The Lord is My Divinely Merciful Shepherd

divine-mercy

“Do not be afraid,” says the Lord, “once I was dead, but now I am alive.”

Here’s a question. If we had to name the single most famous and beloved little part of the Bible, worldwide, what would it be? Everybody’s favorite? Right, Psalm 23.  Everybody loves the 23rd Psalm. [Spanish]

The Lord God Almighty rules the cosmos not as a capricious tyrant, nor as an absentee landlord, but as an attentive shepherd. He knows what we need, and He provides. Our spirits droop; He revives us. We get lost; He leads us back to the path of life. We walk through a dark valley, but we fear no evil. Because we feel His crook and His staff on our little flanks, keeping us moving forward, even through the darkness.

He knows where He leads. To a table with an overflowing cup, and the oil of gladness. To the house of the Lord. To unending goodness and kindness.

St Faustina Kowalska
St. Faustina Kowalska

Ok, now: Everyone familiar with the image of Divine Mercy? The picture of Himself which the Lord revealed to St. Faustina, during the 20th century? A famous painting, with the Lord Jesus in white, with rays of light flowing from His Sacred Heart. The pale rays signify the water of Holy Baptism. The red rays signify Christ’s Precious Blood, shed for our salvation.

Anyway, is it going too far to say this? The Divine Mercy image gives us the perfect visual depiction of the 23rd Psalm. If we could translate the words of Psalm 23, not into Spanish or Swahili, but into an image—wouldn’t it be the Divine Mercy image revealed to St. Faustina? Give me an Amen?

Do not be afraid. Once I was dead. But now I am alive.

Fear can do us good. I live in mortal fear of getting up to talk, without anything properly prepared to say. Parents fear that certain videogame devices will swallow-up whole their children’s heads and hands and necks. And we all rightly fear that we would offend God, that we would displease our Creator and Father.

But one thing has always distinguished Christians from everyone else. We do not fear death.

At least we don’t fear death when we focus and meditate. Human beings naturally recoil from dying, by a kind of kneejerk instinct for survival. That can’t be avoided. But a Christian meditates, prays, puts everything in the hands of the divine Shepherd. The Christian entrusts his natural life to the loving Lord Whose Heart lies open, with blood and water flowing out for our salvation. The Christian meditates on all this, and finds peace, even in the face of imminent, unavoidable death. The martyrs of Christ have sung their way into the lions’ den.

Do not be afraid, says the Lord. I Myself was dead. But now I am alive.

That the Lord emancipates us from fear, relieving us of the deepest anxiety: that is indeed a great work of mercy. We can live in the truth. We can face reality as it is. Not running away. Not deadening our minds and perceptions with false comforts and fantasies. We need not fear the unknown. We need not fear whatever lies beyond, the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns.

Jesus, I trust in You. I know that You will forgive every sin I confess. I know that you will go to any length, to keep this little lamb on the safe path. Thomas doubted. So You came back a second time.

Christ lived His Paschal Mystery–the most-bitter suffering and the most-sublime triumph—He underwent His Passover–so that the 23rd Psalm could be not just a pious canticle for us, but the most fundamental reality of our entire consciousness. Jesus Christ—the Divine Mercy, the Alpha and the Omega, Thomas’ patient friend—Jesus turns our day-to-day existence into a living, breathing Psalm 23. Fear no evil, because goodness and kindness will follow you.  A table will be spread before you.  You will dwell in the house of the Lord.

What can we not accomplish, for the glory of the Father, when Christ purges fear from our souls? What feats of tender, patient love can we not undertake, with joy, when we possess Christian fearlessness? We will conquer the earth with love! Let’s start right here. Let’s conquer our little corner of the earth with love. Seriously.

He will see us through. His mercy endures forever. Though we dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, we will not want for anything.

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The Report

We have received a report. Two thick volumes. Took years to prepare. It recounts the underhanded workings of some seriously evil men. [Spanish]

I have a brother who works as a journalist. Writes for politico.com. He has taken to referring to that report that came out in Washington this week as the “Ferris Bueller Report.”

Not the report I’m talking about.

We have received a report. God started this whole business of human life by putting us in a garden of paradise. We foolishly and brazenly rejected His generosity. The shadow of death then covered the bright sun.

But it is not as if God is not God. By which I mean: Both infinitely powerful and infinitely good. God does not allow evil to despoil His good work–at least not without a plan to bring even greater good out of the evil.

resurrectionDevil has some tricks up his sleeve. But you cannot outwit God, Who knows all. God may appear to lose a battle to the devil. But God Almighty and all-beautiful does not lose no wars.

We have received a report, dear brothers and sisters. God became one of us, and walked into the capital city. We might think that Washington, D.C., festers like an evil swamp. But they’re having a Boy-Scout conference up there, compared to Jerusalem in 33 AD.

