Final Jeopardy! and a New Beginning

A liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which is the Sunday closest to the feast of this ‘first apostle.’

Final Jeopardy question yesterday evening. In the category of “Catholicism.”

None of the contestants got the correct answer. It was a hard question. For two years I served as pastor of St. Andrew’s parish in Roanoke, and I can confidently say: only about 10% of the parishioners of St. Andrew’s would have known that the correct answer is St. Andrew.

We call Andrew the ‘first’ because he recruited his brother… Right: St. Peter. We call them all ‘apostles’ because: St. Andrew, along with everyone else in the upper room on Easter Sunday, saw Jesus after He had risen from the dead.

We could say a lot more. Each of us baptized Christians exercises the ‘apostolic ministry’ in some way. So there is certainly a great deal to say about it.

But let’s start here: The original Apostles saw Jesus. Risen from the dead. They saw Him multiple times, over the course of forty days. The “New Testament:” the original Apostles testimony that they saw Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, with their own eyes. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church believes that testimony.

missale-romanum-white-bgNow, speaking of resurrection: Alex Trebek reminded me. St. Andrew Day means: it’s time to flip back to the beginning of the book. The Missal. The Lectionary. The Breviary.

We start again. We cannot overstate the spiritual significance of the liturgical year. It organizes the Sacred Scriptures for us. It unfolds the mysteries of the Savior’s life. It consecrates the months and seasons. It redeems time, draws daily earthly life up into eternal heavenly life.

It doesn’t get old, the business that begins anew every year on the First Sunday of Advent. We flip the ribbons back; we start fresh. The world outside gets older. But the Sacred Liturgy of the Church offers us, quite literally, a heavenly Fountain of Youth.

Was this past liturgical year the worst in the history of Jesus’ Church? From my limited vantage point on the unfolding of events, I would say: Absolutely.

Will the year to come actually bring even worse? No doubt. We’d be fools to imagine otherwise. Our ‘leaders’ have given us nothing upon which to base any optimism. To the contrary, their heartbreaking ineptitude has all but ground us down in to despair.

I still stand by the suggestion I floated in August. Namely, that the whole lot of them, from the pope on down, resign. And we fill their places in the hierarchy by a lottery that chooses parish priests from around the world at random. But, Father! That might result in an incompetent hierarchy! Well…

All that said: A new year of saving grace dawns for us Catholics anyway. The holy Church can still light the candles of Advent. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, still reigns in heaven. And He continues to sanctify His people through the annual celebration of the unfathomable mysteries of His pilgrim life.

The Song of Moses and the Lamb

Zubaran agnus dei

They were holding God’s harps, and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. (Revelation 15:3)

First of all, we know what St. John means by a ‘harp,’ right? A ten-stringed lyre? Correct: Living according to the Ten Commandments.

They sang the song of Moses. Remember how we discussed the relationship between the Lamb of God and the ancient Passover? The song of Moses celebrates what event? Horse and chariot He has cast into the sea. Exodus 15. The crossing of the Red Sea. The liberation of Israel.

The Israelites marched dry-shod through the sea, with the water piled up like a mound, with the floodwaters congealed to their right and to their left. God works His miracles of deliverance.

Where were they headed? To quote the song of Moses: To the mountain of God’s inheritance, to the sanctuary which the Lord’s hands established.

The song of the Lamb resounds in the eternal sanctuary: God is just; God is wonderful. Who will not glorify the Almighty? Who has done such deeds of loving kindness, redeeming the human race by the blood of the innocent Christ!

In every tabernacle in every parish church or chapel all over the world, the Lamb resides. He dwells with us, and He works His miracles of deliverance.

The Lamb on Mount Zion

lamb of god dormition abbey jerusalem
Lamb of God mosaic, Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem

The Lamb of God standing atop Mount Zion. Twelve groups of twelve thousand ransomed souls–all bearing the name of the Lamb, and of His Father.

