The παρρησία of Abraham and Christ

Church of Pater Noster Our Father Jerusalem

The Church of the Pater Noster on the Mount of Olives

Abraham negotiated with the Judge of the world.  About the possible innocent souls in Sodom and Gomorrah.  In the course of these negotiations, when Abraham had worked the Lord’s cut-off number from fifty down to twenty, Abraham acknowledged, “I have dared speak to my Lord thus.” [Click para leer en español.]

He dared.

Some people grow up scared of their fathers, afraid to ask anything, for fear of bad repercussions.  And some people grow up counting on both parents for understanding and compassion in every possible circumstance.  Abraham had begun to learn that pure prayer to God Almighty involves more childlike confidence than fear.

Ready for some Greek?  I wouldn’t put you through this, but Pope Francis throws this particular Greek word around fairly often.  It appears in the New Testament 41 times.  And it’s in the Catechism.  So we need to know it.

Parrhesia.  Childlike openness, frankness, confidence and boldness.  Speaking with the knowledge that the listener will understand and indulge you.  That the listener loves you.

When you pray, say “Father.”  Father.  In other words, speak with parrhesia.  The disciples had asked the Lord Jesus, “How do we pray?”  When you pray, children, say ‘Father.’  Dare to say, “Father.”

El Greco Christ in PrayerAfter all, Christ revealed in His own prayers and speech what parrhesia is:

“Father, I give You praise, because what You have hidden from the wise and the learned, You have revealed to the merest children.”

“Father, take this chalice from Me.  But not My will, but Yours, be done.”

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

“Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.”

“Father, I pray that they might be one, that I might live in them as You live in Me, and that their joy might be complete.”

“Father consecrate them in truth.”

The incarnate Son spoke to the heavenly Father with consummate parrhesia.  Christ always took for granted the great truth:  the Father knows all, understands all, guides all toward the true good.  “The birds of the air and the flowers of the field neither toil nor spin, yet your Father in heaven provides for them.”

St. Paul expresses what parrhesia means like this:  “Christ pours His Spirit into our hearts, and we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’”

The Roman Catechism of Pope St. Pius V explains:  We call God Father, with the bold confidence of beloved children, because:

  1. He made us out of nothing in His own image and likeness.
  2. He unfailingly provides for our needs by exercising His tender providence.
  3. He redeemed us from the condemnation we deserved through His Son’s perfect sacrifice, and He pours out heavenly grace through the ministry of the Church.

In other words, Almighty God has shown Himself to be the very compassionate, gentle, understanding, and indulgent Father that Abraham boldly talked down from wrath to mercy.  He has shown Himself to be the Father Who patiently waits for our repentance, longs for our reconciliation, forgets our iniquities, forgives the injuries we have done Him, and grants us an altogether fresh start in Christ.

All this makes parrhesia part of our lives in another way, also.  In prayer we speak to the Father with the boldness of beloved children. We also speak with the parrhesia of beloved children before the world, when we speak about the Father.  We exercise parrhesia in prayer and in evangelization.

Not two parrhesias, but one.  Because we know how generous and trustworthy God is, we have nothing to fear from this world.  No matter what we might see on CNN.  No matter what fears our beloved politicians try to stir up in us.  Through it all, we stride forward in confidence to fulfill our mission to make the Good News of the good heavenly Father known.

mac and cheeseChildren don’t imagine that they have to know how a car works.  They just say, “Daddy, can you drive me to the park?”  They don’t imagine that they must understand the chemistry of cooking.  They just say, “Mommy, can you make me some macaroni and cheese?”

Our heavenly Father does not require us to strategize extensively about how to gain souls for His kingdom through artful persuasion and clever tactics.  He can devise tactics a million times more cleverly than we can.  Our role is:  to bear witness.  To offer confident, childlike testimony, wherever and whenever we can.

Testimony that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.  That God is the loving and kind Father of the whole human race.  That He rules His kingdom of justice and peace with an open Heart.  That the Holy Mass contains all the riches and wisdom of God.  That the Church is a real family, to which everyone can belong.

