Mom in Rhythm, Niebuhr, St. Thomas, and Comfort

niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr

 

My dear mom has undergone numerous examinations and medical procedures this past fortnight.  The good news of today is:  Cardioversion has restored her heart to “sinus rhythm.”  (Most of us take sinus rhythm for granted.)  Mom thanks you for your prayers for her.

Meanwhile, I have haunted hospital rooms and doctors’ offices, with a lot of time to read.  So I read Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Nature and Destiny of Man.

Niebuhr unfolds the “Christian distinction”–between Creator and created–with a relentless penetration.  He offers an exposition of Christianity capable of withstanding every attack launched since the first Rationalist was born.  Niebuhr manages to find the truth in Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, while simultaneously cutting them to the quick.

Niebuhr shares an intellectual quality with my hero, St. Thomas Aquinas.  He patiently endures the vast expanse of the unknown.  Niebuhr, like St.Thomas, clarifies admirable yet deceptive half-truths, by affirming only the simplest, clearest facts.  And the simplest, clearest fact of all is, of course:  We do not know what God knows.

All this said:  For all the similarities of method a reader can find in Niebuhr’s Gifford lectures and St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica, one fundamental dissimilarity struck me.  And comforted me.

636075496083502890-Bishop-Martin-Holley

Congratulations to this good man, Very Rev. Martin Holley, the next bishop of Memphis, Tennessee!

The dissimilarity involves what St. Thomas’ Summa Theo. shares with the Catechisms of Sts. Pius V and John Paul II, and with all other definitive manuals for Christian teaching.  Namely this:  they start from the rough-and-tumble on-going life of Holy Mother Church.

Christ gave the Apostles a mission, and we Catholics have been at it ever since.  In doing our thing, we have a distinctive vocabulary that we use.  For instance, words like:  God, creation, angels, heaven, Christ, Incarnation, Resurrection, Holy Spirit, Trinity, baptism, Eucharist/Mass, priest, pope, bishop, sacraments, faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, Father, Virgin, prophet, gospel, hell, incense, etc.

The Church uses these words in the course of the life She leads in obedience to Her Lord.  A good teacher of Her faith knows what all these words mean, and knows how to use them well.  St. Thomas wrote his Summa Theo. to help educate teachers of Christianity.  So the Summa is fundamentally a dictionary, in which the Angelic Doctor gives crystal-clear definitions of the words we students of Christ use.  Sts. Pius V’s and John Paul II’s catechisms offer the same.

The fact that the Church will live Her life; that She will continue to do so until the end of time; that She will use Her distinctive words, bandying them around at countless parish Masses, baby baptisms, weddings, episcopal consecrations, funerals, Bible-studies over coffee, CCD classes, Roman Synods and papal conclaves, prayers at the bedside of dying grandparents, etc., etc., etc.–this fact we do not doubt.  Mother Church will live and breathe, give birth, march into the future.  She cannot die or be destroyed.  We know this, because it’s part of the Christian faith, which we hold, by God’s grace, as truth revealed from on high.

So that’s a comfort, at least for me.

Niebuhr valiantly undertook to meet Mr. 20th-century Existentialist on his own terms.  And Niebuhr worked and prayed as a churchman.  But The Nature and Destiny of Man does not involve the kind of living celebration of the truth of Christ’s resurrection that occurs at every Mass.  In fact, the book amazingly does not touch on Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday at all.

Now, do we Christians face challenges, maybe even persecutions, perhaps martyrdoms in this age?  May God give us the strength to endure whatever may come.  I, for one, can’t quite conceive of myself as some kind of potential hero.  I prefer to rest with some comfort in the certainty that the Lord will keep His Church in business, even with priests as feckless as me holding great responsibilities.

St. Bernard Articulates Our Lady’s Annunciation-Day Desire

 

If anyone could get inside Our Lady’s head, the Mellifluous Doctor, who died 863 years ago today, could do it.

Did the Blessed Virgin react with blank and passive submission to the Annunciation?  Or did the archangel find a woman full of intense, pure, feminine desire?

