Parrhesia, Part Two

The Lord Jesus’ discourse about the apocalypse ends with this consoling sentence: “When the signs begin to happen—” that is: tumult, terror, people dying of fright—when this happens, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”

No panicking. No violence. God is greater. Christ has conquered; what is there to fear?

thanksgiving-BeverlyHillbilliesThe promises of Christ can offer us the serenity required to give faithful testimony. “I myself will give you wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

Not sure if he means conversational adversaries across a Thanksgiving-dinner table. But He might mean that.

Our Holy Father put it to us like this, one of the times when he used the word parrhesia—plain-spoken boldness:

The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you offer it.

The witness to Christ possesses the richest heritage of all, the heritage of God’s Incarnation. This produces a serenity which is more truly militant than any kind of aggression. Humility conquers. Humility means: I stand on a truth that even World War III could not disturb: Christ.

Luke 21: Crises are for Parrhesia

Holy Father at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, Sept. 23

Holy Father at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, Sept. 23

Christ has given us more spiritual benefits than we can reckon. One of them, certainly, is: That He has spoken calmly and reasonably with us about the end of our lives and the end of the world.

He foresaw that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed, and it was. He foresaw that there will be wars and insurrections, nation against nation—there have been, and there continue to be. He foresaw that there will be earthquakes, famines, plagues, frightening portents in the sky—there have been, and there will continue to be.

But He insists: Remain calm through all of this. None of these events will prove ultimately decisive for you. “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed.” Crises will arrive, but they come for a reason. So that you may testify.

When Pope Francis came to visit us here in the US, he used a Greek word: parrhesia. He had used it before, and he will likely use it again. The word appears in the New Testament quite a few times (41 times, if you include verbs and adverbial phrases).

Parrhesia means bold speech declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostles faced crises, wars, persecutions, certain death. They gave their testimony: God is greater. Jesus Christ has conquered.

More on this tomorrow.

Surfing the Gifts with the King


Christ is the faithful witness. (Revelation 1:5)

Jesus said, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (John 18:37)

We need to grasp the truth of God, if we are to make any sense out of our lives. To obey God, to walk with Him, to hope in Him, to enjoy His friendship as His beloved children—that path alone offers true peace and the prospect of real happiness. This path lay hidden to the world. But then Jesus came and bore faithful witness to it, testifying to it Himself.

How? Christ has “testified” by obeying the Father in everything. The eternal Son submitted to being born of an obscure Jewish virgin. He submitted to growing up in a poor family and working hard, with His hands. He submitted to every jot and tittle of the Old Covenant, in order to fulfill it.

He undertook a hardscrabble, vagabond ministry of long wanderings and cold nights sleeping on the desert ground. He taught and worked miracles precisely as His Father would have Him do, not for His own personal adulation, but to glorify the One Who sent Him.

Christ chose Apostles and disciples, trained and instructed them, precisely as the Father willed. He instituted the Holy Sacrifice of His Church, and He gave Himself over as the innocent Lamb to reconcile mankind with God. He rose from the dead, walked the earth for forty more days, ascended to heaven, and poured out the Holy Spirit—all in perfect accord with the Father’s plan.

xt-kingIn other words, Jesus Christ is the king of harmony with God. The world has no royalty as royal as Christ, and His royalty consists in this: Perfect obedience to the heavenly Father. Christ bore faithful witness and testified to the truth by His perfect harmony with the Father’s will.

Now, what, exactly, is the will of the Father? Christ has “harmonized” with an original melody, so to speak. The original melody is the plan, the truth, the love which directed Christ through His entire pilgrim life. This plan, this truth—the love with which the Father acts: that is the pre-eminent mystery of life, the secret of Divine Providence. We are like surfers. The Providence of God is the ocean.

Hopefully we memorized the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit when we prepared to receive Confirmation…wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, and holy fear. We may have memorized these words, but maybe we didn’t understand what these Gifts actually are.

All of them involve direct interior contact with the transcendent, invisible, unknowable God. The operation of these Gifts directed Christ through His entire “testimony” to the Father—His pilgrim life as a man. So, by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit we can harmonize, too–just as Christ has perfectly harmonized with the plan of Providence.

