Human Cry to Christ

The Canaanite woman approached the Lord. “My child is possessed by a demon!” I’ve heard this myself, many times. “Father, an exorcism, please! This child is possessed.” Meanwhile, Bamm Bamm comes trailing along on the way out of church after Mass, Tonka fire engine and rubber Tyrannosaurus Rex in tow. [Click here for Spanish.]

Bamm Bamm RubbleSo we can relate to the Canaanite mother. What the devil has gotten into him? Or: what the devil has gotten into all these people? We might be concerned about our little ones, or medium-sized ones, or just this whole crazy world! So we cry out to the great high priest, Who alone can overcome all evil with the power of His infinite goodness. We cry, “Have pity on us, Lord, Son of David!” Have pity on us, divine Messiah! Heal us. Calm our hearts. Pacify our souls.

Babies seem very cute. But it doesn’t take long for the “issues” involved in the operation of the human heart to begin to surface. Newborns seem simple and cherubic. But one year olds? Two? Three? Neither simple nor cherubic.

I don’t remember, of course, but my mom tells me that I had a habit of waking up in the middle of the night in my crib, standing up, and then rocking the whole crib against the wall, banging it—as if it were a little ship that I was trying to navigate out of the harbor of the dark room, into some imaginary wide-open sea. I mean, I was a good little baby. But I had wild dreams, I guess, and I experienced our perennial human dissatisfaction with the limitations of earthly existence. Who says we can’t sail to the South Pole right now? Why not?

Anyone ever see the movie “The Truman Show?” Jim Carrey the comedian actually played a pretty profound character. He was trapped in a geodesic dome the size of a town. He had been there his whole life. He was the star of a reality show–had been since birth–and he didn’t know it. Everyone he knew was a paid actor. He alone, in the town-size set, didn’t know that it was a set. He was the most-popular tv star on earth. Everyone watched his show, since he was so sincere on camera. Naturally–he didn’t know he was on camera.

Truman’s life progressed pleasantly enough, for thirty-some years. Then a profound dissatisfaction began to stir in his soul. The town was supposedly on an “island.” He wanted to set sail. The producer of the reality show tried all kinds of desperate tricks to keep Truman from getting on a boat, but Truman outsmarted him. Next thing you know, Truman sails out, towards the horizon. Then his boat slams into the cinderblock outer wall of the dome, which is painted sky blue. He literally crashes into the sky. And now that he’s up-close to it, he sees that there’s a stage door. So he opens it. He turns his back on everything familiar—his whole world. Then he walks out the door.

The Truman ShowThat is what we are like. Desperately, destructively dissatisfied—without the peace and grace of Christ. Without the promise that life in Christ offers us.

The devil seduced the human race with an appeal that hit home. Be like God! Our First Parents succumbed to the temptation of wanting to be like God precisely because God Himself made us for the express purpose of being like Him. Satan could not have led the great race of squirrels into sin with such a seduction. “Squirrels! Turn away from the Law, and follow me, and you will be like God.” Silence. Blank little squirrel stares. Acorns crunching in their mouths. No takers.

Because squirrels don’t have “being like God” in them. But we do. So we can also wind up with the devil in us, big time. A sharp, well-proportioned knife can do both great good and great harm. A human being is a sharp, well-proportioned spiritual knife.

So: Have pity on us, O Christ of God! Pacify our tortured souls. Gather us into Your flock and guide us with Your own infallible words. Succor us with the life-giving nectar that flows from your own wounded Heart—wounded for us, wounded unjustly, so that You could heal our self-inflicted human-heart wounds.

This is mankind’s cry, from the depths of our terrestrial life. The cry begins to sound out from our throats, in a jumble of desperate dissatisfactions, before we even learn how to distinguish right from wrong.

Jesus Christ is the balm for it, the medicine. He heals mankind unto eternal life. Also: He is a Jew of the Jews, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a member of the most-elite and ancient nation, the nation that God gathered to Himself first. Do we have standing to call out to the Messiah of Israel, and hope for an answer and some help? Can we sick goyim go to this Jewish doctor?

