How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14)
Has everyone we know heard of the Lord Jesus Christ? Probably they have all heard His Name, and they know that He has something to do with righteousness and religion. But have we Christians done our part to preach the full truth about Him? To invite others into friendship with Him in His Church?
How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!
We can have feet as beautiful as the Galilean feet of St. Andrew, if we let the grace, goodness, and love of Christ permeate us so much that we bring His good news everywhere we go. The more we come to know the Lord, the more deeply we love Him, and the more ardently we extend the invitation to others to share in His life.
Christ alone has offered to mankind the one thing that we human beings are meant to have: an eternal life of true love. We Catholics aren’t zealous proselytizers; we try to stay humble enough to respect everyone—their backgrounds, their own choices. But we can’t be shy about the love of God in Christ. We can’t hide the Light of the Nations under a bushel basket.
St. Andrew had the courage give his life for the sake of sharing the love of Christ. St. Andrew took his own cross into his arms with loving devotion, because He loved His crucified Lord so much. May we have the grace to love Christ, and love our neighbors, like that.
The annual cycle of readings and prayers at Holy Mass concludes this week; the new year begins Sunday. We wrap up the liturgical year by reading from the book of the prophet Daniel.
Daniel lived in exile. The pagan empires had over-run the Holy Land and dispersed the Jews to the four winds. But Daniel remained a faithful Israelite, a child of Abraham and a disciple of Moses—even in a foreign land. And Daniel distinguished himself, even among the Babylonians, as extraordinarily discerning and wise.
Now, what do we members of the People of God have, which the pagans do not have? Well, tons of things. For one: how about the gift that God gave to us on Mount Sinai? Maybe it wasn’t a pure co-incidence that King Nebuchadnezzar regarded Daniel as ten times as wise as the Chaldean sages.
We’ll talk about this more on Sunday. But for the moment let’s pause and give thanks for the enormous advantage in wisdom and discernment that we enjoy, because we have the Ten Commandments.
Yes, it’s true that God did not spell out anything on Mount Sinai that we could not have figured out on our own. Everything in the Commandments is actually in our consciences, also. But God giving us the Decalogue makes the whole business of acting in accord with our consciences so much easier. It’s like He built a bridge for us over a river—which we would have had to wade across otherwise.
In the pagan world, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty over whether “morality” is even important. But we know that it is—not because it’s an end in itself, but because it involves our relationship with God.
In the pagan world, people dispute over even the most basic principles of good and evil. Many people live with troubled consciences—and the interior agitation that goes with them—just because of moral ignorance. But God has made it so much easier for us; we just have to obey the Ten Commandments.
Granted, morally complicated situations can arise, when we need additional prayer, reflection, and advice, in order to discern good from evil. But most of the time we can stay on the right track—and we can distinguish ourselves as wise and insightful among the pagans, like Daniel—just by holding fast to the ten rules God gave to Moses.
In other words: Jesus, in His distressing disguise, presented Himself as a depleted, exhausted, woebegone wastrel. And the righteous gave Him refreshment. They refreshed the suffering Chist–renewed His strength, restored His drooping spirits. They changed a moment of discouragement, even despair, into a new beginning, by a simple act of kindness.
Of whom might we think when we imagine these righteous ones who refreshed the weakened, enfeebled Christ? Our Lady, of course. She refreshed her Son with little motherly kindnesses more times than we can even imagine. And Mary Magdalen, who anointed the Lord’s weary, desert-chapped feet. And St. Veronica, who wiped the blood and sweat from His face as He made His way to Golgatha.
The righteous, the just, the saints: they offer refreshment to us human beings. God knows we need it. This world can start to seem dark and dangerous sometimes. But the saints make it into a hopeful place, a place with a future, a place where we would want our children to grow up. They might do something as simple as asking if you want a glass of cold water. Or something as complex as writing a book that helps us make sense of life. Or something as hidden as praying and fasting for us, without us even knowing about it. But all the saints have this in common: they offer some kind of real refreshment to this hungry, thirsty, tired, depleted world.
And offering refreshment is the distinguishing saintly characteristic because it is the distinctive divine characteristic. Yes, in the beginning God created everything out of nothing, and that is truly awesome. But: that act of creation is not God’s most awe-inspiring accomplishment.
Remember what St. Peter said to the citizens of Jerusalem during the first Easter season: “Turn to God, that your sins may be wiped away! Thus may a season of refreshment be granted you by the Lord.”
