John 11 Gospel of Life

evangelium-vitae

“I am the resurrection and the life,” says the Lord. (John 11:25) [Click por Spanish]

The Gospel of Life is something concrete and personal, for it consists in the proclamation of the very person of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God who from all eternity receives life from the Father, and who has come among men to make them sharers in this gift.

That’s a quote from a letter written by a great hero. In the letter, the hero repeatedly cited the gospel passage we read at Sunday’s Mass. Any guesses about who the hero is? And what letter? Here’s another passage:

Through the words, the actions, and the very person of Jesus, man receives the complete truth about the value of human life. Through Christ, man can accept and fulfill completely the responsibility of loving and serving, of defending and promoting human life. The Gospel of Life was present in the revelation of the Old Testament and indeed has been written in the heart of every man and woman, echoing in every conscience from the beginning, from the time of creation itself.

Then the hero quoted Vatican II:

Christ confirmed with divine testimony that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death and to raise us up to life. (Evangelium Vitae 29)

Pope St. John Paul II wrote to us about the Gospel of Life. Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life!” Christ entrusted this solemn declaration to us, and He sustains us in our fidelity to it, by pouring out on us His grace, His life. Pope Francis has emphasized JPII’s message repeatedly. For example, Pope Francis said to an international association of Catholic health-care professionals:

Your being Catholic entails a greater responsibility to contemporary culture, by contributing to the recognition of the transcendent dimension of human life, the imprint of God’s creative work from the moment of conception. This is a task of the new evangelization that often requires going against the tide. The Lord is counting on you to spread the Gospel of Life.

Ok. Ready for a newsflash? We have some problems. As a country, los Estados Unidos. We face profound divisions among ourselves. These divisions make me think of another era. I’ve read quite a few books about the Civil War. And the political divisions we face remind me of the 1850’s.

President James Buchanan

President James Buchanan

Now, on the one hand, we don’t live like they lived in the 1850’s. Almost all of us can drive a car, and we freely drive all over the country. Back in the mid-nineteenth century, few northerners had traveled down south, or vice versa. These days we live in an America much more integrated by commerce and communication, without the distinct regional divide of north vs. south.

But, on the other hand, back in the 1850’s, Americans, in the north and in the south, had more basic assumptions in common than we have now. They disagreed about how to interpret the Bible, but they all regularly read the Bible. Even as they marched off to war against each other, they agreed on things that we can’t find a way to agree on now.

How did we wind up here, then? Profoundly divided as we are, in America? To me, the heart of the matter seems obvious. In 1973 the Supreme Court abandoned the truth and issued a ruling that has poisoned our national life ever since.

Since Roe v. Wade, our nation has had an open wound, literally. Thousands of innocent and defenseless people have bled to death at the hands of abortionists every day. And the wound never heals, because only the truth can heal it. And Roe v. Wade has banished the truth about abortion from our land.

This is not the reactionary and old-fashioned Church rejecting something new and modern. Roe v. Wade is based on old, debunked ideas. Abortion is nothing new; the ancient pagans practiced it. Violence and cruelty go way back.

The new thing is Jesus Christ’s Gospel of Life. Our heroic popes have given us 21st-century Catholics the new and invigorating truth of the Gospel. They have articulated our beautiful rallying cry: Every human life has immeasurable value and dignity! And God has given us a task: Love your neighbor! The Gospel of Life looks to me like the one and only thing that could actually heal the dangerous ideological divisions in our country.

john paul ii cardinal bergoglioThis is not Republican over Democrat. The Gospel of Life demands that we revere and love every life–the unborn, the poor, the undocumented immigrant. And the Gospel of Life demands that we make sacrifices in order to protect our environment, our “common home” as Pope Francis calls Mother Earth.

The profound wrongness of Roe v. Wade does not belong to one political party or another. It’s not one party or another that has sinned against the Gospel of Life. We have sinned against the Gospel of Life as a nation. And it’s not one party or another that needs the Gospel of Life in order to find a way forward. The United States of America needs the Gospel of Life in order to find a way forward.

Jesus Christ’s Gospel of Life can and will give us the firm foundation that we need. Standing on that foundation, we can work out our differences and find a way to prosper.

Our job as Catholics is: to stay focused on the message, to stay prayerful about it, and to live always in communion with the good and gentle Savior Who came into this world that we might have life.

