Hebrews 10: Invite Someone to Mass

Ghent Altarpiece Adoration of the Lamb

We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works, not absenting ourselves from the assembly, but encouraging one another. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The assembly. The Apostle has just gotten through explaining how the ancient sacrifices, offered in the Temple according to Moses’ prescriptions, do not effect definitive peace and reconciliation with God. Rather, these sacrifices were instituted solely to foreshadow the truly pleasing sacrifice, the offering of the one, true priest of Melchizedek’s heavenly order, namely…*

The holy assembly, from which we must not absent ourselves—this assembly convenes for one reason: to participate in the one offering that consecrates.

Moses designed the ancient Temple after the pattern of the vision of heaven which God granted him to see. Our assembly, the assembly to which St. Paul refers—this assembly convenes not in Jerusalem, Israel, but rather on the threshold of that original Jerusalem—Jerusalem, Heaven.

SpockNow, some have the custom of absenting themselves from this assembly. We can’t very well blame God for that, and it would be un-Christian to judge others, so I think we have to blame ourselves.

Others absent themselves because I have not helped them to want to participate like should have. I have been overbearing when I should have been lighthearted. I have held my tongue out of fear when I should have spoken courageously out of love. I have secretly betrayed my own principles, and that betrayal has publicly shone forth in my lackluster, uninspiring behavior.

But it’s not too late! The great Judgment draws ever nearer, but we still have today. We still have today to get over ourselves and reach out with love. We still have today to trust God enough to risk everything for the sake of helping other people get to heaven.

The sacrifice around which we assemble: It will never fail. It is not just human; it is human and divine. The love with which the Son has always loved the Father and always will: that love, and nothing less, is our sacrifice. The divine love will not fail. Nothing is more solid. It holds up the very pillars of the earth.

So let’s rouse one another by confessing our sins and living out of this divine love. Only God knows what all will come of our efforts. But He has given us to know that nothing we do in the name of building up this assembly—none of it will be done in vain.

Other assemblies come and go. There will come a day when the Virginia General Assembly will cease to convene. And the U.S. Congress. The U.N. General Assembly. Even the international Star Trek Aficionados Convention will one day meet no more.

But our assembly will last forever. Nothing we do to build it up will be done in vain.


* The Lord Jesus Christ!!!

Hard Parable (of the Sower)

Is the Lord a poor famer? He scatters the seed of His truth all over the place. If we have ears to hear it, His Word declares to us that we have been made children of the Most High God, that we can have eternal life, that we can attain holiness. God is real, and He loves us.

The reality of God, the love of God—this truth comes to us by the faithful apostolic witness of the Church. The truth refreshes our souls. It gives our lives direction. And then it proceeds to make demands on us throughout the rest of our earthly lives.

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parableHolding fast to the Gospel, as exhilarating as it can be, can grow difficult. Not because it changes. But because, with time, we grow to understand it better. We find ways to grasp it more fully. And that can cost us.

The fact is that divine love has enemies. The parable highlights three. First, temptations by demons. The closer we get to purity of faith, the more ardently they besiege us with the knottiest challenges.

Second, fear. Let’s not beat around the bush: Believing the Gospel involves facing death squarely in the face, without fear. To believe in Christ and His victory means that if today is my day to die, then I am just as glad as I would be if it were in a hundred years.

And the third enemy of divine love that the Lord refers to in the parable: worldliness.

But, Father! We live in the world! How can we avoid being worldly? We have to eat and pay the bills. We have to have the internet and at least basic cable.

Let us be wholesome inhabitants of this beautiful earth. But God forbid that we let the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. “I have overcome the world,” He said. Did He come to the earth to overcome good things? No He came to overcome the enemies of our eternal happiness.

The world, the Super Bowl, the Beyonce lip-synching controversy, the hegemony of the United States, Google, Inc.—it will all pass away. Even Shakespeare and the fleeting beauty of the Grand Canyon will pass away.

This world is not our home; it is the place through which we pass on a journey; it is, at times, the arena of our pitched spiritual battles. It is, fundamentally, temporary.

For the seed to take root, we must see the unseeable truth and grasp the ungraspable fact: We have only one real home. And it is God. Only God.

(Published from my slick new Microsoft Surface. Please forgive typos.)

My Marching Apologia

March for Life 2013

Apropos of the sun shining, Georgetown beating Louisville, Branson insisting on a Catholic christening, and the 644th anniversary of the transfer of St. Thomas Aquinas’ relics to the Dominican church in Toulouse, I offer the following apologia:

A human life begins at conception. No serious scientific argument maintains otherwise. That said, many human lives end before birth, solely because the fragile process of gestation often fails.