Who first called Christ “the Lamb of God?” Correct! St. John the Baptist. ‘Behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.’

The Catechism puts it like this: Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. St. John the Evangelist’s vision of the Lamb reigning in heaven reminds us of this. Reminds us of The Redemption.

God became poor to give us heavenly riches. The Son submitted in obedience to the will of the Father–to make up for our disobedience. He spoke truth to purify our minds. He healed bodies and souls. He conquered human death.

All to redeem us. To liberate us from our miseries by His perfectly honest work.

Our redemption is at hand. When did Israel first sacrifice the lamb? Correct! Passover. They marked their doorposts with the lamb’s blood, and the angel of death spared them. Then they marched away, out of slavery and into freedom.

What makes our lives on earth Egypt-like? Fatigue, discouragement. Our mortality. Our struggles to communicate, to love, to overcome our weaknesses. Our frustrations with others. Our frustrations with ourselves.

Jesus Christ redeems us from all of it. The Lamb who was slain now reigns. He leads us out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. The Redemption is real.

Homily for Christ the King


This Sunday we pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ, the divine King. We believe in Him. We believe in the Incarnation. [Spanish]

In other words: We admire Jesus of Nazareth and pledge our allegiance to Him, not just because He was a man of great wisdom, but because He is a man of divine wisdom. We admire His love—not just great love, but divine love. We entrust ourselves completely to Him, not just because of the stunning nobility of His death, but also because of the indubitable certainty of His resurrection from the dead.

He is our good and kind king. Our allegiance to Him sometimes falters, but His worthiness to have our total allegiance never does. We forget sometimes to Whom we belong, but He never forgets us. We get confused about how to live, but He always stands ready to comfort, guide, and support us. All we have to do is remember the truth: Without Him we have nothing, are nothing. With Him, we have everything, including our true selves.

Allegiance to our divine King means: trust, respect, acknowledgement that He is great and big, and we are small. We each have just a little part to play in the grand plan that He alone fully understands.

Allegiance also means taking rightful pride in who we are: chosen members of the royal household of the King of the universe. Consecrated children of eternal glory. Freeborn sons and daughters of the Kingdom that will never pass away.

Allegiance to Christ means measuring every other allegiance by this allegiance. We have one absolute rule that governs all our other associations with our fellow human beings: we are Christians first. Yes, we have families, to which we owe deep allegiance. And we owe allegiance to the institutions that made us who we are. And of course we owe our allegiance to our beloved nation.

But: We measure all these allegiances by our absolute allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth. He is God. He is the one Savior. He is the sole Champion Who has conquered death itself. He enlightens the cosmos with the only light that will never fail, will never fall into darkness.

To Him, to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the alpha, the omega: To Him all glory and honor unto the ages of ages.

More From James’ Amanuensis

What could have happened. And should have happened.

Actual facts: Roman characters. Could have/should have: italics.

Late June. The archdioceses of Washington and New York notify the public about an accusation against Theodore McCarrick. The Church publishes a phone#/e-mail/snail-mail address for anyone with knowledge of the case. Also publishes: A clear, thorough explanation of how McCarrick’s church trial will proceed, including the date on which it will begin.

Also in late June: The Holy See releases a comprehensive report about the secret cash settlements between McCarrick and the seminarians he abused. The report includes all relevant documents, with only the names of innocent victims redacted. All bishops and other administrators involved acknowledge their grave mistakes. And resign.

The bishops of Metuchen, Newark, and Washington, D.C. acknowledge the shock and pain of their people. They begin visiting their parishes to help their people cope.

Late July. James Grein comes forward, speaking out about McCarrick through the New York Times. The bishops of Arlington, Virginia (where James is known to reside), Washington, D.C., and New York all reach out personally to James.

Mid-August. The Pennsylvania grand jury releases its report on sexual abuse of minors by priests. The bishops of Pennsylvania, along with all the bishops in the US, acknowledge that they have gravely failed their people. They could have audited their own files, made sure that all sex-abuse victims had been heard, and justice done for them. But instead, the bishops idly sat by, distracted from their duty by their own tender and over-sized egos.

