Back to the Future, Cluster Edition


Anyone ever see “Back to the Future?” Seems to me like I have presided at Sunday Mass as the brand-new pastor of the Rocky Mount-Martinsville cluster before. I guess I must have gotten into a DeLorean… [click HERE por espanish.]

But let’s listen to our Lord. Whoever loves his life will lose it. Whoever loves his life in Roanoke will lose it. Or his life in Beverly Hills, or gay Paris, or anywhere else on earth, for that matter; whoever loves a settled, complacent existence–he will lose it.

How about “Groundhog Day?” That movie resonated pretty deeply with real life, because things can get rather repetitive. Bill Murray got stuck on February 2. Seems like I have gotten stuck on July first: July 1, 2017, seems disturbingly like July 1, 2011.

But didn’t Jesus demand precisely this? As we know from St. Luke’s gospel, the Lord didn’t just say: “take up your cross.” He said: “Take up your cross daily.” Today, take it up. Tomorrow: repeat. Our day-to-day life, repetitive as it may appear, is exactly where we meet our opportunities to follow Christ.

john paul ii loggia be not afraidAt first Bill Murray found it cruelly, intolerably boring to be stuck on the same day. But, after a while, he learned how to live that one day well, He saw the same people, in the exact same situation as he had seen them before, over and over again. By repeating the process, he eventually learned that each encounter with another human being presented him an opportunity–an opportunity to be kind.

His character had lived a selfish, arrogant life. But, by virtue of repeating the same day over and over again, he grew into a soft-hearted, generous gentleman. So maybe there’s hope for me yet.

Have things changed since I last saw you, dear Rocky Mounters and Martinsvillians? This isn’t a movie after all; two years of real history have elapsed. Some of our parish family members have died. And we have new members, too: new arrivals from other places, and new babies sent by God.

God gives growth. When I left, the bushes around St. Francis, outside the front door of the church in Rocky Mount, did not rise so close to his head as they do now. And the pine saplings they planted along the Dick and Willie bike trail in Martinsville, while I was stationed here before: those trees now stand almost twenty feet tall. God gives growth.

Bill Murray caddyBut, for us, spiritual growth requires taking up a cross. Over these past two years, I don’t think it has gotten any easier to follow the Lord faithfully in this world. The world has not grown more hospitable for the Christian life. I don’t think any of us have turned on the tv, or checked our facebook, over the past two years and thought: Oh look! There’s less temptation to pride–and self-indulgence, and despair–there’s less evil in this world than there was before!

Don’t think so. So we need to stick together, now more than ever. We need each other. We, the mystical Body, who have been baptized into Christ’s death, so that we might live His newness of life. And, as St. Paul put it: Christ’s life is “for God.” “He lives for God.”

To live for God is our duty, our business, our common undertaking together. Bishop DiLorenzo has given me the honor of serving as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Joseph. When he first gave me that honor, six years ago, I wrote a little sonnet about it. I managed to dig the poem up.

How do I love the cluster?  Let me count
the ways, like Will Shakespeare of old would do.
The first:  a five-speed, four-wheel steed to mount
and burn the road between the parishes two.

The second?  These two fine towns to explore:
Both Piedmont villes, of character diverse.
In one, lake and farm folk both shop the stores.
The other is the NASCAR hero’s nurse.

Throughout the rolling counties, I descry
fertile fields for the sewing of the seed,
and a band of eager discipulae,
attentive to our Church’s every need.

O Lord, how great You are in every act!
May we, like You, great many souls attract.

…I am honored and humbled to serve. Thank you, dear old friends, for welcoming me back so kindly. As you may remember, we had the privilege of celebrating together both the beatification and the canonization of Pope St. John Paul II–in 2011 and 2014, respectively. I think everyone knows that he is my hero. He was born exactly fifty years and six weeks before me. And he was created a cardinal exactly fifty years ago this week.

In other words, at the same age: he became a cardinal, and I become pastor of Rocky Mount and Martinsville again. I don’t envy him; I think I have the better place.

