The Roman Emperor Nero despised the clean, upright living of the Christians in his city. He called them “magicians.” Because, to pagan eyes, the worship of the one, true God looks like superstition or black magic. The pagan Romans generally regarded Christians as excessively religious.
The Roman race believed that they had descended from the ancient warriors of Troy. The Greeks had burned Troy to the ground, during the time when the Judges ruled Israel. The Trojan hero Aeneas fled westward to Italy.
Emperor Nero fantasized about watching Rome burn, just as Aeneas’ famous father-in-law Priam had watched Troy burn. So, it appears, Nero ordered his henchman to set fire to his own city.
But he blamed the magicians for the fire. The people to whom St. Paul wrote his letter to the Romans therefore became martyrs. Burned at the stake. Or fed to packs of wild dogs. Everyone knew they had nothing to do with the big fire. But the Romans killed the Christians anyway.
But we get these taunts, too. Has God slept since the Ascension of Christ? Or since the New Testament got finished?
Near the beginning of his encyclical on Mother Earth, Pope Francis explains something crucially important about the meaning of two words. The word “nature” refers to: plants, animals, the earth, the sea, the weather, sharks, us (the human animals)—“nature” refers to all this, an orderly system governed by scientific laws.
But the word “creation…” “Creation” means that “nature”—the beautiful system operating according to laws—exists for a reason. A Person has willed that all of it exist. And He continues to will that it exist, and He moves it toward a goal. The great God, Who transcends nature, has created nature, for His reason. And St. Irenaeus teaches us the reason—or rather, St. Irenaeus expresses the reason as taught by Christ, the Son of God: The Creator receives His greatest glory by our reaching eternal life. The Creator created that we might live.
The divine Trinity does not sleep. He has laid down laws, and those laws require that human beings sleep sometimes. Lord Jesus, a man, took a nap. Forty-six-year-olds need naps sometimes, too.
But God, Who wills the existence of everything that is, at all times, does not sleep. He works His perfect plan of peace and reconciliation.
Speaking of which… Somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of my generation never had the chance to walk the earth and contemplate the beauty of nature as God created Her—because they got killed in the womb by abortionists.
May God gather all those souls to Himself, the classmates, friends, brother priests, companions in life I never had—because of the cruel abortionist’s knife.
Now that I’m on the downward slope of life, God can take me home when He wills. But on my birthday, I pray: may He let me live to see the day when the nonsensical nightmare of Roe v. Wade gets taken off the books and put into the Museum of Human Evil and Folly, where it belongs. May every baby have a birthday, like we, dear brothers and sisters, all had the wonderful privilege of having.
We pray and fast during this Fortnight for Freedom for one precise purpose: that our Church would enjoy the liberty to do the work we need to do, the work our divine Founder has commanded us to do. [Click para leer en español.]
We hear in our Sunday gospel reading how the Lord passed through Samaritan territory on His way to Jerusalem. The straight way from Galilee passed through lands occupied by the remnants of the northern tribes of the Hebrew people. Nearly 1,000 years of history had passed since all the children of Jacob had been united in religion and government. The northern tribes had never accepted Jerusalem as a capital or site for the Temple.
Although Jesus grew up in the north, He belonged to the tribe of Judah, the southern tribe whose land included Jerusalem. Galilean Jews like Him usually crossed to the east side of the Jordan River to travel south by a safer and more welcoming road, in order to reach the Temple for the annual feasts in Jerusalem. In other words, they generally took the long way, in order to bypass hostile Samaritan territory.
But for His own mysterious reasons, the Lord decided on this particular trip to take the more direct route, straight through Samaria. Which meant risking harsh treatment and rejection at the hands of the unsympathetic natives.
I think maybe we can relate to the emotions that the Apostles experienced when the Samaritans mistreated them. It is a particularly painful, agonizing thing to be mistreated when you are a stranger and a sojourner in a land that is not your own.
