What God Has Joined Together

(Mark 10:9)

Pope Francis wedding couples

Let’s take one brief moment to consider some of the things the Church governs, and some that She does not. After all, the Church does not govern everything.

Church does not govern penalties in the NFL, for instance. You could read the Code of Canon Law cover-to-cover and find nothing about ‘holding’ or ‘ineligible man downfield.’ The Church does not govern parliamentary procedure in the U.S. Congress. No canon treats the filibuster. The Church does not grant patents or trademarks. And no priest or bishop would claim that his office qualifies him to judge a chili cook-off.

But: marriage is one of the things which the Church does govern. We believe in the separation of Church and state; we respect other Christian groups and other religions, also. But the Church does not hesitate to claim ultimate legal authority over holy matrimony, whenever at least one baptized person is involved.

This makes sense, after all, because marriage is inherently religious, and inherently communal. A marriage is a marriage because a man and a woman make vows to God. Getting married is, fundamentally, an act of faith in God. And getting married always involves not just the two individuals, but also their families, the children the Lord may someday give them, and all the other people who will relate to the couple thenceforward as a married couple.

The Holy Catholic Church never wanted marriage to become a political issue. The idea that marriage could even be “political”—the idea that people would get all worked-up over whether or not our Holy Father smiled at Kim Davis on the way to his car before Mass—the whole business of marriage as a political hot potato can only strike us as amusingly shallow. Marriage is not a political issue. Marriage is what Jesus said it is:

1. God made us male and female.
2. A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh.
3. What God has joined together, let no man separate.

Hard to disagree with my brother here. Nonetheless, we did pray hard yesterday to St. Therese, that she would implore St. Joachim to implore God Almighty to move Hurricane Joachim/Joaquin east. And it happened!

Couples and Angels

No voy a hablar de la suegra...

No voy a hablar de la suegra…

In my book, Holy Father gave his most beautiful talk during his visit on Saturday evening. He explained to married couples and families how their love mirrors the Trinitarian love of God.

Marriage involves a stunningly profound act of acceptance: I accept you so thoroughly as a person that I want not only to make you a fixture in my daily life, I even want to share our very selves together, in the conceiving of the next generation.

We human beings long for this kind of acceptance with so much desperation that this desire orients and drives our choices at a subconscious level. This longing moves couples to the altar, in spite of all the challenges and difficulties involved.

Today we keep the feast of the Archangels. Turning our attention to them might help us purify our understanding of the mutual acceptance involved in human marriage. One very salient fact about angels: They do not marry. Angels are not girls and boys. But neither do they practice celibacy, if by celibacy we mean the renunciation of something naturally desired.

The angels have all the world-stabilizing affirmation and comfort of total acceptance—which human marriage ideally offers—the angels have that total acceptance directly from the original source, from their Creator Himself. The holy angels live with divine light completely permeating their being. And that light communicates this: I love you, because you are just as you ought to be.

Now, may all married couples receive that kind of sustaining affirmation from their spouses, at least as best we human beings can manage such love.

But may we all, married and un-married, open our hearts to receive that love from on high, which offers us, just like the angels, the true world-stabilizing affirmation that we so long for.

40 Days for Life Rally

Pope John Paul II and Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio

Pope John Paul II and Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio

Your unworthy servant had the privilege of speaking at the beginning of a forty-day vigil outside Roanoke Planned Parenthood yesterday evening… [The beginning of the talk will sound familiar to faithful weblog readers.]

Maybe we can begin with a few words, spoken in Washington by the pope, during his early-autumn visit?

I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world that all human life—from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages—is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God. Nothing surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person. Human life is not just an idea or an abstraction; human life is the concrete reality of a being that lives, that acts, that grows and develops.