They are gifts because we ourselves, by our own devices, can neither see, nor know, nor grasp, nor domesticate, nor reduce to our level the Great Father of our existence. The clay cannot say to the Potter who molds us, “We’ve got you! We have your number! We know your game!” No. The ocean moves, and not at our direction. We surf on, by co-operating with the waves.

The “kingship” of Christ: Only He and His saints in heaven see the Almighty Potter of all this clay. The King of Harmony with the Creator has reached the final goal; He sees the very mind of God. He pours forth His seven-fold spiritual gifts upon us, so that, despite our human weakness and ignorance, we can have interior harmony with the unseen God:

Holy Spirit dove sunWe can understand and know God’s plan. We can hear His commands and deport ourselves as His children. We can have His strength to endure difficulties. We can truly fear the prospect of grieving Him. And we can grow wise with heavenly wisdom.

In other words, through faith and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, we can stand firmly on the Truth that nothing can rattle or shake, just like Christ always stood firm, even in the face of a cruel and unjust death.

Our spiritual houses can be built on that solid footing. We can make God our true “home.” –To the outside eye, a surfboard seems like a very small home. But the one on the surfboard of co-operation with God knows that his or her true home is not just the board, but the whole big wave, the whole big ocean.

Indeed, by faith and the gifts, we reign right alongside the eternal King. We can share the kingship of Christ. We just need to stay in the state of grace. Which means going to Confession on some kind of regular basis.

What is the pomp and circumstance of the true King? Spreading out His arms on the cross, out of love. We celebrate this very sacrifice, our King’s eucharist, at the holy altar—and all the spiritual gifts He gives us work their way to fruition in us by our constant celebration of the Holy Sacrifice.

We begin with the Mass. We bring it to fulfillment with the Mass.

All praise, glory, laud, and honor to the King, Jesus Christ, the perfectly obedient Son of the eternal Father!

What Makes for Peace

APTOPIX Turkey Syria

If you only knew what makes for peace. (Luke 19:42)

One of the genuinely heartbreaking ironies of our time: “martyrdom” and hope.

Every two years we read at Holy Mass the accounts of the heroes of the Maccabean revolt. The fidelity of the Maccabean martyrs inspires us. But Mattathias, and the Zealots who imitated him, did not fully reveal the face of the Father. Open impiety and irreligion moved Mattathias to kill. But open impiety and irreligion moved Christ to submit to suffering.

We do not know what makes for peace. But Christ teaches us. Holding fast to “the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising not its shame.” (Hebrews 12:2)

“The joy set before Him.” The fulfillment for which we were made, the kingdom of true happiness–it cannot be anything less than God. Christ teaches us that this kingdom, this happiness is real. We can, should, and must hope for it.

“He endured the cross.” Christ and the martyrs of Christ do not do violence. They endure violence. The holy martyrs whose memory the Church keeps alive through all the vagaries of history–they counted the joy to come more precious than this passing pilgrim life. So they submitted themselves to an unjust death.

We can and do say that the martyrs have held the world “in contempt.” But a true martyr’s contempt for the world aims only at the falsity and emptiness of a shallow life. In no way does this contempt move a true martyr to acts of violence. To the contrary, a martyr patiently and calmly awaits the coming of the Lord, living a genuinely spiritual life in this world. He becomes a martyr only when violence finds him.

Syria Patriarch YounanNow, if we think that only jihadists make a mockery of the word martyr, then we deceive ourselves.

The Catholic Patriarch of Syria said yesterday: “It is inconceivable to think that [ISIS] can be defeated with air raids: this is a big lie.”

Practically every time we Western powers drop a bomb from the sky, over the land where our father Abraham once walked–every time we do that, we make real martyrs. Innocent bystanders, patiently waiting on God, meaning no harm to anyone, get killed. ISIS is a bunch of unbelievable bad guys, to be sure. And the people who drop bombs that incur “collateral damage” as a matter of course: Also bad guys.

Christ teaches what makes for peace. Staring calmly at death, not to bring it about, but to accept it. Because the joy set before us is greater.

