Early-Christian Witnesses

“You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:48)

Anyone visited Jerusalem?  The Sea of Galilee?

Two thousand years might seem like a long time.  But:  the places where the Apostles saw Christ after His resurrection–those places still look a lot like they did 2,000 years ago.

galilee
At the Sea of Galilee in ’08

The Romans burnt and destroyed Jerusalem during the two centuries after Christ, but the city got re-built much like it had been.  The famous Western Wall of the Temple still stands.  The sites in Jerusalem that we read about in the Acts of the Apostles, like Solomon’s portico, lay buried in ruins now.  But it is not difficult to imagine them as they were, because the Old City is fundamentally the same city as the Jerusalem of Christ.

In the grand scheme of things, 2,000 years is not a long time.  It may very well be that 2,000 years is just the beginning of the beginning of the history of the Church.  For all we know, Lord Jesus won’t return in glory for another 100,000 years or more.

We ourselves will long since have vanished from the earth by then, of course.  They’ll have gotten up to the iPhone 750 by then.

But my point is:  We really ought to think of ourselves as early Christians.  Christians who find ourselves relatively close to the time of the New Testament.

Christ coming to the Upper Room on Easter evening.  St. Peter standing on the Temple steps, preaching after Pentecost…These things are not really ancient history.  Truly ancient events include the discovery of fire and the invention of pizza by the Egyptians.  The New Testament, on the other hand, counts very much as news.

People like to gossip about the news, of course.  So, if we’re going to gossip, let’s gossip about things like how St. Peter must have felt when, after getting Christ back in the resurrection, he had to say goodbye to the Master again, forty days later, at the Ascension.  Or, if we’re going to speculate about other people’s private conversations, let’s speculate about the conversations over supper in St. John’s household, after the Blessed Mother came to live there.

The Easter happenings did not happen so long ago; we are not far away from them.  We are plenty close enough to count ourselves as witnesses.

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Some Pro-Life Clarity?

Chris Matthews Donald Trump

A confusing afternoon for pro-life news junkies. If I might point out a few things…

A “ban” on abortion?

Everyone finds him- or herself bound by the fundamental moral law, “do good; avoid evil.”

Doctors and other healthcare workers can and do get confused about how this law applies sometimes. Like when a pregnant woman asks for an abortion. But honest moral reflection leads you to recognize that abortion is certainly an evil prohibited by the fundamental moral law, since it involves killing an innocent person.

The first punishment for breaking the moral law is the pangs of conscience. No punishment devised by man could ever really be worse. We can only escape the punishment of a troubled conscience by 1. repenting and seeking truth and reconciliation, or 2. engaging in acts of self-destruction which serve to deaden conscience.

Civil law cannot really “permit” killing an innocent person, since man does not have the power to render the light of conscience null and void.  So, even now, abortion is only “legal” in a limited sense–just like slavery was once “legal,” but never truly so, because no one’s conscience could fully make peace with it.

Criminal punishment for abortion?

Every pregnant woman, just like every human soul, must grapple with her conscience. Some pregnant woman have, by act or omission, precipitated a miscarriage. Conscience will punish such an act or omission, according to the truth of the situation. But of course no civil law could ever touch this realm, since it is altogether private.

“Abortion,” meaning a surgical procedure, however, involves a third party–someone with some kind of technique and expertise.

Again, because it involves killing an innocent person, there actually isn’t any way to make performing an abortion altogether ‘legal.’ It is prohibited by the inner law that governs the conscience of anyone who possesses the technique and expertise to do it.

That performing abortions is ‘legal’ in the Roe v. Wade regime means:  the law of the land contributes to the confusion and distortion of many consciences, especially the consciences of healthcare workers who perform or participate in abortions.

I think it’s fair to say that any true pro-lifer would advocate something like this:

1. A period of five or ten years of some kind of public penance, where government officials help to purify the nation of the lies about abortion by regular ceremonies acknowledging how the Roe v. Wade regime has been a horrible mistake.  We as a nation have the blood of many innocents on our hands.  (May the Lord have mercy on us!)

2. Simultaneously, we work to re-organize the healthcare system, to remove abortion and artificial contraception.

3. Then, after this five or ten year period, once the air has been cleared about what abortion is, allowing everyone to reach a state of tranquil conscience on this matter, then we could re-open the political debate about appropriate criminal penalties for abortionists.  (Which would not involve re-inventing the wheel, since these debates occurred all over the country prior to Roe v. Wade.)

Not Necessary, But Beautiful

God, the eternal Son of the Almighty Father, became man, suffered, died, and rose from the dead.  In doing so, He revealed to us the Father’s love, and He gave us a model of life to imitate.  And He redeemed us, satisfying divine justice for all our sins, so that we don’t have to.

aquinas
h/t the Angelic Doctor

Facts.  This is what has happened.  But let’s ask this question:  Did He have to do all this?  Of course not.  He could have left us to fend for ourselves and languish in misery forever.