Let me repeat what I told the people during my recent pilgrimage to my homeland: If a person’s right to life is violated at the moment in which he is first conceived in his mother’s womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the whole of the moral order, which serves to ensure the inviolable goods of man. Among those goods, life occupies the first place… Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is forever…

All human beings ought to value every person for his or her uniqueness as a creature of God, called to be a brother or sister of Christ…

For us, the sacredness of human life is based on these premises. And it is on these same premises that there is based our celebration of life—all human life. This explains our efforts to defend human life against every influence or action that threatens or weakens it…

And so, we will stand up every time that human life is threatened. When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life. When a child is described as a burden or is looked upon only as a means to satisfy an emotional need, we will stand up and insist that every child is a unique and unrepeatable gift of God.

…Okay, that was Pope John Paul II, back on October 7, 1979.

Let’s talk a little more about Pope Francis in a moment. But first, let’s ask ourselves, in light of St. John Paul II’s words, what does it mean for us to keep a vigil at a Planned Parenthood? Two thoughts by way of an answer…

1. Certainly we do it in order to pray. We believe in God, we believe in His Providence, we believe in His plan. We believe that He can work miracles, give hope, save lives. Our religion impels us to care for others and do what we can to help.

It-Takes-a-Village-book-cover-by-Hillary-ClintonAll that said, our pro-life convictions are not, in themselves, purely religious. In fact, our conviction that the innocent unborn child has a right to life actually proceeds directly from science.

During the dark days of scientific ignorance about pregnancy, people who meant well might have had a leg to stand on, if they tried to make a case for abortion as a real alternative. But now that medical advances and scientific study have revealed so much about the living being in the womb, there’s no room left in which to try to justify abortion.

Does an abortion involve the killing of an innocent human being? 100 years ago, someone might have said, “Well…we don’t really know…” But in 2015, a reasonable person can only answer, “Yes. Abortion involves the killing of an innocent human being.”

The next question automatically follows: Can anyone justify morally the deliberate killing of an innocent human being? 1000 years ago, 100 years ago, today, and 100 or 1,000 years from now, we can have only one answer to that question. No. The conscience of man always prohibits the killing of an innocent human being, no matter who the human being’s mother or father may be.

2. Which brings us to the second reason why we keep a vigil at a Planned Parenthood for forty days: because we love the mothers.

We love the mothers enough to believe that they can make the humane choice. We have enough love and enough guts to recognize that the greatest favor anyone could ever do for a woman getting ready to walk into an abortuary is to talk her out of it, to show her another path to take.

What kind of love would say to a mother on her way to have an abortion, “Go ahead. You know it isn’t right. Every calm and reasonable person around here knows it isn’t right. Your future will forever bear the weight of grief and regret. But go ahead. Walk on, to your baby’s death.”

If that’s love, I would prefer a punch to the kidney.

No. Love means wanting our neighbors to live with a peaceful conscience. We keep vigil because we know this moment need not mark an end; we know that it actually marks a beginning. A beginning of struggle and hard work, to be sure—but also a beginning of love and beauty and wonderful surprises.

If we weren’t committed to helping any mother raise her child, then we shouldn’t keep this vigil. But of course we are ready to help. We do not necessarily count ourselves among Hillary Clinton’s biggest fans. But when it comes to it taking a village to raise a child, we have no problem agreeing with her there.

love-is-our-mission-pope-francis-us-visit-logoIn fact, our vigil declares: we villagers here care. We care, and we will help. We love you enough, fearful mothers, to believe you can do the right thing. We will stand by you as you do it.

Hopefully everyone can see that these are the values which Pope Francis wants to teach us. He has insisted on them over and over again during his visit this week.

I know I was disappointed on Thursday morning when the Holy Father did not specifically mention the innocent and defenseless unborn children during his address to the US Congress. But he did insist on their right to life when he spoke at the UN yesterday. And, listen, we have to accept and celebrate the fact that his message to us about immigrants is a pro-life message that we are bound to lay hold of, with all our zeal.

A certain presidential candidate who I will not name right now can talk all he wants about denying US citizenship to babies born here, based on whether their parents possess certain documents that can be all-but-impossible to obtain.

