Fish Creek Canyon, Neuhaus, etc.

The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon, and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have. To me, it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created.

Theodore Roosevelt

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Cactus with some personality on the east slope of Superstition Mountain

The mighty hand of Providence can bring a man to Phoenix.

I passed through the Jubilee-Year holy door in the cathedral of SS. Simon and Jude, prayed for the pope’s intentions, and thought of you, dear reader.

Believe it or not, one of the main reasons for the trip: informal ecumenical dialogue with the Laestadian Lutherans.  (Devout Finnish followers of sola scriptura.)  We wound up dialoging on the surprising subject of: spacing births within marriage!

But first:  a view from the rugged Echo Canyon ascent of Camelback Mountain, looking north at Piestewa Peak, with part of northeast Phoenix in between:

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…Now, we agree with our brothers the Laestadians on the Incarnation and the Trinity, of course.  We also agree that our doctrine regarding marriage and family must come from the New Testament.  And we agree that using artificial contraception offends God.

Pope Paul VI taught in Humanae Vitae that spacing births, by practicing periodic abstinence, does not violate divine law.  “Be fruitful and multiply,” to be sure.  But couples may agree, with a good reason, to refrain for a time.

A Laestadian preacher recently preached on I Corintians 7:1-6.  He offered guidance very much like Pope Paul’s.  Turns out:  The idea that couples have the prerogative to abstain periodically by mutual agreement proved quite controversial among the Laestadians.

I found myself thoroughly fascinated by this.  May God be glorified when brother Christians can share insights!

Meanwhile, I learned that the population of the world can be divided into those who have driven the Apache Trail east of Phoenix, and those who should.

But first: here’s Weaver’s Needle as seen from Fremont Saddle in the Superstition Wilderness:

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(I have to hand it to these new-fangled smartphones.  They can take some nice pictures.)

Before I left Roanoke, an Iroquois friend told me to look for a feather during my hikes in Apache territory.  I have yet to find one.

But, in the depths of my silent solitude–the last hiker on Peralta trail before nightfall, with the company only of birds–I heard voices on the wind.  Could not make out the words.  But the meaning was clear:  encouragement.  Keep it up!  –Thank you.  I will try.

I also had the opportunity to ride the Phoenix Valley Metro in its entirety.  Very reminiscent of the Denver light rail.

On my way to a Colorado Rockies game in the summer of ’10, I had to laugh at the attitude being copped by the young Denver toughs getting on their “Metro,” as if they were cholos hopping a Bronx-bound D train.  Same thing happened here in Phoenix.

To an easterner with experience on the New York and Washington subways, these western mass-transit contraptions look like dinky monorails, fit for Disneyland.

Anyway:  the Apache Trail, which Teddy Roosevelt so eloquently elegized…

apache-trail-map

What glories God has made!

No offense to geologists and evolutionary biologists, but:  The idea that “billions of years of water and wind” have given us the spectacle of Horse Mesa, Four Peaks, and Buckhorn Mountain rising above the Salt-River dam that forms Apache Lake…?  That idea is considerably less intelligible than the idea that God made these things.  Just like the idea that billions of iterations of ‘survival of the fittest’ made the desert cardinals:  considerably less intelligible than the idea that God made them.

Here’s an old postcard:

Apache Trail postcard

(After all, no one has ever successfully measured the work of wind and water over the course of even a thousand years, or the work of ‘survival of the fittest’ over even a thousand generations.  Therefore, speculating about billions and gazillions of chippings away, or tiny evolutionary steps, has no more real precise intellectual content than simply affirming that God did these things.  Considerably less precise intellectual content, in fact.)

The driving on Rt. 88 is not for the faint-of-heart.  Plus, for 20+ miles, there’s no pavement.  Makes you reflect that many an Apache passed this way and meditated on himself as a quintessence of dust.  But: make the drive anyway!

Okay, speaking of church controversies…

According to Kathleen Kaveny, right-wing Catholics hate Pope Francis for “sowing division” in the Church.  (Long-time readers here will remember how much we have admired Kaveny’s work in the past.)

neuhausWrong, she says.  It’s not Pope Francis’ fault.  The real villain, truly guilty of dividing God’s Church, is–RIP–Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, founding editor of First Things magazine.  Fr. Neuhaus, Kaveny maintains, gave us a distorted “neo-conservative” version of St. John Paul II.

To try to make this odd point, Kaveny proposes arguments with which Fr. Neuhaus not only would agree, but which he would himself make more precisely and beautifully than Kaveny makes them.  Fr. Neuhaus no doubt would laugh out loud at the idea that Commonweal has posthumously named him as some weird kind of antipope.