Late August. The USCCB meets in an emergency session and unanimously adopts a resolution. Yes, we have failed you, dear People of God. We will all return to parish ministry and try to learn how to administer the Church’s resources better than we have done. We have developed a five-year process for replacing ourselves with priests currently serving in parishes.

Also in mid-August. The Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, D.C., admits that he made serious mistakes while serving in Pennsylvania in the 80’s and 90’s. He does not get defensive. Instead of focusing on himself, he focuses on his people, who still need a lot of help in coping with the revelations about Theodore McCarrick’s dishonesty.

Late August. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano sees no need to publish a dossier, The public already has all the documents pertaining to the McCarrick cash settlements from 2004 and 2006. The public already knows who covered for McCarrick; they have all resigned.

November. The US bishops hold their annual meeting. The president begins the meeting by announcing the verdict of the McCarrick trial.

Scandal over.

…This is no idle fantasy, dear reader. It could and should have happened this way. Indeed, it would have required a great deal less effort than all the fruitless attempts that Pope Francis and our American bishops have made, trying vainly to justify themselves with pointless abstractions, rather than confront facts.

But, as it is, we find ourselves in a haze.

As I understand the beginning of the EWTN interview which you can watch above, Mr. James Grein is in contact with Church officials. James declines to elaborate about sex-abuse details in this interview, referring to “investigations” now underway. (In July, James willingly gave details.)

Meanwhile, McCarrick continues to maintain his innocence. One of his brother bishops said as much, in Baltimore last week.

mccarrickA trial, therefore, must proceed. In order to reach justice through a contentious process.

It’s never too late! Those governing the Church could right now offer to us a careful, detailed explanation of how the process will unfold.

The fundamental point in dispute: Has James falsely and wrongly accused Theodore McCarrick of grave crimes?

Could be. No one ever reached the truth without hearing both sides.

We considered this question here before. James, sympathetic as he may be in the speech and interview above, has not added to his credibility with the statements he has made this past week. I’m not saying he compromised his credibility, either. He simply added nothing specific to our knowledge of the case.

Perhaps he could have explained better why he refrained from giving details this time around. But it’s not Mr. James Grein’s job to explain such things.

My point here is this: Either the course of justice is moving forward in a way that we can respect, or it isn’t.

If James has testified under oath, and that’s why he won’t get into details on Youtube, then maybe the wheels are really turning.

But, if that is the case, why hasn’t any Church official explained to the public the current state of the process? Why leave us with the strong impression that all any bishop or pope does in the Catholic Church is kick the can down the road, hoping the stupid sheep will forget about all this?

On the other hand, if James has not, in fact, given official testimony, then why not speak more freely in the interview above? EWTN reporter Wyatt Goolsby gave James a wide-open opportunity clearly to spell out McCarrick’s crimes. And if the official Church continues to do nothing, and you say this is “your moment” to speak, why not speak clearly and in detail? Criminals get convicted based on clear details of evidence.

But, again: If James is not to be believed–if he won’t give details because he doesn’t really know what he is talking about–then why won’t someone who knows the facts come to McCarrick’s defense? After all these months, no one has said anything to defend McCarrick from the grave charges James leveled against him in July.

…My old friend Msgr. Charles Pope recently published an essay arguing that Pope Francis now “owns” the crisis.

Would that Pope Francis did own it. The problem we have is that no one appears willing to own the McCarrick case.

And the cowardly refusal to own sex-abuse cases is The Scandal. The Scandal that has brought the pope and bishops of our Church to the state of utter infamy that they now occupy.

The Lincoln Memorial of the Church

Roth Plot Against AmericaPhilip Roth wrote a novel about what would have happened if Franklin Delano Roosevelt had not won re-election in 1940. The Plot Against America imagines that Charles Lindbergh became president that year instead.