Heavenly Father, we boldly ask You lovingly to give us boldness.  We securely petition You for confidence and serenity in prayer, and in all our interactions in this world.  We know that You know what we need before we ask You, and that You grant liberally all that we ask in the name of Your Son.  So we trustingly ask You in the name of Jesus to give us the grace of His unfailing, rock-solid trust in You.

Radicalized

In his encyclical on Mother Earth, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, encourages us to embrace a spiritual life like St. Francis’.  That requires “ecological conversion.”  Pope Francis writes:

First, that entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate His generosity in self-sacrifice and good works. (paragraph 220)

God has freely given us the world.  He has freely given us ourselves.  He gives, out of love, not reckoning a balance sheet or including an invoice.  If we got a bill from the Lord–for our use of His golden sun, and the earth beneath our feet, and the gravity that keeps us attached, and all the cells He knit together out of nothing to make up our bodies; for the trees we look at and take shade under…  An invoice for all these things, and everything we owe Him for, payable on 30 day terms…  What could we put in an envelope, or send via electronic funds transfer?

st_francis_receiving_stigmata-400Which means:  true life for us involves giving God thanks with love and obedience, and trying to imitate His generosity.

I think we can say that we have had a rough summer as a nation.  And I don’t just mean that the Orioles have lost three in a row to the Yankees.  We have had a rough year, as a world.

We hear about people “radicalizing.”  Such-and-such person “radicalized,” and decided that God wills a terrorist attack.

We might think:  That’s insane!  But we delude ourselves and give ourselves false comfort if we dismiss terrorism as insane; if we dismiss attacks on the police, or on any defenseless people, as insane.  The attacks themselves have required sober and careful sanity in order to pull them off.

The “radical” idea that God wills terrorism is not insane.  It is wrong.  Altogether wrong.  It is untrue.

The spring of living water, the mystery revealed to the children of the Kingdom of Heaven is:  God loves with pure generosity.  More than a mother loves the babe at her breast, more than a husband loves his new bride, with more intensity than the heat at the center of the sun:  God loves every human being.

We need to radicalize.  Not just tolerance, but love.  Not simply justice, but self-sacrificing willingness to die, even to save the guilty.  Not just peaceful co-existence with each other, but going out in search of those who live in the shadows.

There’s only one answer to the confusion and fear that has filled the summer so far.  Radicalized Christianity.  What did the Lord Jesus know on the cross?  When He said, “Forgive them, Father,” and “Brother, you will be with me in paradise?”  He knew that God’s free generosity overcomes death itself.

Wrong religion concludes:  Let me kill others and myself for God’s glory.  Radicalized Christianity concludes:  “Even though I walk in the shadow of death, I fear no evil.  Because God comforts me.”

Bill Irwin and Evolution for ∞ Years

Sisyphus_by_von_Stuck

Sisyphus by Franz von Stuck

Bill Irwin thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail blind, with the help of his German shepherd Orient. Irwin’s book, Blind Courage, narrates his journey.

An auto-immune disease cost him his sight. At first, his doctors misdiagnosed it as terminal cancer. They removed one eye to try to buy him a few months of life. Then he lived for many more years. The disease cost him his sight in the other eye.

This got me thinking about the origins of the human race.

If “fundamentalism” means: God made the world as we know it in the amount of time it takes for Sunday Mass to come around again, then the Bible itself refutes fundamentalism. As we reckon things, a week involves seven sunrises and seven sunsets. But in Genesis, God made the sun on the fourth day.

Blind-Courage-Bill-IrwinSeems to me that Christian doctrine about our origin starts with the fact that the Blessed Mother and her Son currently live in heaven, body and soul. Then we read Genesis by the light of that truth.

God put Adam and Eve in a garden, with a choice in front of them. Before they chose to disobey the Law of the Lord and Giver of Life, the First Parents of the human race lived a kind of life which we can only begin to imagine. The “state of innocence,” or “prelapsarian” state.

Adam and Eve had perfect integrity of body before the Fall. They enjoyed a super-natural gift which would have preserved them from disease and death. Since we do not believe in magic, we can only propose, then, that this super-natural gift carried with it a natural state of material balance in their bodies. Perpetual health.

