Pro-Life Christmas

cab-calloway-hepstersdictionaryWhose birthday is December 25th? The Lord Jesus! Also: Isaac Newton, Clara Barton, Humphrey Bogart, Rod Serling, Cab Calloway, Anwar Sadat, Karl Rove, Annie Lennox, and Jimmy Buffet, to name a few.

Before all the ages, in the bosom of eternity, the Son of God was, is, and ever will be born of the Father in the Holy Spirit, the undivided Trinity. Today, the Son of God was born a man, a human being, a human child.

Christ’s birth gives every birth meaning. God’s coming into the world as one of us reveals the divine love which moves the heavens and the earth. We call the mystery of God’s becoming man the… Incarnation. Today the Incarnation occurred.

No, wait! That’s inaccurate. And when priests fall into inaccuracies, Santa justly withholds their presents.

God was born a child on Christmas Day, in Bethlehem. But the Incarnation occurred not on December 25th, but on… let’s see: Math. Nine months… March 25th! The Incarnation occurred when the baby Jesus was conceived. Christmas celebrates the beautiful and successful birth of a divine child Who had been human, alive, and growing for nine months.

Now, we of course want to celebrate Christmas in spirit and in truth. And we might as well celebrate Humphrey Bogart’s, and Clara Barton’s, and Annie Lennox’s birthdays in spirit and in truth, too. That means celebrating the Gospel of Life. Christmas is the feast day of the Gospel of Life. We celebrate Jesus’ birthday, and everybody’s birthday, with holy joy—because we are pro-life.

What does this mean? Well, what does Jesus’ birth teach us? It teaches us that, when a child gets conceived in a woman’s womb, God acts. God reveals a plan, a grand plan that only He fully knows. A child, conceived and growing; a mother selflessly, naturally lavishing her as-yet-unborn child with everything, through the ineffably intimate relationship of the womb—something so complex and amazing that our little human minds cannot comprehend it all: God acts in this process with such a surpassing demonstration of His powerful loving care, that all we can do is revere this holiness with awe and dedicated service.

Who gave us the inspiring phrase “Gospel of Life?” Let me give you a hint. He began a letter he wrote to the whole world with this phrase, “Gospel of Life, Evangelium Vitae.” He had already defined the world-wide pro-life movement by his courageous leadership. In his encyclical letter, he laid out the Biblical and philosophical foundations of the pro-life movement. He explained how the movement actually began way before Roe v. Wade. The pro-life movement began with creation itself, and with God’s reaction after the Fall of Man, when He answered human violence with gentle compassion. The man who gave us the phrase “Gospel of Life,” the undisputed hero of the pro-life movement; from heaven he guides us and aids us still: Pope St. John Paul II.

John Paul II on the MallSomeday historians will look back and take stock of the 20th century, and the 21st, and they will recognize the enormous moral significance of Pope John Paul’s pro-life movement. With the benefit of some perspective, free from the fever of our contemporary political alliances, our children and grandchildren will look back and see the destruction that the culture of death did during our times. All the unnecessary pain and suffering for mothers and fathers, doctors and nurses, whole families; indeed, whole communities. Succeeding generations will look back and see clearly how the culture of death gave rise to terrible economic problems, to hopelessness and guilt on a grand scale, to a spiritual malaise throughout the Western world.

That’s for future generations to assess fully. Right now, though, we already know the basic answer. We fight the culture of death by rejoicing in the birth of the Son of God, and in every human birth. We fight back by taking our place near the manger, where the pro-life Church gazes with love at the divine mystery of conception, pregnancy, and birth.

When we take our place here, celebrating Christmas, we have no choice but to stand up for all innocent and defenseless unborn babies, and for all those who love them: their mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles.

Because, when we find ourselves next to the newborn babe in the manger, we clearly perceive that violence has no place here, in this sublime mystery of conception, pregnancy, and birth. As the prophet Isaiah put it, declaring the Gospel of Life: “Every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for flames, because the Prince of Peace has a vast dominion, which is forever peaceful.” The cruel violence of abortion is completely foreign to the peace of God’s kingdom. Visiting Bethlehem spiritually cements this truth into our minds.

Now, don’t accuse me of bringing politics into Christmas Eve. Our Catholic adherence to the Gospel of Life runs much deeper than any political affiliations we have. But, of course, being pro-life has political implications. We rejoice in the victories won this past Election Day by candidates with a pro-life message.