Abram and Lot Part

Abram and Lot part mosaic Santa Maria Maggiore
Genesis 13 mosaic in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

We read at Holy Mass today from Genesis, about how a separation occurred. Lot went one way, to the Jordan Plain. Then God made a prodigious promise to Abram.

Today, we, too, say farewell to each other, dear Roanoke–like Lot and Abram. The Lord has apportioned to me the fruitful plains to the south. Actually, they are hilly piedmont counties, on the far side of Cahas Mountain.

But the promise to Abraham holds good for all us sons and daughters of the Church, in whatever lush county the Lord gives us to inhabit. We will bear immeasurable fruit. The good that can come from even one single Christian walking the narrow way behind our Lord—that good trumps all the dust of the whole earth, if all that sand and soil could get measured in a scale.

…Now, some of us make it a habit of calling our Lady the “Mother of God” quite often. Like at least fifty-three times a day. We have St. Cyril of Alexandria to thank for keeping that phrase in use. He battled the heretics who tried to eliminate “Mother of God” from our Christian lexicon. St. Cyril died 1,573 years ago today.

Hail Mary,…

Annie-Dillard Eclipse Warning

eclipse glasses
(photo from the International Business Times coverage of the 2012 eclipse in Asia)

Maybe you think now’s the time to plan your trip to view the total solar eclipse on August 21. I just scheduled my annual priestly retreat for that week, at a house of prayer in the path of “totality.”

eclipse map

But let’s prepare ourselves. Forewarned is forearmed. This happened in the US in February 1979, and Annie Dillard traveled to the Yakima Valley in Washington state, which fell in the path of totality that time. Here are some passages from her essay “Total Eclipse,” which is the first chapter of Teaching a Stone to Talk:

I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970. A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane…

Now [8:15am, February 26, 1979] the sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen. A dark sky usually loses color. This was a saturated, deep indigo, up in the air. Stuck up into that unworldly sky was the cone of Mount Adams [in Washington state], and the alpenglow was upon it. The alpenglow is that red light of sunset which holds out on snowy mountain tops long after the valleys and tablelands are dimmed. “Look at Mount Adams,” I said, and that was the last sane moment I remember.

I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte. The hillside was a nineteenth-century tinted photograph from which the tints had faded. All the people you see in the photograph, distinct and detailed as their faces look, are now dead. The sky was navy blue. My hands were silver. All the distant hills’ grasses were finespun metal which the wind laid down. I was watching a faded color print of a movie filmed in the Middle Ages; I was standing in it, by some mistake. I was standing in a movie of hillside grasses filmed in the Middle Ages. I missed my own century, the people I knew, and the real light of day.

Annie Dillard

I looked at Gary [her husband]. He was in the film. Everything was lost. He was a platinum print, a dead artist’s version of life. I saw on his skull the darkness of night mixed with the colors of day. My mind was going out; my eyes were receding the way galaxies recede to the rim of space. Gary was light-years away, gesturing inside a circle of darkness, down the wrong end of a telescope. He smiled as if he saw me; the stringy crinkles around his eyes moved. The sight of him, familiar and wrong, was something I was remembering from centuries hence, from the other side of death: yes, that is the way he used to look, when we were living. When it was our generation’s turn to be alive. I could not hear him; the wind was too loud. Behind him the sun was going. We had all started down a chute of time. At first it was pleasant; now there was no stopping it. Gary was chuting away across space, moving and talking and catching my eye, chuting down the long corridor of separation. The skin on his face moved like thin bronze plating that would peel.

The grass at our feet was wild barley. It was the wild einkorn wheat which grew on the hilly flanks of the Zagros Mountains, above the Euphrates valley, above the valley of the river we called River. We harvested the grass with stone sickles, I remember. We found the grasses on the hillsides; we built our shelter beside them and cut them down. That is how he used to look then, that one, moving and living and catching my eye, with the sky so dark behind him, and the wind blowing. God save our life.