Our Long National Nightmare

JTIII Hoyas warm up

(photo credit: @casualhoya)

…of no college basketball is over.

Hoyas keep scheduling warm-up games against local southwest-Virginia faves. Today the Radford Highlanders square off against Georgetown at Verizon Center. Yeah, buddy!

We present a homily for the penultimate Sunday of the liturgical annum. I wrote it long before Friday the 13th turned into a nightmare in Paris. But hopefully it will help us a little–to pray soberly… (Esta disponible en español tambien! Haga clic aqui.)

Continue reading

Paris Posts

Rue du Bac Paris

Rue de Bac

Be My Speed (St. Denis), St. Denis, Beheaded

Light on the Rue de Bac

When I visited Paris in 2002, most of the churches seemed like museums. But not all of them. 1. At Rue de Bac, cheerful hymns and devout prayers. 2. At Basilique Sacre Coeur, all-night adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the largest monstrance I have ever seen, continuous since August 1, 1885.

Andrea Mitchell reminded viewers that France is the United States’ oldest and dearest ally. We would never have won the Revolutionary War without French aid.

But more than that: France is the Church’s eldest daughter. Let’s put our hearts in front of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacre Coeur, or in the Miraculous-Medal chapel on Rue de Bac. That’s where mine is.

Sacre Coeur from Arc de Triomphe

Montmartre, from the Eiffel Tower, with the Basilica of the Sacred Heart

Community in the 21st Century

Martyrdom of St. Josaphat by Jozef Simmler

Martyrdom of St. Josaphat by Jozef Simmler

God made us, the human race, for unity, communion, a common life. We all have unique endowments and irreplaceable contributions to make to our life together. No one should ever impede any individual’s right to make his or her unique contribution. But the individual is not the fundamental measure of humanity. We cannot survive alone. We cannot thrive alone. We cannot reach our destiny alone. Social animals. We need each other; each of us is made for communion with others.

During the twentieth century, people called Christianity an enemy of communal, social life, claiming that we have an overly individualized spirituality and concept of salvation.

That criticism strikes us as preposterous now. In the 21st century, the Church is practically the only vital multi-generational volunteer community organization left in most American neighborhoods.

If we desire communion; if we seek our true destiny as human beings, to share our lives with each other; if we want to live in a wider world, instead of just a cocoon—church is the place to do it. Church is practically the only place. The possible exception being good teenage athletes, who have other venues for communal life. And there are runners’ clubs and training groups for marathons and 10Ks. Otherwise, it’s either the weird world of socializing by staring at a little metallic nugget in your hand, or church.

No surprise, really. Christ founded the Church, and endows Her with His life, to overcome the divisions among men that sin inveterately causes. One Church, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all: this is how the human race achieves unity.

Three hundred ninety-two years ago today, St. Josaphat suffered martyrdom for the cause of true human community. He died rather than abandon the idea that God unites the human race in one family.

Our 20th-century critics would have scoffed at the idea that the Pope of Rome unites the human family as the one, true universal father. But now we can ask, with unassuming humility, as sons and daughters of the 21st century: Who, other than the Pope? To whom can we look, as the head of a genuine worldwide family of mankind—other than the Pope?

St. Josaphat recognized this, back in the 17th century. The holy Ukrainian martyr gladly went to his death in witness to the universality of the Church. I think we can say that the idea for which St. Josaphat died is even more urgent and necessary today than it was on November 12, 1623.

Pope St. Leo and Other Unprofitable Servants

When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.’
(Luke 17:10)

When you have done all that you have been commanded to do, say: Thanks for giving me something to do!

Leo the Great w tomeWhen he had finished all that he had been commanded to do, Pope St. Leo the Great said: Thank you, Lord, for sending the monophysite heretics, and the Pelagians, and Attila the Hun—to give me something to do!

That was 1,554 years ago today—when Pope St. Leo died and met the Master. 1,554 years seems like a long time ago. But for the One Who commands, a thousand years is like a passing day. The One Who commands has a vastly different concept of how long things take than we do. He works magnificent works that transcend our minds. Blow our minds, when we pause to consider.

How long does it take for God to accomplish His task? How about the entire length of the history of the world! But for Him, that’s no time at all.