The God-man walked into the brood of vipers, with no weapon of any kind in His Almighty hands. They pounced on Him like piranhas. He bled and died. Almighty God bled and died in our mortal human flesh.

But we have received a report. Not the Ferris Bueller report. The holy and apostolic report.

Volume One awaited fulfillment. St. Peter, St. John, St. Paul; Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke—they gathered facts and gave us the New and Eternal Volume Two.

He rose from the dead.

They saw the tomb, empty, with the burial cloths neatly folded. Okay. Hmm… Empty tomb of the dead rabbi. Investigation needed here. “They have taken the body of our Lord, and we don’t know where they laid Him…”

“Mary… Cephas… Thomas… Paul… It is I.”

We have received the report. They saw Him. They touched His wounded, resurrected flesh. They ate with Him. They listened to Him some more.

He rose. He won. The all-good, all-beautiful, Almighty God-man does not lose no wars. Not with Satan, not with death and destruction, not with darkness and evil. He did battle with death, and won.

How solid is this report? Did the apostles and martyrs base it on flimsy evidence? Maybe the cynics can explain it all away? Spin it as a lovely myth? File it under “Nice Little Stories” for the weekend edition?

Don’t think so. Too coherent. Multiple witnesses, all eagerly ready and willing to die for the truth of it. And, as we experience through a grand tour of Old Testament passages at the Easter Vigil, Volumes One and Two support and confirm each other.

No, we have received as solid a report as you can receive in this world. We, too, will gladly die for the truth of the holy and apostolic report, if it comes to it. Jesus lives.

Little Spanish Homily for Good Friday, Amigos

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

¿Qué pasó? No murió por nada.

En Cristo, Dios todopoderoso ha borrado nuestros pecados, para hacernos justos y santos en todo nuestro ser. Compartimos en la justicia de Dios, por la gracia del Espíritu Santo, que la Pasión de Cristo nos ha merecido. Todo esto se nos ha dado Dios por el sacramento de… Bautismo.

Compartir la justicia de Dios en Cristo. Implica dos cosas…

  1. La gracia de Cristo nos separa del pecado. Nos purifica el corazón. Nos libera de la esclavitud del chamuco.
  2. Nos une con el amor de Dios. Creemos en Él por Cristo. Confiamos en la justicia, la rectitud, la bondad, la mansedumbre y la amabilidad divina. Amamos a Dios con todo el corazón, y amamos al prójimo por el amor de Dios. Felizmente obedecemos a Dios, porque esto es la libertad verdadera.

Todo esto Dios nos ha dado por regalo a través de Cristo y Su cruz. No hay que hacer más que creer y vivir la vida de la Iglesia. Vivir nuestra vida al pie de la cruz, con confianza total en la resurrección.

En el principio, el Creador hizo el cielo y la tierra. Trabajo enorme, increíble, y bonito. Pero más enorme, más increíble, más bonito: Que Él nos hace santos. Que Él nos hace sus hijos e hijas, herederos con Su Hijo Unigénito del reino celestial. Por todo esto, adoramos la cruz de Jesús de Nazaret.

Ok, Lord. We Won’t Take it for Granted

Holy Thursday Notre Dame 2018
Holy Thursday, Notre Dame cathedral, 2018

As Christ the Lord was about to celebrate with the disciples the paschal supper at which he instituted the Sacrifice of his Body and Blood, he commanded a large, furnished upper room be prepared. The Church has always judged that this command applied to herself whenever she decided about things related to places, rites, and texts for the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist.

The first words of a familiar book. The Roman Missal.

In Rocky Mount and Martinsville, Va., we have a roof over our heads, under which we can celebrate Holy Mass. The tears the world shed on Monday—they taught us not to take that for granted.

Notre Dame represents… the French nation? The Gothic style? The Middle Ages? I’ve been glued to the coverage as much as anyone. Two obvious facts have gone unsaid.

1. A church—any church, including Notre Dame de Paris–is for: the Mass. Before there even was a French nation; before The Hunchback hunched his back; before they carved the gargoyles or the magnificent arches–Jesus of Nazareth desired to celebrate the Passover with His disciples.

2. Second thing about Notre Dame: The countless masons, craftsman, artisans, and laborers who lived and died building the cathedral did not build it to represent Paris. Or France. Or even the Church. They built Notre Dame to represent heaven. Anyone who ever set foot in that building, even once, knows: They did a pretty darn good job of it.

hunchback notre dameA beautiful church is beautiful because it lifts you up towards heaven. This is related to Point #1. The Mass unites heaven and earth, in the Body and Blood of the Incarnate God. A church building exists to house the Mass; therefore, a church building serves as a visible threshold of invisible heaven.