From all the hills came screams. A piece of sky beside the crescent sun was detaching. It was a loosened circle of evening sky, suddenly lighted from the back. It was an abrupt black body out of nowhere; it was a flat disk; it was almost over the sun. That is when there were screams. At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world. We were the world’s dead people rotating and orbiting around and around, embedded in the planet’s crust, while the earth rolled down. Our minds were light-years distant, forgetful of almost everything. Only an extraordinary act of will could recall to us our former, living selves and our contexts in matter and time. We had, it seems, loved the planet and loved our lives, but could no longer remember the way of them. We got the light wrong. In the sky was something that should not be there. In the black sky was a ring of light. It was a thin ring, an old, thin silver wedding band, an old, worn ring. It was an old wedding band in the sky, or a morsel of bone. There were stars. It was all over…

You have seen photographs of the sun taken during a total eclipse. The corona fills the print. All of those photographs were taken through telescopes. The lenses of telescopes and cameras can no more cover the breadth and scale of the visual array than language can cover the breadth and simultaneity of internal experience. Lenses enlarge the sight, omit its context, and make of it a pretty and sensible picture, like something on a Christmas card. I assure you, if you send any shepherds a Christmas card on which is printed a three-by-three photograph of the angel of the Lord, the glory of the Lord, and a multitude of the heavenly host, they will not be sore afraid. More fearsome things can come in envelopes. More moving photographs than those of the sun’s corona can appear in magazines. But I pray you will never see anything more awful in the sky.

You see the wide world swaddled in darkness; you see a vast breadth of hilly land, and an enormous, distant, blackened valley; you see towns’ lights, a river’s path, and blurred portions of your hat and scarf; you see your husband’s face looking like an early black-and-white film; and you see a sprawl of black sky and blue sky together, with unfamiliar stars in it, some barely visible bands of cloud, and over there, a small white ring. The ring is as small as one goose in a flock of migrating geese – if you happen to notice a flock of migrating geese. It is one 360th part of the visible sky. The sun we see is less than half the diameter of a dime held at arm’s length…

It had nothing to do with anything. The sun was too small, and too cold, and too far away, to keep the world alive. The white ring was not enough. It was feeble and worthless. It was as useless as a memory; it was as off-kilter and hollow and wretched as a memory.

When you try your hardest to recall someone’s face, or the look of a place, you see in your mind’s eye some vague and terrible sight such as this. It is dark; it is insubstantial; it is all wrong.

The white ring and the saturated darkness made the earth and the sky look as they must look in the memories of the careless dead. What I saw, what I seemed to be standing in, was all the wrecked light that the memories of the dead could shed upon the living world. We had all died in our boots on the hilltops of Yakima, and were alone in eternity. Empty space stoppered our eyes and mouths; we cared for nothing. We remembered our living days wrong. With great effort we had remembered some sort of circular light in the sky – but only the outline. Oh, and then the orchard trees withered, the ground froze, the glaciers slid down the valleys and overlapped the towns. If there had ever been people on earth, nobody knew it. The dead had forgotten those they had loved. The dead were parted one from the other and could no longer remember the faces and lands they had loved in the light. They seemed to stand on darkened hilltops, looking down…

The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us. We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder. It roared up the valley. It slammed our hill and knocked us out. It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon. I have since read that this wave of shadow moves 1,800 miles an hour. Language can give no sense of this sort of speed – 1,800 miles an hour. It was 195 miles wide. No end was in sight – you saw only the edge. It rolled at you across the land at 1,800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it….This was the universe about which we have read so much and never before felt: the universe as a clockwork of loose spheres flung at stupefying, unauthorized speeds…It coursed down our hill and raced eastward over the plain, faster than the eye could believe; it swept over the plain and dropped over the planet’s rim in a twinkling. It had clobbered us, and now it roared away. We blinked in the light It was as though an enormous, loping god in the sky had reached down and slapped the earth’s face.

Forewarned is forearmed. August 21. Don’t forget your eclipse glasses.

Eye on the Sparrow


Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. (Matthew 10:29)

Our forefathers of the Old Covenant awaited the coming of the Messiah. They didn’t know what His name would be. They didn’t know what He would look like, or exactly what He would do.

Nonetheless, they believed in the coming Christ, because they knew that God would provide everything necessary for their nation to enjoy true blessedness. He had formed an alliance with them, and He had promised good things; they knew He would fulfill His promises. History would make sense. Life would have meaning. Our natural human desires for justice and truth, for real happiness in an upright, honest life—all these desires would be fulfilled. Somehow.