But if we really are pro-life, we will reply, “Sir, this baby is a child of my village, a brother or sister of mine, and if you try to force this child and his or her family to march south through the desert, you will have to get through me first. Yes, this baby is an ‘anchor’ baby. An anchor of our community. An anchor of our common future. An anchor of our American hopes and dreams. Just like the abortionist is going to have to get through me to get to this baby, so is the immigration enforcement officer.”

That must be our consistent pro-life witness. I would humbly submit to you, therefore, that when we listen carefully to our beloved Pope St. John Paul II, and to our beloved Pope Francis, then we know exactly what we are all about here. We are here to stand up for the rights of every child and mother—white, pink, tan, brown, or butternut.

May the good Lord bless you for your loving sacrifices, and may He prosper this effort. Let’s not leave it to Congress to shut down Planned Parenthood. Let’s shut the joint down ourselves by the pure, spiritual power of our loving witness to the truth.

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”

(Mark 9:40)

Pope Francis Shrine Immaculate Mass Junipero Serra

Whoever is not against us is for us.

This sentence has given us, as Christian and Catholics, one of our most fundamental principles. St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of Pope Francis’ religious order, expressed it at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises. The first Jesuit wrote:

Let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to approve what his neighbor says than to condemn it. If he cannot approve it, let him inquire of his neighbor how he means it.

In other words, a good Christian always gives his neighbor the benefit of the doubt. We presume the neighbor a friend.

ignatiuswritingNow, actually exercising this kind of trust in others can prove a lot more difficult than simply talking about doing it. Ever since we human beings first built the Tower of Babel—actually, ever since Cain killed Abel—we have contended with antagonisms among us, language barriers and cultural misunderstandings.

Sometimes the idea of a unified human race, living at peace, giving each other the benefit of the doubt—often that seems like nothing more than a pipe dream for hippies. Our tvs hum with news of wars and rumors of wars. Pope comes to visit the US, conservative politicians call him a Marxist, and his environmentalist allies tell him to ordain women as priests. Seems like something less than unity, fraternity, and mutual trust, something less than giving the brother the benefit of the doubt.

But, you know, there actually are a lot of people in this world who prefer to get along, rather than fight. The blessed unity of the human race does not shimmer solely in a hippy fantasy. There’s a bona fide human institution, one that has been in business for many centuries now—an institution which really does strive tirelessly to bring about solidarity among all men. What’s this institution? The one led by our visitor from Rome this week.

Washington, D.C., hardly has days of genuine good cheer and open friendliness on the streets. Days when Metrobus riders applaud their drivers, or people waiting for hours to get through security checkpoints use the time to make friends. But this past Wednesday was such a day.

The secret was not just Pope Francis’ beautiful personality, though that hardly hurt. If I might, I would like to focus on one way in which Christ actually accomplishes true communion among disparate human individuals, by gathering them into His Church. Jesus unites us by giving us the answer to the most fundamental question of life.

What is this question? There are different ways to put it, but they all come down to the same thing. Can I be right with God? Can I find the right path? Am I headed towards true happiness and fulfillment–toward heaven? Can I face death without paralyzing fear? Am I who I am meant to be?

The whole human race is in search of the answer. The desire for a good, solid answer to our common religious questions is a tie that binds the whole human race as one family. And, if we find a good answer, and can live in the confidence of God’s friendship, then we also tend towards friendship with our neighbors.

st_peter_basilica_vatican_01I think the Holy Father’s visit has reminded us of this fact:

In the face of humanity’s fundamental religious questions, a lot of other things don’t matter. What clubs I belong to don’t matter. The neighborhood I live in doesn’t matter. Whether I am white, black, Latino, Filipino, Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, or Puerto-Korican doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what my favorite football team is. God is merciful: Even Dallas Cowboys fans can live in the state of grace.

