Unswerving and Kind

First let’s try to understand some of the tricky aspects of the gospel reading for today’s Holy Mass.

“When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled…”

What does this mean? The time had come for the Lord’s…Passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension—His Paschal Mystery.

Lord Jesus went to what city in order to complete the Paschal Mystery? Jerusalem!

El Greco Christ“On the way, they entered a Samaritan village.” On the way from where? Galilee. The land of Samaria lies between Galilee and Jerusalem.

“But the Samaritans would not welcome him.”

Why wouldn’t they? This one is difficult.

The Jews who lived in Jerusalem practiced which religion? Judaism, of course. And the Jews in Galilee? Also, Jewish. What about the Samaritans? Jewish also!

Problem is, the Samaritans had their own version of Judaism. According to the Samaritans, the Temple of God was not located in Jerusalem. Where was it located, according to the Samaritans? Trick question! Nowhere—it used to be in the city of Shechem, but it had been destroyed hundreds of years earlier. The Samaritans thought that the temple in Jerusalem was only a counterfeit temple.

“Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans?”

The disciples thought, “These enemies are being mean to us, even though we are making the most important journey ever made. Therefore, let’s destroy ‘em.”

Lord Jesus did not even deign to reply. No fire from heaven. We journey on.

Now, we sometimes encounter people who seem to wander without a good, clear path to God, people whose path “is hidden from them,” as Job puts it in the first reading at today’s Mass.

Let’s always remember both aspects of the Lord Jesus’ demeanor during His trip to Samaria. On the one hand, He would not swerve from the path which the Father had laid out for Him. He must go to Jerusalem. The Samaritans were wrong to reject Christ’s pilgrimage to the holy city.

On the other hand, Jesus would not give a thought to violence towards anyone. He would not let Himself be distracted by self-righteous meanness, even towards people who were self-righteously mean to Him.

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Loving Prudently

alanis-morissette-27121Back in the 90’s, when I was young, I liked a particular female rock singer. She of course had a song bitterly excoriating her boyfriend who had left her for another woman. She sang, “And does she know how you told me you’d hold me until you died? But you’re still alive.”

The father in the parable we read at Sunday Mass might have his own version of this song, in which he would sing to his second son, “Son, don’t you know that you told me you’d work in my vineyard today? But you’re still in your room.”

Let your Yes mean yes—anything else is from the evil one, saith the Lord. Eager and well-meaning people can get themselves into a lot of trouble by making beautiful promises, and then not keeping them.

Next month our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will meet in Synod with bishops, theologians, and married people from all over the world. At this Sunday’s Mass we pray especially for the success of the Synod. The Synod will discuss marriage and family life in our times, the age of the New Evangelization.

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Extra Time to Say ‘My Lord and my God!’

“You are the Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)

We don’t have enough time. During Mass, I mean. At the elevation of the Host, following the consecration.

We do not have adequate time then to say, ‘You are the Christ!’ with the deliberateness, the love, the devotion, that we want to say these words with.

MonstranceThe holy angels are much faster than us.

Before time as we know it began, the holy angels beheld the mystery of the Incarnation in the divine mind. Instantly they humbled themselves and worshipped with their entire beings, consecrating themselves completely to the glory of the Word made flesh.

But we are slow. We poke along. Our minds move forward like mules move up a steep, rocky hillside–ie., very, very reluctantly. So we need more time to adore the Christ.

That’s why the monstrance got invented. To extend the elevation at the consecration, to give us more time to say to the Lord, ‘You are the Christ!’

In exactly one week, we will observe the usual First-Friday custom at Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount, exposing the Host in the monstrance for adoration, from 10am-noon, and from 6pm-8pm. Then on Sunday, October 5, we will have adoration all day from the end of Mass at 9am until Benediction at 4pm.

At. St. Joseph in Martinsville, we will expose the Blessed Sacrament not just for the usual First-Friday Holy Hour next Friday, but for forty Holy Hours—until Sunday morning.

Even all these extra hours will not give us enough time to say everything that we can and should say to the Lord. But let’s make a decent start of it.

In Henry Cty, Va., Mount Sinai is located at 2481 Spruce St.

FoA

Hidden with the Hidden Christ

“Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” Luke 9:9

Herod the tetrarch heard of Jesus of Nazareth. And Herod was neither the first, nor the last, to hear of this particular carpenter. At one point, John Lennon declared that his Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” Now, fifty years later, Jesus is more famous than ever. And the Beatles enjoy a following among some gray-haired people.

