Three More Middlemarch Quotes

George EliotBad enough that the doors shut on the Holy Father with nightfall in Italy. I also came to the end of the best novel I have ever read–on the same daggone day! Pray that I will find a reason for living tomorrow.

It was one of those moments in which both the busy and the idle pause with a certain awe. (Chapter 83)

We are on a perilous margin when we begin to look passively at our future selves, and see our own figures led with dull consent into insipid misdoing and shabby achievement. (Chapter 79)

Not too many novels can compete with The Great Gatsby for most-powerful moralizing final paragraph. But Middlemarch wins. Eliot writes of her heroine, who has gone on to live an unremarkable life as the wife of a small-time politician:

Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength,* spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

* One of Cyrus’ prize horses drowned in a river which fed the Tigris. Enraged and bent on “revenge,” he ordered his entire army to spend the summer digging trenches on the river banks, to turn the swelling river into a marshland of rivulets. Then, the following spring, he went on to conquer Babylon.

Aristotle’s Attitude about the Pope

'Aristotle with a Bust of Homer' by Rembrandt
‘Aristotle with a Bust of Homer’ by Rembrandt

More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, the LORD, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds. (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

One of the essential tenets of our religion holds that God judges souls. We do not. We do not have what it takes to penetrate deeply enough into another person’s soul so as to know whether it be good or evil. After all, we can barely manage to penetrate into our own souls; we can hardly begin to sort them out.

Sometimes we have to exercise limited judgment over external matters pertaining to other people. People with great responsibilities have to do it a lot. But our prayer as Christians is always: Lord, be merciful. Father, forgive. May everyone get to heaven. Have mercy on me, and help me to be good like other people are, because I am really the worst sinner I know.

Pope Benedict Easter candleAlso, even in the realm of limited judgments about external matters: the wise philosopher of old, Aristotle, warned against anyone trying to exercise judgment of any kind over someone more experienced.

None of us have the right, really, either to blame or to praise anyone who knows more than we do. It goes for both praise and blame. Just as it requires superior wisdom and experience justly to blame another for his or her bad actions, it likewise requires superior wisdom to praise someone for actions we judge to be good.

The simple way of saying this is: Parents have the right and duty to praise and/or censure their children. Children have no standing either to criticize or to commend their parents. If a little boy says, “Daddy, you are such a good daddy!” the wise father would have to say to himself: “That’s nice. But it doesn’t mean that I am good. Only a father wiser than myself could really give me such a compliment.”

This is why I do not understand why anyone would think that he or she has the standing to make any judgment at all about Pope Benedict’s decision to resign. Is there any question that Pope Benedict is a wiser and more experienced man than I am? There is no question. Not a person on the earth can really say that he or she is wiser or more experienced than the Pope. So really it makes no sense to judge the decision at all. Bad or good, the Pope will answer to God for it. For our part: we pray for him; we love him.

For nearly eight years, we have been praying for “Benedict, our Pope” at every Mass. That’s well over 2500 times for me—praying for Pope Benedict at the altar. It has been a privilege to be able to do so, a privilege granted to me despite my unworthiness.

St. Peter's tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica
St. Peter’s tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica
And: Can any of us doubt that the Pope has been lovingly praying for us all this time, too? No, we cannot doubt it. He certainly has been. And we know that he will continue to pray for us, as he enters his hidden life inside the precincts of the tomb of St. Peter.

If you remember exactly one year ago, on this day of Lent last year, we talked about how the shortness of life, and the inevitability of death, makes the Creed of the Catholic Church a lot more interesting.

Our Holy Father resigns his office today. Indeed, that makes today an unusual day in the history of the world. But is it earth-shattering? I mean, after all: before we know it, Pope Benedict will be dead, just like the rest of us.

So let’s just focus on God, and pray that everything happen in such a way that everyone will be able to get to heaven. And let me do my little part, and leave the business of judging to the wiser and more experienced people, and to God.

Rounding out the Regular

sistine-chimneyPerhaps some impious sacristy-rats are busying themselves speculating about the next Roman Pontiff.

But we leave such things in the hands of Almighty God. Our job is to pray, not lay bets.

That said…Maybe you want to handicap the rest of the Hoyas regular season?

A lot will be riding on what happens in Rome, of course. But we can trust God to take care of that one. Meanwhile, we have to root as hard as we can for the right team to win the Big East. There’s an awful lot of MoJo riding on each of these remaining regular-season games.

Let me know what you think.