What matters is: Am I okay with the Lord? Can I hope for God’s goodness? Am I on the right track? And, if I am with Jesus, the answer is Yes, Yes, Yes. What language do I speak? What kind of education have I had? How much money do I make? What’s my favorite food? Interesting questions, to be sure. But nowhere near as important as: Do I have communion with God? When Jesus is the answer to that all-important question, there’s no sense getting hung-up too much on the other questions.

My point is: what Jesus unites, nothing can divide. What God has united, let no man put asunder. Whoever is not against us is for us. Whoever is with Jesus is with us. If we are with Jesus, we are really, truly together. And, just to make one point and encourage everyone to participate in the 40 Days for Life campaign: if we are with Jesus, we are consistently pro-life. If we are with Jesus, we stand up for everyone’s right to life, from conception to natural death.

In Washington on Wednesday, we hundreds of priests and bishops prayed alongside tens of thousands of people. We were together in a way which no other circumstances can bring about: we were united in prayer to God, united with the Vicar of Christ on earth, imploring love and mercy from on high through the only-begotten Son of the Almighty Father.

Unity. Trust. Peace.

The Catholic Church is not perfect and does not pretend to be. But She is the universal church. Our faith and way of life are open to all. We have no secret codes, no hidden teachings, no admissions exams, no dues, no prerequisites. The Catholic faith is right there for everyone to reach out for and live by. And when we let Jesus bring us together, then we can live the dream of true mutual trust.

“The contemporary world, so apparently connected…”

(emphasis added) –Papa Francesco to the UN.

A more successful trip than the Redskins had

A more successful trip than the Redskins had

I am glad you are connected to me, dear reader–and genuinely, I hope. The Pope reads these posts, too, I see, since he made a point of declaring this morning:

The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic.

(emphasis, once again, added)

…For those of us familiar with Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’, this morning’s UN talk contained no surprises. For those of us familiar with the speeches of Papa Benedetto XVI at the UN and German parliament, this morning’s UN talk contained no surprises. For those of us familiar with the magisterium of JPII–no surprises. Beautiful (to me anyway) how Pope Francis lavishes love on Paul VI, quoting him extensively at crucial moments, like:

The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests.

The fundamental idea of this morning’s talk: God does indeed rule the world. Law–that is, what is right, the checking of absolute human power–law proceeds from God. Justice entails submitting oneself to law, submitting oneself to the order inherent in things as God has made them, giving everyone and everything their due. The Creator has given us the earth as a gift, so that we could flourish and give Him glory. Papa F. adds the novel idea: The environment, too, has rights.

In my little book, His Holiness made an enormously important point this morning when he noted that war causes the worst pollution and environmental degradation. Any student of war knows this painful truth. Battle tacticians regularly employ ordnance detonation for the sake of desertification as a means of military victory. This happened over and over again during the Civil War, and it took the earth decades to recover.

…Now, regarding the joy of the Gospel, Cardinal Dolan has my vote for Man of the Papal Visit. I carried the Timothy-Dolan-Fan card while reading Priests for the Third Millennium fifteen years ago. Then I let my membership lapse. But now I have the card back in my pocket. Here’s the best moment of the Holy Father’s visit so far:

New Yorkers who actually go to Mass having their moment to love on our Papa. Thank you, Cardinal Dolan.

Redskins (and Pope) to NY

Pope Francis pauses in front of a sculpture of Spanish-born Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC

Holy Mass outside the Shrine in Washington yesterday brought me (and the world, I think) many graces.

Papa Francesco declared that Father Junipero deserves veneration at the Church’s altars, all over the world. A mild, peaceful sun shone on an earnest gathering of 25,000-or-so people–an assembly of humanity with pretty much one common bond: faces turned towards Christ.

The intersection of 4th and Michigan, N.E., has never known silence like the moments of recollection during this Mass. Former Abp. of Washington, the late James Cardinal Hickey, loved to talk about how loudly the streetcars squealed at this intersection in 1940. But yesterday, with all the streets closed, and everyone praying in silence, you could hear the breeze rustle a bush 100 yards away.