Anyway, as we read, the Lord would have none of the Apostles’ angry reaction to this. He insisted that everyone stay focused on the one thing necessary: to keep moving toward the goal.
Now, honest and good people can disagree about the particulars of immigration policy. There is no easy prescription for resolving all the problems involved. But I think we can safely say we find ourselves at a crossroads as a nation. Will we continue to welcome immigrants? If we speak about immigrants with fear and defensiveness, we will not prosper. America has prospered precisely because we have been a country that welcomes Jesus and His companions, when they wander among us as strangers.
Now, maybe we Catholics are just silly idealists on this subject? After all, here in the halls of the Church, we exercise no border controls at all. Every baptized person belongs. Every baptized person belongs. And any unbaptized person can join our church by receiving Holy Baptism. There are no other criteria for membership. If you’re baptized, you’re a member of our church.
As you know, we read the same Sunday readings every three years. Three summers ago, the US Congress labored through the summer on “immigration reform.” A lot of people of good will spent a lot of energy—me included—to try to find a solution to the problem of immigrants living in the shadows here in America, utterly unprotected by our laws, because they don’t have certain ‘papers.’
Now, three years later, I think it’s fair to say that we find ourselves in a much, much bleaker situation.
What kind of nation are we? Do we think that two wrongs can make a right? Is it right to respond to craven acts of violence by defensively imagining that we can seal ourselves off from danger? If we think deporting immigrants and shutting our borders will keep us safe, we utterly delude ourselves. The more closed-off and self-centered we try to become as a country, the more violence will find its way to us.
What we need is real faith. Faith in the sure and loving hand of God. Over and over again I find myself stunned by the technocratic impulse of these times. When the shooting happened in Orlando, before the dead were even all identified, much less peacefully buried–before we stopped to pray in silence for the repose of their souls–the shouting about how to “fix” it erupted.
But, before we get all depressed about our political situation, let’s remember this: Here on earth we have no lasting city.
A whirlwind carried the prophet Elijah from this world up to heaven. Our Savior, when He walked the earth, had no home in which to lay His head. He revealed to us what our life here really is: a pilgrimage. An arduous journey toward a goal. All Americans are immigrants, to be sure. But even more so: All Christians are emigrants. We are on our way somewhere else.
We do not see our destination. We believe in it. Why can’t we see it? Why can’t we see the heavenly Jerusalem? Because it is invisible? No. The angels know how brightly that city shines—a million times more splendid than the Manhattan skyline on a starry night. We can’t see the heavenly homeland now because our eyes do not possess adequate seeing power. Our minds, that see by faith—our minds perceive reality more comprehensively than our eyes. That is, provided we live by the Spirit and not by the flesh.
Let’s pray and fast this Fortnight for the freedom to love our neighbors with pure hearts. In the heavenly Jerusalem, chaste and true love is the very light and air by which everyone sees and breathes. We pray for our own interior freedom, and we pray for our country, that our laws will always serve the cause of justice, protect the innocent, and foster the peace and tranquility of brotherly love.
Our heavenly Father makes the sun rise on the bad and the good. He makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. (see Matthew 5:45)
I think meditating on these words will offer us Americans a salve, some balm in Gilead. Here in Hokie Nation, we suffer from special ghosts whenever someone shoots a building-full of innocent people.
Let’s meditate on what Lord Jesus means. He follows His command for us to love our enemies with the assertion that the Father shines His sun on the just and unjust alike, and pours rain on good and bad.
1. God has enemies. To set yourself against an omnipotent Opponent involves absurd self-delusion, to be sure. But Satan and his servants have done it, and God has enemies among the children of Adam and Eve, too.
Some of us sin through weakness, or through confusion—because we human beings tend to be muddled messes. But some of us sin through deliberate choice. Some have freely chosen to embrace a lie, or a half-truth, or selfishness plain and simple—and have given over to it completely. Enemies of God.
