Hidden Visitations

tabernacle

The Blessed Mother traveled eighty miles to visit her cousin Elizabeth and help her. By comparison, regarding distance: my twice-weekly trips between Rocky Mount and Martinsville would get me only halfway there. Our Lady would have continued on, as far as Greensboro.

Rocky Mount, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina are the same distance from each other as Nazareth, Galilee, and the Judean hillside town where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. And, of course, our Lady had no Nissan Juke to use on a well-maintained four-lane highway.

Now, exactly nine weeks have passed since… Holy Thursday. So today we would keep a Solemnity in honor of the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. But here in the U.S., we will keep Corpus Christi on Sunday instead.

Corpus Christi and Visitation Day go perfectly together. Because:

The Lord visited Elizabeth and Zechariah–and baby John the Baptist in the womb; Christ came in the flesh to their home. But you couldn’t see Jesus at that moment, because He still dwelt in His mother’s womb.

Likewise, the Lord visits us in the Holy Mass. He comes in the flesh, to every Catholic church or chapel, whenever we carry out the ceremony which He instituted on Holy Thursday. He bridges a gap of much more than eighty miles; He brings heaven to the earth.

But He veils Himself from our eyes. Like He did in Mary’s womb. The Holy Mass, the altar, the tabernacle–like our Lady’s womb, during those nine months: a place where Christ dwells, but hidden.

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Who Will Give the Concession Speech?

Elections usually end with a concession speech. The defeated candidate acknowledges that the voters have chosen his or her opponent. The loser of the election promises to abide by the choice of the voters. The contest ends.

But who will concede the Irish referendum? Can the unborn children whose lives now stand in danger–can these little ones take to the microphones to acknowledge that the voters have chosen to grant abortionists the authority to kill them with impunity?

____

Pope Benedict wrote some penetrating, wise things to the Catholics of Ireland in the spring of 2010. He tried to help them recover from devastating revelations about pervasive child-sex-abuse cover-ups.

Pope Benedict Easter candleSeems like a good day today to consider a couple paragraphs of that letter. We could apply the Pope’s words to ourselves here in the US, too.

In recent decades the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected. Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The program of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it.

Young people of Ireland, I wish to offer you a particular word of encouragement. Your experience of the Church is very different from that of your parents and grandparents. The world has changed greatly since they were your age. Yet all people, in every generation, are called to travel the same path through life, whatever their circumstances may be. We are all scandalized by the sins and failures of some of the Church’s members, particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people. But it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever. He loves you and he has offered himself on the cross for you. Seek a personal relationship with him within the communion of his Church, for he will never betray your trust! He alone can satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by directing them to the service of others. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and his goodness, and shelter the flame of faith in your heart.

A young person’s experience of the Church should always bear fruit in a personal and life-giving encounter with Jesus Christ within a loving, nourishing community. In this environment, young people should be encouraged to grow to their full human and spiritual stature, to aspire to high ideals of holiness, charity and truth, and to draw inspiration from the riches of a great religious and cultural tradition. In our increasingly secularized society, where even we Christians often find it difficult to speak of the transcendent dimension of our existence, we need to find new ways to pass on to young people the beauty and richness of friendship with Jesus Christ in the communion of his Church… By treading the path marked out by the Gospel, by observing the commandments and by conforming your lives ever more closely to the figure of Jesus Christ, you will surely experience the profound renewal that is so urgently needed at this time. I invite you all to persevere along this path.

____

We are pro-woman and pro-life. The referendum in Ireland means a crushing short-term victory for unrealistic propaganda and the empty promises of sexual libertinism.

Pope St. John Paul II explained very thoroughly how a Christian must be pro-life. And he explained how a pro-lifer must be kind and sympathetic.

We separate the moral failings that can lead to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy from the simple good of a human life. We say Go to Confession, and start fresh; we stand beside you. The abortion movement offers no helping hand and piles shame on top of shame, saying: Go, Kill the fruit of your dishonest sex.

Love will win in the end. Dear brother and sister Catholics of Ireland, we American Catholics welcome you to the trenches. We will work to build the Culture of Life from the ground up, until the Lord calls us home.

Concession speech? No. We concede nothing.