The Pro-Life Movement does not (and cannot reasonably) object simply to the natural (that is, purely material) evil of embryonic and fetal death. What the Pro-Life Movement objects to is: Embryonic and fetal death caused by human actions, actions that directly or indirectly intend the death of an unborn person.

Granted: An unborn child cannot reasonably be said to possess “rights” like an adult, or even an older child, does. If an unborn child has a right to live, that right can only be vindicated by the generous co-operation of the child’s mother. While this co-operation proceeds with the force of a natural obligation, to carry and bear a child involves many heroic acts of self-sacrifice.

No woman should ever be forced to mother a child. Every woman possesses the right to retain her bodily integrity, even to consecrate herself in a state of perpetual virginity. Every woman has the right to renounce sexual intercourse and motherhood for any period of time prior to marrying, or to put off marrying indefinitely. Any woman who exercises these rights deserves respect and admiration. Rapists should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The Pro-Life Movement takes no particular position regarding the best way for women to live their lives. Every woman must make her own choices about becoming a mother.

unbornThe Pro-Life Movement simply proposes the following: It is impossible for any woman who is pregnant, or who even might be pregnant, to retain an upright conscience if she chooses knowingly to act in such a way as would cause her baby to die. The Pro-Life Movement focuses solely on these actions, which intend to kill unborn children, either directly or indirectly. No one can act in this manner, or co-operate in such an action, and retain a pure and honest conscience.

The honesty of human consciences is, then, the object of all the Pro-Life Movement’s efforts. The moral harm of abortion, its darkening effect on conscience—this damages everyone involved. It is impossible to recover from this spiritual injury without profound repentance and change.

The babies themselves are in the hands of God. But the persons who are morally responsible for their deaths find themselves in an untenable state. The Pro-Life Movement holds that we find ourselves in this untenable state as a nation.

With tears, we lament this collective darkness of soul. We insist that purification and enlightenment can and must be a legitimate object of political activism. We reject the abortion-tolerating status quo as foreign to human decency.

If Americans are not bound together by a common desire to live together with consciences that are upright and true, then, in fact, we have no “community” at all. Roe v. Wade has effectively put our country into a kind of state of war. Each individual American lives in a state of war with all the other individuals, without even a treaty establishing basic norms of common life. The Pro-Life Movement seeks an America in which this state of war is brought to an end. We seek a common life together, which is based on the fundamental norm that acting against the life of an innocent person is an unacceptable crime.

This is why I march every year, dear reader.

Portrait of Unity

fray hortensio portrait el greco

At Sunday Mass, we find ourselves in the middle of a three week tour of St. Paul’s treatise on love and unity. Next Sunday, Mass will be like a wedding. The second reading will be I Corinthians, chapter thirteen.

This Sunday, we hear the second part of the twelfth chapter, which contains one of the most entertaining passages in the entire Bible: Body parts begin talking to each other, like members of a self-pity support group.

The goofy-looking foot miserably laments, “I am not a hand, so I really don’t feel included!” The hand just sits there quietly, looking graceful and debonair.

Then the ugly, lumpy ear jumps in: “Look at me! I am not luminous and iridescent like the eye over here. So I just get shut off to the side and used as a kind of doorstop for people’s glasses!”

earLet’s focus on this: In writing this section of his letter, St. Paul focused his imagination on the human body with the meticulous eye of a portrait painter.

The portrait painter wants to capture the details of all the various parts of a person’s human form, in order thereby to present the unique and distinctive whole: the personality of this particular human being.

If you don’t mind, let’s take an example. My favorite portrait painter is El Greco (as you can tell, because he is in the Hall of Fame to the right). He painted a portrait of a friend of his, a priest and Trinitarian friar, whom the king of Spain had appointed preacher to the royal court.

Continue reading “Portrait of Unity”

Weather in Washington

during the March for Life today is terrible. Cold wintry mix as we ascend Capitol Hill and draw near the Supreme Court.

…I have run into lots of people I haven’t seen in years. Like a huge family reunion…

hey hey ho ho Roe v. Wade has got to go

…People singing, praying the rosary. Catholic University campus chaplain on the bullhorn. “CUA!” –Is pro-life! “CUA!” –Is pro-life!!

Our parish-cluster peeps are charging onward in little pockets. We got separated in the crowds…Meet up at the bus by the Air & Space…

[Looks like a smartphone weblog update, doesn’t it? But my beloved new phone is a dumb old flipper. I wrote this ahead of time, and scheduled it to pop up. March for Life is always the same: Crappy weather and absolutely wonderful.]

