The Church is composed of different members, and the eye cannot be the hand at one and the same time…
I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members, the most necessary and most noble of all could not be lacking to it, and so I understood that the Church had a Heart… I understood it was Love alone that made the Church’s members act, that if Love ever became extinct, apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would not shed their blood…
Yes, I have found my place in the Church and it is You, O my God, who have given me this place; in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be Love…
Why speak of a delirious joy? No, this expression is not exact, for it was rather the calm and serene peace of the navigator perceiving the beacon which must lead him to the port. O luminous Beacon of love, I know how to reach You, I have found the secret of possessing Your flame.
Which attitude, exactly? He emptied Himself. He humbled Himself. God Almighty–the Creator, eternal Wisdom–became obedient unto death, in the holy Incarnation. The attitude of humble devotion to the will of the Father.
Now, speaking of attitudes–what’s one rule of thumb that a wise observer of human nature lives by? People don’t change.
The bride who imagines that her obtuse, self-centered, thuggish fiancee will miraculously change into a prince, by virtue of marrying her–that’s a woman living in a dangerous dreamworld.
Or the employer looking to hire someone who thinks: Well, her old boss says she’s lazy, and a complainer, and a gossip–but if she could work here, she could become diligent and creative and motivated! That’s a self-deluded boss asking for misery.
People don’t change. Except…
They do. The prophet Ezekiel:
If he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall surely live. (Ez 18:27)
Catechism puts it like this:
The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God, who makes our hearts turn to Him. God gives us strength to begin anew. When we discover the greatness of God’s love, our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending Him… [paragraph 1432]
Interior repentance is a return to God with all our heart, an end of sin. Conversion entails a desire to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy, and trust in the help of His grace… [paragraph 1431]
The same Holy Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion. [paragraph 1433]
People don’t change. But God does change people. By His holy Incarnation, and the Redemption He won for us, by humbly doing the will of the Father.
We encounter an exquisite irony here. Certainly, beyond a shadow of doubt: God does not change. What He is, which is the all-in-all: it’s eternal. We might think grandpa is stubborn and stuck in His ways. But that’s nothing compared to the immovable-rock-like permanence of the divine Being.
That said, what St. Paul declared did, in fact, happen: God took upon Himself an attitude, the attitude of humility and self-sacrifice. God didn’t change by doing this. He did, however, touch our stubborn and weary human nature with His grace by doing it. He touched our stubborn and weary human nature with His grace in order to overcome our stubbornness and weariness. The Unchanging entered the human race to change us–to change us back from bad to good.
So let’s never kid ourselves. Imagine you were the father in the Parable of the Two Sons (which we will read at Holy Mass on Sunday), and you had a son with such a sullen attitude that he simply spitted out No! whenever you asked him to help you. If you had to contend with such a miscreant son, you would want to tread very lightly when it comes to investing such a brat with any real responsibilities. People don’t change.
But: On that particular day, the day of the parable… On that day, this person did change.
The punk made his usual petulant reply. “Help? No.” But then he thought better of it. Some new vision of things entered into his mind. The son saw what he had never been able to see before: His stubborn self-centeredness was wronging his good and kind father. Not to mention the fact that he was condemning himself to shiftless misery by being too arrogant to take a risk.
For the first time, the son perceived: I don’t have to live like this. It would be better; it would be happier; it would even really be easier, for me just to get up and walk out into the fields and see what’s going on. Let me see what contribution I can make. Maybe I could learn how to do something helpful.
So the son strode out into the field…
God’s grace can convert even the hardened sinner. Because the life that Christ embraced in His incarnation–the humble life, dedicated to obeying the heavenly Father–that life alone offers a human being genuine happiness. Whenever, by God’s gift, we catch a glimpse of the Christ-like life, we want to live it. We want that peace–the genuine, unshakable joy of co-operating with God.
Young ladies–give up the idea that you’re gonna change your man by your own magic arts. It won’t happen.
But may none of us ever give up on the idea that Christ can change people. Christ can, and does, turn sinners into saints.
They set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news. (Luke 9:6)
What good news? That God is with us. Our brother, Jesus of Nazareth. That the Lord Jesus loves, and died for us, and rose again. That He reigns over a kingdom in which death and evil have no power at all.
The Apostles of Christ undertook their mission, The Mission–the proclamation of this wonderful news about God and our destiny as human beings.
Now, what’s the news today? September 27, 2017? Republican tax plan, football players kneeling, saber-rattling by two unpredictable men with their fingers on dangerous buttons? Well, yes, sure.
But the real news—the truly new news—is: Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, Son of God.
