In the conversations with His fellow Jews, which the Lord Jesus had prior to His Passion (which St. John recounts), we behold Christ’s patient insistence on consistency.

…Ok, dear brethren. We are Jews. That means we believe that God dealt personally with our forefathers. He revealed Himself by inspiring our prophets. We venerate our Scriptures precisely because we believe that the human authors did not write them by virtue of their own native intelligence, but by inspiration from heaven.

Papa Benedicto visited this cerro of Cristo Rey on Sunday
We judge the authenticity of a prophet by the fruit of his works. False prophets, who claim to have divine inspiration but really don’t—their labors ultimately come to grief. They get revealed as frauds, sooner or later.

Meanwhile, the true prophets accomplish great things. They heal. They bring peace. They teach with selfless wisdom and devotion.

Now, okay. You stand here before me because you have been captivated by the things I have done. You acknowledge that the signs of truth and genuine heavenly inspiration have accompanied me throughout my ministry among you.

Praise God! But listen, this is what I am telling you: I am actually here on a unique mission of divine love. Everything that came before merely prepared the way for this moment. It was I who called Abraham. I gave Moses the Law. I inspired the prophets.

Now, you can’t very well turn around and call me a blasphemer when the whole reason you are here is that you believe in the good things that I have taught and done.

All I am asking for, my friends, is consistency: Either believe me when I tell you that I am the eternal Son of the eternal Father, and relax and be happy. Or find a way to explain how a demon-possessed crank could heal lepers, feed the multitudes, bring peace to demoniacs, liberate sinners, and raise the dead.

Just be consistent, that’s all I ask. I mean you no harm. I carry no weapon.

…So they did what any normal group of people does when confronted with pure, calm reason in the face of their passions and prejudices. They killed Him.

Abraham’s Household

If you remain in my word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

–We are the seed of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone!

Christ spoke firmly to Jews who claimed to believe in Him. How could He not have laughed out loud at their magnificent obtuseness?

Never been slaves to anyone? Have you ever read, say, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy? Have you ever sang a Psalm? Have you ever kept Passover—or Purim or Hanukkah? Our entire religion expresses gratitude to God for liberating us from slavery, you numbskulls! Even now, we live under the heel of the Roman Caesar. Please!

Instead of mocking them, though, the Lord cut right to the chase: My word has no room among you, because you live in a fantasy world of stubborn pride.

Christ and those to whom He spoke had in common their descending from Abraham according to the flesh. But Abraham himself did not have this. What Abraham had was an obedient heart. He knew that without the God of promises, he had nothing, was nothing.

So the Lord Jesus cut through to the foundations. There are really only two households, each ruled by a father who does not beget children by the flesh, but rather by spiritual communication.

The Father of Lies begets children by seducing them into unreasonable pride. Pride that cannot see the obvious.

For a Jew of the second-temple period to take pride in the history of his people’s fidelity to God would strike anyone who had ever actually read the Scriptures as ridiculous. The Scriptures do not recount the faithfulness of a stalwart people. They recount the patient, loving kindness of God towards His fickle, recalcitrant people.

This unfathomably merciful God has made Himself the Father of the other spiritual household, the household of obedience to the truth. Abraham never presumed to be the father of a household. Rather, the triune God made Abraham His child. Abraham co-operated by faith, hope, and love.

Now that the eternal Son of God has become man and done His work for us, let us live in His household by believing in, hoping in, and loving Him.

Friend, Faith, Facts

[PREVIEW PREVIEW: Your unworthy servant gives his final apologia for not being on the Religious-Freedom bandwagon.]

Like any God-fearing person, I consider the red solo cup a friend. But: Can we really count on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

In my book, an idea is reliable as a friend precisely to the degree that the idea is clear. The clearer the idea, the better a friend.

“Stay out of trouble” makes for a good friend. But “keep the needle on the speedometer within 10 mph of the posted speed limit” makes for a better friend, owing to its greater clarity.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that

Congrefs shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

does not make for a respectable friend, as ideas go.

This sentence makes nicer with the Church than a sentence like “La ley, en consecuencia, no permite el establecimiento de ordenes monasticas”—by which the original Mexican Constitution of 1917 forbad religious orders.

But, as a friend, the First Amendment of our Constitution can get prickly. Quickly. Because what it actually means is, well, not clear.

Does the state have the right to bind believers with laws that impede the exercise of religion? Well, yes—when the protection of the common good is at stake. The Supreme Court has so ruled, I believe–as well it should.

