act of all. He saves us sinners and gives us eternal life. He makes us His intimate friends, His kith and kin: the eternal Son’s brothers and sisters, the eternal Father’s beloved children. For God to become man, while remaining pure God—that involves the kind of omnipotence that makes thunderstorms and hurricanes look like so many little splashings in a bird bath, by comparison.

After all, the universe really only appears to dwarf us human beings with its vastness. Yes: we get tired just walking from one end of a Walmart to another. But, in fact, every single individual human soul extends to a greater space than the entire universe of stars and planets, supernovas and galaxies. We can conceive and envision and number all the elements of the universe. The very huge cosmos, in which we find ourselves so small—this universe is, in fact, something of which we can conceive, something about which we can have a clear idea, as we gaze at the night sky. Which means that our minds are bigger than it is. Not in feet and inches. But in total spiritual comprehension. Each of our minds is bigger than the entire universe.

God did not unite Himself Personally with a supernova, or even with the Milky Way galaxy. He united Himself with us little goofballs right here. To give us His eternal friendship. That He did that is more awesome than anything.

We pray that our faith in that unfathomable mystery, the mystery of the eternal Son of the eternal Father becoming man–we pray that our faith in that awesome mystery will always increase.

Saint Francis, Parish-Church Patron

stfrancis

Today we keep the anniversary of our parish patron’s death, as a Memorial. Over the weekend, we will keep it as a Solemnity, as is our prerogative to do.

As we celebrate Holy Mass to honor Saint Francis, we sing about how God has used the saints to call mankind back to our original holiness, to the innocence of the garden, before the Fall. Saint Francis’ totally Christ-like life has rescued generations of human souls from cynicism, from hopelessness, from self-centered self-destruction.

My dear mom is visiting the parish today, along with my tall and handsome brother. My mom and I have had the chance to visit Assisi. Twice. By the grace of God, many of us have been there. A trip to Assisi offers an antidote for cynicism and hopelessness, all by itself—just being there makes you feel like you’re breathing the air of the Garden of Eden.

basilicastfrancis

We have the first pope who ever presumed to take Saint Francis’ name. And Pope Francis presides over a Catholic Church so grievously misgoverned that there’s hardly any earthly hope for Her survival.

But Saint Francis lived in such times, too. Granted, the prelates of his age weren’t quite as worldly and corrupt as the ones we have now. Nor were the popes of the first part of the thirteenth century quite as ineffectual as the first two popes of the twenty-first century have been. We have in common with Saint Francis that one of the popes during his lifetime wanted to resign. But, in the case of Celestine III, the Cardinals wouldn’t let him quit.

Anyway, my point is: Saint Francis had to soldier on in pure faith. Even while the upper leadership had more interest in worldly power than in shepherding souls. Saint Francis had to keep believing in Jesus, and living in union with Him, through all that.

We do, too, of course. With St. Francis’ help, we can do it.

Regional Church Scandal Update

Question 1: How did McCarrick thrive as a predator for decades, until June 2018?

Number of promises made by Cardinals/popes to provide an answer: At least four (Wuerl, Tobin, DiNardo, and the pope)

Number of answers actually given: Zero.

Question 2: How did former-West-Virginia-bishop Michael Bransfield thrive as a predator for decades, like his old friend Theodore McCarrick, until September 2018?

Number of investigative reports selectively edited by Baltimore Archbishop William Lori with information about this: One

Number of such reports made public by Lori and Pope Francis: Zero.

Question 3: How many former seminarians in West Virginia have sued the Church in the past six months?

Answer, provided by the West-Virginia press: At least two.

How many secret settlements of these cases did the diocese reach, under the governance of William Lori? One.

How many of these cases assert that the victim tried to communicate with Lori, but got rebuffed and treated like an enemy? At least one.

Question 3: How many bishops spoke at last week’s Notre Dame University forum on the sexual abuse crisis?

Answer: One.

Who? William Lori.

Forgive me for asking, but is this a joke, Notre Dame?

During the forum, Lori told his usual self-pitying and self-justifying sob stories. And he regaled the world with his typical mind-numbingly tedious tales of his own feckless bureaucratic bumblings.

Notre Dame University: What do you mean by this charade? Glamorizing the machinations of a documented liar and cover-up artist. Are you trying to shove the reputation of our Church even deeper into the bottom of the trashcan? Do you not realize that there are some serious people out here, people who actually know the facts about what has happened in West Virginia over the course of the last year, and who see William Lori for the charlatan that he is?

John Allen and Peter Steinfels: You should be ashamed of yourselves. For playing patsy to William Lori’s endless self-justifying nonsense. You show yourselves to be the hacks that you are, more interested in a secure paycheck than in any kind of real integrity.

The RMS Titanic of Roman Catholicism in our part of the world continues to sink, my dear ones, with bloviating nabobs on the bridge. Men utterly unprepared to deal with the catastrophe that they, and the men they kissed up to when they were younger, have wrought.

Let’s try to hasten to heaven as eagerly as we can. Let’s try to help as many people as we can along the way. Part One of such a business: Living in the truth.

Which includes this fact: The Metropolitan Archbishop of our ecclesiastical province is a careerist fraud. No honest human being should trust him any farther than Lori himself can throw medicine ball.

Not to be Alarmist, But We Need to Pray Hard

crater battle postcard

Humble yourself like a child. Look around you for good people, not partisan allies. When we serve Christ, everyone striving for honesty and goodness is an ally. (summary of today’s gospel reading at Holy Mass)

One of the things I have studied in some depth is: 19th-century American life. In the last part of the eighteenth century, all of the thirteen colonies ultimately managed to agree on a structure for a federalized republic of states, each with its own proper internal laws and governments. But as the decades of the nineteenth century wore on, it became increasingly difficult for northerners and southerners to communicate in any kind of constructive manner.

