Friends with Saints

john paul ii mother teresa

Age can catch up with a guy. The good Lord gives us plenty of reminders. Like the gray hair. The sore back. The diminishing powers of memory.

But how about when you celebrate the feastdays of saints that you met in person–back when you were young? Like Pope St. John Paul II. Or St. Mother Teresa. The good Lord blessed me with the opportunity to meet both of them, back before I had gray hair, and those two saints still walked the earth.

Not everyone gets opportunities like that. Being a seminarian gives you some special chances. But all of us have the opportunity to get to know particular saints. We can visit the places they lived. Or we can read about them. Or, if they themselves wrote, we can read their own writings.

st_therese_of_lisieuxSt. Therese of Lisieux died in 1897–way before I was born. (I’m not that old.) But I feel like I know her well, because I have read her Story of a Soul. Everyone who has read that book feels personally close to St. Therese, because she wrote so honestly and humbly and clearly.

St. Junipero Serra died in California even way before St. Therese was born, way before any of our great-great-great-great-grandparents were born. But I feel like I know St. Junipero well, too, because I had the chance to visit the missions he founded, from San Diego to San Francisco. I walked where the saint walked, and I saw the land and the sky from the same point-of-view as he saw them. Also: I got to concelebrate his canonization Mass with Pope Francis.

My point here is: Getting to know a saint or two—getting to know them personally, so to speak, is something we can all do. And when we do that, we discover that the saints always had a saint or two that they knew personally, to whom they prayed every day. St. Junipero was friends with St. Francis, even though St. Francis died centuries before Junipero was born. St. Therese was friends with St. Theresa of Avila, even though St. Theresa died centuries before St. Therese was born. Part of becoming a saint is to have a saint or two among your best friends, the people you talk to the most.

Reading really helps in this area. I love to read, so I have made friends with a couple saints who wrote a lot, especially St. Thomas Aquinas. That’s just me; we all have our particular interests, which means we will have affinities for particular some saints, and not others. The important thing is for each of us to find an interesting saint.

Or, let the saint find me somehow. A lot of times we stumble across a favorite saint, just by visiting a new church, or looking into things like: Whose feast day is my birthday? Or my wedding anniversary? Or such-and-such other day that is significant in my life.

So let’s all find a saint or two for close friends, if we haven’t already.

Of course, we all have the Blessed Mother for a close friend, of course. All the saints have loved the Blessed Mother best. That’s the way it should be. That is, all the saints have loved her the best, except she herself. She simply loves others with everything she has.

 

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Loving and Believing in God and Man

 

mezuzah mezuzot

Hear, O Israel. Thou shalt love God. And not just a little, but with an all-consuming passion. With your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. [CLICK para español]

Now, commanding love seems strange. After all, can I really obey this command, just by my own choice? Doesn’t real love always involve a force beyond my control? Isn’t that the distinguishing characteristic of love? Namely, that it comes to me and changes me by its power. It consumes me. I don’t choose love or control love. Rather, I receive the force of love within, and follow its lead.

So someone could say, in response to God’s law of love: “Lord, You can command me to love you all you want. But I can’t do it by my own choice. You need to give me the gift of divine love first.”

Amen. He does. God commands by His law only what He makes possible by His grace. He is the immeasurably loveable Compassionate One. He has counted all the hairs on our heads. He loves us with more devotion than a mother loves the baby nursing at her breast.

He has opened His Heart up to us, by sending His only-begotten Son, Jesus. We know the love the invisible God has for us by the love that Christ showed us on the cross. And to know that love of God is to love God in return.

sacred-heart-crossSo: Yes, He commands us to love Him with all our hearts, but only because He has loved us with His whole Heart first, thereby moving us to respond with love.

And He commands that we love Him back not for His benefit, but for ours. The truth is that loving God above all things is the only way to have a life worth living. The only way to find meaning in this life is to love God. If we don’t love the triune God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, we will wind up loving something else instead–something much less truly lovable, something beneath us.

