Caesar’s and God’s

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Matthew 22:21)

Back in Roman times, Caesar did sometimes want what belongs to God. Over the course of 2 ½ centuries, some of the emperors saw Christ and His heavenly Father as rivals. These emperors wanted not just political power—not even just absolute political power. Consumed with self-righteous narcissism, they wanted to control not only the political life of their empire, but to define what their people could think and not think. [español]

Caesar AugustusNow, one of the most important ideas that has ever dawned on mankind is: This world, and the way it operates, is not perfect, and never will be. In the beginning, God set everything up, all for our benefit. But He never had in mind that we would find true happiness on the earth as we know it. This pilgrim life is temporary. It serves solely as a means to an end. Our true life is with God in His Kingdom.

This puts Caesar into perspective. It puts politics—and political agendas—into perspective. It opens up our minds to the idea that we can constructively criticize the government of any earthly institution, without failing in loyalty.

God alone is God. God reigns perfectly over everything and governs all things well. We believe that. Sometimes we might want to tell God His business and try to improve His skills in managing the universe. But we know in our calm moments that we’re wrong to do that. To give God what is God’s means: Submission. Abandonment of control. Accepting that He knows better. Cause He does.

But: back to Caesar. Let’s consider a widespread contemporary slogan. Namely, that real free-thinking people always resist the influence of religion in politics. Even if I believe abortion is immoral, for example, I’m not supposed to imagine that the law should prohibit it. So the slogan goes.

The problem here of course is that the Christian religion involves a comprehensive view of reality, not an escape from reality. So if everything that Christianity teaches us about right and wrong has to be eliminated from politics, then there wouldn’t be much of anything left for legislatures and town councils to make laws about.

christ-weepingThe slogan about keeping religion out of politics is actually not a principle of free thinking at all. It is, in fact, a tenet of a different religion. Let’s call that other religion technocratism.

The adherent of technocratism believes that the human race has arrived at a point in history when we must judge all the generations before us, and condemn them for all their many sins. Sins which we have now, thanks to our enlightened state, supposedly eliminated, or are in the process of eliminating.

After all, technocratism has a program to make the world perfect. Economists will finally tinker so expertly with interest rates, and corporate law, and international trade agreements that everything will become perfectly wonderful for everyone. Modern medicine will make it so that nobody dies. We will all enjoy lovely happiness, because we will have the internet, and facebook, and cable tv, and Netflix. And everyone will have cute kids, even without having to take the risk of actually getting married.

Technocratism promises all this. And it holds that people like us, who have strange interests—like in Almighty God, and in the meaning of life, and in making sacrifices for the sake of true love—people like us can continue our strange old-fashioned pursuits, just so long as we do not interfere with the technocrat program.

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Now, I would not want to run this country, or this state, or even this town. Let’s give our public servants their due. They offer their labor to serve the common good. They make many noble sacrifices, and they deserve our basic good will.

But God alone deserves our full submission. Technocratism is a dangerous false religion because it excludes a truly humane way of life. We human beings cannot come into our own if everything gets reduced to economics and empty-headed creature comforts. Our souls need to roam free and seek true religion.

The cult of technocratism holds that Christianity is one of many antique religions, none of which are exactly “true,” all of which are interesting museum pieces. Technocratism tries to replace our hope in the triumph of Christ with a false hope for a comfortable life in this world, punctuated by short-term sentimental pleasures.

Now, I’m not saying that modern medicine is evil, or modern communication, or modern technology. The Church certainly has no argument with science. But science does not try to control the horizons of peoples’ minds. Science just seeks facts.

And the fact is: This world is not perfect and never will be. And we will all die, just like all the generations before us did. We know some things that our grandparents didn’t know. But our grandparents’ grandparents knew plenty of things that we don’t know. The people running the show in this world always have more to learn; they never govern perfectly. We all need, above all, to pray.

Caesar deserves his due, in this veil of tears. But we will never give to Caesar what belongs to God. We will give to God what is God’s.