The Way the Messiah Messiahs

Today we read the famous gospel passage about the ambitious Apostles. We have previously reflected on the fact that we can hardly condemn James and John for their ambition, nor their mother for hers. What James and John wanted, and what their mother wanted for them, is what we all want: to be close to Christ and to reign with Him forever.

christ-weepingBoth of the Zebedee brothers were, after all, preferred by Christ. He chose them to ascend Mt. Tabor with Him and to enter the Garden of Gethsemane, too. And their mother, to her credit, presumed in her request that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah and the king of heaven.

Where everybody fell short—mother, sons, and the other disciples, as well—was in this: They did not like to listen to Jesus when He explained the hard truth, the inevitable facts of the divine plan, the actual way of salvation.

You believe that I am the Messiah? Good—because I am. Know this: the Messiah does His Messiahing by sorrow and suffering. The Messiah walks the earth as a pilgrim of death. Yes, I eat and drink; I befriend all; I reject nothing wholesome and human as I trod this path of death. But all of it, I will let go. All of this folderol which preoccupies you is really just straw that will be burned in an oven.

If you are at-home in this world, you are not with Me. Only one path leads to the place prepared for Me by My Father; there is only one road the Christ of God can take: rejection, mockery, scourges and spittle, my Body treated like a wooden warning sign and nailed to a tree. Then: the silent tomb.

You want to reign with me? Good. Your faith is true. There is no eternal kingdom but Mine. You will sit at my right and left. My throne is the cross. To get to my kingdom you have to hang on it and die.

Christ’s Exodus, Stations, Marmion

Stations of the Cross

They spoke of His exodus, which He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. (Luke 9:31)

The exodus of Christ. Yes: the same word as the title of the second book of the Holy Bible. The ancient Israelites languished as slaves in Egypt, away from their Promised Land, away from the sacred domain that God had given to Abraham their forefather. But then Moses led the Exodus: The Israelites escaped their bondage. They passed over the Red Sea. They made their way to their true home.

transfigurationAll of that happened by way of foreshadowing. It all symbolized the great exodus yet to come. God Himself would come to this Egypt and share with us sons and daughters of Adam the slavery of death. God Himself would walk in this foreign land–Justice and Truth Himself on an earth full of injustice and lies.

Why did He do it? He came to lead an exodus.

The Lord Jesus ascended Mt. Tabor and allowed His divine glory to shine through, and Moses and Elijah came to Him to talk—all for one reason: Apparently cruel, confusing, heartbreaking events would soon unfold in Jerusalem. The Lord wanted to show His chosen Apostles the hidden meaning of His Passion and crucifixion.

Yes, it will look like a defeat. Yes, it will appear to be an unmitigated disaster. But do not mistake it. It will be the beginning of a mighty and glorious exodus. God will in fact win a triumph in Jerusalem—a triumph so stupendous that it will make Moses parting the Red Sea look like a cheesy half-time show by comparison.

Now, pretty soon we will have a new pope. One thing a pope does is to declare saints. Pope John Paul II declared a great monk-priest named Columba Marmion to be a saint.

Dom Columba Marmion
Dom Columba Marmion
Blessed Columba Marmion lived a life of enormous holiness; he was holy in many different ways. Let’s focus on one: Dom Columba made the Stations of the Cross every day. In other words, he made them every Friday of Lent. Plus, he made them every other Friday of the year, since the Church keeps every Friday as a kind of little weekly Lent, year-round. Plus, Blessed Columba made the Stations every other day, also: Monday-Thursday, and Saturdays and Sundays, too.

Now, maybe you’re saying to yourself: “Father is telling me that this holy man—this saintly individual—that he made the Stations of the Cross every day. But I am not altogether sure what ‘making the Stations of the Cross’ means. What does it mean?”

Okay. Good question. Let’s start with a few words of Dom Columba’s, if I might quote them:

This contemplation of Jesus’ suffering is very fruitful…That is why, if, during a few moments, interrupting your work, laying aside your preoccupations, and closing your heart to all outward things, you accompany the God-man along the road to Calvary, with faith, humility, and love, with the true desire of imitating His virtues, be assured that your souls will receive choice graces, which will transform them little by little into the likeness of Jesus.

…It suffices to visit the fourteen stations, to stay a while at each of them and there to meditate on the Savior’s Passion…The more we enter into those dispositions that filled the Heart of Jesus as He passed along the sorrowful way—love towards His Father, charity towards men, hatred for sin, humility, obedience to the Father’s will—the more our souls will receive graces and lights.