But, of course, there is no telling how a court will rule in any given “separation of church and state” case. Because the idea itself is really quite opaque.

Does it mean that the President can’t appoint bishops? Or does it mean that he can’t appropriate money to support the work of Catholic social workers? Does it mean that the government can’t prevent me from praying in public? Or does it mean that no law can prohibit the ritual use of narcotic mushrooms? Or polygamy?

Having read somewhat widely on the subject, I am left with the following impression: The First Amendment is much more an object of faith than Pope Paul VI’s encyclical about artificial contraception is.

I applaud any couple who refrain from using artificial contraception simply because “the Church teaches it’s wrong, and I believe in the Church.” Beautiful exercise of faith.

But I would venture to claim that, for the most part, the great army of people who eschew artificial means of contraception do so because the practice is evidently unnatural, unwholesome, and unbecoming a mature person.

As I have tried to point out before, Pope Paul VI himself never proposed his doctrine on artificial contraception as an object of faith. Spilling semen intentionally is a bad business. We can read about this in Genesis 38. But we do not need to read the Bible to get the drift.

And killing an unborn child? Better to consult a sonogram than Scripture, if you want to know why no one should ever do it.

If it gets boring, please forgive me. But I cannot help but return to one of the great themes of my silly little life:

When it comes to sexual morality, what the Church teaches is a matter of sound science. It is based on a combination of the following: cold, hard biological facts and one simple proposition, “People who live as if God does not exist do not thrive.” (This proposition has been demonstrated repeatedly by psychological and sociological studies.)

The Church teaches many things about supernatural truths that must be accepted on faith—e.g., Christ in heaven, the sacraments, etc. But Her sexual morality is not one of these things.

On the other hand, it seems to me that “the separation of church and state” has become more of a shibboleth, mouthed religiously, than a clear idea.

So, here is my little apologia: Continue reading “Friend, Faith, Facts”

Thunder, Death, and Bruce

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”

Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder. (John 12)

“Lord, some Gentiles have arrived to worship here in Jerusalem during Passover. Shall we bring them to you?”

An honest question from two of Christ’s faithful Apostles. The response? “Amen, amen, I say to you: the time for my death has come.”

O-kay. Gosh. Didn’t know things had gotten so serious all of a sudden. Um, earth to the Messiah: Just want to know if we should bring these Gentiles in to see you?

Did the Lord go off on a wild tangent here? Well, He received a heavenly endorsement in a voice like thunder. There must be something to what Christ said.

In Shakespeare, after Hamlet speaks to the ghost of his father, he insists that Horatio and Marcellus, who have also seen the ghost, must take an oath to keep it secret. Neither of Hamlet’s friends want to swear, so the ghost bellows out three times from the hidden realm of spirits, “Swear!”

The Lord Jesus received an even more definitive endorsement when He announced that the hour of His Passion had come. He had not gone off on a tangent. His response to Philip and Andrew fit the moment.

The earthly ministry of Christ ran its course with its own unique pathos. Christ taught, healed, expelled demons. He inspired faith. He filled the Holy Land with the glory of God. Many Jews believed. Many Jews recognized the divine visitation, and they responded with total abandonment to the mastership of Christ. Twelve of these believers became the Apostles.

But all of His earthly ministry merely served as an exquisitely unsatisfying preparation. It only tilled the soil. The Son of God could not fulfill His mission by ministering to His own people alone. He had come to sew the seed of eternal life for everyone.

So: two moments coincided, and the Lord alone could see that they inevitably had to arrive together. Peter and Andrew told Him about the Greeks. Now the Gentiles, too, had come to believe. Now the universal ministry must begin. And there was only one way to inaugurate it.

Who likes Bruce Springsteen? He and his band make some great tunes, make you think of summertime, and young love, and the beach…Yeah. Except that every song on Bruce’s new album is about death.

One ballad sings the whispers of tombstones. One is about how “all our youth and beauty, it’s been given to the dust.” And here are some lyrics from the other songs on the album:

I fell asleep on a dark and starry sea, with nothing but the cloak of God’s mercy over me. I come upon strangers and a great black cave. I dreamed I awoke as if buried in my grave. Bones of sailors from the north and sailors from the east lay high in a pyre in the valley of a beast. We’ve been swallowed up. Disappeared from this world.

Or from another song: “They left our bodies in the plains and the vultures picked our bones.” Or another one about immigrants to America: “They died to get here a hundred years ago, and they’re still dying now.”

Or from another song:

Grab your ticket and your suitcase. Thunder’s rolling down this track. You don’t know where you’re going now, but you know you won’t be back.

