How We Know There’s A Heaven and Hell

Anyone who gives you a cup of cold water to drink will not lose his reward. (Mark 9:41) The reward for humble divine love: Heaven. [Spanish]

Better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God than to be thrown into Gehenna. Where the worm of conscience never dies and the fire never goes out. (Mark 9:43) That would be… H. E. double hockey sticks.

Who taught the human race about heaven and hell? Were we born knowing about heaven and hell?

First, this question: How do we know that bodily death doesn’t just mean: The End. How do we know that our souls have an eternal destiny, be it good or evil? How do we know that our souls are immortal?

TitanicWe know for a fact that our souls are immortal for a very simple reason. There’s nothing, other than God, that can destroy a human soul.

Yes, an iceberg can sink a huge ship, like the Titanic. Yes, a flash flood can turn a four-lane highway into a moonscape of potholes the size of pickup trucks. Yes, a teething puppy can turn a new pair of gym shoes into some very expensive dog bones.

But no known force can destroy the spiritual reality of knowledge and free will that animates the human body. We are obviously more than just a delicate chemical balance of elements. We do things like: Shout out the answers during Jeopardy! And propose marriage. And pray for our beloved dead, memorializing them with stones and monuments.

None of this would make any sense at all, if we were just over-grown orangutans. No: the spiritual dimension of our lives gives definitive evidence that we have a higher calling. To live eternally in communion with everything true and good. In other words, we certainly have immortal souls.

So: Were we born knowing that an immortal soul can suffer punishment forever in hell?

I would say: We kind of were born knowing that. We naturally fear the prospect of offending the all-powerful Creator. And we naturally fear death. Not because we fear “nothingness;” nothingness is nothing to fear. What we fear is: an unknown somethingness that involves just punishment.

But our natural fear of sin and death is vague. Most of the precise stuff we know about hell comes from the great teacher and preacher of hell in the Bible. The biblical figure who talked about hell the most.

The prophet Ezekiel? Elijah? Job? Certainly someone from the Old Testament? No. Line for line, verse for verse, the #1 Hell Preacher in the Holy Bible is… Jesus of Nazareth.

heavenstair“Enter through the narrow gate. Because the way is wide that leads to destruction.” “Just as weeds are gathered up and burned, so will it be at the end of the world.” “Do not be afraid of the one who can kill the body, but not the soul. Rather, fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” There’s a lot more, in the four holy gospels.

But before we get freaked-out: The Lord Jesus’ teaching about hell is so stark and precise because hell is hell compared to heaven. Jesus fundamentally came to the earth for one reason: To offer us heaven.

Jesus is Himself heaven. He is the eternal Light, the eternal Beauty. He united the Undying Glory to the human race, in Himself. In the holy… Incarnation.

Some non-Christians object to our doctrines of heaven and hell on the grounds that we unfairly teach that only Christians go to heaven. In point of fact, we don’t teach that. We believe that God offers heaven to everybody.

But we do teach: Only Jesus Christ offers heaven, because only Jesus Christ is heaven. Heaven is something so unimaginably wonderful that only the Incarnation could have given the human race the idea.

The eternal Father has prepared this kingdom–Jesus’ Heart. Where every tear will be wiped away. And, as we read in the Sunday-Mass gospel passage, it comes as a “reward.”

Now, without the saving sacrifice of Christ, we could never hope to receive such a reward. But since He offered Himself for us as a living Lamb that constantly gives forth life, we can not only hope for the reward of heaven, we can actually do things that harmonize with Christ’s love and thereby draw us closer to heaven.

Things like giving a cup of cold water to an honest thirsty pilgrim. As we talked about last week: God, in His humility, reconciled us to Himself as one of us. So when we see someone thirsty, we know it’s Him, giving us a chance to love. When we see someone suffering, someone struggling, someone spiritually at sea: we know it’s Him, beckoning us to love.

We have immortal souls. We fear eternal damnation. We hope for everlasting happiness. We love our way there.

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I Stopped Believing Him…

…when he wouldn’t answer the question: “How many beers is too many?”

A hostile Democratic Senator had not asked him this question. Rather, the Arizona prosecutor deputized by the Republicans asked, “How many beers is too many?”