These victories mean that we have to pray all the harder and remain all the more vigilant for opportunities to participate in building up the culture of life. May the year to come see us living out in practice, day in and day out, the spiritual worship that we take part in at Christmas, beside the holy manger of the newborn Son of God. May He give us the strength and clarity we need to live 2017 as truly pro-life Christians.

Henry Tanner Annunciation, A Couple Books, y Homilia en Español

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A kind parishioner gave me a large print to hang in my office, as a Christmas present. A Realist rendition of the Archangel Gabriel’s visit, with our Lady looking appropriately Semitic. Years ago I laid eyes on the original, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Quite a coincidence to receive this gift today, since I was just reading Bill Bryson about his visit to the museum, which he recounts in The Lost Continent:

My friend Hal pointed out to me, in the middle of Fairmount Park, the palatial Philadelphia Museum of Art, which had become the city’s top tourist attraction, not because of its collection of 500,000 paintings, but because its front steps were the ones Sylvester Stallone sprinted up in Rocky. People were actually coming to the museum in buses, looking at the steps and leaving without ever going inside to see the pictures.

…Ever read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton? Talk about a magnificent Realist-school work of art. As exquisitely precise as Jane Austen’s finest, with the polar-opposite emotional effect.

…Between December 21 and 24, we read at Holy Mass from the near-beginning of the Gospel of Luke, the accounts of the Visitation and the birth of St. John the Baptist. These Mass readings include the great Gospel canticles, which the Church sings daily in the Divine Offices for morning and evening, the Magnificat and the Benedictus. Tomorrow morning, the Advent Mass readings conclude with Zechariah’s song. Here’s a homily on it, in Spanish. (You can read the English by clicking here.)

…Cada mañana, la Iglesia saluda a la madrugada con la oración. Una de las oraciones diarias de la mañana de la Iglesia es el cántico que Zacarías cantó cuando se enteró de que el Cristo había venido.   Los monjes, monjas, sacerdotes y muchos laicos, también: todos cantan o recitan esta misma canción como parte de nuestras oraciones cada mañana.

“Bendito sea el Señor, que ha llegado a su pueblo y levantó un Salvador poderoso, cumpliendo sus promesas a los profetas.”

La canción de Zacarías expresa el contenido de la promesa de Dios con una manera particularmente elocuente.  El Señor prometió que Su pueblo serían liberados de las manos de los enemigos, de modo que sea capaz de “culto sin temor, santo y justo a los ojos de Dios.”   El Salvador recién-nacido hace que esto sea posible para nosotros:  Adorar a Dios sin miedo, de pie delante de Él en la santidad.

philadelphia-museum-of-artEsta es la paz de la humanidad, este culto sin cargas.  Los ángeles cantaron, y nosotros tambien cantamos : “Gloria a Dios y paz a los hombres de buena voluntad.”  Esta es la salvación: adorar a nuestro Creador con un corazón en reposo, con la conciencia tranquila.

El antiguo Israel tenía muchos enemigos, pero el enemigo verdadero es el pecado, la falsedad –vacío interior que sólo conduce a la muerte.  El pecado hace que sea imposible adorar a nuestro Creador y Señor sin temor. Porque la verdad es la verdad, y los ojos de Dios ven todo. Si no estamos en un estado de verdadera honestidad con nosotros mismos, nunca vamos a estar en un estado de paz real.

Cristo ha venido precisamente para liberarnos de las garras de este, nuestro mayor enemigo: nuestra falta de honradez con nosotros mismos.  Nuestro orgullo grandioso tonto.  Los sabios de entre nosotros siempre han declarado: “Tu primer deber es conocerte a ti mismo!”  Y no hay objetivo que ha sido más imposible que logremos.

Cristo no vino a la tierra para decirnos que somos maravillosos, que somos hot-shots, que tenemos todo junto.  Porque no somos, y no lo tenemos. Lo que vino Él a hacer es morir por nosotros, por amor a todos nosotros los pecadores incorregibles.

Así que podemos estar sin temor ante Dios Todopoderoso y admitir la verdad: que no somos perfectos. No somos divines.  Somos Don Nadie.  Estamos indefensos y perdidos sin la ayuda de Dios.  Cristo nos ha liberado de nuestros pretextos ridículos por su hermosa demostración del hecho de que Él ama a todos los Don Nadies.  Él ama a perdedores desventurados.