Every year on December 20, we read a dramatic sermon of St. Bernard’s in the Divine Office.  The whole world awaits the Virgin’s response to the Archangel Gabriel.  Speaking on behalf of the human race, the preacher begs her to co-operate with the plan the angel has laid out.

In his next sermon, St. Bernard expressed the spiritual longing that moved Our Lady to say yes…

Be it done unto me concerning the Divine Word according to Thy word.

May the Word which was in the beginning with God be made flesh of my flesh according to Thy word.

May He, I entreat, be made to me, not a spoken word, to pass unheeded, but a word conceived, that is, clothed in flesh which may remain.

May He be to me not only audible to my ears, but visible to my eyes, felt by my hands, borne in my arms. Let Him be to me not a mute and written word traced with dumb signs on lifeless parchments, but an Incarnate, living Word vividly impressed in human form in my chaste womb by the operation of the Holy Ghost.

Be it done unto me as it has never hitherto been done to mortal, and never shall be done to any after my time.

“God diversely and in many ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1), to some in the hearing of the ears, while to others the word of the Lord was made known in signs and figures.  Now in this solemn hour I pray that in my own being it may be done unto me according to Thy word.

Be it done unto me, not preached to me in the feeble strains of human eloquence, not shown forth to me in the figures of earthly rhetoric, not painted in the poetic dreams of a fervid imagination, but breathed upon me in silence, in person Incarnate, in a human form veritably reposing within me.

In His own nature the Word needed not change, was incapable of change. Yet now graciously in me “may it be done according to thy word.”

Be it done universally for all mankind, but most especially for me.

Thomas Merton loved St. Bernard almost more than life itself. Merton explained the Doctor’s words like this:

The Incarnation of the divine Word is due entirely to the desire for Him which the Holy Spirit enkindled in the Immaculate Heart of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.  The hunger and thirst of Mary for the incarnation of the Word are the cause of our own hunger and thirst for Him.

 

Mom, Colossians 1:24, Sunday Homily

What is lacking in Christ’s sufferings” gets filled up every day, on the terrible altar of the hospital bed.  Please pray for our dear mom, whose heart does not work quite right, because she has grown old.

Owing to this situation, I’m not sure that we will see each other this coming Sunday.  But here’s a homily for you to read at your leisure, if you like…

Lord, will only a few people be saved? (Luke 13:23)

Lord Jesus did not give a straight answer. Why not? Maybe because the question included an unspoken smugness. ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved? That is, a few people like us? Or will I have to share the glory with a lot of riffraff?’

So, instead of patting this man on the head, the Lord evoked an image which He repeatedly used. A banquet hall, full of people eating delicious hummus with warm pitas and drinking fine Lebanese wine, thoroughly enjoying themselves, with the master of the house providing everything for them freely—but the doors to the hall have been closed and locked.

hummus pitaRemember the first verse of Foreigner’s big hit “Jukebox Hero?” Standing in the rain, with his head hung low. Couldn’t get a ticket. It was a sold-out show.

Outside, they knock franticly. They want some hummus and warm pita. “Lord, open the door! We have all kinds of facebook friends in common with you.”

From inside, He says: “I don’t know where you’re from.”

“But we’re from the same place! We’re your homeboys! We went to the same high school. We ate the same foods. We went shopping at the same car dealerships and the same malls. We got stuck in the same traffic jams. We just assumed that we were your friends!”

He cuts through it all. “Depart, evildoers.”

By now the man who originally asked the question must have started thinking to himself, ‘Now, I consider myself above-average virtuous. But the rabbi seems, in his roundabout way, to call me an evildoer…’

Does Jesus call us evildoers also?

Let’s focus on the details of His image. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets in the kingdom of God, with people from all four points of the compass—people who presumably share in the holiness of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets.

At Holy Mass last Sunday, we heard about one of the prophets, namely Jeremiah. They had thrown him into an empty cistern. He sank into the mud at the bottom. Why did they do that to the prophet? Because he tried to warn them: God will judge you. He will judge you according to the truth. You cannot fudge with God. He knows all. You cannot pretend to obey Him, by just going through the motions. And if you don’t trust Him above all things; if you don’t trust Him more than yourselves, you will wind up ruined.