Well, apparently, we have to say Please. We have to humble ourselves. We don’t really have a right to address the Christ. But we can do it anyway.

The Canaanite mother didn’t think twice about begging or even groveling. He’s the Christ, so why should I stand on ceremony? she thought to herself. He’s got what I need. I will beg. Because I believe in Him.

O woman, great is your faith! He said to her. If He could say the same to us, as we implore His grace and mercy during Holy Mass, then our healing unto eternal life has already begun.

RIP, Big Frank

DiLorenzoThe man kept Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop on his desk for years. So you figure he was ready.

For all of bishop’s many kindnesses to me, I give thanks. For his few injustices against me, I right readily forgive him. May the blame not attach itself to him. I refuse to press charges.

May he forgive me for all the ways I have failed him–all of which he sees with perfect clarity now. He has much more to forgive me than I him.

He knew how to have fun. He and I had fun in his office, over straw hats, and with a desk calculator (trying to figure out how many hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to rebuild all the Church property within 300 yards of Orange Avenue in Roanoke). And I basically laughed in his 300-pound face when he lectured me about keeping fit.

I pray with all my heart that we will dine together in the life to come, a proper southside-Philly Italian meal, without him having to worry about his tricky digestion or his sugars. My dear departed dad was 100% clueless, and that often left me in difficult situations. But I always knew he loved me, with the desperate love of a father who wished he could guide his son, but just didn’t know how. I’m weeping right now, because I saw the same in Bishop DiLo. Resquiecant in pace, both of you, dear fathers. I owe you both.

…Richmond sede vacante is weird. For us parish priests of the diocese, I think it’s even weirder and more doleful than Roma sede vacante. May the good Lord comfort us and help us.

Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

How many second chances ought we to give, Lord? Seventy times seven second chances.

In the parable we read at Holy Mass today, the servant owed the king a huge amount. After the servant begged for mercy, the king forgave the loan.

Shawn Lauvao Redskins 77
77 pardons in honor of Shawn Lavao?

We want to relate to the magnificently magnanimous king. But can we deny that some debtors really do push us too far? Everyone knows somebody who simply doesn’t know how to stay out of debt, and won’t learn. Black holes of the good will of everyone around them, helpless and incorrigible. They try the patience of good people beyond the breaking point.

So: Let’s give the first servant in the parable the maximum benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that he had borrowed from the king only this one time. Meanwhile, his fellow servant had borrowed from him, without repaying, over and over again. Let’s acknowledge that any of us, driven to the extreme by such a deadbeat relative or friend, would long since have let him or her rot in jail, rather than swoop in with an “emergency” loan again.

All this may have been true in the scenario outlined in the parable. But still the king faulted the first servant for his lack of mercy.

Now, is this a reasonable judgment, considering the genuine limitations of human generosity? I’ve had to say it myself; after all, it is true: “Look, I want to help you. But I am not made of money.”

So, to understand all this, I think we need to keep in mind the context of this exchange between St. Peter and the Lord. Peter asked how often he must forgive his brother immediately after the Lord Jesus had explained a particularly amazing power that the Church possesses. The Church, a living family with duly appointed authority figures, has the power to bind and to loose, in the name of God. The living authority of the Church keeps the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

peterjesusBoth to bind and to loose. Holy Mother Church can and does bind. She can and does impose penalties–penalties with potentially horrifying and everlasting effects. There are things we have to stay far away from, if we know what’s good for us. Sacrilege, apostasy, abortion.

But the Church, when she binds someone with a penalty, always binds with the hope of ultimately loosing. Church penalties aim at correction and then restoration of communion. She never tires of forgiving the miscreant who repents. No one ever runs out of second chances with the Church. Everything the Church has belongs to everyone who humbly seeks Her goods, even if it’s a deadbeat who has confessed the same terrible sins too many times to remember.

So it doesn’t necessarily make any of us a bad person if we conclude that such-and-such cousin or nephew or old college roommate or former co-worker has come asking for help just one too many times. We individuals on our pilgrim way have our limits.

