The Pope and Martin Luther

“How do I receive the grace of God?”

Last week our Holy Father Pope Benedict visited the monastery where Martin Luther studied for the priesthood and was ordained.

The Pope spoke with admiration about the depth of Luther’s desire for God:

‘How do I receive the grace of God?’ The fact that this question was the driving force behind Luther’s whole life never ceases to make a deep impression on me.

The Holy Father went on to outline how different we are now. The contemporary attitude effectively declares: ‘God doesn’t care about my foibles. If He actually does judge me, He magnanimously overlooks all my small failings.’

But, the Pope asked, are our failings really so small? “Is not the world laid waste by the corruption of great and small alike? No, evil is no small matter.”

The Pope went on to say:

We need God; we were created to have a relationship with Him. The more the world withdraws from God, the clearer it becomes that man, in the hubris of his power, in his emptiness of heart and his longing for satisfaction and happiness, increasingly loses his life.

Luther asked himself, “Where do I stand before God?” We must ask ourselves the same question. And when we do, Scripture provides us with the perfect prayer to make:

Justice is with the Lord, our God, and we are filled with shame…
We have been only too ready to disregard the Lord’s voice…
and each of us went after the desires of his own wicked heart.

Luther found himself paralyzed by his own inadequacy before the glory of God. But we need not so find ourselves. We believe in the forgiveness of sins ministered by the Church. God has plans for us involving happiness and not woe. A perfectly fresh start is never more than a good Confession away.

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Hierarchic Veneration

The archangels preside over all the angels which interact with us here on earth. Each of us has a kind guardian angel to guide and help us to do good. Our guardian angels look to the Archangels as their models and guides. The Archangels did the great work of guiding the heroes of the history of salvation, which we read about in the Bible.

But the Archangels would not want us to forget that they themselves stand below countless hosts of higher angels. These celestial choirs sing the praises of God perpetually in heaven.

So we venerate the angels and archangels; the angels and archangels venerate the cherubim, seraphim, thrones, dominions, virtues, principalities, and powers.

Today we keep a special feast for the Archangels. But, of course, as we discussed a little bit on Sunday: every Mass makes a feast for us in communion with the angels. The angels celebrate the perfect liturgy of heaven, and we praise and worship God fittingly to the extent that we participate in what they always do.

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N.B. We can look forward to more extensive references to the multiple orders of angels in the revised translation of the Missal. The translation we have been using often elides references to the various orders.

God’s Dwelling

If it please the king, and if your servant is deserving of your favor, send me to Judah, to the city where my ancestors are buried, that I may rebuild it. (Nehemiah 2:5)

Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head. (Luke 9:58)

The two readings today present us with a contrast, even a paradox: In the first, we read about the re-building of the Jerusalem temple, the earthly dwelling place of the Lord under the Old Covenant. Then, in the gospel reading, the Lord says that He has no place to rest His head.

Where does God dwell? We know the manifold answer: He exists universally as the cause of everything. His image shines forth in the spiritual dimension of man. He pours out His grace and mercifully unites souls to Himself. He dwells personally in Christ, Who abides with us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. In heaven, He fills the blessed with Himself in an unending consummation of love.

Perhaps this thought will help to resolve the paradox presented by the two readings: God has no place to rest His head on earth, not because the earth is not His—it is His; He made it, sustains it, consecrates it, and moves it to its fulfillment. But He has no rest on earth, both because He altogether transcends His creation, and because His will for the salvation of every soul consumes Him with zeal and peripatetic restlessness. The Lord has no rest on earth until everyone rests in Him.

So…the Lord dwells in our humble church. Nowhere between Martinsville and Roanoke, or between Danville and Stuart, does the Lord dwell like He dwells in our tabernacle, and on the altar during Mass. We cannot get through life without coming to Christ’s holy dwelling to commune with Him.

But we cannot rest in church anymore than He can. We come to His house, He takes up His dwelling in us, and then He propels us into the great mix outside. He sends us on His mission, because He wills to dwell in everyone as He has been pleased to dwell in us.

When everything is said and done, please God, we will enter forever into the Lord’s dwelling, and we will find rest unlike any peace we have known on earth. In the meantime, though, we cannot rest until everyone dwells in the love of Christ.

I Have Always Hated…

DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER

I root for the Va. Tech Hokies, just like all God-fearing people.

The bad man announces the bad news.