The ancient Israelites did not know how everything would get resolved. But they believed in the good God, Who knows all and governs all. In other words, they believed in Divine Providence. So they had no doubt in their minds that God would send His Christ to make everything right.

And the Father did send His Christ.

Through Adam sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all… But the gift is not like the transgression. For if, by the transgression of the one, many died, how much more did the grace of God, and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ, overflow. (Romans 5:12,15)

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

The ancient Israelites awaited the loving fulfillment of the divine plan. And now we Christians know beyond a shadow of a doubt: God loves us with the love of a kind Father.

Christ crucified has revealed it: our heavenly Father has counted all our hairs, with the same kind of tenderness with which a mother would stroke the peach fuzz on her baby’s head. Christ crucified reveals the full extent of the Providence of God. The Father loves us this much; He loves us with the “amount” of love evident on the cross. And that amount = infinity.

Meanwhile: the cross also teaches us another important thing. If I might, maybe I’ll get a little personal here. I have vivid memories of how my vocation as a Catholic, and as a priest, began. Twenty-five years ago, the Lord helped me see something else in the crucifix: not just the love of the Father, but also the total trust that the incarnate Son had in His Father.

Ever since earliest childhood, I had loved Jesus and believed in Him as the Savior, as the One Who has atoned for sin, Who has revealed the fullness of the Father’s love for mankind. Then, when I was reaching adulthood, the Lord gave me this other gift. I saw how Jesus gave Himself over into the Father’s hands, trusting so absolutely that He died fearlessly, even serenely, on Mt. Calvary. The Lord helped me see how this trust of Christ on the cross could be a way of life—a way of life for all of us, and especially for us men called to be priests and to live a celibate life.

God will provide. I have nothing to fear. I myself may be obtuse and difficult; I may be weak-natured and prone to selfishness. And there are plenty of other people in this world who have the same problems, so we run up against each other in conflicts sometimes. But I can still dive headfirst into the great pool of love that is Christ’s Church, without holding anything back, because I have no evil to fear. Jesus trusted—unto death. And the heavenly Father took care of Him, lifting Him up from the grave, to immortal, heavenly glory. So the Father will take care of me, too.


…Now, when Bilbo Baggins prepared to leave the Shire on his 111th birthday, he declared to his neighbors, “A hundred eleven years is too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits!”

Two years is too short a time to serve in Roanoke among the excellent and admirable Catholics of St. Andrews and St. Gerard’s. I wish I could have 111 more years, so Catholic Roanoke could really get good and sick of me.

Seriously though, I think we have to exercise a little patience with ourselves, as we gradually try to get over the shock of this pastoral transition. Maybe I could even say: we have to exercise patience with ourselves as we recover from the wound of this mysterious pastoral transition.

God sent His Christ, thus providing everything necessary for us to get to heaven. But it didn’t happen without wounds. As we meditate on God’s fatherly Providence, let’s remember: the two sparrows which got sold for a small coin, which the Lord said our heavenly Father had His eye on—they didn’t sell those sparrows, in the Temple courtyard, for pets. They sold them for… sacrifice.

The workings of Divine Providence don’t involve some happy-happy-joy-joy merry-go-round ride. No. God’s entire plan revolves around one precise center point: Mount Calvary. We have an altar at church for a reason: so that we can offer ourselves in sacrifice–along with the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus.

Certainly the transition of pastors in Roanoke spells relief for many people who find me intolerably tedious—whom I cannot blame at all, since I find myself intolerably tedious, too. But for me anyway, and I daresay for some others, this is a painful moment–me having to say goodbye to some dearly beloved hobbits. It is a moment of sacrifice, genuinely wounding sacrifice. Wounds like this don’t heal overnight.

But we trust. God provides. Jesus said: Do not be afraid!

So why should I feel discouraged, or why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely, away from heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion; my constant friend is He.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Sacred Heart Solemnity

In the first reading at Holy Mass today, we read, “It was not because you are the largest of nations that the Lord set His heart on you and chose you…It was because the Lord loved you and because of His fidelity.” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

Charles Bosseron Chambers Sacred Heart of JesusWhy does the Lord love us?

