Hail Mary Championship

Rosary PrayersHail, Mary, full of grace.

How many times a year do we salute her like this? Hopefully a lot of times. Hundreds, thousands.

Here’s a possible resolution for the new year: at least one decade of the Holy Rosary every day during 2014. That would mean 3,650 Hail Marys this year.

And how about a Hail Mary every time I get ready to put the car in drive? Every time. “Our Lady of the highways, be with us on our journey, for all your ways are holy, and all your paths are peace. Hail, Mary…” That would mean probably another 500-1000 Hail Marys for the year.

How about another dozen, one for every time I go to Confession, having resolved to do so at least once a month?

Of course, no one wants to lay him- or herself down to sleep without a Hail Mary. So, putting it all together, we could hit 5,000 Hail Marys each this year.

Not saying we should try to rack up Hail Marys like rushing yardage or like coins in a piggy bank. But: No one has ever said too many Hail Marys. If we could train ourselves to the point that, at our unguarded moments of intense emotion, what comes out of our mouths is a Hail Mary, instead of something else—that would be great. Someone cuts me off in the WalMart parking lot, and I say, “Hail, Mary, pray for us sinners!” Little baby vomits on my chasuble during a baptism, and I say, “Hail, Mary, full of grace!” That would be great. But it takes a lot of training.

Does our Lady ever get tired of hearing us pray to her? Duh. Don’t think so. Does the Lord Jesus get annoyed when we pray all the time to His mother—the woman who held Him in her arms, nursed Him at her breast; the woman who literally grew closer to God during every instant of her earthly life? Don’t think it bothers Him.

A full Rosary every day during 2014 would get us close to 20,000 Hail Marys for the year. Talk about taking it to the next level.

Not to encourage competition. But let’s see which parish in our humble cluster racks up more Hail Marys during 2014. Or maybe Roanoke Catholic School will win it. Those kids say a lot of Hail Marys. I make them say a lot, and they say a lot on their own, too.

Of course, we won’t know the winner on December 31, 2014. But our Lady will know. We’ll find out who won when we get to heaven, please God. And the people of the parish which prays more will be all the more likely to make it to heaven–which is, in itself, the real victory.

Egypt and Other Rough Places

Keniset Mari Girgis

“Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:15)

In Egypt they venerate the places where the Holy Family lived during their quiet sojourn there. Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus left their homeland and went to the country where their ancestors had been slaves.

Of old, in Egypt, God had shown His mighty power, working great prodigies to bring about the liberation of His beloved people. Now God came in the flesh to Egypt, an infant fugitive. And He spent time there in a state of perfect quiet, nursing at the breast, listening to His foster father and mother sing to Him the very songs that He Himself had taught King David to sing a thousand years earlier.

Continue reading “Egypt and Other Rough Places”

Merry Christmas, Scrubs!

Know Thyself

Every morning, the Church greets the dawn with prayer. One of the daily morning prayers of the Church: the canticle which Zechariah sang when he learned that the Christ had come. Monks, nuns, priests, and many lay people, too: we all sing or recite this same song as part of our prayers every morning.

“Blessed be the Lord Who has come to His people and raised up a mighty Savior, fulfilling His promises to the prophets.”

Zechariah’s song expresses the content of God’s promise in a particularly eloquent fashion. The Lord promised to free His people from the hands of enemies, so as to be able to “worship without fear, holy and righteous in God’s sight.” The newborn Savior will make this possible for us: to worship God without fear, standing before Him in holiness.

This is mankind’s peace, this upright, unburdened worship of the Almighty. We hear in the Christmas gospel about how the angels sang: “Glory to God, peace to people of good will.” This is salvation: worshiping our Maker with a heart at rest, with a tranquil conscience.

El Greco NativityAncient Israel had many enemies, but the true enemy is sin, falseness–interior emptiness that leads only to death. Sin makes it impossible to worship our Creator and Lord fearlessly. Because truth is truth, and the eyes of God see everything. If we are not in a state of genuine honesty with ourselves, we will never be in a state of real peace.

Christ has come precisely to set us free from the clutches of this, our greatest enemy: our self-destructive dishonesty with ourselves. Our foolish, grandiose pride. The wise among us have always declared, “Thy first duty is to know thyself!” And no goal has ever proven more impossible for us to achieve.