2. God loves His enemies. He wills their good. He has a plan for healing everything. So: time marches on, and the sun doesn’t explode, and Christ doesn’t come riding back on the clouds just yet. He patiently waits for everyone to choose the truth and live in humble love. Even the hardened sinners, His enemies.
3. Our heavenly Father does not make the sun shine equally on just and unjust alike because He doesn’t care, doesn’t see any difference, makes no judgments. To the contrary: God judges like nobody’s business. God judges so precisely, so meticulously, so penetratingly, that any honest man can and must tremble at the prospect.
All truth will out. For now the sun may shine on a man with a darkened heart just as brightly as it shines on a man with a humble one. But what lies hidden will be revealed. In God’s time.
4. What God cares about is people’s souls. He cares about our bodies, too, of course. He hardly wills the death of the human body. He put us in Eden originally to live forever. But He allows fallen man to die, because it serves His wise plan for gathering souls to Himself.
Now, we Christians have something, which I think we tend to take for granted, but which we really must consciously cultivate in ourselves, so that we can teach the world.
We presume that we are all in this together. That one, same God shines the sun and rains the rain on us all—the one Father. We presume that all people are God’s children. We start from: human solidarity.
I don’t mean to be morbid or harsh when I call this fact of history to mind. But: the idea that no one should arbitrarily kill a building-full of people of whom he disapproves—the idea that everyone has a right to live in peace, free from the threat of spontaneous violence—that idea is a fruit of the coming of Christ. Our shock, and sadness, and confusion—it is a fruit of the coming of Christ.
In the ancient pagan world, people killed each other like this all the time. Such killings did not shock. They didn’t use machine guns, of course. They used machetes, or swords, or set fires, or just lined people up at spear point and then slit their throats.
The sense of universal human brotherhood–it does not come naturally to fallen man. What comes naturally is: We are good, but they are bad, and they deserve to die if they make nuisances of themselves.
That is not the way God is. Lord Jesus has taught us. God loves all His children. And He wills our good. He sends rain when we need rain. And the sun when we need cheering-up.
One debtor owed 250 days’ wages, the other 50. Their creditor forgave both debts. Result: The one who owed more loved the merciful creditor more. You forgave me 250 days’ wages! Thank you! vs. You forgave me fifty days’ wages. Thank you.
The parable helps us understand what happened in the house. When the sinful woman entered, Simon compared himself with her like this: righteous vs. unrighteous. I’m righteous; she’s not. But the Son of God compares the two quite differently. All of fallen mankind is running some debt with the Lord. Maybe the woman’s debt exceeded the Pharisee’s by a factor of five. But any debt at all will land you in the bad place.
In other words: Nothing could be more pointless than me thinking of myself as more righteous than so-and-so. Maybe I am more righteous than so-and-so. But that doesn’t mean that I am righteous enough. What I have in common with so-and-so outweighs any difference between us. We both sinners.
So now we have the meaning of the parable. But let’s consider this: The parable has a clear sequence. First, debt. Next, forgiveness of the debt. Then, as a result of the forgiveness, love. Debt. Forgiveness. Grateful love. A clear sequence. But, in the Lord’s interaction with the sinful woman in the Pharisee’s house, the sequence is different. It’s debt, love, then forgiveness.
She walked into the house a notorious sinner. Maybe a repentant sinner, but apparently an as-yet-unforgiven sinner. She sought Christ with love. Why? Not because He had forgiven her already. He hadn’t forgiven her yet.
Maybe she just wanted to lavish herself upon the beautiful, righteous One. Christ’s magnificence as a person—His kindness, patience, gentleness, tender chastity—He makes sin look like what it is: sad. So maybe the woman lavished Him with love simply for walking into the world and giving her hope for a better life.
She definitely loved Him. Lord Jesus Himself said it, as he spoke to Simon: “You never gave me water for my feet. But she bathed them with her tears. You never gave me a welcoming kiss, like even we men give each other in this Middle-Eastern culture. But she has not ceased kissing my feet, and she has anointed them, cracked and calloused as they are, with sweet, soothing ointment.”
The sinful woman loved Christ, and wept because He is so beautiful, and her life had been so ugly. She loved Him. So He forgave all her sins.
See what I am saying about the sequence? The difference between the sequence of the parable, and the sequence of the events in Simon’s house—the difference is notable. We picture the forgiven debtors in the parable jumping up with love, after their creditor tore up their IOU’s. But the woman loved Christ first. Then He forgave her sins.
Did Lord Jesus get confused? Did He lose focus, and tell a parable that wasn’t exactly on-point? Don’t think so. To the contrary: I think He is trying to help us get focused and on-point.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us a jubilee year of mercy. He has opened all the Church’s doors of mercy, so that we can gaze inside, so to speak, and contemplate the great divine mystery. When we contemplate the triune God, love moves us, and penance, and self-esteem.
Jesus has revealed the face of the Father. God loves. God loves me. God is on my side. God has a plan to get me to heaven. He has a plan for me to become my true self. The power that governs all things: He’s a loving, kind, patient father, who only wants His children to be happy.
This is reality. Love rules reality. Reality, as we know it—the whole universe—exists because of the divine love. The very fact that we exist at all is because of Divine Mercy. And one Person—Jesus Christ—stands at the center of everything.
When we behold this truth, we see our sins for what they are: pointless self-destruction. We see our egotism for what it is: preposterous self-delusion. We see our self-centered anxiety for what it is: pride. When we behold the bottomless graciousness of God, we repent of all our shallow, chicken-scratch smallness. And we just love Him, because He is so awesome. We go to confession, and it’s like our sins never happened. And of course that makes us love Him even more.
The Lord’s gaze upon us has no “sequence”: it’s just merciful love. He gazes at us with merciful love, always.
This divine gaze offers us renewal, a change, and a fresh start, at the very same time that it offers acceptance and esteem. When we look back at Him with love, we feel repentance; we feel contrition; and we feel supreme confidence, all at once.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.
If you bring your gift to the altar [that is, yourself, to offer along with Christ to the Father],and there recall that your brother [or sister in Christ, that is, your wife] has anything against you, …first be reconciled. (Matthew 5:25,24)
“Sexual complementarity” has become a buzzword these days in Catholic circles. But the word touches on the most-profound mystery.
God–Who transcends sex and created men and women in His image–God became a man. In order to betroth a bride to Himself. And the Bride has both men and women for members (us).
We men must beg pardon for under-estimating the gifts that women possess. #1 guilty male chauvinist: right here. May the Lord forgive me.
But do we raise a toast today, because a “glass ceiling” has been broken, and Mrs. Hillary Clinton will head a major-party ticket for President of the USA?
Budweiser has emblazoned their beer cans with “America” for the summer. To raise a Bud for a patriotic toast on Independence Day… A pretty daggone empty and ironic thing to do, since Anheuser-Busch has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of a Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate.
Seems to me that feminist rejoicing over the nomination of a former “First Lady” ranks in the same category of ironic shallowness. Cronyism has become a game for men and women alike! Yea! Rode her husband’s coattails into the limelight! What a victory for women!
Especially when we consider: What an abortion actually entails. Freedom? How about: an act of violence against a mother and child. Usually performed by a man. At the behest of a man.
Makes Hillary Clinton’s cronies at Planned Parenthood look like the biggest male chauvinist pigs in America.
This is not the feminism that America needs. We need to go back to the drawing board, and start with:
God, Who transcends male/female, and Who made man and woman in His image, became a man. To betroth to Himself a Bride, made up of men and women.
Lord Jesus says this to us. Clear as day, He said it. He said this during His famous Sermon on the…
We are the light of the world.
But, wait a minute, Lord. Didn’t You say that You are the light of the world?
Didn’t the Lord Jesus say that He is the light of the world? Clear as day, He did. “I am the light of the world.” John 8:12. Also John 9:5.
Who is the light of the world, then? The Son of God? Or us?
Christ, the High Priest of creation. Christ, Who makes existing mean something. Who spread out His arms on the Holy Cross as a declaration: Truth and love will conquer. This earth is not just a mess of atoms, or a tragic chaos arcing toward smelly putrescence. No. This earth will have an eternal springtime. And the dew on the grass will be the light of God.
Christ’s High Priesthood means that His light shines through us, since we are His ministers, priests of the cosmos with Him.
Soon you dear young people will enter high school. But you are already priests of the most-high God. Because you can offer yourselves, everything you are, everything you experience, everything you hope for from the future—you can offer it all to God as a pure sacrifice. And when we offer ourselves in union with the Son of God, the Father receives the sacrifice with infinite pleasure.
After all, what does the divine Son offer to the Father? Everything—everything, suffused with death-conquering hope. We can offer that, too.
When we live, and move, and have our being in God, we offer everything to Him, just like Jesus. And this holy sacrifice of ours—Jesus’, and ours—it lights the world with a brilliance greater than a thousand suns.
St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote: “The proof of the resurrection we learn not so much from the words as from the works of our Savior.”
The Lord Jesus did, of course, speak about the resurrection of the body. “I am the resurrection and the life.” “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” “It is my Father’s will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up.”
But it wasn’t all talk. As St. Gregory put it, Jesus’ works prove the resurrection. He raised the dead. Like the man we read about at Sunday Mass, in the town called Nain. And the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue official. And also, in John 11, Christ raised… His friend… Kinda rhymes with Nazareth…
Now, why? Why did Jesus raise the dead during His public ministry?
Because He loves the human race. Because He hates death. Because He came to nullify the annihilation of death. He came to turn death into the door to everlasting life.
Christ raised certain individuals from the dead during His pilgrim life, as we read in the gospels. Then, as we also read, when Jesus died, the netherworld shook, and a number of dead people rose in Jerusalem. Then, Christ Himself rose from the dead, never to die again.
All of this indicates the ultimate destiny of every human individual. We will all rise on the last day. The blessed will enjoy everlasting happiness; the wicked will suffer permanent condemnation.
We Catholics do various things to signify, or celebrate, or call to mind, or exercise our faith in the resurrection. Like, at the Easter Vigil, we light the Paschal Candle. And we say we believe in the resurrection whenever we recite the Creed. And we celebrate Mass.
The Mass inherently involves faith in the resurrection. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, the Mass would hardly make sense. But, since He did indeed rise, Christ revives our faith in the resurrection by the very act of feeding us with His resurrected Body and Blood.
A week and a half ago, a certain famous person gave a speech in Vietnam. Part of the speech touched on “universal human rights.” He did not mention the right to life of the innocent and defenseless unborn. But he did extoll the importance of religious freedom. In his speech, President Obama said to the Vietnamese government and people, “freedom of religion allows people to fully express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions.”
Now, even speaking about “all great religions” certainly exceeds my pay-grade. I hardly consider myself qualified to speak about one great religion.
But I can say this without any hesitation whatsoever: If Christianity involves love and compassion—which, of course, it does—if our religion moves us to love others and act with compassion, there is an underlying reason for this. A crucial underlying fact.
After all, love and compassion don’t exactly grow on trees, so to speak. What does seem to grow on trees? Greed, vanity, shallowness, and the tendency to flimflam and b.s. one’s way through life. Sin, in other words, grows on trees.
So: If we have any love and compassion, there’s a reason. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.
None of the Apostles became Christians—nor the early martyrs, nor the heroic Vietnamese, for that matter, who have suffered in order to bear witness to Christ—none of these people thought to themselves: “Let me become a Christian, let me become a Catholic, because that way I will be able to express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions!”
No. The martyrs and heroes have stared death squarely in the face, with the sacred name of Jesus on their lips, because: He rose from the dead.
The resurrection means that a loving and compassionate divine Heart beats in heaven. The same Heart that loved the widow of Nain and raised her son from the dead, out of compassion for her. Jesus’ resurrection means that loving and compassionating win out, over hating and crushing, in the end.
One of the great half-truths of modern life is: Religion involves ideals. Fundamentally, religion has to do with ideals for us to strive for. Therefore, the ceremonies and specifics don’t matter that much.
Now, of course we need our ideals to strive for. But let me just speak as what I am—a Catholic priest: our religion fundamentally has to do with facts. Not ideals. God became a man and conquered Satan. He died at the hands of us sinners. Then He rose again.
High ideals are great. But any ideal that doesn’t fundamentally have to do with Jesus Christ—what good is it? You can have it; I’m not interested.
The triune God Almighty rules over life and death; over heaven and hell; over past, present, and future. Jesus has revealed that God Himself loves, with compassion. He loves us, has compassion on us, in our sin-soaked mortal misery.
During the Year of Mercy, Holy Father has set aside certain days as ‘jubilees’ for particular segments of the Christian faithful. Today is the Jubilee for Priests.
Pope gave a retreat to priests yesterday, in Rome. Three talks, at three of the four major basilicas. Then, this morning, Holy Father celebrated Mass with the retreatants in St. Peter’s Square.
There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. (Luke 15:7)
I can’t speak for the angels and saints, like Jesus can. But I can say: I have no greater joy in life than celebrating the sacrament of Penance. We priests have a unique experience. We celebrate Penance on both sides of the screen, so to speak. I try to go to confession at least once a month. And, of course, hearing confessions occupies a great deal of our time, we priests.
God forgives. We can make a huge mess of things by committing sins. Cleaning up the mess can mean a lot of work. But: when God forgives, and gives us a fresh start, everything looks different. The future does not glower ahead, like a brewing tornado. That’s what the future looks like to someone living in the confused dishonesty of sin. When we confess, and the truth takes over—the truth of God’s infinite mercy—suddenly the future looks different. It’s full of light and possibilities. I can clean up my mess, no problem. Not only that, I can work on building something beautiful with my life.
The love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is everywhere. Especially in the Blessed Sacrament. The Host is a blazing furnace of the love of Jesus’ Heart. So is the confessional. When we meet Him there, and unfold our own hearts, with honest repentance for our wickedness, He forgives. With all His Heart.
…all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. (Mark 12:29-30, Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
That’s a lot of ‘all’s. In fact, when it comes to the powers within us, this commandment–the Shema–touches on all the ‘all’s. Heart, soul, mind, strength. All of all of them. That’s me in toto, isn’t it?
God spoke through His prophet Moses, and now through His Son Jesus: “You must love Me entirely. Everything that counts as you must love Me.”
Now, before I say something like, ‘Gosh, that’s demanding!’ let me pause and consider: What else am I going to do with my entire self?
If I never do anything with my entire self, that seems like a waste. Seems lame. If spend my life focused on what’s on tv, and leave whole powers within me trailing off, unused–like high-octane fuel leaking out of a tank–then it’s either going to start smelling bad around me, or a dangerous fire will start.
On the other hand, if I try to love anything other than God–or even any array of things–with my whole self, what will happen? Disappointment with a capital D.
I mean, I love sushi. But sushi cannot satisfy my every desire; it cannot occupy my every interior power. Even sushi, with a Sapporo, at sunset, streetside in sunny Sausalito, reading Shakespeare’s sonnets… sounds satisfying. But still something in me would remain either idle or unsatisfied.
God’s command that we love Him entirely–it’s not for His benefit. It’s for our benefit. It’s because we are bigger than we think we are. He gave us this commandment to keep us from selling ourselves short. Everything that we can see, smell, taste, touch, or feel–we are bigger than.
Shema! Love the Unseen Grandeur! With everything you have. Love God entirely. That way, you can be yourself.