St. Ignatius and the Crazies

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children. (Matthew 14:19-21)

Anyone ever heard of St. Ignatius Loyola? As a young man, he dreamed of a life of knighthood and soldiering. But he fell, gravely wounded, in his first battle.

During his long recovery, Ignatius began to read passages from the gospel and imagine himself as a minor character in them. Over time, Ignatius became intimately familiar with every detail of the life of Christ. He gave up the idea of being a soldier and longed to serve Christ as His dutiful knight.

Ignatius studied and became a priest. He founded the Jesuit order. He became famous for his unswerving adherence to Church teaching. ‘Something might look white to me, but if the Church teaches that it is black, then I conclude that it is black.’ Ignatius died 455 years ago today.

St. Ignatius encouraged frequent Holy Communion. He wrote:

One of the most admirable effects of Holy Communion is to preserve the soul from sin, and to help those who fall through weakness to rise again. It is much more profitable, then, to approach this divine sacrament with love, respect, and confidence, than to remain away.

We read in the gospel that the Lord Jesus felt pity for us in our hunger. He knows that we human beings have appetites that don’t quit. He formed us from dust, and we tend toward dust. For all the magnificent intricacy of our bodies, they nonetheless starve to death without regular feeding.

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Women, Apostles, Faith

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
(John 11:25-27)

A week ago, we considered how St. Mary Magdalen preached the Gospel of love to the Apostles, who themselves are the source and fountainhead of the preaching of the whole Church.

Today, we behold how Mary’s sister Martha answered the Lord with a confession of the Catholic faith, just like St. Peter had done.

When the Lord Jesus led the Apostles on a little retreat to the mountains north of Galilee, He asked them, ‘Who do you say that I am?’

Peter spoke for the group and replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’

Then, when the Lord traveled south to the suburbs of Jerusalem to raise His friend Lazarus from the dead, he asked Martha, ‘Do you believe?’ And she replied, ‘Yes, Lord. I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God.’

So the Memorials of these two holy sisters resound like questions posed to us right here and now. Who do we say that Jesus is? Do we believe that He rose from the dead? Do we believe that He will raise our mortal bodies also? Do we believe that He will come again in glory?

Yes, we do. But we do not have the heroic faith of the Apostles, or of the women who made it possible for the Apostles to be Apostles. We let our faith get clouded over by nonsense sometimes. So we add, ‘Yes, Lord, we believe. But help Thou our unbelief.’

The Divine InBox + Archbishop Sambi RIP

Jesus said to the disciples: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

(Matthew 13:47-50)

The parable of the fishing net resonates with the Lord’s first summons to His Apostles, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. When He met them, they may very well have been doing what the parable describes. ‘Put these nets away, because I will make you fishers of men.’

So the scene in this little parable packs a particular punch, because it was something particularly familiar. Separating the good and bad contents of the net would be the daily toil of any commercial fisherman. But, for a kosher Jew, the work would have been more meticulous, and would have had a religious aspect. The Jew would have to throw back not only the junk, but also any unclean sea creatures, even if they would be regarded as perfectly edible by a pagan.

So, with this parable, the Lord effectively says, ‘My friends, do you not realize that this daily burden you have undertaken for years, which is as familiar to you as your own shirt, serves as a perfect image for the invisible work you will undertake as Apostles? But you are now liberated from the task of judging clean and unclean. Your job is to cast the net; I will take care of sorting everything out.’

It is almost as if He would say to us:

The kingdom of heaven is like someone sitting down to read e-mail after a long day of working on other projects. He deletes the junk e-mails without even opening them. The interesting-looking ones he keeps in his inbox. Thus it will be at the end of the age, when the divine inbox is full of e-mails. The angels will separate the spam from the good. Don’t worry about deleting any e-mails. Just keep doing what you can to keep My inbox full.

…In April of 2006, the Holy Father’s diplomatic representative in the U.S. had just arrived from his previous post in the Holy Land. He immediately gave evidence of living the highly supernatural, moment-to-moment kind of apostolic life lived by many Italian priests. I witnessed this firsthand.

