The Event

A person might ask a question like this, while staring at the sky, in a reflective moment:

In all the great sweep and roll of time, from the first moments when sun and stars coalesced, through the endless ebbing and flowing of the ocean tides; from the building of the pyramids and the Great Wall of China all the way through the Clinton E-mail Scandal of 2015; in the whole whirling, slapdash confluence of this and that happening, has there ever been a place, a moment, and a person who did the one thing that really matters?

In other words: Day and night, rice growing in paddies and cornstalks in the fields, dogs barking at passing runners, little creeks burbling down mountainsides, clouds forming and dissipating, people eating and talking to each other, stuff happening and happening and happening, not going anywhere in particular, not revealing much of a deep meaning exactly, time just loping along, like an antelope across a field: events, events, events; March Madness 2013, March Madness 2014, March Madness 2015…

In this whole welter, is there one event that makes the whole thing make sense? One event that stands at the center, so that light shines from it over everything else, and we can see: Yes! These other things all mean something! Being born and growing up, eating sandwiches, and driving here and there, learning how to tie a tie–all these things mean something, because this one thing has happened!

After all, what if there were no such event? What if nothing had ever happened that really mattered? I mean, it matters whether or not Benjamin Netanyahu controls the Israeli parliament–it matters, but does it matter a whole lot to us? Only a little bit, really. And it matters if I burn my toast in the morning, or knock over my coffee cup–but, in the grand scheme of things?

If all of history were just endless politics and daily routines and sports’ seasons and new tv shows; if it were all just an endless cycle of relatively insignificant events… What if, when something so monumental as a birth or a death occurred, there was nothing but facebook to try to understand the meaning?

(This is my new theme for 2015: Why going to Church is so daggone important.)

The event.

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

We are not born knowing about it. We learn it in church. We find it in church.

The center and heart of all history. The thing that has happened. And the decisive event of all of history is never far away from us, never separate from our little lives. Because, at Mass, we are right there, right there with Jesus, at the event of all time.

John-10 Casket Reflection

Last year, on the Friday before Good Friday, we discussed how the Father had consecrated Christ and sent Him into the world as one of us, in order to consecrate us. This year, let’s ask this question: Why did the Jews pick up stones to throw at Jesus? (This time, that is—i.e., at the end of John 10, the gospel reading for tomorrow’s Holy Mass.)

goodshepherdBecause the Lord had declared openly that the Father had consecrated Him to serve as the divine Shepherd. ‘My sheep hear My voice, and they attune their little ears to the authority of Absolute Truth.’

Today I concelebrated the funeral Mass of the mother of one of my best friends. Nothing can focus a person’s mind like the sight of a casket draped in a pall. The ideas that kick around in our minds—the imaginations, the memories, the thoughts about what I’m going to have for dinner: these items get separated from each other into two categories, like sheep separated from goats, while you prayerfully stare at a casket draped in a pall, sitting in front of the altar.

Which of these bouncing ping-pong balls in my mind harmonizes with the voice of Christ the divine Shepherd, the voice of Truth? And which do not?

God rest her soul. She rested her soul, during her earthly pilgrimage, entirely on the words of Christ. So the sight of her casket, draped in a pall, sitting in front of the altar: it gave us all great peace. The divine Shepherd leads His flock to a safe and blissful sheepfold; we can trust Him with our very lives.

In fact, when we have the opportunity to pray at the altar, with the casket of a holy woman, draped in a pall, before our eyes—at such moments, we realize this fact very clearly: We would be utter fools not to entrust our lives completely to Christ our Shepherd!

Because everything, in the end, comes down to such a moment. We are only going to live through so many NCAA tournaments. Then the great separation will occur. Our souls from our bodies. The sheep from the goats. The wheat from the chaff, when it comes to whatever we have filled our minds with.

If my mind is full of chaff at that moment, how dark will the darkness be, when I find my body encased in a casket, draped with a pall?

But: if we hearken to the words of the divinely consecrated Shepherd? Well, then there will be peace. The moment of genuine, complete, and utter fulfillment will have arrived. ‘Well done, faithful little sheep. Enter into joy.’

Annunciation-Day Faith

annunciation-merode

Let’s try to hear the Archangel Gabriel’s words as Mary heard them, letting go of our knowledge of subsequent events.