Now, we ourselves only experience the passage of time as fallen human beings. We don’t know what the passage of time was like for Adam and Eve before the Fall. Nonetheless, we can say this: Adam and Eve could have obeyed; human nature could have continued in the state of innocence. We would have progressed through a pilgrim life through time, without disease or death, to the fulfillment of heavenly life with God.

In other words, the perfect material balance of the human body would have endured for some period of time on earth, without any corruption of the elements. Perfect health, with no mortality.

(I believe that everything I have asserted so far stands on solid theological ground. But please correct me if something strikes you otherwise.)

Our Christian faith does not, of itself, preclude our accepting the theory of the evolution of species. But IMHO: the theory of evolution does not stand to reason.

No one has ever observed the evolution of one species into another. For peppered moths to evolve darker wings due to a more-sooty environment does not involve the kind of mutations that would result in a different species.

Asserting the evolution of one species from another involves no more empirical observation than the assertion of an original Paradise for the human race. Does the fossil record provide more conclusive evidence of the evolution of one species from another than Sacred Scripture provides proof of the existence of the Garden of Eden? When a scientist interprets the fossil record (as we currently have it) according to the theory of evolution, s/he brings no more certitude to the task than a Christian does to the task of understanding our infallible Scriptures.

The evolutionist brings less certitude, in fact. The idea that God exists, and can create the cosmos, and can reveal Himself to His creatures—this idea explains much more than the idea that God does not exist, or the idea that He cannot (or does not) reveal Himself.

Now, a pure materialist (I think) would deny that “species” as such even exist. A “species” is a concept only. What really exists is: DNA.

But if species as such do not exist, then what is the theory of evolution? The theory presupposes the progress of organisms from an origin, to the current state of affairs, toward some future state. Even if we understand “species” solely as the steps along that arc of progression, they must exist, in order for the arc of progress itself to exist.

Anyway… The ancient gods of Greece condemned Sisyphus to roll a stone up a hill. But every time he got the stone near the top, something happened, and it fell back down to the bottom again.

This strikes me as the most-fitting illustration of the probability of one species evolving into another by way of random genetic mutations and “natural selection.” With every few feet gained in the ascent of the hill, the “gravity” of death and oblivion will keep pulling the rock down. Sisyphus has more chance of clearing the crest of the hill than random mutations have of producing a whole new species, it seems to me.

Ancient as our biosphere may be, can it possibly be old enough to accommodate all the endless changes that would be necessary for evolution by mutation and natural selection to produce all the species that we now observe? Modern physics and Christianity have this in common: We propose that the universe began. We do not think the cosmos has always been. It has an age.

But if the universe has less than an infinite number of years on its odometer, has enough time elapsed for all the random chemical reactions that the theory of evolution requires?

Into the middle of that question, dear reader, I would like to throw this wrench: Bill Irwin lost his sight because his own body destroyed its own eyes. People die of cancer because their own cells grow in a destructive manner.

Yes, people have died because bears have eaten them, or enemies have shot them dead in battle, or because the chemical equilibrium of the fallen human body (without the supernatural gift of integrity) cannot endure indefinitely. But also: an awful lot of people have died, or become incapacitated, because elements of their own bodies have attacked them in some way.

The evolutionary biologist would respond (I believe) like this: The immune defense system exists because of its evolutionary benefit. Its imperfection now indicates the need for further evolution, and it indicates the fact that evolution proceeds in fits and starts, rather than in a straight, orderly way.

Granted: our immune defenses, and our cellular growth, do us a lot more good than harm.

But: doesn’t it make more sense; doesn’t it seem more likely that the human organism sometimes harms—and even destroys—itself because: a perfect balance that existed originally has been lost?

The alternative explanation would require us to concede the passage of time not only for the “forward” evolution of species through random mutation and natural selection, but also the overcoming of all the setbacks which auto-immune diseases and cancers would introduce into the process.

