Advent December

Lord, why do you let us wander and harden our hearts, so that we fear you not? …Would that you might meet us doing right! (Isaiah 63:17, 64:4)

Seems as though the Lord Jesus used the image of the householder traveling abroad, and leaving his servants in charge–He used this image over and over again.

baptist-greco2Two weeks ago, we encountered it in the Parable of the Talents: the master left the country, and gave his servants money to invest. Same image, or one very similar, in the Parable of the Unforgiving Steward, and the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, and of the Wicked Tenants, and of the Master’s Return from a Wedding, and of the Faithful vs. the Unfaithful Servant.

And at Holy Mass this Sunday, in chapter 13 of St. Mark’s gospel: A man travels abroad. Leaves home. Places his servants in charge, each with his own work. And the gatekeeper must watch for the master’s return.

So: Here we find ourselves, together on the earth, with control over things that do not properly belong to us. By right, the goods we have control over, they belong to our divine Master, the Creator. He has entrusted them to us, for temporary service. We exercise power over things in this world–but not ultimate power. A day will come when the true owner, the rightful master of all that we hold in trust–He will appear. He will expect to find things in a certain state.

And if they are not? If He arrives after midnight, and we lay asleep, with empty beer cans scattered all over the floor, and the tv still blaring, and we haven’t made sure the children brushed their teeth, and there are dirty dishes in the sink. If the master comes and finds a mess? As they say, there will be hell to pay. In this case, literally.

So the prayer of Isaiah suits us perfectly. Lord, please don’t let us harden our hearts! Keep them soft and supple, responsive to your influence. Keep us humble and dutiful. So that you might find us doing right, when you return in glory.

Continue reading “Advent December”

Infertile Ten Years Later

France EU Pope

Rocco Bottiglione. Friend of Pope St. John Paul II. Philosopher and statesman. Charming family man. Co-conspirator with our beloved late Polish Holy Father in articulating the altogether central idea of the oomun pear-sewn.

In November of 2004, Mr. Buttiglione withdrew his nomination as justice minister for the European Union. A committee of the European Parliament had voted him down, on the grounds that he made too many distinctions when it came to homosexuality.

‘Indeed, homosexuality is legal, and I will defend its legality. I personally believe it is immoral. That said, I will defend the rights of a homosexual person as I would defend the rights of any citizen.’ More or less what Buttiglione said. ‘Check, please!’ said the committee. ‘We will have no distinctions of this kind!’ Even though the committee was vested with only advisory authority, Buttiglione withdrew his nomination to avoid a political impasse.

Now, a decade later, almost to the day. Over the objections of many MPs who insist that theirs is a secular institution! Papa Francesco himself comes to the thunderdome. And His Holiness declares that Europe appears to be “a haggard grandmother, no longer fertile.”

You cannot make the poetic justice of this moment up.

Holy Father’s speech contained many of the bromides de rigueur for such occasions. But, at the same time, the speech dealt out even more poetic justice:

1. In 2004, the EU rejected the idea that Europe and Christianity are inextricably linked. In his speech, His Holiness pointed out that Europe and Christianity are inextricably linked.

2. When Pope Benedict XVI visited Germany in 2011, he insisted that “environmentalism” or “ecology”–so beautiful a fruit of devotion to the Creator–must include the ‘ecology’ of man himself. (And one of your best sources for helpful insights there would be Humanae Vitae.) Yesterday, Pope Francis said the same thing to the EU MPs.

3. When Pope Benedict visited the UN in 2008, he pointed out that there can be no international consensus on human rights, and therefore there can be no peace, without an acknowledgement by the West that a ‘natural law’ guides the conscience of man. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the institution of the UN itself, are based on the acknowledgement of the natural law. Yesterday, Pope Francis said that the idea of human rights contained in the EU charter is based on the acknowledgement of the natural law.

4. Pope Francis gave the MPs a crucial concept to work with; he shepherded the political leaders of Europe with confident authority, like the popes of old have done for lo so many centuries.