R.R. Reno has written a response to Kaveny.  I relate, since I spent the whole latter part of the 90’s reading First Things with nearly desperate enthusiasm.

Reno says that Fr. Neuhaus made First Things not a politically conservative magazine, but a theologically post-liberal magazine.  Meaning:  Our age is not the age of definitive discovery.  Tradition holds wisdom, often hidden below the surface.  Instead of doubting the Fathers, let’s doubt the findings of 19th-and 20th-century theology instead.

Amen to all that.  Nothing particularly “divisive” about it, nor retrograde.  St. John Paul II, who suffered through Nazism and communism, loved living through the 20th century anyway.  JP II embraced everything that Vatican II embraced.  But the saint pope never thought that now, this age, offers us the one-and-only opportunity for understanding stuff.

Also, re: politics, Neuhaus, and my personal journey through the 90’s…  When you embrace the pro-life movement, especially at a young age, you look first and foremost for a way to vote pro-life.

You don’t look for ways to make pro-Roe v. Wade candidates seem palatable on other grounds.  Nor do you patiently wait while supposedly pro-life conservatives babble on about non-issues ad nauseam, while the innocent and defenseless unborn still have no legal protection.  And you wind up having a hard time knowing for whom to vote.  But Roe v. Wade for/against has to decide it.

Anyway, Kaveny’s fundamental point seems to be that we Catholics must be loyal, above all, to each other.

Have pro-life bishops unfairly anathematized Catholic Democrats?  Maybe.  But, if they have, that particular right-wing conspiracy doesn’t seem to have done much damage to the Democratic party.

Cam Newton PanthersCatholic tribal loyalty:  Yes.  But mindless tribal loyalty:  No.

The tribe that looked mindless to me and most of my seminary mates in the late 90’s, was, in fact, the Democrats of the northeast, post Roe v. Wade.  Unfair anathematizations?  Our generation experienced those from our Boston-Democrat professors on a weekly basis.  First Things came to us then as a balm in Gilead.

But…

A day arrived when Neuhaus and Co. did not make sense.  Early 2003.

The aforementioned saint-pope sent a Cardinal to the White House.  The Holy See begged, pled, tried everything to talk W. out of it.  All sound reasoning from Catholic principles prohibited our starting a war with Saddam Hussein.  But First Things rationalized it.

Politics sucks.  No one can judge rightly every time, in this vale.  Fr. Neuhaus strove to penetrate as close to the truth as his amazing mind allowed.  He does not deserve Kaveny’s odd broadside attack.

That said, we will all face plenty of purgatory time for our culpable lapses in judgment.  W. made a bad decision.  First Things struck up some music for the bandwagon.  Fr. Neuhaus sided with the wrong tribe that time.  I, for one, had to go looking for balm in Gilead somewhere else.

(But a kind reader here has ordered your humble servant a First Things subscription, and I am grateful!)

…In the Valley of the Sun, everyone’s rooting for the Broncos.  Not because they like them.  But because of being bitter over the Cardinals’ stinging defeat at the hands of Cam and the Panthers.

This particular pilgrim, however, will be rooting for the Carolina boys.

The Apprentice, I-Cor-13 Love

Trump The Apprentice

 

Last Sunday some of us found ourselves snowed-in. Couldn’t come to Mass. Which meant missing St. Paul’s parody of Donald Trump’s old show, “The Apprentice.”

In I Corinthians 12, St. Paul imagines the various members of the human body yelling at each other about their work, like on the show. Paul points out how absurd it would be. The foot cannot say, because I am not a hand, I have decided to seek employment elsewhere. The ear cannot say, because I am not an eye, I quit. The head cannot say to the feet, You’re fired!

St. Paul went on: Now, you are Christ’s Body. You are individually parts of it. So: No I quits. No you’re fireds.

A son can’t fire his father. A wife can’t fire her husband—even if sometimes the performance reviews include a lot of “room for improvement.” Likewise, we baptized Christians form a family, an inseparable Body. No I quits. No you’re fireds. Instead: We strive to believe in each other, to wish the best for each other, to love each other–with true, selfless love.

At Holy Mass this Sunday, we hear the sequel to last week’s “The Apprentice” reading from I Corinthians. This Sunday’s second reading gets read at practically every Catholic wedding. And on the fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

What is love? Patient, kind, humble, unassuming, gentle, generous, calm, forgiving, faithful, hopeful, and true.

elijah widow

Elijah in Zarephath

This is not St. Paul’s prescription for a romance novel or a chick flick. It is how he describes the divine love that binds the Body of Christ together, the force that binds the Christian Church.

