This week is just about the best week of saints’ days in the whole year.
Today we keep the Feast of the Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Archangels. Tomorrow we keep the Memorial of St. Jerome. St. Jerome was a learned scholar and orator in Rome, but he went to the Holy Land to give his life to the task of translating the entire Bible. If St. Jerome had not done the work that he did 1600 years ago, we would not have the reliable Bible translations that we have now. When I was in Bethlehem in February, I was able to visit the cave where St. Jerome did his work; it is just a few steps from the place where the Lord Jesus was born.
This Sunday, Bishops from all over the world will meet in Rome for a Synod. For three weeks, they will discuss the Word of God. Our Archbishop Wuerl is one of four bishops from the United States who will attend. Let us pray to St. Jerome that the Synod will be fruitful.
On Wednesday, we will keep the Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus (a.k.a. St. Therese of Liseux, the Little Flower), Doctor of the Church. St. Therese’s Story of a Soul is one of the best spiritual reading books you can get. Her “Little Way” is the “elevator” to heaven. On Thursday, we keep the Memorial of the Guardian Angels. Of course each of us should thank our Guardian Angel ever day for all his help. But if we have let a few days slip, we can try to make it up by special expressions of gratitude on Thursday. Your Guardian Angel is the best friend you have. When we get to heaven–please God–we will finally see our Guardian Angels. We will of course effusively thank them for helping us to get there. They will say, “Don’t mention it. Just doing my job.”
Then on Saturday, we keep the Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, the second-most popular saint of all time (after the Blessed Mother). In addition to being friendly to animals, St. Francis was also intensely ascetic. He renounced every worldly pleasure for the love of God. He was unswervingly faithful to the Pope and the Church. And he was given the gift of sharing in the Lord’s own wounds, the stigmata.
More people have given up everything to follow the example of St. Francis than any other saint. It is safe to say that no one has ever been closer to Christ, more like Christ.
Assisi is one of the most beautiful and prayerful places on earth. Those of us who will go on pilgrimage together from St. Mary of the Assumption, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, U.S.A., to Italy in November will visit Assisi, walking the streets where St. Francis walked. We will pray at his tomb, and we will remember the rest of you there, for sure.
There you have it: Ecclesiastical All-Star Week. If ever there were a week to try to go to Mass everyday, this is it. Many graces will flow from heaven this week. Thank you, holy angels and saints!
Often we are confronted by ideas that seem to contradict each other. For instance: “Did you hear? So-and-so did something awful.” Then someone says, “I sure love so-and-so. She is a wonderful person.” Or: “So-and-so promised me this.” Someone else says: “So-and-so promised me the exact same thing.”
We make our world a more peaceful place by assuming that apparent contradictions can be reconciled somehow. The humble person assumes: These statements only appear contradictory because I do not properly understand them. If only I knew more, or were more insightful–then I would see the truth on both sides.
This is called being irenic, peace-making. It is usually a virtue. But not always.
Someone once told the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor that it is more open-minded to think that the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is a great, wonderful, powerful symbol. Her response was, “If it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”
Recently, the following conversation took place. (I am not making this story up. An eye-witness recounted it to me.)
A six-year-old said to his father, “Daddy, I am Jewish.”
“Yeah, buddy. So am I,” replied the loving father.
“But I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”
“…Okay…Okay. That’s great. I believe that he was a great man, a great teacher.”
Who knows what will come of this boy’s profession of faith in Christ. Only God knows. I have no idea how to comment on the boy’s remarkable statement. What I am getting at is: The good father’s response was deft and irenic, surely aimed at keeping family peace. (The boy has three Jewish grandparents and one Christian.) The problem is that it makes no sense.
The father seems to believe in a mythical Jesus. The father thinks that somehow Jesus can be BOTH the second Person of the Blessed Trinity for Christians AND a great man for everyone else. But BOTH…AND does not work in this case.
The mythical “Both…and… Jesus” was invented by nineteenth-century Scripture scholars. Some of these scholars proposed that the four gospels in the New Testament include made-up details. Therefore it is supposedly necessary to “de-code” the gospels and find the truth. Then you can come up with a Jesus who can be BOTH the Messiah AND a great teacher with no delusions of grandeur. This “scholarship,” however, has been exposed for what it truly is: An exercise in creative writing which always results in a Jesus with exactly the ideas that the author wants Him to have.