The Trinity and the Mass

holymassOne God. Three divine Persons. [Spanish]

Some people might think to themselves, “The Trinity is such a mind-boggling, impossible mystery, I simply cannot begin to feature it.”

Ok. But we actually encounter the best possible explanation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity whenever we go to church on Sunday morning.  The Mass explains the Holy Trinity perfectly.  The Holy Trinity is not remote, not unfamiliar.  There is, in fact, nothing more familiar than the Trinity–for people who go to Mass.

The Lord Jesus taught us to call God our Father.  In our second reading on Sunday, we hear St. Paul say that, through the Holy Spirit, we cry out, “Abba, Father.”  In the prayers of this Sunday’s Mass, we call God our Father eighteen times.

In the gospel reading, we hear the Lord Jesus say, “The Father has given me all power in heaven and on earth.” From all eternity, the Father has given everything to the Son. And in His bitter Passion, Christ offered everything back to the Father.  On the Cross, He said:  “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

In the Holy Mass, we enter into this mutual giving of everything, the exchange between the Almighty Father and the divine Son.

It began at the Last Supper, when Christ led the Apostles in giving thanks and praise to the Father.  Christ prayed as a priest.  At the Holy Mass, we share in this prayer.  The whole Person of Christ–Christ the Head and Christ the Body–praises and thanks the Father.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council put it this way:

Christ always associates the Church with Himself in the great work in which God is perfectly glorified…The Church calls to her Lord Christ, and through Him she offers worship to the eternal Father.

The Holy Mass is Christ opening up the Trinity and drawing us inside.  Here is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it (para. 1083):

In the Sacred Liturgy, the Church, united with Christ in the Holy Spirit, blesses the Father with adoration, praise, and thanksgiving…The Church presents to the Father the offering of His own gifts and begs Him to send the Holy Spirit upon that offering, so that through communion in the death and resurrection of Christ the Priest, by the power of the Spirit, these divine blessings will bring forth the fruits of life to the praise of His glorious grace.

This is what we do, when we pray the Mass together. Unite ourselves with Christ the Priest, offering Himself to the Father. The Trinity is the Father we pray to in the Mass, the Son Who prays in us at Mass, and the Holy Spirit Who helps us to pray as we should at Mass.

Some of us can say from experience that if you want to run a road race, you have to practice.  You practice by running a lot. Or if you want to win a bowling competition, you have to practice. You practice by bowling a lot.

running feetThe same goes for heaven.  If we want to live in the Triune love for all eternity, we have to practice by doing a lot of Trinitarian loving now.  By praying the Mass, we exercise this love.  The Mass is the perfect exercise to get us into shape for heaven.

On Saturday, Bishop Knestout will ordain three new priests.  Right after a bishop ordains a man a priest, he hands the man a paten and chalice with bread and wine, for the priest to use to offer Mass for the first time.  As the bishop hands the implements for Mass to the new priest, he admonishes him:  “Know what you are doing.”  Know what you are doing!

The Lord is saying the same thing to us, dear brothers and sisters.  Let us recall what we are doing when we come to Mass.  We are entering into the triune life of God.  Christ is opening the door into the Trinity, so that we can step in.  He is training us for the unending Mass of heaven.

PS. For our Protestant friends 🙂 :

Sola Scriptura alert

Elephants and Ireland

Brooklyn Bridge elephants

One hundred thirty-five years ago today, the Brooklyn Bridge opened. Twenty-one of P.T. Barnum’s elephants paraded across, to prove to the public how strong and safe the bridge is.

Exactly one hundred twenty years later, to the day, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, a native of New York, ordained your unworthy servant a priest.

Everyone will be salted with fire. But if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor?  (Mark 9:49-50) You can’t salt salt. Salt has to stay salty.

The Church of Christ must salt this earth, with the message of justice, truth, and selfless love. We do not merit such a mission. But God has summoned us to it anyway.

When Holy Mother Church met in solemn Council at the Vatican in the early 1960’s, She articulated a vision of universal solidarity among all the people of the earth. Our Church gave the human race hope for a worldwide civilization of love.

Vatican II did not base that vision on empty optimism or naïvete. The Church knows that She always faces a battle against evil. She spoke as She did at Vatican II because of the preaching of Her founder Jesus Christ, and because of Her hope in His unfailing grace.

