Welcome Here

We pray and fast during this Fortnight for Freedom for one precise purpose: that our Church would enjoy the liberty to do the work we need to do, the work our divine Founder has commanded us to do.

We hear in our gospel reading how the Lord passed through Samaritan territory on His way to Jerusalem. The straight way from Galilee passed through lands occupied by the remnants of the northern tribes of the Hebrew people. Nearly 1,000 years of history had passed since all the children of Jacob had been united in religion and government. The northern tribes had never accepted Jerusalem as a capital or site for the Temple.

koc action religious freedomAlthough Jesus grew up in the north, He belonged to the tribe of Judah, the southern tribe whose land included Jerusalem. Galilean Jews like Him usually crossed to the east side of the Jordan to travel south by a safer and more welcoming road, in order to reach the Temple for the annual feasts in Jerusalem. In other words, they generally took the long way, in order to bypass hostile Samaritan territory.

But for His own mysterious reasons, the Lord decided on this particular trip to take the more direct route, straight through Samaria. Which meant risking harsh treatment and rejection at the hands of the unsympathetic natives.

I think maybe we can relate to the emotions that the Apostles experienced when the Samaritans mistreated them. It is a particularly painful, agonizing thing to be mistreated when you are a stranger and a sojourner in a land that is not your own. Maybe some of us can relate to that. I daresay some of us have experienced similar mistreatment from unsympathetic natives, when we traveled, at some point in our lives.

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The Real Birthday

St. Irenaeus

I love balloons as much as the next guy. And I very much appreciate the little bouquet of balloons tethered at my parking place when I arrived at church this morning.

But I really think we ought to celebrate St. Irenaeus’ birthday today.

1,811 years ago today, this catechetical and evangelical genius gave his life for Christ, preferring to die, rather than offer pagan sacrifice at the compulsion of the Roman authorities. Irenaeus died alongside a great number of fellow martyrs in the city of Lyons, on the day before the 135th anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Peter.

Let’s celebrate their birthday today. Their birthday into eternal life. The birthday of a saint is the day he or she leaves this earth, headed to the kingdom of God.

The labor pains of such a birth do not come by conjugal union of man and woman, but by persevering faith in the eternally fruitful Word of God. When we believe—when we believe in Christ, no matter what—He gives us a birth into a life that never ages and never ends.

Bad:

2013 NBA DraftOtto Porter leaving the Hoyas before graduating from Georgetown.

Surprisingly good: He will continue to play in the Verizon Center, for a team that maybe someday will break the curse by going back to being called the Bullets.

Congratulations to Otto for joining Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Jeff Green, and Roy Hibbert as top NBA draft picks. An elite group of totally awesome.

But, people, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE play for four years! PLEASE!! Two and out is no fun for us.

The Marriage-Law Titanic

Titanic

I do not hold myself out as any kind of sage, and certainly no scholar of law.

But I can honestly claim to have had at least one conversation per day, for the past twelve years, on the subject of marriage. Not marriage as a theory or concept, but marriage as a practical fact, as in: “Father, I want to get married.” “I want to be married.”

That’s because, for twelve years, I have happily served as an officer of marriage. As an officer of marriage, I must look at marriage in one particular way: as a binding contract, publicly made.

The marriage covenant binds spouses in this special way: You renounce the option of having sex with anyone else for as long as the person lives. The contract is: I will have sex with you, and only with you, until death.

marriage_sacramentAn officer of marriage therefore has one primary obligation. He must assure himself that both parties who propose to marry each other are, in fact, free to do so. As the suffering of poor Hagar shows us, bigamy doesn’t work.

Simple enough, it would seem.

But: of the thousands of conversations about marriage that I have had, a good 85% of them involve doubts about this.

“But, Father, she has a divorce from the courthouse in Guilford County, North Carolina.” “Father, my first marriage was before a Justice of the Peace in Hawaii.” “Father, I’ve never been married before.” “And your fiancée?” “Well, she’s been married five times. But she’s not Catholic.”

A big mess. And at the heart of the matter lies the question of jurisdiction. Who has the authority to officiate a marriage?

Holy Mother Church has never conceded to any other authority the power to legislate how marriages begin or end. But we officers of marriage have to deal with the endless mess that has been created by other authorities claiming to do so, a mess that burdens and confuses people who want to act in good faith, people who really want to get married and enter into the binding contract in an honest way.

No one has authority over how marriages begin and end, other than God. The idea that any other authority can govern marriage: this is what has produced all the painfully impractical situations that burden so many people. One of the things that I have heard people say lately is that the Catholic Church needs to get out of the civil marriage business and deal with marriage solely “as a sacrament.”