In truth, to know Jesus–to know what He really said–we must read the four Holy Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. What do we find? We find that EITHER Jesus is the divine Messiah, OR he was a terrible liar or a lunatic.
In a nutshell, this is what He said: “I am the Son of God Who has come to reveal the love of the Father by dying for your sins. Therefore, do not judge others. Leave judgement to Me. Rather, repent of your own sins. Then give yourself over to the humble service of God and neighbor. My grace will sustain you, if you stay close to Me.”
If Christ is not divine, to hell with him–because he was a madman.
Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.
Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)
Last Sunday, as we recall, we began reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We remember how the Apostle had come to Philippi upon arriving in Europe. He established in that city the local church that would become his pride and joy.
Then St. Paul went on to other cities in Greece. After some years, he found himself in jail. (St. Paul spent a fair amount of time in jail.) One of the Philippians Christians traveled to visit him. When this man left St. Paul to go back home to Philippi, the Apostle gave him a letter to take with him.
As we recall, St. Paul did not write to the Philippians to correct anything about their faith, observances, or morals. He wrote to the Corinthians because they had become worldly and had slipped back toward paganism. He wrote to the Galatians because they had traded-in their Christianity for Judaism. He wrote to the Thessalonians because they had become lazy and confused about the resurrection.
St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, though, simply out of love. He addressed them as equals, as soulmates. The verses we heard today are the most beautiful part of the letter. Philippians 2:1-11 is certainly one of the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible. These verses are St. Paul’s own plea for encouragement.
Let us try to imagine St. Paul’s human situation. He is languishing in prison for the umpteenth time. Over the course of his various journeys, he has been beaten, shipwrecked, scourged, starved, dehydrated, and temporarily blinded. Some of the local churches on which he had lavished tireless attention have slipped away from the faith. Some of the people he taught to believe in Christ came to question his authority as a teacher and Apostle.
St. Paul was always a source of strength and encouragement to others. But it is not hard for us to imagine that, as he thought of his beloved Philippians, he longed for encouragement from them.
What did he want them to do? Would it have encouraged him if they sent him more money? No. Would it have encouraged him if they attacked his enemies? No. Would it have encouraged him if they lavished him with praise and affection? No.
The Apostle indicated to them that he would be encouraged by their doing something much simpler and more profound. What would encourage him would be for his beloved Philippian flock to be bound together in true Christian unity. And, as he wrote, there is only one path to true unity in the Church of Christ. Humility.
“Regard others as more important than yourselves,” wrote St. Paul. “Regard others as more important than yourselves”? Hold on. Others, more important than me? But who is going to take care of number one? Who is going to protect my precious interests? After all, it is a jungle out there.
St. Paul’s point is that we Christians do not follow the law of the jungle. We follow the law of Christ. And Christ’s law is humility.
Christ is the Creator. He made the heavens and the earth. He made Mt. Everest and the Pacific Ocean. He made Sophia Lauren. He made it all, out of nothing. He is infinitely greater than us. For our sake, He chose to become one of us. Once He had done this, once He had become man, He had every right to live as a king, to demand our adoration and submission. Everything and everyone is His. As St. John put it at the beginning of his gospel, Christ came to what was His.
But He insisted on no kingly prerogatives. Quite the contrary. He veiled His divinity and lived among us as a servant. He walked mile after mile on weary, dusty feet. He slept on the cold, hard ground. He explained heavenly mysteries with gentle, fatherly patience to obtuse and self-centered people. He sought out the sick, the poor, and the most despised. Then He freely offered His life in sacrifice for our sins and underwent the most unjust, agonizing, and ignominious execution imaginable.
Christ therefore has set a standard of humility that we can only just begin to imagine. Without His help, we would have no hope of imitating Him. Hopelessly selfish as we are, we would not even think of following Him down the path of humility if there were no incentive. But there is an incentive, the greatest incentive of them all.