The appropriate answer is a number. Three. Maybe four–for a big guy.

Judge Kavanaugh said: ” I don’t know. You know, we — whatever the chart says, a blood-alcohol chart.”

Every young person on earth needs to hear a clear and decisive answer to such a question. Three is too many. We need to hear it especially from someone sitting where Brett Kavanaugh sat at that moment.

…I have prayed for the end of Roe v. Wade every day for twenty-five years. This has nothing to do with politics. I am simply imagining myself in Twelve Angry Men. We just finished listening to the witnesses. And we now find ourselves in the jury room.

She told the truth.

He lives in terror–that he might actually have done it. He can’t remember, because he drank way too much in those days.

The irony is, both of these following sentences are true:

1. Brett Kavanaugh is a basically decent man who doesn’t deserve what he is going through right now.

2. He is guilty of the charge.

When I say that he doesn’t deserve what he is going through right now, I mean:

He deserved a long talk with a police officer and at least one night in jail. He deserved to sit beside his dad in the car, as they drove over to the young lady’s house, for him to apologize personally. Then ask her what he could do to make it up to her. Then give her time to think about it. Then do whatever she asked.

He deserved to have his father tell him that he could not play football that fall, that he was grounded for a year. And that if caught with a beer in his hands, he was going to rehab.

(And of course: Confession and penance at Little Flower.)

Then, by February, the whole thing might have been behind them all. Not that I am blaming her for not saying anything at the time. God knows it took guts for her to say it now.

If he would just admit: It might very well be true. And I’m sorry, and that isn’t really me–redemption is close at hand. And he can join in praying for the next pro-life nominee. And find some peace.

…Let’s not forget that dudette nailed this “#MeToo” thing back in ’02, long before there were such things as hashtags.

Carthusian Graces

Carthusian.jpg

The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear satisfied with hearing. (Ecclesiastes 1:8)

Herod said, “John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see him. (Luke 9:9)

We find no full satisfaction for our eyes and our ears in this world. So we have to try to see Christ, the eternal Son of God.

Anyone know about the Carthusians? They live this. Live for God only. Live by faith only.

They don’t listen to the radio; they listen to the night crickets and the breeze through the leaves. They don’t watch tv. They watch the sky, the Cross, the tabernacle. They have no internet connection; they connect themselves with all humanity, living and dead, by the social network called the Sacred Liturgy of the Church.

They have never heard of Christine Blasey Ford or Brett Kavenaugh. Though we can be sure that the rule of law would collapse altogether if there were no Carthusians in this world, praying quietly in all the hidden corners where they live. There would be no justice at all, if the spiritual Carthusians were not praying constantly.

On the cross, Jesus Christ won the grace of conversion for every human being. What is the ‘grace of conversion’? Some ineffable interior touch from heaven that makes a human soul turn away from evil and live for God. We won’t understand the limitless divine love involved in this until we get to heaven. In the meantime, we know about it—we know about the hidden mystery of friendship between God and man—by faith in Christ crucified.

sacred-heart-crossIn June we learned about a man that former-Cardinal McCarrick had abused sexually while the man was a teenager. We have learned a lot more horrible things since then. But let’s focus for a moment just on that one man, whose name is Mike.

He had to live for decades watching the priest who abused him in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s cathedral. Watching him rise through the ranks of the Church. He had to watch that very priest serve as spokesman for the US Catholic Church during the sex-abuse scandal that occurred sixteen years ago.

Let’s just try to imagine the miraculous grace of conversion that heaven would have to send to help Mike. To help his spiritual vision penetrate through all this utterly unbelievable hypocrisy and corruption and still see Jesus Christ living, working, helping, and saving souls in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Lord: Is there enough grace in heaven for this? Help us!

Well, we know there is enough grace in the infinite treasury of the good God. And we know that a true spiritual Carthusian can win a grace like that for another soul. A true spiritual Carthusian can win a grace like that for another soul every day, before breakfast. (Breakfast of bread and water.)

This is what brotherly love demands of us right now. To live and die winning graces like that, for people like Mike.