Thanks for giving us something to do, Lord. As in: co-operating in the salvation of souls, building the Kingdom, participating in the fulfillment of Your plan for eternal beauty.

If we whine and grow impatient sometimes; if we take our aprons off prematurely, please forgive us. Give us a fresh start on our appointed tasks. Idling on our own just gets us in trouble anyway. Thank you for giving us something to do!

The Widow and Elijah

elijah widow

She has contributed all she had, all she had to live on. (Mark 12:44)

If you are like me, Christ’s words here make you think of the first section of Pope-Emeritus Benedict’s encyclical on Christian hope. The poor woman at the Temple treasury gave all her “substance,” her whole livelihood, her material means.

In the first reading at Holy Mass this Sunday, we hear about the widow who had been reduced to poverty by a long drought. As she explained to the prophet Elijah, she was a woman of very little substance.

When the prophet asked for food, she said, “How can I provide for you, and my son, and myself, when all I have is a handful of flour, and no hope of getting any more?”

Pope Benedict XVI Castel Gandolfo good nightBut Elijah said: Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Faith is a “substance.”

Actually, Elijah did not say that exactly. He said, Just give me something to eat. I am a hungry prophet. Give me a cake. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Have some faith, woman. God makes the sun shine and the rain fall.

Who wrote, ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for?’ Right. St. Paul. The same apostle who also wrote: “Christ will appear a second time to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him.”

In his encyclical, Pope Benedict posed the question: On what, exactly, does man live? What is the substance of human life?

Before we shout Faith! Love! Jesus! let’s pause. Hungry Elijah asked for bread before he got into matters of piety. As the Fathers of Vatican II put it:

A man can scarcely [attain a spiritual life] unless his living conditions allow him to be conscious of his dignity and to rise to his destiny…Human freedom is often crippled when a man encounters extreme poverty. (Gaudium et Spes 31)

So Elijah asked for food. At that point, he could not simply live on the words coming forth from the mouth of God. But the woman said: I don’t have any bread, man. No bread, as in money. And no bread, as in bread.

Elijah said: Woman, I feel you. I know you’ve got problems. So do I. But give me something to eat. I have been fasting for days, months, years. I have walked all over kingdom come–east, west, north, south. Just trying to serve the hardnosed God of Israel. He is enormously demanding.

Why do think we have this endless drought in the first place? Because the king and the people of our nation have abandoned the faith. Listen, just give me some bread. Then we’ll talk.

Elijah map ZarephathElijah did not start with a sermon; he demanded a cake. The woman was also practical and no-nonsense. But did she respond to Elijah’s purely practical request with pure pragmatism of her own?

Did she say, “Look, Israelite. I don’t know what kind of math you Jews practice, but here in Phoenicia 1 + 1 does not = 3. I do not have three cakes worth of substance in my flour jar?”

No, she did not say that. She did not refuse him. His request made no sense; it didn’t add up. But she faithfully obeyed anyway. Her faith became the substance of the cakes she proceeded to make. She had enough faith to bake cakes for a year.

Do miracles happen? Or can science explain everything? Is our substance made merely of molecules? Or do we need another science, other than “science,” to explain what we are really made of? As in: the science of the saints.

What if the woman had spiritualized everything and said to Elijah, “I wish you peace, my brother! In the name of the Lord! Go your way. Stay warm and well fed!” What if she never handed over the cake? Would her praises be sung in the Scriptures then? Hardly.

On the other hand, down-to-earth as she was, her life had more substance that just the flour in the jar. Her faith reached out to something real, to a supernatural substance. She believed in God. She wanted, above all, to obey God. And she hoped in His providence.

God took care of her, and her son, and Elijah, bodily and spiritually.

What’s the greatest miracle? I think it is two-fold. One: The greatest miracle is that anything even exists at all—and that things, as they exist, do fundamentally make sense.

Why does 1 + 1 even = 2? Because God makes sense, and makes everything He has made make sense. That is the most awesome of all miracles, and that’s why we can even have math, or science, or modern medicine, or economics.