Every parish church has the fourteen stations: Jesus condemned to death. Jesus taking up His cross. Jesus falling under the weight of the cross. Jesus meeting His mother in the street on the way Calvary. St. Simon helping Jesus to carry the cross. St. Veronica wiping the Holy Face. The Lord falling under the weight of the cross again. Jesus condoling with the wailing women in the street. Jesus falling a third time as He begins to climb Calvary Hill. The centurions roughly stripping Him of His tunic. The centurions nailing Him to the cross. They plant the cross in the earth, and, after three hours of agony, God dies. They take His Body down and lay Him in His Mother’s arms. Then they lay Him in the tomb.

Fourteen stations. On the Fridays of Lent, most of the parishes of the world pray the Stations together. In our humble cluster, we make our way through them together at 7:00 in the evening. On Good Friday, at 3:00 p.m.

This is the exodus of the Savior of the world. We celebrate it constantly in the Mass. As Bl. Dom Columba put it, “devotion to the sufferings of Christ in the Way of the Cross is the devotional prayer most closely linked to the Mass.”

Let’s assume we want to get to heaven. Failing to take advantage of this particular means of devotion would be like a miner failing to take advantage of a pickaxe, or a NASCAR driver failing to take advantage of a car. Sure, you can run 500 times around Daytona Speedway on foot. But why not drive? Likewise: yes, it is possible to get to heaven without praying the Stations of the Cross. But why not hop on board a train of prayer that is definitely headed in the right direction? Friday at 7:00 (check local listings).

Notes for Vespers Talks (So Far) + Pericles

aquinasWeek 1 Handout *** Week 2 Handout

…PS. Had to drive to the See city of Richmond for a meeting. Enjoyed Shakespeare’s Pericles en route. The Arkangel cast includes two familiar voices: one from the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle BBC Pride and Prejudice, and the other from All Creatures Great and Small. Christopher Timothy speaks Cleon and Christopher Benjamin voices Simonides on the CD.

Pericles amazes. Just when you think the next plot twist couldn’t possibly be any more outlandish than the preceding one…the Bard delivers. The play, though set in an altogether pagan world, represents the virtue of religion (in the person of Pericles) and also makes great hay with the dead coming back to life. It’s also very helpful for New-Testament geography.

If Pericles were up for best picture, I would turn on the tv on Sunday. As it is, I’m rooting for “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Christopher BenjaminChristopher Timothy

Peter’s Faith in the Living God

You are the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)

St. Peter confessed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that God lives. He exists; He lives.

The Lord Jesus Himself certainly taught that God lives. God sees in secret. He cares for every sparrow and every flower of the field. He counts the hairs on our heads. He makes the sun shine and the rain fall on the just and the unjust. He knows the human heart and demands honesty. He is the God of the living, not the dead. His kingdom comes. He seeks the lost. He forgives sins. His Word is truth. He wills the salvation of man. He begets children by the Holy Spirit. God is alive.

Moses burning bushJesus teaches this. St. Peter confessed it. The Church believes it. God lives. God is infinitely more alive than we are. Our life comes from His life. Sure: our parents gave each of us life. But who gave it to them? Okay, well, who gave it to our grandparents? Who gave it to our great-grandparents? Etc., etc. Who gave it to Adam and Eve? And who sustains us in existence? Who gives us hope and the prospect of life without end?
God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that’s Who. The Lord Jesus testified that all of the life He Himself has comes from the Father. And Jesus promised to share that undying life with everyone who believes.

With St. Peter and all his successors, we believe this. We believe that God lives, and that Jesus lives, and that all the saints live. The Church stands on this faith, and our faith is true. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church, because the gates of hell cannot prevail against the truth. They cannot prevail against the vigor of God.

Missa Pro Pontifice Homily

Today (in our humble parish cluster) we celebrate Mass for Pope Benedict.

We love him. We wish him health and grace. We feel grateful for everything he has done to help us. He has served the Church with humble diligence for a very long time, quietly applying his capacious and disciplined mind to the problems at hand. We pray that God may reward him.

st peter medalionLet’s take note of the dates of a couple feast days. The Holy Father announced his resignation on February 11, which is the feast of…

Our Lady of Lourdes. Because so many sick and handicapped people have been healed at the shrine in Lourdes, February 11 has become the international Day of the Sick. So it’s hardly a co-incidence that the Pope chose to announce his resignation due to age and infirmity on that day.