 

Advertisements

North-American Martyrs and Blessed Paul VI

saint_isaac_jogues
St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers

At Holy Mass today, we commemorate the North-American martyrs. They came to these shores from France, to teach the Hurons about Jesus Christ and His Church. The martyrs happily gave their lives to spread the Gospel. What motivated them?

For a short and precise answer, let’s think back three years. Anyone remember what happened three years ago today, in St. Peter’s Square?

Here’s a hint. It involved the last Italian pope. Or at least the last Italian pope who lived for longer than two months in office.

Side note: It is amazing to think that we have not had an Italian pope in over 39 years. Most of the people living on the earth right now have never had an Italian pope. Which is amazing. We have had 266 popes in total. 196 of them have been Italians. Our current pope is an Italian-American, but that’s not quite the same thing.

Anyway: three years ago today, Pope Francis declared Pope Paul VI to be among the saints. The last Italian pope to live for more than two months in office became Blessed Pope Paul VI.

Blessed Pope Paul wrote many, many beautiful and inspiring things. He possessed an utterly tireless mind, along with a beautifully humble heart.

But a few sentences he wrote capture the spirit of the North-American martyrs perfectly, in my humble little opinion. We Catholics don’t proselytize, if proselytizing means assuming that people who do not know and accept our doctrines have not hope at all. We do not believe that. We believe that God has a plan for everyone, and God’s plans extend way beyond what we little creatures can grasp in our wee minds.

Nonetheless, we consider the task of evangelization urgent. Blessed Pope Paul explains:

It would be useful if every Christian were to pray about the following thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them.

But as for us, can we gain salvation if—through negligence, or fear, or shame –if we ‘blush for the Gospel’–or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?

For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this seed grows.

St. Margaret Mary and Friedrich Nietzsche

St. Margaret Mary* received the vision of the… Sacred Heart. The divine human Heart. Of Jesus. Beating right now.

St. Paul began his letter to the Romans by declaring the fundamental historical fact involved in the proclamation of the Gospel: the divine man Jesus died and rose again. The resurrection..

Lord Jesus Himself referred to this fundamental fact in our gospel reading at Holy Mass today, too: The sign of God’s saving work on earth is the sign of Jonah. The death of Christ; His burial; then His resurrection from the dead on the third day.

Mencken NietzscheIs Christianity something nice? Something good? Something helpful? Does Christianity make positive contributions to world history? Does it have beneficial psychological effects? Does it make people better citizens? More productive? Better educated?

Anyone ever heard of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche? About 125 years ago, many European Christians lost confidence in the historical reliability of the gospels. These Christians decided they weren’t 100% sure that Jesus actually did rise from the dead on Easter Sunday.

Instead they started arguing things like: Our ancient Scriptures may not be altogether true, but isn’t Christianity good for mankind anyway? Hasn’t it contributed to the progress of the human race? Doesn’t it make people nice?

Nietzsche responded with a withering attack. Christianity has helped the human race? No! To the contrary. It makes people too weak and submissive. Too stoic about their difficulties. Too resigned to suffering. Christianity makes people too sympathetic with others and un-competitive. Christianity has hurt the human race worse than anything, Nietzsche argued, because we do better when we put our individual selves first and fight!

Now, to our ears, these sound like scandalous arguments. Selfishness is better? Contempt for the weak is better? Nietzsche’s ideas strike us as appallingly ugly.

Except that they tend to ring true in the world as we know it. The world is manifestly not nice. If the question is: Is being nice better, or is being competitive better? Or: Is being selfish better, or is being empathetic better? Or: Would the human race be more “advanced” if no one had ever heard of Christ? If those are the fundamental questions, we don’t have the answers.

Which is why we always have to stay focused on facts. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Selflessness, kindness, and being willing to suffer for true love are all better. But only because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

That fact comes first. We can leave questions about the “advancement of mankind” to others. We’re not even sure that we ourselves are really all that nice. But we are Christians. Because Jesus of Nazareth is alive.

 

__________________________

*Died 327 years ago tomorrow.