But there’s more. Not just, “Love God with your whole heart, mind and strength.” But also: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” –Now, Lord Jesus. The man asked for the greatest commandment in the Law. He asked for one. But here come two.

Is this fair? Loving God totally is one thing. God is noble and glorious and true. But loving my neighbor, too? My neighbor annoys the living daylights out of me. And loving myself, also? That’s probably the hardest thing of all. The more experience we acquire in life, the more we tend to conclude: this human race of ours is not all it’s cracked-up to be.

But, let’s remember: God only commands what He makes possible by His grace. When I gaze upon the face of my neighbor, I may not experience love. I might actually think to myself: “Not sure I have the patience to deal with this character right now!” And when I gaze at myself in the mirror, I may not experience love. I may not be impressed at all. But that is not the point. That’s not what this commandment is about.

The real question is: When the Lord Jesus Christ gazed at people when He walked the earth, what moved His Heart? Unfathomable understanding, sympathy, and love. Christ saw with perfect clarity how good, how beautiful, how honest and lovable all the people He encountered could be.

He sees the same when He gazes upon us now. From heaven He sees us with eyes that penetrate to the inner heart of the good man or good woman we all got formed in our mothers’ wombs to become. He sees the path to heaven that stretches out in front of each of us. He sees it perfectly, in every detail—and He always sees it, no matter what nonsense and confusion we manage to get ourselves involved in.

John XXIII Vatican IIThere’s only one way to fulfill the double commandment of divine love which Christ laid down. Only one way. Namely, to let Him love through us.

I may have lost faith in the people around me. But Jesus Christ has not. I may have lost faith in the fundamental goodness of mankind. But Jesus Christ has not. I may have lost faith in myself. I may have lied to myself about myself so many times that I no longer really believe myself about anything. But Jesus has not lost faith in the honest man I could be.

Fifty-five years ago this month, Pope St. John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council. The pope made an act of sublime faith. Faith not just in the goodness of God, but in the fundamental goodness of the human race, too. Pope John believed that people could learn to trust each other, and lay aside our petty antagonisms, and work together for a more peaceful future.

The fifty-five years since October 1962 have seen plenty of continued antagonism. World peace has not exactly broken out.

But we Christians still hold fast to the vision of the good, holy pope who started Vatican II. We still believe in mankind. People thought Pope John was naïve to believe that mankind could become good. But believing in God—and believing in man—doesn’t make us naïve. Because Jesus Christ still reigns. And Christ still gazes upon us all with the kind of love that can make us good.

500th Anniversary of the 95 Theses

Luther Theses by Ferdinand Pauwels
painting by Ferdinand Pauwels

I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh… When I want to do right, evil is at hand… Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? (Romans 7:18, 21, 24)

So lamented St. Paul. And so lamented Martin Luther.

Tuesday marks the 500th anniversary of Father Martin Luther’s letter to the Archbishop of Mainz, criticizing the preaching of indulgences. Luther may also have posted his criticisms, in the form of 95 theses for debate, on or around the same day.

The most interesting thing I have read about this is the Augustinian Prior General’s letter.

The Martinsville Bulletin published a somewhat far-fetched essay on the subject, which mis-characterized our Church. I wrote a reply, which you can read below. Not sure if the editor will publish it in the newspaper.

Pope Benedict visited Luther’s monastery six years ago. The pope said:

What constantly exercised Luther was the question of God. ‘How do I receive grace from God?’ This question struck him in the heart and lay the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle.

The pope went on to say, echoing the words of St. Paul we heard in our reading from Romans at Holy Mass today:

Evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the center of our lives, evil could not be so powerful [in the world.] ‘Where do I stand before God?’ Luther’s burning question must once more become our question, too.

One thing we Lutherans and Catholics and pretty much all Christians have in common is this: We believe in God’s Word. We do not consider the information contained in the Bible to be something remote, merely ancient history. No. We count that information as the one and only key that can unlock the door of hope and true life.

Jesus as we know Him in the gospels—the babe born in Bethlehem, the teacher on the mountainside, the Lamb of God in Jerusalem: we know no life at all without Him. The Word that gives Christ to us is a living Word.