I think we can say what all the people sitting and eating the warm pitas and drinking the wine have in common. Abraham, his son and grandson, the prophets, and the righteous from the four corners of the earth—what they have in common is: the humility, and the honesty, of real faith.

Evildoers? Only very infrequently do we act out of pure malice. Usually, people do evil because our minds fall prey to the illusion of an apparently satisfying theory that takes the place of reality. Comfortable self-delusion. A broad road leads there. But the path to reality is narrow, because it is so humbling.

Without God, without His generosity and His mercy, I am nothing. Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moriah, and prepared to sacrifice his beloved son, because he knew: Without God, Who has ordered me to do this, I am nothing. Jeremiah declared to the people of Jerusalem, “Without God, you are nothing!”

How do we reconcile these two particular sayings of Christ? On the one hand, we just heard Him say, “Strive to enter by the narrow gate, for many will attempt to enter, but will not be strong enough.” Strive with strength. As St. Paul put it, ‘Strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.’ But on the other hand, Christ said, “Come to Me all you who strive strenuously and weary yourselves, because My yoke is easy and light.”

How can the One with the supposedly easy burden command us to strive with all our strength? And how can the demanding one tell us to relax?

The narrow path to the banquet involves total trust and dependence. God reigns. God provides. When we face reality humbly, we recognize that we lie prostrate here on the earth, powerless and desperate—unless we give ourselves over completely to the Blessed Trinity.

Nothing is harder, though, for us. Nothing is harder than doing the easiest thing, becoming like carefree children in the Father’s hands. Because we human beings congenitally presume to greatness that we don’t have. We think that we are God. That’s original sin. It extends almost to the very bottom of our souls. So nothing proves more humblingly difficult for us to achieve than: the humility of Christian faith.

But: No one has more patience than God. He knows that, with time, even we stubborn self-deluded headcases can bring forth the peaceful fruit of righteousness. He does not tire of training His beloved children. When we forget Him, and put ourselves in His place, He gently corrects us and tries to bring us back to reality.

The door to the banquet stands open now. As long as we draw breath, hope for our holiness remains. He will shut the door and lock it eventually. But, may it please Him, we will have taken our seats inside by then.

We don’t even have to see the narrow path in order to follow it. In fact, following the narrow path involves our acknowledging that we do not see it clearly. But we show up at Mass to humble ourselves before God’s almighty and merciful goodness. So there’s hope for us yet.

The Chaste, Pro-Life Stilyagi of 21st-c. America

stilyagi_v_sssr

“Thirty rouble for your sportshoes Nike!  Forty rouble!”

The fartsovschiks whispered to us, a class of eighth-grade American boys, on streetcorners, during the cold, windy Moscow March of 1983.  One evening we encountered some of the last Soviet-era stilyogi themselves, our teenage Muscovite peers.  They wanted to hear Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on a Sony Walkman which one of us had.

Through the communist era in Russia, the stilyagi rebelled–by wearing Western clothes and singing Western pop songs. Even in the 1980’s, fartsovschiks risked prison to traffic in this kind of contraband. Under Stalin, in the forties and fifties, the stilyagi themselves could go to prison camp for wearing zoot suits or listening to jazz.

Now, political campaigns in the U.S. often include charges that the incumbent party has led with un-American tyranny or authoritarianism.  Paranoia about election rigging doesn’t seem to me to serve any purpose, especially when there’s no evidence.

But:  can we identify a reigning ideology which our powers-that-be maintain, even at the expense of the truth?  A state-sponsored mythology that provokes free-thinking people to rebel?

hipster_or_civil_war_2Yes, and it has to do with birthing babies.

The Soviet Union never had a post-WWII baby boom.  The Bolsheviks made abortion legal in 1918.  Through the twentieth century, demographers came to identify “the communist system” as a scientific factor–a fertility suppressor in and of itself.

But, since the 1970’s, we Americans have danced around replacement-rate fertility.  And since the onset of the recession of 2008, we appear to have cratered well below it.  Pope Francis called Europe a “haggard grandmother, no longer fertile.”  That applies to the USA now as well.