Parable of the Wedding Feast

 

Jerusalem_Dominus_flevit Tears of Christ
Apse window in the church of Christ’s Tears, on the Mount of Olives

The king gave a wedding feast for his son. The marriage in question involves the Lord Jesus Christ and my soul, our souls. [Click por español.]

God made me, and He exercises ultimate control over the entire course of my life. Every day—every moment—involves an invitation. The loving, almighty hand of God lavishly arrays everything that I experience. And for one reason: to communicate love. To give life. To open up the infinite horizon of friendship with Him.

When did Jesus weep? He wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. But that wasn’t the only time. Once, as He approached Jerusalem as a pilgrim, He paused on the hill overlooking the Kidron Valley and the Temple Mount beyond, and He wept. “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those whom the Lord sends to you. How many times have I longed to gather your children together, like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

Now, what could possibly demand my attention more urgently than my friendship with my Creator? Who has more of a claim on me than He does? Who has more of a right to expect my devoted love?

–But, Father! God… He’s invisible. And so confoundedly silent. He seems aloof. Intentionally mysterious. Is He really, you know—there?

Now, let’s not forget about the banquet in the parable, the “calves and fattened cattle” that the king prepared for his guests. We do not seek friendship with God in an arid wasteland. We don’t have to live like twentieth-century existentialist philosophers. If we had to invent our own way to have a friendship with God, based on our own clever insights—forget it! But that is not the situation. We seek friendship with God at a fully stocked banquet table that He has prepared.

Model trainHe became man. He gave Himself for us on the cross, and then rose again to minister in heaven as our High Priest. He founded a Church and endowed Her with holy writings and sacraments. He has given us a way of life—a religion—which allows our friendship with Him to grow through the whole course of our humble lives on earth.

When we practice the religion Christ gave us, we grow in friendship with Him, even in spite of ourselves. All we have to do is regularly make use of the spiritual help that the Lord gives us in His Church.

My faith doesn’t have to be perfect. My religious knowledge doesn’t have to be perfect. And I don’t necessarily have to grapple with angst and uncertainty, like a philosopher, just to have a relationship with God.

All I have to do is: show up for Mass on Sundays, go to confession at least once a year, stay faithful to my commitments, and slog on into the future.

God has prepared the banquet of divine revelation. The banquet of grace operating through specific sacred ceremonies. He made the great, undefinable “thing” that is Christianity, Catholicism. He made it; I didn’t. It’s not for me to understand it all, just like it’s not for wedding guests to know all the recipes for every item on all the banquet tables. My job—our job—is to show up and partake. With gratitude.

Nothing wrong with trying to understand the rich treasures of our religion. We have to try to understand—but that entails the work of a lifetime.

My point here is simply that if I make my own understanding the measure of my friendship with my Maker, I have no hope of getting close to Him. But if I accept that He has indeed intervened in history, and founded a Church according to His designs—if I accept that the Catholic Church’s fundamental institutions deserve my trust and devotion, because they are the means by which I receive God’s grace—then I can do like my forefathers and foremothers have done before me. That is, partake of the banquet of heaven on a regular basis, even while I live my little life on earth. A little life that might involve things like oil changes, baseball playoffs, and maybe even school boards.

Because the king of the parable is utterly demanding in one way, but perfectly chill in another. He invites us to the wedding banquet of His only Son. Our lives, and the whole history of mankind, are nothing other than the wedding banquet of the Son of God. If we fail to recognize this basic fact, we are utterly lost. Because we have no other hope for finding meaning in life.

But if I do recognize that my first obligation is to show up for this wedding banquet that my God has prepared for me, then the king lets me have all kinds of other things besides. I just have to avoid breaking the Ten Commandments.

God calls a few people to the rigorous existential difficulty of being a monk or nun or philosopher. But for most of us, He allows things like going to movies, or playing golf, or watching cooking shows, or gardening, or collecting model trains–while meanwhile faithfully practicing the religion God gave us.