And Luther would agree with us Catholics on this: The Word lives in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Luther coined the slogan ‘sola Scriptura.’ But he knew enough about the Scriptura to recognize the undeniable fact that the Scriptura has no life in it at all, except in the bosom of the Church. Our Mother the Church gathered the holy books for us in the first place, and She has carried them through the centuries to us. The Church is the place where the living Word of God meets human faith.

So let’s give thanks for Luther’s courageous and awesomely faithful witness to the living Word of God. And let’s pray that the damage he did to the unity of the Church might get repaired. All of us Christians can help foster Church unity by striving to grow ever more faithful to God’s Word ourselves.

______________

 

Dear Editor of the Martinsville Bulletin:

 

We Catholics of Martinsville and Henry County read with great interest Mr. Don Barnhart’s editorial commemorating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses.

Alongside all our brother- and sister-Christians, we Catholics rejoice to share in the liberating Gospel of Christ. We study the Sacred Scriptures religiously. We recognize the equal dignity of all human beings. We believe in democracy.

We cannot altogether rejoice, however, on the anniversary of an occasion that has caused a great deal of harm as well as good. We pray for a united Church, the Church willed by Jesus. We respect Luther’s insight into individual liberty, not to mention his wisdom and piety. But we cannot endorse his intolerance towards his enemies.

The Protestant Reformers articulated insights into the perpetual need the Church has to reform Herself. We belong to a Church of sinners, so we always need to face our faults, confess them, and seek closer union with Christ through the Word of God and the sacraments.

Barnhart celebrates the Reformation as some kind of escape from “spiritual and moral darkness enveloping the civilized world” (an apparent contradiction in terms). But what about the dark side of the Reformation? Doesn’t Reformation theology exalt the individual to the detriment of fraternal communion? Hasn’t the Reformation broken many of the ties that should bind us together?

If everything were so perfect in Protestant America, why do we have so many desperately poor and hopeless people? Barnhart suggests that the answer lies in individual conversion to Christ. We Catholics would add that another crucial part of the answer is: repairing the broken unity of Christ’s Church. May the Lord find a way to gather together what we, His sinful children, have scattered.

 

Respectfully yours, Fr. Mark White, pastor, St. Joseph’s parish

Just Thoughts, Righteous Feelings, Good Works

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
upon those boughs which shake against the cold.
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

(Wm. Shakespeare, sonnet 73)

Soon Mother Earth will edge into chill, even with global warming. The waning days of fall remind us that our pilgrim life flies fast. Here in the northern hemisphere, we approach the season of the Last Things.

The Word of God teaches us: the Son of Man will come in glory. At an hour we do not expect. The Judge Who sets all to rights will suddenly arrive from heaven.

st nikolaj velimirovic

St. Nikolaj Velimirovic wrote a little catechism to explain the Christian religion. He poses the question:

How should we prepare ourselves for that tremendous day, Judgment Day?

The saint’s answer:

With just thoughts, with righteous feelings, and with good works, according to the teachings of Christ and the Church, and the example of the saints.

Just thoughts, righteous feelings, good works.

Now, how do we know what thoughts are truly just, what feelings truly righteous, and what works are truly good? By studying the teachings of Christ and His Church, and the example of the saints.

Next week we keep the Solemnity of…?

All Saints day falls on its proper date because, back in Roman times, the pope consecrated a chapel in honor of all the martyrs on November 1. But it’s no co-incidence that we keep the Solemnity of all the saints at the very time of year when the trees and the air remind us that we will all die.

Because the legions of saints show us how to be ready. They teach us that everyone has his or her own individual way of readying him- or herself, by growing ever closer to Christ in the specific little life He has laid out for each of us.

Jesus Christ and His Church—that’s what all the saints have in common. The saints had just thoughts and righteous feelings, and they did good works. We can, too, just like they did—when we stay close to Christ, in His Church.