That looks like ∞ years plus ∞ years to me. The Christian doctrine about the Garden of Eden and the Fall seem more reasonable. But I would love to hear rebuttals from more-qualified interlocutors!

The Luxury of a Boring Fourth of July

http://art-matisse.com

Seated Woman, Back Turned to the Open Window

When I realized that every morning I would see this light again, I couldn’t believe my luck.  –Henri Matisse, arriving in Nice, France

My mother and I spent the Fourth of July working in her apartment in Washington, preparing for her imminent move to Roanoke. In the evening, we found ourselves rather tired.  So we plopped down in front of her telly to watch “A Capitol Fourth” on PBS.  We soon got bored.

What a luxury that was!  Bored on the Fourth of July.  Would that our French brothers and sisters could have passed a boring Bastille Day yesterday.

The cruelest and most inhumane aspect of such massacres:  Leaving the victims with no time to prepare themselves for death.  As the Ghost put it, in Act I, scene 5, of Hamlet, complaining about the manner in which he had been murdered:

Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother’s hand
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch’d:
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head:
O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!

This month’s First Things magazine has an article about the “Death of God” movement of the 1960’s.  The movement had a fascinating theology:  Since God has “emptied Himself”  in Christ (Philippians 2:7), God qua God no longer exists.

Logo for Holy Year of MercyAn attack on “bourgeoisie piety.”  Incapable of withstanding any serious theological scrutiny.  God, after all, by definition exists.  That God exists is one of the fundamental, undeniable truths of human life.

But let’s give the God-is-dead theologians the credit that they do deserve. We do not know God. His plans, His designs–His very being–all transcend our minds’ capacity to grasp. By an infinite order of magnitude.

Where is God when such terrible things happen, Father?! Where is He all the time, my child? Not within the compass of our minds.

Christ came, and taught, and suffered, and died, and rose again–in order to bridge the gap.  The God-is-dead theologians were correct in asserting that God has died: God died in the flesh in order to reveal Himself to us.  In order to reveal the infinite, undying triune love.

Yes, the sunlight on the French Riviera reveals God’s majesty. But it also hides God’s majesty. To see God in His full glory, we must fix our gaze on Christ crucified. Because there the Heart of God has thrown Itself open.

Has 2016 been a “Year of Mercy” so far?  Perhaps much more than we can even imagine. The wounds of Christ crucified have filled the airwaves. May He gather all our souls, and every soul, to Himself.

 

Matisse Jazz

One of Matisse’s Jazz cut-outs, which he did while at Nice.

St. Kateri, Mother Earth, and Unity

His dew is a dew of light.  The land of shades gives birth. (see Isaiah 26:19)

Anyone remember when the pope canonized the Lily of the Mohawks, proclaiming her Saint Kateri?  I’ll give you a hint:  Pope Benedict XVI did it…  Not that long ago…  During the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization…  October 21, 2012.

The task of summarizing that synod wound up falling to Pope Francis.  Let’s listen to paragraph 276 of his exhortation to us, The Joy of the Gospel:

Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. On razed land, life breaks through, stubbornly yet invincibly. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history…human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power.

This fallen world is a land of shades.  Sometimes a kind-of hot land of shades.  But a land where the shadow of death falls.  “Land of shades” means:  the place where the shadow of death falls.  And that is:  planet earth.

pope-francis_2541160kBut earth gives birth!  One of the themes of our Holy Father’s encyclical on the environment is:

The environmental crisis we face forces us to re-examine the meaning of life.  It forces us to recognize that we have received the earth as a gift from God, precisely as Jesus taught us and showed us. And the crisis makes us remember that we have one basic task:  to hand this gift on to the next generation safe and intact.

Of course this makes us think of the first nations of our continent.  They knew better than we do how to love Mother Earth.  At St. Kateri’s canonization, Pope Benedict prayed to her, asking her to re-invigorate the spread of the gospel among the native peoples of America, and among all the inhabitants of this land.

The witness of the saints’ lives shows us a profound, beautiful, and hopeful truth:  Different peoples can and do come together through true religion.  The religion of Jesus can bridge every racial, cultural, and generational divide.