Holy Father on the Cardinal-Wuerl Train

Donald Cardinal Wuerl, to Tom Fitzgerald of Fox 5, August 15:

“How we dealt with things in the late 80’s/early 90’s is different from the way we would today.”

Mr. Fitzgerald reacted with earnest disbelief. “What could possibly ‘evolve’ about child sexual abuse?!”

Three weeks later, Cardinal Wuerl realized he had no future as the Archbishop of Washington.

Pope Francis gave a press conference on the papal plane yesterday. The National Catholic Reporter (an avowedly liberal publication) notes:

“Journalists aboard the flight from Estonia had planned to ask Francis again about Viganò’s claims [that Pope Francis knew about McCarrick’s abuses since 2013], but were unable to after the pope suspended taking questions outside the scope of the trip.”

Shepherd One
Shepherd One

The pope did, however, say this:

“I take the Pennsylvania report, for example, and we see that the first 70 years there were so many priests that fell into this corruption, then in more recent times it has diminished, because the Church noticed that it needed to fight it in another way. In the old times these things were covered up, they even covered them up at home, when the uncle was molesting the niece, when the dad was molesting his sons, they covered it up because it was a very big disgrace… it was the way of thinking in previous times or of the past time. It is a principle that helps me to interpret history a lot.

“A historic event is interpreted with the hermeneutic of the time period in which it took place, not as a hermeneutic of today passed on. For example, the example of indigenous people, that there were so many injustices, so much brutality, but it cannot be interpreted with the hermeneutic of today [now] that we have another conscience. A last example, the death penalty. The Vatican, when it was a State, a pontifical State, had the death penalty. In the end the state decapitations were 1870 more or less, a guy, but then the moral conscience grew, it is true that always there were loopholes and there were hidden death sentences. You are old, you are an inconvenience, I do not give you the medicine, it went so… it is a condemnation to social death. And about today… I believe with this I have responded.”

We regret that…

a. The reader finds it hard to make any sense out of this.

b. Morals are historically relative? So slavery was okay before, but not now? Where did the early abolitionists get their ideas? Were they wrong, since, at that time, slavery was okay? Was abortion wrong before, then it became okay, and someday it will be not-okay again?

c. To quote Tom Fitzgerald: “What could possibly ‘evolve’ when it comes to child sexual abuse?!”

d. I think the Viewers at Home watching the Cardinal-Wuerl interview of August 15 wound up believing: this man is not honest. Yesterday Pope Francis punched a ticket on the same train.

Diocletian Persecution and Donatism

[WARNING: High-level difficulty quiz. Might need a Catholic Encycolpedia]

Cosmas Damian apse
mosaic depicting Sts Peter and Paul ushering Sts. Cosmas and Damien into heaven

Today, at the altar, we remember the martyrs Cosmas and Damien, who went to their deaths during the persecution of the Emperor…

Diocletian.

Ironically enough, Diocletian appears to have ordered the persecution precisely because he had such piety. As a pagan.

He believed that the Roman Empire would thrive if everyone participated in the cult of the gods, and that the empire would collapse if they did not.

What provoked the crisis was the emperor styling himself as divine, according to the pagan system. Christians soldiers then refused to wear their insignia, because it depicted the emperor as a god. And they refused to take their oaths, because it referred to the emperor as a god.

From that starting point, widespread hideous cruelties against Christians began. The pope was martyred, and the Church couldn’t elect a successor for… how long? Three years. Countless bishops and clergymen were martyred for refusing to hand over the Scriptures for desecration.

This gave rise to which heresy and schism? …Donatist.

Some sly bishops tricked their way out of getting martyred by handing over heretical, non-canonical Scriptures, instead of actual Bible books. The pagan authorities didn’t know the difference, and those bishops squeaked through.

After the persecution finally ended, the Donatists denied the validity of the ordination of the bishops who tricked their way through. The Donatists insisted that if they were real priests, they would have willingly gone to their deaths.

The schism lasted for over 100 years. To finally resolve the issue, it took someone as clever and enterprising as…?

St. Augustine.