But ultimately God makes more sense than we ourselves can grasp right now. After all, He has a fundamental divine reason for making the universe. The second part of the great miracle is that God has taught us through Christ His fundamental reason—the reason why He has made everything that He has made. He made it all for us: for our salvation, for our perfect fulfillment. His whole plan has one goal: that we would live.

Tower and King, Great-Banquet Vocation Invitation

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple…Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. (Luke 14:26-32)

Lord Jesus Himself explains these little parables of the tower and the king preparing for battle: They have to do with becoming His disciple.

Everybody reading this Catholic? Maybe a couple interested visitors—and you are very welcome, of course. Otherwise, we are Catholics here. Which means… 1. We believe the Nicene Creed. 2. We pray the Our Father. 3. We celebrate the sacraments. 4. We acknowledge the authority of the Ten Commandments and the Church’s laws.

parable towerDo these four fundamentals make us disciples of Christ? Well, yes, actually. Or maybe we should say: the four fundamentals keep us close enough to Him so that we can become His disciples.

Then comes the sweet agony, day by day, of marching to Mt. Calvary. Accepting Christ as our living teacher, guide, and master—that’s not some abstract theory of life. He died, and now He is alive. He knows all and governs all. And to follow Him means marching directly to one place. Golgatha.

A lot of people think Christianity means being nice, which it does. A Christian is a kind person. But Christianity is not itself “nice.” Christ Himself, as master and lord: not particularly “nice.”

Christianity entails being nice to other people. But for a reason. Christianity means being nice to other people because we are all going to die. We are all going to die. What good will it do us to fight over the toys on the floor? Some of us look better than others right now. But, over the course of the next 500 years or so, mostly we will look like skeletons.

What answer do we have for this, other than Jesus Christ Himself, the actual Person? He is the only truly practical answer to the inevitable oblivion that stares us all square in the face.

Therefore: We love father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters—and our own lives—because Jesus loves them. But we hate, despise, shun, and reject anything that gets between us and Him.

“Blessed is the one who will dine in the kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15)

Our invitation to dine in the Kingdom of God has a special name. Starts with a ‘v.’ Vocation.

The Lord invites us all to His feast precisely by giving us our unique pilgrim life to lead. He made each of us and equipped us perfectly to reach heaven. How? By doing His will 24/7.

But, Father! How can I know whether or not I am doing His will all the time?

Christ told a parable by way of an answer. Let’s look and see what made God mad, in the parable…

A man gave a great dinner to which he invited many. When the time for the dinner came, he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, ‘Come, everything is now ready.’

But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves. The first said to him, ‘I have purchased a field and must go to examine it; I ask you, consider me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have purchased five yoke of oxen and am on my way to evaluate them; I ask you, consider me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have just married a woman, and therefore I cannot come.’

The servant went and reported this to his master. Then the master of the house in a rage commanded his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame. (Luke 14:16-21)

One invitee had said he would come to the great dinner. (If he hadn’t already RSVP’d in the affirmative, the servant never would have gone looking for him.) But then the invitee didn’t come, because he had to plan out the good use of his land for farming.

Now, farming hardly qualifies as a sin. Doing good things in this world for the benefit of others, so they can eat: admirable work. But even good deeds aimed at other people’s physical health do not trump God. God comes first.

yoked oxenSecond invitee said he would come, but then he didn’t, because he wanted to evaluate his oxen.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. This man might be the most expert oxen evaluator in the Holy Land. He might be the Steve Jobs or Bill Gates of oxen in Palestine, an absolute genius entrepreneur capitalist.

But God comes first. I might be the smartest man on the face of the earth. But if I disobey God, how smart am I, really?

Third invitee was all set to break bread with the Lord. But then he decided to get married instead. Hardly evil to get married. None of us would be here without it. But God comes first.

Our vocations involve the deepest mysteries of our own souls. And God’s plan. Lots of things that we do not now understand.

But obeying God, obeying His law: that is not exactly hard to figure out how to do. The Ten Commandments are not vague. The law of charity and kindness is not vague.

Maybe that’s the greatest mystery of all, about our vocations: If I want to follow my vocation faithfully, let me just obey the law of God today. Next thing I know, I will be sitting at the banquet.