You will bear a son, who will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Now, Mary had faith as pure as anyone has ever had. But she also certainly had a practical turn of mind. Her subsequent question aimed solely at the immediate logisitcal difficulties. Usually no man means no baby.

Had Mary not thought in such humble, practical terms, she might have asked: “Hold on. What are you talking about? Can you please explain the meaning of your grand phrases?”

Son of the Most High. Throne of David. House of Jacob. Endless kingdom. Sounds grand. But what exactly does it all mean?

Now, one thing Mary certainly understood immediately, with no need of explanation. The angel was telling her that she was to give birth to Moshiach.

Bar Elyon (Son of the Most High), throne of David = Messiah. Mary certainly instantly understood this much: The angel was telling her that she would give birth to the Messiah.

1967-Cadillac-EldoradoClear as a bell. Except for the fact that the entire New Testament drips with evidence that, while the Jewish people awaited the Messiah with eager longing, they hardly had a clear consensus about what the Messiah would do exactly.

Kick out the Romans. Distribute raisin cakes. Make the High Priests more honest. Sing better than King David himself. Bring an end to history. Give a new beginning to history. Not a lot of clarity there.

So, back to the Blessed Mother: One thing did immediately happen. She got pregnant. She said Yes to the angel, and she got pregnant. So she knew that the angel did not lie. She had the Messiah in her womb. Then, nine months later, more proof came: the shepherds and wise men arrived, making momentous declarations about the baby.

But, putting ourselves once again in Mary’s sandals: Wouldn’t all these proofs that Yes, He is the Messiah–wouldn’t they have made the obscurity and total normalcy of the ensuing years all the more mysterious? She knew He was the Messiah. But He grew up and became a carpenter.

If it were you or me mothering this Messiah, we would certainly be thinking, “My boy’s the Son of the Most High. Where’s my Cadillac? Why aren’t I rich and famous, like Queen Elizabeth?”

Mary watched her only Son, the Messiah, be crucified and then die in agony.

‘But the angel said something about the throne of David and an endless kingdom… What the…?’

Mysterium fidei. In the gospels, don’t we hear the Lord Jesus trying to get the people to grasp this over and over again? The mission of the Messiah is a mystery of faith. The only Cadillac involved is the interior Cadillac that carries us straight to the throne of the heavenly Father, the Cadillac that does us more good than a million Rolls Royces.

Believing. Like Mary believed, without understanding, from Word One spoken by the Archangel Gabriel, all the way through to Easter Sunday morning.

Pre-Passover Purification

A message for everyone, especially the Upper Schoolers at Roanoke Catholic

jerusalem-sunriseIn the Old Covenant, in order to celebrate the Passover feast, you had to travel to Jerusalem.

Who reigned as King of Judea at the time of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem? Herod the Great. Herod built a huge Temple courtyard, and he put the entrance to the south. Why? Maybe because he himself hailed from the south, from Idumea.

Anyway, it’s all in ruins now, of course. But in the ruins of the southern steps to the ancient Jerusalem Temple, what do we find? Ritual baths. Anyone know what they are called? Mikveh.

In order to ascend to the Temple to celebrate the holy feast of Passover, you had to undergo a cleansing. And, of course, it was not just an exterior cleansing. The ritual bath involved interior repentance for sin.

When does our Passover feast of the New Covenant begin? This Sunday! Palm Sunday. We do not have to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover of Christ. We just have to go to the local parish church.

We do need repentance and purification, however, in order to celebrate the feast worthily, with upright hearts. Just like the ancient Israelites needed repentance and purification in the old days.

We don’t insist on ritual baths. Just a good, honest, humble confession.

___

This video goes a long way to showing just how deadly boring Holy Land archaeology can be. (The longest summer I ever spent was a sun-drenched February afternoon at the Sepphoris archaeological park in Galilee.) But the video has some interesting info. re: mikvot.

Enrique Hearing

Enrique

Hopefully, dear reader, you remember that ICE agents arrested our dear friend and brother Enrique Manriquez outside St. Joseph Church in Martinsville last May.

Thanks to the generosity of kind benefactors, Enrique has had legal counsel. He decided to pursue an asylum claim.