We priests sang Pescador de Hombres together during the communion meditation, and I prayed for another twenty-two years just like the last twenty-two (which I have spent in the Church ruled by the Pope).

I love our Holy Father very much. He gave a speech inside the Capitol this morning. Some lovely lines, but I cannot defend it as an oratorical work of art.

Pope kisses the crucifix upon entering St. Patrick's Cathedral

Pope kisses the crucifix upon entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral

I heard the speech in the car, driving back to my beloved parish(es). It ended, and I sat in a stunned daze. The sentence that I had awaited never got said.

So I turned off the radio. I do not hesitate, as a two-decade veteran of the Pro-Life Movement, to say that I felt punched in the face. Holy Father had never said the word abortion. Had never referred to the innocent and defenseless unborn child.

So I meditated instead on another papal speech given during an early-autumn visit to Washington…

I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world that all human life—from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages—is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God. Nothing surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person. Human life is not just an idea or an abstraction; human life is the concrete reality of a being that lives, that acts, that grows and develops.

Let me repeat what I told the people during my recent pilgrimage to my homeland: If a person’s right to life is violated at the moment in which he is first conceived in his mother’s womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the whole of the moral order, which serves to ensure the inviolable goods of man. Among those goods, life occupies the first place… Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is for ever…

All human beings ought to value every person for his or her uniqueness as a creature of God, called to be a brother or sister of Christ…

For us, the sacredness of human life is based on these premises. And it is on these same premises that there is based our celebration of life—all human life. This explains our efforts to defend human life against every influence or action that threatens or weakens it…

And so, we will stand up every time that human life is threatened. When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life. When a child is described as a burden or is looked upon only as a means to satisfy an emotional need, we will stand up and insist that every child is a unique and unrepeatable gift of God.

[October 7, 1979, Mass on the Mall, John Paul II]

Torna presto. (Card. Dolan to His Holiness, when the pope was getting ready to leave St. Patrick’s after Vespers this evening.) Most charming line of the papal visit so far. Torna presto, dear reader, for more reflections on Holy Father’s visit.

Bells Soon to Ring

Shrine Serra banner

If you’re on the St. Andrew/Roanoke-Catholic campus at 4pm, you will hear the church bells ring. Why? To welcome our Holy Father to our country. All church bells will sound because: the pope, universal shepherd, successor of St. Peter in the Apostolic See, Vicar of Christ—here with us.

At Holy Mass today, we read from the book of Ezra about the house of God, and we sing Psalm 122, about going to God’s house. I know that a homily is hardly the appropriate opportunity to offer you my personal memoirs, but…

Tomorrow I will be at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Twenty-one years ago, I graduated from college on the steps of that house of God. Twelve years ago, I was ordained a priest inside.

I have spent more hours of my life praying in that building that I could ever count. In college, I did a paper on the architecture. I learned how to swing a thurible in there. I chanted the gospel there when I was a transitional deacon. I said Mass there on the first anniversary of my father’s death. I have been a pilgrim there, taken pilgrims there, heard pilgrims’ confessions there, said Mass for pilgrims there.

That building is a great house of God, a stronghold of prayer, high on a hill, visible from great distances. (Like St. Andrews!)

Pope Francis will do quite a few things while he’s here with us in the US. One of the big ones is: He will canonize a saint. A saint who lies in a tomb in Carmel, California. (I visited it in 2014.) An organizer, a builder, a man of enormous love, a patron of seminarians. I have loved Father Junipero Serra for twenty years.

Also, in my twenties, I knew a good number of Jesuits. Pope Francis reminds me very much of some of them, of how they thought and what they paid attention to.

Forgive me. I’m just a little overwhelmed by how one single day will draw together for me so many strands of memory and affection. A little pilgrimage to concelebrate with the Pope, that encapsulates 25 years of my life.