Nonetheless: The Lion of Judah, the eternal creative Wisdom made flesh, did not always enjoy fame. He grew up and lived His early-adult life as a common man. The annals of history remain silent regarding the better part of God’s earthly life.

We call this “the mystery of Christ’s hidden life.” He grew up in a nondescript household, like countless other people have done. He came of age, and began a hard-working life, in an isolated corner of the world, like countless other people have done. He quietly buried the father who had raised him, like countless other people have done.

Go Redskins!  Beat the Giants!
Go Redskins! Beat the Giants!
Of all these events in the life of the incarnate God, the saying of the dark-browed author of Ecclesiastes is verified: “There is no remembrance of the men of old; nor of those to come will there be any remembrance among those who come after them.”

Qoheleth, after all, has it right. History, for the most part, gapes open in an enormous, ponderous silence. In the grand scheme of things, only a short period of time separates us right now from the moment when the memory of our names has vanished altogether from the earth, and our weather-beaten tombstones lay in the mud, overtaken by weeds, above our unvisited graves.

Who was Mark White, of Washington, D.C.? Who was Francis Xavier DiLorenzo, of Philadelphia, PA? Who was Kirk Cousins of Barrington, IL? And the only the answer the earth can make will be:

Just like the only answer the earth has to the question, What did Jesus do when He turned 15? or 21? or 29?

[Silence.]

Grim, you say? The sound of wind rustling the grass over the unmarked graves that cover the face of the earth? No, no. We rejoice. We rejoice to share in the mystery of Christ the Young Man’s utter hidden-ness. Because we know, as He taught us, that our heavenly Father sees what is hidden.

Temperately Ready

King Solomon prayed that the Lord would spare him both poverty and superfluity. “Provide me only with the food I need” (Proverbs 30:8). Better to have only the necessities, with nothing added. After all, the Lord told us to “take nothing for the journey” (Luke 9:3).

SONY DSCWise king Solomon wanted to focus on other things than his material needs and desires. Namely, praising God and seeking the truth.

Three points, if I might:

1. The Lord provides enough for everyone to eat and drink, and not starve, and not freeze to death in the cold. He has no plan for anyone to luxuriate in this world. Not because He doesn’t want us to be happy; He actually has better things planned for us.

2. The wise person cultivates the cardinal virtue of temperance. The temperate person fasts and feasts, according to reason, proportion, “appropriateness.” Temperance allows us to focus on spiritual pursuits, leaving us to eat, drink, sleep, exercise, and have sex according to what makes sense, given the realities of our particular individual lives. Being temperate in our desires frees us to act justly in all our dealings with others, giving everyone what is due them.

3. If you have a good memory, you will recall that two years ago we went over these exact same points. We had these same readings on the feast day of the martyrs Cosmas and Damien.

Cosmas and Damien bear the crown of martyrdom, along with all the holy martyrs. But, of course, the martyrs of Christ only wind up with crowns of martyrdom because of external events beyond their control. Martyrs are always glad to continue their work on earth, whatever it may be, if such be the divine will. The virtues of justice and temperance allow us to do our work on earth well, whatever that work may be, because we stand ready to obey God, without unreasonable self-indulgences getting in the way.

In other words, If we hold in our hands crowns of justice and temperance, if our consciences do not accuse us of any abuse of this world’s goods, then we can live precisely the life the Lord gives us to live.

The temperate Christian can say to St. Peter and St. Paul, to St. Joseph, St. Francis, and all the saints: “Denizens of the court of heaven, I stand ready to serve. Please present me to Christ. If it be His will that I remain on earth today, then give me the grace to serve well here. If today is my day to suffer death, let it come.”

Stigmata, Physical and Spiritual

We Christians, by the grace of God, live in union with another Person. We share His undying life. Namely…

Ok. Now, raise your hand if you have ever heard of Padre Pio.

Padre Pio Dominus VobiscumWhen some of us were born, St. Pio of Pietrelcina still lived on this earth. He died 46 years ago today.

During his lifetime, Padre Pio wore special gloves because of a gift that the Lord Jesus gave him.

Receiving this particular gift involves a great deal of physical and spiritual pain. The Lord gives this gift only very rarely.

Anybody remember what it’s called, when a living saint receives the same wounds in his or her body that the Lord Jesus suffered when He was crucified? “I bear the ______ of Christ on my body.” Stigmata.

Hopefully all of us long to become saints. As I said, only very, very few saints receive the stigmata in their palms, in their own bodies. But being a saint requires receiving spiritual stigmata.

