Wheel of Fortune

forutune-wheel

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

But Luke 16, on the other hand…  First, the parable of the Dishonest Steward, which we heard at Mass last Sunday.  Then the chapter continues with a few lines about entering the Kingdom of God by violence.  Then the painful tale of Lazarus and the Rich Man.

Dogs licking the poor man’s sores.  The rich man dying of thirst in the afterlife.  A chasm that no one can cross.  And father Abraham saying that no one else can go to warn the rich man’s brothers.

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.

Like what happened to the king of ancient Troy.  The Greeks snuck into the city, hidden in a big wooden…  horse.  Then a young Greek warrior mercilessly slew the old Trojan king.

Any fans of Shakespeare’s Hamlet?  One scene in Hamlet narrates the fall of Troy and the murder of the king.  Old and feeble, the king couldn’t even lift his sword.  The scene of his death is so sad, so wrong, so utterly unfair, that Shakespeare curses the goddess:

Out, out, thou strumpet, Fortune! All you gods,

In general synod, take away her power;

Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel,

And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven,

As low as to the fiends!

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, and God doesn’t love you.

That’s the Prosperity Gospel.  A doctrine which lets comfortable, self-centered people like the rich man in the parable sit at their tables, while a poor man starves, and think:  “Well, it’s his fault that he’s so poor and such a loser.”

Lazarus Dives dogs feastBut the arbitrary spinning of Fortune’s wheel does not deal out justice on earth.  To live in the truth, we must utterly reject the Prosperity Gospel for the nonsense that it is.  Material prosperity does not accurately measure interior virtue, and it doesn’t make you one of the Chosen.

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?

Jesus spent His earthly ministry trying to help people understand:  Fulfilling the Law of Moses will not bring anyone to Abraham’s bosom.  Not because the Law of Moses is wrong.  But because no one in this fallen world has enough righteousness to keep the divine law.  God does not choose us because we’re good.  Rather:  God chooses to save sinners.

Abraham himself lived before the written law came down on Mount Sinai; he never had the Ten Commandments inscribed in stone.  But what he had was true humility, true faith in the Providence of God.  The opposite of the Prosperity Gospel, the opposite of pharisaism.

God has given us sinners a means by which to purify our selfish hearts.  Provided we are humble enough to see that when someone suffers in poverty, it’s not because it’s his fault.  It’s because it’s our fault, the human race’s fault.  We can enter the Kingdom of God, as Luke 16 says, by doing a particular kind of violence.  Doing violence to the concept of “mine.”

“Mine, mine, mine!” we must utterly destroy.  We destroy 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 alms.

 

 

Hoya Proposal

This is a bona fide, real thing. Some have objected to it. But I find it: charming and wonderful. If someone had proposed to me during a Hoyas’ game, well…

I hope at least 51 couples get engaged at Hoyas’ games this year. (Three couples per home game.)

If they all go on to have eight children each, that’s 408 more God-fearing basketball fans on this beautiful earth, who can go on to get engaged at Hoyas’ games during the 2040’s.

We’re talking about as many as 12,648 Hoya babies by 2050, and well over 40,000 by this time next century.

Next thing you know, we will have taken over the country completely!

εὐδόκησα

baptismchristgreco1When the Lord Jesus came out from the Jordan River, after His Baptism, the heavens opened and the Father spoke:  “This is my beloved Son, on Whom My favor rests/in Whom I am well-pleased.”

That moment in Christ’s life expresses the goal of our spiritual lives, doesn’t it?  To rest in the pleasure of God, right here, right now.  To live on the will of the Father as our food and drink, like the Lord Jesus lived on the Father’s will.  To love God and please Him—by lovingly obeying His plan to make us ourselves, in full.

Qoheleth penetratingly assessed the vanity of the world.  It’s all perfect futility–with the rivers running to the oceans through generation after generation, and Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar, and, Mao Tse Tung, and Whitney Houston, and every other dead person, moldering in dusty graves.  And all of us facing the same oblivion…  Pure futility. Unless we have the mind of Christ, and rest in the divine good pleasure.

To share the triune love–which heaven vividly revealed to us on the bank of the Jordan—that gives life meaning.  That gives life true joy.  Without a share in the divine good pleasure: vanity and chasing after wind.

We Catholics very much favor dialogue with other religions.  Anyone who does homage to the one true God we recognize as a brother or sister.  We always seek mutual understanding and peace with everyone.

But we would never say:  “All religions are really fundamentally the same.”  Because, without the mind of Christ—it’s all vanity.