Last week the Apostolic See published a moral study of the contemporary world financial system, which sounded an echo of James 5 and Psalm 49 (which we read at today’s Holy Mass).

The Catholic Church continues to have the guts to point out to the world that no one can adequately understand “the economy” without adequately understanding man—human nature, the meaning of life, of work, of social interactions and exchanges among people. And no one can understand the meaning of human life without Christ, the Son of God.

brooklyn bridge elephants coverEven with the supposedly wonderful internet, it seems obvious that we have not really progressed toward a more unified and peaceful world over the course of the past generation. The rich have gotten richer and the poor poorer. Greedy people have enriched themselves by taking irrational risks with other peoples’ money, including public money belonging to entire nations and peoples. Someone has to have the guts to say this isn’t right. The Catholic Church has the guts.

Speaking of the poor and defenseless, and of entire nations and peoples, and of having some guts: Let’s pray hard for the voters of  mother Ireland. Tomorrow they vote on making abortion legal.

Someday, to be sure, they will look back with horror and shame that they ever thought it prudent or good to put the human rights of the innocent to a majority vote. But still we must pray hard for a pro-life outcome of tomorrow’s national referendum on their constitutional amendment that protects the unborn child.

Those agitating for a repeal of the pro-life amendment argue as if making abortion legal involves a step “forward.” They forget that killing infants was perfectly legal under the inhumane emperors of old, like Nero and Caligula.

In fact, Ireland has the kind of forward-looking abortion laws that every country ought to have, including ours. May the Civilization of Love gain an electoral victory tomorrow, so that Ireland can continue to show the world the right way.

Hey, Puffs of Smoke

Daily Masses of Ordinary Time arrive, and we go barreling into the middle of St. James’s letter to the Catholic world. Kind of a shock to the system.

On sweet Pentecost Sunday, we heard the Lord commend us with these words: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Today God’s Word says to us: You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears.

St James the Less El GrecoSt. James wrote a “tough love” letter. A few years ago, I went through it and picked out fourteen sayings worth keeping in mind, like…

“Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials.”

Or: “Judgment is merciless upon one who has not shown mercy.”

Or: “Pure religion is this: care for orphans and widows, and keep yourself unstained by the world.”

Severe. St. James wrote some severe things to us—altogether true things; eminently helpful things–and severe.

But let’s not forget how St. James begins. He reminds us evanescent puffs of smoke: “The Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change, willed to give us birth by the word of truth.”

The idea that we human beings come and go from the stage, like puffs of smoke—that is wisdom in many religions and philosophies. We stare at the ocean, or at the Grand Canyon, or Mount Kilimanjaro, or Niagara Falls, and we think to ourselves:

“Gosh, I am small, in the grand scheme. Maybe I really don’t need to get quite so upset when my DVR malfunctions. Or when people in front of me drive slower than I would want them to.”

niagara_fallsWisdom.

But this very same wisdom, when meditated upon by a baptized Christian, has a completely different meaning. To a Christian, the smallness of a single human life in this cosmos does not mean: ‘I am basically nothing.’ It means: ‘Life as I know it on earth is small and short. So let me get my own ego-maniacal nonsense out of the way. No sense in getting distracted from the eternal life that the Creator of the earth has in store for me in heaven.’

A puff of smoke dissipates, like our mortal flesh will dissipate in the grave to which it will inevitably come. But God has given us puffs new birth through baptism into Christ—new birth in the indestructible life of the divine Son.

For now, during our brief pilgrimage of seventy years, or eighty if we are strong—for now, we share in Christ’s life by humble, obedient faith. As St. James puts it to us in his extended tough-love sermon: Say to yourself, you puff of smoke, ‘If the Lord wills that I should live until tomorrow, great. If not, great.’

We have nothing to fear either way. Not because everything is ultimately meaningless. But because we have enduring life held in store for us in heaven, where Christ our Head has gone before us to prepare our place.

Al Concluir La Temporada

full_moon_2

Celebramos la Misa y tratamos de aferrarnos a Cristo durante todo el año, por supuesto. Pero creo que todo el mundo sabe que durante un período de noventa días celebramos el misterio de Cristo de una manera especialmente intensa.