Also, during the Pope’s final week in office, we will mark the 1,976th anniversary of the day St. Peter began to exercise his office as bishop of Antioch, Syria–the city that coined the term “Christian.” He took his “chair” there on February 22, AD 37. Later, Peter moved to Rome, and the Apostolic See moved with him. We can hardly think that Pope Benedict just co-incidentally decided to relinquish St. Peter’s chair a few days after the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair.

Now, as the Lord warned in the gospel, perhaps we should fear the Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah. We would rightly fear their rising up and condemning our generation–unless we try to understand the papacy from a genuinely spiritual point of view.

The big news from Rome has filled the airwaves with journalists rattling on about this or that aspect of the contemporary condition of the Church, all of which the new pope will inherit: Growing in the southern hemisphere. Reeling in Europe. Governed by an intransigent bureaucracy. Still confused by Vatican II. Stacked with reactionary Cardinals. Riddled with a liberal conspiracy. Afraid of new technology. Over-reliant on contemporary trends. Under-reliant on nuns. Patriarchal. Scandal-plagued. Too worldly. Too otherwordly. Etc. Etc.

Pope Benedict shoesNow, all of this informed commentary could be for the good, I am sure. But I think our faith demands that we look at this papal transition in a different light. Let’s not waste mental energy on what this or that new pope might or might not do, or should or should not do. Rather, let’s focus on the simple reality of there being a pope on earth at all.

Everything a pope does or doesn’t do pales by comparison with the simple fact that he is. That there is a father on earth for all the sons and daughters of God.

I may be one of the best Catholic priests with parishes in Franklin and in Henry County. Maybe the best—but certainly the worst. Bad or good doesn’t matter, though–compared to being. Maybe it’s not ideal when people have to complain to each other about how boring Father is. Sure: not ideal. But what if there were no Father? That would be indescribably worse.

Just so, the great miracle is that the whole world has a pope.

Maybe the pope says or does things I don’t understand. Maybe he’s the worst pope in business right now. At any rate, he is definitely the best.

But whether I understand him, or think he’s too professorial, or too liberal about Islam, or too German, or not tech-savvy enough, or smiles really sweetly, or has nice shoes, or writes amazingly thought-provoking books—that’s all fine and dandy. Maybe the new pope will be like that; maybe he won’t.

Does not really matter. The main thing is that he is. That he loves us and we love him. And that we rest secure in Christ’s one Catholic Church by being the people who have a Holy Father. Am I in the Church Christ founded? Well, let’s see…am I with Pope? Is he my Holy Father? If so, then Yes.

We thank you, Lord, for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict. And we thank you in advance for the next pope, too. We pray that, by Your grace, You will keep us united in faith, hope, and love.

Some Notes

hoyas scarlet knights

Question of the day:

Somehow our ESPN got switched to Spanish. Should we call the cable company to fix it? …Or should we just save time and learn Spanish?

…I must say “Downton Abbey” offered the viewer a rare pleasure when Phoebe Nicholls appeared in the Christmas special as the Marchioness of Flintshire. She has aged very gracefully since portraying young Cordelia in Brideshead Revisited in the 80’s and Elizabeth Elliot in Persuasion in the 90’s.

Phoebe NichollsHowever: I do think this Christmas special ran roughshod over peoples’ nerves. Ending the season with arbitrary death? I cry foul. Especially since last years’ special inspired so many consoling reflections on God’s grace.

…The most important thing we need to discuss, though, is of course the Georgetown Hoyas.

Beating Cincinnati on Friday night meant the end of a two-year Bearcats curse. The sky is now the limit. A truly epic Big-East regular-season finale lies before us.

First, we must beat DePaul. Then…the ‘cuse. Two games against the Orange in two weeks.

What? Yes.

Will we lose them both? Probably. Could we win them both? Is the Pope Catholic? (at least until February 28th at 8:00 pm Rome time?)

Of course, smack dab in the middle of all this super-high-level intensity: a Saturday-night contest (March 2nd) against the venerable, the respectable, the eye-of-the-tiger-flashing Rutgers Scarlet Knights. (Just because they are called the Scarlet Knights does not mean they are not tough.)

And who, pray tell, will be present at the sure-to-be-mega-epic Saturday-night Verizon-Center contest? A game that could set the stage for a Hoyas Big-East championship and Final-Four run?

Yes! That’s right! The parish cluster of Frank’n’Hank Counties, Virginny, represented by a busload of young people and their unworthy pastor! Bring on the noise, peeps. We are stepping into some serious Big-East-basketball drama.