The Elect

All Saints Fra Angelico

Apparently, there’s a state election coming up. We Virginia voters will choose a new governor, lieutenant governor, and other officials. May all of us who vote do so wisely, thinking first of the poor and the vulnerable.

In church, though, we focus on a different group of elected people. Elected by God, as His beloved children, His friends forever, the heirs of undying holiness.

God chooses His saints, the heavenly company. God starts the whole process, by His choice, His election. Then the saint co-operates. That’s the definition of a saint, I guess: Someone who blithely, lovingly, humbly co-operates with God. “Thy will be done.”

Pope St Gregory IIIWhen people with beautiful souls die, oftentimes those of us still on earth believe that the deceased person must be in heaven. The Church has an extensive process for verifying this. When the Pope canonizes a saint, he gives us the assurance that this particular holy person did certainly co-operate with God. The canonized saint can serve as our role model, and we can count on his or her heavenly assistance.

The Church has canonized thousands of saints through the centuries. We have this particular solemnity of All Saints on our calendar because the ancient persecutions produced so many martyrs that we couldn’t have a feast day for all of them. The Roman emperors who persecuted the Church and threw Christians to the lions gave us way more than 365 martyrs to venerate. The Pope declared this particular feast day, November 1, for all of them. And countless thousands more martyrs and saints have reached heaven since then.

So heaven brims with saints. God knows them all. We know who some of them are for sure, because the Church has certified it. Today we rejoice in the holiness with which all of them co-operated with the plan of God.

Pray for us, all you holy saints of God above, that we might have the grace to co-operate with God and become saints, too.

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Godly Bravado

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

I think we hear this kind of calm bravado in the words of Christ, when He responded to the threat of Herod’s plan to kill Him.

jackolanternChrist did not fear. He declared His divine mission. He had come to Jerusalem in the name of the Lord.

He said that His mission would occupy today and tomorrow, and on the following day, it would be complete.

Today: trick or treating–with zombies and monster that we do not fear. The ancient pagans of the northern latitudes went so far as to offer human sacrifices on this dark night, when the gloom of winter arrived, so deep was their fear of death. But we Christians just eat candy and laugh with the children.

Tomorrow: All Saints Day.

The following day, maybe we can rest up and get over our colds.

The day after tomorrow, actually, is way too far in the future to worry about now. We trust our Lord Jesus. The day after tomorrow lies altogether in His hands. He will make it wonderful. The day after tomorrow might as well be the eternal day of resurrection. It lies in the great unknown future.

We believe in the day when everything will be complete, the holy Third Day. We hope for it. The day of resurrection and life, of health and peace and sunshine and a springtime that never ends.

The third day. In God’s hands.

Meantime, our business lies with today. Today we march on with faith. With the bravado of faith. Goblins, ghosts, skeletons, witches, creepy night-frighting things: we fear you not! Death and hell: We mock you. Our city lies above.

———

P.S. Now that the baseball season has ended, we can move on to the really important business of life. Big East basketball.

Providence Georgetown BasketballI know I whined like a spoiled child when the conference re-alignments began a couple years ago. But: Providence remains in the Big East. In more ways than one. In truth, I believe that the Lord has arranged for the best Big East ever. (Teams named for colors or for wolf-like dogs never added much anyway.)

Creighton may not be in the East. But they have a fun team. And what could be more exciting than having Butler in our conference? (Even if they don’t really have a good team this year.)

You know what I think the big story of Big East 2013-14 will be? St. John’s. The St. John glory days are coming back. And if someone other than the Hoyas have to win in Madison Square Garden, if it’s the Red Storm, I will not complain. I promise.

The one question I have is: Why do the Hoyas have to go back to Asia for another basketball game? Don’t they remember what happened the last time?

ΠΡΟΣ ΡΩΜΑΙΟΥΣ 8:28

All things work for the good of those who love God. Tois agaposin ton Theon. Those who love God.