Celebramos el aniversario de la Redención del mundo con la primera luna llena de la primavera. Por cuarenta días antes de eso, ayunamos. Y durante cincuenta días después, nos deleitamos. Hoy concluimos la extravagancia litúrgica de noventa días de Cuaresma y Pascua.

Jesús es el Cristo, el Ungido, el hombre que lleva sobre Su frente una corona única. Jesús de Nazaret lleva a Dios, el Espíritu Santo, como una corona en Su Cabeza.

Comenzamos nosotros los noventa días con una especie de corona–una inusual: cenizas. Nos enfrentamos al hecho de que la vida en la tierra es corta. Dios nos formó de polvo, así que al polvo naturalmente regresamos. Nosotros decaemos como pecadores débiles, y una maldición de indiferencia sin sentido se cierne sobre nosotros–a menos que busquemos y encontremos a Dios. Nos enfrentamos a todos estos hechos, y los ponemos, como una corona sobre nuestras cabezas, en forma de una cruz de cenizas. Llevamos esa “corona” para declarar: “¡Sí, somos mortales débiles y pecadores!”

Caravaggio Crowning ThornsLuego, cuarenta días después, vimos a Jesús coronado. No con la monarquía terrenal de Israel, sino con una corona de espinas. Sólo la malicia del hombre caído podría llegar a algo tan perverso: coronar al Mesías con ramas espinosas retorcidas en una diadema cruel. Aunque Jesús no había pecado; aunque Él es la Vida que puede convertir el polvo de la tierra en carne viva; no se aferro a sus prerrogativas, Jesús tomó la maldición de la injusticia humana y la muerte sobre sí mismo. Los soldados romanos le coronaron con las espinas que nosotros pecadores merecemos.

Jesús sangró por nosotros y murió. Pero el poder de Su vida conquistó y venció. Sacaron la corona de espinas después que entrego su espíritu, y lo pusieron en el sepulcro empezando el sábado. Pero cuando las mujeres fueron a completar las unciones del entierro el domingo por la mañana, Jesús ya había dejado atrás todo el asunto de la muerte. El Padre le había coronado de nuevo con vida.

Cristo dio el Espíritu vivificante a sus amigos ese mismo día, como leemos en el evangelio, cuando Él los visitó por la tarde el domingo de Pascua. Pero esperó otros cincuenta días para coronarlos con su Espíritu. El Pentecostés, como oímos en la primera lectura, derramó el don: sabiduría, entendimiento, conocimiento, consejo, piedad, fortaleza y temor santo; derramó el Espíritu sobre sus escogidos, coronándolos con Dios–como había sido El coronado con Dios desde el momento de su concepción en el vientre de María.

Pope Francis Easter candle

Pues, no hay nada indefinido en la coronación espiritual de Pentecostés. A veces la gente habla del Espíritu Santo como si fuera una nube “quisquillosa.” Pero no podemos abaratar el Don de Pentecostés de esta manera. Jesús prometió algo muy específico cuando dijo a los Apóstoles que Él les daría Su Espíritu. Él les dijo: “El Paráclito tomará de lo mío y se los dará”.

¿Qué es exactamente lo que pertenece a Cristo, que el Espíritu Santo nos da? Bueno, todo pertenece a Cristo, por supuesto, ya que Él es Dios Todopoderoso. Pero lo que pertenece especialmente al Hijo encarnado es: la Redención del hombre. La Palabra eterna, la Sabiduría del Padre, se hizo hombre para redimir al hombre. Llevaba la corona de espinas para lograr esto. Esa corona de sufrimiento amargo descansa ahora, como un trofeo, junto a la cruz vacía. El Redentor victorioso reina en lo alto, dando libertad y nueva vida a Su pueblo a través de Su Espíritu.

Es un poco triste que estos noventa días de intensidad espiritual hayan seguido su curso. Es como si toda la Iglesia fuese a una especie de retiro de oración cada primavera, con la Sagrada Liturgia de Cuaresma y Pascua elevándonos a la contemplación de la conquista de Cristo en Jerusalén.

Ahora debemos salir de la casa de retiro, por así decirlo, y enfrentar la misión que tenemos a mano. Es decir, participar – como Él nos llama a participar – en la redención del hombre, por nuestras oraciones fervientes y acciones incansables.

