Simeon Sees the Turning Point

memling-presentation

“Lord, now you let your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled.” Luke 2:29

Every once in a blue moon, the 40th day after Christmas falls on a Sunday, and we all celebrate the feast of the Presentation together. It’s been 11 years since the last time. I was a transitional deacon then, in Silver Spring, Maryland. That was a winter when we had two blizzards in one week. There was a convent of nuns at the parish where I was living. I took it upon myself to shovel the walkway from their house to the church, so they could get to Mass. The snow was piled three feet deep. It took all day.

Anyway, this feast marks an end, and a beginning.

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Father and Teacher

St. John Bosco St. PetersFather and teacher of the young.

Struck me as so beautiful, the picture of Don Bosco, father and teacher of the young, in the Collect of today’s Holy Mass.

To remember being young means remembering needing a father and a teacher. Craving a father and a teacher more than anything.

My own father and first teacher had his faults, to be sure. But one thing he had was faith, faith regularly practiced—the kind of faith that makes church a second home for you and your family.

Looking back, I can see with perfect clarity that my dad’s very churchiness is what gave him the kind of solidity as a person that a boy needs to lean on as he grows up. And I thank God for it, because it gave me the church as a home. And what greater gift could a person have than to feel at home in church?

I wish I knew more about St. John Bosco. I read a book about him when I was in the seminary. But that is getting to be a long time ago now, and I forget most of the facts in it. But one thing about Don Bosco shines crystal clear in my mind’s eye: His faith was huge and manly and strong. And that naturally made young people feel calm and at home in his presence.

Don Bosco rested his whole soul on the solid rock of the love of the eternal Father. That made him into a rock on which young people could rest their souls, like the birds resting on the branches of the mustard tree in the parable.

And the amazing thing about the souls of young people is: If they have a solid foundation to rest themselves on, they will grow. They will grow almost of their own accord. All they need is a solid father and teacher who they know they can trust. Don Bosco was such a teacher, and I hope we can be such teachers, too.

Hopeless Hubris vs. Humble Reason

(c) The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Last week, Dr. Gary Gutting published an essay, “Should Pope Francis Re-think Abortion?” To my mind, the professor makes an honest, respectable effort to engage the issue. I have read many counter-arguments, and I don’t think any of them responds charitably and fairly.

Dr. Gutting makes some important points. Spontaneous abortions (i.e. miscarriages) do frequently occur, resulting in loss of unborn life. The Church, in her solemn magisterium, does not (and, in fact, may never be able to) take a position on the metaphysical question of when exactly human life begins. We human beings do not, at this point in time, possess knowledge adequate to offer a definitive statement on that subject, and it hardly seems likely that we ever will. People of good will sympathize with the sacrifices a mother makes in carrying a child, so any argument that asserts a right to life without due attention to the interests of the mother will not convince. To my mind, these are good and important points about abortion that Dr. Gutting’s essay brings rather eloquently to light.

His lack of focus lies in a couple crucial areas. First, Dr. Gutting refers to a “ban” on abortion which does not exist. Neither the Pope, nor Mother Church entire, can “ban” abortion. Women, in fact, have millions of abortions every year. The Church solemnly taught, at Vatican II (!), that procured abortion is an unconscionable crime. Ergo, there ought to be laws against it (as there were, at one time). But the Church does not make civil criminal laws.

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Rest from Parable Enemies

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parableI will give you rest from all your enemies. (II Samuel 7:11)

Almighty God said this to King David. ‘I will give you rest from all your enemies.’

We can hardly imagine, I think, what a relief it was for David to hear this. After all, Scripture sings of the young king that he “played with lions as with young goats and with bears as with lambs of the flock. Did he not kill a giant?”

So David was relieved to hear that rest from his enemies was coming. And the Lord’s statement gives us hope, too. Especially when we consider:

“As soon as they hear about the mystery of the Kingdom of God, Satan comes at once.”

king davidAnd if we survive that, then “tribulation and persecution comes.”

Not to mention the fact that we have to deal with “worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things,” things other than heaven.

Our enemies are lined-up, in other words, like they lined up before King David, ready to take a crack at us at a moment’s notice. Staying focused on the invisible things of God can become enormously hard. It takes a long time for the seed to grow into full flower, and a lot of weather comes in the meantime—polar vortexes, summer droughts, ice storms, derechos, etc.

But we can count on God’s help. We read also of David, in the same place where it recounts how he played with lions and bears, that “he appealed to the Lord, the Most High, and God gave him strength.”