This week every political leader and their brother have said pious things about the different groups and factions of our nation “coming together.”  May Jesus bring us together!  He is the One Who truly can do so.

Friendship or Fire and Brimstone

El Greco Christ blessing croppedFor the third time in ten days of gospel readings at Holy Mass, we hear the Lord Jesus give us this warning:

On the day of judgment, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for those who reject the Gospel.

The Lord Jesus Christ offers the Gospel, and is Himself the Gospel.

Our pilgrim lives in this world make sense when we make Christ’s triumph over death the central fact of all our thinking.  He lives, and He gives eternal life.  He gives us His life by drawing us into an ever-more-intimate friendship with Him.  He makes great demands as a friend.  Also, His friendship offers us the only true peace we can find, and the only truly enduring joy.

The people of Sodom lived in a darkness of crushing moral ignorance.  They lacked clear principles to guide their lives; they had received no education in discernment and self-restraint; and they had no true religion, and no grace and mercy from on high to help them.  They fell into grave evils, and they deserved condemnation for it.  After all, deep down, we all know right from wrong.

But the people of Sodom did not have what we have.  They did not have the hand of God extended to them, in the flesh, like we do.

The more intimate we grow with Christ, the more He demands of us morally.  He raises His standards for us.  Intimacy with Him means we will face a more rigorous judgment.

But it also means having a Friend Who makes this whole burden light.  It means interior joy and peace more profound and delightful than any fleeting self-indulgence.  It means a life of love—love that shuns sin, most of all because it is boring.  Boring and beneath the notice of a friend of God’s.

The incarnate Son of God offers us His friendship.  Let’s take Him up on it.  It is a million times harder, and ten million gazillion times more fun and rewarding, than any of the alternatives.

Needing a Good Samaritan

Jundland_Wastes R2D2

Sometimes we think we are cruising invincibly down the highway of life.  Hundreds of facebook friends, constantly liking our exciting snapshots.  A good job, with stellar performance evaluations.  Maybe even an attractive spouse, plus kids with high g.p.a.’s and plenty of soccer trophies.  [Click para leer en español.]

But the highway of life can take a sudden turn, and I can find myself staring at a lonely and dangerous stretch of road.

I daresay that the scholar of the law who took part in the conversation we hear at Holy Mass fancied himself as cruising invincibly down the highway of a good and righteous life.  He likely found the parable of the Good Samaritan to be rather jarring.

The Law of Moses orders us servants of God to love our neighbors.  So the scholar had asked Christ, “Who is my neighbor?”  After all, the world teems with countless “neighbors.”  God cannot possibly expect me to love them all!

So I must make some selections, thought the scholar to himself.  I must have some criterion by which to distinguish the ‘in’ from the ‘out’ crowd.  ‘In’ people talk like I do, apply good standards of personal hygiene, watch the same cable-news network as I watch, and have high-functioning kids like mine.

But the Lord turned the tables on him.

Anyone ever taken the road from Jerusalem to Jericho?  How about this:  Anyone ever see the original Star Wars movie?  Near the beginning, R2D2 went looking for Obi Wan Kenobi.  The little droid escaped from the Skywalker farm on Tatooine and wandered into the dusty hills, where the Sand People could ambush you.  That is what the road between Jerusalem and Jericho is like.  Seriously.  Winding, lonesome, dusty.  Creepy.

Martin Luther King, Jr., described the road, when he preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan:

The Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing.

Anyway, by throwing the parable of the Good Samaritan at him, Jesus seems to have been saying to the scholar:  You want to find a way to choose your neighbors. You think you have a lot to offer, and everybody wants a piece.  So you have to keep yourself from getting spread too thin.  But:  you could wind up needing a neighbor.  Then the question you will have is:  Who will have the kindness to help me?  Who will think of me as their neighbor then?

Dr. Martin Luther KingAnd the answer of course is:  The one who doesn’t fuss and get choosy about who his neighbors are.  He will help.  The one who doesn’t have too much pride, too much self-importance, to notice the woebegone people around him.  The one who keeps his humble eyes open, and who simply cannot stand to see a fellow human being suffering.