Pero avanzamos con nuestras coronas puestas firmemente sobre nuestras cabezas. La corona del don celestial de Dios, nuestra participación en la unción del Ungido.

Sí, somos polvo y cenizas, disminuyendo hacia la muerte inevitable. Sí, el Cordero inocente tuvo que llevar una corona de espinas por nuestros pecados. Pero Él nos ha redimido por su Don gracioso. La maldición sobre nosotros ha sido levantada. Y llevamos en el frente la diadema santa que nos marca como hijos de la casa de Dios, consagrados para la vida eterna.

Holy Spirit, Painter

Anyone like to draw? Or paint? Anyone like to go to galleries and look at beautiful paintings?

Anyone ever seen a good painting or sculpture of the Lord Jesus? Many very famous master-painters have depicted Him. Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Velázquez, El Greco… Here’s a couple amazingly beautiful paintings I discovered recently:

Jacopo Pontormo Deposition of Christ
Jacopo Pontorno, “Deposition of Christ”
Caravaggio Crowning Thorns
Caravaggio, “Crowning with Thorns”

Can we all imagine Jesus? Can we ‘paint a picture’ of Him in our minds? Thank God, yes—I think we can.

Now, how about this: What about painting the Holy Spirit?

Not so easy. Maybe a stained-glass dove. But depicting the Holy Spirit…extremely difficult, because the Holy Spirit is…

Invisible.

Let’s turn the whole thing around. Instead of thinking about how to draw or paint the Holy Spirit, let’s recognize this: the Holy Spirit is the Great Divine Artist. He paints. He made the heavens and the earth. He made us.

God made everything, and He made everything beautiful. When we find ourselves at the beach, or on a lovely hillside or mountaintop, or anywhere where God’s creation has the chance to show us itself, we know that God made a beautiful world.

The universe does not consist solely of dust and atoms. It’s a beautiful work of art. It glows with beauty. The Holy Spirit has given it that glow.

st petersNow, of all the beautiful things that God has made for us, surely the most beautiful of them all is… A butterfly? A pony? The Grand Canyon? Monica Bellucci?

No, the most beautiful is obviously Jesus Christ. The man of pure truth and kindness. The man Who gave Himself to save those He loves. The man Who embraced death and conquered it. He rose from the dead, and He filled the world with His divine light. Nothing could excel the beauty of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

Again, we don’t see the invisible Holy Spirit exactly, when we contemplate Christ crucified and risen. But we do, kind of, see the Spirit because: The holiness of Christ, His beauty, His luminosity: that is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit “painted” the Christ, so to speak, on the canvas of the earth. And that made the divine work of art complete.

There’s more, though. How else can we see the invisible Holy Spirit? Whenever anyone obeys God, like Jesus did. Whenever anyone allows God’s love to work through him, or through her.

We don’t exactly see the invisible Holy Spirit then, when we see a Christ-like person, but we do see the Holy Spirit’s work. We see that the Holy Spirit can and does make human spirits holy. So the Spirit of Christ still paints, still produces beauty—the beauty of kind, loving, humble, honest, fair, patient, chaste, gentle, prayerful people.

John 17, the Coin

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priest

John 17 has two names. 1. The Priestly Prayer of Jesus. 2. The Prayer of the Hour of Jesus.

Both names ultimately mean the same thing. In Christ’s “Hour,” Judas betrayed Him, like Adam and Eve and all us sinners betrayed Him. Jesus answered this betrayal with His sacrifice. He offered Himself with perfect justice and infinite love, for the salvation of His betrayers.

Christ’s prayer in John 17 reveals that His death involved not just an injustice, not just the wrongful execution of an innocent man. The Priestly Prayer reveals that Jesus’ death was no ‘tragedy.’ Christ took up the cross to make a thoroughly deliberate, wise, and all-knowing religious sacrifice. It was the sacrifice of His divine love: He offered Himself with perfect love to the Father, out of perfect love for us.

Christ’s prayer in John 17 reveals that the Crucified Lamb is the Creator and the Pantocrator, the ruler of everything. We can know Almighty God, and understand His many works, in only one way: By looking at a crucifix.