May that be us. May we love neither success nor failure. May we love neither riches nor poverty. May we long for neither a long life nor a short one. May we love neither the English language nor any other language. May we love neither tacos, nor hot dogs, nor spring rolls, nor pizza. May we love God. May we be “those who love God.”

Because tois agaposin ton Theon panta synergei eis agathon.

In the dialogues of Plato, one of the characters has the name Agathon. Because he is good. Real good. Beautifully good.

PantheonRomanExteriorSynergei eis agathon. Synergei sounds like… Synergy.

What a concept. Co-operation. Co-work. Effort made together for one goal. Synergy. Synergy for the good.

What synergei eis agathon? What works together for the good of those who love God? Panta.

Back in the day, what airline covered all of Am? Yes. Pan Am. What pagan temple held altars for all the gods? Yes. Pantheon.

Panta syunergai eis agathon. All things. All work together for the good. Spilled milk works for the good. Bruised egos work for the good. Language barriers work for the good. Missing coffee cups work for the good. Tough days work for the good. Piñatas work for the good. All things work together for the good of…

The God-lovers.

Chariot Race to Heaven

Goody's Martinsville NASCAR

Long before NASCAR, they held chariot races. Sometimes a team of two horses pulled the chariot.

Maybe you will rejoice to learn that, according to St. John Chrysostom, the gospel parable this Sunday actually narrates a head-to-head chariot race.

St John Chrysostom in St PatricksThe Pharisee drives one chariot. The first horse on his two-horse team: Righteousness! The Pharisee fasts, and he tithes, and he does them both above and beyond the call of duty. Jews were bound by divine law to fast once a year. He fasts twice a week! Jews were bound to give 10% of their agricultural produce. He gave 10% of his entire income!

No question. He is righteous. And righteousness is a fast horse.

Problem is, the second horse in the Pharisee’s team is…Pride. “Thank you, Lord, for making me better than other men.” And the particular breed of his pride? Contemptuous. “Not only, Lord, did you make me better than other men in general. You made me better than this particular loser standing in the shadows of the colonnade at the back of the temple courtyard.”

Continue reading “Chariot Race to Heaven”

The Unjust Judge and the Second Coming

Frankfurt Schoolers Horkheimer and Adorno
Frankfurt Schoolers Horkheimer and Adorno

When the Son of Man comes, will He find justice on earth?

Whether or not He will find faith on earth (cf. Luke 18:8), only time will tell. But will He find justice on earth?

Will he find the virtuous fairly rewarded and criminals punished proportionately for their crimes? Will He find the world’s goods equitably distributed among honest people living in harmony, with a care for the vulnerable and reverence for the wise? Will He find people communicating discreetly, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, working out their problems gently, helping each other generously, rising above petty antagonisms with serene mutual respect? Will He find all this when He comes again?

Continue reading “The Unjust Judge and the Second Coming”

St. Luke Feastday Homily: Growing up with Jesus

Maybe all of us can relate to the experience I had when I was growing up:

At some point—maybe seven or eight or nine years of age—I began to grasp somewhat the readings from the gospel in church. The readings from St. Paul’s letters still sounded like a foreign language. But the gospel readings penetrated my mind.

By the time I was ten, certainly, I had reached this conclusion: Jesus Christ makes life make sense. He had the most interesting things to say of anyone, ever. And He lived the most beautiful life. I need Him; I need to hear His words and the account of His deeds. He teaches life and love and truth.

Saint LukeSo just as I was realizing that I was my own person with my own decisions to make, Jesus Christ became the center of my reflections about life. And for one reason: Because I heard readings from the gospel regularly, every Sunday in church, through the years of my childhood. Jesus, the real Person, was a living presence in my mind.

I don’t think I’m so unusual here. This is the most common way that Christian experience develops, I think. The supernatural effect of the sacraments, of course, transcends what I am talking about. But on the level of human experience and the maturation of a person’s mind and morals, I think the experience of hearing the gospels read regularly in church, every Sunday, year after year while you’re growing up—pretty fundamental.