What kind of ‘season of refreshment?’ We hear it described at Sunday Mass, in the 23rd Psalm of David: “In verdant pastures, the Lord gives me repose. Before restful waters He leads me. He refreshes my soul.”
The most awe-inspiring thing the Lord does is this: The universe that He made constantly tries to slip back into the darkness and nothingness from which it came. But He always refreshes it, and gives everything new life.
The darkness of sin, of death, of dissolution, of exhaustion, of starvation, depletion, desperation, inertia, depression, addiction, confusion, frustration, disinformation, full-scale conflagration–none of that darkness can overcome the refreshment that the Lamb of God offers the world.
With what does Christ refresh us? With His Blood! His lifeblood, shed for us on the cross. It poured out on Mount Calvary and watered the earth. Then He rose from that very earth, with His lifeblood flowing again through His veins to refresh His own flesh. And He gives us that divine blood and flesh as the constant refreshment that conquers all the evil in us.
Praised be Christ, our King! In return for the refreshment He offers us, let us pledge to Him our loyal service.
Act of Consecration to Christ the King
Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before you. We are yours, and yours we wish to be; but to be more surely united with you, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to your Most Sacred Heart.
Many indeed have never known you; many, too, despising your precepts, have rejected you. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to your Sacred Heart.
Be King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken you, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned you; grant that they may quickly return to their Father’s house, lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.
Be King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and the unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one Shepherd.
Grant, O Lord, to your Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give tranquility of order to all nations; make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: Praise to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honor for ever. Amen.
We want to know the origin of our holidays. This week at Holy Mass we read from the books of the Maccabees. Those books recount the origins of… Hanukkah.
Our national Thanksgiving holiday originated with President… Abraham Lincoln.
On Sunday we will keep the Solemnity of Christ the King, instituted by… Pope Pius XI, after all the spiritual upheaval caused by World War I.
Then, of course, after Advent, we keep the great holiday of the Nativity of the divine man, Jesus Christ. We read all about that in the first chapters of the gospels of… Matthew and Luke, and also John.
Our holidays, and the history of their origin, teach us who we are. They give meaning to our lives; on a holiday, day-to-day reality touches eternity.
Let’s not forget an important anniversary for us Americans. This year, Turkey Day falls on the 90th anniversary of the martyrdom of Father Miguel Pro. The atheist government in Mexico at that time condemned him to a firing squad. He died shouting, Viva Cristo Rey!
After a long time the master of the servants came back and settled accounts with them. (Matthew 25:19)
Once every three years, we spend three Sundays in November reading the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel at Holy Mass. Last week we heard the parable of the ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom. This Sunday, the Parable of the Talents. Next Sunday, we’ll read about the separation of the sheep from the goats. [CLICK FOR SPANISH.]
The human soul longs for justice. When particularly grievous evils occur, it oppresses us; it shakes our faith. I think we all know how, two weeks ago today, a man walked into a church in Texas and shot 26 innocent people, for no reason. We might think: How can God stand idly by? How can a good God let such evil occur, and do nothing?
Okay. But how about this question first: Is the Bible true?
About 150 years ago, the truth of the Bible became a hotly debated topic. Is the Bible true, or is evolution true? Is Jesus Christ the only savior, or do all religions lead to heaven? Do we need religion at all, or is it better just to try to be a good person?
Debates on questions like this gave rise to a particular idea of God. According to this idea, God exists, but He does not have anything directly to do with the world. He is “above” it all. “Above” all human arguments about religion; “above” all disagreements about right and wrong; “above” all the suffering in the world. It’s an idea of God that supposedly resolves all religious controversies and allows people to have Thanksgiving dinners without family bickering.
But: If we have this idea of an above-it-all God, when we think of all the evil and injustice on earth, we are left to wonder: How can God stand aloof and do nothing?
Now, we Catholics are not fundamentalists. We see clearly that the collection of ancient books called the Holy Bible contains reading material that we cannot understand without the help of careful reflection and good teachers. No one who has ever sat down and actually tried to read the book of Revelation thinks that biblical fundamentalism works.
That said, we Catholics do not and cannot accept the idea of God being “above it all.” Because that idea contradicts what Sacred Scripture clearly reveals. God is not “above” the fray. God does not stand idly by. To the contrary, we solemnly affirm these two things about God.
God Himself has embraced the bitter depths of human suffering and death. Twenty-six innocent people died bloody deaths, in church, two weeks ago today. Almighty God also died a bloody death as an innocent person, in Jerusalem, in AD 33. A lot of people still mourn down in Texas. Like our Blessed Mother mourned—and she mourns with them.