He pointed out that the contemporary idea of rights is too individualized. In the end, it produces profound loneliness.

Will the MPs listen? Can’t imagine that they will. But the truth is the truth, and every once in a while, people wake up to it.

…Pope Francis is a spiritual son of Romano Guardini. The idea that ‘the program of the papacy’ has fundamentally changed with the succession of March 2013? A delusion of the slackjawed twitterati who never turn off their televisions.

And Papa Francesco has more willingness to go for the jugular. Fertility as a rhetorical archetype in addressing the contemporary state of the Western world: that’s the jugular.

Happy Thanksgiving/End of the World

thanksgiving-BeverlyHillbillies

The annual cycle of the Catholic Church’s Sacred Liturgy goes way back. Back before even the Mayflower, or Plymouth-Rock pilgrims, or the untimely death of the first American turkey at the hands of a white man.

According to the ancient Liturgy of our Church, this is the week of the year to contemplate the end of times, the final tribulations, and the great apocalypse that will purify the earth.

According to our long-standing American custom, on the other hand, this is the week of the year to gather at the family hearth and give thanks to God for the copious fruits of the earth, and for all His many benefits to us.

So, on the one hand, in church: the book of Revelation, the wrath of God, the angels scourging the evil Babylons of the earth, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the arduous trial of faith by which the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our souls will truly shine forth and confound the devil’s minions.

On the other hand, at home: apple cider, pumpkin pie, and plenty of late-afternoon football, with each quarter punctuated by a nap.

Seems like two altogether different emphases. But, in fact, one common theme unites both observances. The gathering of the harvest.

We sit at table and eat and drink with each other to rejoice in the great gathering-in of the what the earth–with the labor of human hands, and fertilizer, and rain–has produced.

We will eat our turkeys. And a quiet and a joy will descend upon us with the early sunset and the fire burning. Because this harvesting and gathering that we human beings do touches the final harvesting and gathering that God will do.

Indeed, there is some glory in the Thanksgiving table even for the turkey. (Especially if it’s maybe baked in buttercloth, or basted with beer.) The turkey reaches a kind of goal, so to speak. Its little turkey life takes on meaning, as it sits beautifully on the table while the family members argue about Obama.

We, too, will find a place, in the end. The heavenly Father will gather us into His barns, as Jesus put it. The striving and straining and fussing of the pilgrim life will end. And, please God, the great peace of the divine kingdom will enfold us like a blanket.

Invisible King Made Visible

How do we grasp the idea that Jesus Christ is our king? After all, the closest thing we have to a king in the United States is LeBron James. We threw a lot of perfectly good tea into the Boston harbor, because we didn’t particularly like the idea of having a king.

Lebron championJust as well, really. Perhaps you remember how, when we began this particular liturgical year AD 2014, we discussed the three wise men looking for “the king of the Jews.”

Way back before the prophet anointed Saul or David as king, the holy people of Israel served God alone as their king. Hopefully you remember how we discussed this: The prophet Samuel warned the people, Don’t make me anoint a human king. Our king is God, the only true king.

King George III of England, on the other hand, had a lot of pretenses of majestic rule—and not a lot of the genuine article. He had jewels, and powdered wigs, and embroidered footstools, and sterling-silver tea settings, and crystal goblets for his claret. But he did not have penetrating insight, or thoroughgoing reasonableness of judgment, or expansiveness of imagination, or precision of speech, or love for the poor and vulnerable. So no one can blame us Americans for wasting so much of his tea.

King George IIIThe King of the ancient Israelites, however—the king of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, of Gideon, Deborah, and Ruth—their king had none of the trappings, and all of the real goods of kingliness. He was utterly invisible to the human eye, so there was never any question of diadems or gilded robes. But His absolute wisdom, His all-encompassing government, his universal compassion—all this demanded unqualified obedience, unquestioning loyalty, and unlimited devotion.

The invisible King of ancient Israel, ironically enough, can and does pass every test of suitability as a monarch that we independent-minded Americans could ever throw at Him. Because, really, it’s not that we Americans despise kings, per se. We despise kings who are not truly kingly. We despise kings who fail to be noble. The invisible King of the ancient Israelites not only is truly noble and kingly, He defines what these words mean.