Conclave Liturgical Anniversary

Pope Francis waving

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, became pope on Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent, 2013. The conclave lasted only a day–the Cardinals entered the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday. Four years ago today, according to the liturgical calendar.

At daily Mass, this fourth week of Lent belongs to John 5. On a sabbath, Lord Jesus told a sick man, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” And the man did as ordered.

Can God break the sabbath? I think we have to say No to that one. He consecrated the sabbath Himself with His own blessed rest at the beginning of the world, His happiness with all that He had made.

But, His work isn’t over until…the fat lady sings? History moves; God moves history. God, in His blessed, undisturbed peace—He works. Each morning He gives us the new day. A fresh gift, healed of the weakness and weariness of yesterday.

History moves, with God working, giving life and renewal. Springtime 2013 held great promise. New pope, new evangelization, new hope for the Gospel to light up the world.

I’ll say that four years ago today, I never could have imagined the ways in which Pope Francis would choose to love us. He has brought me to my knees. I guess I love him like I love the cross-country coach I had in high-school, who made us run until we vomited.

But God knows what He’s doing. He said to the man He had healed: “Look, you’re well. Do not sin anymore.” That’s what He says to us each morning. He gives us new birth by His mercy. Do good. Avoid evil. Rock on.

Williams College 25th, Garfield’s Assassin, Men-Only Priesthood

Timothy Keller

not believing in women’s ordination just cost this man $10 grand

“The Lord always employs the best material to do His work.” –Charles Guiteau, explaining why God had chosen him to assassinate President James Garfield*

Garfield had begun his journey from Washington to Williamstown, Massachusetts, to attend his 25th class reunion. Guiteau shot Garfield as he entered the train station. As I myself intend to travel to Williamstown for my 25th Williams-College reunion this summer, I take this to heart.

But, as I reflect on my youthful vocational discernment, so long ago, I know that God does not, in fact, necessarily employ the best. After all, St. Paul told us priests that we carry the treasure in earthen vessels.

Yesterday the Washington Post made one of our seminarians briefly famous. Last week, the question of what kind of candidates the Church may lawfully ordain erupted into a controversy at Princeton Seminary. The next Roman Synod will treat the subject of “vocational discernment.”

Destiny of the Republic Candice Millard James Garfield

a riveting book

Seems like it’s time to re-read Inter Insigniores

Our Holy Mother, the Catholic Church, finds Herself in an interesting position when it comes to  the doctrine of Holy Orders. On the one hand, She has way-more people than any other Christian communion; any ecumenism without the Catholics looks like a farce. On the other hand, She blithely continues on Her merry way, ordaining only men to priesthood, year in and year out, springtime after springtime–thereby leaving Herself in the reprobate backwater of unreformed patriarchies.

How can we understand this?

Pope Paul VI and his Anglican counterpart, Archbishop of Canterbury Donald Coggan, exchanged letters on the subject of women’s ordination. A few years later, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained the Pope’s assertion that the Church has no authority to ordain the ladies. (That explanation begins with the Latin words Inter Insigniores.)

Pope John Paul II also exchanged illuminating letters with his Archbishop-of-Canterbury counterpart, Robert Runcie, on the same subject.

The sacred priesthood of the New Covenant is a sacrament. Not an elected office of temporal government. Yes, to preside at Mass also means governing the people in the exercise of religion. But the authority vested in the priest cannot involve any material benefits for himself. He teaches and leads the people in order to help them get to heaven–and hopefully arrive there himself as well.

We can only understand the priesthood in the Church, therefore, as a sacrament of God. Specifically the sacrament of Christ the Head of the Body, offering Himself in sacrifice, making Himself present in all times and places through the Holy Mass.

If we think of the priesthood in any other way, we certainly won’t understand it at all, much less grasp why God never calls women to it. If we think of the priesthood like Charles Guiteau thought of his ‘vocation’ to kill President Garfield–that is, that God certainly chose the best to serve as His instrument–then we will never come close to understanding anything about the priestly vocation.

Cardinal Walter Kasper

Walter Cardinal Kasper

Okay, yes: the powers-that-be in the Church must screen applicants somewhat. Seminaries prefer men with certain minimal aptitudes. Like being able to read. And having some rudimentary social skills.