Does He love us for our good looks?  For our many achievements and splendid exploits?  Does He look at how well we cook, or how well we drive, or how well we play cards, or tennis—did He see all that, from heaven, and then fall in love with us, because we are so charming and wonderful?

Did He see us excelling in virtue, shimmering with perfect honesty and generosity and prudence and a sensible diet—did He see all this from heaven, and then say to Himself, ‘Well, gosh!  How lovable these human people are, how can I help myself but love them?’

Well, no.  Negative.  God does not love us because we are great.  God does not love us because we are successful.  He does not love us because we are clever, or nice, or athletic, or talented, or generous, or hard-working.  We can lay no claim to His love; we do not deserve it; we have not earned it.

Not being great—being pathetic little lumps of clay that sometimes can’t even manage to tie our own shoelaces properly; who often turn left when all the signs clearly read, ‘Danger ahead! Turn right immediately!’ being small-brained, small-hearted, whiny, petulant, little nincompoops—being all this and less, we nonetheless receive the free and all-conquering love of God.

He loves the morally, spiritually, and psychologically bankrupt.  And then He makes us beautiful and interesting and worthwhile.  He loves the small into greatness.  That’s the way He is.

All it takes is looking at a crucifix for one moment to remember that He loves us, and how He loves us.

Why?  Why did He become man and die on the Cross for us?  Why did He allow His heart to be pierced by the soldier’s lance, so that every last drop of His Precious Blood flowed out?

We hear the answer in the second reading at Mass today:  God loves us because God is love (I John 4:8).  His love is the origin of all things.

Aloysius Hidden in God

Your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matthew 6:6)

The big-time college basketball team named after him seems always to knock on the door of the Final Four. But they never win it all.

St. Aloysius GonzagaThat, however, cannot be blamed on St. Aloysius Gonzaga’s lack of holiness.

Because he gave a lot of alms. He gave his inheritance and his title of nobility to his younger brother. Then he gave his very life to the sick. Four hundred twenty-six years ago today, St. Aloysius died of a fever he contracted while working in a hospital.

The heavenly Father sees things that lay hidden to our eyes. The true treasure of life lays hidden.

St. Aloysius was an extraordinarily well-educated, cultured young man. He could have had many prosperous years as a prince of the realm. Having foregone all that, he could have had many profitable years as a Jesuit priest. Instead, God took him at age 23.

It makes no earthly sense, seems like a huge waste of talent and potential. But God sees things that we don’t see right now.

St. Aloysius died a few days after the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. He knew his death was coming with the great feast of the Holy Liturgy, so he kept repeating the line from the psalm, “We go rejoicing to the house of the Lord!”

The Father, Who sees what is secret, repays all our acts of generosity with the richest treasure of all, which is hidden now in the Host.

How does He give us His Flesh to Eat?

How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (John 6:52)  …Click for Español.

They asked this perfectly reasonable question after the Lord Jesus had said, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

bassano last supperHe will give His flesh that the world may have life, as opposed to death.

Without this gift–the Body of Christ–the world languishes in death.

Indeed, taking a sober look around us, we see that death reigns as the inevitable conclusion of all our labors.

We stave off death for a while, by eating plenty of salads and sandwiches and bowls of cereal, etc., and keeping ourselves hydrated. But we can keep death at bay for only so long.

So the Messiah, the Savior, possesses flesh that gives life beyond the grave. The Christ of God gives life. He conquers death in His Body—not just for His own sake, but for all mankind. He gives all mankind His life-saving flesh.

Jesus says that His flesh is true food and His blood true drink, and that this food and drink, this sustenance, gives the true life–eternal life, not subject to death. This food involves eternal, divine “nourishment,” if we might dare to put it this way. The Father, from all eternity unto all eternity, “nourishes” the Son with divine life. Just so, the Son gives divine life to those who feed on His living Body.

Now, back in the synagogue in Capernaum, the inquiring listeners asked: How? How can this man give us His flesh to eat?

Let’s treat this as a forthright and honest question, rather than as a rhetorical attack. Let’s break the question down into its parts.