But we would have the devil of a time obeying this King, and serving Him, and paying Him homage as we should, if He had not done one particularly remarkable thing. The Old Testament shows us how bad the ancient Israelites actually were at submitting themselves to an invisible king. Over and over again, they proclaimed their allegiance. And over and over again, they failed to render it. We would do no better than they did, if we had to reach out into the absolute darkness to find our king.

So the truly wise, truly just, truly open-hearted King—the One Who really does see all, know all, love all, embrace all—He united Himself with our human stock. He became a human king, a visible king—who still had none of the trappings, none of the empty pretenses and affectations—still had no chariot or ivory scepter or chauffeur or personal jet. To the contrary, He had sandals like everyone else; He walked from place to place like everyone else did; He worked with His hands and even knelt down and washed His friends’ stinky feet after a journey.

The invisible King became the visible man who had no visible affectations of royalty, but who did have all the invisible truth of it. The eternal invisible King became the visible human King, Who is the real King and the genuine definition of ‘king,’ namely:

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

Presentation of the Virgin and E Pluribus Unum

Carpacio Presentation of the Virgin

Saints Joachim and Ann knew that they had a lovely daughter, the offspring of their flesh, a young lass of our human stock.

We, too, know some sweet young ladies, I am sure–of seven, or ten, or twelve. We know how reassuringly human they are, and playful, and funny. We cannot doubt that our Lady had those qualities, when she was a girl.

But Joachim and Ann, attuned as they themselves were to the interior life of prayer—they knew also that their daughter had an altogether unique and wonderful interiority.

In the gospel reading at today’s Holy Mass, we read how the Lord Jesus drove the merchants out of the Temple, saying: “this is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!” He could have been saying those words to us, referring to our souls. O fallen man, your soul is a house of prayer, but you have filled it with thievery! It takes a lifetime of penance to cleanse the temple.

But Joachim and Ann’s daughter, they could see, had no thieves in her interior temple. She could goof; she could laugh, like girls will do. But there was no grasping; there was no desperation; no unreasonable anger, no inconsistency of desire. The young Mary wanted one thing, focused on one thing, rested her whole heart and mind on one thing: God.

This girl belonged in the Temple. Everyone who knew her could see that she herself was a temple. When Joachim and Ann took her to the Temple to learn the things of God, the temple of a pure soul came to the Temple on Mount Zion.

President gave a speech yesterday evening. I must say that I was truly moved by the peroration. He painted the picture of the people we know, the fathers and mothers and children who deserve a better life than “it’s no fun being an illegal alien.”

Genesis Illegal Alien cdPresident Obama quoted Exodus. Our Catholic Bible offers a more precise translation: “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.”

The People of God know that this world offers no lasting city. Our true home lies above. ‘Resident-alien’-hood comes to us as a birthright, with Holy Baptism.

President said that our country is about more than what we look like and what our last names are. Amen to that. Then he added the usual throw-away phrase about religion: doesn’t matter “how we worship,” either.

Wrong.

How do we get where we want to be? That is: How do we get to the point where we embrace all men as brothers, because we have one common Father?

Only one human individual begotten of two human parents ever came into the world with that sentiment already at work in her beautiful soul. The rest of us have an intractable tendency to fight amongst ourselves.

America can only become the “America” of the beautiful vision by resting securely at the feet of the true patroness of this land, the Guadalupana, the immaculate Mother of God.

What we look like, and our last names, don’t matter. But how we worship not only matters, but is the key to everything. The religion that brings about e pluribus unum is the religion of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

A New Day

I make no secret of the fact that I ardently dislike President Obama. I find him obtuse in practically every imaginable way.

Nonetheless, this is a party I wish I could attend:

We are for this. As a Church, we wrote a letter asking for it.

So, this evening, let’s rejoice in a victory for the Gospel of Life!

