Dives Gone to the Dogs

Lazarus Dives dogs feast

The Lord Jesus often provides vivid details in His stories. We read: The dogs came and licked Lazarus’ sores. Vivid–and painful for us even to imagine. Painful, because something about this picture strikes us as tragically, utterly wrong.

Now, these little dogs: We know that dogs have a sense of love and pity. We know also that they like a salty savor for their tongues. And we know that dogs do not grasp the entire constitution of a man. Dogs are man’s best friend. But dogs do not know that man has an immortal soul.

The constitution of man. A character in a Jane Austen novel declares that the plays of William Shakespeare form “part an Englishman’s constitution.” Englishmen know Shakespeare. It’s part of one’s constitution.

shakespearebetterWhat about the constitution of man? Man–Englishmen, Swedes, Chinese, everybody? Every man, woman, and child on earth?

The constitution of man: Made in the image and likeness of God. Endowed with an immeasurable spiritual dimension. Made for an eternal friendship with the Creator and Lord of all things. A man, a human being, endowed with these gifts, does not belong in a gutter with open sores being licked by dogs.

It’s not the dogs’ fault. Dogs don’t know anything about the constiution of man. The dogs didn’t realize that the spectacle of their licking Lazarus’ sores–that this was a heartbreaking scandal. An insult to human dignity. The dogs didn’t know any better.

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Light on the Rue du Bac

Rue du Bac Paris

Extend mercy toward others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His mercy from us?

So spake St. Vincent de Paul, who died 353 years ago today.

The great saint’s heart rests in a reliquary in the chapel of the Daughters of Charity on the Rue du Bac in Paris. I had a chance to visit the chapel once. I can say it is one of the more luminous places in the world. The chapel itself shines with a stunning amount of natural light. Somehow it seems brighter inside the little church than outside on the street. And of course the supernatural light of the place shines brilliantly. It’s the same place where our Lady appeared and gave us the Miraculous Medal.

mary-mOur Lord Jesus said He would rise again on the third day, and He did. In the luminous pre-dawn of Sunday morning.

In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope-Emeritus Benedict makes an interesting point about the New-Testament records of the Risen Christ. Skeptics dismiss the accounts on the grounds that they seem scattershot and confused. Who saw Him first? In Jerusalem, or Emmaus, or Galilee? What did He look like? How come no one recognized Him at first?

Good questions. The accounts are indeed jumbled, enormously zig-zaggy–as if it all happened under strobe lighting.

Pope Benedict makes this excellent point: If someone made it all up—if the resurrection of Christ were a fiction—then the accounts would be more coherent and easier to grasp. No one would make up the jumble we have. The fact that the picture of the Risen Jesus which we get from the New Testament—the fact that this picture is so genuinely blinding to our mind’s eyes: that gives these accounts a much stronger ring of truth.

He rose on the third day. It’s real. And it means that the hearts of all the saints will beat again—will beat again with pure, merciful love—they will beat forever: This is real. When all the tvs have stopped blinking, and the computer screens and smart phones—when the great noise of this world has gone silent, the hearts of the saints will beat, undying light will shine, and what is obscure now will be perfectly clear.

So, in the meantime, let’s be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful.

Why Build the Temple?

Cosmas Damian apse

We read in the book of the prophet Haggai, “This people says: Now is not the time to build the temple of God.”

Ok. Let’s give this people the benefit of the doubt. After all, the Lord Himself declared that He does not dwell in piles of stone erected by human hands. The heavens are God’s throne and the earth His footstool. What kind of temple could we build for such a god, the Lord Who made heaven and earth out of nothing?

So: Good point, people. How could now be the time to build a temple for God, when we could never hope to build an adequate temple?

But then, as we read, God said: Consider your ways, people. You don’t want to pour out your energy and money to build My house? Ok. But what kind of lives do you really have going anyway? Are you thriving? Are you happy? Don’t you labor long and hard to earn a bag full of holes? You fill your bag with what you think is happiness, but it all falls out through the holes, and you wind up with nothing.

Maybe you don’t want to presume to build My temple. But, really: what else are you going to do? What else would really be any good?

Then come the Lord’s disarmingly beautiful words, so majestic in their humble fatherliness:

Why don’t you just focus on giving Me glory? Give Me glory, and let Me take pleasure in it.

The Lord Himself builds the Temple. The Temple is Christ, Head and members, united in love to the glory of God.

Last year on the Memorial of Ss. Cosmas and Damien, we meditated for a moment on the apse mosaic in their church in Rome. In the picture, St. Peter and St. Paul present St. Cosmas and St. Damien to Christ.

Cosmas and Damien hold in their hands their crowns, which they won by joyfully living and dying for one purpose: the glory of the Lord. We can win such crowns, too.

Yes, He is the Messiah. So I am Sorry for Doubting

Ok. How many Apostles did the Lord Jesus choose? Twelve.

How many of the Twelve had the name James? Two.

The first James had a brother named… James and… John!

The second James had a cousin named…

Jesus. Right. Jesus, the only son of Mary, the only-begotten Son of God. The second Apostle James shared Jesus’ bloodline. James was Jesus’ relative.

We know that most of the Lord Jesus’ cousins did not believe in Him. At least not during His earthly ministry. As we discussed last week, the Lord raised a young man from the dead in a town near Nazareth. But this did not cause all of Christ’s cousins to rejoice. A lot of them thought He was out of His mind.

resurrectionMaybe we can sympathize with them. Imagine having a cousin, a little scrub you used to run around with, play hide-and-seek with, dig holes in the back yard with–imagine that your cousin turns out to be the Messiah, the Savior, the divine King. Hard to accept.

Later on, however, as we can gather from the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul’s letters, the Lord Jesus’ relatives did come to believe in Him. They worked with the Apostles to spread the Gospel.

What changed? What happened in the meantime to open their minds to the truth? A pretty obvious thing. Pretty solid proof that, Yes, Jesus of Nazareth, carpenter, is the Messiah.

The Lord Jesus appeared to some of His relatives after He rose from the dead. That was pretty convincing. We can imagine that the relatives felt bad for doubting Him before, and apologized. And He forgave them.

Let’s put ourselves in those relatives’ shoes again. We, too, have doubted. We have doubted a Savior Who always has the best possible plan. We just didn’t see it. And now I realize that I said or did something I shouldn’t have said or done, solely because I did not trust Jesus Christ. I find myself feeling like the priest Ezra, i.e., penitent.

What do I do? Apologize. How?

Priests go to Confession just like everyone else does. I have to find another priest to hear my confession. Much easier for you all. Just find your local parish priest. A completely fresh start to the spiritual life is one good confession away.

Must Be Someone Up Above

She cussed up a blue streak during a musical interlude of Silver Linings Playbook. (Which has the greatest football-fan scene ever*).

The Lord has given us another Janis Joplin. Men of the cloth can fall in love, right? I love Brittany Howard.

Alabama Shakes

______________

* WARNING Two or three dozen f-bombs involved in this scene. We do not condone this kind of language.

Just One More (the Real Pope Francis Bandwagon Parade)

little thought regarding the media swoon over Papa Francesco, which occurred last week. (And will last, one wonders, how long?)

Anyway: We confessors do have something of a special point-of-view on things, when it comes to this being “a time or mercy,” as, indeed it is. The Pope and all of us unworthy priests share this point-of-view.

Pope Francis mate.jpgSt. Alphonsus Ligouri put it like this (more or less, I think) in his exhortation to priests, “Be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.”

A contrite soul seeks the mercy of God because he/she has become aware of having committed a sin. The more clearly a preacher separates right from wrong, the more likely it is that someone listening to the sermon will actually wind up experiencing mercy. Because mercy follows contrition, i.e. sorrow for having sinned.

In other words, there is no mercy in preaching that does not clearly delineate right and wrong. The clear delineation of right and wrong helps people make good confessions. It helps us arrive at the place where the lion we heard roaring from the pulpit meets us privately, and turns out to be a gentle lamb, absolving our sins and praising God for His infinite love and the fresh start He gives us all when we confess.

Did anybody (and I literally mean anybody on earth) read the part of the Pope’s interview where he identified the center of the whole drama? The confessional. He approached the business of the Church freeing Herself from ‘small, narrow rules’ from the point-of-view of the confessor, in a confessional, during a confession.

Not to be mean-spirited or small or whatever:

The real Pope Francis bandwagon parade will form at the confessional, my friends. That’s the place to go to get on it.

Pro-Life Focus

caravaggio-call-st-matthew

During my first parish assignment as a seminarian, in 1997, I often found the parochial vicar in the rectory chapel, reading Pope Paul VI’s letter on Evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi.

I read the letter then, too. And I could see how Father might draw inspiration for his long hours of labor from it. What does it mean to be Catholic? To be a priest? Evangelii Nuntiandi offers a pretty solid answer.

It seems to me that something very important gets lost in the shuffle of the world-wide reaction to His Holiness Pope Francis’ famous magazine interview. To be honest, I haven’t been able to get through the whole thing. He lost me when he got into St. Ignatius’ style of discernment. I honestly just don’t know what he is talking about.

If you ask me what papal letter answers the fundamental questions, it is John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae.

Yes, one can talk too much about abortion. In truth, I prefer not to discuss such an ugly subject at all.

But is there a way to understand following Christ that does not involve being a part of the Pro-Life Movement? Is the Pro-Life movement concerned with “small rules?” No. Really it’s quite the contrary. To be pro-life is to embrace the awesomely large power of God.

Will God forgive an abortionist who repents? Yes. A mother who had an abortion? Yes. Someone who drove a woman to the abortion mill, or who paid for it, or who in any way impelled her to have one? Yes, He will forgive the repentant sinner. And He can do wonders with the lives of repentant sinners, as we see illustrated so meaningfully above.

But is there any possible way to conceive of genuine Christian discipleship which does not involve the indefatigable application of one’s energies to the pro-life cause? Maybe my mind got warped by Evangelium Vitae. But I can’t see any way.

Catholic. Christian. Pro-Life. Inseparable, from my humble point-of-view. I honestly don’t think I’m going out on a limb on this one. I will gladly stand corrected, if need be. But I’m pretty sure our Holy Father would agree with me here.

Dishonest Steward’s Meaning

Oceans Eleven

See how easy the Bible is to understand? I mean, the Parable of the Dishonest Steward practically explains itself. Who needs a preacher? The meaning just leaps right off the page. Perfectly obvious.

ace-of-heartsOk. Not really.

I’ve preached on this one a few times, since we read the same gospel readings every _____ years.

Right. Three. Six years ago, I made three points on the Dishonest Steward.

1. The parable teaches us to clarify our ultimate goal. What am I aiming at?

2. Sometimes Christ invites sinners to repent. Other times, He gives instruction to faithful disciples, who have long since repented. This parable teaches such disciples. The parable does not condone dishonesty. It assumes that we already know that dishonesty is a sin.

3. The steward in the parable acted in a resourceful, clever, and decisive manner. He confronted his situation with sober realism and did the best he could to deal with it. He hustled, in other words. And he hustled solely to avoid having to beg or dig ditches. We, on the other hand, have heaven for our goal. We want to get to heaven and help others get to heaven.

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Nain Dance?


When the Lord Jesus raised the young man in the little hamlet of Nain—when He raised this young man from the dead, it caused quite a stir. Understandably so. Doesn’t happen every day. I’ve celebrated a lot of funeral Masses myself, and I can tell you that I’ve never had one like that. Where the dead person got up and walked home.

So the event became the talk of the entire surrounding region. They heard about it in the Lord’s hometown of Nazareth, on the other side of the valley. They heard about it down south in Jerusalem. And John the Baptist, languishing in prison—even he heard about it.

What in the name of holy Moses is going on here? The carpenter is going from town to town, and now he has raised a young man from the dead!

We might think that people would respond to such news with joy. Certainly, many people did. “God has visited His people!” they shouted. And they danced for joy, maybe like Jacoby Jones in the endzone.

john_paul_ii_pencil_drawingBut not everyone reacted that way. Surprisingly enough. A lot of people who had known Jesus since He was a boy thought to themselves: “This man has gotten too big for his britches!” A lot of other preachers and religious charlatans gnashed their teeth with jealousy. And people who don’t like surprises—no matter how wonderful the surprise is—they did not like it.

In the beginning, the Lord had said to His people: Two paths stand before you. One leads to life, one to death. Choose life, then! said the Lord. Before many of you young uns were even born, Bl. Pope John Paul II said to us and to the world, The Gospel of Christ is the Gospel of Life!

Everyone must face the choice. Do I choose in favor of Jesus Christ, Who came to give life? Or do I choose in favor of breaking life down? Hurting myself, hurting others. Do I have faith that life is a gift that leads to eternal happiness? Or do I doubt the power of God?

We read that, when they saw Christ raise the dead man, “fear seized them all.”

If it isn’t scary–if it isn’t bigger than me, and awesome, truly awesome—if I don’t see that it demands my all, my love, my self-sacrifice—if it isn’t wonderfully scary, then it isn’t life. It isn’t the power of God. Fear seized them all because they realized: This life thing is bigger than I ever thought it was. God is real. And that is scary.

To believe in the life-giving power of the crucified Christ is not easy. It was much easier for people to scoff and try to dismiss it. Much easier to stick with smaller potatoes, like keeping my belly full and looking cool to my friends.

But let’s make a choice to step out into the scary territory of true life. Let’s follow the path of obeying God, following Christ, choosing love, kindness, and truth. God has visited His people. And there’s an endzone we can get to, where we will dance for joy forever.

The Home We Belong In

What does ‘prodigal’ mean? Right. Recklessly wasteful. Lavish, extravagant—but in a destructive way.

The son asked for his inheritance, and the Father let him go. The young man sought adventure. He wanted to see, to experience, to know about the world beyond his home.

Bilbo_handsThe older brother had no such sense of adventure. For this reason, we like him less. His younger brother might have squandered his inheritance in a thoroughly undignified manner. But at least the prodigal son never whined, never pouted like a baby. The older son seems not to have appreciated just how wonderful his father’s house really was.

The father anchors the whole parable, an infallibly wise and loving presence. If going off for an adventure, like Bilbo Baggins—if that were a sin in and of itself, then the father would never have allowed the younger son to go.

But he did let his son go. He gave his son the money. You are a free man, my son. Go as you wish. The world is yours.

This father, we see, knows the world. He knows that the world is, indeed, a place of adventure. Dangerous, yes. Hard to navigate all by yourself, yes. But fundamentally evil? No.

Continue reading “The Home We Belong In”