We Catholics love to seek unity with other Christians, which we call “ecumenism.”  We recognize anyone who confesses Christ as a brother or sister, with whom we seek peace and mutual understanding.

But we would never say, “All denominations are really the same.”  Because having the mind of Christ is fundamentally a matter of supernatural grace.  We cannot rest in the pleasure of the Almighty Father, in union with the Son, without a Gift from on high.

That Gift comes to us through the sacraments that Christ gave to His Church, when He founded Her.  On the rock of Peter—one, holy, catholic, and apostolic—united on earth by the Bishop of Rome, our pope.  With whom we pray at every Mass, seeking to share the mind of our Lord through the holy mystery we celebrate at our altars.

St. Matthew the TSA Agent

airport-securityWhat’s the best selling book on earth?

When people open up their Bibles, do they generally tend to read the Old Testament, or the New Testament?  I figure: the New.

If you start reading the New Testament from the beginning, what’s the first name you encounter?  Gospel according to Matthew.

We read the gospel according to Matthew to hear about the wise men visiting the baby Jesus. We read the gospel according to Matthew to hear the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s gospel is quoted in the dome of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, in letters taller than me (Tu es Petrus… stands 6’6″).  Matthew’s gospel tells us about the separation of the sheep and the goats at the end of time.

Of course we love all four gospels.  But this man Matthew wrote the definitive book, the biography of Christ that we call “the gospel of the Church.”  It gives us all the most-basic information about Jesus that we need to know.

Now imagine a large airport, like JFK in New York, or LAX.  Imagine all the TSA officers at work in that airport, and in all the airports in the US.  Now imagine one of those TSA officers.

Airline travelers tend to think of TSA officers as: a highly annoying necessary evil. Which is how subjects of the Roman Empire mostly thought of imperial tax collectors.  Airline travelers hardly think of TSA officers as unique human beings.

But imagine one of the thousands and thousands of TSA officers being chosen by God to communicate in writing the knowledge essential to the meaning of life.  And true everlasting happiness.  One—chosen, and who becomes the first name you encounter when you open your Bible to find God’s Word.

That is God’s incredible way of dealing with us.  Coming into the middle of this huge, whirling mess of a world.  Lifting up a nondescript, no-count dude like you or me.  And sharing divine glory with us.

tu-es-petrus-st-peters-dome

Superman and Korean Rice Paddies

clark-kent-phone

“…those who hear the Word of God and act on it.” (Luke 8:21)

We need religion and Church to help us conceive clearly what the world really is, and who we really are.  We can play around, imagining that we are something that we’re not—like imagining that I’m Superman or Darth Vader.  That’s what Halloween is for, right?

But: to live in reality, we need the Word of God and the teaching of the saints.

Thousands of Korean Christians died as martyrs about 200 years ago.  One of them, Fr. Andrew Kim, wrote to his people shortly before his martyrdom, to remind them of the message of the Word of God.

The people were rice farmers.  Anyone every visited a rice farm?

Anyway, I think it’s pretty similar to farming in general.  1.  The farmer works to cultivate the soil and sows the seed.  2.  The seed needs water to grow.  3.  The farmer hates to see weeds.  4.  The farmer looks forward to a fruitful harvest.

St. Andrew Kim reminded his people:  God is a farmer.  The world is His farm.  He has sown us as His rice plants.  He has watered us, by sending His only-begotten Son, so that we can grow.  He hates to see us choked by the weeds of self-centeredness and sin.  He looks for us to bear fruit—which we do by seeking to know His will and acting on it.  He hopes to share the joy of the harvest with us.

These days plenty of people seem never to think of God.  They hardly seem to understand what going to church is all about.  Meanwhile, they have no sense for the grand reality of the world, or of our own particular lives.

Being Superman might be fun for like 15 minutes.  Maybe for a couple hours, if I’m trick-or-treating.  But being who I really am is a million times better.

We are God’s handiwork, God’s rice plants, God’s beloved children.  To praise Him, worship Him, love Him, and try always to co-operate with His will—that’s what we were made to do.  And when we do it, we can actually find true happiness.

Parable of the Dishonest Steward

The first part of Luke 16:  Hard to follow.  To try to understand, let us recall three key facts.  [Click para leer en español.]