But the most-important pre-requisite for ordination and success as a priest is a “professional skill” that no Fortune-500 company would ever seek. A priest really needs only three items on his resume: 1. Can read. 2. Not a total a-hole. 3. Believes. The pre-eminent “skill” of the priest is: Faith. Believing what the Catholic Church believes. A Bumbler Who Believes–that is how I, for one, understand my exalted pastoral office.

So we must understand the priesthood as a sacrament, not as a distinction of any kind of excellence, as measured by the criteria of the world. The priest is not “better.” The priest sacramentally represents Christ, in a distinct way.

Inter Insigniores humbly but unapologetically reasons like this: Jesus chose only men to occupy the priestly office. He chose twelve men.

Now, did He choose only men because He acted solely in accord with the conventions of His age and society? Would He have chosen some lady Apostles, if He had done His work in a freer, more feminist time and place?

Well, since He did many free and feminist things, it would seem that the answer to that question is No. And, for over 1900 years, the Church throughout the world, operating in all the various cultures, has never ordained women as priests.

Therefore, it’s impossible.

But! we say: Don’t we know better now that men and women are equal?! Better than they knew in the year AD 33, or 1033, or even 1976?

Walter Cardinal Kasper addressed the Anglican House of Bishops in 2006, begging them, for the sake of ecumenism, not to vote in favor of ordaining women as bishops. The Cardinal asked his audience to remember that, just as we now think we know better than our forefathers about many things, generations yet to come will someday look back, and consider how we think, and chuckle.

Christ’s Body certainly comprises male and female. By taking on human nature, the Word made flesh redeemed the whole human race, not just His fellow men. We all stand on equal footing before the Father, as the beloved sons and daughters of His household. We must not fall into the trap of over-stating our case on the Leave-It-to-Beaver conservative side. I certainly don’t believe in women priests, but I would be super-stoked if one of the young ladies in this year’s St. Andrew’s or St. Gerard’s confirmation class grew up to become President of the United States.

The crucial thing we must grasp, the crucial distinction that makes Inter Insigniores and the “backwardness” of our Church make sense is: At Mass, the priest represents Christ the Bridegroom of the Church. Everything distinctive about the priestly ministry stems from this fundamental fact. The Church has no authority to put a woman in the place of Jesus the Bridegroom, as He embraces His Bride, and gives Her His Body, for the salvation of the world.

———

* Quoted in a book you will love reading, Destiny of the Republic, by Candice Millard

 

Man-Born-Blind Homily

Not as man sees does God see…The Lord looks into the heart. (I Samuel 16:7)

Pope-Francis-Lumen-FideiThe Lord sent the prophet Samuel to anoint the king of Israel, from among the sons of Jesse. Samuel saw Jesse’s elder son Eliab and thought, “Surely, the Lord’s anointed is here.” Eliab looked like Denzel Washington.

Then Samuel saw the other, older sons. And the prophet thought, ‘The Lord surely must have chosen one of these!’ Jesse’s other older sons looked like Pierce Brosnan, Lebron James, Eric Estrada, Tom Brady, Raul Julia, and Charleton Heston, respectively.

But the Lord had chosen none of them, because God Almighty does not judge by appearances. He perceives things by a deeper, more penetrating light.

In the gospel reading at Holy Mass this Sunday, we hear the Lord Jesus declare: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently marked the fourth anniversary of his pontificate. The first encyclical he gave us, back in 2013—anyone remember what it was about? Faith. The Holy Father commented on this-coming-Sunday’s gospel reading. The pope wrote, and I quote:

Those who believe, see. They see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the Morning Star that never sets.

Now, who knows where that phrase comes from? “The Morning Star that never sets?” Right! From the hymn at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. Which is coming in three weeks!

When Pope Francis claims that “those who believe, see,” he means, and I quote:

Our faith in the Son of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth enable us to grasp reality’s deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself.

Without faith, we can see movies. We can see our friends and neighbors. We can even see beautiful sunsets. But we can’t see the wisdom that guides it all, sustains it all, moves it all towards a goal. Without faith, we cannot see the fact that all the things we see are moving towards an as-yet-unseen fulfillment.