St. Francis’ Bones and Teaching


Today we mark the 390th anniversary of the burial of St. Francis de Sales in the Visitation chapel in Annecy, France.

Because the French Revolutionaries rampaged all over the country, desecrating the tombs of the saints, St. Francis’ remains had to be hidden. Today would be a good day, then, for us to do an act of penance for those poor, misguided maniacs who, out of twisted hatred for the Christian faith, disturbed the bodies of many saints who slept peacefully, awaiting the Final Day. May God be merciful to all the twisted maniacs who hate the Church.

The Fathers of the First Vatican Council petitioned Pope Pius IX to declare St. Francis a Doctor of the Church, and the Pope gladly complied.

intro-dev-lifeSt. Francis’ Introduction to the Devout Life offers the best advice available to anyone who wants to establish a good spiritual life, in my humble opinion. Here’s a quote:

Especially I commend earnest mental prayer to you, more particularly such as bears upon the Life and Passion of our Lord. If you contemplate Him frequently in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with Him, you will grow in His Likeness, and your actions will be molded on His.

He is the Light of the world; therefore in Him, by Him, and for Him we shall be enlightened and illuminated; He is the Tree of Life, beneath the shadow of which we must find rest; He is the Living Fountain of Jacob’s well, wherein we may wash away every stain.

Children learn to speak by hearing their mother talk, and stammering forth their childish sounds in imitation; and so if we cleave to the Savior in meditation, listening to His words, watching His actions and intentions, we shall learn in time, through His Grace, to speak, act and will like Himself.

Believe me, there is no way to God save through this door. Just as the glass of a mirror would give no reflection save for the metal behind it, so neither could we here below contemplate the Godhead, were it not united to the Sacred Humanity of our Savior, Whose Life and Death are the best, sweetest and most profitable subjects that we can possibly select for meditation. It is not without meaning that the Savior calls Himself the Bread come down from Heaven; just as we eat bread with all manner of other food, so we need to meditate and feed upon our Dear Lord in every prayer and action.

Coming at the IoM Like Ray Rice

Our laser weapon of religious-freedom clarification, Cathleen Kaveny, has made some more awesome distinctions and points. This time she considers a judge hearing the potential Religious-Freedom-Restoration-Act case that we would hypothetically mount. Click through the link to savor her insights.

scales_of_justiceTwo things that strike me:

1. Seems to me that the judge could reasonably ask of us plaintiffs: “Okay, now: about this burden on you. Taking for granted that using artificial contraception is evil…Under the disputed law, when the evil deed is done, who exactly will be doing it? Will you have to do something evil?”

To which question we do not have a compelling answer. If we say we would formally co-operate by paying into a healthcare plan with bad provisions, a sympathetic interlocutor could respond: But couldn’t you put your conscience at ease? By your own teaching regarding just compensation, you assert that everyone deserves the provision of healthcare. The healthcare delivery system will simply be following the law. You publicly disagree with the law. You clearly teach that artificial contraception and abortion are immoral. Therefore, your conscience can be clear. If others act immorally, they will answer for it. Not you.

(And I, for one, firmly believe that any judge has a right to question any religious-freedom claimant in this manner. True religion is not irrational. The Free-Exercise Clause should be understood to protect only that religious practice that can be defended on reasonable grounds.)

2. Regarding the government making its case:

The fact of the matter is that, while there may be plenty of big-time problems with the Obama administration, doing due diligence in drafting the Affordable-Care-Act regulations is not one of them.

Ray RiceIn coming up with the regulations, the administration did what any reasonable governing body would do. They consulted experts and accepted the assertions of the spokespeople of mainstream medicine. The “medical community” of the U.S. does in fact say that artificial contraception is good medicine and important medicine.

Here, my friends, is where I believe we meet the heart of the problem. The nearly universal presumption of medical practice holds that artificial contraception counts as medicine.

Now, in fact, artificial contraception does not count as medicine. But to make this point, we have to build from the ground up, starting with:

to facilitate sexual libertinism ≠ to heal

To the contrary:

to facilitate sexual libertinism = to wound

This is the point-of-view of a (now middle-aged) man who was born at the hour of history when the bad bell tolled. I grew up with condoms being shoved in my face.

To me, the whole business looks like a racket for getting people to do things that are truly bad for us. I am pretty sure that a special furnace in hell burns for everyone who peddles condoms and birth-control pills. Its fires are fed by the pain of every young heart broken by someone’s unchaste act.

hellTrue health means a mature spiritual life and the self-control that goes with it. It means chastity, love, and hope for the future, with trust in God. Health means church on Sunday and a lot of people who love you and will help you through any difficulty.