He demands that we show up at the banquet He Himself has prepared. Then He throws the world wide-open for us. This is a feast worth showing up for.

New Font

francis assisi rocky mount baptismal font

Christ did not drive out demons by the power of the prince of demons. He drove them out by “the finger of God,” the Holy Spirit.

We believe that Jesus of Nazareth possesses an utterly unique spirit within. He pours His spirit out on His beloved. Christ’s spirit is absolutely holy. It is, in fact, God.

Yesterday, by God’s grace, we blessed our new baptismal font at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Rocky Mount, Va. As part of the ceremony, we declared:

Over this font the lamp of faith spreads the holy light that banishes darkness from the mind… A stream of living water, coming from Christ’s pierced side, now flows.

We implored the Creator:

Lord, we ask you to send the life-giving presence of your Spirit upon this font, placed here as a source of new life for your people.

The power of your Spirit made the Virgin Mary the mother of your Son; send forth the power of the same Spirit so that your Church may present you with countless new sons and daughters and bring forth new citizens of heaven.

The baptismal font stands as the womb of Mother Church. It represents the faith that She holds. Mother Church holds the faith perfectly. All of us, Her sons and daughters, hold the faith imperfectly. We strive, with the helps that our Mother offers us, to hold it better.

We will discuss this more on Sunday. But nothing could illustrate it better than the blessing ceremony for this new font. Our faith in the fundamental institutions of the Church; our trust that God Himself has given these things to us, so that we might have communion with Him: that faith and trust is the deepest bedrock of our identity.

We have not been born naked and alone in this world. We have been born, through Holy Baptism, into the communion of the Church. Endowed with the inheritance She freely presents to us, each of us can come into our own as individuals, and give God glory by being the sons and daughters He made each of us to be.

Rise and Walk

John XXIII Vatican II

We keep a Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII today, because he solemnly opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11.

And he spoke on that occasion with such gentle faith, such serene confidence in the goodness of God, and of man, that it almost makes you want to weep to read it, fifty-five years later…

The Church has always opposed errors, and often condemned them with the utmost severity. Today, however, Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity…

Not that the need to repudiate and guard against erroneous teaching and dangerous ideologies is less today than formerly. But all such error is so manifestly contrary to rightness and goodness, and produces such fatal results, that our contemporaries show every inclination to condemn it of their own accord—especially that way of life which repudiates God and His law, and which places excessive confidence in technical progress and an exclusively material prosperity. It is more and more widely understood that personal dignity and true self-realization are of vital importance and worth every effort to achieve. More important still, experience has at long last taught men that physical violence, armed might, and political domination are no help at all in providing a happy solution to the serious problems which affect them.

As the pope spoke then, the great world wars of the 20th century still lay fresh in everyone’s memory. The ravages that systematic atheism had wrought: it stood in front of everyone’s eyes, an open wound on the face of the earth. The pope thought to himself (I paraphrase): We have learned something from this terrible upheaval and senseless slaughter. Living now in communion with Christ, and made wiser by harsh experience, we can become the human race that He made us to be!

The pope went on:

The great desire, therefore, of the Catholic Church in raising aloft at this Council the torch of truth, is to show herself to the world as the loving mother of all mankind; gentle, patient, and full of tenderness and sympathy… To the human race oppressed by so many difficulties, she says what Peter once said to the poor man who begged alms: “Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, that I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk.”

In other words it is not corruptible wealth, nor the promise of earthly happiness, that the Church offers the world today, but the gifts of divine grace which, since they raise men up to the dignity of being sons of God, are powerful assistance and support for the living of a more fully human life. She unseals the fountains of her life-giving doctrine, so that men, illumined by the light of Christ, will understand their true nature and dignity and purpose. Everywhere, through her children, she extends the frontiers of Christian love, the most powerful means of eradicating the seeds of discord, the most effective means of promoting concord, peace with justice, and universal brotherhood.

Was the holy pope a dreamer? Overly sanguine? Can we see him in our mind’s eye 55 years later, and not think: What a kind man—but naïve!