“This man.” Jesus. How can ‘this man’ do it? Well, this man is God. This particular Nazarene carpenter possesses death-conquering divine life. That’s the decisive fact here. He looks like a Galilean man. He is a Galilean man. He is like all other men in every way, except sin. Also: He is Almighty God.

So the question suddenly becomes: How can this God-man give us His flesh to eat? Now the question no longer has a dismissive ring to it. God, after all, has made the cosmos out of nothing, by an act of creation which we cannot imagine. So, we reasonably figure, He can give us His human flesh and blood as nourishment, too. He can. Not impossible for the Creator to do such a thing.

priestBut how?

Well, we know the history. Last Supper, first Mass, endowing His Apostles with this mission and this sacred ministry, the handing down of the unique office of the priest through all the generations… All this history is part of the answer to the How? Christ gives us His flesh to eat by the ministry of Catholic priests, which began at the Last Supper and has extended in an unbroken succession to here and now.

But there’s more. How can the God-man give us His flesh for us to eat?

Yes, His flesh is uniquely life-giving; it offers the “nutrition” of God. But we would not seem to be equipped to consume the living flesh of the resurrected Christ. We are used to eating sandwiches. We have no natural disposition to consume the living flesh of the High Priest of the heavenly tabernacle.

So: He works a double miracle. The consecration which Christ instituted at the Last Supper involves the double miracle by which…

1. The bread and wine we present become His flesh and blood, in accord with His own infallible divine words.

2. His flesh and blood retains all the sensible qualities of food and drink, so that we may consume and be fortified by it, using our limited natural capacities to receive food.
In other words, the Lord gives us sustenance that totally surpasses our capacities in a way that He has suited to our capacities. The life of God Himself, given to us as an edible morsel of food, a sip from the chalice.

And this second aspect of the miracle—the fact that God Almighty comes to us in such an unassuming, humble manner; that God gives us Himself in such utter silence and powerlessness: Nothing could be quieter, more gentle, more unassuming than a Host. Amazing, yes. But let’s consider the precedent…

He exposed Himself to the violence of the evil men who cruelly scourged and crucified Him. He veiled His glory then, in quiet gentleness. He did not cry out; He did not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. And in His silence then, He showed the greatest eloquence. He silently declared: I willingly die so that men have life.

So, likewise, in the Blessed Sacrament: He freely exposes Himself to people thoughtlessly receiving Him. To people receiving Him with un-confessed sins burdening their consciences. He even exposes Himself to people receiving Him without faith.

But He maintains this silence and vulnerability because it reveals the truth. The God Whom we worship in the Sacred Host wills only to build up, to fortify, to give life. He does not will to tear down; He does not will to destroy.

He wills only gently to feed us. With Himself.

Sermon-on-the-Mount Sentence

Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. (Matthew 5:25)

Sobering thought: all of us are on our way to the Judge. And not just any judge, but the One Who sees all, knows all, and judges with perfect righteousness. Unlike us, who tend to see only what we want to see. And to judge rashly and blindly, because we care, above all, about: me, me, me.

scales_of_justiceNot that we never have a right to get angry or to judge anything. Injustice will anger us. Someone punches you in the face, you get angry. And if someone does you wrong, and a remedy for the wrong stands available for you to pursue, you pursue it. Calmly, according to law.

But sometimes there’s no remedy. And even if there is one, it won’t touch the heart of the matter anyway. Because the heart of the matter is this: We all have something in common. All of us—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We all have this in common: We can make no claims on God Almighty.

Almighty God gives out of love, not out of indebtedness; not because some law of justice governs Him. So: if someone wrongs me, okay. I have been wronged. But I still have much more than I could ever claim to deserve, because God gave me everything I have in the first place, without me “deserving” it at all.

I think it’s easier to make peace with our neighbors on the way to altar when we remember this. Yes, maybe I have a right to be mad at so-and-so, because of such-and-such. But I have no right to imagine that such-and-such amounts to a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Plus, there are plenty of people out there who have a right to be mad at me, about far-more-serious matters.