Even if we presuppose God’s infinite love, and His will to redeem us and offer us heaven, He still would not have had to do it the way He did—suffering so excruciatingly for us.  God could have forgiven our sins without any satisfaction having been made for them.

But then He would have failed to execute perfect justice! you say.  No, not true.  Because the only one to whom He owes a debt of justice, when it comes to mankind’s sins against Him, is Himself.  So, He could have let it all go, without doing an injustice to anyone.  And Christ would not have suffered and died and rose again, as He did.

In other words, it all could have been different.  But the omnipotent One designed, in the inscrutable brilliance of His Wisdom, the plan of salvation as it has, in fact, come to pass.

Here we find what I think is the most convincing aspect of our holy faith.  Christ’s Paschal Mystery does not proceed from necessity.  It’s not like gravity.  Gravity necessarily results in pollen covering your windshield in the morning sometimes.

But what we believe in—the Paschal Mystery of Christ—it proceeds not from necessity, but from beauty.  Divine beauty.  Beauty that teaches us what beautiful really is.

Nothing could be more beautiful than Jesus Christ in His Passover.  This beauty, more than anything else, is what makes it all-but-impossible not to believe in Him.

Pro-Life, Pro-Immigrant Easter

resurrectionThe triumph of life.

Christ preached the Gospel of Life.  St. John called Christ “the Word of life.”  Lord Jesus called Himself “the way, the truth, and the life…the resurrection and the life.”  He declared, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly…He who follows me will have the light of life.”  St. Peter called Jesus “the Author of life.”

When Christ rose from the dead, He confirmed the truth of all this preaching.  The Gospel of Life does not consist solely of words.  The Gospel involves the divine power that conquered death–“the spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” as St. Paul calls it.

We Christians, who believe and celebrate Christ’s sacraments—we live and breathe the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.  Pope St. John Paul II declared:  the Church is the People of Life. We rejoice especially that our dear Elect will share in the Spirit of life through the sacraments of Christian initiation.

Now, sometimes I wish I could just do my priestly duties quietly and then watch basketball.  Some people think we should observe Easter with no strife and strain—just smelling lilies, eating chocolate bunnies, relaxing.

If we had the luxury of living in stable and peaceful times, then maybe we could just sit down on a picnic blanket and eat ham and deviled eggs, instead of having to endure a sermon on touchy topics.

But we don’t live in peaceful and stable times.  So we have to focus on what Christ’s triumph of life means for us as members of our beloved body politic.  How does the People of Life fit in, in America?

Just two quotes from the newspaper.  One presidential candidate insists that moving into the future means everyone accepting Roe v. Wade as “settled law.”  Yes: Accept that unborn children have no rights, as “settled law.”

Now, how could we possibly reconcile that with what we know to be true?  Christ rose from the dead that we might have life!  He conquered death, so that all might live.  How could we, the People of Life, ever accept abortion-on-demand as “settled law?”  Impossible.  No, this year and every year, we will stand up and fight for the innocent and defenseless unborn.  Until the day when Roe v. Wade falls into the shameful dustbin of history, where it belongs.

american-flagNewspaper quote #2.  A couple other presidential candidates in a different party insist that we must round up and deport all undocumented immigrants.  Doesn’t matter that these deportations would leave countless American-born children fatherless and motherless.  Round ‘em up and deport ‘em, no matter the human cost!

And does this supposed round-up have to do with ‘criminals?’  To the contrary.  This involves our neighbors, good people who make up part of the fabric of life in America.  Brothers and sisters in the Lord, in this very church.

So we have another obligation.  The People of Life must not sit quietly by, while presidential candidates threaten our friends and neighbors with an inhuman reign of terror.

Let’s ask ourselves this:  Do we live in a just society?  A nation can claim to be just, can claim to be “great,” when the defenseless people living in it know they can count on others to stand up to protect their basic human rights.

Unborn babies.  Law-abiding immigrants facing deportation.  When these brothers and sisters are safe, then I promise I’ll preach lilies and bunnies that Easter.

We do not live in stable, peaceful times.  But we do live by the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

This is not just about how we will vote in the fall.  It’s not for priests to tell people how to vote.  I couldn’t tell you how to vote, even if I wanted to.  This is about who we are, who God made us to be, the people we can have the courage to be.

May the Lord give us what it takes to fight for a country that we want to leave to our children.  Let’s stand up for the innocent and defenseless.  By doing so, we can help to make America the stable and peaceful place we want to live in.

After all, we, the People of Life, the holy Roman Catholic Church in America–we have a worthy leader.  We always take our cues from Him, no matter who, or who isn’t, running for office.  Our true leader is the man Who rose from the dead.

“Three Silences”

A silence reigned, before Abraham.
Blank heavens never spoke.
They just aged, above the clamor.