Well, if we dismiss St. John XXIII as naïve, we might as well stop saying the Our Father. Let’s pray for the grace to believe in God and in man, let evil rage as it might. If we die at the hands of the wicked, with them mumbling, “What hopeless naifs these Catholics are!” so much the better.

Seeing

The Samaritan saw the wounded man. Seeing the man in his distress moved the Samaritan—moved him to compassion. He saw, and seeing moved him. Seeing the reality of the wounds, the suffering, the victimization of the innocent.

Was the robbery victim perfectly innocent? Perfectly pure? We don’t know that. Be he did not deserve to be robbed and beaten and left half-dead by the side of the lonely road. That much the Samaritan instantly saw. The others had not seen it—the priest and levite, distracted as they were by important matters…

How can we see each other like the Samaritan saw the wounded man? I find myself a bit overwhelmed today, as if by an avalanche of events and emotions. The man eight nights ago manifestly did not see the people in the plaza below like the Samaritan saw the wounded traveler. An unimaginable blindness had overtaken the man in the Mandalay hotel. Scales harder than granite covered his eyes. Not that he couldn’t see to aim. Obviously he aimed successfully. But he could not really see what he successfully aimed at.

Why? What caused his lifeless blindness? Must we not find compassion for him, too? Somehow?

Then Tom Petty died. And it seems like Prince just died. Like yesterday. And I cannot handle all this death of my musicians.

Plus today is the anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Denis. They cut off his head on Montmartre in Paris. But he picked it up and carried it a few miles north of the city, preaching the whole way, before he lay down and died.

Some profound Europeans met in the city of St. Denis last week. They made an amazingly penetrating statement about themselves. It’s a statement that can help us Americans a lot, I think.

Jason Aldean made a statement on Saturday, too. He’s the musician who was singing when the shots rang out last Sunday night. He covered Tom Petty’s “Stand My Ground” in New York on Saturday. To very inspiring effect.

But these gentlemen of Europe managed to express some principles for us. Principles by which we can stand our American ground, even when things happen that can drive you to despair. I’ll probably have a lot more to say about this Paris Statement. It distinguishes the “true Europe” from the “false Europe.” For today let me just quote these few sentences:

The true Europe has been marked by Christianity. The true Europe affirms the equal dignity of every individual. This arises from our Christian roots. Our gentle virtues are of unmistakably Christian heritage: fairness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, peace-making, charity.

I think we can substitute “the true America” for “the true Europe” in this quote.

The true America has been marked by Christianity. The true America affirms the dignity of every individual. This arises from our Christian roots. Our gentle American virtues are of unmistakably Christian heritage: fairness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, peace-making, charity.

Brother Knights, and all dear brothers and sisters, fellow Americans, let’s celebrate Columbus Day by begging our Lord Jesus Christ for the grace to live the love that lets us see each other like the Good Samaritan saw the wounded man.

Not Presumption, Not Despair. Hope.

El Greco St. Paul in St Louis

In our second reading at Sunday Mass, from chapter four of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we hear St. Paul tell us to “have no anxiety at all.” Philippians 4:6: “Have no anxiety at all.[CLICK por español.]

Now, far be it from us to question the holy Apostle, when it comes to the consistency of his teachings. But any diligent Bible reader knows what St. Paul wrote, two chapters earlier, in Philippians 2:1. “Work out your salvation with… fear and trembling.”

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2:12.  Have no anxiety at all. Philippians 4:6.

Did our beloved Apostle Paul contradict himself?

Let us try to understand.  Maybe when he said, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” St. Paul was thinking about us, the human race–weak sinners that we are.  When he said, “Have no anxiety at all,” he was thinking about our loving and generous Father in heaven.

Okay. Quiz. Haven’t had one in a while. Everyone knows that God helps us get to heaven by infusing three theological virtues into our souls. Right? What is the second theological virtue? Correct! Hope. By hoping in God every day, trusting in His Providence, we become the people He made us to be.

Now, the world throws plenty of stress at us. Fear and trembling come naturally enough.