First:  Everything we human beings do, we do for the sake of some goal.  There are really only two ultimate goals.  Either we live for God, or we live for some satisfaction which we can have in this world—pleasure, power, or vainglory, all of which require money.  The first goal–to live for heaven–is worthy of who we are, the children of God.  The second goal is the sad desperation which takes over when we lose God’s friendship.

homer1

slack-jawed discipleship

The ultimate goal we set for ourselves puts us into one of two categories.  As Christ Himself put it:  living for God makes a person a “child of light.”  Living for something else makes someone a “child of this world,” a servant of mammon.

The second fact to keep in mind:  The Parable of the Dishonest Steward is addressed to Christ’s disciples, to the children of light.  The gospel itself says this.  This is not a parable about converting from serious sin to a life of obedience to God’s commandments, like the parable of the Prodigal Son we read at Sunday Mass last week.  The Parable of the Dishonest Steward is for people who are already converted.

And the third fact to keep in mind is this: leaving aside his dishonesty, the steward in the parable did act in a remarkably resourceful, clever, and decisive manner.  We could get into nitty-gritty details about the role of land stewards in the corrupt farming economy of first-century Palestine, which involved absentee landlords, exploitative sub-leasing arrangements, and dishonesty at every level.  But suffice it to say that this steward used his mind, identified his own difficult situation, and took quick and effective action to prevent a personal disaster.

If we keep these three facts in mind, perhaps we can see the point the Lord Jesus is trying to make in the parable.  He was speaking to His disciples, to people like us, who know His commandments and try to live by them.  We already know that dishonesty and double-dealing are bad.

But He asks us to do is this:  Think of the worldly people we know, the people bent on seeking pleasure or wealth or the esteem of other people.  Their goals are not worthy, and yet look at how energetically and how cleverly they pursue them!  Look at the dexterity and skill with which they seek fleeting satisfactions of one kind or another.

Meanwhile—the Lord is saying to us—meanwhile, you say that you are committed to living for my glory, that you seek true and everlasting happiness, which is infinitely more worthwhile than what the children of the world are after—and yet you sit here slack-jawed and passive, with glazed eyes, when you should be bending every effort, honing every skill, and capitalizing on every opportunity you have to grow in holiness and win souls for heaven.

ace-of-heartsWe have been entrusted with many precious resources, and we have been given many opportunities.  God gave them to us to use to further the noble goals that we say we have.  We have to ask ourselves:  Do we have energy?  Then we should spend it all for Christ.  Do we have skills?  Then we should use them for the good of souls.  Do we have money?  It should be used for the growth of Christ’s Kingdom on earth.

How can we stand around clueless and idle while Satan’s servants are filled with uncanny zeal for the wrong things?  We should be a hundred times more creative, more resourceful, more realistic, more prudent in rendering faithful service to God than the children of this world are in chasing after the shadows of selfishness and greed.

I think the Lord actually explained the parable perfectly when He added: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Throughout His life and ministry, Christ certainly preached the message, “God is love.” No doubt about it. That God is love was Christ’s message.  But He also preached another message that went hand-in-hand with the “God is love” thing. We close ourselves off to the Scriptures if we do not open our ears to this other dimension of Christ’s teaching. God is love. True. But guess what else? Life is short.

When Christ communicates the message “God is love,” He does not also say, “Therefore, relax. Therefore, take a Calgon bath.” God is love. Therefore, chill out on the couch, and loll around all the time. Because God made this world plush for us.

No. To the contrary. Christ’s message, taken as a whole, could perhaps be distilled like this: “When you die–which could be today–you will go to meet the God of love. Therefore, get ready to meet Him. By loving. Love like today were your last day on earth.”

Don’t be a woolgathering, slack-jawed, passive disciple. Be a disciple who is more clever than the cleverest Las-Vegas hustler. As clever as the cleverest Fortune-500 CEO is–be that clever about souls.

memento-moriAbove all, the parable highlights this fact: Everything we have in our hands now, everything about which we even can be clever now–it will all pass away. Everything we see or touch will pass away. Life on earth will end. And only our acts of genuine love will endure. Only the pure love we share with God and our neighbor will endure. Everything else is just so much straw.

It’s not a sin to have a million dollars. The sin would be to think that a million dollars will do me any good after I die–which I will soon do. It’s not a sin to hold power and influence in this world. The sin would be to think that I have any power over death and judgment. Death and judgment will come when they will come, whether I like it or not.

Let’s use a Las-Vegas metaphor. God holds the cards. All the cards are His. He deals me a hand to play in this short life. And He tells me, “Son, play your hand to win friends for eternal life. Play your hand so that when the game is over, which it will be very soon, the other players will say of you, ‘That’s a kind person. That’s a God-fearing person. That’s a person who listens before he speaks, smiles before he frowns, and gives with no thought of taking.’”