Archbishop Sambi gamboled into the Washington Hilton ballroom to smile and deliver the good wishes of the Holy Father to a couple thousand people eating bacon and eggs.

His English did not trip swimmingly off his tongue. Nor did he know exactly where he was.

The Nuncio was not too proud, upon mounting the podium, to turn around and look at the banner above him. In mid-sentence.

“I am deelited to repreesent the Holee Father at the, ah… [pause to turn around and read] Nasheenal Catolic Prayir Brakefust!”

We erupted with applause. To love the Holy Father is to love His Apostolic Delegate to the U.S.

We have had some great ones. The one criteria for appointment to the post seems to be: speaking English fluently with an accent that makes you impossible to understand.

May His Excellency rest in peace.

Big Dig

Jesus said to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

On Sunday we discussed these two parables. Both concern an object of superlative value. Both objects lay hidden, and then they are found.

The treasure of our faith lies hidden to us, deeply buried in the unfathomable divine mystery. We have frequently to remind ourselves that our faith and religious practice aim at nothing less than Almighty God Himself.

None of us are experts on the subject of God. We aspire to know Him. But what we now know lays on the surface. The treasure lies buried. We have to dig and dig and dig.

Perhaps the Lord has given us such intellectual Popes lately in order to teach us this lesson. For a generation, the Church has been led by brilliant scholars, men of towering intellect. Like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, our Popes have tirelessly applied their minds to the task of exploring the immeasurable depths of the simple mysteries of our faith. In their preaching and catechesis, the Popes of our age have spent years tirelessly digging deeper and deeper into the mystery of God.

In Boston a few years ago, they had the “Big Dig,” to put I-93 underground. The digging seemed to go on forever. But we need not fear that our spiritual excavations will entail endless labor. As the parables tell the tale, we search for something that intends to be found. This is the most fundamental fact of revelation: God wills that we seek AND FIND Him.

Yes, He demands that we revere His transcendence, that we fear His awesomeness and never presume to be familiar with things that are high above us. But He came to us. He became man to meet us. He wants our company—doesn’t need it, but freely wills it. We were made to know Him, not to be ignorant of Him.

Our lifetime of seeking Him will run its course. He allots us our days on earth as the calendar of our adventure of learning about Him. But on every one of our days of searching, we can take comfort in the fact that He plans to welcome us home when we do finally find Him.

Crossing the

Delware River…George Washington did, as this painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York recounts.

The Commodore Barry Bridge crosses the Delaware.

30th-Street Station rises above the Schuylkill, just up from the Delaware.

Speaking of the Revolutionary War: the Declaration of Independence declares that we hold to be “self-evident” that “all men are created equal.”

Is this self-evident? What do we mean by ‘equal?’

Certainly we do not mean that all men, women, and children are of equal height, weight, toothsomeness, intelligence, earning-capacity, or dexterity. We do not mean that all communicate with equal effectiveness, contribute with equal generosity, or smile with equal radiance or frequency.

In fact, we would be hard-pressed to name a single observable quality in which all men share equally.

The equality of all men shimmers with self-evidence when we take one crucial thing for granted. Namely, that God loves us all with divine love. This has been demonstrated by the Son of God, when He died.

“All men are created equal”–a self-evident proposition, to a Christian. Nonetheless, whenever anyone asserts the equality of men, we need to bear in mind precisely this supernatural dimension of the equality. We are equal in God’s sight. We are not equal in each other’s sight.

The respect in which we are equal trumps. All our natural rights proceed from our equality in the sight of God. We have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness because we are the darlings of God.

To seek our equality in anything else sets up a fall. To insist that we have rights for any other reason invites calamity. We are altogether unequal, except in the quality which matters most: God made us for no other reason than to love us. That much is true of absolutely every last one of us.