But what we can’t do is judge anybody any more harshly than Holy Mother Church does. And the Church is always ready to start over, as if today were the first day of a brand new friendship.

The View from Mount Nebo

Pope Benedict Mount Nebo

If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted. (Matthew 18:19)

If two of you agree. Sounds pretty easy. But if you think so, you’ve probably never attended a parish council meeting. And you’ve definitely never been married.

As we read at Holy Mass today, Moses stood on Mount Nebo and saw the entire Holy Land, from Dan to Beersheba, from Naphtali to Idumea. To be sure, the view from Mount Nebo is majestic, like the view from McAfee’s Knob, or Moore’s Knob in Hanging Rock State Park, NC. But no human eye could see the entire Holy Land from Mount Nebo. The Lord must have given Moses a share in His own divine vision, in order for the prophet to see the whole expanse of the land.

Then Moses died, and Joshua assumed his office. Now, two popes have stood at the same place on Mount Nebo and taken in the same view as Moses, at least the part that can be seen by the human eye.

At Holy Mass a week from Sunday we will hear the Lord speak about the Church’s authority to bind and loose (we hear about that at Holy Mass today, too). Our spiritual Mother, the family formed by God through the sacrifice of Christ, governed by Christ’s Vicar on earth: She possesses the holy concord, the agreement, the harmony of spirit which the Lord promised to reward. She teaches us how to pray and how to live.

We human beings rightly cherish our sacred personal independence. But this does come as good news: our Creator has not left us on our own to seek Him. He has not made us religious free agents.

Yes, we only truly find Him when we have the courage to enter into the depths of our consciences to find our true selves, the saints He made us to be. But our true selves never stand alone. We always belong to the family God forms from the flesh of His only-begotten Son.

Little World

downtown Charlottesville mall

The other night, I reached the end of an era in my little life. I read the final words of Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset. Sweet sadness overwhelmed me.

Six Barsetshire novels–all of them about the country clergy, their families, their interactions with their neighbors and doctors and benefactors. About how young people move from the county into London, and their city lives. About the scramble for suitable marriages and adequate incomes.

Trollope concludes the series with a seriously wise reflection on the clerical life, which I would like to quote at length. But I will save that for an appendix to this post.

…For five years, from 2011 to 2016, I lived in greater Roanoke, while my dear mommy lived in Washington D.C. She hasn’t driven a car in decades, but she loves to ride the train. It doesn’t take a geographical genius to figure out the perfect place for the two of us to meet for a couple days during those years: Charlottesville.

Airbnb provided us with small downtown apartments. We ate at The Nook, or Citizen Burger, or Downtown Thai. My mom shopped at Caspari while I took my daily run up the hill and around the University Rotunda.

So my first reaction to the big news of the weekend involved intimate geographic familiarity. “Emancipation Park” is not a place I read about in the news; it is where I have done cool-down stretches at the end of numerous runs.

So I have experienced an enormous amount of frustration in trying to find a straightforward and clear report of what exactly happened on Saturday and where–by which I mean: at the corners of which streets (because I know them all).

I weep because downtown Charlottesville does not in any way deserve this crushing disturbance. Downtown Charlottesville deserves to have its own quiet life, and not be the object of a news-camera spectacle.

In August of 2015, the peaceful carp pools of Bridgewater Plaza, Franklin County, Va., also became the focus of the insatiable media spectacle, because of arbitrary and cruel death. I wept then, for the same reason.

I refuse to do any grandstanding for an end to racism here on my blog, at least not today. What I want to do is: pray that downtown Charlottesville gets to return to normal life, with people eating al fresco of a summer evening, sipping Budweisers, and leaving the moral absolutes alone.

Appendix. From the final paragraphs of Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series:

Before I take my leave of the diocese of Barchester for ever, which I purpose to do in the succeeding paragraph, I desire to be allowed to say one word of apology for myself, in answer to those who have accused me–always without bitterness, and generally with tenderness–of having forgotten, in writing of clergymen, the first and most prominent characteristic of the ordinary English clergyman’s life.