St. Vincent de Paul died 357 years ago today, September 27, 1660. Among many other things, he founded the “Congregation of the Mission.” Of The Mission. A name so simple and basic that it kind-of leaves you hanging. “Oh, the priests and brothers of the Congregation of the Mission… What mission?”
Well, The Mission. The saint had gone into the French countryside and found villages full of poor Catholics who knew next to nothing about Christ and their religion. So St. Vincent and some companions decided to do something about that—to preach to, to teach, and to love the people. On a regular basis.
That’s the mission! That why we have church buildings—to do that mission in them. Let’s do it!
Can human beings ever really know and understand each other? Does communion between members of our species really exist? Real, genuine friendship? Not just transactions for some kind of gain, but a personal relationship, for its own sake? Or do we really just relate to each other on the level of material and bodily needs, like all the other animals?
To communicate poses enormous challenges. If you look at the business from a certain point-of-view, for us human beings truly to know each other seems impossible. After all, each of us has an utterly unique set of experiences. And very few of us have much talent with words. In fact, language barriers and other sources of misunderstanding loom everywhere.
There’s the great stereotype of the exasperated wife who finally gives up on her husband. “He will never have a real conversation with me!” It’s a stereotype, yes—but… We human beings hardly even know our own selves—we really don’t understand ourselves—so how could I ever share myself with another person, in a mutual exchange, and have a real friendship?
Christ came to accomplish many things. But the most-fundamental thing He came to do is: To reveal the mystery of God.
When we read the gospels and encounter Jesus as He lived and spoke and acted on earth, one inescapable fact emerges: Jesus Christ is the living God—the one, true, only God—and yet He manifestly is not the Father. Jesus and the Father have a relationship—a love, a friendship, an unfathomably intimate communion with each other.
There is only one God. Nothing, no one could ever compare with the one-ness, the unity of God. And this united God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christ came to reveal this.
So this is what we most-fundamentally believe in. We believe all the mysteries of the Catholic faith, of course—all the mysteries accomplished by the Messiah. But all of the mysteries of faith are fundamentally based on this one, this most-basic thing that we believe in. And we believe in it, even though it altogether eludes our capacity to imagine. The undivided, eternal, and Almighty One is three Persons in perfect communion.
Therefore: We believe in friendship. We believe in it because God has revealed it and taught us about it Himself. God has revealed that He is communion. So we absolutely believe in communion, in friendship, in mutual understanding and solidarity.
And by believing in it like this, we achieve it. Not that our human relationships can ever be perfect during this pilgrim struggle; we don’t have the triune communion of heaven yet; that awaits us in the better life, the next life.
Here, we struggle. We contend with the enormous obstacles that lie in the way of all human communication. But we do not struggle in vain. We really can know each other, and love each other—because Jesus and the Father know each other and love each other.
Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Monks pray. They chant psalms and canticles to give God glory. [Click HERE por Spanish.]
Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Nurses in hospitals see to their patients’ medications. Make notes. Change shifts.
Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Worksite managers drink coffee out of big tumblers and plan, supervise, order equipment and materials. Chew the fat with customers, architects, engineers. Talk football.
Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Rehab patients and nursing-home residents contend with their aches, their pains, and their loneliness. They await their meals, their p.t. and o.t., their baths and their showers, and their meds. They tune into their tv shows. They hope someone will come visit. Maybe they read their Bibles and pray.
Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Students arise, eat cereal or pop-tarts, heft their backpacks, maybe stress-out about the homework they haven’t done. They get on and off the schoolbus, talk to their friends for a few fleeting moments. They get called-on. They get bored. They fall asleep at their desks after lunch. They get home and play video games. But hopefully not for too long, because there’s homework!
Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Depressed people suffer, suffer–with every tick-tock minute poking the scalp like sixty little needles, one second after another… Landscape workers sweat in the sun, dirt grinding into the skin of their fingers… At Waffle House, they sling the hash; at Mickey D’s they drop the fries. In malls, salespeople at boutiques with light foot traffic endlessly fold and re-fold the merchandise… Drug addicts desperately hustle on the streets for cash… Young professionals in Nissans and Hyundais make quick stops at drive-thru carwashes and then vacuum their floormats… Truck drivers look through the windshield down the highway and plan their next bathroom/coffee stop… Soccer moms cut oranges, fold laundry, and show up for drop-offs and pick-ups… The unemployed wait in agony for e-mails to come…
How could we get through life without the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms? Five minutes can drag on like an eternity of torture, when you’re off your rhythm–or never had a rhythm to begin with. And for some of us–blessed with a good, healthy rhythm of life–1994 seems like yesterday.