Es realmente sólo interesado en perdedores. Las personas hermosas, perfectas Él deja a su libre albedrío, para disfrutar de su supuesta genialidad en su propio ámbito de autonomía–que en realidad es un reino de espejos rotos y la decepción que nunca termina.

Pero, para nosotros los ineptos irresponsables, el amor de Jesús puede darnos la fuerza para conocernos a nosotros mismos en la verdad.  Él derramó su sangre por nuestros pecados, para que todo lo que tenemos que hacer para ser libre de ellos es confesar– en el gran acto de honestidad cristiana que cumple con todas las antiguas profecías.   ‘Señor, ten piedad de mí, pecador.’  ‘Hijo, tu fe te ha salvado! Tus pecados son perdonados. Sigue tu camino.’

Entonces podemos adorar a Dios sin miedo!  Podemos conocer la paz emocionante de un día vivido completamente en la verdad. Y podemos ver con alegría como la aurora de lo alto amanece sobre nosotros en toda su gloria.

Bendito y alabado sea el Señor Jesucristo, ahora y siempre y siempre y siempre.

The Ecclesiastical Controversy (Compendium Included)

rogue-one-storm-troopers

[SPOILER ALERT]

Why do they call Rogue One a “stand-alone” movie? Well….How do I put this delicately, without spoiling the movie for you, if you haven’t seen it?

The likable male and female leads, apparently in love, share an embrace at the movie’s end. Perhaps they whisper to each other “till death do us part.” But at that point in the great Star-Wars narrative, the Death Star exercises its power, and, well…let’s put it this way: “till death” ain’t very long in this case, and dead people generally don’t appear in sequels. Ergo, this film stands alone.

Also: Dead people don’t have sex. Maybe that sounds morbid. But our Lord Jesus made a point of highlighting that fact (Matthew 22:30) And I believe the inevitable celibacy of the dead can put a lot of things into proper perspective…

…Now, most people do not find Roman Synods particularly interesting. And even fewer people have the patience to read ecclesiastical documents of over 250 pages.

amoris-laetitia-coverI daresay most Catholics don’t even know that we have a Church “controversy” going on right now. But, in point of fact, we do.

Of what do we dispute in this ecclesiastical controversy? you ask.

A group of cardinals expressed doubts about the meaning of our Holy Father’s latest formal teaching document, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation called Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love.”

Actually these Eminences expressed doubts about just a few paragraphs. Like this one:

It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. (Amoris Laetitia 304)

The Cardinals express their doubt about how to interpret this:

Does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts? …For those proposing the creative idea of conscience, the precepts of God’s law and the norm of the individual conscience can be in tension or even in opposition… (Doubt #5, and Explanatory Note. )

The cardinals raise a pertinent question. And I find Fr.Antonio Livi’s ambivalence about Amoris Laetitia even more penetrating, because it takes into account the distinction between external law and internal conscience in the life of the pilgrim Church:

Here [in paragraph 304] the discourse [of Amoris Laetitia] is even more ambiguous, because it voluntarily confuses the “external” evaluation of the moral situation of the conscience of the faithful with their “internal” situation before God: the condition of the individual’s conscience flees the human eye, even that of the spiritual director or confessor, and the authority of the Church is not called to give judgment on the conscience (“de internis neque Ecclesia iudicat” — the Church does not judge what is internal). Therefore the evaluation of the external, that which remains evident to the eyes of men, is what is enough for a merely prudential judgment which does not pretend to be absolute and definitive but concerns the duty of the ecclesiastic authority of recognizing the external behavior of men conformed to the verbal law as just and to sanction the unjust ones.

If you’ve read this weblog for a while, you know that these questions have pre-occupied me for some time. So I present to you a little compendium of my writings over the past 2 1/2 years on the great “communion-for-the-divorced” controversy. Consider it a Solstice-Day gift.

Click the links and dive in, as you like. I think you might find the the Cardinals’ dubia, and the questions raised by the venerable doctors Grisez and Finnis (which you can read by clicking here) hidden in my musings. But I have tried to tackle things from my own ponderous, even lugubrious, goofball-existentialist perspective…

 

First, the historical context in which I, for one, see the Synod on the Family, and its aftermath. I called it “the Synod of Tweets” because the Catholic-press news coverage rarely penetrated beyond the 140-keystroke limit, and because many Synod Fathers tweeted their way through the whole thing, leaving us wondering how they possibly could have listened to all the speeches. Also: I tried to present the recent-historical context, which involves the early career of a great hero.

