Let’s imagine that a journalist came to interview us at church this evening or tomorrow morning.
Okay. So…good evening/morning! For the information of our viewers, let me ask you a few questions:
Are you saying that you are here in church this evening/morning because you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?
And is it true that you hold that Jesus is God made flesh, the divine Son of the divine Father?
So there is an Almighty God Who made heaven and earth?
And He guides all things with infinite wisdom and love?
And He pours out the Spirit of holiness?
And heaven awaits?
Listen, I was doing some background research, and I learned that Catholics believe that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, risen and reigning in heaven, becomes present in the flesh when the priest consecrates the Host and the Chalice on the altar. Is that true?
And you hold that baptism washes away sins, and if someone sins after baptism, a priest can absolve them in the name of God after a thorough confession?
I understand that you read the Bible constantly as a group, and also individually, because you believe that God Himself has given it to you to read?
And I get the impression that you Catholics believe that Jesus walks the earth in the person of the poor or sick or imprisoned or troubled individual?
I read somewhere that you respect the Pope as the Chief Shepherd of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that Jesus Christ founded, and all the bishops around the world as the successors of the Apostles.
I heard that you hold that life begins at conception, that abortion is never an option, that marriage is a fruitful lifelong bond between a man and a woman, and that everyone needs to fight against self-indulgence and bad habits, and seek to be holy like Jesus Christ.
You say that you love your country, but you love your Church more, that you like to enjoy life, but that none of it is worth a darn compared to heaven, that you feel guilty if you let a day go by without praying, or a week go by without going the church?
That you know your priests and bishops are weak men, like anyone else, but you love them anyway because they stand in the place of Christ? That you kneel before the Blessed Sacrament, and sing to the Lord whenever you can?
That you sacrifice time and money for the Church, because everything really belongs to God anyway, that you pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, and try to tell the truth all the time, and treat others with respect and love, and follow the rules?
You wish that everyone could know the peace and joy of being Catholic, and join the Church—because your attitude is, ‘The more, the merrier?’
Okay! Well, it seems like either you Catholics are really quite crazy. Or maybe you are on to something…
We love the Lord Jesus, risen from the dead. We love God the Father. We are Catholic and proud.
If you mess with us, we will love you. We will love you until you love us back, or at least until you love God. Or we’ll die trying.
I thank the men who, as the real heroes of generosity at our parish Mass of the Lord’s Supper yesterday evening, submitted to having their feet washed by their overly intense pastor. They endured the most difficult task of the evening.
Now: Yes, the book (Missal) clearly indicates that men should be chosen to receive the ministrations of the priest in the footwashing rite. As the Lord Jesus washed the feet of twelve men at the Last Supper, so the priest.
The business admits of many different profound interpretations, and those who witness it draw spiritual fruit according to each person’s own unique interior life. The duty of the priest is to follow the instructions printed in the Missal.
Over my (soon to be ten) years as a priest, I have, with some reflection and practice, developed the way in which I wash people’s feet on Holy Thursday evening. I do not claim that it is a good way; I only ask that it be respected as the result of some extended reflection on my part. To be perfectly honest, I studied the way that Pope John Paul II did it, and I attempt to do it that way.
Yesterday, our Holy Father washed the feet of ten young men and two young women. May God be praised that we have a Pope, and a healthy and loving Pope.
Does this mean that the instruction in the Missal will be changed regarding who should be chosen to sit for footwashing? Only time will tell.
But in the interest of honesty, I feel obliged to say the following. I do not mean it as a judgment on anyone else; it is simply my personal sensibility:
I could not in good conscience maintain the manner in which I execute the footwashing rite if a woman were sitting before me. I do not imagine myself to be Brad Pitt on wheels. But neither am I eighty years old and altogether beyond the virile stage. I could not engage in the physical intimacy (which, to my mind, the rite demands) with a woman who was either married to someone else or unattached. It would be unbecoming for us both.
Okay! May the Lord bless us with a Good Friday full of graces.
We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way. (Isaiah 53:6)
Let’s reflect for a moment on Judas’ willfulness.
Before him stood the Messiah. Jesus had enchanted Judas, like He had enchanted all the Apostles and disciples, so that they became Apostles and disciples in the first place.
Judas followed Jesus around for months, years. He listened to Jesus’ teachings, saw Him work miracles. Judas witnessed the constant loving kindness of Christ. He heard the Lord’s words of eternal life. He traveled in the company of people who believed. Christ invited Judas into the most intimate moments of divine revelation.
But, as it turned out, Jesus of Nazareth did not prove to be the Messiah that Judas had in mind. He did not want this kind of Messiah.
Now, we can only speculate as to what exactly Judas wanted in a Messiah. A stronger political operator? A military organizer? A more self-effacing type of person, with less grandeur? That is, more of a Joe Sixpack of a Messiah? Maybe someone not quite so relentlessly spiritual and otherworldly? Or someone who would be not quite so perfectly comfortable with undesirables like prostitutes and tax collectors? A shorter Messiah? A native of a place with a more-storied history than Nazareth? Less of a poet? More of a horseman and less of an indefatigable walker?
Who knows? Judas came from a different part of the country than all the other Apostles. He was the only one who was not a northerner, a Galilean; Judas’ hometown was located south of Jerusalem. Perhaps Judas felt alienated for this reason, felt like an odd man out. In truth, Judas probably had good reason to think that he had been raised better than the rustics he found himself surrounded by. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what was in Judas’ mind exactly.
What we do know is that Judas did not agree; he did not accept; he did not approve; he did not open his heart to let the beautiful truth in. Instead, he decided: This man may be charismatic and wonderful; He may have a great following of humble and loyal disciples. But he is not what we need. We need something different. We need a different Messiah. Not this one. This claimant to the Messiahship needs to be gotten rid of.
In the face of the beauty and inexorable power of Jesus Christ, Judas came to this decision. His decision may strike us as incomprehensible. How could Judas be so stupendously willful?
But are we really so far from it?
My dear mom made her career as a high-school teacher. Among her friends was a teacher that I had during my senior year. This teacher of mine said to my mom, during a private friendly chat, “You know, your son is charming. And smart. But, my God, does he have a will of stone.”
This observation was offered with affection. But it was by no means a compliment. What she meant was: I am trying to help your son grow, and he won’t let me.
To that dear teacher, who only meant me good, and to countless others—to you, dear reader—I can only offer my sincerest apologies for being an obtuse, arrogant, willful numbskull.
Our greatest heroes have had strong wills. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a will of iron. And Michael Jordan, too. And Blessed Mother Theresa. Our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis, seems to be one strong-willed dude. Great people tend to have strong wills. But Adolf Hitler also had a strong will. And Mao Zedong. And the emperor Caligula. And Judas Iscariot.
May God be merciful to us willful ones. The real sign of greatness, the quality of the living saint, is a will (of whatever size or strength) which harmonizes with reality. The truly great person is the one who recognizes the power and the plan of God, accepts it, and co-operates.
No matter how clever I may be, no matter how creative and enterprising—my will does not guide the Divine Hand. The Divine Hand guides me. If I know anything, if I have any good ideas, or good qualities, or energy, or talent—it is all because God has given it to me. God’s will, and only His will, is law. All of us, without exception, can say: God knows better than I do.
Better to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd like an insignificant little sheep than to get enshrined in some Hall of Fame somewhere at the price of my immortal soul. The good Lord has a plan for all of us. He doesn’t ask that we know it all. He simply demands that we believe.
We say that God is love, that love pours out infinitely from the bosom of the Creator and Father of all.
We say that God’s love moves us to love, to think first of our neighbor and only secondly of ourselves. To let ourselves get lost, really, in the rough and tumble of paying attention to other people and how we can help them. We forget ourselves, lose our egos like a set of keys—and then we wind up finding ourselves again at the end of the day, when we’re ready for an honest night’s sleep after spending our strength doing our duty to others.
We disciples of Christ say that a bottomless spring flows with love. We drink from this fountain, and the invisible, spiritual water is holy and divine and makes us capable of doing things that the world deems impossible, like not being selfish all the time.
Now, how do we know all this? How do we know that the river of love never runs dry, because God Himself loves, and loves infinitely?