Why do you stand there idle all day? (see Matthew 20:6) The rhythm that makes the passage of time endurable always involves some kind of work. For some people–sick people, incapacitated people–just to get through the day means a job well done. Twenty years ago, when I taught middle-school boys for a living, I had the motto: if everyone’s still alive when it’s over, it was a success. Other, super-productive people–like cooks, and moms, and bus drivers–they accomplish more before noon than most of us do in a month.
But whatever my particular work may be, it does one great thing: it makes time a friend, an ally, a partner. On the other hand: when you’re idle, time becomes a mud patch, an enemy, a dark confusing cloud of frustrated non-possibilities. That’s the greatest torture on earth.
We earn our daily bread by the sweat of our brows. We get to sleep the sound sleep of the just by busting it from dawn to dusk. But did we earn these brows, upon which we sweat? Did we earn these hands we use? Do we receive 24 hours every day to fill with our comings and goings because we pre-paid for their delivery?
No. A huge gift came first. We have what it takes to build up a rhythm of life because God gave us us. The idea that I deserve even to exist: that idea is the gravest enemy my spiritual life can have. Because if I start kidding myself that I, me, gave myself the morning sun, or a roof over my head when I was a baby–if I start tallying all the benefits and perks that all my illustrious efforts deserve, then I run a grave risk. I will find myself standing there with just one pitiful little denarius in my hand at the end of the day. When I frown, the Lord will ask me, “Are you envious because I am generous?”
Some people live in run-down, drafty double-wides, and some live in mansions with wall-to-wall carpet and tropical fish tanks. Who really deserves either one? I could fight all my life to win the esteem of men, or to experience vast international travels, or to consume daily gourmet meals, or rack-up professional accomplishments and little performance-review trophies. I will still die as naked as I was born.
God gives. For free. We will all die wretched and miserable deaths unless we spend the rest of our lives trying to grasp this one simple fact. God gives. God gives the dawn. And 9am. And noon. And 3pm. And the evening.
Today we keep the feastday of the catechist who wrote the book that teaches us about: the wise men, St. Joseph, the Sermon on the Mount, St. Peter receiving the keys, the king separating the sheep and the goats, and the risen Jesus sending the Apostles to teach and baptize all nations in the name of the Blessed Trinity, among other things.
And soon our humble parishes will begin our annual educational enterprise. We will begin classes–for adults interested in joining our Church, and for our young ones.
In these classes, we will teach sacred doctrine. We do not teach our own personal opinions about anything. What purpose would that serve? We catechists ourselves don’t have more insight into anything than anyone else does. In our classes, we simply minister to the one Teacher, the Christ.
So: Sacred doctrine… Let’s meditate a moment. What is it?
First: It’s sacred. The world isn’t everything. We human beings need a temple, where we meet God. And we need to learn something there, about Him–so that we can have a friendship with Him.
The world–lovely as it may appear at times, dangerous as it appears at others–the world becomes a desperately unhappy prison house for us, unless we become friends with the One who made it all, and Who guides it all towards fulfillment, according to His mysterious plan.
We must learn something about our ineffably mysterious Maker, then, we human beings. And: because He dwells in such unapproachable mystery, the doctrine we learn about Him can come from only one source: He Himself.
What do we learn first? That, in the beginning–a beginning so total and so absolute that our minds cannot conceive it–in the beginning, God arrayed the stars and galaxies and trees and hills and fields, and formed man and woman from the clay. And He did it all for His reason. He made the cosmos for a reason.
The reason. The reason why there is something, rather than nothing. Something–teeth, sheep, rocks, pine cones, human imaginations, fish in the sea, hemispheres of the globe–why there is anything at all, rather than an endless, silent, unpaintable darkness.
The basic question of life: What is God’s reason for all this? And we catechists must face this fact, and start from it: We would have no answer to this question, no answer at all–had something unexpected not happened.
Okay, yes. Some people did expect it, back in ancient Israel. Kind-of. The Almighty had taken some significant steps. He had spoken to Abraham and promised that old Mesopotamian man descendants as numerous as the beach sands or the night stars. The Almighty had spoken to Moses. The Lord had, indeed, consecrated many prophets. So our ancient forefathers knew God and expected something.
But still–it came as a surprise. The Annunciation came as a surprise. Mary believed, but she did not understand. St. Joseph believed, but he did not understand. Bethlehem came as a surprise. Jesus’ miracles and teachings and triumph over death–it all came as quite a surprise. All the faithful disciples believed, but they did not understand.