But that’s not quite what St. Paul means–fearing and trembling about the economy, or Kim Jong Un, or lone-wolf shooters, or any of the other bogeymen of the world. Things can get bad, but one way or another, God will always provide for us in this pilgrim life. Even death can’t do us any harm if we die in God’s friendship.  So when we get right down to it, there is really only one thing for us truly to fear.

hell

The one genuinely frightening thing is:  H—E—double hockey sticks.  When we seriously consider the possibility of winding up there, we really do tremble.  Not a good prospect.  Not at all.

And hell is a real possibility.  We sin against holy hope if we presume on God’s goodness.  Hope is hope, not certainty.  During this pilgrim life, I cannot know for sure that I am going to heaven. I have to get to purgatory first, to know for sure.  Heaven isn’t automatic for anybody.  So my job is to strive every day to do good and avoid evil. I have to confess my sins and beg for mercy.  Being presumptuous with a friend is rude; being presumptuous with God is a sin.

On the other hand, St. Paul also wrote, “Have no anxiety about anything.”  Pray, make your requests known to God, and “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God means no despair and no discouragement. Living the virtue of hope means trusting with confidence.  If it really were all up to us, we would be in trouble, serious trouble.  But it is not all up to us.

The good Lord has a perfect plan to get us all to heaven.  He has a plan to get each of us there, starting right now.  No matter what we have done or failed to do, up till now. Until the moment you and I draw our last breath on this earth, the Lord always has a plan to save us.  He will always forgive us our sins, if we ask Him.  He will give us what we need to persevere.

Pope Francis Mass consecrationAll we have to do is ask.  That is why St. Paul urged the Philippians to pray, right after he told them to have no anxiety. Pray with hope, in the peace of Christ.

And the Lord Jesus has given us the perfect way to pray.

We read a rough parable in our gospel reading on Sunday. But at the heart of that rough Parable of the Tenants, we actually find our greatest consolation, our greatest source of holy hope.

The vineyard owner sent his son to collect the fruit of the vineyard. He sent his son, in peace—even though the tenants had already killed the owner’s servants.

Was this father living in some kind of dream world? ‘Oh, they killed my servants, so they must be vicious murderers. But let me send my son, my heir, my one and only. He won’t have any problems.’

No. The owner knew the danger. That’s precisely why he sent his son. He wanted to make peace with these dangerous tenants. He thought that he could make peace by respecting the tenants and believing in them. But he also knew perfectly well that his son went to them as a lamb ready to be sacrificed.

This is our consolation and our hope, in the face of everything that life can throw at us; our consolation and hope in spite of all our own incorrigible weaknesses: The Lamb of God has been sacrificed for us. The Lamb of God came among us, ready to die, to overcome all our evil. His sacrifice for us is the perfect prayer of Christian hope. And that sacrifice is: The Holy Mass.

In the Mass, we ask for exactly what we need to get to heaven.  And in the Mass, the Lord gives us everything we ask for, and then some:  He gives us Himself.

If we want to learn how to hope in God and how to pray with hope; if we want to learn how to avoid presumption and avoid despair–all we have to do is ‘tune ourselves in’ to all the prayers of the Mass. All we have to do is make the prayers of the Mass our own.  To pray the Mass is to hope in Christ.

Wandering Straight, Into the Darkness

st_francis_receiving_stigmata-400
St Francis Receiving the Stigmata by El Greco

 

Today we commemorate the 791st anniversary of the holy death of Francis of Assisi. At Holy Mass, we read from the gospel about how Lord Jesus renounced all possessions and lived as a penniless wanderer. St. Francis embraced the same poverty for the sake of the Kingdom of God. This led St. Francis to wander, also—around his home country, and further afield—all for the purpose of extending the reign of Christ.

But let’s pause and meditate on this: the poverty of Christ, which St. Francis embraced so thoroughly, went way beyond just the renunciation of worldly possessions—of home, and family, and security.

