Stumbling into the Presence

Sabrett vendor

Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. (Luke 14:13)

The Lord has always blessed me with generally good health and a solid physique. But I don’t mind telling you: 22-23 years ago, I walked the streets of my hometown spiritually very poor, morally somewhat crippled. As a man of prayer, I was lame. And when it came to the future, I was blind.

Seems like a good day today to recount what happened to me during the noon hour on a rainy Washington day in February of 1991. Maybe that seems like a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. But we would not be chatting here together like this–were it not for the events I am about to recount.

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Faith Fuels our Lamps

This is the will of God, your holiness. (I Thessalonians 4:3)

We believe in God and love Him above everything else. God has a will. God has a will for us.

What fuels our lamps?

How about acts of faith?

Yes, Lord. I believe. I believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I believe in Jesus, true God and true man. I believe in the Blessed Sacrament, in Confession, in all the sacraments. I believe in heaven. I believe in Your plan, Lord.

ENGLISH VERSION OF YEAR OF FAITH LOGOYes, Lord. I believe. I believe what the saints have believed. I believe what the Pope believes. I believe what the Scriptures teach. What the Catholic Church believes, has always believed, and always will believe—until You come again in glory: I, too, believe.

Yes, Lord. I believe. You are holy and good. You will the good. You will that, when all is said and done, I will know You as I am now known by You. Amen.

In the meantime, I believe and hope and love You and my neighbor. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Today I believe.

“Lord, I believe.” How many times a day? Five, ten, twenty, fifty?

Faith fuels our lamps, and the Bridegroom promises to come when we least expect. So we need to keep the lamps burning all the time, with faith.

“Same Love” (2,000-Year-Old Version)

Been a while since I re-wrote a pop song. But Macklemore and Mary Lambert forced my hand. They have a catchy tune. But their message is all wrong.

So here’s the revised rap and hook:

Macklemore Mary LambertWhen I was in the third grade,
I thought: God made me.
Cause my mom taught me that,
and my dad, too (for all his faults).
I thought: Jesus saved me.
I wrote a poem for school—for my Savior,
tears running down my face.
I was afraid they’d all laugh,
but teacher cried, too, and a friend
said Amen. Cause it’s true.
True me, true you: God made
grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, me.
God made us to march, yes indeed
to the consummation.

His love don’t change.
We zig-zag.
We break the rules.
But His love don’t change,
no matter what
I used to do.
Behold! Behold! Behold!
The Bridegroom comes.
The Bridegroom comes.
The Bridegroom comes.
The Bridegroom comes.

Battle lines being drawn
where they don’t need to be.
Bible, Pope, priest—
like religion’s The Enemy.
But, really: Who am I?
Who are we?
Who’s a man? Who’s a woman?
Mother, father, baby newborn.
Who’s got the rights, really?
Who deserves to know
both mother and father?
Where I came from. Who I am.
Who’s got it right?
God made me a man who can keep it in my pants
and live for something higher,
Someone higher…

His love don’t change.
We zig-zag.
We break the rules.
But His love don’t change,
no matter what
I used to do.
Behold! Behold! Behold!
The Bridegroom comes.
The Bridegroom comes.
The Bridegroom comes.
The Bridegroom comes.

sacred-heart-crossThe Lord DON’T say,
“You are what your loins want.”
He spread out His arms
to show us what Love really is.
THIS Man—what does HE want from me?
To be a prop in some drama
to make him look like
Famous Mr. Yes-Be-Free?
No. He walked on, walked on
to the mountain. He said, Gird your loins.
Practice chastity. Keep you pants on.
Learn Love when you smile pure,
smile honest,
stand up, walk on,
Save the treasure!
and practice chastity.

His love don’t change.
We zig-zag.
We break the rules.
But His love don’t change,
no matter what
I used to do.
Behold! Behold! Behold!
The Bridegroom comes.
The Bridegroom comes.
The Bridegroom comes.
The Bridegroom comes.

Love is patient (kneeling down on Sundays)
Love is kind (kneeling down on Sundays)
Love is faithful (kneeling down on Sundays)
Love is pure (kneeling down on Sundays)
Love is chaste and holy (kneeling down on Sundays)
Love is fruitful in marriage (kneeling down on Sundays)
Love is straight from Eden (kneeling down on Sundays)
Love rejoices in the truth (kneeling down on Sundays)
Love bears all things (kneeling down on Sundays)
Love believes in God (kneeling down on Sundays)
Love never fails (kneeling down on Sundays)

Drunken Grandiosity

head-platterSt. John the Baptist, pray for us that we will always act in a lawful manner, as you courageously counseled Herod to do.