In the fall of 2014, I wanted to give a speech on honesty, if only I could have had the Synod floor myself.

Next, I raised some questions I have about the holy-communion controversy…

  1. Does the distinction ‘law vs. mercy’ really makes sense? (Also, divine laws against whitened sepulchers).
  2. Does giving yourself an annulment make sense? PS. Alanis Morrisette sings the rationale for marriage law.
  3. Does it make sense for Germans to try to turn the Catechism into bilge-water? With a good answer from Nova et Vetera

I tried to coach everyone through any confusion they experienced following the Synod. I heartily advised walks.

How about a spiritual context? I gave a homily on mercy and promises, and a homily on loving prudently.

princeThen our Holy Father gave us his very, very long Apostolic Exhortation. It has a lot in it, but not everything. It has the teaching of St. ThereseAmerica magazine made a super-lame video about it, and Prince unwittingly sang about it.

Now we find ourselves ready for Christmas 2016, and many internet enthusiasts see this as a moment of great crisis in the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, most Catholics hardly know anything about any of this; the Redskins’ crisis impinges more directly on our daily lives.

I will certainly have much more to say. (For instance, CLICK HERE for a sermon on “pastoral accompaniment”. Or HERE for one about erring on the side of obedience.) I believe that carefully reading Amoris Laetitia will inspire and inform us. I intend to lead an adult-ed adult-ed study, here at St. Andrew’s in Roanoke, early in AD 2017.

I think studying the Catechism also will help us. And studying the Holy Bible. Studying the teaching we have received from our loving God.

IMHO, this controversy is actually not much of an ecclesiastical controversy for the 21st century. After all, I think it comes down to is this: Do we human beings need to submit our minds to God’s teaching? Do we receive the teaching of the Church for what it truly is? Namely, God’s kind, thorough, and wise instruction of His beloved children?

This was a controversy within the Church for our parents and grandparents. Catholics questioning Church teaching is a 20th century thing. Catholics did that, I guess, because 20th-century man rejected Divine Revelation, on the grounds that submitting to it meant humiliating one’s great human self beneath one’s dignity. But then St. John Paul II came along and pointed out to everyone that no one can achieve greater dignity than: sonship in the Son, Jesus Christ, God made man.

We still need time, of course, to reflect more deeply on the mystery of the Incarnation, and the Church’s communion with God Incarnate. But I think the 20th-century controversy about humble, obedient faith demeaning the human soul has long since fallen by the wayside, at least among Catholics. We know perfectly well that we do not have God’s intelligence.

In the 21st century, we Catholics do not expect the Church as a human institution to be perfect. We perceive that God reveals Himself through Her, in spite of Her limitations on the human level. So any “tension” between the Church’s rules and my supposedly liberated conscience? It really just doesn’t exist. To the contrary, I know that my adherence to the Church’s clear guidance is what allows me to live a genuinely free life–free of all the other nonsense that this world throws at me to try to entrap me in its misery.

In other words, my obedience within the great family that is the Catholic Church ensures my freedom from all pagan slaveries–especially the cruel slavery of imagining that I’m utterly on my own when it comes to having a relationship with God. After all, I will face Him in death sooner or later. And the Church has laws precisely to help me prepare for that inevitable day.

 

 

 

 

From Advent Part I to Advent Part II

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Today the “first part” of Advent concludes. Tomorrow, the truly frantic Christmas shopping begins.

Seriously, though. Everybody know that the season of Advent has two parts? During the first part, at Holy Mass each day, we have prayed and read Scripture passages about the coming of Christ considered as a whole.

He came as the long-awaited Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies of old. He came to reveal the eternal plan of God for our salvation, inaugurating the New and eternal Covenant for the forgiveness of sins. He came in mystery, veiled in human flesh, in order to prepare us for the final consummation, when His glory will fill the earth.

The pre-eminent message of Advent, Part I? Repent! And the pre-eminent messenger? The star of Advent, Part I, so to speak? John the Baptist.

And the star of Advent, Part II? James Earl Jones, of course, doing the voice of Darth Vader again, after over 30 years! Just kidding.

During the second part of Advent, we pray and read about the events preceding the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem. Advent, Part II, has numerous stars, including St. Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the actual star itself, shining over Bethlehem…But who is the pre-eminent Lady of the days before Christmas? The Blessed Virgin Mary, of course.

May she intercede to help the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. And may she lead us all to a merry Christmas day.