Caesar’s and God’s

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Matthew 22:21)

Back in Roman times, Caesar did sometimes want what belongs to God. Over the course of 2 ½ centuries, some of the emperors saw Christ and His heavenly Father as rivals. These emperors wanted not just political power—not even just absolute political power. Consumed with self-righteous narcissism, they wanted to control not only the political life of their empire, but to define what their people could think and not think. [español]

Caesar AugustusNow, one of the most important ideas that has ever dawned on mankind is: This world, and the way it operates, is not perfect, and never will be. In the beginning, God set everything up, all for our benefit. But He never had in mind that we would find true happiness on the earth as we know it. This pilgrim life is temporary. It serves solely as a means to an end. Our true life is with God in His Kingdom.

This puts Caesar into perspective. It puts politics—and political agendas—into perspective. It opens up our minds to the idea that we can constructively criticize the government of any earthly institution, without failing in loyalty.

God alone is God. God reigns perfectly over everything and governs all things well. We believe that. Sometimes we might want to tell God His business and try to improve His skills in managing the universe. But we know in our calm moments that we’re wrong to do that. To give God what is God’s means: Submission. Abandonment of control. Accepting that He knows better. Cause He does.

But: back to Caesar. Let’s consider a widespread contemporary slogan. Namely, that real free-thinking people always resist the influence of religion in politics. Even if I believe abortion is immoral, for example, I’m not supposed to imagine that the law should prohibit it. So the slogan goes.

The problem here of course is that the Christian religion involves a comprehensive view of reality, not an escape from reality. So if everything that Christianity teaches us about right and wrong has to be eliminated from politics, then there wouldn’t be much of anything left for legislatures and town councils to make laws about.

christ-weepingThe slogan about keeping religion out of politics is actually not a principle of free thinking at all. It is, in fact, a tenet of a different religion. Let’s call that other religion technocratism.

The adherent of technocratism believes that the human race has arrived at a point in history when we must judge all the generations before us, and condemn them for all their many sins. Sins which we have now, thanks to our enlightened state, supposedly eliminated, or are in the process of eliminating.

After all, technocratism has a program to make the world perfect. Economists will finally tinker so expertly with interest rates, and corporate law, and international trade agreements that everything will become perfectly wonderful for everyone. Modern medicine will make it so that nobody dies. We will all enjoy lovely happiness, because we will have the internet, and facebook, and cable tv, and Netflix. And everyone will have cute kids, even without having to take the risk of actually getting married.

Technocratism promises all this. And it holds that people like us, who have strange interests—like in Almighty God, and in the meaning of life, and in making sacrifices for the sake of true love—people like us can continue our strange old-fashioned pursuits, just so long as we do not interfere with the technocrat program.

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Now, I would not want to run this country, or this state, or even this town. Let’s give our public servants their due. They offer their labor to serve the common good. They make many noble sacrifices, and they deserve our basic good will.

But God alone deserves our full submission. Technocratism is a dangerous false religion because it excludes a truly humane way of life. We human beings cannot come into our own if everything gets reduced to economics and empty-headed creature comforts. Our souls need to roam free and seek true religion.

The cult of technocratism holds that Christianity is one of many antique religions, none of which are exactly “true,” all of which are interesting museum pieces. Technocratism tries to replace our hope in the triumph of Christ with a false hope for a comfortable life in this world, punctuated by short-term sentimental pleasures.

Now, I’m not saying that modern medicine is evil, or modern communication, or modern technology. The Church certainly has no argument with science. But science does not try to control the horizons of peoples’ minds. Science just seeks facts.

And the fact is: This world is not perfect and never will be. And we will all die, just like all the generations before us did. We know some things that our grandparents didn’t know. But our grandparents’ grandparents knew plenty of things that we don’t know. The people running the show in this world always have more to learn; they never govern perfectly. We all need, above all, to pray.

Caesar deserves his due, in this veil of tears. But we will never give to Caesar what belongs to God. We will give to God what is God’s.

 

North-American Martyrs and Blessed Paul VI

saint_isaac_jogues
St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers

At Holy Mass today, we commemorate the North-American martyrs. They came to these shores from France, to teach the Hurons about Jesus Christ and His Church. The martyrs happily gave their lives to spread the Gospel. What motivated them?