And this sacrifice, the true Passover sacrifice, is eternal. It happened at one point in time, to be sure, just as Jesus used a particular language and particular words to pray the prayer recorded in John 17. In that particular hour and using those particular words, however, the eternal, omnipotent Love–the unfathomable power that governs everything–revealed Himself.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchJesus’ prayer to the Father, “Consecrate them in truth,” is not one human statement among many. It is not just one audio blip in the endless noise made by fallen man on this earth. It is not just a “tweet” by a Nazarene carpenter.

Consecrate them in truth is the eternal, unchanging divine will. It expresses the groaning of the eternal Spirit in the Heart of Christ, the inexpressible groaning that moved Christ to utter His every word and do His every deed.

The Catechism has six mind-blowingly profound paragraphs on John 17—article 3 of chapter 3 of Part IV. It all may seem way above our pay-grade—until we realize that John 17 and the Our Father are like two sides of the same coin.

The ‘heads’—John 17—belongs to Christ, the Head of the Body. The ‘tails’ is our dearest of all friends, the Our Father. Whenever we celebrate Holy Mass, we have the whole coin.

Apostolic Ministry

matthias

Our bishop will ordain deacons this Saturday, including two admirable young men who spent summers at our humble southwest-Virginia parishes in years past. Next year, God willing, Bishop will ordain these gentlemen to the priesthood. Theodore Cardinal McCarrick ordained me a deacon seventeen years ago yesterday. He ordained me a priest fifteen years ago next Thursday.

I bring all this up a propos of today’s feast. At Holy Mass today we commemorate the election of St. Matthias as the twelfth Apostle. As we read in Acts, after an election supervised by St. Peter, Matthias took the place vacated by Judas.

In the Collect for today’s Mass, we pray about the “college” of the Apostles. Jacob had twelve sons in the Promised Land, the founders of Israel’s twelve tribes. The new People of God, the Church of Christ, also began with a fraternity of twelve brother Apostles. Eleven can make up a soccer team (Go Mexico! in the Copa Mundial). But we needed twelve to start the Church.

In the Protestant world, people tend to think of a clergyman as a learned Bible scholar, qualified by his education and his natural talents to teach people about the Word of God. We Catholics would certainly agree that a clergyman ought to have a good theological education. And we preachers need to work constantly on our teaching skills.

Ecce Agnus DeiBut a careful reading of the New Testament shows that you cannot define a clergyman as a scholar of the Bible. Because the first Christian clergymen wrote the New Testament. The Bible as we know it now did not exist–until some of our Church’s original clergymen finished it and organized it.

So we have to go deeper, in order to define what the “apostolic ministry” is. The apostolic ministry has to do with the authority that lies behind a man’s words. A learned scholar speaks on his own authority. On the other hand, an apostle of Christ speaks the Word of Christ with the authority of Christ.

The Catechism expresses it like this, in para. 875:

No one…can proclaim the Gospel to himself… No one can give himself the mandate and the mission to proclaim the Gospel. The one sent by the Lord does not speak and act on his own authority, but by virtue of Christ’s authority; not as a member of the community, but speaking to it in the name of Christ. No one can bestow grace on himself; it must be given and offered.

It comes down to this: We have received a gift. God united the human race with Himself, in the Person of Jesus Christ. Christ gave Himself to us, and that Gift of Christ Himself comes to us, here and now, through the apostolic ministry.

This gift given us through the apostolic ministry equals or surpasses in value the gift of our having been created in the first place. We did not produce ourselves; God created us. In the same way, we did not “produce” the Christ, our Savior, and the High Priest of the world. God gave us the Christ, through the apostolic ministry.

This does not mean that no one can ever disagree with a single word that a deacon, priest, or bishop says. The sacrament of Holy Orders does not preserve us clergymen from the dunderheadedness that afflicts the human race in general.

The infallibility that the sacrament of Holy Orders does give us–it is actually much, much more humbling, because it is so much more exquisitely beautiful. Anyone can disagree with a priest or bishop, except when he says: I absolve you, or This is My Body and This is My Blood. That is Christ speaking, speaking infallible truth.

The living Son of God, risen from the dead, speaking now through the apostolic ministry. He could have chosen any means that He wanted, to stay close to His people through the ages—He is God, after all. He chose the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament, the silent Host.