This same God Who died will, in the end, judge everyone with perfect justice. All crimes will receive their due punishment from the divine Judge.
Now, we do not usually think of the doctrine of hell as something that makes our Catholic religion appealing to un-churched people. But it seems to me that the full Catholic teaching about the Final Judgment is precisely what the un-churched world needs right now.
The human soul longs for justice. The idea that evil would go unpunished—we simply cannot tolerate that. Some people, thinking they make Christianity more attractive by doing so, try to present Jesus Christ as some kind of super-nice person. But He is not. He is a demanding person. He is the jealous God of Israel. He does not tolerate evil–at least not for long. The righteous holiness of Jesus can and should terrify everyone.
Christ is not an “idea” of God. He is a real Person. The Person Who will, as the man that He is, stand in judgment. His eyes penetrate to the level of absolute truth. No injustice, no matter how small or big; no act of physical or emotional violence; no exploitation or abuse escapes His gaze. He reckons it all.
What happened in Texas did not happen in a meaningless universe with a powerless and aloof God standing far away. It happened under the all-seeing eyes of Jesus Christ. Justice will be done. Bad people don’t die, and then it’s all over. No, bad people who don’t repent die, and then they go to hell.
Which hopefully reminds me that the bad person I really need to worry about is myself. And that makes me love Jesus not so much for the Final Judgment as for the cross. On the cross, the terrifyingly righteous Judge made it possible for me to find mercy at the final reckoning. He made it so that even someone like Devin Kelley could find mercy, or Osama bin Laden, or any of the famous evil people of history. On the cross, God Himself paid the price of justice for all human sin. He did it as a human being. He joined Himself to all the suffering of the innocent, in order to redeem even the guilty.
The revelation of the Final Judgment truly comes as good news, as consolation and peace—compared to the prospect of a meaningless world in which evil never gets adequately punished. And we can face the Final Judgment without fear, when Christ crucified is the love of our lives.
During the past few autumn weeks, the gentle mountainsides of southwest Virginia have shown so splendidly with living color that a person might find oneself tempted to worship them. Then I had a chance to scale Pilot Mountain down in northern NC. And its majestic strangeness also invited a kind of pagan adoration.
Wisdom 13 seems to sympathize with paganism, with the worship of beautiful places and things. Because God has indeed made so much bewitching beauty. Some modern philosophers, theologians, and poets have had a similar sympathy for the openness of the pagan heart–because the pagan at least knows how to abandon himself to the life-giving power of communion with the earth.
Modern man has achieved a great capacity to analyze and control Mother Nature. So much so that we have a tendency to forget that God created it. We forget that creation has a mysterious depth which we will never completely understand, which we must simply revere. We analyze and control things so much that we have a tendency to forget that religion is actually our most natural, and most important, pursuit. Religion—that is, submission to a higher intelligence, a higher power, a greater glory than ourselves—religion is what makes us most fully human, most fully ourselves. Religion organizes our minds and our lives; religion unifies our being; religion keeps us open to reality.
Which is worse? To worship the Blue Ridge, or to think of the Blue Ridge as a little sideshow in my purely secular life? Which disrespects God more? Wisdom 13 seems to suggest that God has more sympathy for a soul that mistakes something beautiful for the Source of all beauty, rather than the soul who concludes foolishly and blindly that beauty is really just a fluke, nothing more than a photo-op.
Pagans can graduate easily enough to true religion, upon seeing the most-beautiful thing ever: Christ crucified for love. But how can anyone find a way out of the bottomless pit of modern secularism? The technocratic mind assumes that beauty is merely something we see–atoms in a shape that we arbitrarily find pleasing. It doesn’t really mean anything, and we owe it nothing.
But the truth is: beauty exists, utterly independent of our perception of it–and it takes a lifetime of religious discipline on our part for us to see it as it truly is. Beauty is a language being spoken by the Friend to Whom we most desperately need to listen. We have a solemn duty to revere the beautiful. And to worship the One Who made it, and Who communicates with us by its very beauty.
The Pharisees asked: When will the kingdom of God come? St. Cyril of Alexandria, in his commentary on this passage, presumes that the Pharisees were taunting Christ. They mocked the crowds who believed that Jesus would sweep into Jerusalem and take over the government. The Pharisees knew that, in fact, a cross awaited the Galilean rabbi. So they spoke of the “kingdom of God” with sarcasm.