What do I mean by that? In the first reading at Holy Mass today we hear the following commandment:

He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard. (Proverbs 21:13)

The cry of the poor gives a living saint spiritual stigmata. When someone near him or her suffers, the saint suffers, and does anything possible to bring relief. Remember, ‘the poor’ do not live somewhere else, far away. The cry of the poor comes to me whenever anyone needs help or love or support.

Now, the second part of the commandment. Shutting my ears to the cry of the poor means that someday I will cry, and not be heard. Someone who tries to become a saint, then, is really being practical about the future, when you get right down to it.

One way or another, sooner or later, we all find ourselves crying out for help. We all find ourselves among ‘the poor’ one way or another. If we want the Lord to hear us when we cry out then, let’s listen for the cry of the poor now.

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

Rembrandt Laborers in the Vineyard

Let’s imagine a Lebanese vineyard, with vines sagging with grapes for the harvest. The cool mornings of fall have arrived.

The owner of the vineyard has arisen before dawn. He, all his family, and his trusty steward have worked hard through the summer. The good weather has yielded a rich abundance of ripe grapes. Now an enormous amount of work needs doing, in short order. All the grapes must be picked and gathered, pressed, and trod.

So the owner is walking the road to the town square before sunrise. He meets a large group of men who themselves are on their way to the square. In the dim light, the owner stops the men and offers them the customary wage for a day’s work.

The owner hopes these men will work hard, and they do—but not quite as hard as he imagined they would. So, when the time comes for the workers’ first break of the day, the owner marches down the road again, to the square.

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Hoping in Christ for This Life Only?

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ… I Corinthians 15:19

el-grecost-paulFor this life only.

The life of tireless toil and struggle, as St. Paul described his ministry in the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians.

This life in which baptism is administered, with immeasurable attendant mystery, and the eye sees practically nothing of what actually happens.

This life in which the Church lives in a unity which no one can see, in which individual personality does not matter, but only Christ crucified for our sins.

This life, in which the wisdom of the wise amounts to so much foolishness in the face of God’s inscrutable mind.

This life, in which it is better to suffer injury than to seek justice according to the world’s norms, better not to eat than to do anything that could harm anyone else’s conscience, better not to marry, better to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

By the time St. Paul has made all his pastoral demands on his Corinthian people, in the course of his lengthy letter, he hopes that they, too, would see the absurdity of hoping in Christ for this life only–the utter absurdity of the idea–and laugh out loud at it. Hoping in Christ for this life only?! Hah.

But we are not pitiable men. We have the sure and certain hope of a future resurrection. We look forward to sharing the undying life of the Son of God.

How to Handle the Blessed Sacrament

Penitent Magdalen de la Tour

There was a sinful woman in the city who learned that He was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. (Luke 7:37-38)

“If this man were a prophet, he would know what sort of person is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

Touching the Body of Christ, with contrite love.

The Apostles saw Jesus after He rose from the dead. St. Paul got to see Him, even after the Ascension, because the Lord gave Paul a unique vision. They all saw a body they could touch. St. Thomas, we know, touched the Lord. And we cannot doubt that others did, too, even though He said to Mary Magdalen, “Do not hold onto me.” We cannot doubt that the Lord embraced His mother when He saw her on Easter Sunday. Nor can we doubt that St. Peter touched His risen Master, that the penitent fisherman bathed his Master’s shoulder with tears.

Long story short, sinners have touched Jesus all along—that is why He became man. His Incarnation is, in fact, the most intimate act of touching ever. God touching us, in the most interior center of our human nature, by Himself becoming one of us–the Almighty divine Person Who had hands and feet that could be pierced by nails.

Ecce Agnus DeiSo the gospel reading for today’s Holy Mass has to be our fundamental guide regarding how we dispose ourselves with respect to the Blessed Sacrament.

1. With total faith. Chances are, the weeping woman may not have had the word ‘Incarnation’ on her lips. But she knew with the eyes of faith that her all, her salvation, the love worth living and dying for, sat right here, at the table.

2. With contrition. Simon the Pharisee’s murmurings ring with unfathomable irony: ‘She’s a sinner, so if he were godly, he wouldn’t let her touch him.’ Au contraire, mon frère. He’s not just godly, He’s God. And He came to have mercy on sinners. He has made it abundantly clear that there is only one category of people He wants touching His Body, namely the contrite sinners who weep for joy, because we have found our Savior.

3. With hope. Complete, total, blind, and unbounded hope. The woman had no idea what exactly she hoped for. She simply knew that this man, whose Body sat right here, would make everything okay and more than okay.