Act lawfully. That is, guided by standards.

Established standards, based on the Ten Commandments.

Law binds people precisely so that we do not step blindly into impossible moral situations.

Herod was drunk on wine. He was drunk on lascivious pleasure. But even worse: he was drunk on his own power. He threw open a door that he lived to regret having opened. “Ask whatever you want of me, even to half my kingdom!” I am Mr. Big! I am Mr. Grand!

Ok, Mr. Big. Ok, Mr. Grand: Kill the holy man. Make good on your grandiose promise. Kill the holy man.

His Beatitude Fouad Twal

His Beatitude Fouad Twal

Talk about a situation of perverse logic. ‘Now, I have to kill the holy man, because otherwise I will look like a bloviating nobody. My word won’t mean anything if I don’t kill him. So I have no choice.’

Drunk on wine. Drunk on lascivious pleasure. But worse: Drunk on grandiosity.

‘There was a red line! This can’t stand! Indispensible nation! Military options! There was a red line!’

Sounds a lot like a similar situation of perverse logic to me. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem frankly asks us, “Who appointed the U.S. the policeman of the Middle East? Has Syria attacked the U.S.?”

May cool heads prevail. May everyone act lawfully.

Herod could have said: I made a foolish promise. I can’t kill the holy man. Herod didn’t actually have any credibility to lose. He could have started building up a little, by admitting his mistake. He could have started to act as an honest man by saying: ‘I made a foolish promise. Better to admit that, and move on with law-abiding humility than to fulfill my promise and make the whole situation immeasurably worse.’

Augustine & King

Augustine_and_donatists

You received it, not as the word of man, but as it truly is, the word of God. (I Thessalonians 2:13)

Do you think that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., intentonally gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on St. Augustine’s feast day? Maybe he did. The following year, Dr. King went to St. Augustine, Florida, to conduct a non-violent civil-rights campaign.

Augustine of Hippo repented of his pagan way of life and dedicated his prodigious mental energies to ministering the liberating Word of God. I can’t hold myself out as an expert on either St. Augustine or Dr. King. But certainly they shared many things–in addition to African blood.

March on Washington August 28By leading the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King sought, as a Christian leader, to reconcile black and white America.

St. Augustine also dedicated the better part of his life to reconciling divided Christian peoples. He led the church in North Africa through the Donatist controversy, when a whole generation of baptized Christians disagreed violently with each other over who had the authority to confer the sacraments.

And both St. Augustine and Dr. King emphasized the love of God in their work of trying to unite people. Left to our own devices, we fall, we divide, we invent pretexts for hating each other. But God shares His love with us in Christ. Christ can make us loving and decent, respectful and united in the truth.

St. Augustine and Dr. King taught the gentle, forgiving love of God. The love of the Sermon on the Mount. The love Christ taught us. The love that meets evil not wth violence, but with meekness.

Dr. King himself got a kick out of the story about a black man who had been insulted by a bus driver. “I got two pieces of bad news for you,” the man said to the driver, “First, I ain’t no boy. And second, I ain’t one of them nonviolent Martin-Luther-King Negroes.”

Dr. King had friends and benefactors in New York City. Once he was riding an elevator in a skyscraper with a group of white lawyer friends. A woman got on, and, assuming that Dr. King was the elevator man, she told him what floor she wanted. He courteously pressed the button for her without saying a word. After she got off, Dr. King and his friends had a good laugh over the elevator boy who was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.

The word of love and solidarity is not the word of man. It is not the word of St. Augustine or Martin Luther King. It is the word of God. Blessed are we if we receive it as such.

As Dr. King put it, quoting the prophets Isaiah and Daniel, fifty years ago:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain made low, the rough places will be made straight, and the glory of God shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into the beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

His Dwelling with Us

raiders nazi_officers_ark_of_the_covenant_chase

Let’s start with an antithesis. On the one hand, God dwells everywhere. Nothing could exist at all if it were not upheld immediately by God’s power. On the other hand: We cannot see; we cannot grasp; we cannot know God.

See? Antithesis. Both true. God everywhere. But everything we see, know, conceive: not God. Human beings search constantly for God, Who is everywhere.

Then: God began to work with us to help us deal with this problem. He drew close to the ancient Israelites. He gave them His holy name to invoke. He led them out of slavery to their homeland. He established a dwelling place with them. The Ark of the Covenant.

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Albany vs. Birmingham, then Washington

March on Washington was A. Philip Randolph's march

March on Washington was A. Philip Randolph’s march

Martin Luther King, Jr., declared “I have a dream today” on August 28, 1963, the 1,533rd anniversary of St. Augustine’s death. Fifty years ago.