What happened was this: Turns out the one, true God–indivisible, uncomplicated, pure like nothing we know–infinitely more pure than Ivory soap–turns out that He, the One, is three: Father, Son and Spirit of infinite love.
And the second divine Person, the Son, became flesh. Man. Incarnate. He dwelt among us. He spoke. He did stuff. In Palestine.
Now, we human beings need to learn many things. For instance, it really helps to know how to drive. And how to cook–at least how to cook spaghetti. And most of us need to learn how to do something useful, to participate in the ‘economy.’ (Those who don’t just run for public office 🙂
But all other knowledge pales in significance compared to: knowing about Jesus Christ, the Son of the eternal Father. When we learn about Him, we learn the great reason of God. The Why. Why do I wake up in the morning, rather than not? What is God’s point, with all this? With these 24-hour intervals of life, which He doles out to me with such stubborn regularity? –To know Christ is to know the answer.
Lovely, Father! you say. Lovely. We ❤ Jesus 2. But, you add: People like St. Matthew, all the Apostles, St. Thomas Aquinas, all the wise popes and theologians–they spent their lifetimes trying to learn about Christ. But in Religious Ed., we only have like an hour a week.
“Sacred doctrine.” How vast! The whole Bible, the traditions we have which go back to Christ Himself, the writings of all the holy men and women of the ages… Father, we’re just volunteers here. How do we even begin?
Let’s look at it like this. There are two kinds of people. On the one hand, people who know the Four Pillars of the Catholic faith by heart. On the other hand, the poor, uninformed people who don’t.
The people in the first group have everything they need to spend the rest of their lives growing in friendship with God. They have the interior foundation. They know the essential basics of the religion of Christ.
The people in the second group do not.
So we catechists have a simple-enough task: Move people from the second group into the first.
Adults can and must memorize all four pillars between now and Easter. Not hard, if you go to Mass every Sunday.
How about our youth? Memorizing?
Little ones can memorize the Our Father. Next: the Ten Commandments. Once you’re ten or eleven, you should have memorized the seven sacraments. By Confirmation day: the Creed.
Not hard, if you go to Mass every Sunday.
In my youth, I had coaches who made us run suicides. Up and down the basketball court, until we almost puked. Over and over again. Every practice. Every day. They drilled us.
At the time, I thought these coaches were crazy, killer tyrants. Cruel, heartless Nazis. Some days I had to choke back tears of exhaustion and shame. I wanted to quit with every fiber of every muscle of my being.
But now I venerate these men as loving gods. They loved us enough to whip us into something, something worth getting whipped into. And that had to do with just this mortal body–this body that will soon lie in a coffin.
Which is more important? Having what you need to play basketball, or having what you need to get to heaven?
Catechists, drill your students on the Four Pillars. Drill them without mercy. Because nothing could be kinder and more merciful than helping someone memorize the things we need to know in order to have a friendship with God. Drill them, and don’t apologize. Drill them until they know it.
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre
In Jerusalem, while Pontius Pilate served as Roman procurator, a learned rabbi gathered his disciples to celebrate the Passover. The rabbi kept the feast, according to the dictates of the Torah and the sacred traditions that held sway at the time.
Except that he didn’t follow all of the customs. He altered the ceremony somewhat, and he said new and different things.
Why? What did he have in mind?
Well, a learned young scholar of Scripture and antiquity provides a thorough answer. “Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper” sounds a little breathless to me, as a subtitle. So this treasure sat on my to-read stack for three years. Finally had a chance to plow through it while sitting on the beach.
Who knew? Who knew how excellent–how essential–what a invigorating tour-de-force this little book is?!
Pitre tackles his points like St. Thomas Aquinas tackles his. Methodical. One might even say: Plodding. But plodders can and do give us the truth in magnificent fashion. Upon finishing Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, you find yourself with a shiny new jewel of knowledge in your hand.
Our Catholic religion involves the perpetual celebration of the Passover. Our religion centers on the celebration of the Passover. We know this. But nowhere near as well as we should.
Celebrating the Passover means: I myself, we ourselves, have the one, true God to thank for liberating us from slavery, preserving us from death, establishing a covenant with us, giving us ceremonies by which we can worship Him uprightly.
Celebrating the Passover means keeping a night vigil for the Messiah, who will lead us from here to an un-fallen world, a divine kingdom. (And he will feed us with heavenly manna as we make our way.)
Perhaps you’ve attended a Seder or two. But: celebrating the Passover two millennia ago–when Jesus of Nazareth ministered as a rabbi in the Holy Land–meant some things that got lost when the Romans destroyed the Temple, a generation after the earthly pilgrimage of Christ.