Yes, the Lord Jesus did renounce home and family and security, and that allowed Him to wander, and teach and heal. But Christ did not simply wander as an itinerant rabbi–as if that alone sufficed to fulfill His mission.

In all His wanderings, Christ had a final destination, towards which He proceeded tirelessly, without swerving to the right or to the left. Now, only He could fully perceive the unfolding of this path before Him; even His most-intimate companions could not see the path. But that doesn’t mean Christ didn’t walk straight down it. He did.

The road to the cross.

A Franciscan–a Christian—renounces everything not just because that gives you greater freedom to wander the world and spread the reign of Christ. No: a Christian lets go of everything because death is inevitable, and it’s the only way to God.

A Christian knows that the only thing worth having is God. And there is no way to “have” God during this mortal pilgrim life, except by faith. We “possess” the unknowable God only in the darkness of faith.

God Himself is the light that turns the darkness of faith into the brightness of understanding—but the only way to that light is to share in Christ’s death. His death.

That’s the poverty that liberates and makes us not just wanderers but pilgrims to the Holy Temple. We believe so thoroughly in Christ’s triumph over death that everything (most of all my self) utterly pales in comparison with the prospect of sharing in that triumph.

The Angels in Vegas

st peter's cherubs angels

The Lord gave me an inspiration on the morning of September 11. We had gathered around the seminary security desk, watching the one tv in the building. Right after the first tower came down, I thought to myself: You shouldn’t just stand here. Go into the chapel and pray to the guardian angels of everyone who just died.

There is a realm in which guns can do no harm. That realm is invisible to our eyes now. But countless pure spirits live in that heaven of peace. They, our truest friends, will only what is good. And they understand things like why innocent people wind-up killed for no reason. The wisdom of the angels penetrates mysteries that look impenetrably dark and terrifying to us.

Now, something else happened yesterday, which I want to mention. The Archbishop of Los Angeles preached in Washington, addressing some justices of the Supreme Court, some members of Congress, and other officials.

Archbishop Gomez presides over the Church in the city named for the holy angels, the largest diocese in the US. Who founded that diocese, and the whole Church of California? St. Junipero Serra, of course. (That’s another memory for me: concelebrating with Pope Francis at Fr. Serra’s canonization Mass, two years and one week ago.)

Pope Francis Shrine Immaculate Mass Junipero Serra

In his homily yesterday, Archbishop Gomez reminded everyone how Father Serra wrote a Bill of Rights for the native Indians of California. He wrote it before Thomas Jefferson and Co. wrote the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights in Philadelphia.

Then Archbishop Gomez undertook to explain something that I myself had wondered about. Why did Pope Francis canonize Fr. Junipero in Washington, D.C.? Seems a little odd, since the saint never set foot on the east coast of the US. He’s the patron saint of California, after all. Why not canonize him in California?

But Archbishop Gomez explained Pope Francis’ reason. The Pope thinks that all Americans should revere Fr. Serra as one of the official Founding Fathers of the USA, right alongside George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

On a terribly sad day for our country, let’s remember: our nation began not with political struggle or material greed. It didn’t begin with strife and violence. It began with faith in God. Archbishop Gomez pointed-out yesterday: The Founding Fathers of the USA believed the revelation of Christ so profoundly, they regarded it as “self-evident.” Every human life is sacred and has a purpose. To quote Archbishop Gomez, explaining the fundamental idea of America:

Before God made the sun and the moon, before he placed the first star in the sky or started to fill the oceans with water — before the foundation of the world — God knew your name and my name. And he had a plan of love for our lives.

This is the Gospel, revealed to our minds by the ministry of angels. Not sure it really is “self-evident” to mankind. But it certainly is self-evident to all the guardian angels of mankind.

It’s hard to imagine anything more crushing to the hope and love of a nation than for one of our citizens to set up machine guns in a tall building in one of our big cities, and then randomly mow down his fellow countrymen in a crowd below.

This is going to take us a while to deal with. May our angels help us. And may the angels of the dead in Las Vegas carry their souls to heaven.