For nine months, Enrique has sat in a detention center awaiting a hearing date, while his son had his sophomore year of college, his daughter her junior year of high school and his other son (whose high-school graduation Enrique missed) worked with his mom to keep the family financially afloat. Meanwhile, Enrique has lost a few pounds and started a Bible-study group in the jail.

Now Enrique will have a hearing! On April 2.

Holy Thursday. The tenth anniversary of the death of Pope St. John Paul II.

A good day for lots and lots of prayers.

Pray for the Release of Enrique

7:45pm CBS

NCAA Tournament Update. Georgetown Hoyas in the Round of 32…

Larry K Utah Utes

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In Utah, this is Coach K. Larry Krystkowiak.

In Utah, the Ute tribe officially supports the use of the tribe name by the U.

In 2005, the first picks in both the NFL and NBA drafts were Utah Utes. No other school has ever had this distinction in a given year.

…In Hamlet, Act V, Laertes says that killing Hamlet “practically runs against his conscience,” because his nemesis has such magnanimity and noblesse. I might say the same about the Utah Utes: the state has such soul-elevating grandeur, I hate to beat their team.

That said, they going down. Let’s go Hoyas!

Thunder Saying Glory

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane Heinrich Hofmann, 1890

Then a voice came from heaven. The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder. (John 2:28-29)

The fifth Sunday of Lent always arrives with great intensity, because Passiontide begins. On the fifth Sunday, Lent officially stops being about me and my little problems; it stops being about how impossible it is for me to keep my Lenten resolutions. Lent officially ceases to be an excuse for whining. Instead, it’s all about Jesus now. About His final days. About the consummation of all things on the Holy Cross.

Once every three years, on this momentous fifth Sunday of Lent, we get to talk about how to understand God when He speaks to us in claps of thunder.

I don’t mean “speaks to us in claps of thunder” figuratively, as in ‘Just had an Ah-Ha moment, like a thunderclap!’ No, I literally mean the sound of thunder, in the sky, in the humid and pregnant moment before a storm breaks.

Ok. What do the wisest sages of the world teach us that the sound of thunder means?

Continue reading

St. Joseph and “Catholic Identity”

On the Solemnity of our heavenly patron, we Catholics of Martinsville, Virginia, bless and dedicate the new addition to our church!

St Joseph shrine immaculate conception

I. St. Joseph grew up holding fast to the faith of his ancestor Joseph: Almighty God loves His people, and He has grand plans for them. St. Joseph drank in this ancient faith with his mother’s milk, and he lived in the fear and love of the God of Israel, from his youngest days.

But, during the course of his earthly pilgrimage, Joseph learned more. When his foster son was born, Joseph heard from angels and other witnesses that something absolutely new and wonderful had come to pass. And, as he watched the Lord Jesus grow up and come into His own as a man, St. Joseph learned the most decisive fact of life:

Being in communion with this Person, with Jesus Christ: it’s the most important thing there is.

I guess we can’t know for sure that today is the day St. Joseph died. But we do know this: The foster-father of Christ had the happiest death possible. Because he had the Son of God, in the flesh, by his side. He died in communion with Jesus.

We share this with St. Joseph: we know that facing death without Christ would be unimaginably bleak and terrifying. Which means that facing life without Christ—if we want to live anywhere deeper than on the shallowest surface of existence—facing life without Christ would be unimaginably bleak and terrifying, too. Communion with Jesus Christ is the foundation of a truly livable life.

II. For the past couple of decades, the Catholic world has faced the question of the “Catholic identity” of the Church’s institutions. I find myself at a point in life where I myself have to think about such things and take appropriate action. What we have learned, I think, over the past 20 years is: the humblest of all the Church’s institutions, namely the parish, teaches us most clearly what ‘Catholic identity’ is.

Solemn Vespers and Dedication of the new confessional and church addition at 6:30pm today!

Solemn Vespers and Dedication of the new confessional and church addition at 6:30pm today!

A parish exists for one reason, and the reason is pretty obvious. A Catholic would have to get pretty tied-up in nonsense to lose sight of the clear reason why a parish church exists.

These buildings stand so that everyone in the area can have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. The parish church offers everyone in the town—or neighborhood, or county—communion with the foster-son of St. Joseph.