Death. The Gentiles came to Jerusalem for Passover to see the Messiah.

They would see Him on the cross. The thundering sky confirmed this.

There is a hypothetical situation in which the eternal Son of God could have come to reign as king and high priest without dying.

If Adam and Eve had never sinned, and the whole word endured for all of history as the Garden of Eden, and everybody was a vegan, and wolves and lambs lived as perpetual friends, and a cellphone never went off in church—under these circumstances, God could have consummated everything simply by becoming man and spreading out His holy arms in a great embrace. With no nails and no gasping breath.

But, as it is, we sinners owe God a death. We owe Him a trip into the ultimate, impenetrable darkness. Alone.

Self-restraint. Mercy. Generosity. One ancient Indian story says that the thunder speaks the names of these virtues when it sounds from the sky. Self-restraint, mercy, generosity. Could hardly paint a better picture of Christ.

The hour of death comes. How many times in our lives do we beg our Lady, “Holy Mary, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death?”

Should we fear? Fear the dark, apparently unending, solitary night of death? Well, let’s listen to the thunder.

The Savior said, just before the original Triduum, just before His death, “It is for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

And the heavens thundered out in triumph. I have glorified it. And I will glorify it again.

Death comes. Christ has conquered it.

Hitting the Heresies, Part Two

What spiritual goal do we strive after for the next 2 ½ weeks?

Seems to me that we want to focus, as best we can, on the experiences of the heroes of the original Holy Week—primarily, of course, our Lord Himself.

To do this, we have to lay hold of the truth about the Person of Christ. Heresies only lead us away from what really happened in Jerusalem.

Last week someone mentioned the heresy that we could probably call the NCAA Champion of all heresies. The ancient error that made Christianity meaningless in the name of making it more respectable. Right: Arianism.

“The Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing.”

We have been baptized in the name of the Blessed Trinity. Our hope for eternal life rests on the divinity of the Son. When Jesus died on the cross, it was not simply a matter of unjust government crushing an innocent citizen—though it was that. It was not just a matter of the noblest man who ever lived dying peacefully for the highest imaginable ideals—though it was that, too. If it were only these things, then the death of Christ would be beautiful and admirable, but it could offer no enduring hope. His death would simply be the most painful of all the human tragedies that make up our history.

The Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing.

Arius regarded this statement as clear evidence that Jesus is not equal to the Father. But, with these words, the Lord does not indicate that at all.

We do not understand the mystery of the tri-unity of God. But we do know what the Son has revealed to us. The Father begets the Son by giving Him everything—the infinity of divinity. The Holy Spirit proceeds by the Son giving it back.

The Son does only what the Father does, but this does not make the Son any less divine, since what the divine Father does is: give everything to the Son.

The Trinity is not the Trinity because of us. The Trinity has been and always will be. We are what we are because the Trinity has willed it so.

Jesus died on the cross as the Son of God made man. By His obedient death, Christ gave to the Father the infinite divine love—as a man, on our behalf. From this single act of infinite love, all our hope springs. Any hope we had would be altogether shaky if it rested on any other foundation. But as it is, our hope is certain, because it rests on God.

Ancient Passover Pilgrimage

Nicodemus came to visit the Lord shortly after the cleansing of the Temple. All of this happened during the sacred days of ___________. What does Passover commemorate?

Anybody ever been to a Passover Seder? The ceremony concludes with a toast: Next year in ___________? But the Passover celebration in St. John’s gospel actually took place in Jerusalem.

Originally, celebrating Passover did not require a pilgrimage. The Israelites celebrated every year in their various towns.

But during the age of the kings, the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem became an important act of devotion to the one, true God of Israel.

Continue reading “Ancient Passover Pilgrimage”

Don’t Go for the Silver

NCAA tournament. Yawn. As far as I am concerned, the interesting part of the basketball season ended this past weekend.

Except that the Hoyas play a team from Nashville this afternoon, just a couple short weeks after the 150th anniversary of the fall of Nashville.

The prophet Hosea outlines a dialogue between God and us. The Lord calls out and helps us realize that He wills our health and happiness. He wills us to become beautiful in a way that is greater than what our imaginations can come up with.

Is this not the perennial trap into which we fall? We human beings scrap and fight and sweat blood to win the silver or the bronze. We forget that the gold medal even exists. We do not even imagine ourselves as God sees us.

I’m going to work hard and bust my butt and grow as tall as a fern. I’ll show ‘em; I will pull out all the stops, and my game will flow as smooth and sweet as a can of Red Bull. I will work on myself, and win people over, and my reputation will fill this town like the smell of new tires!