It meant: consecrating a blood sacrifice and consuming it as a meal. It also meant seeing the love of God–in the form of the holy show bread, which the temple priests brought out of the tabernacle to show to the pilgrims. It meant believing in the heavenly liturgy that Moses had seen on Mount Sinai, which showed him how the religious ceremonies of the People of God ought to go. And celebrating the Passover in the early 1st century meant looking forward to the day when the Holy of Holies in the Temple would hold the missing Ark of the Covenant again.
Dr. Pitre’s book shimmers with ancient historical details you’ve never heard about–and which will take your breath away. Like the fact that the temple priests drained the blood of the sacrificed lambs by skewering their bodies on two spits. In the form of a cross.
Or that Jews of the time believed that God had manna ready in heaven, which would rain down when the Messiah came. Or: the chalice of the Garden of Gethsemane–“Father, may it pass. But your will be done”–it was the fourth cup called for by the Passover ritual.
This book winds up being an endzone dance for the doctrines about the Mass propounded by the fathers of the Council of Trent. Pitre gets funny in the last chapter when he reports how he did years of research, only to find everything he wanted to say in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Are you looking for good spiritual reading? A careful Scripture study that builds gradually towards sublime insights–insights which make familiar Catholic things new and wonderful again? I wasn’t exactly looking for that–but I found it anyway.
Just what body of doctrine should a judge base her opinions on? What body of doctrine holds together more solidly, reflects reality more profoundly, and guides us more humanely than the principles our Church teaches?
Seriously. That’s an honest question, Senators Durbin and Feinstein. Name it. Name the solid foundation for law other than the teaching of the Catholic Church.
We defy you to come up with anything better. We defy you to come up with anything even remotely as good. We defy you to produce anything anywhere near as coherent, rational, sensible, decent, and fair as the social doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church.
Some people have said that the gifts of grace are given because of a person’s merit, and that God gives grace to those who are worthy, and does not give grace to those who are unworthy. But this view is rejected by the Apostle, because whatever worth and grace we have was given to us by God… [As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:] ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God.’
Regarding the phrase the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, St. Thomas writes:
A more literal translation of this phrase would read: ‘the kingdom of the Son of his love’…. ‘Love’ is understood to indicate the divine essence. Thus the phrase, ‘of the Son of his love’… the Son has the essence of the Father. [As Christ says in St. John’s gospel]: ‘The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.’
The infinite Triune love is God’s gift to us, and to share in it is our destiny. This whole passage of Colossians is an act of thanksgiving, just like a Mass is an act of thanksgiving—the act of thanksgiving. As MC Hammer put it: “Makes me say oh my Lord, Thank you for blessing me with a mind to rhyme and two hype feet.”
We hear St. Paul give thanks in our first reading a Holy Mass today, from the beginning of his letter to the Colossians. He thanked God that the gospel had born fruit and grown. Born fruit and grown among the Colossians, and also throughout the world.
Since we will celebrate Our Lady’s birthday in just two days, let’s think about St. Ann’s special fruitfulness. On December 8, she and her husband Joachim embraced. Their embrace set in motion the chain of events that would eventually make them God’s grandparents. And God made that moment uniquely fruitful. By the grace of Christ crucified, Joachim and Ann conceived a child free of sin.
God sees everything—all time—at once. At the very beginning, He saw everything, all the way to the end. That’s called the “Today” of God. All time is the Today of God.
Now, such extensive knowledge would certainly seem like an unsupportable burden to our little minds. But for the Lord, all-seeing knowledge means perfect blessedness. He can see the full realization of all the growth He sets in motion, and it adds relish to His infinite delight.
God makes trees and plants and animals grow. The trees and plants and animals don’t perceive their own growth; they just grow. We, on the other hand, can perceive growth. We can delight in it, like God does. But for us, it’s not pure knowledge. Rather, it’s a kind of mystery. We see growth occurring, but we don’t know how it will end.
Maybe all the growth we see will end only with tragic death? After all, cancer is a kind of growth—run amok. Maybe the power we see that gives living things an unknown future—the power of growth; maybe that power ultimately succumbs to the other power we see at work in living things: the power that brings growth to an end. The power of dissolution and death.
Our Lady’s birth gives us the answer to that honest question. In the Garden of Eden, our human flesh lived with immortal life, until our First Parents fell. When St. Ann gave birth to Mary on September 8, our flesh lived on earth with immortal life again.
In other words: the birth of our immaculate Lady means that the Today of God is not The End. The Today of God is always the beginning.