Holy Saturday.  Christ entombed.
A second silence: a question.
Will heaven answer the Lamb’s final cry?
Vindication?  Or just a dark maw,
arcing heedlessly to nothing at all?

Now, the unending Eighth Day, our Age of Grace,
silence speaks comfort, o lamb.
The Spirit speaks, because He lives.
The heavens say love.

Feast or Fast: Good Friday 3/25

El Greco Annunciation

Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling on One Day.  1608.

by John Donne

Tamely, fraile body, abstaine to day; to day
My soule eates twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle embleme is,
Whose first and last concurre; this doubtfull day
Of feast or fast, Christ came, and went away.
Shee sees him nothing twice at once, who is all;
Shee sees a Cedar plant it selfe, and fall,
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life, at once, not yet alive, yet dead.
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclus’d at home, Publique at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoyc’d shee’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fiftie, and at scarce fifteene.
At once a Sonne is promis’d her, and gone,
Gabriell gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, Shee’s in Orbitie,*
At once receiver and the legacie.
All this, and all betweene, this day hath showne,
Th’ Abridgement of Christs story, which makes one
(As in plaine Maps, the furthest West is East)
Of the Angels Ave, and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, Gods Court of faculties
Deales, in some times, and seldome joyning these!
As by the selfe-fix’d Pole wee never doe
Direct our course, but the next starre thereto,
Which showes where the other is, and which we say
(Because it strayes not farre) doth never stray;
So God by his Church, neerest to him, wee know,
And stand firme, if wee by her motion goe;
His Spirit, as his fiery Pillar doth
Leade, and his Church, as cloud; to one end both.
This Church, by letting these daies joyne, hath shown
Death and conception in mankinde is one;
Or ’twas in him the same humility,
That would be a man, and leave to be:
Or as creation he hath made, as God,
With the last judgement, but one period,
His imitating Spouse would joyne in one
Manhoods extremes: He shall come, he is gone:
Or as though one blood drop, which thence did fall,
Accepted, would have serv’ d, he yet shed all;
So though the least of his paines, deeds, or words,
Would busie a life she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in grosse, my Soule uplay,
And in my life retaile it every day.

_________________
*  State of having lost a child

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

 

Door of Faith, Mercy, Love, and Humility

 

mezuzah mezuzot

Anyone ever kissed a mezuzah?  Or, to be more precise:  touched the mezuzah, and then kissed your hand?

A mezuzah hangs on the doorpost of a devout Jewish home.  It contains a small paper, with the Shema:  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone.   You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

Deuteronomy commands the people to inscribe the Shema on their doorposts.  But the word mezuzah appears for the first time in the Bible in the passage we read every year on Holy Thursday.  Exodus 12 commands the people:  “Take some of the blood of the Passover lamb, and apply it to your mezuzot, your doorposts.”

Now, a mezuzah can be an exquisite little work of art, adorning the doorway.  Generally, they don’t look at all messy.  But even the most dainty little mezuzah represents the sprinkled blood of the lamb, the blood which moved the angel of death to pass over the house.

Logo for Holy Year of MercyThis year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us two ways to obtain a jubilee-year indulgence.  First, the old-fashioned way:  to pass through a Holy Door.  Usually, during Jubilee Years, you have to go to Rome to pass through a Holy Door, or at least to a papal basilica.  But this year, Pope Francis extended the prerogative for Holy Doors to every diocese.

Trust me, Fr. Matt and I lobbied to get a holy door at St. Andrew’s.  But the Bishop decided the cathedral in Richmond should have the holy door for our diocese.  Fair enough.  Now that winter has ended, the time has come for everyone to plan a little pilgrimage to Richmond, or to the National Shrine in Washington, to pass through the Jubilee-Year door.

The second way Pope Francis gave us to obtain an indulgence this year:  doing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.  Comfort the afflicted, counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently, pray for the living and the dead.

The Lord liberated our forefathers from slavery during the Passover, because He loves.  He sent His only-begotten Son, the Lamb of the new and eternal covenant, to shed His Blood for us on the cross—because He loves.  He gave us the Holy Mass, the sacred priesthood, the Church—because He loves.

The events we read about in the Bible unfold the mystery of divine love, and they have brought about this result:  God has opened a door for us.  He has opened the door of faith.  The door of mercy.  The door of divine love.

And one more thing:  the jubilee-year door of faith, mercy, and love must also be the door of humility.  Faith means humility, since believing the Word involves acknowledging that God knows more than we do.  Mercy means humility, since God forgives those who humbly repent.  Above all, divine love means humility, since the love of God works through simple, un-glorious, practically invisible deeds.

Brothers and sisters, let’s step through the door—the door of faith, mercy, love, and humility!  On the other side of this door lies the Kingdom of God!