Pope Francis Easter candleJesus Christ—His whole pilgrimage, from the Virgin’s womb, through 33 years, to his final trip to Jerusalem; His death; His resurrection; His ascension—all of this, Jesus Christ’s life as a human being: the Good News about it reaches us as both a. a promise about the meaning of life and b. the fulfillment of the promise.

a. Christ offers us the promise of eternal bliss. He said, ‘In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places, and I have prepared one for you.’ His resurrection from the dead makes that promise shine like an as-yet-invisible light—and that promise–that light–becomes the interior light of our lives.

b. Christ fulfills the promise, too—because He Himself gives us all the divine gifts that make our life of faith possible; He pours out the Holy Spirit. Christ’s grace, Christ’s life flows into our souls through the sacraments. He is alive. He is at work. And He Himself awaits us at the end of time as the true, just, and loving conclusion of everything.

“Awake, o sleeper,” therefore, “rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Yes, it’s true: we don’t even know what He looks like. Does Jesus look like Ryan Gosling? John Legend? Does He look like Abraham Lincoln, only shorter? We don’t know what Christ’s Holy Face looks like, up there in heaven.

But, even though we cannot now see His face, and we don’t have any photographs or Facebook-Live videos—even though the whole thing is an experience of pure faith: the light that shines from Christ’s face in heaven enlightens our minds. Not so that we can see what He looks like, but so that we can see the world the way that He sees it.

He sees everything from one particular point-of-view. Namely: The point-of-view of the eternal Son of the eternal Father. He experiences everything as the chosen and beloved heir of the divine throne–the heir to whom God wills to give everything that God has to give. Christ receives it all, as the gift that it is. And He offers it back to the Father as a sacrifice of love, to give His Father glory.

By faith, dear brothers and sisters, we participate in this.

Sabbath Dispute

moses

Moses by Michelangelo

At Holy Mass this coming Sunday, we will read St. John’s account of the Lord Jesus giving sight to a man born blind. Jesus worked the miracle on the Sabbath day. So a dispute ensued, regarding the Law of Moses.

Some of the Pharisees concluded that obeying Moses and following Christ were incompatible pursuits. They reasoned thus: Jesus, breaking the Sabbath to heal the blind man, while at the same time professing to do God’s work, either…

a. rendered the Law of Moses null and void, or

b. disqualified Himself as a prophet by unrepentantly violating a valid divine law.

Now, we could reject this reasoning as prissy, pointless pharisaism—if Lord Jesus Himself had not so punctiliously insisted that the Law of Moses does indeed remain altogether valid. Every jot and tittle remains in force, “until all things have taken place” (Matthew 5:18), as we read at Holy Mass today.

In fact, rejecting the Old Testament is a heresy that has a name: Marcionism. An orthodox Christian, on the other hand, believes that Christ Himself, the eternal Word, gave Moses the Law. The Law of Moses is Christ’s Law.

crispy_bacon_1But: We can eat bacon-wrapped shrimp. And we regard circumcision as a medical matter, not a religious one. And we don’t have to wail at the Wailing Wall. And we’re not still waiting for the Messiah to make Himself known.

What we cannot do, however, is: Imagine that we are any other people than the children of Abraham. Who are we? We are the same people that Moses led out of slavery in Egypt. Our forefathers and mothers prayed and waited for the Messiah to come, listening carefully to the words of the prophets. But then, when He came, we rejected and killed Him. Then, when He rose from the dead, we began to repent and believe in Him. He grafted our Jewish and Gentile forefathers together into His chosen people.

The Law began in the very beginning. Christ hallowed the Sabbath with His own rest on the seventh day of the world. Since, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He is the Creator. The one God made human life what it is: namely, an existence that only makes sense when we worship, love, and obediently serve the Almighty.

Sabbath-breaking remains a grave sin, graver than ever. Christ has enlightened the eyes of our minds: We know who we are. We are freeborn children of God’s household. We are no man’s slaves, because we serve the divine Master. The Pharisees who objected to Jesus had it right—except that they were too blind to see that the one and only place where mankind can actually keep the Sabbath is in the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Nazareth.

Hamlet and the 77 Pardons

Shawn Lauvao Redskins 77

Lord, how often must I forgive my brother? Answer: No less than 77 times.

Now, the Lord didn’t use the number 77 because Washington Redskins starting guard Shawn Lauvao wears jersey #77. Christ used 77 as shorthand for: always forgive the penitent brother.