Parable of the Two Sons

Our reading at Holy Mass today from the prophet Zephaniah refers to the ‘remnant of Israel,’ a people ‘humble and lowly,’ who ‘take refuge in the name of the Lord’ and ‘do no wrong and speak no lies.’

As we know, beginning with Abraham, the Lord had established an alliance with His chosen people, according to which they could purify themselves of selfishness and worldliness and await the coming of the Messiah in peace. But the leaders of ancient Israel let themselves get distracted by other, relatively trivial things, just like pagans. So only the quiet, prayerful ‘remnant’ persevered in the alliance: Israelites who, no matter what happened, always come back to the Lord in prayer.

Lord Jesus’ little parable about the vintner with two sons draws us into the heart of the question: who exactly counts as a true Israelite? Spoken words and other exterior signs do not, in and of themselves, indicate anything. As one of the Fathers of the Church put it, in explaining this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is not in words but in deeds.”

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Rogue One? If Darth Vader is involved, count me in.

The picture the Lord paints in the Parable of the Two Sons is exceedingly homey, utterly middle-class. The sons of big-time vineyard owners could work or not work, as it suited their whims. But the salt of the earth, small-time vintners needed the labor of their children in order to keep the operation viable.

The parable gets even more homey once the action starts. What parent hasn’t had this experience? “Dear child of mine, would you please work in my vineyard today/clean up your room this afternoon/pick up your little sister on your way home from basketball practice/[fill in any other perfectly reasonable request aimed at keeping the household going]?” only to be met with a petulant, irrational, “No! Can’t you see I’m an adolescent in a bad mood! Don’t talk to me about your chores when I am desperately trying to figure out the meaning of life by stewing in my own immature juices!”

But then: this same fleetingly difficult child actually does wind up picking up his or her little sister, because he/she figured out that honest co-operation leads to greater happiness than endless self-centered brooding does.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, little Mr. or Mrs. Perfect Goodytwoshoes says all the right things and yet remains trapped inside his or her little perfectionist narcissistic world.

Now, we Christians enjoy the great benefit of knowing precisely Who the Messiah is, what He is like, what work He willed to accomplish while on earth, and how all His teachings can help us live right. This gives us a huge advantage over even the holiest of the ancient Israelites, all of whom had to live in a state of uncertainty on these matters.

We know that humbly co-operating with Jesus Christ in the work of helping souls attain salvation—we know that this offers the greatest happiness available to us mortals in this life. So let’s get over all of our petulant little moody fits, so that we can spend the time we have on earth laboring in Christ’s good vineyard.

I promised a superior translation of Boris Pasternak’s “Mary Magdalene.” I present those parts of the poem that benefit from a better rendition in English…

As soon as night falls, my tempter is beside me
He is the debt I pay to my past
Memories of debauchery
Come and suck at my feet
Memories of myself, a salve to men’s whims,
A fool, out of my mind,
To whom the street was shelter.

A few moments remain,
Then comes the silence of the tomb.
Having reached the end of the world
I break my life before you
Like an alabaster box.

Oh, where would I be now,
My teacher and my savior,
If eternity did not await me
At the table, at night,
Like a new client
Caught in the net of my craft?

But, tell me, what is the meaning of sin,
Of death, hell, fire and brimstone,
When before the eyes of all
I have grown one with you in my boundless sorrow
As the graft grows one with the tree?

And perhaps, Jesus, holding your feet on my knees,
I am learning to embrace
The square shaft of the cross,
Losing consciousness as I strain your body to me
Preparing you for burial.

 

The columns of the guards will re-form
And the horsemen will ride away.
Like a windspout in a storm, the cross above my head
Will strain towards the sky.

And I will fall at its feet,
Silent and dazed, biting my lips.
Your arms will spread out to the ends of the cross
To embrace too many.

For whom in all the world
Is your embrace so wide,
For whom so much torment,
So much power?

In all the world
Are there so many souls?
So many lives?
So many villages, rivers and woods?

Matthew 11 Commentary

raising-of-the-son-of-the-widow-of-nain

Lucas Cranach, “Resurrection of the Youth of Nain”

Here’s a question to ask about our gospel reading at Holy Mass tomorrow:

Why did John the Baptist, languishing in prison, send an investigative team of his disciples to determine if Jesus is the Christ?