I think I was eight or nine when I realized that black people made my dad nervous, but not me. After all, I had playground pencil fights with black boys from the other side of Rock Creek Park on a daily basis. Between first and eighth grade, I never had a homeroom teacher who wasn’t black. Like every child, I accidentally called my teacher “mom” a time or two. When I did, she was always black.

Don’t get me wrong. Whatever credit there is for this goes to my dad. He directed his life in such a way that I could grow up without feeling nervous. We did not have a house in a white suburb. My brother and I rode Metrobuses and sat down next to black people well before we knew that only a decade separated us from the regime of legal segregation in the South.

let-trumpet-sound-life-martin-luther-king-jr-stephen-oates-paperback-cover-artThe hallway in school had Dr. King’s words emblazoned on the wall (ostensibly to celebrate Black History Month, which always lasted for the whole year in the D.C. public schools): “I have a dream!”

So: We must indeed pause with reverence to remember the day when Dr. King actually spoke those words on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, at the end of the summer of 1963.

An irony: The suite at the Willard Hotel where Dr. King spent the night after he delivered his speech? Bugged. By the police. Like our phones and e-mail during the Obama administration.

Better, though, to focus on 1963. And the tale of two police chiefs.

When Dr. King and–more importantly, really–A. Philip Randolph visited the White House to meet with President Kennedy and discuss holding the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the President joked: “Bull Connor has done a great deal for civil-rights legislation this year.”

President Kennedy referred to the police chief–and claimant to the mayoralty–of Birmingham, Alabama. (A city which did not exist when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.) Bull Connor ordered fire hoses turned on people kneeling in the streets. He sicked police dogs on peaceful demonstrators. Bull Connor ordered black children carried off to jail in school buses.

Mr. Laurie Pritchett, on the other hand, served as police chief of Albany, Georgia, in 1962. He avoided any use of violence in arresting peaceful demonstrators. He never raised a hand against anyone who had not raised a hand against him. On the day when Chief Pritchett and his wife were to celebrate their anniversary, Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy actually called off the march they had planned, because they believed Chief Pritchett deserved to have the day off. The Albany Campaign of 1962–Dr. King’s first large-scale organized series of protests since the Birmingham bus boycott of ’56–resulted in very little media attention. It produced no real change.

Dr. Martin Luther KingThe Lord, of course, has His plan. And Dr. King never gave up. Things had not worked out as he had hoped in 1962. But in 1963, they did. The world watched, and black Birmingham proved the South wrong about segregation. Dr. King and his followers suffered nobly, and thereby proved that their cause was right.

But, also in the summer of 1963: Malcolm X’s followers egged Dr. King’s car. And Attorney General Robert Kennedy was convinced that one of King’s best friends was a Communist.

To be honest with you, I find Dr. King’s letter from the Birmingham jail quite a bit more interesting than his “I Have a Dream” speech. His letter articulates a thoroughly convincing argument for his actions. On the other hand, his speeches generally present emotional Bible-based poems. Black pulpit oratory leaves this particular white boy (and student of St. Thomas Aquinas) pretty cold.

That said, both Dr. King’s speeches and his writings communicate the same fundamental truth: The man had no fear of death, because he loved God and Jesus Christ. Dr. King lived his life, first and foremost, as a churchman. The crescendo of his speech at the Lincoln Memorial focused on one word. Faith. We have faith in the promises of God, communicated in the Scriptures. The Civil Rights Movement, draped as it was in the trappings of a fashionable Gandhi-ism that would make it acceptable to the editors of the New York Times, proceeded, in fact, from the Holy Scriptures.

Probably won’t hear that at any of the speeches at the Lincoln Memorial next Wednesday. As I have tried to point out before, the prominent black orators of today do not speak from the Bible in the way Dr. King and his confreres did. The official commemorations this week will be as empty as they will be boring. (Fact is, the speaker program at the original March on Washington got boring, and the crowd was thinning out a bit by the time Dr. King finally got his turn to speak.)

The best way to commemorate Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech will be to read the same book that he read to prepare it: the Holy Bible.

Chief Laurie Pritchett in Albany GA

Five Years: the Real Problem

rehobo postcardGreetings, and happy fifth anniversary to this ridiculous little weblog. 780,000 visits so far. Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Hope everyone rejoiced yesterday when our Lady was crowned with surpassing glory.

Is it not the case that our need to be reconciled with God–the silent, mysterious, seemingly absent, yet omnipresent God–is the real problem of the whole of world history? –Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth

You’re Going to Have to Forgive Me

for missing The Decemberists until now. Check out one of the most interesting songs I have heard in many moons.