When you reach middle age, you hardly expect so much of your life to come together, in focus, on one single day. May God be praised!

Humble Pope, Humble Savior

Shepherd One

Shepherd One

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.

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, is that One.

Here He stands, the One Who actually is truly the first, standing before a feckless Roman careerist with highly limited insight, and less courage. The Emperor of All Things stands in the dock, at a shabby excuse for a tribunal of justice, accused of blasphemy for declaring what is true. And, because this new, divine Adam loves you and me as much as He does, He bows His head, accepts His death sentence without protest, and takes up His cross.


Lately, the airwaves have coursed with news of Pope Francis and his visit to these shores. This week we will certainly see a lot of Pope-Francis coverage. Your unworthy servant will have the privilege of concelebrating Mass with His Holiness on Wednesday afternoon in Washington, when the pope will declare the Apostle of California, Fr. Junipero Serra, a saint. Holy Father will use Fr. Serra’s language, the original vernacular language of the Church in North America…Spanish.

pope-francis_2541160kAnyway, people love Pope Francis for his humility, as well we should love him for it. He occupies the office with the world’s greatest responsibilities in a perfectly unassuming way. Now, those of us with functioning memories can recall that Popes Benedict XVI, John Paul II, John Paul I, Paul VI, and John XXIII all occupied the office of Successor of St. Peter with unassuming humility, also. But that doesn’t make Pope Francis’ humility any less powerful and beautiful. To really understand the power of the pope’s humility, though, we have to try to understand its source.

The Holy Father does not practice humility because his enormous ability to influence people and events embarrasses him. Much less does he practice humility in order to out-humble previous popes. No. Humble Pope Francis is as humble as he is for one reason, the same reason that humble St. Francis walked the streets of Assisi as humbly as he did: because of the humble Savior.

One of the best devotional exercises we can do, I think, is to try to imagine how the world would look to us if we had never heard of Jesus Christ. Of course, we can never completely succeed in imagining this. Most of us have fed on Christ as our spiritual food since our earliest years. But, since the world around us has fallen back into paganism, we can do this spiritual exercise a lot more successfully than our grandparents could.

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

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 a puny pecking order.

the_passion_of_the_christYears ago, I had friends among the aspiring avant-garde artists in New-York-City. One of them said to me, after a supposed friend of his had trashed him viciously in order to get a leg up for an obscure gallery show: “It’s par for the course. The fighting is so fierce because the stakes are so low.”

Meanwhile, here stands Christ—with power, glory, eternal beatitude in His sovereign hands. With those very hands, He grasps 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. We have to humble ourselves enough to see that… 1. For all our vain human ambitions, we have absolutely no hope at all for anything truly good, without Christ, 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, when the day of reckoning comes.

There is nothing we ever could have done, or ever could do, to deserve such love. Yet He loved us enough to satisfy for our sins as one of us. This is even more humbling. We can say, “Look, Father! Our brother Jesus is just! The human race does not totally suck. Not at all. We have Jesus, and all of His saints, especially His Blessed Mother!” And when we cry out to Him like this, which is what we are doing every time we pray Holy Mass together, He smiles and says, “Yes, My children. Yes.”

The humble pope will soon give us a special holy year, a jubilee year, of mercy. So that we can share more fully in what Christ has humbly done for us. Jubilee Year of Mercy begins December 8, the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the second Vatican Council. More on that as the day gets closer. In the meantime, let’s pray for our Holy Father’s safe travels and rejoice that he has come to visit us!

Holy-Cross-Day Miscellany

In these parts, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross arrived today with a chilly, chilly morning.

Fittingly so: For the contemplative sons and daughters of the Church, the year has two poles, like the globe. Easter means the beginning of the bright days when we touch the mysteries of heaven. September 14 means the beginning of pre-Lent, when we shoulder our crosses and march with Christian confidence towards the dark door of death, through which our Captain passed on Good Friday…

A sandhill crane

A sandhill crane

…President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrived in Washington on February 23, 1861. (In those days, we inaugurated our presidents on March 4.) Congressman Sherrard Clemens, of Virginia, laid eyes on Lincoln and wrote to a friend, “Abe looks like a cross between a sandhill crane and an Andalusian jackass.”