Win friends for eternal life with whatever you have to work with now. Because soon you will die. And then it won’t matter what kind of phone you own. Or whether or not your brother owes you $5,000, and never paid you back. Or whether you were right or wrong when you insisted that the house be painted that particular color, even though your wife wanted it to be a different color.

None of that will matter. Only kindness, honesty, generosity, piety, humility, justice, chastity, and faithfulness will matter. The godly things. They last.

The steward thought of his future, and it put the present into perspective. The Lord asks us to do the same. Life is short. Pray hard. Love. Let go of everything else.

Merton and Conscience

a-ceremony-at-st-raymonds

a ceremony at St. Raymond’s Maronite cathedral

I have traveled west for a few days, chasing the spirit of Fr. Thomas Merton–and trying to get out of my dear parochial vicars’ way, which I thanked my pastor for doing sometimes, when I was young.

I have reached the west bank of the Mississippi River; now it’s about time to turn around for home.  But last Sunday I made some new Maronite Catholic friends, when I subbed for the abouna at St. Elias in Roanoke, and I want to let them know that I got as far as St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral, on Lebanon Drive, near the St. Louis Purina factory.

..The best Mertonian advice I have found so far (which he gives in his reflections on conscience in No Man is an Island):

We ought to stop taking our conscious plans and decisions with such infinite seriousness.

…Our dear Virginia-Senator Tim Kaine apparently has predicted same-sex “marriages” in church.  In response, our Bishop DiLorenzo temperately affirmed that such a strange fantasy cannot come to pass.

My own words for Senator Kaine:  You have misdiagnosed our national problems, brother.  We have a baby shortage.  We need more babies.  And I think we all know where babies come from, amigo.  You are barking up the wrong tree.

Pope Francis shoes Paris

Holy Fathers’ shoes participated in the canceled cimate march in Paris last year

…Speaking of politics, now that the presidential debates shortly will descend upon us, let’s remind ourselves:

We Catholics are pro-life, pro-baby, pro-immigrant, pro-real-health-care, pro-good-old-fashioned-marriage, and pro-Paris-Agreement on carbon-emission reduction.

Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ that our USA and China have agreed to the Paris agreement now, making it much more likely to come into effect.

…Also:  apparently Pope Francis wrote to the bishops of Argentina about some guidelines they had given for Catholics in second marriages.

Knowing anything about pastoral problems in Argentina certainly exceeds my paygrade. But Father Merton offers some profound insights into conscience. He expresses himself beautifully, and I recommend reading his own words, but allow me to summarize a few points.

1. On the one hand, “conscience” means that I act freely, making a choice for myself.  Animals don’t have consciences.  But on the other hand, conscience presumes the guidance of a higher authority.  God governs things, not me. Acting out of “conscience” means submitting myself to the truth.

2. Faith underlies the operation of conscience.  I believe in God, and I believe that God exercises His authority through properly established laws.  Holy Mother Church’s laws, above all.

3. Ergo, I act freely when I make decisions guided by just and true laws. That’s how I discern the will of God.

The Lord gives us holy inspirations all the time.  But we have to sort those inspirations out from all the interior impulses that we experience, many of which are not holy.  The most-basic principle for sorting it out:  If what I want to do involves breaking a just law, then that impulse doesn’t come from God.

I don’t mean to minimize the pain and confusion that divorced people may feel about receiving Holy Communion.  But we have a much more fundamental issue to face:  the law of conjugal love itself demands lifetime fidelity, and there’s nothing any priest or pope can say to anyone that can change that.

No one can have a peaceful conscience and a tranquil soul without attaining some level of chastity–that is: true joy in exercising sovereign command over my sexual expression of love, so that I am always honest with it.

What I’m getting ready to say may involve some over-simplification, but not much more that a few percentage-points’ worth:

We can solve most of our sixth-commandment problems by going for a walk instead.  If it’s raining, use an umbrella.  Just keep your pants on, and go for a walk instead.

Repeat 100 times.  Then the whole situation will become immeasurably clearer.

Merton and the West

Bright Lights Big City sunrise Michael J Fox

Bright Ligths, Big City, by Jay McInerney, doesn’t have a lot of scenes that take place in the full light of dawning day.  But the last scene does.

Jamie* sobers up finally and finds himself hungry.  He meets a bread truck making early downtown deliveries.  Jamies doesn’t have any cash, since he blew it all the during the night.  So he trades the driver his fancy Ray Bans for a loaf of bread–and a fresh start on life.