Anyone ever seen Hamlet? That play would seem to have the opposite moral. Instead of “always forgive,” Hamlet focuses on revenge.

The evil uncle killed the good father, secretly, in cold blood, to steal the throne and the queen. The dead king’s ghost visits young Prince Hamlet, demanding revenge. Young Hamlet devises a stratagem by which to test the ghost’s story. Turns out the ghost speaks truth. So here comes revenge. At the end of the play, everyone winds up dead. No forgiveness; just brutal revenge.

Except: Young Hamlet and his nemesis Laertes forgive each other before they die. And the evil uncle Claudius tries to beg God for mercy. And the queen admits to Hamlet that she has done wrong in marrying her dead husband’s brother. And Ophelia begs mercy from God for everyone…

ASC HamletChrist told the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant to illustrate his 77-pardons theme. In the parable, the king intended to settle accounts. When he did so, no one quibbled with the accuracy of his records. His accounts showed his servant in debt to him. The servant did not deny it. To the contrary, the servant, presented with the truth, humbled himself before its very accuracy.

‘Yes, yes! I owe you big time! Just give me another chance.’

And the king took a haircut, as they say in the banking world—he faced the fact that he wasn’t getting the money the servant owed him. Then the king gave the servant a fresh start.

Thus do we see mercy and righteousness kiss: Everyone faces the full, ugly truth. Then everyone starts fresh. Mercy does not mean: no reckoning. It doesn’t mean running away from the truth; skip the facts; just pretend everything’s fine and nice!

No. Forgiving happens when the parties agree on the painful, evil, unpleasant facts. And then start over.

Prince Hamlet did not exactly proceed down the path of Christian mercy. He did a fair amount of stabbing with his rapier. On the other hand, there was something rotten in the state of Denmark. It would hardly have been merciful for the prince to pretend otherwise.

In fact, the greater the evil, the more merciless the truth feels to the conscience that, deep down, knows it’s guilty. Mercy does not come in the form of a goose feather pillow. It comes as a bracing, cold bath. But nothing can refresh the soul more. Facing the truth. And getting a fresh start. With all the dials set back to zero.

Spring Training for Heaven

spring training

[Click AQUI para leer en Spanish]

We do not know yet what heaven is like. But we know that it involves being personally united with God forever. If we hope to have this personal communion with God in the end, then we probably need to have some kind of communion with Him now, right? Some kind of practice or spring training, so to speak.

So here’s an easy question:  How do we develop a friendship with the Lord, now, while we are still here on earth?  Easy…by praying.

Anyone ever heard of the Catechism of the Catholic Church?  Everybody know that the Catechism is divided into four parts, for the four pillars of the Catholic faith? Part IV of the Catechism concerns prayer.  This part of the Catechism begins with the gospel reading for Holy Mass on Sunday, about the Samaritan woman at the well. Makes sense because:  To pray is like going to a well.  Someone who prays opens up his soul to God like a thirsty person opening his or her throat for cool, refreshing water.

When we open up like this, when we go to the well of prayer, we find Christ waiting for us there, like the Samaritan woman found Him. Upon meeting Christ, we discover three things…

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurch1. While of course we come thirsty to the well of prayer, we discover that the Lord also thirsts. “Give me a drink,” He says.

What do we possess that we can give God to drink? Can we give water to the One Who measures out the depth of the oceans and holds the rain clouds in His hands?

No. The Lord thirsts for one thing and one thing only. He thirsts for our devoted love. On the Cross He opened His arms to us. His throat was parched. He said to each of us, “I thirst. I thirst for you.”

2. The well of Christian prayer is the well of our father Jacob, dug in ancient times for the Israelites. So we have to be willing to imitate Jacob. As we read in Genesis, Jacob struggled all night in the darkness. Some unknown foe wrestled with him, but Jacob refused to give in. Then, in the morning, Jacob received the blessing he sought, and a new name. The Lord called him Israel, because he persevered in his struggle through the dark night.

At this very well, the Lord Jesus pours out the living water of the Holy Spirit. But to pray in the Holy Spirit, we have to be willing to persevere through a dark struggle, too. The Holy Spirit is infinite divine love, but love can be rough. The Holy Spirit doesn’t send Hallmark cards. He lifts us up to dizzying, frightening, unfamiliar heights.