Lindbergh then makes a peace pact with Hitler, instead of committing to the alliance against him. American Jews begin to experience terrifying anti-Semitism, like the Jews in Europe.

The novel centers on one New-Jersey Jewish family.

In an early chapter, they take a family vacation to see the sights of Washington, D.C. They visit the Lincoln Memorial. Dad insists that his two sons carefully read the Gettysburg address, which is chiseled into the marble wall. “All men are created equal.”

Then they return to their hotel and discover that the manager has evicted them from their room. A clerk had mistakenly allowed them to check in. Jews are not allowed.

The fictional father interprets the situation to his sons: We are proud Americans. We love America. America has her ideals, and we cherish them. But the incumbent President of America betrays America by betraying her ideals. What is America? We know by her ideals, which you can read on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial. Not by the current president.

An amazingly moving scene. [NB. Apparently they are working on a t.v. mini-series version of the novel.]


…In 1953, Pope Pius XII made today, November 21, Pro Orantibus Day. He urged Catholics to pray and give thanks for all the cloistered nuns and monks, who spend their whole lives praying for us.

They pray for us. They also strive to live purely by our ideals. A life of contemplation of the truth that does not change.

My point is that Christian contemplatives are like the living Lincoln Memorial of our Church.

Of course the USA is a political reality, with a relatively short history and no divine guarantees. While the Church has not just ideals to live by, chiseled on a wall somewhere–but the living, breathing Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

During this period of time, however, we Catholics reasonably wonder if our current leaders have a grip on how to govern our Church according to her true ideals. So I think this analogy might help us.

No matter who holds office right now, the Catholic Church always has an indestructible, living Lincoln Memorial. The “vanishing center” of the Church. In their hidden chapels and simple cells, all they do is pray. And hope for heaven. And love God and everyone.


Steady March Through the Alaska of Books


Blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message and heed what is written in it. (Revelation 1:3)

From the beginning of the last book of the Holy Bible. St. John’s Revelation both begins and ends with exhortations about reading the sacred book. Exhortations that we can apply not just to this last book of the Bible, but to all of Scripture. St. John’s words echo Moses’ in the book of Deuteronomy. Carefully listen to, and heed, the Word of God. Change nothing.

How does St. John conclude the Bible?

I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from these words, God will take away his share in the tree of life and the holy city described in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

The Church feeds on the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church listens to, and heeds, the words of Scripture. We know This Is Who We Are since: This is What a Mass Is.

The Catechism puts it like this: “The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as She venerates the Lord’s Body… In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.” (CCC 103-104)

Sounds lovely and sweet. But we cannot get sentimental and pollyannish about something as genuinely intimidating as the Holy Bible.

To Brave AlaskaYou know I recently read about one young man’s ill-fated solo adventure in Alaska. Then I went on a binge and watched multiple movies about people daring the Alaskan wilderness. And losing the dare every time. “Into the Wild.” “To Brave Alaska.” “Rugged Gold.”

The point of this movie genre is: Only a fool underestimates the challenges involved in surviving in the Alaska bush. And my point is: The Holy Bible is the Alaska of books. Only a fool underestimates the challenges. Only a fool ventures out alone, unguided and without provisions.

So we read together. According to an ancient, well-established plan. With guides. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

When we read the Scriptures in union with the Church—systematically, year after year, guided by experts—then we survive and thrive. Then we enter into the joy of seasoned explorers.

A week from Sunday, we begin anew. We Catholic Scripture-reading survivalists understand the Lectionary cycle. This year we have had B-2. Which means on the first Sunday of Advent, we begin…

Right, amigo. C-1.

A steady march through the beautiful bush. Blessed are those who listen to, and heed, the Word of God.

Guest Post: Dr. Ann White

mom(My dear mom has a Ph.D. in history and has done extensive research on the Reformation.)

Is the present-day Catholic crisis more dangerous than the indulgence crisis, which led to the Protestant Reformation?