Romance and soul mates and lovey-dovey is fine, as far as it goes. But the Christian love of the People of God makes Romeo and Juliet look like the j.v. squad, by comparison. The love of Christ that binds the Church together as one Body: that is real love.

Now, with all this in mind, with the idea of holy mutual love binding us together, let’s take a quick look at what happened in church that day when the Lord Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

Bound in love, the People of God gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth, affirming each other in the faith. They smiled when they saw Christ. Here’s a local boy done very well. Full of wisdom and gravitas.

Says he’s the Messiah… Huh. The Messiah. Really? We’re more familiar with him as someone who helped his father make our tables and chairs. We know him as a rather-sweaty, adze-wielding labor man. The Messiah? Huh.

How did Jesus react to this? He went for the jugular, so to speak. His reaction makes the hard-nosed businessmen of The Apprentice look like milquetoasts. The Lord met pride, cynicism, and smallness with tough love.

To summarize His speech in a nutshell: Christ said to the Nazarenes, You seem to think a lot of yourselves, o fellow Jews of Galilee, gathered here in church. You seem satisfied with your little selves. But God loves humble, faithful foreigners more than He loves you. Your own Scriptures says so!

…We cannot underestimate how much the entire spiritual edifice of the Christian life rests on one thing. Humility.

What did the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian have in common? Practically nothing, except: They both encountered a holy man, a true prophet, a messenger of God, filled with divine power—they both encountered such a man.

The widow met Elijah; Naaman met Elisha. Both the widow and Naaman questioned what they heard the prophet say. Feed you with this little amount of oil I have in my jar? I don’t think so. Wash in the Jordan waters? Why bother?

But both the widow and Naaman obeyed anyway. The widow and Naaman both believed, believed in God more than they believed in their own personal mental powers. They acknowledged their own limitations. And they acknowledged the loving power of Almighty God, the omnipotent, the mysterious, the awesome.

…There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in being a Roanoker. I take pride in it myself. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in belonging to Hokie Nation. But if we think that what makes a church a place of love comes from this earth, we deceive ourselves. If we think that the power that turns a parish into a loving family comes from us, we’re wrong.

Almighty God, the omnipotent, the mysterious, the awesome—He possesses the love described in I Corinthians 13. I Corinthians 13 elaborates in words what we see whenever we look at a crucifix. God alone possesses I-Corinthians-13 love in His own Heart. He alone provides such love.

And He offers it to the humble. Only the humble have hearts open wide enough to receive love as grand as the divine love.

The church people in Nazareth grew furious with the Word made flesh because… pride. Worldliness. Spiritual sloth. They insisted that God fit into their sphere. They thought they could measure God and insist that He please them.

Jesus told them: Fellow Nazarenes, your world is way too small. Your measuring stick is too short. The only way to take in the divine grandeur is to humble yourselves.

Parable of the Snower

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parable“A snower went out to snow.  And, as it snowed, a lot of snow fell on the path, and on the rocky ground, and on the thorns, and on the rich soil.

“The shovelers came and removed the snow on the path.  The sun rose and melted the snow on the rocky ground.  The snow around the thornbushes had to be removed because it impeded the air flow around the heat pump.

“But the snow on the rich soil just sat there.  And sat there.  And sat there.

“Do you not understand the parable?”

Seriously, though, I think we can actually find one genuine point of agreement between the real parable and my “Winter-storm Jonas Aftermath” version.

Everyone thinks that children love a big snow the most, because school gets canceled for at least 3 ½ days.  But, actually, it’s not children who love a big snow the most.

Who loves a foot of snow more than anyone else?

Farmers, of course.  All that water, sitting on the fields.  For days, for a week, for two weeks.  Melting little by little by little into the soil.  Nothing moistens a field like a foot of melting snow.

God has spoken His Word to us.  Indeed, He has showered it down upon us like a foot of snow.  When we participate regularly in the Church’s Sacred Liturgy, the Word of God sits on our souls like snow pack on a field.  It moistens our spirits—gradually, constantly, giving us the capacity to burst forth with springtime life, eternal springtime life.

A Very Tough Five Days

Deleiden indictment

for our Pro-Life Movement.

First the heavens pour snow with reckless abandon on our annual March.  Then one of our heroes gets indicted.

Indicted for “offering to buy human organs.”

Daleiden himself has noted that a buyer can only deal with a seller.  But, in fact, the Houston grand-jury indictment fails an even more basic test of reason.

No one involved thinks that our man intended to purchase human organs.  Everyone involved knows now that he intended to expose Planned Parenthood.  He may have presented himself as a buyer, but everyone now knows that was part of his ruse.