Let’s not take our lovely, cozy, orderly, luminous little churches for granted. Let’s not take each other for granted. And let me put this as humbly as I can: Let’s not take me for granted.

I mean: feel free to take me for granted as the middle-aged man with bad eyes and black high-waters. But: I think the Notre Dame fire breaks our hearts like it does because it involves such catastrophic damage to a faithful witness to the Church’s march through the centuries. And the Church marches through the centuries on the backs of Her priests.

The thing that connects the Last Supper to now—a thin, black thread, stretching across millennia. The sacred priesthood.

Let’s not take that for granted. Christ promised that His Church would always have priests. But He never promised that Rocky Mount, Virginia, would have a priest. Or Martinsville, Virginia. The Rocky Mounts and Martinsvilles of China, or Afghanistan, or even Norway—they don’t have priests.

To us, this place is home. And that our home has a priest—that’s a miracle we shouldn’t take for granted.

The fact that the Lord chose me to be that priest—well, I can’t even begin to fathom that one.

#2 on the List

cathedrale fermee
Screenshot from the French masstimes.com website

Zeal for your house consumes me. (Psalm 69:10)

Buildings that house the celebration of Holy Mass and serve as repositories of the Christian faith. We have such buildings in our towns and cities, thanks be to God. Let’s make a list of the most-venerable such buildings on earth…

1. St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

2.

My first reaction on Monday afternoon: Rage. How do you manage to burn down Notre Dame Cathedral by accident?

But it can happen. They accidentally burned down St. Paul Outside the Walls, in Rome, in 1823. Damage far more severe than what Notre Dame suffered in Monday’s fire. They re-built, and the basilica that houses the tomb of St. Paul re-opened, just as it stood before the fire, thirty-two years later, in 1855.

Second Monday-afternoon reaction: Utter heartbreak.

Lyon has the most-ancient cathedra in France. But Paris has had one for a long, long time. The city became Christian with the martyrdom of St. Denis, during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

For perspective: We live in one of the oldest dioceses in the U.S. Barry Knestout sits as the thirteenth bishop. The current Archbishop of Paris sits as the 141st.

St. Louis, Missouri, got its name from King Louis IX of France, who brought our Lord’s crown of thorns to Paris during the century of Notre Dame’s original construction. St. Thomas Aquinas taught in Paris then, and prayed in the cathedral while work was underway.

St Thomas Seat of Wisdom

They had a beautiful painting of St. Thomas hanging in Notre Dame on Monday. Right now it’s at the Louvre, with the curators trying to save it from water damage.

In prior centuries, Protestants smashed statues, and the republican revolutionaries desecrated Notre Dame and dedicated it to a false god. The church survived.

People went to Mass there this past Sunday and Monday. One of our families in Rocky Mount took a trip to Paris just a couple months ago, and went to Mass at Notre Dame.

Zeal for your house consumes me. Now we have the most-sacred ceremonies of the year to celebrate, brothers and sisters. And we have a roof over our heads to celebrate them under. May God be praised.

I don’t think we have even really begun to fathom the depth of the wound done to our souls by Monday’s fire on the Seine. I, for one, am still in a state of shock–with dreams of an empty cathedral with no roof, and everything broken, haunting my sleep. And I was only in that building once, and that was almost seventeen years ago.

So the wound is deep. But a mortal wound it is not. Paris may yet have another 141 archbishops, or more–before the Church’s march through time finally ends, and the eternal Easter begins.

Notre Dame Cathedral gave birth to many wonderful, beautiful things—and she will give birth to more. May our humble parish churches strive for that kind of fruitfulness, too—here in our little Parises on the Smith and on the Pigg.

Your Holiness Emeritus, I Disagree

pope-benedict-saturno-hat

Pope Benedict XVI still lives, and he can still write. He took the trouble to try to explain the sexual abuse crisis, by looking back at his career in the Church. Click to read his essay.

Problem is, His Holiness Emeritus has written things that aren’t really true. He writes, “Only where faith no longer determines the actions of a man are such offenses [sexual abuse of minors] possible.”

But even a cursory examination of the record reveals that faith and sexual abuse can and do often co-exist. Did Theodore McCarrick not believe in God and Christ? I can say with no doubt that he did and likely still does. Many sex abusers have been wracked with bitter remorse and genuine penitence–and have proceeded to offend again.

Pope Benedict suggests that sex abuse spiked after the sexual revolution, which caused moral confusion in the Church. But most people have never been confused at all, regarding the criminality of sexually abusing a minor. In the 50’s, the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, up until now: An overwhelming consensus that sexually abusing minors is a crime. In the ancient world, society tolerated the sexual abuse of minors. But not in the modern West.

For the Pope Emeritus to publish a thoughtful essay on this topic: that could conceivably have helped us enormously. If he had given us the full details of what he knew about McCarrick, and when he knew it–that would really help.