I have described many clergymen, they say, but have spoken of them all as though their professional duties, their high calling, their daily workings for the good of those around them, were matters of no moment, either to me, or in my opinion, to themselves…

There are those who have told me that I have made all my clergymen bad, and none good. I must venture to hint to such judges that they have taught their eyes to love a colouring higher than nature justifies.

We are, most of us, apt to love Raphael’s madonnas better than Rembrandt’s matrons. But, though we do so, we know that Rembrandt’s matrons existed; but we have a strong belief that no such woman as Raphael painted ever did exist. In that he painted, as he may be surmised to have done, for pious purposes–at least for Church purposes–Raphael was justified; but had he painted so for family portraiture he would have been false.

Had I written an epic about clergymen, I would have taken St Paul for my model; but describing, as I have endeavoured to do, such clergymen as I see around me, I could not venture to be transcendental.

The Day Our Lady Went to Heaven

st mary major mosaic
apse mosaics in Santa Maria Maggiore, Roma

We keep the feast of our Lady’s immortality. Not just her immortality of soul, but also her immortality of body. Today her earthly pilgrimage ended. Her flesh, rather than facing the corruption of the grave, entered right into heaven.

Blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled (Luke 1:45). St. Elizabeth said this about the Blessed Mother.

Now, at the particular moment when Elizabeth pronounced that beatitude, the Lord had spoken but few words to Mary. Only that she would have a son, who would reign forever on the throne of David. How? By the Holy Spirit.

Mary learned only this much information from Archangel Gabriel. You will give birth to the Messiah by the power of the Holy Spirit. Very simple. No extra details. –She believed it.

But what about later on? Did she learn more during the course of her life? More about the great mystery of the Christ–the mystery in which she had believed, when the Archangel visited her? Had she learned more about those original promises by the time her earthly life neared its end? What more had she learned?

Whatever more she learned about the Christian mystery in the time between her conception of her son and her last earthly breath–whatever further aspects of the great promise had been revealed to her–certainly Mary believed it all, with a heart full of love.

We humble sinners really can’t even begin to speculate about all the intimacies that passed between Jesus and Mary during their pilgrim lives on earth–both before and after He suffered, died, and then rose from the dead. We can hardly doubt that the Blessed Mother became a thorough expert regarding Christ’s promise of eternal life in the flesh. She saw Him, of course, during the forty days He spent on earth in His risen body. Mary, first among all Christians, saw the resurrected Jesus. And she believed that He had risen, not for His own sake, but so that she, too, and all the faithful, could conquer death in the flesh, as well.

Which means that this feast of our Lady’s bodily entrance into heaven is the feast of our immortality of body, too. Until August 15 arrived, in the year she finished her earthly life, Mary participated in Christ’s mystery like we do: by faith. We do not begrudge her the privilege of having seen Jesus during the forty days after Easter. We don’t begrudge her because, now that Jesus reigns in heaven, we can, by faith and prayer, achieve our own intimacy with Him, too. After all, as Mary’s cousin put it: “Blessed is she who has believed.” Not she who has seen. She who has believed. Believed in the Christ, and His triumph over death–which He accomplished for the sake of all mankind.

So we stride on towards the inevitable end of our own pilgrimage with vivid assurance. The luminous assurance with which the Virgin herself faced the end of earthly life. That, by the power of Christ, our bodily death will get swallowed up Jesus’ victory.

Resurrected Agility

Before we get into reflecting on Jesus walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee (which we read at Holy Mass this Sunday), let’s remember how, last Sunday, we kept the feast of the Transfiguration. The glory of God shone through Christ’s body, before the eyes of Saints Peter, James, and John. The Lord offered these Apostles this glimpse of heaven to help give them strength to endure His subsequent Passion and death. [Click HERE for Spanish.]