A couple morals of this little story

1. We can’t worship the President of the US, or any political leader—or even religious leader. He may be right or wrong about this or that, just like all fallible human beings. We fallible human beings help each other stay honest by challenging assertions that appear to be wrong. (Only exception: Pope of Rome speaking ex cathedra on faith or morals.)

And Moral of the Story #2. We have had big, confusing, painful messes in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church before. And, by God’s grace, we managed to survive.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 20, and Nikko Lane at OnePeterFive

To Kill a Mockingbird Jem Scout Dill

Three children have snuck into the Maycomb, Alabama, county courthouse to hear a trial. The children of the defense attorney, Scout and Jem, and their friend Dill. They sit in the “colored” balcony, because they’re not supposed to be there. It’s too ‘grown-up’ for them.

The accused is black, and everyone but the children know that he will not get justice. At one point during the trial, while the prosecutor cross examines the defendant, something in eight-year-old Dill begins to realize: the truth doesn’t matter in this courthouse. He starts crying. Jem and Scout take him outside for a breather.

A town fixture named Dolphus Raymond sits outside the courthouse, drinking from a bottle in a paper bag. He tries to comfort Dill. “He’s crying because the world hasn’t gotten a hold of him and made him blind to its meanness.”

Raymond offers Dill a sip from the bottle to calm his nerves. Jem and Scout are horrified at first, but turns out: it’s not whiskey. It’s just Coke.

…That’s us, those kids. Sitting outside the courthouse. They went inside to hear their father do his work. They assumed that all the people running things there were basically honest. It had never occurred to them that there are such things as corrupt judges and county prosecutors. Just like we sons and daughters of the Catholic Church assumed. Until the summer of 2018.

Now we’re sitting outside the courthouse in a daze, trying to dry our tears.

We, too, need a little sip of Coke. Here’s one. Excerpts from an article called “The Laity Action Plan for Our Dark Times.”

*

The pope has no answers for us. Do we really need them at this point?

The bishops he has promoted defend him and continually deflect public attention away from him and his camp. And what do we lay faithful do? We sit, we worry, we ruminate, we pray.

Is this enough?

With the hierarchy covering for themselves and their allies amid this scandal and the lower clergy without the power to implement change in this present pontifical climate, our Church leaders remain static. It seems the Church, like its lay members, as an institution (innocently and guiltily), is stalling, waiting for change to occur with a pope who has given no indication of making changes and reforms, no indication of admitting fault, no indication of stepping down.

Let us not forget what started all of this: sexual abuse of minors, adolescents, and adults alike by clergymen and the continued cover-up from the lowest to the highest levels of the Church. These victims call for us to break the static, even when it is apparent that Francis and company have no intention of acting on anyone’s behalf but their own.

Being the voice of Jesus Christ’s Church when society will call you crazy is what sainthood is all about… This is especially true in light of the scandal: when the Church’s leadership are outed as perpetrators of injustices against the people, the Church will require strong, saintly lay defenders of the faith moving forward.

The best way to seek our Lord’s consolation is by getting back to the basics of our faith. Attending daily Masses on a regular basis, spending time in adoration with the Blessed Sacrament, and engaging regularly with a confessor in the Holy Sacrament of Reconciliation are all wonderful ways we can return to what makes us Catholic – and thus seek the solace we so desperately need as His damaged but unbroken Church.

Let’s reclaim our place in the Church as its driving force. This starts with the seemingly mundane, daily activities we can take part in in our local parishes. Be a strong leader of your parish. Get involved. Join councils and committees at your parishes and in your dioceses. Be the support the victims in our own communities need.

The strength of our Church as a whole starts with you. It starts at home.

What does this have to do with the scandals we face today, right now? Pope Francis calls us as lay Catholics to lead the Church out of a scandal that he refuses to face. So be it. This is how we lead.

While the response by the Church’s leadership has been unacceptable up until now, Pope Francis may get what he asks for. He calls us to take this scandal into our own hands. Through his inaction and silence, he may be inadvertently provoking us to do just that. Take Pope Francis’s influence for what you will, but the lay faithful will be the force the Church needs to overcome this dark time. These initiatives – fervent prayer; a desire to defend Church doctrine, tradition, and values; and enabling ourselves to lead our Church on our local levels – may seem small, but the Lord moves mountains with our small actions.