For a short and precise answer, let’s think back three years. Anyone remember what happened three years ago today, in St. Peter’s Square?

Here’s a hint. It involved the last Italian pope. Or at least the last Italian pope who lived for longer than two months in office.

Side note: It is amazing to think that we have not had an Italian pope in over 39 years. Most of the people living on the earth right now have never had an Italian pope. Which is amazing. We have had 266 popes in total. 196 of them have been Italians. Our current pope is an Italian-American, but that’s not quite the same thing.

Anyway: three years ago today, Pope Francis declared Pope Paul VI to be among the saints. The last Italian pope to live for more than two months in office became Blessed Pope Paul VI.

Blessed Pope Paul wrote many, many beautiful and inspiring things. He possessed an utterly tireless mind, along with a beautifully humble heart.

But a few sentences he wrote capture the spirit of the North-American martyrs perfectly, in my humble little opinion. We Catholics don’t proselytize, if proselytizing means assuming that people who do not know and accept our doctrines have not hope at all. We do not believe that. We believe that God has a plan for everyone, and God’s plans extend way beyond what we little creatures can grasp in our wee minds.

Nonetheless, we consider the task of evangelization urgent. Blessed Pope Paul explains:

It would be useful if every Christian were to pray about the following thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them.

But as for us, can we gain salvation if—through negligence, or fear, or shame –if we ‘blush for the Gospel’–or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?

For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this seed grows.

St. Margaret Mary and Friedrich Nietzsche

St. Margaret Mary* received the vision of the… Sacred Heart. The divine human Heart. Of Jesus. Beating right now.

St. Paul began his letter to the Romans by declaring the fundamental historical fact involved in the proclamation of the Gospel: the divine man Jesus died and rose again. The resurrection..

Lord Jesus Himself referred to this fundamental fact in our gospel reading at Holy Mass today, too: The sign of God’s saving work on earth is the sign of Jonah. The death of Christ; His burial; then His resurrection from the dead on the third day.

Mencken NietzscheIs Christianity something nice? Something good? Something helpful? Does Christianity make positive contributions to world history? Does it have beneficial psychological effects? Does it make people better citizens? More productive? Better educated?

Anyone ever heard of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche? About 125 years ago, many European Christians lost confidence in the historical reliability of the gospels. These Christians decided they weren’t 100% sure that Jesus actually did rise from the dead on Easter Sunday.

Instead they started arguing things like: Our ancient Scriptures may not be altogether true, but isn’t Christianity good for mankind anyway? Hasn’t it contributed to the progress of the human race? Doesn’t it make people nice?

Nietzsche responded with a withering attack. Christianity has helped the human race? No! To the contrary. It makes people too weak and submissive. Too stoic about their difficulties. Too resigned to suffering. Christianity makes people too sympathetic with others and un-competitive. Christianity has hurt the human race worse than anything, Nietzsche argued, because we do better when we put our individual selves first and fight!

Now, to our ears, these sound like scandalous arguments. Selfishness is better? Contempt for the weak is better? Nietzsche’s ideas strike us as appallingly ugly.

Except that they tend to ring true in the world as we know it. The world is manifestly not nice. If the question is: Is being nice better, or is being competitive better? Or: Is being selfish better, or is being empathetic better? Or: Would the human race be more “advanced” if no one had ever heard of Christ? If those are the fundamental questions, we don’t have the answers.

Which is why we always have to stay focused on facts. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Selflessness, kindness, and being willing to suffer for true love are all better. But only because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

That fact comes first. We can leave questions about the “advancement of mankind” to others. We’re not even sure that we ourselves are really all that nice. But we are Christians. Because Jesus of Nazareth is alive.

 

__________________________

*Died 327 years ago tomorrow.

Parable of the Wedding Feast

 

Jerusalem_Dominus_flevit Tears of Christ
Apse window in the church of Christ’s Tears, on the Mount of Olives

The king gave a wedding feast for his son. The marriage in question involves the Lord Jesus Christ and my soul, our souls. [Click por español.]