After all, at the Visitation, John leapt while still in Elizabeth’s womb, because he recognized Christ in Mary’s womb. And, at the Jordan River, John had more or less recruited Christ’s original disciples for Him, by declaring, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

So John knew Jesus’ identity perfectly well, better than anybody. To answer our original question, let’s keep two things in mind. 1) John knew that he himself would soon die at Herod’s hands. So his disciples needed to come around to the truth about Christ now. And 2) The way the Lord Jesus answered the question shows that He, too, knew He was answering not for John’s benefit, but for John’s disciples’ benefit. Which means He answered for our benefit, also.

Lord Jesus actually made three points in His response.

First, “Am I the One Who is to come? Well, what do you hear and see?” Great miracles of healing, all the way up to the raising of a dead man. Namely… whom did Jesus order to get up and come out of his own tomb? Right! Lazarus. And He also raised the son of the widow of Nain and Jairus’ daughter.

So, Christ is saying to John’s disciples, and to us: Am I the Christ? Don’t you have rock-solid testimony to the great miracles that I have worked?

Second: “the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” Jesus makes a subtle, but crucially important transition here. It’s not just that the poor believe in miracles, whereas the rich tend to cynicism. It’s that the work of the Christ benefits everyone in the same way—rich or poor, tall or short, Republican or Democrat, Redskins fan or Eagles fan.

speed bump reaperLord Jesus worked miracles of healing to help us grasp Who He is. But even miracles as wonderful as giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, or sure-footedness to the lame, all pale in comparison to the gift that Christ came to give to everyone, namely eternal life.

Some people have more money than others; some people have better eyesight than others; some people sing more euphoniously, or speak more mellifluously, or play cards more dexterously than others. But in the face of the ultimate reality, we all stand on equal footing.

None of us gets out of this alive. We all have in common the most decisive quality we possess: mortality. The tall, the short, the dexterous and the ham-handed, the good singers and the bad singers: we’re all mortal.

Which makes us all ‘the poor,’ if only we have the humility to face it. I don’t care how many times Alec Baldwin or anyone else barks orders at a fancy gadget that can automatically turn on your lawn sprinklers or give you traffic reports. If he, or anyone else, asks Siri or Alexa, or whatever, and says, “Ok Google, give me life after death,” the poor little machine will only say something pathetically inadequate, like “Searching the internet for LifeSaver breath mints.”

Which brings us to the third point in Jesus’ response to John’s disciples. “Blessed is the one that takes no offense at me.”

To understand this, let’s remember St. Peter. Unlike the disciples of St. John who came asking their question, St. Peter believed unequivocally that Jesus was the Christ. “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

But St. Peter at first took offense at the details of the Christ’s mission. Lord Jesus told the Apostles, ‘They will condemn and crucify your beloved miracle-worker, like a common roadside criminal. They will scourge me and spit on me and treat me like the lowest scum of the earth.’ To which St. Peter replied, ‘Oh no! That’s offensive. No way, sir!’

The Christ—the one and only–the single known option when it comes to a miracle-working Savior Who has backed up His words with deeds for 2,000 years–the only real Christ won immortality for us by drinking the cup of our lowly and impoverished mortality to the dregs.

There’s actually only one way not to take offense at Christ. After all, what happened to Him is crushingly offensive. That the babe of Bethlehem wound up dying of asphyxiation, nailed to a cross, with a crown of thorns cutting into His temples, forehead, and scalp—that offends every sensibility a decent human being has.

Not taking offense at Him requires squarely facing our own desperate poverty. We need Him. We need Him like… like a desert needs rain, like a town needs a name… like a drifter needs a room…like the heat needs the sun…like rhythm unbroken, like drums in the night, like sweet soul music, like sunlight…

When we know we need Jesus, we take no offense at Him. None at all. He willed to get born in poverty and take His first breaths lying in the animals’ feeding trough. He accepted His horrifyingly ignominious death, to win eternal life for us. We welcome it all with joy, every detail of His Gospel, because He is the one true hope we have. John the Baptist knew that, and he spent his life helping others to see it.

 

Immaculate Worship

El Greco Immaculate Conception

 

“Glory to God in the highest.” “We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving.” “All creation rightly gives you praise.” “Lord, we thank you for counting us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.”

Our celebration of Holy Mass reveals to us the fundamental meaning of human life, the reason why we exist: to praise and glorify God.

He made us.  He made everything that gives us life, sustains us, and makes us happy. His infinite beauty has given us everything beautiful; His endless truth has given us everything worth knowing. No relationship we have involves more intimacy or more ecstasy than our religion, our relationship with God. We do not live a single moment in time without Him. And our destiny to live in His glory forever gives our pilgrims lives their peace.