In the movie, they set this scene near the Hudson.  Jamie wanders out onto a pier and eats his bread facing west.

If we want to understand Thomas Merton–and some of us do, I think; some of us will make a Merton pilgrimage next month to try to understand better–if we want to understand him, let’s consider this fact:  Merton, the consummate Easterner, New Yorker, who grew up mainly in Europe–this man wound up living the better part of his life in west-central Kentucky, about an hour’s drive south from the Falls of the Ohio, where Lewis and Clark met up to start their expedition.

Hope became Merton’s daily bread, of course, as a monk.  We read in No Man is an Island:

Upon our hope depends the liberty of the whole universe.  Because our hope is the pledge of a new heaven and a new earth, in which all things will be what they were meant to be.  They will rise, together with us, in Christ.  The beasts and the trees will one day share with us a new creation, and we will see them as God sees them, and know that they are very good.

The West, our American West–the place into which our American soul has gone in solemn, ceremonial procession, so to speak, through the St. Louis Gateway Arch:  What is it, this West?

Well, for one thing, it’s the land where the French and Spanish, who came before us English, named the towns after saints.

thomas mertonFor another:  in the West, the future opened up–challenging, but welcoming.

I don’t mean that the Anglo-American idea of westward expansion and Manifest Destiny came straight from the mouth of God.  Not sure about that at all.

But I do mean this:  Twentieth-century America’s most conspicuous exponent of ancient and medieval Christian wisdom prayed and wrote in the wide-open land beyond the Appalachians that our frontiersmen ancestors settled.  Merton lived under their western sky.

Now, I bring all this up because:  I think that finding what makes us Americans “us” has become urgent business.  If we don’t try to figure that out; if we instead let ourselves grow more and more desperately insistent on each having our own personal, individual way all the time–or living in our personal abstract theories, instead of living together, on this one land that we all inhabit–if we don’t try to figure out where our common hope as a people has come from, through 240 years–won’t we descend into some kind of civil war before long?  I fear we will.

In the Divine Office today for the Memorial of St. John Chrysostom, we read about the intimate way the saintly pastor identified himself with his people.  He spoke to them about the exile he faced:

Where I am, there you are too, and where you are, I am. For we are a single body, and the body cannot be separated from the head nor the head from the body. Distance separates us, but love unites us, and death itself cannot divide us. For though my body die, my soul will live and be mindful of my people.  You are my fellow citizens, my fathers, my brothers, my sons, my limbs, my body.

 

Father Merton had an epiphany in Louisville and wrote this:

At the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to each other…This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud.

The keystone in the mighty arch of man, the gateway of hope:  Christ.  He wills to share with us precisely the same interior Gift that united Him perfectly with the divine Hand of Providence–with the future, with an ever-dawning day.  May He pour His Spirit into us Americans to help us find the future together.  I think that Father Thomas Merton can help us a great deal.

——–
* In the movie, the “you” of the book bears the name Jamie.

Feast of the Holy Cross

holy-sepulcher

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Anyone know why we keep a Feast of the Holy Cross on September 14?  (Or on the Sunday closest to September 14, if it’s a Maronite parish?)*

On September 14, AD 335, they carried a piece of the cross of Christ in solemn procession into the newly dedicated Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Lord Jesus was crucified outside the ancient wall of the city, on the hill called…  Golgatha.  After He died, they laid Him in a nearby tomb, as we read in John 19:  “In the place where He was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden, a new tomb.  There they laid Him.”  Mount Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher stand only a few dozen yards apart from each other.

When the Roman Emperor Hadrian visited the Holy Land during the 130’s, he renamed Jerusalem after himself, and he ordered that the sites of our Lord’s crucifixion and burial be covered over with earth, and then a pagan temple built there.  Hadrian hated Judaism and Christianity.  St. Dimitry Rostov put it like this in his homily for this feast:

[The Roman emperor wanted] the remembrance of the name of Jesus Christ to vanish from the earth…  The place where he was crucified and buried was made a dwelling-place of demons, so that every nation would forget Christ, and the places where Christ had walked would never serve to remind anyone of Him.

Therefore, the Holy Cross and the tomb of Christ remained buried underground for almost two hundred years.

But: one thing we can certainly say is that the Christians of Jerusalem knew precisely where they were.  We can safely say that, from the first Easter Sunday onward, not a single day passed without a Christian going to pray at the holy site.