3. The third thing that we discover when we meet Christ at the well of prayer is this: The Lord Jesus is the Messiah Who makes it possible for us to worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Now, human beings are naturally inclined to pray.  But a lot of things can get in the way.  Spiritual laziness.  Self-centeredness.  Attachments to material things.  False ideas about God.  Distractions.  Distractions.  Distractions.

In Christ, we find humble and true prayer. In Christ, man prays for everything that is truly good. The Catechism has a beautiful one-sentence explanation of what Christian prayer is:  “Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation.” The response of faith to the free promise of salvation.

What did the Lord say to the woman at the well?  “If you knew the gift of God!”

The woman had rebuffed the Messiah at first, because He made a request she didn’t think she could deal with.  She couldn’t fully grasp what He was asking her.  She had her ideas about how she fit into the world.  And this interaction with Christ fell outside those ideas. If only we knew the gift of God!

Instead, we waste our time thinking thoughts like:  I’m a loser, because I don’t have very many facebook friends.  Or:  I’m not worth anything, because I’m fat.  I’m not cool, because I only have an iPhone 4.  I suck, because I can’t cook, I can’t jump, I can’t attract attention at parties.

No!  If we only knew the gift of God, the promise of salvation.  He is saying to us:  I died for you, at the exact weight you are now, with the exact number of facebook friends you have right now!  You don’t need to be any thinner, or have any more facebook friends, for me to love you.  I suffered agony and died for you exactly as you are—I suffered that much, and died that miserably, precisely to show you how much I want you with me in heaven.

So, please, for a minute, says the Lord, just forget your diet and your job and your husband and your wife and your children and your parents and your neighbor and your car and your business and your dog and your cat and your homework and your resume and your money and your apps and your DVR—forget it all for a minute. And believe that your Maker has suffered and died on the cross out of love for you.

StA St Patrick window

St. Patrick window in St. Andrew’s transcept

The Kingdom of God will be given to a people that will produce its fruit. (Matthew 21:43)

A people that will produce the fruit of the Kingdom of God. Maybe the Lord referred here to the sons and daughters of Ireland.  Who have peopled the ends of the earth with Guiness-drinking U2 fans.

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

newly renovated St. Patrick’s in New York

The triune God made an irrevocable covenant with the sons and daughters of Abraham, based on one simple thing:  Abraham’s pure faith.

Before Moses–and way before they renovated St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York–God established this covenant of faith.  Abraham, full of faith, awaited the Messiah.  And he rejoiced when the Christ finally came.

St. Patrick expressed the pure faith of Abraham and the mystery of Christ with an eloquence that made Ireland a fertile ground for Christianity.

And the faith has spread from Ireland to the four corners of the earth. It’s no fluke that we have a large stained-glass window of St. Patrick in our church. If Irish men and women hadn’t come to Roanoke in the late nineteenth century, we wouldn’t have a St. Andrew’s.

We can rest assured that St. Patrick takes a great interest in helping us get to heaven, one day at a time. Today he himself died, 1,524 years ago. St. Patrick is more interested in helping us get to heaven than he is in turning anyone’s beer green. I guess he is mildly interested in helping the Notre Dame basketball team. His help got them past Princeton yesterday. We’ll see how interested St. Patrick is tomorrow, against West Virginia.

Anyway: faith. St. Patrick lived and died for the Christian faith. Let’s live that faith patiently and lovingly, in his honor. We never got a dispensation from Bishop DiLorenzo, so we have to live our faith today by abstaining from corned beef, and sticking to tomato soup with soda bread instead. Praised be the Lord!

More on the Essential Fact

At daily Mass on Saturday, the day before the third Sunday of Lent, we will read the Parable of the Prodigal Son. After that: only three weeks till Palm Sunday!

Let’s focus on this: Christ came to conquer death. To die as a man and rise again as a man. CNN can come and go; brackets can get filled out and busted. But this is the essential fact. Jesus said, “In My Father’s house, there are many dwelling places.” We live a mortal life in a sinful world, to be sure. But, fundamentally, we live in the Father’s house. And each of us has his or her own place in that house, no matter what—because of Christ’s conquest of death.

resurrectionWe read in the gospel at today’s Mass that Lazarus would gladly have eaten the scraps that fell from Dives’ table. Lazarus did not demand a widescreen hd smart tv. Lazarus did not style himself as some kind of high-rolling tycoon. He simply wanted his just portion of food.