Doesn’t a below-replacement-level birthrate indicate an unhealthy society–pretty much, by definition?  Young people living under Soviet rule had to contend with Marxist uniformity poisoning social life.  The stilyagi of 21st-century America have to deal with the mythology of the sexual revolution.

No zoot suits.  But what about this:

We do not accept that pornography has a place in a civilized community.  We reject the idea that such abusive and disgusting trash can be “mainstreamed.”

We believe in marriage.  We believe young people have the courage to make commitments.  We believe that God provides for couples that trust Him.

Stilyagi literally means “stylish people.”  What could be more stylish in 21st-century America than a church wedding involving a lot of kneeling and praying–with no pets, no prenups, and no preening?

Also, how about these three principles:

  1. A child has a right to be conceived in his/her mother’s womb, by his/her father.
  2. A child, once conceived, cannot intentionally be killed.
  3. No one has a right to engage in sex that is inherently unfruitful.

Doesn’t seem like a reasonable person could quibble with any of these.  Of course, these basic principles of marital decency and societal fertility leave procured abortion, artificial contraception, IVF, masturbation, and sodomy on the cutting-room floor.  Where they all belong.

The Soviet regime eventually succumbed.  The unholy Playboy/Planned Parenthood regime will fall one day, too.  In the meantime, we can cultivate our zoot-suit rebellion by seeking the holy joy of real Christian chastity.

sovetskie_stilyagi

 

Merton Alaska-Talks Catena

Man does not die in a ditch like a dog–but at home in history, while the work toward the conquest of death is in full swing; he dies sharing in this work.  –Boris Pasternak, quoted in Merton, Disputed Questions

 

thomas merton

During the month before he traveled to Asia (and encountered untimely death), Father Thomas Merton gave some talks to priests and nuns in Alaska.  I thought that some passages from these talks from September 1968 might encourage us, so I made this little catena of quotes…

“God asks us to be men and women of prayer, people who live close to God, people for whom God is enough, God is sufficient.  That is the root of peace.  We have that peace when God is all we seek.  When we start seeking something besides Him, we lose it.  That is His call to us–simply to be people who are content to live close to Him.

…We have made an agreement with God, an agreement to trust His promise.  That is what the covenant is, as God said to Abraham.  He called Abraham out of his land:  leave your people, leave your father’s house, and come to the land I will show you…The covenant consists in listening to the call and believing the promise, and always listening and always believing…We have not covenanted to do any great work.  We have simply promised that we will listen and that we will believe His promise.”

 

icon“We have to know Christ and respond personally to Him as the one in Whom all the promises of the Father are fulfilled.”

 

“If our life loses this sense that God has promised everything to us and that His promise cannot fail, then we are disturbed or upset, running from pillar to post.  But God has said that if we will be quiet and will trust in Him and live in peace and not in turmoil and not get too involved in anything that takes us too far away from Him, then He will do the rest.  He will be close to us, and He will work through us and save souls through us.  We need not worry about it–He is going to do it, and once again this returns us to an atmosphere of peace…Think what it means to be called to this specific kind of peace–in a world in which there is so such peace–in a world in which peace is almost impossible…’Why did He pick us out?’  Well, He did; that’s all.  And we are called to keep alive a little flame of peace and awareness and love in a world where it is very difficult for it to be kept alive.”

 

“The basic principle of education is to teach people to speak to God as their Father and to bow down to no one but God.”

 

pentecost_with_mary“It isn’t that the world is necessarily evil, but built into it are certain processes which tend to stamp out the life of God and the light of God and the Word of God.  So we have to face the fact that to preserve our own peace we have to know how to fight.  We are in the middle, called to peace and love and simplicity, called by the spirit of freedom which we learn to experience in a life of prayer.  Somehow we have to learn to be guided by the Holy Spirit towards this freedom which can hardly be defined.  And at the same time we are surrounded by conflict and criticism.”