So when the Emperor Constantine finally legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in AD 313, and when the emperor’s mother St. Helena went to the Holy Land to find the cross and the holy sepulcher, there were still Christians there, and they knew where to tell her to look.

Tenth Station of the Cross

So let’s keep this anniversary feast as an occasion to rejoice in the genuinely amazing faithfulness of Christians through all the tumults of history.

And let’s focus especially on this:  our forefathers and foremothers in faith have held on through thick and thin not because they have had so much virtue—though many of them certainly have had great virtue.  The main reason, though, is this: it’s the truth.

Our ancestors who have handed our sacred tradition down to us have simply been faithful to what they knew to be true.  The great triumphant mystery of God-made-man involves facts.  And those facts have been remembered faithfully and handed down to us primarily because they are true.

After all, that’s the only reasonable explanation for us being here together right now, dear reader.

Let’s look at it this way.  A man regarded by the authorities as a delusional political nuisance was executed as a common criminal on the outskirts of a ramshackle city, which the Romans thought of as an outpost in the outer reaches of barbarian hell.  If CNN had existed to report the news of the Roman Empire at the time, the chances that Wolf Blitzer would have mentioned this particular execution:  zero.

The executed man was buried nearby, in a tomb that did not belong to his family–His family being altogether too poor to own any tombs.  The chances of anyone making a written record about the location of the grave:  zero.

little last supperIn other words, we really cannot even imagine anything more obscure and forgettable than the death and burial of this particular man.  Innumerable men and women have died, and been buried, and have been altogether forgotten.  And by all external trappings, the Nazarene carpenter would fit into that human category, the category of the altogether forgettable.

Except for one fact:  He is God.

He rose from the dead.  He poured out His Holy Spirit.  He unites us to Himself through the Holy Mass.  He is the hope and the joy of mankind.

This is what Christians have known from Day One.  So they prayed at the sites of his death and resurrection.  They prayed there even when the worldly powers did everything to try to make them forget.

At Holy Mass, we take our place with these forefathers and foremothers of ours.  The living memory of the living God-made-man survived the ravages of Hadrian and the other Roman emperors who hated Christianity.  The tradition endured to the day when they carried the relic of the true cross into the beautiful new Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, seventeen centuries ago.  And the living memory of the living God-made-man has endured through those seventeen centuries from then until now.

We take our place beside all our forebears, who have held the faith through all these hundreds of years, and we declare with them:  We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You…

Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world!

————–

* Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ, this Sunday I am substituting for the pastor of our local Maronite parish, while my beloved parochial vicars hold down the fort at home.

Blessed Virgin Mary’s Birthday

Cam Newton Panthers

Leave it to our Lady to give us a birthday present on her birthday.  Namely football.  Panthers-Broncos re-match tonight!

Let’s ask ourselves this question.  At Holy Mass today we read a lengthy genealogy.  From Abraham to Amminadab to Shealtiel to Matthan, with a lot of tongue-twisting ancient Hebrew names in between.  What does this long list of obscure names have to do with the meaning of life?

A great deal, in fact.  But first, this question:  Does life have meaning?  What makes us think that life has meaning?  Maybe there really is no more to it than the fleeting thrill of seeing Cam Newton rush for a 20-yard carry and possibly avenge the ugly Superbowl, this very night?

bl-virg-detailNo.  Football is fun.  But meaningful?  Not exactly.  A new iPhone can be fun, I guess. NASCAR can be fun.  But enough to make life worth living?  Hardly.

But:  What about this?  What about the idea that all things have been arranged by a mind infinitely greater and more beautiful than our own, Who has revealed His sublime purpose by becoming a man Himself?  What about a woman giving birth to a son, Who is God, the One Who made and Who governs everything, and Who spread out His arms to endure the Roman death penalty, in order to show us that all of this is for love?

All of it, everything–the sun, the moon, the stars, the rivers, the seas, the mountains and hills, time, history, birth:  all an act of divine love.

The Virgin Mary perceived; the Virgin Mary said Yes to; the Virgin Mary co-operated in every way with this:  We find meaning in life by union with Jesus Christ.

The Blessed Mother’s union with Christ involved her body and her soul.  So, by His grace, does ours.  Her union with Christ consumed her entirely, and yet brought out her true self like nothing else could.  So, by His grace, does ours.

She said Yes to the Incarnation, gave herself entirely to it, lost herself completely in it, and became herself by: giving birth to, nursing, helping, feeding, teaching, learning from, following, and suffering with God.

Yes.  We say yes, too.  Yes, we believe that Christ is God, and His cross means that life is worth living.