Christ did not come to the earth to tell us that we are wonderful, that we are hot-shots, that we have it all together. Because we aren’t, and we don’t. What He came to do is: die for us, out of love for all of us incorrigible sinners.

So that we can stand fearlessly before God Almighty and admit the truth: We are not perfect. We are not divine. We are miserable scrubs. We are helpless and lost without God’s help. Christ has liberated us from our laughable pretenses by His beautiful demonstration of the fact that He loves pathetic scrubs. He loves hapless losers.

He’s really only interested in losers and scrubs. The perfect, beautiful people He leaves to their own devices, to enjoy their supposed awesomeness in their own realm of self-sufficiency. Which is actually a kingdom of broken mirrors and disappointment that never ends.

But, for us feckless bumblers, the love of Jesus can give us the courage to know ourselves in the truth. He shed His blood for our sins, so all we have to do is confess them, in the great act of Christian honesty which fulfills all the ancient prophecies. ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ‘Child, your faith has saved you! Your sins are forgiven. Go your way.’

Then we can worship God without fear! We can know the thrilling peace of a day lived completely in the truth. And we can watch with joy as the dawn from on high breaks upon us, in all its glory.

Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ, now and forever and ever and ever.

Few More Papa F Quotes + Sports

Cam Newton PanthersJayhawks whupped the Hoyas. ‘Skins found a way to lose to Dallas. Rain falls. I have a mountain of work to do. Haven’t bought anybody any Christmas presents. Headcold never dies.

But: It looks like I picked the right bandwagon to get on, since the Panthers got the big W over New Orleans. And Evangelii Gaudium fills my heart…

“Since this Exhortation is addressed to members of the Catholic Church, I want to say that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care…Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care…

pope-francis_2541160k“The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration…It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented…

“Diversity must always be reconciled by the help of the Holy Spirit; he alone can raise up diversity, plurality and multiplicity while at the same time bringing about unity. When we, for our part, aspire to diversity, we become self-enclosed, exclusive and divisive; similarly, whenever we attempt to create unity on the basis of our human calculations, we end up imposing a monolithic uniformity…

“I am firmly convinced that openness to the transcendent can bring about a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society…

“Sometimes it seems that our work is fruitless, but mission is not like a business transaction or investment, or even a humanitarian activity. It is not a show where we count how many people come as a result of our publicity; it is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement.”

Can the

Joshua Smith

Georgetown Hoyas beat the Rock Chalk Jayhawks tomorrow, in the Kansas hills? Or will the eerie chant arise in Lawrence early in the second half, signaling our disgraceful doom?

The battle of the big men: Can human tank Joshua Smith run over the mighty Cameroonian, ginormous Joel Embiid?

I think he can! I think Smith can dominate! Smith has a 100-pound weight advantage!

Go Hoyas!

ישוע Two Points: Why + the People

Mary will bear a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)

Yeshua. God saves. That’s what the Hebrew means. Jesus. God saves.

That’s one of the angel’s main points to St. Joseph. The child has been conceived in ineffable holiness by God. The human child of your beloved Mary—the child is divine. And the divine child comes to save. You can’t name Him Xerxes or Thor or Qin Shi Huang–you can’t name Him anything but Jesus, because the whole point is: God saves. God comes to be with His people, in the flesh—in order to save His people.

Okay. Two points.

1. Salvation. From what? From slavery to ourselves, our limitations, our unshakable self-destructiveness. Salvation from interior darkness, ignorance, malice. Salvation from our incurable smallness. Salvation from pointlessness.

People say that mankind has lost the sense of sin. The popes of the twentieth century said this. But getting our sense of sin back is as easy as submitting to the questioning of any four-year-old.

Continue reading “ישוע Two Points: Why + the People”

Folds of the Swaddling Earth

view from Blue Ridge Pkwy cloth

If you stand on top of one of the mountains around where I live and look out, you see other mountains and hills. It can almost look like the soft folds of a big cloth. Like a big swaddling cloth, ready to enfold a newborn baby.

immac-concepMaybe you can relate to this: When I was a kid, my grandmother’s house out in the country felt to me like a cozy place of peace. At home, in the city, I had my worries: doing my homework, becoming good at sports, dealing with my difficult friends. But at my grandmother’s house, I didn’t have those worries. And no Metrobuses ran up and down the street day and night. And my mom never came to my grandmother’s house, because they didn’t get along. So I never had to overhear my parents fighting at my grandmother’s house, either. Just peace and quiet, and my grandmother giving my brother and me chocolate milk pretty much whenever we wanted it.