 

“How does God run His household?  This is what is revealed in the Bible…  The Bible explains what God does with us, His promises to us; how, in fact, He runs His household.  This economy, the plan of God is centered on the fact that man is the image of God, and that God comes down to earth and empties Himself to save man, and the restoration of man is the work of the Holy Spirit.  So the reality of the Christian mystery is precisely the work of the Holy Spirit…the Holy Spirit given as a fruit of the Resurrection, as a result of the Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit is here transforming us, overcoming death in us, and communicating to us the incorruptibility and the risen life of the new creation, which is the Risen Christ…victory over death…

“You may say, ‘There are a lot of people following their consciences and making a lot of noise about it.’  I think the reason they make so much noise about it is that they are insecure.  If a person is securely following his own conscience, he doesn’t have to challenge the whole world about it.  If in order to justify following my conscience, I have to break down the doors of the Synod or set fire to the White House, there is something the matter with my conscience, and I am probably a pretty insecure person…If you think you are following the Holy Spirit and are hitting somebody over the head, then you have a pretty good indication that what you are following is not the Holy Spirit…See authority [in the Church] not as an abstraction but as embodied in superiors who have feelings.”

 

“The real Christian conscience is way down in the depth where one feels at the same time a complete personal conviction–it is my conviction, it is personally mine.  I am free, and it is my freedom that is saying this, and at the same time I know that I am basically united with all that  the saints and the Church have ever thought.  You can have this and still disagree…People who love one another very well and know each other very well can disagree and even fight like cats and dogs, but yet on a deeper level they are in agreement because of their love and their knowledge of one another…We are all really one in a certitude which is maintained not by anybody being right but by the Holy Spirit holding everybody together in a love and in Christ…And of course the place where this is experienced above all is the liturgy.”

 

“Too often instead of announcing Christ we are apologizing for Christ.  This is one of the sad facts about the turmoil in contemporary Christianity.  All of a sudden we say such things as ‘You know it’s not all that serious when we present Christ.  Christ is only trying to help us solve our sociological problems,’ and so on and so on.  We try to get around the seriousness of Christ, the seriousness of the Cross, and we transform them into dimensions which suit the secular world, the press, and so forth.

“This is not right:  this we cannot do.  We don’t apologize for Christ, we simply announce Him as a fact.  This has happened; the Lord has come.  His kingdom has been established, this is it and we are a part of it, and we’re living as Risen and Redeemed people in Christ.

“We can be fooled into thinking that we can take care of ourselves with all our modern know-how, and then just go to God on Sundays only.  The more our technological know-how grows and the more equipment is available, the more God is pushed to the periphery these days.

“But this is not the issue.  God is not there just to solve problems, problems or no problems.  God is the center of everything, and Christ is the center of everything.”

 

 

Priests’ Patron

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  By the power of His Passion, death, and Resurrection, He will raise our lowly bodies after the pattern of His glorious body, which has ascended to the right hand of the Father.

Christ, crucified and risen, is our gospel.  He unites us in His mystical body, presided over by St. Peter’s successor.  Jesus sustains us by His heavenly grace, through the ministry of His Church.  Christ conquers evil with good.  He gives us real hope:  eternal life, life with God, the fruition of every good thing.

st-john-vianney-confessionChrist is our gospel.  Christ was St. John Vianney’s gospel.  The Cure of Ars died 157 years ago today.  Who knows what Cure of Ars means?  Parish priest of a little French town, near Lyon, called Ars.

In heaven, St. John Vianney especially helps which group of people, as their patron?  Remember, we went over this on All Saints Day last year

The parishes of a given geographic region make up a…diocese, presided over by one of the pope’s brother…bishops.  Most priests serve a particular bishop, ministering at one of his parishes, like St. John Vianney did.  That’s called a ________ priest…diocesan.

It’s a little hard getting used to the fact that we have a pope who is not a diocesan priest, for whom August 4 is not the feast day of his patron.  For most of my years as a priest, we diocesan priests always shared August 4 with the pope, as our feastday.  Anyone know the last pope before our sitting Holy Father who wasn’t a diocesan priest?  Pope Gregory XVI, who died in 1846.  He was a Benedictine, a Camaldolese hermit. And 1846 was a long time ago.