It is simply impossible to be guilty of intentionally faking and also be guilty of really trying to do the thing you were pretending to be doing.  Someone who yells “Fire” in a crowded movie theater (when there is, in fact, no fire) is guilty of dangerously misleading people.  But he isn’t guilty of starting a fire.

This indictment is profoundly irrational.  There is something rotten in the State of Denmark (Houston.)

…Beautiful words from Jeanne Mancini, President of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund:

Our movement is peaceful, prayerful, and joyful.  Our opposition to Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry is based on nonviolence, reason, and compassion.

Two Black Quarterbacks Ago…

Doug Williams Sports IllustratedIn thirteen days, Cam Newton will start at quarterback against the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

But it won’t be the first time the Broncos have squared-off against a team with a black quarterback.

Two years ago, the Broncos faced Russell Wilson.  But that wasn’t the first time, either.

Long-time readers remember that, two winters ago, I had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage along the California Mission Trail.

We started in San Diego, of course, in Mission Valley, at the basilica of San Diego de Alcalá.  That particular shrine of holy martyrs lies less than a mile away from Qualcomm Stadium.

But that wasn’t your humble servant’s first trip to Mission Valley.

Qualcomm Stadium used to be known as Jack Murphy Stadium.  And on January 31, 1988, the Broncos got trounced there, in Super Bowl XXII.  By Doug Williams and the Washington Redskins.

Some of us remember that night as if it were yesterday.  Some of us even remember the balmy air in Mission Valley that night.  Your unworthy  servant, thanks to Divine Providence–and the fact that my dad, though not rich himself, associated with some seriously rich people, who had Super Bowl tickets to give away to their friends’ sons–my brother and I saw Doug Williams destroy the Broncos with our own eyes.

In Super Bowl XXII, a black quarterback led the winning team for the first time ever.  Two Super Bowls ago, it happened a second time.*   The Broncos have been on the losing end both times.

Cam #3?

 

________________

  • Donovan McNabb had a chance to be #2 in 2005.  But the Eagles lost Super Bowl XXXIX to the Patriots.

Year of Jubilee: the Why

Lord Jesus said, “the Holy Spirit has anointed me to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” A year of jubilee. Like this year. Last month, Pope Francis inaugurated a Jubilee Year of…

christ-synagogue1Now, maybe you think: Father, that’s nice. But, when we read the Bible, we see that the jubilee of Divine Mercy began when Christ first came into the world. He said so, in the synagogue in Nazareth, as we will hear at Sunday Mass (assuming we can safely get to church).

Christ came to bring glad tidings: God’s love overcomes all evil. God loves the suffering and the poor. We human beings don’t need to mistreat each other over inconsequential trifles. We don’t have to fight over having the most stuff, or the most glamour, or the most fleeting pleasure.

God wills to give us His Kingdom, true happiness that does not die. God will give us something infinitely better than anything we could ever fight each other for in this world. The glory of God, better than ten Super-Bowl rings or 25 Oscars.

So: Live simply, humbly, and devoutly through this pilgrim life; love your neighbor; give to the poor. Avoid evil. Live for the Mass; live for the next Holy Communion; live by faith. Long for heaven. What’s the point of fighting over peanuts, doing injustices, and piling up a lot of junk that will only turn to dust in the end?

The Age of Grace and Mercy dawned like a perpetual Year of Jubilee, when the Christ came to the world. He atoned for our sins, conquered death for us, and gave us a hope worth living for.

So why would a Sovereign Pontiff of the Christian Church feel the need to proclaim a special jubilee year, since every year in which the grace of Christ flows is a year of jubilee already?

Good question.

In this case, I think our Holy Father has a double reason for proclaiming the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

1) Popes always have one basic reason for proclaiming years of jubilee: to help people get out of purgatory more easily.

Pope Francis fiatNow, how can our humble Pope Francis help souls complete purgatory and reach heaven? This pope’s very simple; he just rides around in a little Fiat.

But: Pope, simple as he may be, has full executive authority over a unique kind of bank. It’s the bank with the most valuable assets in the entire cosmos: the treasury of all the good works done by the saints of Christ throughout the Christian ages.

All these good works shine before the eyes of God, like jewels. And the pope has the authority to “disburse” these jewels, and give them to us, to show to God as if they were our own.

So the pope declares: For this year, my dear people, you can make withdrawals from the bank of saintly merits more easily! You can more easily apply the goodness of the saints to yourself, or to a deceased relative in purgatory. Make a pilgrimage, or do the works of mercy, and the goodness of the saints will count as your goodness, too–or as the goodness of your beloved dead.