After His humiliating death, the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He took His seat in glory, and He reigns as King over the entire universe. Nothing escapes the sway of His power. He judges all and is judged by no one. After humbling Himself, He has been fully exalted. If we follow the humble Christ, He will share all these prerogatives of heaven with us.
Scripture teaches over and over again that humility is the way to God. The first will be last, and the last will be first. The mighty will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted. The rich will go away empty-handed, and the poor will be rich. Those who laugh will mourn, and those who weep because of the world’s foolish pride will laugh and rejoice in the Kingdom of God.
The Lord Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am.”St. Peter replied, “You are the Christ.”With this answer, St. Peter said the most important thing that has ever been said.Jesus being the Christ means three all-important things for us.
First, His being the Christ means that Jesus is our High Priest.His sacrifice of His own Body and Blood pleases the Almighty Father.Christ has restored the human race to God’s friendship.The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood.If we did not have this sacrifice to offer, we would have no hope for glory.With it, we look forward to eternal life.
Second, His being the Christ means that the Lord Jesus is our teacher.Everything that He said is enlightening; His words are the words of God.He has taught us that there is a kingdom of heaven, and He has shown us how to get there.There are many different things for us to learn as we make our way through life, but none of them are anywhere near as important as learning the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Third, because the Lord Jesus is the Christ, He is our King.Having conquered death and ascended to heaven, He reigns supreme.He is in charge; we are His servants.He does not expect us to know everything; He does not expect us to be able to see into the future.He has a plan for all things to come to fulfillment, and the plan will unfold as He sees fit.What He expects from us is that we report for duty every day.If we mess up, we owe Him a humble apology in Confession.He forgives us, and we move on and continue to try to serve Him well.
“You are the Christ.”Let us make St. Peter’s answer our own.The Lord Jesus is our priest, teacher, and king.To Him be glory and honor forever.
I am frankly surprised at myself. I am disappointed in my bad priorities. I have been blogging furiously for over a month, and I have yet to address a topic of enormous importance, a topic none of us can afford to ignore: Sandwiches.
A sandwich can simply be a matter of reaching into the fridge: mayonnaise, sliced ham and/or turkey, and–in the best of all possible worlds–hydroponic lettuce. From the bread basket: a nice big loaf of nutty whole-wheat bread. One knife and three minutes later: Utter satisfaction.
A sandwhich could be a matter of saying to oneself: Hot or cold? Hot or cold? Why the ‘or’? Hot and cold is what I am talking about. Three slices of bacon in the frying pan, two slices of white toast in the toaster, a crisp slice of tomato, two supple leaves of romaine, mayo…oh, yes.
Perhaps we are actually talking about a quick trip to Quizno’s. Or Subway.
It used to be that Quizno’s won that contest, hands-down. a) They were alone in toasting their sandwiches. b) Their combination of flavorful breads and sauces is truly creative. (Some people swear by Potbelly Sandwich Works. To me, their sandwiches are on the petite side. Plus, I am not into getting a can of Coke.)
On the excellent subject of Quizno’s, let me tell you a story. I had just finished an all-day bike ride. The sun was setting as I emerged with a hot chicken carbonara. I hung the bag on the handlebars, and then I bent down to undo my combination lock. As I did, I got a noseful of hot-sandwich aroma that was sweeter than any perfume or incense. I was looking forward to eating that sandwich with a kind of anticipation that only a chaste groom on his wedding day could appreciate.
At just that moment, a lovely young lass approached me and said, “Can you tell me where the Starbucks is?” The Starbucks was right behind her. I am not flattering myself. She had plainly seen the Starbucks. I am not Tom Cruise, but…
A sequence of thoughts ran through my mind like a train: Even if I were not a priest–even if I did not strive to behave like a Christian gentleman at all times–even if I did not fear the fires of hell–if you try to seduce me right now–if you try to wrestle me into a car to ravish me–I will fight you with every ounce of strength I possess, so that I can get home and eat this sandwich while it is still hot.
I pointed to the Starbucks without uttering a word and then rode like the wind back home.