So let’s appeal, too. Help us, O Lord, to persevere in faith! May we have the better of the spiritual enemies who tempt and haunt us. And, when it shall please You, we look forward to the rest You will give us from their attacks.

School Family

In the unlikely event that you would like to read my “Catholic Schools Week” homily, here it is:

Roanoke Catholic School

We rejoice to come together as a school family, celebrating our membership in the great family of God, the Church.

Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. (Mark 3:35)

Jesus’ statement gives us the right to call ourselves a family. And to consider ourselves part of God’s family. We become members of that family by doing the one thing we are here together to do: the will of God. Roanoke Catholic School exists for one fundamental reason: to help us learn to do the will of God. That makes us a ‘school family,’ like nothing else ever could.

st-thomas-aqNow, St. Thomas Aquinas, heavenly patron of Catholic schools… A very quiet man. Did not talk a lot. He listened a lot. And, by listening all the time, and reading quietly, he became incredibly smart, and holy.

St. Thomas’ life teaches us that God’s will for us is, above all, to learn things. The more we learn, the more we will love God and each other. The more we know about God, and about all the wonderful creatures He has made, and all the kind deeds He has done—the more we learn about this endlessly fascinating world, His creation—the more full of holy love we will be. And our very love of the truth will bring us together and make us love each other as brothers and sisters more and better.

Our heavenly patron St. Thomas teaches that everything true and good leads us towards God. Every honest effort we make to learn something brings us one little step closer to heaven.

Pray for us, Angelic Doctor! Help us to stay on the path of truth. Help us to learn something true and beautiful every day, so that we can grow in love together as members of God’s family.

Holy Apostles’ Moment

Georgetown Hoyas season kinda in a shambles. Big man academically disqualified for the season. On the road tonight in Omaha (the real place, which is wonderful–as opposed to the barking of that annoying quarterback). The Creighton Bluejays enjoy double-digit favor. Never thought I would live to see the day when the Hoyas would tip-off against Creighton–much less as 10-point underdogs. Pray for me.

Edward Armitage Call of Apostles fishermen

Peter, Andrew, James, and John. “Come, follow me.”

He came to them, and invited them to put Him first. They had made their living on the water, pulling up redbelly tilapia by the dozens, in big nets. We know from reading later portions of the gospels that this particular day did not mark their absolutely last fishing trip. They would fish again. But Jesus beckoned in that moment: Let it all go for now, and put Me first.

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Not Too Cold

March for Life 2014

The sun shone on us on Wednesday. We had cold feet literally, but not figuratively. The snowstorm and bitter cold temps kept some pilgrims away. But that only brought us diehards who showed up closer together.

Every life is worth living. Every mother deserves love and support and care–not life-threatening surgery in nasty conditions to kill her child. We are each others’ keepers. And being each others’ keepers is what gives us true joy. To love our neighbor is the only real, enduring joy.

Wednesday’s march was the march of the diehard survivors of the Age of Abortion in America. The Pro-Life, Pro-Chastity Generation. We have seen the light of day, while a quarter of our would-be friends and neighbors, possible husbands and wives, co-workers and associates, never made it. Died on the battlefield of a more human way of life.

We are the generation that lives with these ghosts, who could have been the fathers and mothers of our own children, but never got the chance. We recognize our fallen comrades for who they are: human beings, killed out of human ignorance and hopelessness. How could we pretend that they don’t matter?

It will be a much colder day in hell than it was in Washington on Wednesday before we diehard lovers of the life God gives give up on turning Roe v. Wade into a dark chapter in the history books. Instead of what it is now: a living scandal on the face of the earth.

Fall of Man in Othello

Marchers for Life, bundle up! See you on Constitution Avenue.

“For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like
Another fall of man.” Henry V, Act II, Scene 2

The two great “turning-to-evil” Shakespeare plays are Macbeth and Othello. Let us, as time allows, study both of them for insights into the mysterium iniquitatis, the mystery of evil, the Fall. Othello first. Continue reading

Fort Lee, Marriage Law

We have a Fort Lee down here in Virginny, too, you know. I pass the exit for it every time I have to drive from Martinsville to Richmond for a meeting. Never encountered a single backup…

Last month, our humble cluster of parishes discussed the famous questions about Holy Matrimony posed by the Apostolic See in preparation for the Synod on the Family, which begins in the fall.

I said at the time that the one question that really interested me was:

Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?