After all, someone might ask us: If God is love, why do people die, and when I don’t want them to? Why do good people get diseases? Why do liars and cheaters prosper, while the honest man can’t even afford to pay his taxes?
Once and for all, in the times of the Roman Empire and Pontius Pilate, the Savior gave Himself over for us. He submitted Himself to the power of evil men and died a horrible death. That one, single springtime–two millennia ago–saw more grace flow down from heaven than the world could ever use up.
But every year we renew the time—the Holy Hour of our Redemption—because Christ has willed that we do so.
We hear in today’s gospel reading how He commanded that the place be prepared for the celebration of the Passover. And at every Mass we hear how he commanded us to celebrate these rites in His memory.
On the one hand, it all happened once and for all, two millennia ago. On the other, we keep a yearly observance in order to sanctify our times. Because the One Who made the sacrifice is Christ, and the One Who renews it is Christ, the ‘once and for all,’ and the ‘every year’ do not contradict each other.
When we remember Jesus Christ, and what He did during Holy Week, it is not like conjuring up someone gone, reminiscing as if we were at an Irish wake. To the contrary: Jesus Christ is not dead. He is a million times more alive than we are. When we remember Him by fulfilling His commandments, He acts on us. He connects us with His eternal, undying life.
The once-and-for-all sacrifice of our Redemption is the sacrifice of the divine Son to the divine Father: It is the triune life of God. It has no end. The Hour of our Redemption is always right now. By commanding us to keep Holy Week, Jesus wakes us up again every year to this fact. The Hour of our Redemption unfolded in the world 2,000 years ago and has not run out yet. It doesn’t tick away like the minutes on a clock. Rather, it lifts every moment of time up to itself, until the Lord comes again and the Age of Grace becomes the Age of Glory.
So let’s prepare the place: our church, our schedules, ourselves—for a good Confession this week, if at all possible. Let’s prepare our hearts to accompany the Savior through the events of our Redemption. Let’s live the rest of this week in the thick of the real news: Jesus Christ has gone up to Jerusalem to keep the feast.
Given the state of public discourse (at least what I have heard of it), I think a thoughtful Christian might find him- or herself thoroughly confused by the “gay-marriage” cases which the Supreme Court will hear this week.
Some preliminary observations:
1. No true Christian would ever think it acceptable to abuse or mistreat anyone–including, certainly, any homosexual person. 2. Any member of any generation prior to ours, upon hearing that the Supreme Court of a major nation would consider the possibility of “gay marriage,” would laugh out loud, because it must be some kind of joke. 3. This problem which we have at hand is, in fact, enormously profound; it cannot be settled without simultaneously questioning whether or not divorce should–or even can–be legal; it requires a Christian to put American patriotism in its proper place in the hierarchy of loyalty, namely, under religion and allegiance to the Church.
If there were two fishbowls in which people could live, the one being “secular” and the other “Christian,” then we Christians could say to the state: You have your laws of marriage, and we have ours, and let’s just leave each other alone.
But there aren’t two fishbowls. There’s just one, in which God calls people into His Church at different points in their lives, in which men and women with different priorities meet each other and fall in love with each other and have children together, in which the Church fulfills Her sacred mission for the good of every human being.
If you will permit me, I would like to say first that I think the key fact, the fundamentally decisive reality, is this:
Every individual human being has a mother and a father. There is no way to come into existence as a human being without a mother and a father.
It seems to me that all sound doctrine in the fields of marriage law, sociology, social work, psychology, child care, marriage counseling, religion, home economics, education, developmental psychiatry, neonatology, pediatrics, addictions counseling, even interior design: all theories and teaching must be based on the fact that every human being ever (except for Adam, Eve, and Jesus Christ) has had, has, and will have a human mother and a human father. In other words: without my mother and my father, I simply would not exist. Any person of love and decency thinks of all people (and especially children) in this light: every person has a mother and a father.
When anyone experiences sexual attraction towards someone whom he or she cannot think of marrying, this is a cross, a burden, a trial, a difficulty. We owe it to our neighbors to help each other struggle through these challenges. The more purely we love each other in Christ, the more we can help homosexual people to be chaste–and all people to be chaste. Because all of us, at some point or another, experience sexual attraction towards people we cannot think of marrying.