But he did not get it. Because Dives did style himself a high-rolling tycoon and did demand a widescreen hd smart tv and did not concern himself with his fellowman.

Then death came for them both. And with death came justice.

Tomorrow at Holy Mass we will read a parable about how the Father built a fruitful vineyard with plenty of dwelling places, for his grapes to grow and for His children to reap the fruits. He sent His Son to collect His just portion. ( I guess the just portion of the Creator can only be our peaceful, worshipful love, right?) But they killed the Son and heir.

See the picture here? The Father wills peace, harmony, human co-operation. The Father wills the fruitfulness of His children. The Father reigns over a kingdom not of scarcity, nor of selfish luxury—but of tranquil, beautiful sufficiency for everyone. The Son fulfills the will of the Father perfectly. And, in this fallen world, it leads to His death.

When rich Dives cried out from hell, begging Abraham to send someone back from the dead to teach the world a lesson, Abraham demurred. ‘God already tried to teach the world a lesson! Didn’t He form a covenant and seal it with His life-giving love? How hard is it to obey the Ten Commandments? No more warnings.’

But, as we will read Saturday: Even without the warning that Dives begged Abraham to send, something managed to get through to the prodigal son. Something penetrated his soul, as he gazed upon the pig-slop that he wished he could feed himself upon. He languished in the muck, in this fallen world. But, somehow, he found a way to stand on the stone which the builders rejected. The stone which the builders rejected is Christ, the Prince of Peace, Who came seated on a donkey into Jerusalem, prepared to reign with love. But they rejected Him and killed Him.

The prodigal son managed to stand on that stone somehow, and he thought to himself, “In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places! There’s one for me.” And the father said, “This son of mine was dead, but now he lives!”

Christ conquered death. He conquered death with something. It’s the same mysterious something that somehow moved the heart of the prodigal son towards the truth of God.

Christ conquered death with the very life that the Father freely wills to give us. Christ conquered death with the Father’s gift of life. Abraham would not send a warning back from beyond the grave. But Christ did not hesitate to return from the grave with a gift. The gift of the fruitful life of the eternal springtime of God.

First and Second Regeneration

full_moon_2

Purim moon tonight. One more cycle to the holy Pasch.

On two occasions during Lord Jesus’ earthly life, the Father spoke out from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son!” At Christ’s Baptism. And at His Transfiguration.

Holy Baptism. One of the seven… sacraments. The sacrament of regeneration. God generated us in the first place, in the Garden of Eden. When Satan tempted us, we fell, and we became the sinful, mortal human race that we are. Then God sent His beloved Son to re-generate us.

We enter into the re-generation process through Holy Baptism. When we get baptized into Christ, everything starts fresh–human purity restored, an open-ended friendship with God begins.

Gerard David TransfigurationYou know that Lent exists primarily as the final period of preparation for adults who will be baptized during the night before Easter. Lent primarily means the final stage of study and purification for non-Christians about to become Christians. The ancient People of God passed dry-shod through the Red Sea and marched on, toward the Promised Land; Lent exists primarily for us to integrate the stranger and the sojourner among us into our nation, the pilgrim Church.

Lent also exists to remind us already-baptized Christians about what happened to us at the font. God regenerated us there, to live as His friends, as the children of His household. We need to reach into the depths of our souls to rediscover the always-new, always-fresh presence of Christ’s truth and life. When we were baptized into Him, Jesus claimed us as His forever.

We already-baptized people, as we reach into these lovely interior depths during Lent, usually find that we need to be re-cleansed by the baptismal water. And that’s as easy as… going to confession! One ancient name for the sacrament of Confession is… second Baptism.

But, speaking of second things—what about the second time the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son!” The gospel we read at Holy Mass every second Sunday of Lent. When the Lord’s body shone with brilliant divine light, transfigured. At that moment, the human regeneration accomplished by Christ, usually invisible to our eyes, was revealed.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan River was the sacrament of our first regeneration. And Christ’s Transfiguration is the sacrament of our second regeneration. Our bodily resurrection. When Christ comes again, in the glory He revealed at the Transfiguration, sin and Satan and death will no longer have any power over us. According to God’s own design, we will shine then like the stars in the sky.