Mother Teresa put it wonderfully: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” That’s what our Church needs right now. That is what we can do.

Immediate Love

Say not to your neighbor, “Tomorrow I will give,” when you can give at once. (Proverbs 3:28)

sacredheartHe does not delay in giving, Almighty God. He gives the morning every morning, first thing in the morning. He makes the songbirds sing. He keeps the earth under our feet, air in our lungs, and His Body, Blood, soul, and divinity in our tabernacles.

He never delays. He gives what He has to give right now, and what He has to give is everything. He loves infinitely right now. Always.

How can we keep up with that? After all, we don’t have that kind of immediacy of love. As St. Stephen put it, in his speech to the Sanhedrin, in the early days of the Church: We have uncircumcised hearts and ears.

Our only hope is total self-abandonment. Forgetting our selves. Believing in, praising, rejoicing in, and serving faithfully the all-goodness of God. He will give us our true selves, too. If we just let go, and love.

When Will the Scandal End? (Settlements Edition)

huckjim
Huck and Jim

During the long summer afternoons of 2002, I sat and read to a blind, dying Cardinal. In the upstairs sitting room of a lovely upper-northwest Washington home, donated to the Archdiocese decades ago. A house for the retired Archbishop.

It was my final summer as a seminarian. I read Huckleberry Finn to James Card. Hickey, pausing when he would drift off. Picking back up again when he awoke, smiling meekly.

It nauseates me to imagine Theodore McCarrick sitting in that very same room now, which he probably is. But we can hope and pray: maybe he’s sitting at the desk in the alcove of that room. Sitting and writing his full confession. Repenting of all the ways in which he betrayed, manipulated, and harmed the faithful Catholics who believed in him. And making a full, clean breast of it.

I, for one, will hope for the day when McCarrick publishes such a confession. I will hope for that day until he goes to his grave. Because then we might actually be able to begin to learn to trust bishops again.

But this is not why I thought of my afternoons with dear, departed Cardinal Hickey. I thought of them because: I was there that summer at the request of a priest–the priest who usually lived with Card. Hickey, in those days.

The priest-secretary wanted to travel some that summer, go to World Youth Day in Toronto, etc. So he asked for a seminarian to cover for him, to help the Cardinal say his Mass and his breviary, help him entertain the occasional guests that came to visit, and keep him company.

The priest who asked for this help: then-Monsignor Barry Knestout. The seminarian who got the assignment: Me.

I have been wondering: Why did Bishop Knestout, now our father in God here in Richmond–why did he feel the need to censor this little weblog, and then play authoritarian mind games with me about it?

As you, dear reader, know, I have been trying to write my way through a faith-shattering blow: learning that the prelate who ordained me belonged in jail that day. I don’t believe that I have done anyone any harm with my tortured writings. After all, you can feel free to read other weblogs instead, if you find this one bothersome. Yet Bishop Knestout felt the need to try to manipulate me into feeling guilty about doing this. Why?

Could be that he got bad advice, or acted without fully informing himself. His letter to me showed that he may not have read carefully the very blog post that he censored.

But the question remains: Why fuss at me at all? When I’m harming no one?

I’m sure you recall that, on June 20, the Archdioceses of New York and Washington issued a public statement. The pope had suspended the ministry of Theodore McCarrick, because of a credible allegation that he sexually abused a minor.

But the statement also said something else, something so ridiculously opaque that its opacity itself counts as a crushing insult to the intelligence of the Catholic faithful. The Archdiocese of Newark NJ, and the Diocese of Metuchen NJ, had “earlier paid settlements because of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct with adults.”

The late Richard Sipe had published excerpts from the settlement documents in 2010. In August, the dioceses involved offered limited information, to a reporter. But we still know precious little about these settlements.

Now, customarily, at the gift procession at Holy Mass, someone carries a basket containing the monetary offerings up the aisle. The priest receives the basket and sets it at the foot of the altar.

collection basketWe can only assume that the money paid in the McCarrick settlements came into the hands of the bishops in that way.