Now, to what the Church has taught in the past:
Council of Trent:
It is something singularly execrable to violate the freedom of matrimony.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve were free to marry. If someone had tried to tell them that they weren’t, the world might never have known the need for diapers. But no one told them not to. So they did it.
Before sin entered the world, I think we can say, there was no need whatsoever for external laws of marriage. But sin did enter. So the Savior had to come.
Now: We hold that the Savior restored marriage to its original state of permanence and exclusivity.
Christ made marriage a sacrament of His grace.
Marriage, indeed, has, from the beginning, been a sign of the union of God and man, destined to last forever in heaven. By the power of Christ, Who shed His blood on the cross for His beloved Bride, marriage is now such a sign again.
The sacred sign has been entrusted to the Church.
Hopefully, dear reader, you have noticed that this means that there is no such thing as “civil marriage.” Never has been and never will be. Marriage is inherently sacred, inherently religious, inherently Godly. God made Adam and Eve out of elements that only He could fashion into human persons, and He endowed them with the power to bring new human persons into the world–through marriage. Spouses co-operate with the Creator in bringing new people into the world and into the Church.
Marriage and child-bearing, therefore, establish the situation in which a state or nation can exist. The fundamental fact, when it comes to this week’s Supreme Court cases, is this: The state has the prerogative to establish laws pertaining to certain practical exigencies of married life. But civil authority does not have the power to establish any laws regarding what marriage is, or whether or not a particular marriage bond can or does exist.
A state might be a tranquil and beautiful republican democracy; it might be a repressive dictatorship; it might be a monarchy—doesn’t matter. Under no circumstances whatsoever does any civil authority have the prerogative to establish what marriage is, or to determine who is married and who isn’t, or who can marry and who can’t. That prerogative belongs solely to God, and the only competent judges in such matters are those who have been designated as such by the proper authorities in God’s Church.
Canon 12 of Session 12 of the Council of Trent:
If anyone says that matrimonial causes do not belong to ecclesiastical judges, let him be anathema.
Pope Leo XIII:
Marriage was not instituted by the will of man, but, from the very beginning, by the authority and command of God; it does not admit of plurality of wives or husbands; Christ, the Author of the New Covenant, raised it from a rite of nature to be a sacrament, and gave to His Church legislative and judicial power with regard to the bond of union.
So, please, dear brothers and sisters, let us not be confused. We certainly hope that the Supreme Court will not make a decision which, in the long run, will prove to be utterly laughable. But they might make such a decision.
If and when the time comes when the laughable decision could cause me and other priests, deacons, and bishops, to have to pay fines and/or go to jail, we’ll let you know. For now, the people who need our advocacy and prayers are a) anyone involved in health care who, reasonably, refuses to have anything to do with in vitro fertilization and other similar child abuses, and b) case workers confronted with “married” couples who have no legitimate claim to be considered as potential adoptive parents.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that painful things will happen to the Church if the Court makes the wrong decisions on this week’s cases. Time, however, will tell. The fact of the matter is that we really cannot agree with either side’s arguments. Both positions concede to the government an authority which it does not possess.
So I think we should persevere in peace and tranquility. If any of us have marriage cases pending before ecclesiastical tribunals, let’s put it all in God’s hands and trust that the matter will be resolved according to the divine plan.
Where we really need to focus, I think, is in supporting each other in living chaste lives. A poor soul has to be very far estranged from the friendship of Christ to find him- or herself in such a situation that he or she would a) marry and/or have a child with someone whom he or she cannot realistically look forward to living with until death, or b) think of “marrying” someone of the same sex.
Let’s strive to stay close to the chaste and celibate Christ, Who reigns in heaven as the fulfillment of all our desires, and Who shares His life with us in the sacraments and prayers of the Church.
By staying close to Him, each of us does his or her part to help others stay close to Him. “Same-sex marriages,” or second or third “marriages” (with former spouses still living), are not really the concern of anyone who lives daily in the friendship of Jesus Christ.
Let’s hope and pray for the day that no one gives a thought to same-sex marriage or divorce, and let’s be kind and understanding toward everyone who does—and offer them the friendship of Christ, which is the only real answer to their problems.