Getting back to the question at hand, though: Quizno’s is sublime, but Subway has made a comback. Now Subway toasts. Now Subway has some pretty excellent sauces, especially sweet onion. It’s hard to justify paying twice as much at Quizno’s. On the other hand, Quizno’s has the superior Italian cold-cut.
Sometimes a sandwich is a matter of: egg salad. There is a deli down the street from me where they make a mean egg-salad sandwich. But the best egg salad I have ever eaten is produced by my brother priest, Fr. Mark Tucker. Sunday-afternoon egg-salad sandwiches in his rectory back when I was a seminarian are some of the most pleasant memories of life.
I am not a fan of seafood restaurants. Seafood is generally over-priced and underwhelming. But sometimes I have to go to seafood restaurants, because people tend to like them. Whenever I walk in the door, I beg God that the menu will include: Soft-shell crab sandwich. This is one of the most fun sandwiches you can get. There is all kind of little creature in there. Claws and flippers sticking out. If you lift up the bread, you can take a quick look at the beady little eyes. Nothing is more virile than consuming an entire organism between two slices of bread.
There is so much more to say on the subject of sandwiches. Please chime in with some juicy comments.
I am no expert on finance. As you know, that would be my brother Ben. Nonetheless, I am going to opine on the current situation. I beg you, dear reader, to comment on this and correct all my ignorant and lame statements.
Obviously, the most important ingredient in successful business is confidence. To put it on a small scale: An entrepreneur proposes a plan to benefit people in some way that they will be willing to pay for. For the plan to come to fruition, people who have money have to have confidence in the entrepreneur’s prudence, dedication, and honesty.
Their confidence is ultimately vindicated by two things. First and foremost, if it is vindicated, it is because of good fortune. For the most part, the things that happen to us are out of our control. But something else is also needed: The entrepreneur’s mind must be connected with reality. Leaving bad and good luck aside, money-making schemes tend to work when they are realistic, and they tend to fail when they are unrealistic.
Therefore, a very important question is: Who can judge reality correctly? Someone who possesses two things. A businessman’s correct judgment of reality always begins with this: “My plan is fallible, but God’s plan is infallible. My business will truly profit precisely to the extent that it cultivates the gifts of God. My first duty as a businessman is to receive God’s gift with gratitude. Then I can put them to good use.”
The second thing a businessman needs to perceive reality is: virtue. Reality is correctly perceived by a virtuous person. This is not simply a matter of someone being honest because he or she has no vices to hide (though of course it is a lot easier to tell the truth all the time when you have no serious vices). There is more: Being just, sober, courageous, and honest enables a person to perceive reality. In other words, the virtue of prudence requires all the other virtues. A greedy liar cannot be prudent because he cannot see reality as it is.
Again, I confess my profound ignorance of high finance. My understanding of the problem we have right now is that it is basically the result of home prices that were not realistic. The country will now witness extensive political debates about how to regulate the real-estate market so that this does not happen again. I am sure that experts have good ideas about regulations that will help to keep things more stable.
I would like to propose, however, that ultimately business cannot be successfully regulated in this way. External rules cannot keep pace with entrepreneurial creativity (thank God.) But there is always a sure rule for business, a rule which always applies. If everyone followed this sure rule, we would not have Wall Street meltdowns requiring massive government bailouts. The rule for business is: the virtuous man himself. Church law calls this rule the “steady man.” Reality is the measure for a business scheme. Only a virtuous person can see clearly when a proposal is unrealistic.
Perhaps this reads like a long-winded, moralizing statement of an obvious fact: If more Wall Street bankers were virtuous, we would not have a financial crisis. But this is not exactly my point. My point is that everyone needs to pay more careful attention to the virtuous people we know. God has given us these people to help to guide us; they help us to avoid the mistakes and disasters that inevitably occur when we make decisions without connecting with reality. As soon as a virtuous person starts to get uncomfortable with something, then there is a problem. All of us should have the sense to put the brakes on at such a moment.
PS. And let’s all pray fervently to St. Jude Thaddeus that the bailout plan will work and we won’t have another Great Depression.
Brothers and sisters:Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.