In Catholic teaching, obtaining an indulgence means substituting for penance following genuine confession. This is no problem and caused no crisis.

Problems came when the selling of indulgences became big business. The market opened up after the pope in 1476 declared that an indulgence could be purchased on behalf of another, for example, on behalf of a dead relative suffering in purgatory. In the following decades, cardinals and archbishops led great indulgence-selling campaigns to support the building and rebuilding of churches, the performance of pilgrimages, crusades against the Turks.

A tipping point came when Pope Leo X in 1515 proclaimed the sale of an indulgence for building St. Peter’s in Rome. Martin Luther, a devout priest and monk, posted his 95 Theses because he feared that parishioners – the sheep of his flock and the victims in this crisis – were being taught that their money could buy God’s forgiveness when they purchased an indulgence.

Which is more dangerous to the church – a crisis based on money or a crisis based on the damaged lives of human persons?  The money did some worthwhile good, but absolutely no good comes from Christians damaging lives and covering up the damage.

Will today’s Catholic church escape the church’s 16th century punishment: tens of thousands of church members following the excommunicated Luther out of the church?

Don’t count on escaping similar losses to the church. In 16th century Europe, people were interested in religion; they wanted to go to church. We all know that in our culture there is little interest in religion and quite a bit of scorn for it. Think about the people who will leave the church as this crisis grinds on, and then think about how God’s children who should come into the church in the future will not do so because the image of its leadership is morally repellent.

Dear Catholic brothers and sisters, I’m a Lutheran but I know that this crisis in your church affects all of us Christians. Please fight for your church. By excommunicating Luther, 16th century church leaders dealt with a symptom of their problem, but not with the problem itself, which they themselves had caused.  Today’s church leaders do the same thing. They plan meetings to pretend to cope with the crisis, thus avoiding the crisis itself, which they themselves have caused. They spurn and condemn the very journalists and activists who have given the sex-abuse victims a platform to speak.

Please fight this church leadership. Call your own meetings and ask bishops to testify under oath. Plan mass protests. Attend meetings you’re forbidden to attend and risk arrest. Write letter after letter, blog post after blog post. Fight for the return of truth and morality to your church.

Remember: the 16th century crisis led to the break up of the Catholic Church. The present day crisis is even more dangerous.

Telling the Truth

Christ Sanhedrin

You will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.

Lord Jesus quoted this verse to describe what will happen at the end of time. Anyone know where the verse originally comes from? Correct: the prophet Daniel. “You will see the Son of Man, coming on the clouds of heaven.” Now, let’s see who really knows the gospels. Did the Lord Jesus ever quote that verse again? [Spanish]

Correct. On Holy Thursday night, at His “trial” before the Sanhedrin. What crime did the accusers allege? Correct: Blasphemy.

So the high priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” And we can say: When the Lord answered by quoting Daniel 7:13, He spoke the decisive words of His life. He bore witness to the truth about Himself. It cost Him everything.

Are you the Messiah? “Yes, I am. And you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” Indeed, we will see Him, the eternal Word of God’s divine love. He gave His life on the cross to assure us of the truth of these words. To give us hope and eternal life in Him.

This is our redemption from sin. Lord Jesus offered Himself in sacrifice for us, the perfect sinless Lamb accepting death to save us sinners. We come to know about the Redemption as an objective fact. Something that God has done for us, before we ever did anything good at all.

Michelangelo’s Daniel

But let’s not leave the Redemption “outside ourselves,” so to speak. To participate in it, we have to let Christ’s perfect honesty about Himself make us more honest.

Christ’s sacrifice of His life came to pass because: He would not fudge the truth in order to save His skin. It’s true that He didn’t walk around Palestine with a t-shirt or a cap that read, “Yes, I am your Messiah.” He had more discretion about His mystery than to do that. But when the high priest asked Him directly, before a room full of witnesses, the Lord did not hide the truth.