Now, as things turned out, it seems like only St. John really took advantage of that help. He alone, of course, among the Apostles, got through Good Friday without abandoning Jesus. Did the Transfiguration not help Saints Peter and James? Well, the Lord always knows what He’s doing. Maybe Peter and James would have fared worse, and perhaps never repented of their cowardice in abandoning Christ, had they not seen the Transfiguration. As we know, the human heart is a complicated thing.

sophia lorenBe all that as it may, when the Transfiguration occurred, the truth about Jesus became evident to those three Apostles. They saw on earth, at that moment, what Jesus looks like in heaven now.

Therefore, in one sense, Jesus’ Transfiguration didn’t exactly involve a “miracle.” He is the God-man, after all. He always had the glory of God in Him, from His first moment in the Blessed Mother’s womb.

But the Transfiguration does count as a miracle, in the sense that the Apostles got a glimpse of Christ in heaven ahead of time. They saw Christ as He looks now, having risen from the dead and ascended—they saw Him that way before He had completed His paschal mystery, before He rose from the dead. Therefore, the Transfiguration was a bona fide miracle.

Now, why do I bring all this up today? Because what we just said about the Transfiguration, about how it was a glimpse of heaven, ahead of time–we could say that about Christ walking on water, too. Both events have to do with what a resurrected body is like.

The holy Body of Christ, risen from the dead, makes Superman and Spiderman look like nothing. As we know, Christ, in His risen body, ascended by His own power, not to the top of the Empire State Building, but to heaven. It’s not just that He can leap tall buildings in a single bound. His soul, communing perfectly with God, can move His body with an agility that we cannot even fully imagine—since our own bodies still bear the effects of original sin.

In other words, the human body, when united perfectly with God, is not limited by time, space, and gravity—like our bodies are now. Maybe that sounds odd. But we are talking about the heavenly life prepared for us by God, in which we will commune with Him bodily, without ever growing tired, or hungry, or hangry, or running late and risking a speeding ticket. A supersonic Google self-driving car will have nothing on us, once our bodies rise from the dead.

dq blizzardHence the “miracle” of Jesus walking on water. Yes, certainly, He defied gravity. He traveled across the Sea of Galilee with mysterious alacrity. As the disciples in the boat put it, He showed Himself truly the Son of God.

So yes, it was a miracle. But it was no magic trick. Christ did then, on the Sea of Galilee, nothing more physically amazing than what He does now, when He makes Himself simultaneously present in every tabernacle on earth, without ever leaving His throne in heaven. That’s no magic trick, either. It is simply the supernatural, glorified prerogative of Christ’s Body in its resurrected state.

This is what awaits us, in the life to come. We believe in Christ’s resurrection. We commune with His immortal Body and Blood through the power of the Holy Spirit. And we confidently hope that, by His gracious gift, our bodies, too, will rise to share in His immortal, bright, and indescribably agile life.

We know very little about heaven, if by “knowing,” we mean: we can picture it or understand it. We can’t. But that’s because heaven is actually better than anything we can imagine, whatever it might be. Better than somehow being at a Dairy Queen, and at the Redskins’ season opener, and at Sophia Loren’s 29th birthday party, all at the same time. It’s better than all of that rolled into one, if all of that could be rolled into one.

So we don’t really “know” about heaven. But that does not mean that heaven is something vague. Nor does it mean that heaven in something “totally spiritual.” Heaven is where Jesus is. And where Mary is. Our bodies ultimately belong in heaven, just like our souls.

To finish this subject, let’s briefly recall one other bodily marvel of Christ’s life. Blessed Mother gave birth to Him without losing her virginity. Jesus grew in Mary’s womb, just like we grew in our mother’s wombs. Then it came time for birth. The man who eventually walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee, and whose flesh allowed the divine light to shine through on Mount Tabor—He, as He traveled through the birth canal as an infant, emerged without any strain or strife on the part of His mother.

Again, a miracle, yes–but not a magic trick. And not something vague. Our bodies will have that same quality of not straining or disturbing anything they touch, when we rise from our graves. All our klutziness will be gone.

Which is good, since the church will be very crowded then, please God. When we praise God together in the temple in heaven, we will not crowd or jostle each other; we will not have to fight each other for our favorite pew. No–our bodies will move together, dance together, like the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit dance together for all eternity.