The whole rationale for Roe v. Wade, namely that abortion has to be legal because otherwise it will happen dangerously in the shadows–this rationale fails for one reason. There is a safety net for every pregnant woman, and it is the love of Christ, Who does not condemn but rather rejoices in all life. And the love of His Church. If every woman who thought she needed an abortion walked into a Catholic parish church and started asking for help, there would be no abortions.

Hence, my position on the HHS-mandate business is:

We do not belong on the sidelines whining to the referees about our poor, little religious freedom.

We belong in the game. We need to run down the throat of the defense like Ray Rice.

The idea that sex on-demand is a key to health is simply false. Chastity is a key to health. This can be demonstrated by careful argument, including the all-important citation of many statistics.

We can attack the Obama administration, if we want to. But, in this particular case, we need to attack the false medical consensus.

Abortion sucks. Contraception sucks. Doctors who give out artificial contraceptives suck twice. Doctors who perform abortions…well, God help us. I’m sorry I brought that one up.

The HHS controversy is not a religious-freedom problem for American Catholics. It is an evangelical mandate for American Catholics.

What are you and I going to do about the real problem? All the people who crush human life, anywhere from the zygote stage on–they’re all going to hell. Unless we do something to help them.

Melchizedek, Eternity

Peter Paul Rubens Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek

Melchizedek. Offered bread and wine. Our father Abraham approached him to offer sacrifice. The head of the People of God gave Melchizedek a holy tithe, the tenth of all his goods.

St. Paul points out to us children of Abraham that we do not know where Melchizedek, our forefather’s priest, came from. We really don’t know who Melchizedek was at all–except that he was a priest who offered bread and wine and presided as king over a city of peace. And what became of Melchizedek? Don’t know.

What we do know is that Christ offered His sacrifice of Himself as a priest of Melchizedek’s order.

Which means that we, too, are priests of the order of Melchizedek. Those of us consecrated to minister at the altar in the place of Christ our Head—we offer bread and wine like Melchizedek. And the Lord transforms these offerings into His Body and Blood. And all of us—all Christians—offer ourselves to the Father along with the holy sacrifice of the altar.

Seems to me that to say that I belong to the order of Melchizedek—which I do, which we all do—seems to me that saying this is like saying: “Where I am from and where I am going are actually very mysterious questions.”

James Bond SkyfallPeople think James Bond is a mysterious dude. Where is he from? Well, I think it turns out that he’s from Scotland. Or something like that.

Whereas, we members of the holy order of Melchizedek of old: our origins and our destiny are indescribably more mysterious. Where are you from, chief? Northwest Washington? New Jersey? Lackawanna, New York? ¿Distrito Federal?

Not quite, pardner. Not quite.

And where are you headed? Disney World? Florida? Six feet under?

Not exactly.

Where did Melchizedek go, after he made his holy sacrifice? He went back into the city of perpetual peace.

The young Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed dissatisfaction with the idea that the church exists solely to save souls. We should not focus exclusively on the next life. We’ve got to address the injustices of the here and now. Where love is lacking in this world, we must fill the gap with ours.

Amen. Right? After all, what will we have to offer on the altar as priests of the holy order of Melchizedek, if we do not strive and struggle to be heroes of love in this world? If we do not stand up as champions of people who have no champion?

But, with two generations having passed since “The Sixties” actually began in the second half of the 1950’s, we have to address new kinds of questions.

The question then was: How do we translate our faith in the eternal into action for our poor brothers and sisters here and now?

But now the world is full of people who simply do not know the answer to questions like: Why be just at all? Why be loving? Why should I do the right thing? Why should I seek the truth?

And the only really convincing answer to these questions is: Because every single moment of our lives on this third rock from the sun has eternal significance. Because God is real and everywhere and always. And the great priest of the order of Melchizedek, Jesus Christ, has revealed to us that we have been made for nothing less than eternal life in the kingdom of peace. And He is our way there.

The Thing about MLK’s Bible…

MLK preaching in church

He knew what it said.

Martin Luther King, Jr., had received a thoroughgoing education. His education began with the Scriptures, included extensive study of history and philosophy, and ended with the Scriptures. He followed the vocation of a churchman. He lived in church–reading, hearing, contemplating, and trying to explain the Bible.