God made me, and He exercises ultimate control over the entire course of my life. Every day—every moment—involves an invitation. The loving, almighty hand of God lavishly arrays everything that I experience. And for one reason: to communicate love. To give life. To open up the infinite horizon of friendship with Him.

When did Jesus weep? He wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. But that wasn’t the only time. Once, as He approached Jerusalem as a pilgrim, He paused on the hill overlooking the Kidron Valley and the Temple Mount beyond, and He wept. “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those whom the Lord sends to you. How many times have I longed to gather your children together, like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

Now, what could possibly demand my attention more urgently than my friendship with my Creator? Who has more of a claim on me than He does? Who has more of a right to expect my devoted love?

–But, Father! God… He’s invisible. And so confoundedly silent. He seems aloof. Intentionally mysterious. Is He really, you know—there?

Now, let’s not forget about the banquet in the parable, the “calves and fattened cattle” that the king prepared for his guests. We do not seek friendship with God in an arid wasteland. We don’t have to live like twentieth-century existentialist philosophers. If we had to invent our own way to have a friendship with God, based on our own clever insights—forget it! But that is not the situation. We seek friendship with God at a fully stocked banquet table that He has prepared.

Model trainHe became man. He gave Himself for us on the cross, and then rose again to minister in heaven as our High Priest. He founded a Church and endowed Her with holy writings and sacraments. He has given us a way of life—a religion—which allows our friendship with Him to grow through the whole course of our humble lives on earth.

When we practice the religion Christ gave us, we grow in friendship with Him, even in spite of ourselves. All we have to do is regularly make use of the spiritual help that the Lord gives us in His Church.

My faith doesn’t have to be perfect. My religious knowledge doesn’t have to be perfect. And I don’t necessarily have to grapple with angst and uncertainty, like a philosopher, just to have a relationship with God.

All I have to do is: show up for Mass on Sundays, go to confession at least once a year, stay faithful to my commitments, and slog on into the future.

God has prepared the banquet of divine revelation. The banquet of grace operating through specific sacred ceremonies. He made the great, undefinable “thing” that is Christianity, Catholicism. He made it; I didn’t. It’s not for me to understand it all, just like it’s not for wedding guests to know all the recipes for every item on all the banquet tables. My job—our job—is to show up and partake. With gratitude.

Nothing wrong with trying to understand the rich treasures of our religion. We have to try to understand—but that entails the work of a lifetime.

My point here is simply that if I make my own understanding the measure of my friendship with my Maker, I have no hope of getting close to Him. But if I accept that He has indeed intervened in history, and founded a Church according to His designs—if I accept that the Catholic Church’s fundamental institutions deserve my trust and devotion, because they are the means by which I receive God’s grace—then I can do like my forefathers and foremothers have done before me. That is, partake of the banquet of heaven on a regular basis, even while I live my little life on earth. A little life that might involve things like oil changes, baseball playoffs, and maybe even school boards.

Because the king of the parable is utterly demanding in one way, but perfectly chill in another. He invites us to the wedding banquet of His only Son. Our lives, and the whole history of mankind, are nothing other than the wedding banquet of the Son of God. If we fail to recognize this basic fact, we are utterly lost. Because we have no other hope for finding meaning in life.

But if I do recognize that my first obligation is to show up for this wedding banquet that my God has prepared for me, then the king lets me have all kinds of other things besides. I just have to avoid breaking the Ten Commandments.

God calls a few people to the rigorous existential difficulty of being a monk or nun or philosopher. But for most of us, He allows things like going to movies, or playing golf, or watching cooking shows, or gardening, or collecting model trains–while meanwhile faithfully practicing the religion God gave us.

He demands that we show up at the banquet He Himself has prepared. Then He throws the world wide-open for us. This is a feast worth showing up for.

New Font

francis assisi rocky mount baptismal font

Christ did not drive out demons by the power of the prince of demons. He drove them out by “the finger of God,” the Holy Spirit.