Which means that everyone involved in arranging the McCarrick settlements participated in a kind of sacrilege. In order to protect the reputation of the Archbishop of Washington (who was an acknowledged sexual predator), other bishops (in his previous sees) paid out money that the faithful had offered to God.

Let’s focus on the first settlement, apparently paid in 2005. At that time, McCarrick still reigned in Washington. (Donald Wuerl succeeded him in 2006.)

Who all was involved in arriving at that settlement? Who knew about the negotiations?

McCarrick himself. And the then-Archbishop of Newark, John Myers. And the victim, Mr. Robert Ciolek. Also: lawyers. Their secretaries, assistants, etc. Archbishop Myers’ confidential assistants and secretaries. And McCarrick’s confidential assistants and secretaries.

Then-Monsignor Knestout served as McCarrick’s appointment secretary from 2003-2004.

On July 30 of this year, Bishop Knestout wrote us Catholics of Richmond a letter. Some people in our parishes found the letter odd, since it meticulously answered a question which no one had asked, so far as we knew. And the letter simultaneously missed the chance to offer us the kind of fatherly love we needed, while we reeled from the gut-punch of the revelations about McCarrick.

The answer Bishop Knestout so meticulously gave: No, I never, ever received any allegations against McCarrick.

Some of my people asked me that weekend, when Bishop Knestout’s letter was published: Can this possibly be true? They asked me earnestly, knowing that I know more than the average bear about the inner-workings of the Archdiocese of Washington in the early 2000’s. So they asked me, ‘Father, can we possibly believe this?’

Yes, I replied. I believe it myself. I believe to this day that McCarrick had ceased to prey on his sexual victims by the time he arrived in Washington, at age 70.

But, in his letter of July 30, Bishop Knestout did not address another matter:

Did he know about the settlements?

We can believe that those involved in negotiating those settlements–the sitting bishops in the New Jersey dioceses, the lawyers, even McCarrick himself–we can believe that they probably thought they acted in the best interest of the Church. To prevent a shattering scandal.

But they would have been grievously wrong in thinking that way. They operated with a strange set of blinders on. They confused Jesus Christ’s Church with another kind of organization, namely the Mafia.

When will the Scandal be over? That seems a long, long way off.

But getting there certainly includes: the public repentance of everyone involved in negotiating those New Jersey settlements. Everyone who knew, and kept it secret. Everyone who didn’t blow the whistle. When a real God-fearing priest would have blown the whistle, loudly, to high heaven, no matter the consequences to his own career.

(The floor is yours, here, Excellency, if you think it good to answer. If you knew absolutely nothing, then I, for one, will truly be glad to know it. But then please go after the ones that did know, in Washington and in the Vatican. Instead of promising “to cooperate with any investigation into the McCarrick Scandal,” how about leading one?)

Lesson in Real Humility

Christ & Pilate

If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all. (Mark 9:35)

If we really want to understand what this means, I think we have to meditate on Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate. [SPANISH]

Christ had made what St. Paul calls His “noble confession.” That is, Jesus had declared His true identity. He possesses absolute authority. There is only One Who rules all. Christ, only-begotten Son of the eternal Father: He rules the cosmos. Jesus declared this to the Sanhedrin. They convicted Him of blasphemy and sent Him to Pontius Pilate for execution.

So there He stood, the Emperor of All Things, before a feckless, cowardly Roman careerist, at a shabby excuse for a tribunal of justice, condemned for speaking the truth about Himself.

Because this new, divine Adam loves you and me as much as He does, He bowed His head, accepted His death sentence without protest, and took up His cross silently.

Humility.

Could anyone really practice humility, the holy virtue of humility, in a world without Christ? Pagan nations have not generally prized humility as a virtue. At least not in their own citizens. Of course they have loved having humble slaves. As the Lord Jesus said, “The pagans lord it over each other. The masters insist on making their authority felt.”

El Greco Christ blessing cropped

Ambitious pagan people jockey for position, stab each other in the back, claw their way to the top, stomping on the heads of their closest associates—and for what? Status in some puny pecking order.