Worshiping God, praising Him, and adoring Him, then, constitute the heart and soul of human life. Let’s meditate briefly on Our Lady’s immaculate conception in light of this.

When our First Parents disobeyed God, they disrupted their worship. Adam and Eve could have adored their Creator in peace, offering themselves as a pleasing sacrifice to Him. But they did not do that. So they bequeathed to us a fallen human nature, prone to false religion. Left to ourselves, mankind does not worship God in spirit and truth. Rather, we offer meager and base sacrifices, which are unworthy of our dignity, to false gods, which are unworthy of our adoration.

We can see in Our Lady’s beautiful life, however, that a higher power had preserved for from all that. Her soul never had any paganism in it. It was as if the original religion of the Garden of Eden had returned to the earth—in her interior life. When the Archangel Gabriel came to her, he found a woman who worshiped the one, true God in spirit and truth.

pietaNow, how exactly do we know this? The key to understanding it, I think, is: the fact that mankind’s one pleasing sacrifice to the Father is Jesus Christ.

Mary’s son Jesus has Himself revealed true religion, which means He has revealed the inner significance of our life. Christ’s entire pilgrimage, from His conception in Mary’s womb through His death and Resurrection, to His Ascension into heaven—all of it was fundamentally a perfect act of worship, a pleasing sacrifice. In His life on earth, Christ essentially did one thing: He gave Himself over to the Father, in love.

And Our Lady assisted at this sacrifice with pure, faithful co-operation. “Will you consent to mother the eternal Word?” “Yes.” “Will you accompany Him to the Temple and teach Him the ancient covenant?” “Yes.” “Will you let Him leave you and His home, so that He can travel, teach, heal, and proclaim the divine kingdom?” “Yes.” “Will you go with Him to Jerusalem, bear Him up as He carries His cross through the streets, receive His body in your arms after He expires, then meet Him in the garden after He rises from the dead, let go of Him again when He ascends, and then accompany His beloved apostle in the work of building up the Church, until your own pilgrim life runs its course?” “Yes! Be it done unto me according to your word.”

Mary worshiped immaculately. She accompanied the incarnate True Religion through His entire priestly sacrifice of Himself. Mary united herself with her Son’s sacrifice in everything. She never so much as drew a breath that was not consecrated to the Father through the Paschal Mystery of her Son.

In Our Lady, we Christians see true religion, immaculate religion—which means immaculate life. By God’s grace and Mary’s help, may we, too, faithfully practice that religion.

Comment, if You Please, re: Undocumented Persons

We reach out in love to the poor and the needy and most vulnerable. –New Bishop of Arlington, Virginia, Michael Burbidge, in his installation homily yesterday.

Dear Reader, I find myself stressed and distressed. I would like to explain this to you by way of a series of multiple choice questions.*

1. Which large group of people in the U.S. is more vulnerable?

a. The innocent and defenseless unborn
b. Undocumented immigrants

2. Who less deserve to have their survival put in jeopardy?

a. The innocent and defenseless unborn
b. Undocumented residents of the US who were brought here as infants or children

3. Whose basic human rights should the Church stand up for with more zeal?

a. Innocent and defenseless unborn children
b. Law-abiding undocumented immigrants facing the threat of deportation

Let me flesh out my distress some more by offering you the following subtle antitheses:

1. Undocumented immigrants have broken our U.S. laws de facto,

but

These include our neighbors, friends, and the school classmates of our children. And we whiteys can hardly claim to “own” these lands by divine right.

2. According to current rules, immigration-enforcement agents do not inquire at churches, schools, and hospitals to look for undocumented aliens,

and

The law-enforcement professionals I have spoken with do not foresee any significant change in procedure, even with a new presidential administration,

but

These rules could change rather suddenly,

and

Mr. Trump began his campaign with a a promise to deport all the undocumented (see above).

3. The Church has a spiritual role to play, never an overtly political role. She offers Herself as a mother to all people (including all ‘liberals’ and all ‘conservatives’),

but

Parishes have administrative assets–ie., data–just like all other human organizations, and I’m responsible for it all, at the pleasure of our bishop. So I feel obliged to say:

I, unworthy shepherd that I am, would prefer to go to jail myself rather than

a. co-operate in an abortion
b. me, or anyone on my staff, providing information leading to the deportation of any person under my spiritual care**

I welcome your comments, dear reader.