Pope Francis foot kiss

Complete Self-Gift

 

Jacopo_Bassano_Last_Supper_1542

“If you sit down at the table of a king, note well what is set before you.”

Proverbs 23:1.  In one of his sermons, St. Augustine applied this to us, celebrating Holy Mass, at the table of Christ our King.  “Note well what is set before you.”

What is set before us at Mass?  What did the Lord set before His disciples in the Upper Room?  Nothing less than His complete, utter, total self.  His Body, Blood, soul, and divinity.

Here I am, given up for you on the cross, out of infinite love!  I give Myself to you, as your food and drink, as I give Myself to the Father!

us_supreme_courtJudas did not note this well.  If he had, he could hardly have betrayed the Son of Man with a kiss.

Every Holy Week, Judas’ kiss haunts me, pricks my somnolent conscience.  Since us clergymen kiss the King’s table to start every Holy Mass.  Fresh from renewing our vows, we priests had better kiss the altar with pure honesty, with chaste hearts, and with humility, noting well what the Lord sets on this table.  Otherwise, the Lord’s words to Judas will apply to us, too.  “Would you betray Me with a kiss?”

Not just priests, though.  All of us have to note well, have to behold, have to let ourselves be ravished by what the Blessed Sacrament of the altar really is.

Forgive me; I don’t mean to get crass here.  But we find ourselves meditating on how the Lord Jesus gives us His whole Self on the altar, holding nothing back, on the very day when one of the big news items in Washington is:  Catholic institutions go before the Supreme Court to object to artificial contraception.

The Lord gives us Himself, His whole self, all of Himself.  How could we not object to artificial contraception?  Could any of us note well what He gives us on the altar, and then turn around and play little games, interposing some artificial or chemical impediment in the middle of the love of husband and wife?  In the middle of the gift of self that gives the world the next generation?

No.  Or course not.  We could hardly be so dishonest.  Of course we object.

Lord, help us to note well what You give.  Help us to give You ourselves in return.

Christ’s Passion Focus

giotto palm sunday entry

(Click AQUI para leer en esp.)

In St. Luke’s account of the Passion of Christ, people fuss and bother a great deal about who exactly Jesus is.

Is He a Galilean revolutionary?  A prophet?  A wonder-worker?  The King of the Jews?  An innocent man?

Meanwhile, the Lord appears altogether uninterested in this question.  He knows perfectly well Who He is.  He doesn’t focus on Himself at all; He focuses on others.

He gives the Apostles the Holy Eucharist. He settles their dispute among themselves about who is the greatest.  He tells Peter how he will betray his Master, then forgives him ahead of time.  Christ tells the Apostles to stay awake—again, for their sakes—then wakes them up when they fall asleep.

To the authorities, Christ tries to point out the dishonesty into which they have fallen. He comforts the wailing women.  And He pardons the repentant thief and promises him eternal life.

So: short summary of the Passion of Christ:  His accusers focus on who He is; He focuses on everyone else.

Jesus knows Who He is, and so do we.  Every time we come to Mass, we proclaim His true identity, namely: awesome beyond awesome, divine and glorious.

But, of course, we are not here to testify to Him for His sake.  We are here for our sakes.  It does us good to focus on Him.

Meanwhile, He is focused on us.

St. Patrick’s Day Fidelity

In the first reading at Holy Mass today, we hear the Lord promise our father in faith that He would make Abraham “exceedingly fertile.”

“Exceedingly fertile.”  When the Lord said that phrase, He could have been referring to the beautiful, fertile sod of the Emerald Isle.  Or to the sons and daughters of Ireland themselves, who have peopled the ends of the earth with Guiness-drinking U2 fans.

guinness250St. Patrick’s Day is not a bad day to spend watching four or five college basketball games in a row.  But, of course, the best thing is to consecrate ourselves anew in our alliance with God–which is what we do when we celebrate Holy Mass.

The triune God made an irrevocable covenant with the sons and daughters of Abraham, based on one simple thing:  Abraham’s pure faith.  Before Moses, and way before the potato famine, God established this covenant.  Abraham, full of faith, awaited the Messiah.  And he rejoiced when the Christ finally came.  St. Patrick expressed the pure faith of Abraham and the mystery of Christ with an eloquence that made Ireland a fertile ground for Christianity.

Let’s call to mind one particular sign of the covenant today.  Some people over-indulge and take risks they shouldn’t take on March 17.  So let’s remember this:

The covenant between God and the human race has many signs in this world.  Like the way God sends apostles to the four corners of the earth.  Or the way He keeps the sun shining and the fields moist.

But one of the most beautiful signs of the covenant between God and man is this:  Fidelity in marriage.

If we want to raise a glass to keep St. Patrick’s day, let’s raise it in honor of faithful spouses.  God is faithful, and when husbands and wives stay faithful, they give us all a beautiful sign of God’s love.