We believe that Jesus of Nazareth possesses an utterly unique spirit within. He pours His spirit out on His beloved. Christ’s spirit is absolutely holy. It is, in fact, God.

Yesterday, by God’s grace, we blessed our new baptismal font at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Rocky Mount, Va. As part of the ceremony, we declared:

Over this font the lamp of faith spreads the holy light that banishes darkness from the mind… A stream of living water, coming from Christ’s pierced side, now flows.

We implored the Creator:

Lord, we ask you to send the life-giving presence of your Spirit upon this font, placed here as a source of new life for your people.

The power of your Spirit made the Virgin Mary the mother of your Son; send forth the power of the same Spirit so that your Church may present you with countless new sons and daughters and bring forth new citizens of heaven.

The baptismal font stands as the womb of Mother Church. It represents the faith that She holds. Mother Church holds the faith perfectly. All of us, Her sons and daughters, hold the faith imperfectly. We strive, with the helps that our Mother offers us, to hold it better.

We will discuss this more on Sunday. But nothing could illustrate it better than the blessing ceremony for this new font. Our faith in the fundamental institutions of the Church; our trust that God Himself has given these things to us, so that we might have communion with Him: that faith and trust is the deepest bedrock of our identity.

We have not been born naked and alone in this world. We have been born, through Holy Baptism, into the communion of the Church. Endowed with the inheritance She freely presents to us, each of us can come into our own as individuals, and give God glory by being the sons and daughters He made each of us to be.

Rise and Walk

John XXIII Vatican II

We keep a Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII today, because he solemnly opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11.

And he spoke on that occasion with such gentle faith, such serene confidence in the goodness of God, and of man, that it almost makes you want to weep to read it, fifty-five years later…

The Church has always opposed errors, and often condemned them with the utmost severity. Today, however, Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity…

Not that the need to repudiate and guard against erroneous teaching and dangerous ideologies is less today than formerly. But all such error is so manifestly contrary to rightness and goodness, and produces such fatal results, that our contemporaries show every inclination to condemn it of their own accord—especially that way of life which repudiates God and His law, and which places excessive confidence in technical progress and an exclusively material prosperity. It is more and more widely understood that personal dignity and true self-realization are of vital importance and worth every effort to achieve. More important still, experience has at long last taught men that physical violence, armed might, and political domination are no help at all in providing a happy solution to the serious problems which affect them.

As the pope spoke then, the great world wars of the 20th century still lay fresh in everyone’s memory. The ravages that systematic atheism had wrought: it stood in front of everyone’s eyes, an open wound on the face of the earth. The pope thought to himself (I paraphrase): We have learned something from this terrible upheaval and senseless slaughter. Living now in communion with Christ, and made wiser by harsh experience, we can become the human race that He made us to be!

The pope went on:

The great desire, therefore, of the Catholic Church in raising aloft at this Council the torch of truth, is to show herself to the world as the loving mother of all mankind; gentle, patient, and full of tenderness and sympathy… To the human race oppressed by so many difficulties, she says what Peter once said to the poor man who begged alms: “Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, that I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk.”

In other words it is not corruptible wealth, nor the promise of earthly happiness, that the Church offers the world today, but the gifts of divine grace which, since they raise men up to the dignity of being sons of God, are powerful assistance and support for the living of a more fully human life. She unseals the fountains of her life-giving doctrine, so that men, illumined by the light of Christ, will understand their true nature and dignity and purpose. Everywhere, through her children, she extends the frontiers of Christian love, the most powerful means of eradicating the seeds of discord, the most effective means of promoting concord, peace with justice, and universal brotherhood.

Was the holy pope a dreamer? Overly sanguine? Can we see him in our mind’s eye 55 years later, and not think: What a kind man—but naïve!

Well, if we dismiss St. John XXIII as naïve, we might as well stop saying the Our Father. Let’s pray for the grace to believe in God and in man, let evil rage as it might. If we die at the hands of the wicked, with them mumbling, “What hopeless naifs these Catholics are!” so much the better.