__________________

* questions intentionally posed to provoke reflection; the author acknowledges they cannot be answered

**investigations involving suspected terrorists or dangerous felons, who are also subject to deportation, are a separate matter

Comfort for Little Ones

It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost. (Matthew 18:14)

sheepFirst, let’s raise our hands to make it perfectly clear that we certainly do consider ourselves “little ones.”

Gamboling little sheep with little brains.

We acknowledge that we are highly prone to disorientation. And, once disoriented, we find ourselves utterly defenseless.

So: Yes, we see that we are very small and shaky, Lord. As the prophet Isaiah put it: We are like grass that can and will wilt.

Second, let’s rejoice in knowing the will of our heavenly Father.

Our first reading at Holy Mass today paints the grand picture: “A rugged land shall be made plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” The Lord comes with power to gather his lambs, and He leads his ewes with care. He makes it possible for us little lambs to travel to the holy mountain.

The good God has a kind heart. He wills our salvation, not our demise. He intervenes to help us elude the wolves. By using these lovely pastoral metaphors, the Son of God has revealed the secret center of everything. The secret center of everything is: God’s tender love.

 

Barges Floating Towards Christ

The one who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He will gather his wheat into his barn and burn the chaff. (Matthew 3:11-12)

In ancient times, our forefathers awaited the Messiah. God had promised to send a Savior, a holy prophet, a king, a high priest of all creation, Who would overcome the Fall of Man.

boris-pasternak-painted-by-his-father

Boris Pasternak, painted by his father

Justice shall be the band around his waist, faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” He shall judge. With justice. He will eliminate evil from the life of the world. And cows, bears, babies, and cobras will become frolicking friends. No harm, no ruin will then beset the glorious dwelling of the Christ.

The faithful souls of old patiently, earnestly awaited the fulfillment of these prophecies. They awaited the resolution of all history, the end of evil.

St. John the Baptist encountered the Christ while both of them still inhabited their mothers’ wombs. When John grew up, he awaited the Lord Jesus’ manifestation of His glory. Christ showed Himself the Messiah at His baptism in the River Jordan. Again Jesus showed Himself to be the divine Messiah when He glowed with transfigured light on Mt. Tabor. But, above all, Christ showed Himself the priest, prophet, and king of creation on the Cross.

If I might, I would like to share with you a couple stanzas of Boris Pasternak’s poem “Gethsemane.”

The field tailed off
Into the Milky Way.
Grey-haired olive trees tried to walk the air
Into the distance.

Unresisting he renounced
Like borrowed things
Omnipotence and the power to work miracles;
Now he was mortal like ourselves.

The night was a kingdom of annihilation…
The whole world seemed uninhabited…
He gazed into the black abyss…
Sweating blood, he prayed to his father.

Then the poem moves into Christ’s words to His disciples after He wakes them from sleep:

‘The book of life has reached the page
Which is the most precious of all holy things…

‘You see, the passage of the centuries is like a parable
And catches fire on its way.
In the name of its terrible majesty
I shall go freely, through torment, down to the grave.’

Whoa, Father. Heavy. Plus: You’re giving us a poem about the Garden of Gethsemane during Advent. Did you forget what month this is?

St. John declared that the Messiah will baptize with Spirit and fire, and He will separate the wheat from the chaff. St. John and all our holy ancestors lived their lives awaiting the true Judge, who would, by separating evil from good, fulfill the picture Isaiah painted: the paradise that God wills for us. That paradise stands outside time as we know it. It stands on the other side of a holy death.

Pasternak’s poem concludes with the Lord Jesus finishing His words to His disciples: ‘I shall go freely, through torment, down to the grave.

‘And on the third day I shall rise again.
Like rafts down a river, like a convoy of barges,
The centuries will float to me out of the darkness.
And I shall judge them.’

Our ancestors studied the books of Moses and the other prophets; they meditated endlessly on God fashioning the heavens and the earth out of nothing. They stilled their souls to such a silence that they could perceive God communicating as the rising sun began to distinguish the surrounding hillsides from the sky.

Today God may bring all of history to its fulfillment. Today God may show the fullness of His glory. And all yearning, striving, straining, and hoping will end.

Time floats toward Christ with terrible majesty, like barges on the river. But not towards a falls, over which everything topples into oblivion. No. Jesus stands there, at the end of the river, to judge. Life conquers death. And the picnic on the holy mountain begins, with frolicking cows, bears, babies, and cobras. And, please God, us.