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“Her bed of chaparral.” Wow.

They covered this song, in their inimitably charming fashion, at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, to set up the climactic bed-switch scenes of All’s Well that Ends Well.

But the question about the play is: Is all well that ends this way?

The lying “knight” Paroles has been reduced to pathetic beggary, punished perhaps overmuch for all his false bravado. And Helena finally has her husband–by having substituted herself for the Italian woman he thought he was shamelessly seducing in the midnight darkness.

All well? The most comical scene of the play involves Paroles’ blindfolded interrogation by his disguised confederates, who masquerade as the enemy in order to “take him prisoner” and make a fool of him. But the interrogation goes in a nonsensical direction. Why would an enemy general want to know about the moral character of Paroles’ friends? That, however, is what they ask him about, and he blithely supplies the information: They are all lying, cheating, cowardly rogues. Is he slandering them? Perhaps. More likely: they really are.

AW1Every time Bertram has the opportunity to turn away from selfish immaturity and towards noble responsibility, he neglects to do so. He keeps dovetailing into extended adolescence. Even after Helena has proven not only her devotion but also her uncanny ingenuity and resourcefulness, he demands an account of the facts from someone else, because he can’t quite bring himself to trust her.

And even noble Helena herself admits that her motives in doing good are not pure. She acknowledges that she only thought of trying to cure the king (which she miraculously does) only because it gave her an excuse to go to Paris in search of Bertram.

In other words, All’s Well that Ends Well largely covers: how bad people are. We lie. We sneak off and break our commitments. We present ourselves to be what we are not. The king starts the play with a mortal corruption of body, beyond all hope of cure. The play ends with a healthy king, but a clear picture of humanity before our eyes: Man is morally corrupt, beyond all hope of cure.

The perennial “problem” in this play: Is Helena’s devotion to Bertram at all believable? Can we really believe that she ends the play happy–when she finally gets her louse of a husband to submit?

Two points to raise in answer to this perennial question:

1. Exactly how much of a louse is Bertram really? Granted: he carries on like an enormous blockhead of a young count. He breaks his own mother’s heart, which is about a low as you can get. And his designs on Diana reek of the basest cravenness.

But: Bertram’s trusting affection for hapless Paroles actually argues in favor of the young man’s character: He is innocent enough to believe the old fraud’s lies. And Paroles’ companionability gives the play its lightest touch, a little Falstaff in nuce. Bertram’s attracting Paroles as a companion suggests that he’s not such a bad young gentleman. Also, in the war, Bertram receives quick promotions. He clearly enjoys high regard as a brave and competent leader. So we could conclude that this louse actually does have a hidden good side that only Helena can see.

The second point: What really does it take to be happy in love anyway?

I don’t know whose idea it was to throw this wild Decemberists’ song into the final act, or why–but I think it was a particularly inspired thing to do. The song presents a vision of happiness and peace beyond reason, beyond deliberation, beyond reflection, beyond the events of time. Time moves; people experience expectation and dissatisfaction. But the Infanta rests in bliss at the summit of all royalty, the destination of the grandest of all processions.

I think we could say that Helena pursues her man with a similarly indomitable serenity. He may not be the most virtuous young count in the kingdom. But he is hers. She will indeed be happy when everything settles down and they can be together like they are supposed to be. All will be well when the fuss and bother ends–and marital cohabitation begins.

So maybe All is Well in the end because: The sovereign power of womanly commitment to marriage stabilizes this world, which otherwise would be a cesspool of immature selfishness.

Ha-Mashiach, Ben Elohim Chayim

Mount Hermon

Mount Hermon

Delightful co-incidence to read on the same day (at Holy Mass) from Numbers about the waters of Meribah and from Matthew about Caesarea-Philippi. Because water flows in great abundance at Caesarea-Philippi. The snows of Mount Hermon melt in the sun, fresh water rushes down, and forms the headwaters of the Jordan River.

Moses struck the rock twice. In other words, after the first strike, he doubted.

the_passion_of_the_christBut the Lord Jesus did not have to ask St. Peter twice. Who do you say that I am?

Ha-Mashiach, Ben Elohim Chayim.

The water burbled. The mountain rose above them majestically. They stood at the northernmost point of the Holy Land. In every way, they found themselves at the source, the fountainhead, the wellspring. From here, life and vigor flow. At this point, everything begins, with youth and promise and undying potential for growth.

The Water of Life does not cease to flow. Jesus: Ha-Mashiach, Ben Elohim Chayim. The fountain of divine grace has opened up in the world. It will flow forever.

You don’t have to ask us twice, Lord! We believe with St. Peter. We believe with the Church founded on Peter the Rock. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!