…And here is the Lord saying, Please, get over yourself. Take a chill. Come to me. Kneel down. Be quiet, and just listen, just co-operate. I have a plan to make you taller than a redwood, better tasting than $200 cab sav, and sweeter smelling than Riviera rose water. I made you in the first place. I know best how beautiful you can be.

Proton-Torpedo the Devil

What actually is the great drama? The decisive conflict? North Carolina vs. Duke? Republicans vs. Democrats? Dog people vs. cat people?

The strong man, fully armed, guards his palace…

We know that Mother Nature possesses many frightening powers. Tornadoes can level whole towns. Tsunamis can drown cities. Hurricanes can cripple coastlines.

All of these forces of natural destruction, however, look like so many wavelets lapping in a kiddie pool, when compared to the power of Satan.

All the volcanic eruptions in the history of the world cannot ruin a single human soul. If and when the sun explodes, the force of the blast will not of itself bring about a single sin. But even Satan’s least powerful minions have been known to turn whole television networks into sin factories, with minimal effort.

Who can fight with more strength than Lucifer? Who has more powerful weapons than all the riches of the world, all the pleasure of the flesh, and all the pride of human pomp and splendor?

The great drama, the great conflict. Satan vs. the well-read carpenter.

The conflict began in the beginning. Satan, immeasurably stronger, smarter, and more beautiful than Adam and Eve, hated us. He hates our race. We look like worms to him. And yet God treats us like His children. Satan burns with an uncontrollable, unending jealous rage, like Glenn Close boiling the bunny forever.

The drama—the conflict—will end when history ends, not before. Man on earth can never altogether escape the Enemy’s depredations. His weapons are everywhere.

But: In the little corner of the world where camels make their way between Egypt and Arabia, the carpenter doled out the Holy Spirit with flashes of infinite power. Then the stronger Man deployed the decisive weapon.

He went nuclear. He shot the proton torpedo into the Death Star’s thermal exhaust port.

What did He do? What fire-forged sword can actually overpower the strong man who made the earth his palace back in the days when fruit grew in the Garden of Eden?

Obedience. Humble, brave, serene, faithful obedience. The Messiah did the will of the Father. They nailed His gentle hands to the cross. At that point, Satan was toast.

Marcion Meets the Facts

I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17)

Who knows the name of the Christian heresy which rejected the Old Testament? This sect had great success for centuries. Indeed, we can say that this particular heresy is alive and well even now.

Also cut-and-pasted his own New Testament
Marcion taught that the Father of Christ is not the God of the Jews. The God of ancient Israel had too much traffic with actual human events, made too many unpredictable demands, and exacted too many bitter punishments.

Marcion produced a corrected and trimmed-down New Testament. It’s god reigns in pure, undisturbed serenity, separate from the affairs of this world—especially from the tumultuous, checkered history of the crazy kosher swarthies from the over-heated province of Palestine.

The Old Testament embarrassed Marcion. But one problem confronted him. The only thing more embarrassing than the Old Testament is the fact that the better part of the New Testament makes no sense without it. So Marcion became the first in a long line of good Christians who cut out a scrapbook of the Bible passages they like, and ignore the rest.

Contemporary Marcionism goes something like this: I believe in the nice God of the New Testament, not the mean god of the Old.

The “nice” God of the New Testament? “You knew I was a hard man. Why didn’t you put the money I gave you in the bank?” “No wedding garment? Out into the darkness with him!” “What will the master do to the faithless tenants? He will put them to a wretched death and burn their cities.” Seems that a certain “nice” Messiah used the word Gehenna at least twelve times in His recorded speeches. The whole Old Testament hardly contains twelve explicit references to hell.

If we want Christ, we are stuck with His being Jewish. If we want to believe in God’s mercy, we are stuck with believing in His exacting justice, too. If we want the God who became man, we can never forget that our ways are not His ways, and that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.

Jesus Christ is not our idea. He is a fact. As with all facts, a lot of other facts come along with Him, in a jumbled tumble of actual reality. We cannot pick and choose. Our job is to do our best to be one of the facts that go along with the fact of Christ.

Status Quaestionis: The Contraception Mandate

PG 13

Maybe you, too, find it difficult to keep the central elements of this controversy in focus. With all due respect for ecclesiastical authority–and for all authorities on medicine, public health, and health-care finance—I would like to undertake an analysis.

Continue reading Status Quaestionis: The Contraception Mandate”