For us, the most important spiritual lesson of the parable of the Good Samaritan is:  identifying myself with the man who got robbed and left half-dead.  If all we do is try to copy the Good Samaritan, we could wind up right where the scholar of the law started, when he initially posed his question.  He was thinking:  I’m fine.  I can offer so much as a neighbor, I need to start vetting the applicants.

No.  I could be the poor soul by the side of the road.  Actually, I am the poor soul, wounded and nearly lost.  Desperation stares me in the face.  I could get gravely ill tomorrow.  My home and possessions could float away in a flood.  Some hoodlum could steal my car.  My friends could say, “You know, you’re annoying.  We don’t like you anymore.”

And then there’s this:  Even if my car is currently purring its way down the highway of life at an impressive little clip, I have to recognize that this road will end.

Eventually the doorbell will ring, and it won’t be opportunity knocking.  It will be Mr. Grim M. Reaper.

We will all need a good neighbor then.  A Good Samaritan.  A divine Good Samaritan.

I quoted a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King earlier.  Anyone know when he gave that one, the one I quoted?  The evening of April 3, 1968.  In Memphis.  (Fue asesinado la mañana siguiente.)

So let’s identify with the Good Samaritan in this way:  It’s not for me to apply a selection process to qualify my neighbors.  My job is to love everyone in front of me, especially the ones who suffer.  And let me pray that, when I need a Good Samaritan, he or she will come along to love me like I need to be loved.

Shooting Down in Downtown Dallas

WPA-built plinth where Zapruder stood

On November 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder made a home movie.  A year and a half ago, your unworthy servant stood at the very spot from which Mr. Zapruder captured President Kennedy’s assassination on film.

It is 1,000 feet away from where the shootings occurred yesterday evening.

Lee Harvey Oswald fired from above, from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building, immediately adjacent to Dealey Plaza.  (You can see the Book Depository building in one of the cellphone videos of last night’s violence that The Washington Post has on its website.)

Last night’s sniper(s) fired from “an elevated position,” as the news reports put it.

May God have mercy on us all.

…We will have a Holy Hour with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction.  5:30-6:30pm this evening, at St. Gerard’s, on Orange Ave., in Roanoke (Virginia).

(There’s a Roanoke, Texas, also–a half-hour north of DFW.)

…Most of America stays calm and peaceful, almost all of the time.  Most Americans treat each other pretty well and get along okay.  We will keep doing this.  May God give us peace.

 

 

Independence-Day-Weekend Homily

Juan Epstein

Two hundred forty years.  Twelve score years.  Since…?

Yes, the Declaration of Independence.  But also, the same summer of 1776: St. Junipero Serra founded the California missions of San Francisco of Assisi and San Juan Capistrano, just south of Santa Maria de Los Angeles.

As we read at Sunday Mass, the Lord Jesus said, ‘The harvest is abundant. But it requires a lot of labor.’  We have worked at this USA thing for 240 years, expending countless, noble labors.  Working hard to communicate with each other, to cultivate a harmonious life together, to find and elect the right leaders, to educate our children, to step together into a hopeful future.

How can we not take pride in our USA?  By God’s grace, we share a genuinely sublime identity.  The eternal Son of God became man to reveal the love with which our heavenly Father made us.  Christ came to shine the divine light on: the sacred dignity of the human being.

This idea–the beautiful truth that our Creator has willed us all to exist and to thrive–that is the central, unifying idea of our nation.  That idea unites a huge, motley collection of pale- and swarthy-skinned people, in the common enterprise of the United States of America.

We read:  The Lord commanded His evangelists to say “Peace.” Peace to you.  Peace to your family, to your household, to your town.

The idea of human dignity offers us the one, true pathway to lasting peace. ‘Justice’–what does it mean?  Doesn’t it mean:  Respecting the true dignity of my neighbor?  Doesn’t it mean always remembering:  ‘This is God’s child, too.’ When we treat each other justly, what breaks out?

american-flagPeace.  Peaceful things, like cookouts, games of horseshoes, flowers growing in peoples’ gardens, young men and women falling in love and getting married, babies getting born, then growing up and going to school and learning things like Shakespeare and astronomy.