Communion with Christ: The most important thing at the moment of St. Joseph’s death. The most important thing through the course of his life. The most important thing in any life that proposes to have genuine depth and vitality.

The desperate need that we have for Christ is what makes us ‘militant.’ To say exactly what keeps a Catholic institution from becoming aimless and ‘identity’-less—that’s a hard thing to formulate. Church leaders have been trying to formulate the definition of ‘Catholic identity’ for some time now.

But the militance, the urgency, the genuine identity of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, alive in the world: it springs from our awareness of the same fact that St. Joseph learned during his days on earth. Jesus Christ makes life worth living.

So: We thank you, holy father Joseph, for learning that fact. And for helping us, by your heavenly intercession for us, to learn it, too. Thank you, St. Joseph, for sharing with us your gentle strength, so that we can march forward toward heaven, clear as a bell about who we are as Catholics. We are the people who know that communion with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in life.

Domenico and Me

What with my new glasses and fresh once-a-fortnight haircut, I am styling it like my man Domenico Dolce. Bona festa di San Guiseppe, brother!

Domenico Dolce

Domenico Dolce lookalike

(BTW, I started my boycott of Elton John and Madonna well over 25 years ago, before I finished high school.)

It can be a bummer when other people don’t understand the birds and the bees, my friend. But facts are facts.

Great Love of God All Over, Especially in Madison Square Garden

Pope Francis hears confession during penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at Vatican

It can hardly be a co-incidence that, on the second anniversary of the conclave that gave the world the first-ever Argentine pope, we have an Argentine priest here with us, to give us a Parish Mission in Martinsville. We welcome Father John Ezratty!

At the beginning of our gospel reading at Holy Mass yesterday, we caught the Lord Jesus in the middle of something, so to speak. In the middle of driving a demon out of a suffering person.

Now, why on earth would Christ be doing that? Worrying about driving a demon out of someone? Or with curing someone’s illness, or feeding people in the middle of a deserted place, or forgiving a sinner who repents, or telling everybody that they are children of the heavenly Father, worth more than many sparrows? Why would He bother? What was His motivation?

Could it have been love? At the beginning of the gospel reading, we walked right into the middle of a situation. We walked into the room, so to speak, and there He was! Jesus, loving some poor mute person, driving a demon out, so the mute person could speak. We walked in, catching everyone unawares, and… Oops! What’s going on in here? Oh, the Son of God, loving somebody.

madison-square-gardenIndeed, every day we encounter evidence that God is very great, awesomely great, in His divine love.

This morning I was out running, and the rising sun made a rainbow in the clouds, reminding me that God would never again, in His just wrath, flood the earth entirely.

God is very great. Last night, the Georgetown Hoyas pulled out an inspiring win, even though the Creighton Bluejays demonstrated far-superior flopping skills, flopping skills worthy of international futból.

So God is, indeed, unimaginably great. He has given us the very-helpful visit of Father Ezratty. And he gave us Pope Francis two years ago today. And many other great gifts besides, involving Argentines and non-Argentines alike.

So we love God above all, because He is God, the infinitely, immeasurably, awesomely great. And we love our neighbor for God’s sake, because the great God has given us our neighbor to love. We love the invisible God by loving the visible neighbor.

Josh the Hutt!

Josh the Hutt!

Also, every day, God opens the doors of His mercy. We have not loved Him as we should have loved Him. And we have not loved our neighbor with the kind of self-sacrificing humility with which we should love him. But God will forgive us when we confess the truth.

Pope Francis is spending his second anniversary hearing confessions. Some of us are going to Baltimore, Maryland, to go to confession tomorrow. (For our parish-cluster youth pilgrimage.) And why not? We know that God forgives sins, through the ministry of His priests–in Baltimore, and Martinsville, and Rocky Mount, and Rome. (And everywhere else where there are priests.)

Holy Father apparently told a reporter that he doesn’t think he will have a long pontificate, but let’s pray that he does! May the Lord give health and long life to our beloved Pope Francis. May the great God give us faith and hope, contrition for our sins, and divine love for our Creator and our neighbor. And may He give the Georgetown Hoyas continued victories, even when they play other Catholic schools, like Xavier and/or Villanova and/or Providence.