Years ago, I had friends among the aspiring avant-garde artists in New York City. One friend of mine got stabbed in the back by a rival. I sympathized. But he said, “It’s par for the course. The fighting is so fierce because the stakes are so low.”

Maybe that brings to mind another example of vicious infighting for low stakes? While the outside world goes on with its business, paying no attention? Maybe the upper hierarchy of the Church?

Anyway… Meanwhile, here stands Christ—with omnipotent power, glory, eternal beatitude in His sovereign hands. With those very hands, He grasped the cross He carried for us.

Of course, the most humbling thing for us about Jesus Christ’s incandescent humility is this: this is Divine Mercy for us. Let’s humble ourselves and acknowledge two things.

1. For all our vain human ambitions, we have absolutely no hope at all for anything truly good, without Christ, without His self-sacrifice, for our sakes. And…

2, He loves us enough—loves us, lumps and all, foolishness and all; Almighty God, our Creator, loves us enough to stand before Pilate and bow His head, so that we won’t have to bow our heads in shame for our sins, when the day of reckoning comes. And He loved us enough to satisfy for our sins as one of us. God Himself satisfied for human sin as a human being. This is even more humbling.

So we can say to God Almighty, “Look, Father! Our brother Jesus is just! The human race does not totally suck. Not at all. We have Jesus. We have all of His saints, especially His Blessed Mother!” And when we cry out to God like this–which is what we are doing every time we pray Holy Mass together–He smiles and says, “Yes, My children. Yes.”

Pope Francis Shrine Immaculate Mass Junipero Serra

Speaking of people we can boast about: Three years ago tomorrow, I–along with hundreds of priests–concelebrated Mass with the pope at the National Shrine in Washington. For the canonization of a saint. The apostle of California… Junipero Serra.

Father Serra abandoned all comfort and security in order to bring the good news of Jesus into a violent, pagan world. California had no order and no peace back then, because the natives had never heard of the Prince of Peace, and the Spanish colonial authorities didn’t abide by His teachings. Father Sera and his brother Franciscans risked their lives to establish their missions as oases of prayer, peace, and good order.

Why doesn’t California have any peace and good order now? Well, we can’t blame St. Junipero Serra for that.

What we can do: Pray to the saint who is also one of the Founding Fathers of the USA. Pray that he will help us bear witness to the love of Christ. Humbly, patiently, through thick and thin.

The Man with Eyes All Over

William Blake Ezekiel vision four living creatures
William Blake’s illustration of Ezekiel’s vision of the four living creatures

The man wrote a book. One of a set of four, written by four different men. St. Matthew knew one of the other three very well, to be sure. But he may never have even met the other two.

Together, but apparently without explicitly co-ordinating anything among themselves, the four evangelists produced four little books filled with unique divine fire. These four books occupy so elevated a place in the history of books that the only possible image for them is: Terrifying angelic animals (and a man) gazing out in all directions from the throne of God itself. Of the “four living creatures” of Ezekiel’s and St. John’s visions, the man represents St. Matthew.

But the most important image is this: The image that reading these four books forms in our minds. We read these four books over and over again, and we read all the other Scripture books connected with these four. And, as we read, God gives us the image of Himself. God Himself, made man. Jesus. In our minds.

What if these four brothers of ours–St. Matthew and the other evangelists—what if they had never bothered to undertake the painstaking task of writing? What if they had, instead, chosen a more-pedestrian pursuit, one less fraught with agonies of self-doubt and fear of misunderstandings?

Where would the human race be? In what desperate darkness would we linger, if the image of Jesus of Nazareth simply had never been communicated to us? If the four Holy Gospels, which paint the definitive portrait of the everlasting Adam—what if these books did not exist? Then we would have to come to church and listen to someone read out from the works of James Patterson or the Dalai Lama.

And what about all the other forebears of ours who lovingly preserved these books for us, so that we can read them now? Against all odds, considering the way time eventually ravages everything. We revere these forebears of ours as a group under the name “holy Mother Church.”

So: Thank you, St. Matthew and the other evangelists, for writing. And thank you, holy Mother Church, for loving their words enough to give them to us as an inheritance. A four-fold literary treasure beyond all price.

 

four living creatures evangelists carving.JPG