Andalusian donkey

Andalusian donkey

For the better part of my life, whenever I have caught a glimpse of myself before my morning shave, I have wondered, What epithet would most lyrically describe this specimen of humanity that I see before me? That mystery has now been solved.

…I am sorry that I have not had the leisure to write about some recent adventures I have had on the Appalachian Trail. One of them involved a bona fide, long-house-dwelling, tomahawk-toting Mohawk–a latter-day St. John the Baptist who lives solely on the meanest of trail rations, water filtered through a sock, and preternatural zeal for the Gospel of Christ. Perhaps time will permit me to discourse more about him at some later opportunity.

For now, I would simply like to communicate an Annie-Dillard-esque experience I had while descending Fullhart Knob this afternoon.

First, consider all the creatures that lie within striking distance of a hiker at any given moment. Then retain for consideration only those that might like to take a bite of human flesh.

It occurred to me that, if all those creatures acted together in a concerted attack, I would never make it to the bottom of the hill. The worms and insects immediately beneath me in the dirt would spring upon my legs; the squirrels would maul me about the arms and shoulders; the hawks and vultures, and all other assorted nearby fowl, would peck me about the head. If I were beset in this manner, I would be done for, even before the nearest black bear arrived to gore me.

But this did not happen. All these creatures could have had all they wanted to eat for at least a fortnight; they could have had two weeks off from their usual chickenscratch efforts at survival. But they did not take the opportunity, and I made it home fine.

Now, what did this potential army of the forest lack? Not the physical wherewithal for victory, to be sure. I would have been more or less defenseless against them. I could have flailed and batted and run, but, in the end, they would have had the better of me.

No, what they lacked was: the creative intellectual capacity to conceive of the attack (which I, alone among them, could imagine), the deliberative capacity to enact a decision, and the capacity to communicate the idea among themselves.

Intellect, will, communication skills.

I bring this up solely to illustrate the following. If someone asks, Why is there something, rather than nothing? (And who doesn’t ask that?) If someone asks this question, answers like The Great Turtle or The Big Bang simply will not do. The only real answer is: The Person. The impenetrably grand Person, of whom we human persons–with our intellects, and our wills, and our communication skills–offer only a pale reflection.

We Christians cannot, of course, prove that this Person has an equally impenetrably grand Father and Spirit, which He revealed by speaking through prophets and then becoming man Himself. But we can say: the only reasonable answer to Why is there something rather than nothing? is: God.



1. The Coming Fury by Bruce Catton. One of the most wonderful books I have ever read.

2. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Read the book instead of seeing the movie! The movie stinks. The book has occasional bad words, but they hardly distract you from one of the most delightful tales ever told about through-hikers who never quite made it.

The Way

Tenth Station

Tenth Station

Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? (Luke 6:39)

The Lord forms us in our mothers’ wombs in order to march forward through time, to a goal. And none of us can see that goal. Even us independent Americans need a guide. Because we cannot see heaven. We are all blind people when it comes to our ultimate goal.

God Incarnate has become our guide; Jesus Christ has opened the way before us. When we enter a church, the Lord guides us by His own Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, and by His Word. But, whenever we enter a church, let’s take notice of the visual representation of the way to heaven, which the Lord Himself walked. All Catholic churches have the fourteen Stations of the Cross emblazoned on their walls.

When we visit the stations, we see…

1. The love of Christ for the Father.

2. His love for our souls.

3. The humility with which Jesus acted to fulfill both those loves.

Christ had fiery moments; He had angry moments–all perfectly virtuous. But one particular “Hour” of His life demonstrates the deepest parts of Himself–the Hour of His Passion. During that Hour, He showed us His ineffable humility.

Stations of the Cross