…college football. Hated it. But now? Rage. Rage, wrath, fury. And more rage.

I have two good things in my little life.

God.

And Big East basketball.

Who could be surprised that Syracuse University would cast aside everything that is holy and good? Who could be amazed at such cretinous mutiny and faithlessness?

But to throw your lot in with such unspeakable villains? A conference made up mainly of teams from North Carolina, many of which simply cannot be named in decent company?

And for football? Who cares about Syracuse football?

Thanks for ruining college basketball. Thanks for ruining the one good thing left in the middle of the inanity of “March Madness.” (Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden). An ACC tournament at Madison Square Garden? What’s next, a gay ‘marriage’ between James Worthy and Fred Brown?

Listen: I will root for the Hoyas. I will root for the Hoyas if they just play St. John’s and Providence over and over again every season. I will root for the Hoyas if they join the Big 12 or the “Catholic League” or Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations. I will root for the Georgetown Hoyas!!!

But, gosh, talk about a buzzkill: The ruination of one of the few truly excellent things on earth, Big East basketball. And for football. Football should be ashamed.

Yes. Liturgy. With Heavenly Songs.

Last week, we talked about our upcoming transition to a new edition of the Missal, our prayerbook for Mass.

The Lord be with you. –-And with your spirit.

Well done.

We will start using the new Missal on the First Sunday of…? Advent. November…? 27.

When we get together to pray and offer the Mass, the ceremony we perform has a special name: Liturgy. The word comes from ancient Greek and means “public work.” The common work we do together in church: the liturgy.

Our heavenly Father beckons us to do this work of prayer together. When it comes to adapting ourselves to this new Missal translation, maybe some of us are thinking, like the first son in the parable: “No! I will NOT re-learn how to go to Mass!”

Let’s think about it. The first son’s reply may have come from honest fatigue. Maybe he had intended to rest on that particular day. Maybe his lazy, good-for-nothing, con-artist brother had not done a lick of work for months or even years. Who knows? The second son may very well have had a good reason to resist his father’s directive.

Continue reading “Yes. Liturgy. With Heavenly Songs.”

Why and Wherefore of Good Advice

When the Lord asked the Apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” He certainly was not confused about His own identity. But the Son of God set an important precedent here: He approached the leaders of the Church with a question.

Christ did not need advice. But we do, we human beings.

Why did Padre Pio become so popular? Because he received the stigmata? Because he prayed so much? Yes. But I think it all started with something humbler: Padre Pio gave excellent advice, clear advice, based on the soundest principles.

The teaching of Scripture and the Church provides the foundation for good advice. With these principles and a disciplined mind, we can deal pretty easily with 99% of life’s difficulties. At least, we can know what the right thing to do is. Then we need help from above and support from each other actually to do it.

Don’t you think that these days we face a crisis of good advice? To be honest with you, I know that, when I was young, I did not receive the kind of good advice I probably should have gotten from some teachers and counselors. Thank God I had my parents.

I don’t mean to aggravate anyone. But how is anyone supposed to get good advice in any setting where people think a man can marry a man? Or that a mother can have her unborn baby killed? Or that it doesn’t matter whether you go to church or not? Or whether you have a child in a marriage or outside of one?

Good advice proceeds from people who perceive the most fundamental facts. The two most fundamental facts of all are: heaven and hell.

I don’t need a saintly priest to tell me how to keep my car running. But if I need advice about an important decision, or about the basic habits of life that we all need to have—I want someone smart whose primary concern is helping me get to heaven so that I can be with Jesus Christ and His saints.

May God help me to offer such advice as a priest. May the government not make it illegal for us priests to offer such advice. And may all of us have the humility to seek the advice we need from the people who will give it to us.

Herod and the Germans

Who is this, about whom I hear that his apostles heal the sick and announce the kingdom of God?

So wondered Herod the tetrarch, when the Church militant began to march. Herod became the first secular ruler under whose jurisdiction Christ’s apostles operated. Countless more such rulers have followed.

Herod feared the moral truth. He ruled Galilee and Perea with some skill. But he knew that he had been a faithless husband to his first wife. He had schemed maliciously against his brothers.

In other words, he was a bad Jew, a ‘lapsed’ Jew. He was depraved. But he was not so far gone that he did not know he was depraved. He hated the truth which accused him of his faults, but at the same time he longed to see the holy man.

Today our Holy Father arrived for a visit to his native Germany. In his first speech, he said, “I am here to speak of God.” Crowds of his countrymen welcomed the Pope. A few others protested his public presence.