Then: let’s wake up tomorrow morning, ready to fight on–for everyone else whose God-given rights are not protected by law, especially the innocent and defenseless unborn.

Vs. Cobble Hill/Brooklyn-Promenade College

Season opener against St. Francis College Brooklyn! Takes me back two decades to walks along Brooklyn Promenade and hanging out on Amity Street…

Alonzo Mourning’s son and Reggie Williams’ son both on the court at the end of the game.

Yeah, buddy! Season off to a great start.

The Hard Man with Plenty of Money

At Holy Mass this Sunday we read verses 14 to 30 of Matthew 25, the Parable of the Talents. Next Sunday, when we keep the Solemnity of Christ the King, we will hear the rest of the chapter. Matthew 25 enjoys great fame as a chapter. Next week we will hear: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…He will separate the _____ (sheep) from the _____(goat)s.”

When He does, the criteria for judgment will be: “I was hungry, and…(you fed me)” “I was thirty, and…(you gave me drink)” “A stranger, and…(you welcomed me)” “Naked, and…(you clothed me)” “Sick, and you…(cared for me)” “In prison, and you…(visited me)” The sheep will ask incredulously, When did we see you so, Lord? “Amen, whatever you did for…(the least of my brothers), you did for me.”

sheep-goatsIn other words, the divine King has not left us in the dark, when it comes to the Final Judgment.

He has painted a crystal-clear picture for us. Matthew 25. Goats don’t help the poor neighbor. Sheep help, without even thinking about it. Then, the sheep die, and wake up in heaven, and only then do they realize that the Lord Jesus Himself had visited them countless times, in His distressing disguise.

Now, I bring all this up not because I want to skip over our gospel reading for this Sunday. I simply feel that we need to take proper cognizance of this fact: the Parable of the Talents appears in the famous and crucially important chapter about the Final Judgment.

The Lord actually told two slightly different versions of this parable. Matthew’s gospel has a master giving talents to his servants; Luke has a king giving gold coins to his. A “talent” equaled the annual income of a skilled wage-earner. So the master of Matthew’s parable has as much money as the king in Luke’s.

Continue reading “The Hard Man with Plenty of Money”

Maybe Democratically Incorrect, But…

obama-prayingBlessed Pope Paul VI, pray for us!

When Pope Paul still bore the name Giovanni Battista Montini, his father played a prominent role in Italian politics. Giorgio Montini tried everything to keep Mussolini out of power, but history ran a different direction. The Fascists won the battle, and innocent people died.

The premier English-language biographer of Pope Paul VI, Peter Hebblethwaite, holds the “official” Catholic theology of the early 20th century to blame. The Church would not officially endorse democracy. Therefore, Hebblethwaite contends, the Fascists won.

To this day, the Church does not ‘endorse’ any particular political arrangement. Now, the teaching of St. John Paul II certainly highlighted reasons why we might say that democracy seems to be the system most reflective of the dignity of the human person. (Which was revealed by Christ.)

Pope Paul VI's father
Pope Paul VI’s father
But: I think the position we American Catholics find ourselves in at this moment, in the late fall of AD 2014–this position, in which we find ourselves, goes a long way to showing why the Church cannot ‘endorse’ any particular political arrangement.

Democracy is a complicated, messy business. Meanwhile, we strive to keep our eyes focused on the crystalline facts of fundamental human rights.

Is it ‘correct’ for us to pray and hope as follows?

A sitting President, duly elected–though hardly a champion of our Catholic principles–arguably intends to subvert the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution, in the interest of accomplishing a goal which we would not hesitate to call the vindication of human rights–namely, that families should not be subject to arbitrary separation, that people of all races enjoy the prerogative of migrating as they think best, and governments cannot interfere with that, failing a good reason– Can we Catholics, who love democracy and America–can we hope and pray that the President will stick to his guns and unilaterally grant legal ‘amnesty’ to as many of our brothers and sisters as possible?

We can hope and pray for this. And we should hope and pray for it.

May the democratically elected President, who says and does a lot of things that we hate–may he stand firm, and subvert the Constitution, and do the right thing!