(from the first chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians)
The second readings at Sunday Mass generally come from one of St. Paul’s letters to the early Christian churches.Through this past summer, we have read from his letter to the Christians in Rome.Today we begin reading from St. Paul’s relatively short letter to the Philippian Christians.We will continue reading from this letter in our second reading at Sunday Mass for the next three Sundays.
On his second missionary journey, St. Paul traveled throughout Asia Minor—what is now Turkey—visiting local churches and establishing new ones.When he had reached the west coast, St. Paul received a vision in a dream.He saw a Greek man saying to him, “Pass over and help us.”So the Apostle decided to set sail for Europe.Sts Timothy and Luke were with him.
The northern part of Greece, where the Apostles landed, is called Macedonia.In 334 B.C. Alexander the Great departed to conquer the world from the military city named after his father, King Philip.When the Romans conquered Philippi two centuries later, they found the place to be so beautiful that many of the soldiers retired there.Philippi became a Roman colony, and by the time of St. Paul, the Philippians enjoyed the full rights of Roman citizens, just like the citizens of Tarsus, St. Paul’s home city in southeast Asia Minor.
When St. Paul arrived in a new city, his custom was to go to the synagogue on the sabbath and preach the gospel.But there were so few Jews in Philippi there was no synagogue. St. Paul found the city’s small group of Jews at their meeting place by the river.Many of them were immediately converted to Christ.
In Asia Minor the Apostle had been well-received by the pagans but persecuted by the Jews; in Macedonia it was the other way around.He drove a demon out of a pagan girl who had been able to tell fortunes.The men who made money from her exploits were not pleased.They had St. Paul beaten and thrown into prison.
At midnight an earthquake shook the prison, leaving the doors open, but the Apostle remained inside to evangelize the guards rather than run away.This won over the town authorities, and they released him.St. Paul then left Philippi a free man, and he headed west and south to continue founding churches.It would be over five years before he was able to return to Philippi.
A quick read of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians immediately shows us that the church in Philippi was St. Paul’s favorite.In this letter, he does not correct his readers like he corrected the Corinthians, Galatians, and Thessalonians.Rather, the Apostle thanks God for the Philippian Christians and congratulates them for their generosity.The letter to the Philippians is permeated from beginning to end with the sweetness of holy love.It has been called the ‘jewel’ or the ‘pearl’ of St. Paul’s writings.
This is all the more remarkable considering that St. Paul was languishing in another prison when he wrote to the Philippians.Perhaps he was imprisoned in Rome, perhaps in Ephesus; we cannot say for sure.What is clear is that, wherever the prison was, he had enough freedom in this prison to preach the gospel to his fellow-prisoners and to receive visitors.
One of the Philippian Christians, Epaphroditus, had come to St. Paul with a monetary offering from the Philippians.Epaphroditus planned to stay with Paul in prison and take care of him.But Ephroditus took deathly ill.As soon as he was healthy enough to travel, St. Paul sent him back to Philippi, and he gave him a letter to take back home.This is the letter we are reading from these four Sundays.
In the beautiful short section of the letter we heard this today, St. Paul put everything in perspective, including his imprisonment and the dangers he faced in his mission.He considered the whole situation in the light of his personal union with Christ.The Apostle reasoned this way:If he was faithful to Christ, then the Lord would be glorified no matter what happened, whether St. Paul lived or died, suffered or prospered.All that mattered was doing the Lord’s will.
This message can put everything in perspective for us, too.The best thing is always to strive to do God’s will.If God’s will means death, so be it.If it means fruitful labor for the kingdom of God here on earth, so be it.
We are not the masters of the grand plan.We do not measure out the length of our lives.God does the measuring.Our role is to live each day God gives us for His glory, setting our minds to our tasks, and giving generously in any way we can.
If we fall away from the will of God and sin, then we humbly confess it to a priest, do penance, and move on.The Lord is more patient and merciful with us than we imagine.He can even bring good out of our mistakes and failures.
All he asks is that we do the best we can to do our part each day.He will take care of the rest.If we can truly say with St. Paul, “for me, life is Christ,” then we have begun to live in eternity already.Everything we do here on earth is simply a matter of preparing things for the glory to come.