Praying Heroes

Garofalo Ascension of Christ

Lord Jesus prepared to ascend to the Father. He gave a final benediction to His disciples, with two components.

First: I am sending you. He says that to us, also.

The Kingdom of God has one center, one “capital city,” so to speak: the human Heart of Christ. His Heart beats with love for every human being, because every human being exists by virtue of God’s divine love.

So the Lord says to us: I send you on a mission. To extend My Kingdom by extending My love. Live in My love, so that, living in love, you can love. You can love your neighbor in mercy and in truth. With that love, the divine love, you will conquer the kingdom of evil.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, wrote us a letter in March, to help us understand how we must base our lives completely on the mission that Jesus has given us. The same mission that the Lord gave to the original Apostles, as He prepared to ascend to heaven—He has given that same mission to us.

The key to our spiritual lives, the key to Christian holiness, the key to a vigorous and meaningful life in this world is: Our apostolate. Christ has consecrated us His apostles; we have a mission. And that mission involves loving our neighbors with the love of the Heart of Christ. It involves pursuing souls, to help them come home to holy Mother Church.

We have no doubt: what we receive at Mass offers the sustenance that every human soul desperately needs. So we extend the offer to our neighbors, ‘Come, share this feast with us!’ We risk contempt, rejection, all kinds of suffering. Christ went to the cross for us, out of love, and He sends us out into the world as ambassadors of His crucified love.

peter-crucifixionWhen we grasp all this, we grasp the true meaning of our lives. We grasp the true meaning of every human interaction we have–with anyone, anywhere, anytime. When we realize that we exist for the sake of our apostolate, we grasp the vital principle of reality. Because the world turns on Divine Love.

Which heroes do we admire as the most truly manly? How about St. Peter? He repented of his betrayal, and he admitted it. Jesus forgave him, and gave the first pope his mission. Then St. Peter went out and found a way to befriend recalcitrant Jews. He found a way to befriend Greeks, Roman soldiers, everyone—so that they could know Christ. St. Peter shepherded the whole flock, spread across the Mediterranean. Then he unflinchingly offered his own life, hanging upside down on a cross, on Vatican Hill in Rome.

Or how about St. Paul? What more manly hero could anyone ever imagine? Like St. Peter, a humble repentant sinner. And a tireless traveler and adventurer. St. Paul’s adventures make Indiana Jones look like Papa Smurf by comparison. St. Paul, like St. Peter, communicated with every kind of person, in all kinds of languages, so that everyone could know Christ. And St. Paul, too, offered his mortal body as a sacrifice to God on the outskirts of the city of Rome, where they beheaded the human author of half of the New Testament.

Jesus summons us today to this kind of humble, adventurous heroism. But there was a second component to Christ’s parting benediction. He didn’t just say, Go, evangelize. He said: Pray first. Pray that the Holy Spirit will come. Pray that heaven may clothe you with the power of divine love. Because you can’t do it without My Holy Spirit.

None of the heroic exploits of selfless love, undertaken by the original apostles, or by any of the martyrs and saints who have followed in their footsteps—none of these manly deeds could ever have happened, if it hadn’t been for the original Novena.

pentecost_with_maryThe original Novena involved the future heroes of Christ’s Church keeping quiet and still for nine days, trembling with fear and uncertainty about the future. Meanwhile, one person stood at the center and showed them what to do.

The Greatest Hero showed the other heroes what to do. They would all freely admit: they followed the lead of the one who quietly, unobtrusively, unpretentiously, steadily, gently prayed.

The Blessed Virgin. The Mother of the Apostolate.

Who won the Holy Spirit for us? Who moved God to pour out His fearless divine love into our unworthy hearts?

Jesus, of course. Also His Mother. For those nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, she prayed. Could the Apostles have prayed like they should have, without her? Are you kidding? They would have gone crazy with confusion and fear; they would have bickered endlessly—if the Blessed Mother had not been there to steady them and focus them on the task at hand. Prayer.

Hopefully everyone takes my point. We find meaning in life by grasping that God has consecrated us to do heroic deeds of selfless love to build His kingdom. And the greatest heroes of them all? Our mothers, who quietly taught us how to pray.