Lord Jesus had already declared: “No one can see the kingdom of God—without being born from above.” He had said that during His conversation with… Nicodemus, recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 3. I think that John 3 contains keys that can unlock many mysteries for us, so we will study that chapter in detail during Advent, at our talks before Sunday Vespers at St. Joseph’s, beginning on Christ the King Sunday, a week from this Sunday (4:30pm).
Anyway, the Lord repeated the same idea here in Luke 17. No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above, without being born anew of the Holy Spirit. You cannot see the reign of God here or there, in this town or that country, as if God were a politician or a petty potentate. You cannot tell that God reigns by a flag flying in front of the post office or the police station.
God reigns always and everywhere, according to His transcendent, omnipotent power, which leaves everyone perfectly free. He doesn’t give parking tickets or impose taxes or draft people into military service. He simply demands total obedience and love, and leaves us free to respond.
“The Kingdom of God is among you.” “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
In the Sacred Heart of Christ, God reigns perfectly, as God wills to reign. The reign of God is the peace of Christ, the perfect obedience of Christ to the will of the Father, the all-consuming love of the Son for the Father–and for all the Father’s children.
The reign of God in the Heart of Christ is among us—in the Blessed Sacrament, and in all the works of Christ’s love which happen through the mystery of the Church. And the reign of God in the Heart of Christ is within us, too: When we believe in Him, the Holy Spirit loves with Christ’s love in our own hearts, because we are members of His one body.
The wise virgins waited faithfully for the bridegroom to arrive. Everyone knew the groom would come; they just didn’t know when. In those days, even well-meaning bridegrooms could get delayed. The camel might go lame. Or a sudden rain might wash out a road entirely. Or enemy troops might take a whole swath of territory, making it impassable to you, so you had to go way around. [Click HERE for Spanish.]
So the virgins, not to mention all the other wedding guests, had to wait. But they didn’t mind, because the groom’s arrival would mean so much joy. The bridegroom was coming to consummate something wonderfully beautiful–to open a new chapter of life for the family, to give a new future to the bride. The wedding feast brought immense happiness to everyone, because it showed God’s faithfulness and power. A wedding meant that time itself is pregnant with a future, not sterile and dying.
And there’s more–more cause for joy at a wedding. We know that God Himself, having taken flesh, has become the devoted Bridegroom of the human race. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council listed the images of human salvation. Here’s the final image on the list:
The Church is the spotless spouse of the spotless lamb… Christ loved His Church and delivered Himself up for Her. He unites the Church to Himself by an unbreakable covenant, subjecting Her to Himself in love and fidelity. The life of the Church is hidden with Christ in God until we appear in glory with the Bridegroom.
So the wise virgins waited patiently for the tall, dark, and handsome gentleman. The bridegroom in the parable represents the divine Bridegroom, Jesus Himself. He is our champion and our beloved, our hero Who, by His humble obedience to the will of the Father, has conquered death and every evil. He will come again in glory, and He will judge all things, setting all things to rights. Then He will reign forever over a kingdom of unimaginable, peaceful, splendid blessedness.
He will come. We just don’t know when. The virgins in the parable had to wait longer than expected, because, as we read: “The bridegroom was long delayed.”
Long delayed. Maybe 2,000 years? People might think: If Christ really intended to return in glory, wouldn’t He have done it by now? He must have been a crazy lunatic, rather than the real Messiah! 2,000 years is too long to wait.
But we don’t know from ‘long,’ really. Two thousand years may seem long to us, but not to God. As St. Peter put it, “To the Lord a thousand years are like a passing day.” Our perspective on the enormity of time is patethically limited. Two little millennia? Compared to the Pleistocene Age? The Ice Age lasted over 2.5 million years. Christ could wait another 200,000 years, or 200,000,000 years to come back, and it wouldn’t make Him any more or less omniscient and omnipotent than He is.
The whole point of the parable is: it’s not our job to know when the Lord will come again; it’s our job to be ready when He does come.
Which brings us back to the wise virgins. They were ready when the bridegrooom came, as opposed to the foolish ones. The foolish virgins had foolishly run off to go shopping at midnight. But the wise virgins were waiting patiently, so they stood ready when the unexpected hour arrived.
What distinguished the wise virgins from the foolish? The wise ones had flasks of oil with them. So the $10,000 question is: What do these flasks of oil in the parable represent?
There were five flasks. Five wise virgins, five flasks. So maybe the flasks represent the books of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Torah–which means… Law. Or teaching, guidance, fatherly instruction. Or: Divine Wisdom.