And what about Pope Francis?  Who is his heavenly patron, the founder of his religious order?  St. Ignatius Loyola, the first Jesuit.  Who died exactly 303 years and 4 days before St. John Vianney.  So St. Ignatius’ feast day was just this past…Sunday.

But:  these days all priests look to St. John Vianney for help and inspiration, including Pope Francis.  Because the Cure of Ars consecrated himself completely to the mystery of Christ crucified and risen.  St. John Vianney spent forty years hearing confessions for twenty hours a day. Talk about a Jubilee of Mercy!

Pray for us, o holy patron in heaven!  May we faithfully follow you as ministers of Divine Mercy in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church!

El Salvador

El Colocho

Very soon we will have the pleasure of welcoming Father José Alberto Moran Arce as our second parochial vicar at St. Andrew’s/St. Gerard’s in Roanoke.

He will arrive after the national feasts of San Salvador, known as the fiestas agostinas.  They begin tomorrow morning, with a cup of atol shuco.  And they conclude on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Savior (next Saturday, August 6).

Here’s some footage from last year’s festivities in San Salvador.

And from 2013:

World War III

St Peters altar baldachino

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where rust and moth consume, and thieves break in and steal.  But lay up treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break in, nor steal.

That’s part of our Lord’s Sermon on the…  Mount.  Which helps us understand the parable we hear in our gospel reading at Sunday Mass, traditionally known as the Parable of the Rich Fool.

st basil

St. Basil

When St. Basil preached on this parable, he pointed out that earthly prosperity can serve as a trial of faith, just like difficulties and tribulations can.  We usually think of a ‘trial’ as a deprivation or an occasion of suffering, like:  “Her husband just got a cancer diagnosis.  What a trial for her!”  But easygoing prosperity poses a spiritual challenge of its own.  Godless worldliness can overtake the comfortable.   The prosperous can succumb to: total secularization.

Growing rich is no sin, in and of itself.  The man in the parable did no outright injustices to his fellow man.  Good weather and fruitful soil gave him a superabundant harvest.  But the rich man in the parable showed himself a fool by thinking neither of God nor of others.  He thought only of his personal comfort.  St. Basil put it like this:

Think, o man, think of the Giver!  From Whom have you received your wealth?  You are the servant of the good God, a steward for your fellow servants.

A servant of God and a steward for your fellow servants.

Now, I think many of us were shaken this past week by the cold-blooded murder of a priest, near Rouen, France.  Father Hamel’s murder shakes us especially because it occurred at the holy altar, as he ministered in the person of Christ, at Mass.  French president Hollande called the murder a “profanation.”  The profanation of something sacred.

Pope Francis Easter candleWe need to focus hard on what the sacred thing is, that this murder profaned.  The sacred thing is:  Religion, our relationship with God, the meaning of life, the eternal mystery of undying love, the foundation of peace among men.

In the rich fool’s life, comfort—or wealth, or something—something secular—crowded God out.  God gave the man good things in abundance, but the rich fool did not humbly thank Him.  And the fool did not understand his duty to share his wealth.

Why?  Because he thought too much of himself?  No.  The rich man’s foolishness involved selling himself short.  He thought of himself merely as a consumer of material goods, capable of nothing more beautiful or noble than catching a buzz and then filling his belly.

“You fool!” said the Lord.  Did I make you to rut around the earth like a worm?  No.  I made you to be My friend.  I made you to share in the great work of love that I bring about, by My almighty power.

The holy, sacred beauty of God, the triune God Who revealed His infinite love on the cross:  the altars of our churches stand firmly consecrated to our on-going relationship with Him, with this transcendent Love.

Pope Francis has said that a “piecemeal” World War III has long since begun.  This war costs us a lot—not just dollars, but pain and anxiety.  It assaults us with blow after blow of horrifying violence.  And a dark specter rises behind the barrage of killings:  the idea that life itself is brutal and meaningless.  The rich man in the parable went to his death a fool, because he had not prepared himself to meet God.  He had no altar.  He had no relationship with the Almighty.