But, as an officer of marriage, I can say that that will not work. An officer of marriage must, out of justice, always give the benefit of the doubt to a marital contract that has been publicly declared. Otherwise you risk, as an official, being a party to the crime of bigamy. If someone, who wants to marry, got married before, to someone else, no matter what the circumstances, I have to presume that the person is not free to marry now.

So the idea of the Church getting out of the civil marriage business is exactly backwards. It’s the state that needs to get out of the business of declaring marriages valid or invalid.

scales_of_justiceSecular governments have produced the mess we now have, by granting divorces. The Church has not produced the mess. The Church’s laws are clear and commonsensical compared to the unmanageable and almost-always-unfair labyrinth of secular divorce law.

Like I said, I make no claims to special legal knowledge. I appeal only to my practical experience as an officer of marriage who likes to help people get to a stable situation in life.

From the point-of-view of a practicing officer of marriage, I just want to say this: The decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, which were announced yesterday, are impractical. Impractical to the point of being genuinely ridiculous.

For about a century and a half, the secular state has presumed to have authority over marriage. She does not possess that authority. By presuming to do what she doesn’t know how to do, the state has done untold harm to many people, mainly women and children.

Maybe 2013 will be the year when the conscience of the Western world begins to realize that the marriage business operated by the secular state is an un-moored disaster zone. It’s like the Titanic after being struck by the iceberg.

RU Kid Ding Me?

Change The Script’s sweet little opening riff into Tracy Chapman and fly away with a ‘Breakeven’ cover?

Will you marry me, please, Colbie Caillat (and your guitarist, too)? Just kidding, because I am married to the Church.

But, freal, homes:

If I weren’t a Christian man, I would build a little stone altar and sacrifice a chicken or a kid goat to the incandescent musical genius of this cover.

True and False Prophets

Beware false prophets…By their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15-16)

A week from Sunday we will have to talk more extensively about this metaphor which the Lord uses over and over again, namely: agricultural production. The truth, union with God, trustworthiness—all are judged according to standard of “fruitfulness”–the bearing of good results, results befitting the divine kingdom.

So we will have to come back to that, the ‘fruitfulness’ analogy. A week from Sunday. For now, let’s focus on this: False prophets do come, who look like sweet little sheep, but actually they raven like wolves.

Passion Caviezel teachingThe history of ancient Israel ran with false prophets. At important turning points, the battle grew especially pitched–the battle between true and false prophets of the Lord.

In both the northern and southern kingdoms, false prophets preached comfort and accommodation, even when the people compromised with paganism and effectively abandoned the religion of Israel.

Elijah and Jeremiah both suffered at the hands of false prophets and their palace intrigues. The false prophets ravened like wolves after prestige, after royal favor, and—above all—they ravened after a false and easy peace in which to bask.

The true prophets, on the other hand, declared: We are not in the right. We have betrayed the Lord. If we don’t repent and turn back to Him, the sword of foreigners will beset us, and we will lose everything.

Maybe things look good now. But that does not mean they are good. We have to love God with all we have. If we do, then, no matter what happens to us, we will still have the most important thing, namely our covenant with Him. But if we coast along on the surface and ignore the corruption that has invaded our souls, we will lose even the surface prosperity that we now have.

By their fruits you will know them. The false prophets preached happy-happy-no-problems. Then the Assyrians came. Then the Babylonians came.

On the other hand, the true prophets preached repentance and reconciliation with God. When the people listened, real peace came. Jonah warned the Ninevites. They listened, and the Lord stayed His wrath. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel gave the exiled Israelites a vision of faithful service to God, a picture of a roadway back to the Promised Land of His love. The people believed and followed.

So the Lord Jesus referred to all this history and more when He drew His distinction between true and false prophets. He was drawing the Sermon on the Mount to a close.

The doctrine of Christ requires a lot of us. But the alternative is to listen to shallow advice from self-serving glamor-seekers. Their advice might make us comfortable for the moment. But it leads to ruin in the long run.

Listening to Christ means short-term sacrifice and long-term glory.

No Legal Crisis, We Pray

koc action religious freedom

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily… Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it, says the Lord. (Luke 9:23-24)

At the end of the Fortnight for Freedom last year, the Archbishop of Philadelphia said: “Religious liberty is not an end in itself. We defend religious liberty in order to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ.” We need religious freedom because we need God.

You may remember that we prayed and fasted last summer, for two weeks between the feast of St. Thomas More and Independence Day. We prayed and fasted that the enemies of the Church might receive the grace to repent—and thereby avert a legal crisis in our country. We, the Catholic Church—we simply cannot condone the use of artificial contraceptives. We cannot condone acts of sodomy, unnatural sex acts between members of the same sex. When we hear the phrase “gay marriage,” we cannot take it seriously. Also, we insist on our freedom to embrace our brothers and sisters, regardless of their immigration status.