These virgins did not have wisdom in the worldly sense. They happily waited deep into the night, even though they had no idea when the bridegroom would arrive. Worldly virgins would long since have gone off to play field hockey, or watch Dancing with the Stars, or get their hair done. But the wise virgins of the parable chose to spend their long evening waiting patiently by the door.
They possessed a non-worldly kind of wisdom, a supernatural wisdom. They grasped the ultimate goal of history; they had a share in the mind of God Himself. They held fast in faith to the certainty that the bridegroom would come. They did not doubt. They never wavered in their eagerness to meet Him. They persevered in their attentive vigil, even deep into the darkness of night.
They had the wisdom of true Christian faith. While they waited, they could not see the feast that had been prepared for the wedding guests. But they held on to the promise of good things yet to come. The gift of divine wisdom gave them a little taste of the delights that await us in heaven. They awaited the surpassing glory of God being all in all.
Anyone visited the Lateran Basilica? In the great city of… Rome!
Rome offers a unique view of the Catholic world. First time I visited, I realized that, until then, I had seen the world off-center. The Catholic world, which extends to every continent, not to mention back in time for two millennia—that world has one geographical and historic center. Rome. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church has a single geographic and historic center point. And, praised be God, you can get a good cappuccino there.
From that center point, you see the world from a unique point-of-view. You hear all the languages and see all the skin colors involved in the one Church.
Most holy places in the world receive pilgrims from some far-flung places—like the Shrine in Washington receives pilgrims from all fifty states, or the shrine in Guadalupe, Mexico, receives pilgrims from all of Latin America. But Rome alone receives pilgrims from everywhere.
One man sits on the chair at the center of Rome; one man sits at the center of the center of the Church. Namely…
We owe him a huge amount of respect, if for no other reason than that he has this far-more comprehensive view of the world. The pope’s unique point-of-view can become a terrible burden. It also can fill him with a unique love for the one Church. He alone sees from the point-of-view of the man at the center of the center.
Also, the pope’s unique point-of-view allows him to grasp just how small he himself really is, in the grand scheme of things. He can see just how much everything really depends on God and His Providence.
So let’s rejoice in the fact that really matters, when it comes to the unity of the Church. All of us Catholics agree on it. Pope Francis is the pope. He alone has the right to sit on the chair of Peter. He alone has that crushing duty. We agree on who the pope is. That itself is an amazing and wonderful thing.
Maybe I think Pope Francis is the worst pope since Vatican I. Or maybe I think he’s the best. Doesn’t really matter what I think on that subject. None of us can competently judge the job-performance of a pope anyway. That judgment exceeds our pay-grade. Let’s leave such judgments to God.
The great thing is simply that we all agree on who the pope is. May he preside in health and holiness, from the center of our one, beloved, ancient, and worldwide Church. Long may he live. We love our Holy Father.
Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind; blessed will you be because of their inability to repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:13-14)
When Christians come together to worship God, everything transpires peacefully—almost always. But not absolutely every time.
The ancient Romans sometimes prohibited celebrating Mass, and martyrs lost their lives as a result. Forty-nine Christians were arrested and ultimately executed in Abitene, Tunisia, in AD 304, during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. When the proconsul asked them why they defied the law and had Mass anyway, one of them replied, “We cannot live without Sunday Mass.”
Where Christians come together and worship God, the doors stand open. Everyone is invited. The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the outcasts and weirdos, the creeps and hateful people, the atheists and the nihilists. When Christians come together and worship God, it’s not a club with a clear list of members and non-members. It’s a sprawling, teeming, open public place.
So we have accept this fact: We cannot defend ourselves against cruel and random acts of violence. We can’t do it any more than anyone else can, anyone who wants to have an open, public place where people can come together, like a shopping mall or a public park. If a church isn’t an open, public place where people can come together, then it isn’t a church.
But: We have a totally different point-of-view on our bodily safety anyway. We love life, to be sure; we Christians have no death wish. But the fear of death can’t scare us away from church.
To the contrary: the fear of death scares us into going to Church. Being a Christian means sobering up to this inconvenient fact: we’re all going to die sooner or later anyway. What really matters is what’s going to happen then.
And the Lord clearly said: When you welcome everyone, even the one who would shoot you for absolutely no good reason, then you will receive a reward. We Christians do not fear the Devin Kelleys of the world. May he, and everyone he killed, find God’s mercy.
We will keep our doors open. We cannot live without Holy Mass.