Let me quote a few sentences of Pope Francis’ letter to us about the New Evangelization:

In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances. In many countries, globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting proper to other cultures which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated.

The process of secularization, by completely rejecting the transcendent, has produced a growing deterioration of ethics…a general sense of disorientation… a remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. (paragraphs 62 and 64)

We talked about this back on Fourth of July weekend:  the beautiful idea that can stabilize and unite us human beings in an enduring peace is the very treasure of our holy altars:  The idea of true human dignity.  The great God invites us to be His friends.  We are not expendable.  We are not worms.  We are children of the Most High.

Our adversaries make war against: the sacred truth of human dignity.  They make war against human culture’s greatest accomplishment:  the doctrine of human dignity, taught by Christ.  The great mystery of our beautiful, eternal destiny.  With which we commune at the altar.  May God have mercy on them, for making war on the heart and soul of human peace.

How do we fight back?  By kneeling down and praying.  Praying with Christian faith and Christian love, at Christ’s holy altar, for deliverance from this unholy war.

Fathers on Matthew 13:52

The learned scribe brings forth both the new and the old. (see Matthew 13:52)

throne of st gregory

Sede of Gregory the Great

What does the Lord mean here?  What is “the new,” and what is “the old?”

Answering “the Old Covenant and the New Covenant!” or “the Old Testament and the New Testament,” puts you in good company.  St. Augustine interpreted the verse that way.

During St. Augustine’s time, and up to this very day, some Christians erroneously have dismissed the Old Testament as barbaric, flawed, and unnecessary.  So St. Augustine understood the Lord Jesus to be saying in this verse:  My disciples need to study and try to understand both the New and the Old Testaments.  We cannot grasp the divine mystery without both.

What about St. Gregory the Great?  He understood “new” and “old” differently.

The “old” truth, which is still true, is:  The human race deserves condemnation and punishment because of our sins.

The “new” truth is:  We can repent and be converted.  We can live in the sweetness of the kingdom of the Lamb.

Friends and Enemies

st-etienne-du-rouvray

AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.

The President of the U.S.’s oldest ally said yesterday, “Our republic has been profaned.”  A French priest, killed at the altar, as he concluded his Mass.

We cannot help but grieve and fret over this.  Something very sacred to us, very close to us—the sanctuary of the church at a quiet weekday Mass—profaned by violent bloodshed.  By cold-blooded murder.

Not that we priests have any more claim on bodily safety than anyone else—but the murder of a vested priest at the altar has unique gravity.  Because at Mass the priest represents the whole people of God, and he represents Christ, the Incarnate divine Son.

So this profanation of the republic of France also involves a profanation for us here, too.  We rightly grieve, lament, cry out with abject and bitter tears, at the altar in every church at every daily Mass today.

tombstone crossBut we cannot lose the very thing that priests stand at the altar to minister:  the mysteries of the divine and heavenly Kingdom.

The angels grieve over the innocent who have been killed; they grieve for them solely for our sakes.  But in heaven they grieve more for the guilty.  Lord Jesus said:  Do not fear the one who kills the body.  Fear the one who can cast both body and soul into Gehenna.

Yes, enemies have wrongly profaned our sanctuary.  They deserve to pay a just penalty for this grave crime.  But the very mysteries of the same sanctuary put us into human solidarity even with our enemies.  They, too, are children of the one Father.

So we must ask:  Did they have to die suddenly, too?  So unprepared to meet the true and just Judge?  It appears that the police rightfully killed them in this case, in order to protect hostages and the police themselves.

But we must as Christians wish that none of them had died, even the enemies who profaned our sanctuary.  We must wish that they could have stood trial, and confronted the truth, and hopefully repented.  We must wish that we could have had the chance to love them, and bathe their wounds, too, with our tears.

Holy Father Francis said on the plane on his way to World Youth Day that, yes, this is a world war.  He has said as much before.

But war means this:  if we want peace, we must love even the enemies who would kill our priests. We must try to understand them.  When we commune with the sacred mysteries of the holy sanctuary where we unworthy priests have the privilege to stand, we must pray for all who have died in this war, and all who fight in it, friends and enemies.