Prudently Reckless

Jesus said to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

Anybody seen this summer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie? Is it true that there is no buried treasure in it? How about a precious pearl? What about Keira Knightley?

Well, if the movie has no treasure chest and no pearl earrings, that’s okay. Because the gospel reading does.

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Very Hot on July 22

We Christians have kept the memorial of St. Mary Magdalen on July 22 for at least 13 hundred years.

Perhaps she died on July 22.  Or maybe she arrived at Ephesus on July 22–during the summer after Pentecost–to announce to the people of Asia Minor what she had announced to the Apostles, namely that Christ lives.

Imagine living through the summer after the first Pentecost.  The first summer after the Redemption of the human race.  The first summer of the Age of Grace.

That summer, when it got really, really hot, everyone could look at each other and say, ‘You know what?  Now that the Lord Jesus has conquered the devil, this oppressive summer heat does not necessarily have to be a foretaste of what life after death will be like!’

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Stonewall, Hindenburg, Bats

150 years ago today, Confederate General Barnard Bee, seeing reinforcements arrive on a hill north of Manassas, Va., exclaimed:

There is a Jackson, standing like a stone wall!

…We seek God. We strive for the only truly worthy goal.

Every visible thing we see will lift us up to Him, if we let it. Creation as a whole serves as the ultimate parable. God made it all for one reason: to lead us to Him.

But we look and do not see. We hear, but we do not understand. The Lord whispers His declaration of love to us at every instant, but we have iPod buds in our ears, crackling with noise. The Lord smiles on us with delight at every instant, but we have our cool sunglasses on, so we cannot see Him.

The sun shines more brightly than the moon and the stars. But when it rises in the morning, bats go blind. We are spiritual bats: We live in a spiritual night, able to see what we need to survive—and even come up with some pretty good ideas sometimes. But we cannot see the Sun of Truth. The simple, infinite truth shines all the time, moving all things, attracting all things. But we cannot see it.

National Air and Space Museum!
Yet. The Lord said to His disciples, “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”

What do we have in common with the disciples to whom the Lord Jesus first spoke these words?

With the first disciples, we believe this: The One Who spoke the parables also spoke the great parable of creation. Every thing comes from, and leads towards, the crucified teacher. It is Christ that we seek, and—blind and deaf as we are—He has come and found us.

…Earlier this year, they made a tv-movie in Germany about the Hindenburg blimp disaster of 1937. I can’t see why, because the 1975 George C. Scott “Hindenburg” is the best movie ever made. The critics panned it, but they were disastrously wrong.

George C. Scott makes George Clooney look like Pee Wee Herman. “The Hindenburg” has Charles Durning at his petulant best, romance of the most subtle kind, a genuinely evocative insight into the German soul in 1937, and a worthy ending. I think it is the first movie I ever saw. I was spoiled for life. Check it out at your local library.

Zealotry and John Tesh

The Lord Jesus spoke His parables in order to illuminate the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Jewish people of Christ’s time eagerly anticipated the establishment of a divine kingdom. Having been subjugated to foreign powers for centuries, the Jews longed for the restoration of the ancient kingdom of David.

Christ had to express in parables the mysterious and spiritual nature of His kingdom. His kingdom would not come as His contemporaries supposed it would come. The Kingdom of God was established on the throne of the cross.

So it is all very well and good for us now, with two millennia of perspective, to tsk-tsk Christ’s ancient audience for the shallowness of their ideas about the Kingdom of God.

They wanted the kingdom to have an army, and a just economy, and a handsome king on parade. They wanted seats of honor, and tax breaks, and leafy fig trees to lounge under on the hot days.

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Sinners, Men

Thus spake the noble Prince of Denmark to poor, sad Ophelia:

Why wouldst thou be a
breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all.

…I took a brief trip to Guatemala to practice speaking Spanish. Imagine my surprise when I encountered a group of feminist Presbyterians arguing for women’s ordination!

Perfectly delightful. Lovely ladies.

Now, why can’t they be ordained?

Fr. W.'s new amigas

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