My dear grandmother passed away nearly 20 years ago, long before I ever even saw southwest Virginia. But when I first came here to serve the Lord, out here to these beautiful mountains, the very first feeling I had was: I feel like I am back at my grandmother’s house, with these folds of mountain wrapping me up in a cozy little bed.

When the Lord Jesus was born on Christmas, and our Lady wrapped Him in a swaddling cloth and lay Him in the manger for a crib, He looked up at her and gazed at her peaceful, beautiful face.

As we read in the Scriptures, many generations of strife had passed, in order for this moment to arrive. And the Lord still had a hard pilgrim life ahead of Him, with a bitter and painful climax.

But for a moment on Christmas morning, it’s as if time paused, in order to show us what the earth really is. The constant wheeling of the great axis paused, and for a moment we could see this land we live on for what it is. It is our swaddling clothes, enfolding us for the beginning of our glorious lives with God.

The thing to do is look up. Like the baby Jesus did—like all babies do. We do not look up at a blank and meaningless sky. We look up at the omnipotent gaze of infinitely tender love.

F the Mall

Gaudete! Rejoice! Evangelii gaudium. The joy of the Gospel. It “fills the hearts of all who encounter Jesus,” according to Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, Pope Francis. Even in dark times, even in the face of the gravest difficulties. Because we have “the personal certainty of being infinitely loved”—again, as Pope Francis puts it.

The joy of John the Baptist, the joy of all the people who recognized the moment, the moment of Christmas, the moment of Christ: God has acted out of infinite love for us.

Continue reading “F the Mall”

Delights in the Law of the Lord

A couple of the Advent passages from Isaiah* emphasize the theme of the first Psalm. Namely that the Lord guides those who cleave to Him. He guides us with a firm hand, with an interior light, with a Father’s wisdom. Only the guiding hand of God can get us to our true goal.

moses_ten_commandmentsOne of the main themes which Time’s Man of the Year sounds in his famous Apostolic Exhortation is this:

The Church accompanies people through life, helping everyone to find God and follow His plan. Almighty God has a plan for every human being. The plan for each of us is more beautiful and intricate than any human mind can grasp. It is not the Church’s job to have the plan. It’s the Church’s job to help everyone find the plan.

Hence the idea: The Catholic Church does not claim to have all the answers. Because we really don’t. Have all the answers. Only the Lord of infinite mystery has them all. All of us, Pope and bishops and priests and people—all of us have a pilgrim road to follow. All of us must open up our little minds to the light of God, which can put things into perspective in a way we never saw before.

But this is the opposite of moral relativism. To be guided by the loving hand of the Father means obedience. It means obedience to the most ancient truths. Moses received commandments on Mount Sinai from the same God of infinite love Who was born on Christmas morning and Who grew up to speak at length about how He keeps the fires of hell hot for the hypocrites and scoffers and abusers of the innocent.

Holy Father points out that there are paths down which the Church should not accompany people:

Spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God, in whom we attain true freedom. Some people think they are free if they can avoid God; they fail to see that they remain existentially orphaned, helpless, homeless. They cease being pilgrims and become drifters, flitting around themselves and never getting anywhere. To accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father.

Fellow evangelists, let’s see God’s commandments, strict as they may be, for what they really are: A great gift our Father has given us to help us reach the goal of true, undying happiness. Let’s propose them to the world by our example and our words. They exist for this reason: With them, we can follow God’s plan for our lives. Without them…well, we do not want to go there.**

* today’s Mass and this past Saturday’s, for example

** “Wailing, gnashing of teeth, and the worm never dies.”

Man of the Year


Congratulations, Your Holiness!

But I am much more interested in which publication/journal/weblog our Holy Father would designate as Magazine of the Year.

“To those who feel far from God and the Church, to all those who are fearful or indifferent, I would like to say this: the Lord, with great respect and love, is also calling you to be a part of his people!” Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium