Very soon we will have the pleasure of welcoming Father José Alberto Moran Arce as our second parochial vicar at St. Andrew’s/St. Gerard’s in Roanoke.
He will arrive after the national feasts of San Salvador, known as the fiestas agostinas. They begin tomorrow morning, with a cup of atol shuco. And they conclude on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Savior (next Saturday, August 6).
Here’s some footage from last year’s festivities in San Salvador.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where rust and moth consume, and thieves break in and steal. But lay up treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break in, nor steal.
That’s part of our Lord’s Sermon on the… Mount. Which helps us understand the parable we hear in our gospel reading at Sunday Mass, traditionally known as the Parable of the Rich Fool.
When St. Basil preached on this parable, he pointed out that earthly prosperity can serve as a trial of faith, just like difficulties and tribulations can. We usually think of a ‘trial’ as a deprivation or an occasion of suffering, like: “Her husband just got a cancer diagnosis. What a trial for her!” But easygoing prosperity poses a spiritual challenge of its own. Godless worldliness can overtake the comfortable. The prosperous can succumb to: total secularization.
Growing rich is no sin, in and of itself. The man in the parable did no outright injustices to his fellow man. Good weather and fruitful soil gave him a superabundant harvest. But the rich man in the parable showed himself a fool by thinking neither of God nor of others. He thought only of his personal comfort. St. Basil put it like this:
Think, o man, think of the Giver! From Whom have you received your wealth? You are the servant of the good God, a steward for your fellow servants.
A servant of God and a steward for your fellow servants.
Now, I think many of us were shaken this past week by the cold-blooded murder of a priest, near Rouen, France. Father Hamel’s murder shakes us especially because it occurred at the holy altar, as he ministered in the person of Christ, at Mass. French president Hollande called the murder a “profanation.” The profanation of something sacred.
We need to focus hard on what the sacred thing is, that this murder profaned. The sacred thing is: Religion, our relationship with God, the meaning of life, the eternal mystery of undying love, the foundation of peace among men.
In the rich fool’s life, comfort—or wealth, or something—something secular—crowded God out. God gave the man good things in abundance, but the rich fool did not humbly thank Him. And the fool did not understand his duty to share his wealth.
Why? Because he thought too much of himself? No. The rich man’s foolishness involved selling himself short. He thought of himself merely as a consumer of material goods, capable of nothing more beautiful or noble than catching a buzz and then filling his belly.
“You fool!” said the Lord. Did I make you to rut around the earth like a worm? No. I made you to be My friend. I made you to share in the great work of love that I bring about, by My almighty power.
The holy, sacred beauty of God, the triune God Who revealed His infinite love on the cross: the altars of our churches stand firmly consecrated to our on-going relationship with Him, with this transcendent Love.
Pope Francis has said that a “piecemeal” World War III has long since begun. This war costs us a lot—not just dollars, but pain and anxiety. It assaults us with blow after blow of horrifying violence. And a dark specter rises behind the barrage of killings: the idea that life itself is brutal and meaningless. The rich man in the parable went to his death a fool, because he had not prepared himself to meet God. He had no altar. He had no relationship with the Almighty.
In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances. In many countries, globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting proper to other cultures which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated.
The process of secularization, by completely rejecting the transcendent, has produced a growing deterioration of ethics…a general sense of disorientation… a remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. (paragraphs 62 and 64)
We talked about this back on Fourth of July weekend: the beautiful idea that can stabilize and unite us human beings in an enduring peace is the very treasure of our holy altars: The idea of true human dignity. The great God invites us to be His friends. We are not expendable. We are not worms. We are children of the Most High.
Our adversaries make war against: the sacred truth of human dignity. They make war against human culture’s greatest accomplishment: the doctrine of human dignity, taught by Christ. The great mystery of our beautiful, eternal destiny. With which we commune at the altar. May God have mercy on them, for making war on the heart and soul of human peace.
How do we fight back? By kneeling down and praying. Praying with Christian faith and Christian love, at Christ’s holy altar, for deliverance from this unholy war.
The learned scribe brings forth both the new and the old. (see Matthew 13:52)
What does the Lord mean here? What is “the new,” and what is “the old?”
Answering “the Old Covenant and the New Covenant!” or “the Old Testament and the New Testament,” puts you in good company. St. Augustine interpreted the verse that way.
During St. Augustine’s time, and up to this very day, some Christians erroneously have dismissed the Old Testament as barbaric, flawed, and unnecessary. So St. Augustine understood the Lord Jesus to be saying in this verse: My disciples need to study and try to understand both the New and the Old Testaments. We cannot grasp the divine mystery without both.
What about St. Gregory the Great? He understood “new” and “old” differently.
The “old” truth, which is still true, is: The human race deserves condemnation and punishment because of our sins.
The “new” truth is: We can repent and be converted. We can live in the sweetness of the kingdom of the Lamb.
The President of the U.S.’s oldest ally said yesterday, “Our republic has been profaned.” A French priest, killed at the altar, as he concluded his Mass.
We cannot help but grieve and fret over this. Something very sacred to us, very close to us—the sanctuary of the church at a quiet weekday Mass—profaned by violent bloodshed. By cold-blooded murder.
Not that we priests have any more claim on bodily safety than anyone else—but the murder of a vested priest at the altar has unique gravity. Because at Mass the priest represents the whole people of God, and he represents Christ, the Incarnate divine Son.
So this profanation of the republic of France also involves a profanation for us here, too. We rightly grieve, lament, cry out with abject and bitter tears, at the altar in every church at every daily Mass today.
But we cannot lose the very thing that priests stand at the altar to minister: the mysteries of the divine and heavenly Kingdom.
The angels grieve over the innocent who have been killed; they grieve for them solely for our sakes. But in heaven they grieve more for the guilty. Lord Jesus said: Do not fear the one who kills the body. Fear the one who can cast both body and soul into Gehenna.
Yes, enemies have wrongly profaned our sanctuary. They deserve to pay a just penalty for this grave crime. But the very mysteries of the same sanctuary put us into human solidarity even with our enemies. They, too, are children of the one Father.
So we must ask: Did they have to die suddenly, too? So unprepared to meet the true and just Judge? It appears that the police rightfully killed them in this case, in order to protect hostages and the police themselves.
But we must as Christians wish that none of them had died, even the enemies who profaned our sanctuary. We must wish that they could have stood trial, and confronted the truth, and hopefully repented. We must wish that we could have had the chance to love them, and bathe their wounds, too, with our tears.
Holy Father Francis said on the plane on his way to World Youth Day that, yes, this is a world war. He has said as much before.
But war means this: if we want peace, we must love even the enemies who would kill our priests. We must try to understand them. When we commune with the sacred mysteries of the holy sanctuary where we unworthy priests have the privilege to stand, we must pray for all who have died in this war, and all who fight in it, friends and enemies.
We do not doubt, though, that, in the end, it is the good God Who will do the sorting. The Good will sort good from evil.
Thomas Merton gave a little retreat to some cloistered nuns in Alaska 48 years ago this September, not long before he died. He said to the sisters:
Never has the world been so violent and in many respects so insane, and so given to pressure and agitation and conflict. Although men have made brilliant technological advances, they cannot handle them or use them for good. They even seem to turn against man’s good…
In such a society there have to be specialists in inner peace and love…
It is not that society is bad or wrong, but that it is extremely complicated and fast-moving, and there is a tendency to get confused in it. They key word in this regard is ‘alienation.’
What is alienation? …A person who is never able to be himself because he is always dominated by somebody else’s ideas or somebody else’s tastes or somebody else’s saying that this is the way to act and this is the way to see things. We live in a society in which many people are alienated in that sense without even realizing it. Their choices are made for them, they don’t really have ideas and desires of their own; they simply repeat what has been told them…
What happens to a person in this condition is that, without realizing it, he does not have any real respect for himself. He thinks that he has ideas and he thinks he is doing what he freely wants to do, but actually he is being pushed around, and this results in a sort of resentment, which in turn leads to hatred and violence…
Good father Merton could preach the same words this September, and they would ring with just as much truth, wouldn’t they?
The Lord gave us the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares for a very precise reason. Not to inspire us to judge others or do violence in the name of weeding the garden. Quite the contrary.
The parable instills in us the absolute, serene confidence that good will win in the end. For those who love God and obey His commandments, the struggle with evil will pass, a merely temporary phase. The specialists in inner peace and love continue loving–fighting alienation, and fighting the devil, by peacefully loving–until the Good Judge judges all on the Last Day.
Some people grow up scared of their fathers, afraid to ask anything, for fear of bad repercussions. And some people grow up counting on both parents for understanding and compassion in every possible circumstance. Abraham had begun to learn that pure prayer to God Almighty involves more childlike confidence than fear.
Ready for some Greek? I wouldn’t put you through this, but Pope Francis throws this particular Greek word around fairly often. It appears in the New Testament 41 times. And it’s in the Catechism. So we need to know it.
Parrhesia. Childlike openness, frankness, confidence and boldness. Speaking with the knowledge that the listener will understand and indulge you. That the listener loves you.
When you pray, say “Father.” Father. In other words, speak with parrhesia. The disciples had asked the Lord Jesus, “How do we pray?” When you pray, children, say ‘Father.’ Dare to say, “Father.”
After all, Christ revealed in His own prayers and speech what parrhesia is:
“Father, I give You praise, because what You have hidden from the wise and the learned, You have revealed to the merest children.”
“Father, take this chalice from Me. But not My will, but Yours, be done.”
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.”
“Father, I pray that they might be one, that I might live in them as You live in Me, and that their joy might be complete.”
“Father consecrate them in truth.”
The incarnate Son spoke to the heavenly Father with consummate parrhesia. Christ always took for granted the great truth: the Father knows all, understands all, guides all toward the true good. “The birds of the air and the flowers of the field neither toil nor spin, yet your Father in heaven provides for them.”
St. Paul expresses what parrhesia means like this: “Christ pours His Spirit into our hearts, and we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’”
The Roman Catechism of Pope St. Pius V explains: We call God Father, with the bold confidence of beloved children, because:
He made us out of nothing in His own image and likeness.
He unfailingly provides for our needs by exercising His tender providence.
He redeemed us from the condemnation we deserved through His Son’s perfect sacrifice, and He pours out heavenly grace through the ministry of the Church.
In other words, Almighty God has shown Himself to be the very compassionate, gentle, understanding, and indulgent Father that Abraham boldly talked down from wrath to mercy. He has shown Himself to be the Father Who patiently waits for our repentance, longs for our reconciliation, forgets our iniquities, forgives the injuries we have done Him, and grants us an altogether fresh start in Christ.
All this makes parrhesia part of our lives in another way, also. In prayer we speak to the Father with the boldness of beloved children. We also speak with the parrhesia of beloved children before the world, when we speak about the Father. We exercise parrhesia in prayer and in evangelization.
Not two parrhesias, but one. Because we know how generous and trustworthy God is, we have nothing to fear from this world. No matter what we might see on CNN. No matter what fears our beloved politicians try to stir up in us. Through it all, we stride forward in confidence to fulfill our mission to make the Good News of the good heavenly Father known.
Children don’t imagine that they have to know how a car works. They just say, “Daddy, can you drive me to the park?” They don’t imagine that they must understand the chemistry of cooking. They just say, “Mommy, can you make me some macaroni and cheese?”
Our heavenly Father does not require us to strategize extensively about how to gain souls for His kingdom through artful persuasion and clever tactics. He can devise tactics a million times more cleverly than we can. Our role is: to bear witness. To offer confident, childlike testimony, wherever and whenever we can.
Testimony that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. That God is the loving and kind Father of the whole human race. That He rules His kingdom of justice and peace with an open Heart. That the Holy Mass contains all the riches and wisdom of God. That the Church is a real family, to which everyone can belong.
Heavenly Father, we boldly ask You lovingly to give us boldness. We securely petition You for confidence and serenity in prayer, and in all our interactions in this world. We know that You know what we need before we ask You, and that You grant liberally all that we ask in the name of Your Son. So we trustingly ask You in the name of Jesus to give us the grace of His unfailing, rock-solid trust in You.
In his encyclical on Mother Earth, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, encourages us to embrace a spiritual life like St. Francis’. That requires “ecological conversion.” Pope Francis writes:
First, that entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate His generosity in self-sacrifice and good works. (paragraph 220)
God has freely given us the world. He has freely given us ourselves. He gives, out of love, not reckoning a balance sheet or including an invoice. If we got a bill from the Lord–for our use of His golden sun, and the earth beneath our feet, and the gravity that keeps us attached, and all the cells He knit together out of nothing to make up our bodies; for the trees we look at and take shade under… An invoice for all these things, and everything we owe Him for, payable on 30 day terms… What could we put in an envelope, or send via electronic funds transfer?
Which means: true life for us involves giving God thanks with love and obedience, and trying to imitate His generosity.
I think we can say that we have had a rough summer as a nation. And I don’t just mean that the Orioles have lost three in a row to the Yankees. We have had a rough year, as a world.
We hear about people “radicalizing.” Such-and-such person “radicalized,” and decided that God wills a terrorist attack.
We might think: That’s insane! But we delude ourselves and give ourselves false comfort if we dismiss terrorism as insane; if we dismiss attacks on the police, or on any defenseless people, as insane. The attacks themselves have required sober and careful sanity in order to pull them off.
The “radical” idea that God wills terrorism is not insane. It is wrong. Altogether wrong. It is untrue.
The spring of living water, the mystery revealed to the children of the Kingdom of Heaven is: God loves with pure generosity. More than a mother loves the babe at her breast, more than a husband loves his new bride, with more intensity than the heat at the center of the sun: God loves every human being.
We need to radicalize. Not just tolerance, but love. Not simply justice, but self-sacrificing willingness to die, even to save the guilty. Not just peaceful co-existence with each other, but going out in search of those who live in the shadows.
There’s only one answer to the confusion and fear that has filled the summer so far. Radicalized Christianity. What did the Lord Jesus know on the cross? When He said, “Forgive them, Father,” and “Brother, you will be with me in paradise?” He knew that God’s free generosity overcomes death itself.
Wrong religion concludes: Let me kill others and myself for God’s glory. Radicalized Christianity concludes: “Even though I walk in the shadow of death, I fear no evil. Because God comforts me.”
Bill Irwin thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail blind, with the help of his German shepherd Orient. Irwin’s book, Blind Courage, narrates his journey.
An auto-immune disease cost him his sight. At first, his doctors misdiagnosed it as terminal cancer. They removed one eye to try to buy him a few months of life. Then he lived for many more years. The disease cost him his sight in the other eye.
This got me thinking about the origins of the human race.
If “fundamentalism” means: God made the world as we know it in the amount of time it takes for Sunday Mass to come around again, then the Bible itself refutes fundamentalism. As we reckon things, a week involves seven sunrises and seven sunsets. But in Genesis, God made the sun on the fourth day.
Seems to me that Christian doctrine about our origin starts with the fact that the Blessed Mother and her Son currently live in heaven, body and soul. Then we read Genesis by the light of that truth.
God put Adam and Eve in a garden, with a choice in front of them. Before they chose to disobey the Law of the Lord and Giver of Life, the First Parents of the human race lived a kind of life which we can only begin to imagine. The “state of innocence,” or “prelapsarian” state.
Adam and Eve had perfect integrity of body before the Fall. They enjoyed a super-natural gift which would have preserved them from disease and death. Since we do not believe in magic, we can only propose, then, that this super-natural gift carried with it a natural state of material balance in their bodies. Perpetual health.
Now, we ourselves only experience the passage of time as fallen human beings. We don’t know what the passage of time was like for Adam and Eve before the Fall. Nonetheless, we can say this: Adam and Eve could have obeyed; human nature could have continued in the state of innocence. We would have progressed through a pilgrim life through time, without disease or death, to the fulfillment of heavenly life with God.
In other words, the perfect material balance of the human body would have endured for some period of time on earth, without any corruption of the elements. Perfect health, with no mortality.
(I believe that everything I have asserted so far stands on solid theological ground. But please correct me if something strikes you otherwise.)
Our Christian faith does not, of itself, preclude our accepting the theory of the evolution of species. But IMHO: the theory of evolution does not stand to reason.
No one has ever observed the evolution of one species into another. For peppered moths to evolve darker wings due to a more-sooty environment does not involve the kind of mutations that would result in a different species.
Asserting the evolution of one species from another involves no more empirical observation than the assertion of an original Paradise for the human race. Does the fossil record provide more conclusive evidence of the evolution of one species from another than Sacred Scripture provides proof of the existence of the Garden of Eden? When a scientist interprets the fossil record (as we currently have it) according to the theory of evolution, s/he brings no more certitude to the task than a Christian does to the task of understanding our infallible Scriptures.
The evolutionist brings less certitude, in fact. The idea that God exists, and can create the cosmos, and can reveal Himself to His creatures—this idea explains much more than the idea that God does not exist, or the idea that He cannot (or does not) reveal Himself.
Now, a pure materialist (I think) would deny that “species” as such even exist. A “species” is a concept only. What really exists is: DNA.
But if species as such do not exist, then what is the theory of evolution? The theory presupposes the progress of organisms from an origin, to the current state of affairs, toward some future state. Even if we understand “species” solely as the steps along that arc of progression, they must exist, in order for the arc of progress itself to exist.
Anyway… The ancient gods of Greece condemned Sisyphus to roll a stone up a hill. But every time he got the stone near the top, something happened, and it fell back down to the bottom again.
This strikes me as the most-fitting illustration of the probability of one species evolving into another by way of random genetic mutations and “natural selection.” With every few feet gained in the ascent of the hill, the “gravity” of death and oblivion will keep pulling the rock down. Sisyphus has more chance of clearing the crest of the hill than random mutations have of producing a whole new species, it seems to me.
Ancient as our biosphere may be, can it possibly be old enough to accommodate all the endless changes that would be necessary for evolution by mutation and natural selection to produce all the species that we now observe? Modern physics and Christianity have this in common: We propose that the universe began. We do not think the cosmos has always been. It has an age.
But if the universe has less than an infinite number of years on its odometer, has enough time elapsed for all the random chemical reactions that the theory of evolution requires?
Into the middle of that question, dear reader, I would like to throw this wrench: Bill Irwin lost his sight because his own body destroyed its own eyes. People die of cancer because their own cells grow in a destructive manner.
Yes, people have died because bears have eaten them, or enemies have shot them dead in battle, or because the chemical equilibrium of the fallen human body (without the supernatural gift of integrity) cannot endure indefinitely. But also: an awful lot of people have died, or become incapacitated, because elements of their own bodies have attacked them in some way.
The evolutionary biologist would respond (I believe) like this: The immune defense system exists because of its evolutionary benefit. Its imperfection now indicates the need for further evolution, and it indicates the fact that evolution proceeds in fits and starts, rather than in a straight, orderly way.
Granted: our immune defenses, and our cellular growth, do us a lot more good than harm.
But: doesn’t it make more sense; doesn’t it seem more likely that the human organism sometimes harms—and even destroys—itself because: a perfect balance that existed originally has been lost?
The alternative explanation would require us to concede the passage of time not only for the “forward” evolution of species through random mutation and natural selection, but also the overcoming of all the setbacks which auto-immune diseases and cancers would introduce into the process.
That looks like ∞ years plus ∞ years to me. The Christian doctrine about the Garden of Eden and the Fall seem more reasonable. But I would love to hear rebuttals from more-qualified interlocutors!
When I realized that every morning I would see this light again, I couldn’t believe my luck. –Henri Matisse, arriving in Nice, France
My mother and I spent the Fourth of July working in her apartment in Washington, preparing for her imminent move to Roanoke. In the evening, we found ourselves rather tired. So we plopped down in front of her telly to watch “A Capitol Fourth” on PBS. We soon got bored.
What a luxury that was! Bored on the Fourth of July. Would that our French brothers and sisters could have passed a boring Bastille Day yesterday.
The cruelest and most inhumane aspect of such massacres: Leaving the victims with no time to prepare themselves for death. As the Ghost put it, in Act I, scene 5, of Hamlet, complaining about the manner in which he had been murdered:
Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother’s hand Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch’d: Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin, Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d, No reckoning made, but sent to my account With all my imperfections on my head: O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!
This month’s First Things magazine has an article about the “Death of God” movement of the 1960’s. The movement had a fascinating theology: Since God has “emptied Himself” in Christ (Philippians 2:7), God qua God no longer exists.
An attack on “bourgeoisie piety.” Incapable of withstanding any serious theological scrutiny. God, after all, by definition exists. That God exists is one of the fundamental, undeniable truths of human life.
But let’s give the God-is-dead theologians the credit that they do deserve. We do not know God. His plans, His designs–His very being–all transcend our minds’ capacity to grasp. By an infinite order of magnitude.
Where is God when such terrible things happen, Father?! Where is He all the time, my child? Not within the compass of our minds.
Christ came, and taught, and suffered, and died, and rose again–in order to bridge the gap. The God-is-dead theologians were correct in asserting that God has died: God died in the flesh in order to reveal Himself to us. In order to reveal the infinite, undying triune love.
Yes, the sunlight on the French Riviera reveals God’s majesty. But it also hides God’s majesty. To see God in His full glory, we must fix our gaze on Christ crucified. Because there the Heart of God has thrown Itself open.
Has 2016 been a “Year of Mercy” so far? Perhaps much more than we can even imagine. The wounds of Christ crucified have filled the airwaves. May He gather all our souls, and every soul, to Himself.
His dew is a dew of light. The land of shades gives birth. (see Isaiah 26:19)
Anyone remember when the pope canonized the Lily of the Mohawks, proclaiming her Saint Kateri? I’ll give you a hint: Pope Benedict XVI did it… Not that long ago… During the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization… October 21, 2012.
The task of summarizing that synod wound up falling to Pope Francis. Let’s listen to paragraph 276 of his exhortation to us, The Joy of the Gospel:
Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. On razed land, life breaks through, stubbornly yet invincibly. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history…human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power.
This fallen world is a land of shades. Sometimes a kind-of hot land of shades. But a land where the shadow of death falls. “Land of shades” means: the place where the shadow of death falls. And that is: planet earth.
But earth gives birth! One of the themes of our Holy Father’s encyclical on the environment is:
The environmental crisis we face forces us to re-examine the meaning of life. It forces us to recognize that we have received the earth as a gift from God, precisely as Jesus taught us and showed us. And the crisis makes us remember that we have one basic task: to hand this gift on to the next generation safe and intact.
Of course this makes us think of the first nations of our continent. They knew better than we do how to love Mother Earth. At St. Kateri’s canonization, Pope Benedict prayed to her, asking her to re-invigorate the spread of the gospel among the native peoples of America, and among all the inhabitants of this land.
The witness of the saints’ lives shows us a profound, beautiful, and hopeful truth: Different peoples can and do come together through true religion. The religion of Jesus can bridge every racial, cultural, and generational divide.
This week every political leader and their brother have said pious things about the different groups and factions of our nation “coming together.” May Jesus bring us together! He is the One Who truly can do so.