They did not have alternative cable-news channels. But they did have alternative versions of what each side saw as evident facts. And the two sides had different absolute loyalties, to two different cadres of political leaders. The different groups of leaders ultimately accused each other of the kind of treachery that only war can settle.

I don’t mean to be alarmist. But it occurred to me this morning that I may get shot.

I have been a zealous pro-life priest since the day I was ordained, and I was a zealous pro-life seminarian for years before that. During the 2016 campaign, I made no secret of the fact that I thought Hillary Clinton was a fundamentally dishonest politician who rose to prominence solely because of her long-time insider connections. In other words, she became a presidential nominee through pure cronyism, not by some feminist triumph.

But, also back in 2016, I made no secret of the fact that I agreed with Armando Fuentes Aguirre. He wrote in a Mexico-City newspaper that Donald Trump’s nomination for president of the USA was something for which the human race ought to feel ashamed.

I know perfectly well that there are semi-rational individuals who have, can, and will frequent our parish buildings, who already have in their minds justifications for doing me violence.

We Catholics have a head start in understanding the danger that we face as a nation right now. The reality of a President Donald Trump has divided our Catholic parishes and dioceses in ways that most of us never could have imagined six years ago. Both our parishes here were growing bilingual families, in the process of building up trust and friendship—back in 2015. But in 2016 a dark cloud of distrust descended. The process of growth in friendship has stood at a standstill ever since.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of hope for the long-term future. Because the young people all communicate perfectly well with each other. We have plenty of Mexican-American girls with white boyfriends, and plenty of Mexican-American men with black wives. Not to mention the intermarriages with Filipinos, Vietnamese, and other Latinos. I have baptized a lot of beautiful cappuccino babies.

But these noble young family-makers are powerless to put the brakes on a runaway train of political antagonism. We need to pray extremely hard. May we Americans find a way through the mess that we have made for ourselves, without more violence. Please, God: help us do so.

Prosperity Gospel? (Luke 15 and 16)

The fifteenth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel recounts three parables. We read them at Mass two Sundays ago… Lost sheep. Lost coin. Prodigal son. Images of Divine Mercy. Comforting, and not difficult to understand. Luke 15. [Spanish]

But Luke 16, on the other hand… First, the parable of the Dishonest Steward, which we heard at Mass last Sunday. And the painful tale of Lazarus and the Rich Man.

Lazarus Dives dogs feast

Dogs licking the poor man’s sores in this world. The rich man dying of thirst in the next life. A chasm between heaven and hell that no one can cross.

Lord Jesus addressed last Sunday’s parable of the Dishonest Steward, the first part of Luke 16, to His own disciples. But the Pharisees overheard Him. So then the Lord told the story of Lazarus and the rich man for their benefit, the Pharisees’ benefit.

It’s no accident that, in the story, the bosom on which Lazarus comes to rest belongs to Abraham. One way for us to understand all of Jesus’ dealings with the Pharisees is to grasp the fundamental question in dispute.

Namely: What does it mean to be a child of Abraham? God Almighty chose the children of Abraham as His own, His people. But what precisely makes you a child of Abraham, one of the Chosen?

Abraham lived before the ancient written law came down to Moses on Mount Sinai. Abraham lived way before Solomon built the Temple. But what Abraham had was: true humility, true faith in the Providence of God.

Now, most people know that life in this world isn’t fair. Bad luck can hit good people, and the wicked often prosper. The ancient pagans expressed this by inventing a special goddess, the goddess of Fortune. She spins the wheel of arbitrary and unfair fate.

Anyone ever heard of the “Prosperity Gospel?” If God loves you, and you’re good, then you will have a comfortable house, a shiny car, a well-padded bank account, and good teeth.  On the other hand, if you’re a loser, and can’t pay your bills, it’s your own fault.

Fortuna and wheel
the goddess Fortuna

The Prosperity Gospel lets comfortable, self-centered people like the rich man in the parable sit at their tables, while a neighbor starves–without thinking twice about it.

But the arbitrary spinning of Fortune’s wheel does not deal out justice on earth. That’s not what believing in God’s Providence means. Material prosperity does not measure interior virtue. Being wealthy doesn’t make you one of God’s Chosen.

God has given us sinners a means by which to purify our selfish hearts. We have to do battle with something. The concept of “mine.”

What did the rich man discover, when he went to meet God? He learned that all the stuff he thought was his was only temporarily his. He didn’t own his wealth. He had the stewardship of it, for a time.

scales_of_justiceHe thought he had enjoyed his money thoroughly. Turns out he stewarded it very poorly. He actually owed some of it to the poor man Lazarus. And Lazarus didn’t ask much; he would have been happy with the scraps that fell from the table. But the rich man loved his sumptuous lifestyle so much that he did not even know that Lazarus existed.

We conquer our selfishness by giving things away. In this fallen world, the children of Abraham, the children of God, learn to forget the word “mine” by giving away stuff, giving away time and energy for other people’s benefit.

I think the most haunting part of the gospel passage is the end. The rich man, suffering in hell for his selfishness and gluttony, begs Abraham to send Lazarus back. ‘Let him warn my selfish, gluttonous brothers!’

Abraham answers: ‘But they already have the words of the prophets to warn them. They should know better. Just like you should have known better.’

‘No, no,’ cried the rich man in hell: ‘They will listen; they will repent; they will turn to God and live generous lives—if someone rises from the dead. If someone comes back from the dead and teaches them that only self-sacrificing love can get you to heaven!’

The thing is: It happened. That teacher has risen from the dead. The poor man of Nazareth.