If I might, I would like to spell out what I think about this. Indulge me as you will. Continue reading

Chastity & Scarification

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

The beautiful holiness of Christ. He lived the redemptive life. On the cross, He took upon Himself the ugliness of sinful Man, so that Man could shine beautifully again. Christ walked as an innocent lamb into the human darkness, so that He could fill the world with His unconquerable light.

A few of us were together for Mass nine days ago, and some of us spoke together about marriage and chastity later that same day, in Roanoke. We touched together on this theme: We owe the world the redemptive witness of Christian chastity.

The Heart of Christ, and the heart of our Lady, and the hearts of the saints: chaste hearts. Human hearts without desperation. Hearts resting in the peace that the Father’s love gives. The omnipotent Father looks at us, His children. He gazes at us, and He loves. He longs for us to find eternal life in Him. He made us for that very reason, to know the bliss of life with God.

Ritual scarificationThe dark, pagan world labors in self-destructive agony without this interior light. Without the light that makes the Heart of Christ so luminous. The pagan world grasps vainly in the darkness, without divine love, without the serenity of resting in the gaze of the eternal Father.

What, after all, is a ‘pagan?’ Isn’t it precisely someone who does not know how beautiful he is in the eyes of God? Isn’t a pagan precisely the person who counts herself cheap, sells herself short? The pagan looks at Man–looks at the paragon of animals, the beauty of the world—the pagan looks at Man and sees only ugliness, sees a desperate creature that has crawled out of the slime. The pagan is precisely the person who does not know, is not aware, does not rest in the fact that: Almighty God made me. Almighty God loves me. Almighty God wills my eternal happiness so much that He suffered and died on the cross for it.

I claim no special insight into, or expertise in, the pagan practice of ritual scarification. The practice of cutting and slashing the skin so as to scar oneself permanently. This practice, and practices like it, have marked the earth since time immemorial, and still do. Certainly it’s not much of a subject for a Sunday morning. But it struck me as a pretty fitting illustration of what I am trying to explain.

The darkened human mind, the mind that has never beheld the Lamb of God shining with the radiance of divine love–such a mind sees itself as ugly enough to merit self-inflicted violence. I am the tatterdemalion refuse of a dark and merciless cosmos! Let me cut, let me gash, let me bleed myself, and make my flesh ugly–as it ought to be. Because I am an ugly being made by ugly forces that tend only towards an ugly oblivion.

Ritual scarification certainly sounds primitive and crazy to us. But are these customs of self-wounding, practiced even now in some remote places of the world—are these customs really any more self-destructive than the kind of ritual scarification that our culture of unchastity practices on our own hearts? It seems to me that the culture that our own dear land has produced over the course of the past generation–we have produced a culture of ritual scarification of the heart.

Shakespeare Piece of Work ManWhat do I mean? The desperate, unchaste pagan heart that does not know the peace of the loving Father’s gaze—the hearts of many of our neighbors; even our own hearts, in dark moments, when we let the light of faith fade. The darkened pagan heart of our culture: cutting, gashing, wounding itself with repeated unchaste acts.

Pornography, fornication, the mutual-masturbation of using artificial contraception, serial monogamy with callous disregard for marital commitment, children left by the wayside. All of it self-centered dissipation. Isn’t the culture of unchastity that our nation has produced—isn’t it more perverse and self-destructive than any form of ritual scarification practiced by even the most outlandish tribe?

The Father sees male and female, the awesome power to give life, the power to love by the light of God in the great mystery of communion that is Christian marriage. The Father looks down at Man, at us, made for these wonders of fruitfulness. He smiles; He loves; He blesses and pours out grace and patience and peace. He pours out chastity, which is true happiness, true self-possession. Chastity, which is hope in the eternal consummation. Chastity, which is self-esteem and spirituality and health and a good night’s sleep with a clear conscience.

He pours all this out on us like a lovely rain. Chaste fruitfulness and a future filled with promise: this is what He wants for us. Not the pagan self-destruction of unchaste acts which cut our hearts like scalpels, bleed them out, and leave them empty and lifeless.

Can we doubt that God beckons us to teach the world the happiness of a chaste heart? Can we doubt that the light which shines though a chaste Christian heart—can we doubt that this light will give the world her only hope?

This pagan culture needs us to stand like shining brass doors that open to the mystery of God. The shininess of the brass is chastity. The light of Christian chastity is our culture’s only hope. And we are the ones who can shine that light into the world, in every personal interaction we have, in every genuinely loving act we do and every selfish and un-loving act we avoid.