So, the significance of this: Jesus, the four canonical gospels, the Church, Sunday Mass—these are all connected at a level so deep, so “organic,” that they simply cannot be separated from each other or from the absolute essence of Christianity. Jesus lives in His Church; the Mass is where we find Him and become His friends, become part of His Body. And hearing the words of the gospels, on a regular basis, puts Him in our minds. He unites Himself with us as the most important and most intimate companion we have.

For over a century, people have used the phrase “organized religion” to dismiss the experience I am talking about. Whenever anyone uses this phrase, it is pretty much always to excuse their own absence from church on Sunday. “Organized religion” supposedly has its problems, seems foreign to modern life, limits my wonderful individuality.

Indeed, anything involving human beings always has problems, always falls short of what it should be—including any given Sunday Mass in any given parish church. It’s never everything that it should be, because fallible human beings are involved.

But: The means by which we come to be united with the most sublime and wonderful person ever, the most interesting and genuinely helpful role model, the most beautiful soul—can this be dismissed as “organized religion?”

Isn’t church on Sunday; isn’t hearing the gospel, week in and week out—isn’t it something much more than that? Isn’t it the love of God at work in the world, giving us Jesus Christ?

Zechariah and the Widow: Justice!

Tomb of Zechariah, son of Jehoida, in the Kidron Valley
Tomb of Zechariah, son of Jehoida, in the Kidron Valley

Today’s gospel reading at Holy Mass offers us a good warm-up for Sunday’s gospel. Today we hear the Lord Jesus refer to

Zechariah, who died between the altar and the temple building.

Let’s clarify a couple things: First, apparently the altar for animal sacrifice stood outside the original Temple of Solomon. The burning flesh of the lambs and other animals rose from the courtyard up to the heavens.

Second, of which Zechariah does the Lord speak here? How many Zechariahs appear in the Holy Scriptures? 1. Zechariah, father of ________. John the Baptist! 2. Zechariah, son of Berechiah, who prophesied when the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon. And 3. Zechariah, son of Jehoida, who lived 2 ½ centuries before that.

Temple aromaZechariah, son of Jehoida, condemned the people of Jerusalem for worshiping pagan idols. He warned the people that the Lord had abandoned them—because they had abandoned the Lord. Instead of listening to his righteous warnings, they stoned him to death in the temple courtyard.

Now, the connection with Sunday’s gospel reading is this: When Zechariah lay dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge.”

We can see why Zechariah would have said that. Here he was, a faithful teacher of the Law of Moses, defending the honor of God in the Lord’s own Temple—and he meets a cruel death at the hands of bad people solely because he was trying to open the door to God for them. So he prayed that the world would not descend into total meaningless chaos, but rather that the Lord act to restore justice.

This sounds like the widow we will hear about in Jesus’ parable on Sunday, the widow who pleads insistently to the judge: “Render a just decision for me against my adversary!”

We live in the great age of mercy, when all sins can be forgiven because of the blood Christ shed for us. Injustice still holds sway on earth; mercy reigns above. The mercy of God gives us hope for ourselves, in spite of all our own injustices.

But what also gives us hope is the truth that moved the praying hearts of Zechariah and the widow in the parable. The reign of injustice on earth will end. God waits for the repentance of all He has chosen. Then justice will be done. All wrongs will be righted. The meaningless chaos of a world that kills the gentle messengers of God—it will be transformed by the divine Judge into a kingdom of true and eternal peace.

Ehle Success? Yes, but… (Pride and Prejudice‘s Thesis)

Jennifer Ehle undertaking to enact Elizabeth Bennet when she gives Lady Catherine de Bourgh some “pushback:” (the first five minutes)



But Jane Austen wrote some dialogue which this BBC rendition does not include. And one set of sentences expresses Lizzy’s fire better than any of the lines they gave Jennifer Ehle to say here. The most important moment for the most important character of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth says to Lady Catherine,

Allow me to say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application have been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these.

ICYMI: Lady Catherine’s nephew had, in fact, proposed to Elizabeth–in the early springtime. Now it is fall. She rejected him adamantly at first, but has since learned to second-guess herself. He, too, has shown that he could learn something about his shortcomings and try to correct them–by acting in the interests of others.

In the spring, both Lizzy–whose has no money–and Darcy–who appears to have more money than anyone–acted willfully. Now, with time to reflect, experience contrition, and make amends, they see things differently. Their hearts have moved closer together because both have managed to accept the mortification of their vanity and pride.

Meanwhile, Lady Catherine, willful as ever, attempts to browbeat Elizabeth into disappearing altogether. IMHO, Elizabeth’s words (which Jennifer Ehle never got to say, alas!) reveal the great thesis of all of Jane Austen’s magnificent stories:

Genuine strength and determination proceed from the harmony of your will with one thing: reason. Good reasons convince, and when the heart listens to them, it grows both tamer and immeasurably stronger and more capable of love. On the other hand, emotional manipulations only insult everyone involved. Willfulness for its own sake serves no purpose. Determination based on reflection and reason: this makes heroes.

What hero could be more altogether admirable and lovable than Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Herefordshire?

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Also, ICYMI: This weblog dedicated to a) God’s Word and b) all things Jennifer Ehle.

Sacred Heart, Etc.

Click HERE to read an editorial by our Virginia bishops…

margandjesus…Anybody know who died 323 years ago today? How about the special revelation she received?

The Sacred Heart of Christ beats in the heavenly temple where He ministers as High Priest of all the good things of God. Ever since He ascended into heaven, we Christians have “felt” the beat of His Heart by faith.

Then, out of the superabundance of His love and care for us, He chose to appear to St. Margaret Mary and to make His Heart visible to her. He revealed the image to her for all of our sakes. He did it to renew our intimacy with His love. As Pope Pius XII put it in his encyclical letter on the Sacred Heart of Christ:

[The significance of the revelations given to St. Margaret Mary] is that Christ–showing His Sacred Heart–willed in a special way to call the minds of men to the contemplation and veneration of God’s most merciful love for the human race. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is so important that it may be considered the perfect profession of the Christian religion, for this is the religion of Jesus, and no man can come to the heart of God except through the heart of Christ.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. Christianity. The same thing.

Probably everyone knows, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that: one way to practice devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ is to spend a Holy Hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on the first Friday of every month. As Blessed Pope John Paul II put it, the Sacred Heart of Christ “beats” in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, and by spending time in adoration, we attune ourselves to the beating of His Heart. Also, we practice the devotion by making a good, humble Confession as close to first Friday as possible.

Devotion to the love of God in the Sacred Heart of Jesus liberates us from our self-centeredness. As Pope-Emeritus Benedict put it in his letter on the Sacred Heart devotion:

The experience of love, brought by the devotion to the pierced side of the Redeemer, protects us from withdrawing into ourselves and makes us readier to live for others.

St. Margaret Mary, pray for us, that we might draw closer and closer to the Sacred Heart of the Lord.

Both/And And/Or Either/Or

On the one hand,

He who is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:40)

The Lord Jesus said so when St. John told him about other disciples casting out demons in His name. ‘They’re casting out demons. They’re doing good. They’re advancing my kingdom. What’s the problem?’

But, on the other hand,

He who does not gather with me scatters. (Luke 11:23)

The Holy Spirit, the divine spirit, comes from Christ. This holy spirit gathers, unites, binds together in love. This holy spirit sets demons to flight; the holy spirit purifies, gives the world a fresh start.

All good things are indeed the work of the Holy Spirit. Good things we do, and good things other people do. All come from the one true source of good. There is no competition among the doers of God’s good works.

st petersBut, by the same token, there is also no neutrality between good and evil. There is no holy spirit of mediocrity, no good-enough-for-government-work holiness. If it is so-so; if it is innocuous; if it is ‘meh,’ then—the Lord says—it is evil.

We can’t go for the silver or the bronze. We have to seek the things that lie above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

And, once we get started, we have to keep going. Because, as the Lord points out, no soul faces greater danger than one who found purification and then turned away.

So let’s get closer. Let’s gather with Christ.