Christ came to teach us:  the heavenly Father never willed you to suffer though a wretched, hopeless, slavish life.  He wills that you live in full–occasionally enjoying things like fried chicken and ice cream, avoiding sin, and getting to heaven in the end.

By God’s grace, and the labor of the patient generations that have come before us, America has offered us a home where we can occasionally enjoy fried chicken and ice cream, avoid sin, and make our pilgrim way to heaven.

Am I right that the Christian concept of human dignity really is the crucial idea? Government by consent of the governed.  Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Habeas corpus and trial by jury.  Freedom from unlawful search and seizure.  Free thinking, free assembling.  Praying and serving God according to my own well-educated conscience.

Human dignity.  The Creator endows every Tom, Dick, and Harry; every Beckah, Susan, and Sherri; every black, white, mestizo, olive-skinned, or chorizo-eating Puerto-rican Jew with the same dignity.  Child of God.  Our Founding Fathers declared this to be “self-evident.”  Sure.  It’s perfectly self-evident.  Provided you assume that Jesus Christ lives and breathes and teaches pure truth.

Now, we also read at Mass about how the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem nurse at the abundant breasts of truth, justice, and peace.  Prosperity flows over the heavenly city like a river:  the prosperity of genuine brotherly love. The kind of genuine brotherly love that fits with a modest lifestyle and a small carbon footprint.

If we get a tiny, little share of that heavenly peace at a happy, multi-generational, American-family Fourth-of-July barbecue–how do we maintain such a peace?

It takes work.  Patient, humble labor.  The harvest is abundant–when the laborers labor.

As our Holy Father put it in his encyclical on Mother Earth, we must labor to find a new, 21st-century way of interacting with the land, the rivers, and the seas.  The 19th- and 20th-century ways have brought us to the brink of ecological disaster.

And we must labor for the rights of our neighbors to whom the promise of human dignity does not currently apply.  That, too, is the story of our nation: fighting for those to whom the American promise has not been kept.  From where I’m standing, right now that includes two large classes of people: innocent and defenseless unborn children and law-abiding undocumented immigrants.

May the Lord bless and protect our country.  We Americans have always hoped for a good future, first and foremost because the Lord has given us such a wonderful land to live in.  Why would we stop hoping now?

Yes, in this world, we will have troubles.  But Jesus has overcome the evil of the world.  So Christian hope does not disappoint.  Because God is real; His Christ is real; His Kingdom is real.  He says to His children:  Take pride in who you are; rejoice that your names are written in heaven!

The Magicians

The Burning of Rome by Robert Hubert

The Burning of Rome by Robert Hubert

The Roman Emperor Nero despised the clean, upright living of the Christians in his city.  He called them “magicians.”  Because, to pagan eyes, the worship of the one, true God looks like superstition or black magic.  The pagan Romans generally regarded Christians as excessively religious.

The Roman race believed that they had descended from the ancient warriors of Troy. The Greeks had burned Troy to the ground, during the time when the Judges ruled Israel. The Trojan hero Aeneas fled westward to Italy.

Emperor Nero fantasized about watching Rome burn, just as Aeneas’ famous father-in-law Priam had watched Troy burn.  So, it appears, Nero ordered his henchman to set fire to his own city.

But he blamed the magicians for the fire.  The people to whom St. Paul wrote his letter to the Romans therefore became martyrs.  Burned at the stake.  Or fed to packs of wild dogs. Everyone knew they had nothing to do with the big fire.  But the Romans killed the Christians anyway.

We read at Holy Mass today:  “Jesus saw their faith.”

The martyrs of Nero’s Rome literally provided light int he darkness of a ruined city, as their bodies’ burned during the night.  But the truly great light is faith in Christ.

Lord Jesus loved us to the end, and He offered His life in sacrifice for us–to turn death from a curse into a blessing, to make our lives on earth worth living.

The first martyrs of our mother Church gave their lives back to Christ, responding to love with love.  There’s no more potent magic.