The world abounds with little tribunals seeking justice, with varying degrees of success. But, in the end, every human being will face the same tribunal of justice. And at that ultimate and definitive judge’s bench, we all have only one real hope. Namely, that the Judge will look upon us with mercy.

The same mercy that moved Him to make the sun rise this morning, even though the human race hardly deserves such a favor. Our hope for Judgment Day is: that Jesus Christ, with His Heart wounded for us, will be the One sitting behind the judge’s bench.

Jesus: The all-knowing, perfectly righteous Judge. Who has shown Himself to be the infinite goodness and kindness and mercy of God.

What Will Endure?

If what was to fade was glorious, how much more will what endures be glorious. (II Corinthians 3:11) What does endure? What will endure even beyond the “passing away of heaven and earth?” (Matthew 5:18)

chaliceThe answer resounds right in front of our noses. “The chalice of My Blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant.” We do not go too far when we say: Our religion is the Mass.

Not that we do no other acts of religion. We pray at other times and in other places. And we try to act justly and kindly all the time and everywhere we go, out of duty to God. But none of our prayers or religious acts outside of Mass make any sense at all without the Mass.

We do not go too far when we say: Our religion is Jesus Christ. Jesus, the incarnate Word of the eternal Father, makes Himself our sacrifice and our food in the Holy Mass.

Yes, we sacrifice other things; we strive to sacrifice our whole lives to God. But no sacrifice we can make pleases the Father unless we unite it with Christ’s sacrifice. And, in truth, we need make no sacrifice other than the sacrifice of Jesus—since, in offering Himself, He offered everything good and worthy in us. After all, He made us according to the infinite Wisdom He possesses in His unfathomable mind.

Sometimes non-Catholics try to confuse this issue of the absolute centrality of the Holy Mass and the sacred priesthood in the Catholic Church. They note that the New Testament contains relatively few references to the Mass, or the priesthood, or the Real Presence.

But this criticism actually misses the obvious context of the New Testament itself. What is the New Testament? Is it a collection of moral instructions? If so, it is not a coherent one. Is the New Testament an account of first-century Mediterranean-basin history? If so, it is a terrible, practically unreadable one.

The New Testament makes perfect sense, however, as a collection of documents written by churchmen—men who maintained intimate communion with Christ through the Holy Eucharist. Documents, in other words, written by priests of the new and eternal covenant, for the benefit of their people, namely the people who participated regularly in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

The living, breathing reality of the Church—priests and people celebrating Jesus’ Mass together: that is the gloriously glorious thing that will not pass away. Even on the other side of the final and all-encompassing purification of heaven and earth, we will gather together around the altar to offer Jesus and receive Jesus.

Praying for Eternal Love with Williams ’92

Heavenly widened roses seem to whisper to me when you smile. (Cowboy Junkies)

Catholic chaplain Father Gary Caster has installed a cozy, catacombs-like Blessed Sacrament chapel in the bowels of the stately Gothic Williams-College church–an edifice the door of which very few of my classmates ever darkened.

An icon of Christ, Judge of all and Lord of history, hangs on the back wall of the Newman chapel.

Mark Taylor ruled the Religion Dept. here twenty-five years ago. I had no patience for his deconstructionism. I preferred to read St. Thomas Aquinas.

But yesterday a couple dear buddies and I visited Dr. Taylor’s home for old time’s sake. And it turns out he’s more Catholic than I thought. He keeps a large reliquary cabinet in his library. That is: film canisters full of small quantities of dirt taken from the gravesites of his favorite philosophers and poets–including Wallace Stevens!

When my Williams days ended, and adulthood beckoned, and I said goodbye to the people with whom I just spent this past weekend, I thought to myself: can the joy and adventure of waking up to life with these companions really be over? Nostalgia for the sweet, ginny evenings we had together will crush me!

But nostalgia can only cripple the heart of a pagan. The dust collected in Dr. Taylor’s cannisters will stir again. Life and truth and now will conquer regret and loss and forgetfulness.

The great Pantocrator of Nazareth gathers up every moment of real love in our lives, and He saves it for the great Day. A consummation awaits. Greater even than the unforgettably sweet reunion we just had.