No such luck.

Rather, Benedict XVI has embarrassed himself significantly. He has perpetuated the hierarchy’s standard misidentification of the scandal. The Scandal does not = priests sexually abusing minors. The Scandal = bishops and popes neglecting to discipline criminals.

In his essay, the former head of the the Vatican tribunal dealing with sex-abuse cases–and the former supreme legislator of the Church–laments problems with ecclesiastical law. That’s like Bill Gates writing an essay to lament problems with Microsoft Office.

…How about this, gentlemen of the higher clergy:

Take two hundred men, the approximate size of many presbyterates. Between one and four of them will sexually abuse a minor at some point. What do you do then, when you learn of it?

Isn’t that the question?

Why have four decades passed, since Jason Berry first exposed the case of Gilbert Gauthe–and still: no clear, sensible answer for that question?

Chrism Mass on the Titanic

Titanic

Here is My servant, upon Whom I have put my Spirit. (Isaiah 42:1)

Mary of Bethany anointed Him. He pointed out: It’s for My burial.

“Christ” means… same as “Messiah”… Anointed. Almighty God put His Spirit on this man. Mary of Bethany anointed Him at the beginning of Holy Week, for burial. But the triune God anointed the Christ at the moment of His conception in His mother Mary’s womb. Jesus always was, and always will be, The Christ.

All Christians revere Holy Week and keep it sacred. But of course it is especially sacred for us priests. The Lord drew us intimately into His work of salvation by choosing all of us, as He sat at table with His Apostles. And gave the world the Holy Mass.

All Christians receive the anointing of the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. But we priests have also received an anointing on our hands. We have to use our minds and our voices to do our work, to be sure. But also: the hands. To hold the Host and Chalice.

Do not let your hearts be trouble Passion of the ChristIn our Liturgy, the symbol of the heavenly anointing is an oil called… Sacred Chrism. Every Holy Week, we priests concelebrate Mass with our bishop to consecrate new Chrism for the year to come.

Baptized babies will receive anointing with the Chrism on the crowns of their heads. Christians ready to spread the reign of Christ will receive anointing with the Chrism on their foreheads. And the priests to be ordained in June will receive anointing with it on their hands.

Now, one hundred seven years ago today, the Titanic sank. Last year, Holy Mother Church struck an iceberg. And by all worldly estimations, She’s going down.

I never thought I would walk into the cathedral for a Chrism Mass, with the reasonable man in the back of my head thinking: Dude, you’re like one of those violinists on the deck of the Titanic.

But here I go, up the road to Richmond, knowing full well what all reasonable observers know, during Holy Week 2019: Holy Mother Church is sinking. And the men on the bridge have no idea how to save the ship.

But we have more than worldly estimations to consider in this Church. We have Jesus, the Christ.

Abraham’s Reasoning

titian-christ-and-the-good-thief

Jesus, remember me, when you come into Your kingdom.

In our parishes, we have sung that verse throughout Lent. We read the verse on Palm Sunday once every three years. St. Luke, alone among the four evangelists, recorded the plea of the repentant criminal on the cross next to Jesus’. [Spanish]

Jesus, remember me, when You come into Your kingdom.

Making this plea required heavenly faith. The criminal said these words to a wretched Galilean rabbi, so near death that he obviously would not survive another hour, with no apparent prospects whatsoever of coming into any known kingdom.

Even to begin to fathom the depth of the faith involved in the criminal’s plea, we have to back thousands of years.

God promised Abraham descendants as numerous as… the grains of sand on the seashore or the stars of the sky. Even though Abraham and his wife had long since left their childbearing years behind them.

God gave them Isaac. But then what happened? God asked Abraham to offer Isaac in sacrifice. Abraham prepared to obey.

dore_abraham_isaac471x600

Now, Abraham believed that God would make good on His promise to give him and Sarah countless descendants. And Abraham willingly prepared to sacrifice their only heir. How do we possibly figure that? Hebrews 11:19 gives us the answer. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.

Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.

In a way, Abraham said these words to Christ–since only Abraham’s faith could move anyone to say them to the rabbi hanging on the cross. The criminal saw Christ dying in pure innocence, out of love for the Father and for us, as the pleasing sacrifice that Isaac represented, until the angel stayed Abraham’s hand. And the criminal reasoned that God could raise His Son from death.

Everyone with the faith of Abraham, then—all of us, arcing as we are toward our own inevitable death, gazing at Christ dying on the cross in agony, with no earthly hope—we plead with the perfectly pure, but utterly forsaken One. We reason that God has the power. Jesus, remember us, when You come into Your Kingdom.

And, with blood dripping into His eyes, with hardly any strength in His diaphragm left, even to inhale enough oxygen to speak, He calmly assures us: You will be with Me in paradise.