Basilicas of the Patron of Comedians

Titian Martyrdom of St. Lawrence
Titian’s Martyrdom of St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence died for the faith 1,758 years ago today.

Rome has at least two grand basilicas of St. Lawrence. But we have one, too—a basilica of St. Lawrence, here in the Appalachian mountains.

Why did they erect a basilica in honor of St. Lawrence in Asheville, North Carolina? Is it because Lawrence exercises a special patronage over brewers? But the basilica came before the craft-beer movement…

St. Lawrence loved the faith, and the Mass, and the poor. He went to his martyrdom so fearlessly that he made his famous joke, as they burned him alive: “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.” At that moment, he became the patron of both cooks and comedians. The Perseid meteor shower occurs on or around St. Lawrence’s feast day to remind us of the sparks from the fire that burned him into heaven.

Anyone visited the basilica in Asheville? It’s no St. Andrew’s—just like Asheville is no Roanoke. But you don’t visit a church with a soaring elliptical-dome roof every day. It’s like the peaceful and prayerful Oval Office of God.

Good St. Lawrence, pray for us.

75th Anniversary of a Holocaust Death

Exactly seventy-five years and two weeks ago, the Catholic bishops of the Netherlands issued a statement condemning the Nazis for deporting all Jews from the country.

Seventy-five years ago today, the Nazis killed a German Jewish philosopher in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, as an act of retaliation against the bishops’statement.

St. Edith SteinNow, how’s that? Kill a German Jewish philosopher to retaliate against Dutch Catholic bishops? Well, this Jewish philosopher had become a Catholic nun. Edith Stein had become Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

The sisters of her convent had escaped Germany, and made it to the Netherlands. But the Nazis caught up with them. And when the Dutch Catholic bishops had the gall to call the Nazis the vicious racists they were, the Nazis proceeded to arrest and deport all Jewish converts to Catholicism. As we know, the Nazis were efficient. They only needed two weeks to get their revenge, in the gas chamber.

Pope St. John Paul II declared that we must remember the Holocaust on St. Teresa Benedicta’s feast day. Nazi racism justified the systematic killing of millions of innocent people—racist killing carried out with scientific coldness. My departed grandfather participated, as an American G.I., in rescuing people from one of the concentration camps. What he saw horrified him so much, he could never talk about it.

But we must. We must acknowledge the fact that man can, and does, inflict such evil upon man—and for no good reasons other than his own profound spiritual delusions.

On the other hand, man can, and does, also love his fellow man. St. Teresa Benedicta died for love. “Come, let us go for our people,” she said to her sister, who had also become a nun, as they walked to the gas chamber.

Pope St. John Paul II put it like this, when he canonized St. Teresa Benedicta, “We must stand together for human dignity. There is only one human family.”

Miraculous Signs

tabgha loaves fishes multiplication mosaic

They all ate and were satisfied. (Matthew 14:20)

This verse, perhaps more than any other, has given rise to the widespread misconception that Jesus Christ was Italian.

But let’s rejoice in the wonderful God-incidence that sees us reading about the Feeding of the 5,000 at Holy Mass today. We would have read this passage at Mass yesterday, had not August 6, and the Feast of the Transfiguration, come along and supplanted the readings for the 18th Sunday of Year A. Which might have proven vaguely awkward for us this coming Sunday, when we will read the sequel, Matthew 14:22-33.

…Why did the Lord Jesus work miracles, like multiplying the five loaves and two fish?

To show us that the Father had sent Him as the promised Messiah. To inspire us to believe in Him, and in the Kingdom of Heaven that he has brought to the earth.

In other words, Christ did not work magic tricks; he made miraculous signs. Signs of the greatest miracle of all, namely that we mortal and sinful lumps of clay can look forward to eternal bliss.

The particular miracle of the multiplication of the loaves signified something in particular. We read: “He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves, He said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples.”

He said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to His disciples. Sounds familiar. Sounds like…Holy Mass/the Eucharist/the Bread that does not, cannot, and never will run out.