…The liturgical year draws to a close. Mother Nature lays down for winter. The readings at Holy Mass call to mind the ultimate end of all things.

Christ the Judge of all, the divine Justice Himself, submitted to giving testimony in a court convened to judge Him. Nothing required Him to answer; He answered for our sake.

On the other hand, we do have to answer for ourselves, in the end. We owe God an account for all our deeds, for our stewardship of His gifts, the greatest of which is: Me, myself.

Now, we sinners cannot answer for ourselves by claiming an A+ record. That comes as no surprise to Almighty God. He knows our weaknesses better than we do. We cannot lie to the One Who knows everything.

“Redemption” means: Just like Jesus spoke the truth about Himself to the Sanhedrin, I, too, can give an honest account of myself before God. Without fear. I can do it in the confessional. That will liberate me from having to face condemnation for my sins when I die.

You all know well enough that this past summer’s news about Theodore McCarrick has pretty much turned my life upside down. The fact that I received the sacrament of Holy Orders at the hands of a dishonest sexual predator, with a trail of ruined lives left in the shadows behind him.

I don’t bring this up for us to depress ourselves. I simply mean to draw a contrast. On the one side, a Cardinal Archbishop living a lie, having made a Faustian bargain with his own conscience. On the other side: the High Priest of the eternal covenant of real, honest love. Jesus Christ, bearing witness to the mysterious truth about Himself, knowing perfectly well that it will mean bitter suffering and death.

Let’s stand with Christ. He will come again in glory to judge. He who sees all, knows all, brooks no deception. He vindicates the rights of the innocent. Let us stand before Him without any subterfuges, admit our sins, and beg His tender mercy. He forgives.

For a Christian it’s never too late. Never too late to own up to the truth. Never too late to do the right thing. The Lord waits for us to repent and seek mercy. He waits until we breathe our last. He told the truth and died so that we could tell the truth and live.

Repent Now

Jim and Jennifer Stolpa

He will come with superhuman suddenness. Into the middle of earth’s hurly-burly, in which we flatter ourselves that we move speedily, with our smartphones and high-speed internet.

He will come. To settle everything, to expose every lie, to make everything right. And He will do it so suddenly that Usain Bolt won’t even have time to arch his back and set his toes at the startling line. Christ will come more quickly than your software can scan an e-mail for viruses.

Which is why we make friends with Him. The Judge. We cannot outrun Him. We cannot evade Him. And we will have no time whatsoever to bargain with Him; we will have no time to plead for mercy then, when He comes like a bolt of lightning.

We have to bargain now. We have to plead for mercy now. We have to settle the account. Now. Each day.

Christopher-McCandlessA couple weeks ago, we talked about Chris McCandless and his immature risk-taking. It cost him his life, and his family a lifetime of grief. Remember Jim and Jennifer Stolpa, with their newborn Clayton? Stuck in the snow in northwest Nevada for eight days because they tried to take a shortcut through the mountains during a blizzard. Their imprudent risk almost cost three lives and immeasurable family grief.

But those foolish risks of life and limb amount to nothing, compared to you or me going to bed without a clear conscience. They risked mortal life. But going to sleep unprepared for death means risking eternal life.

This is not just advice for monks and spiritual athletes. This is Christianity 101. If I cannot say that I have no fear of dying on my way home today; no fear of a meteor crashing into my house; no fear of a random deadly rattlesnake bite when I go to the basement to put my laundry in the dryer—if I am not perfectly ready for The End, then I take a risk with my immortal soul more imprudent that the bodily risk I would take if I set out to hike the Appalachian Trail in the winter wearing only flip-flops and a t-shirt.

Because: They were eating and drinking up to the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. They were buying and selling on the day when Lot left Sodom, and fire and brimstone rained from the sky and destroyed them all.

Planting and building here on earth: fine. Same with marrying and giving in marriage. Provided we can do it with souls reconciled to God and ready to meet Him, in all His stern justice, right now.