Like St. Peter before him, Pope Benedict proposes the Gospel. Therefore, he both repels and attracts. Living in the truth poses challenges and difficulties. Often we sinners fail to measure up to reasonable rules of conduct.

It can be very tempting to blame the messenger. But when someone invites me to the truth, I have a difficult time getting that message out of my head.

What does ‘Evangelist’ Mean?

Blessed Pope John Paul II has been called the greatest evangelist of the 20th century. When Franciscans and other monks and nuns take their vows, they profess the three evangelical counsels. And, today, we venerate St. Matthew, the evangelist.

The word ‘evangelist’ or ‘evangelical’ can be used to mean a number of different things. But all of the meanings have one thing in common. To be evangelical means: ‘to start from Christ.’

St. Matthew the Evangelist started from Christ. Like Mark, Luke, and John, Matthew took what he knew of the earthly life of the Savior, and wrote a little book, so that we, too, can get to know Him.

Pope John Paul II started from Christ. Franciscans, Benedictines, Dominicans, Jesuits, etc., start from Christ, too.

To be an evangelist means to start from Christ. By the same token, to start from Christ means to be an evangelist. If we focus our eyes on Him and listen to what He says, we will draw others to Him.

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.” We can take a cue from St. Matthew here, too. He knew he needed a soul doctor. He knew he needed a teacher. And since Matthew knew that he relied on the mercy of God, he attracted others to God’s mercy, too.

When the Lord Jesus came to Matthew’s house, many sinners also came. Why? Because their friend Matthew had found new peace and happiness, and they came searching for the same thing.

If we want to evangelize, how often do we have to start fresh from Christ? How often did St. Matthew? Every day? How about every hour of every day?

May the Lord accompany us at every moment. May everything we say and do proceed from Him and lead towards Him.

Shakespeare’s Deaths and Easter

In the final scene of “Romeo & Juliet,” three corpses litter the stage. In “Othello,” four. “Hamlet?” Four. “King Lear?” Five.

Wags have been known to mock the body count at curtain-fall in Shakespearian tragedies. Does this evoke reality, they ask, or is it just ridiculous?

Does such art imitate life? Most people go to bed at the end of the day–perhaps mildly dissatisfied with things, but with the coffeepot set up for the morning nonetheless.

Let’s admit that, viewed from one perspective, the wags have a point. But Shakespeare rings true in this: He telescopes the timing, but the fact of the matter is that, in real life, everyone does wind up dead, eventually.

The stage at the end of a Shakespearian tragedy resembles a family cemetery at the end of a century: All the dramatis personae lie lifeless, the epic struggle over.

Now, before you think that I am sinking into morbidity again…I actually just want to explain an idea about the surprising emotional effect of Shakespeare’s tragedies. They do not produce feelings of nostalgia or regret. Quite the contrary, they leave one feeling purified and renewed.

How, why is this? A simple answer: Easter.

Shakespeare did not write ‘Christian’ stories. He did something more ingenious. He wrote human stories that make sense only from a Christian point-of-view. He does not ‘teach’ Christian doctrine. But his tragedies force the audience to greet the play’s action with Christian faith.

When we do–and Shakespeare simply assumed that we would–the dark endings actually glisten with light and hope. The curtain may fall on a stage full of dead bodies. But the life of the characters actually makes the lasting impression.

Hamlet’s relentlessly intelligent words resound, not his death at Laertes’ hands. Lear’s ultimate humility, sweetness, and Job-like conquest resound at curtain-fall, not his death from grief. Somehow Othello lives on as a lover even after his suicide.

The vigor of Shakespeare’s tragic characters overcomes their demise. Yes, the dramatic logic of the action forces them to die. But their deaths feel more like a beginning than an end. The cemeteries of Shakespeare’s closing scenes presage a resurrection.

Non-Dome Above St. Robert

It's just a painting on the flat ceiling that looks like a dome.

It would have been too much to hope that the Lord would give us a second St. Thomas Aquinas, just when we needed him. But He did: St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J.

St. Robert died 390 years ago today, after having made mincemeat out of every false Protestant doctrine.

The saint’s mortal remains lie in the south transept of the church of St. Ignatius in Rome. Most churches in the city lift Roman domes into the sky. The church of St. Ignatius does not, but you think it does.

These Jesuits are full of neat tricks.