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Our Father Faith and Morals

The Lord Jesus teaches and guides our prayer. Who would ever want to pray in any other way than in the way of Christ?

Having Jesus Christ for a spiritual father, in fact, actually guides us in every aspect of faith and morals.

Let’s start here: I want to pray as this man taught, saying the prayer He taught His followers to say.

El Greco Christ blessing croppedTherefore, I must believe everything that a person needs to believe in order to say the Our Father sincerely.

Namely: That God loves the whole human race with a Father’s love. That He wills a heavenly kingdom. That He provides in every way. That He forgives, and shows me how to forgive and start fresh. That He has the power to free me from everything evil.

I want to pray the prayer taught by Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, I must live as someone who cay say this prayer sincerely.

Namely: That I want, above all, to do God’s will. I want to obey Him. I want to bless and glorify His holiness and beauty forever. I want to receive His gifts with love. I acknowledge that I am not sinless, that He alone is good. I have no hope but His loving mercy. I deserve death, but He lovingly gives me life everlasting instead. Because I am a sinner who relies totally on God’s forgiveness, I quickly forget about it when other people wrong me. All I want is that we all be together in heaven when everything is said and done. And we will get there together by co-operating with the great plan of the Father.

This is how you are to pray…

Thank you, Lord. The one thing I want in life is to pray as you teach. If anyone ever knew what they were talking about, it is You. I may be a miserable fool, but I know this much: one thing worth doing is to say the Our Father sincerely.

By teaching us this prayer, Lord, and by guiding us every time we say it, You have given us everything.

The Virgin’s Fast

As we hear our Lord say at Holy Mass today, we pray, we fast, and we give alms in order to cultivate our friendship with our heavenly Father. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are works of piety. To pray, to fast, or to give alms means seeking a goal, exercising a means to an end. The end: union with God.

I daresay it’s possible that some of us neglect to fast. In other words, we forget that being friends with God requires that we deliberately deny ourselves certain pleasures that we would like to have.

pietaGod is infinitely loving and kind, infinitely patient and generous. Does that mean, though, that He is anything less than the most demanding friend a person could ever have?

No. Jesus, as a friend, makes extreme demands. Think of what He demanded of His mother. The indescribably agonizing fast that she had to keep on Good Friday.

She had to fast from sleep, from food, from any comfort. She had to fast from feeling at all at-home in this world. She had to fast from anything making any sense at all. Then she had to fast from the only light that gave her any real joy, when her Son closed His eyes, and she could have no human expectation that He would ever open them again.

God seeks our friendship–each of us–with the same relentless, indomitably demanding zeal. He wants to be as close to us as He was and is to the Blessed Virgin.

Ecce Agnus DeiHis friendship requires that we recognize our earthly pilgrimage for what it is: One long fast from the only thing that will really make us happy, which is the light of His eyes. The only true joy for the human race is the joy of the Blessed Virgin, which she found in the face of Christ. We will find that joy, too–by keeping the fast that she kept.

We could have no hope of keeping this fast faithfully—no hope of keeping the cold, dry vigil of the friends of God. But the Lord feeds us with His divine flesh and blood in the meantime, in the mysterious feast of faith which He gave us.

He knows how demanding He is. To obey Him means finding ourselves desperately, almost hopelessly, hungry for satisfactions which we cannot have now. So He feeds us with faith, se we can keep going.

And the feast that ends the fast is not as far away as it sometimes seems. On Good Friday afternoon, the Blessed Virgin’s fast seemed like it would last forever. But it actually only lasted until Sunday morning.

The Scripture Tradition

Do you seen this woman? She has shown great love. (Luke 7:44,42)

Okay. Anybody remember the question we left hanging last week?

How exactly is it that we have come to know so much about these ancient Palestinians named Jesus, Mary, and Pontius Pilate? We know enough to stand up, week in and week out, and belt out a brief discourse about them in the middle of Mass. How do we know anything about them?

old-booksGood question. But you are probably thinking: “Father, this is going to be real short. Because the answer to this question is obvious. Obvious. After all, we also say, in the Creed: ‘I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Bible.’”

Wait…

Some people enjoy testifying to their unswerving devotion to God’s Word. Preachers love to have big old Bibles draped in stoles and garlands, with bright phosphorescent lights shining.

But, let’s consider: What actually proves that a person loves the Bible? Having a big Bible in the house? Or having Bible bumper-stickers? Or coffee mugs with your favorite verse? Or cross-stitching “Blessed 24:7” on a sofa cushion?

No. The way to prove that you love the Bible is to do one simple solitary thing:

Continue reading “The Scripture Tradition”