He knew the contents of the Bible. When he thought, he thought about things that he had read in the Bible. When his prodigious imagination churned, and he envisioned the future and the path toward it, what was churning around in there? In his mind’s eye? All the things that he had read, and re-read, in the Holy Bible.

Below you will find extensive citations from his most famous speeches, by which I try to demonstrate the truth of what I have just asserted. Please read.

Before that, I hope you will forgive me for briefly pointing this out: Today I have read widespread comparisons between Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr. I make no moral comparisons between the two. I simply point out this one fact:

When Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke, he expressed the contents of the Holy Bible. Simple fact. For good or ill, that’s what he did. And Dr. King himself would be the first to tell you that such was his mission in life. To know and to express the Bible.

MLK Time magazineBarack Obama does not do this. Simple fact. As I said, I make no moral judgment in pointing this out. It’s just a fact. Barack Obama can put his hand on any man’s Bible, as many times as he wants. But when he speaks, the Bible does not speak. Simple fact.

Ergo, the two men, MLK and the President, are not similar. Yes, they are both black. But in this all-important respect (ie., the “Biblicality” of their speech) they are not similar.

Before the quotations, let me add one more thing: Martin Luther King, Jr., succeeded enormously in his endeavor. Why?

He was a good-looking, charismatic man, with a voice of stunning clarity and power. He came along at the precise historic moment when television made it possible for everyone to see him and listen to him. And everyone could see how the people who followed his leadership suffered righteously and peaceably, and those who harmed them were violent villains.

All these factors, however, are externals. Martin Luther King never would have succeeded if he were solely a good-looking man who managed to get himself on television. What people saw when they saw him: that’s the heart of the matter. And they saw nonviolence. They saw peacefulness, love. The quiet confidence of genuine righteousness.

And where did this come from? Is the answer not as clear as day? From Jesus Christ. Martin Luther King loved the Scriptures because he loved Jesus Christ. If Martin Luther King is a great man, it is for one, single reason: because he lived as an eminent servant of Jesus Christ.

From “Birth of a New Nation” (Montgomery, Alabama, spring 1957)

Continue reading “The Thing about MLK’s Bible…”

More HHS Mandate Considerations

Just when you thought that maybe we could forget all about it!

…Cathleen Kaveny of Commonweal has written an illuminating essay, which I commend to your reading.

Points she has made well:

1. She distinguishes: On the one hand, the Church’s teaching, as an expert analyst of human morality, that any sexual act is unchaste and wrong if it is intentionally rendered fruitless by human intervention. This applies in every case–Catholic, non-Catholic, Jew, Quaker, Presbyterian. No one will ever be able to stand before God and defend him- or herself for turning sex into an act of mutual masturbation.

cathleen-kavenyOn the other hand: the Church Herself does not propose that we should live under ecclesiastical secular rule.

We live in a republican democracy. The Church made Her case that the healthcare law should not include artificial contraception. Our duly elected leaders chose otherwise (having received, as Kaveny points out, the counsel of supposed experts–in other words, the government did, in fact, do its due dilligence). Result: they made a law that includes artificial contraception.

[Now, Kaveny does ignore one big elephant in the room here, namely that hormone contraceptives cause early abortions–or at least appear to do so with some frequency. Which means that, from a moral point-of-view, the issue at hand must be considered to include not just immoral sex acts, but also embryo-icide, which is a far graver moral evil. But let’s let that pass for now…]

2. She–to my mind, decisively–points out that “clarion calls for religious freedom” do not serve any real purpose in this context. The whole business must be analyzed in minute detail in order to arrive at a just conclusion.

In the first part of her essay (the link above is to Part II), she points out–again, quite decisively–that any claim by our Church to the effect that co-operating with the mandate is immoral cannot withstand scrutiny. Because we have already co-operated with such mandates in numerous states. Money in the coffers of Catholic institutions already winds up in other coffers that pay for artificial contraceptives, and it happens because of state and local laws that govern what healthcare coverage must include.

Now, perhaps this means that the moment has arrived for a careful scholar to outline precisely the moral problem with this phenomenon (of money moving in this way). I will be glad to read it. I haven’t yet come across it. And I have looked.

To my mind, the fact of the matter is: money moving in this way does not necessarily implicate anyone morally. It implicates only those who intentionally use artificial contraceptives, and those who wrongly counsel them to do so and facilitate their doing so.

But obeying a law about where I am required to send money to cover my employee’s government-mandated health services does not implicate me in any immoral use of that money later on.

So, in fact, there really is no moral problem for the institutions, businesses, employers, etc. So, in fact, there is no real religious freedom claim to be made.


Chime in, as you wish!