That’s called an “indulgence.” Popes declare years of jubilee in order to grant indulgences liberally.

So: that’s reason enough for Pope Francis to have declared this Year of Jubilee! But he has another reason, also.

2) In his letter about the jubilee year, Pope Francis wrote about the very passage from the gospel which we hear on Sunday. The Pope wrote: “A ‘year of the Lord’s favor’ or ‘mercy’: this is what the Lord proclaimed and this is what we wish to live now.”

Christ came and proclaimed the perpetual jubilee of divine mercy, in the synagogue in Nazareth. By doing so, He fulfilled a commandment He had given long before, during the time of the Old Covenant.

In the laws of Leviticus, the Lord commanded Moses and the ancient Israelites to start fresh every fifty years. Start fresh, as in: forgive debts, liberate slaves, restore lost property. Everyone has the right to a decent, peaceful life–to food, shelter, health-care, etc. Start fresh with a fair shake for everyone, every fifty years. Equalize all the incomes. That was a law in the Old Covenant. You might laugh, but there really was a divine law that said basically what Bernie Sanders says.

The ancient Israelites, however, never followed that law. The rich got richer and the poor poorer, even among the Chosen People of God. The fact of the matter is: in this fallen world, a complete fresh start never comes. But there is a way for us to try to make things the way God would have them: those of us who possess stuff–corporal and spiritual goods–have to make sacrifices for the good of others.

So Pope Francis has given us this jubilee year as an occasion for us to: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

Also to: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.

By doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy this year, we obtain the Jubilee-Year indulgence. But not only that. By doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we help to bring about the unending jubilee the Christ came to declare.

King David, Snow, Contemplation

Getting ready to batten down some hatches here in the Roanoke Valley.  I haven’t missed a March for Life in twenty years.  But my mom talked me out of braving it.

If you have any mind to go to either the 7:30 Mass tomorrow at St. Gerard’s, or noon at St. Andrew’s, think again.  Same goes for 5:30 Mass on Saturday and 7:30 Sunday morning.

St. Andrew’s and St. Gerard’s will re-open for business on Sunday morning at 9:00 and 9:30, respectively.  And don’t forget the 5:00pm Mass at St. Gerard’s on Sunday afternoon!

We present a couple little homilies for daily readings this week…

The women sang to one another as they made merry, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him; he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; and what more can he have but the kingdom?” And Saul eyed David from that day on. (I Samuel 18:7-9)

 

RG III locker

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
 If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.
 If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

If you follow sports news, you know that Robert Griffin III left these words in his locker, after he cleaned it out and took his leave of the Washington Redskins.  Mother Teresa kept these words on her wall.

Not sure if RG III counts as a kind of young David, who slew Goliath, only to make King Saul angry and envious.  Maybe beating the Cowboys on Thanksgiving in 2012 counts as slaying Goliath.  But I’m gonna leave the debate about quarterbacks to the experts.

mothertheresaOn the other hand, King David certainly earned the right to put these words in his locker, if he had one.

The Psalms reveal that King David loved God above all.  David found his strength and peace in God, even when people to whom he had done no wrong turned against him.

But the Psalms also reveal that King David knew his faults.  He knew that he, too, was a sinner.  He knew that he needed other people to be patient with him.

Mother Teresa knew that, too, of course.  I think that’s the difference between those beautiful words from her wall being truly beautiful and inspiring, vs. being paranoid and self-righteous.

The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

God made the sabbath.  He made the sabbath by observing it Himself.  Not because He had tired Himself out, making the heavens and the earth–the omnipotent Creator does not suffer from fatigue.

No, He made the sabbath because He did not fashion the cosmos for the sake of endless fuss and bothering, but rather for contemplation.

He did not make everything to be useful.  Some of the things He made are eminently useful, to be sure.  The wool of sheep can make a sweater.  But He made everything not necessarily to be useful, but simply to be true.  It’s hard to see how an orchid can find a lot of practical uses.  But orchids are beautiful.

Creation was created to be contemplated.  By whom?  By God Himself, by the angels, and by us.  The sabbath reveals why we exist:

Working hard keeps us out of trouble.  It brings out our talents.  And we meet other people.  Hard work does us a lot of good. But God did not make us to work hard endlessly.  He made us to contemplate endlessly.

Marriage Celebrated by Confessing the Holy Trinity

Marriage_in_Cana_Giotto

[Homily also available in Spanish:  click: II Dom 2016.]

According to St. Faustus of Riez, the wedding we read about at Sunday Mass symbolizes “the joyful marriage of man’s salvation, a marriage celebrated by confessing the Holy Trinity.”

I don’t want to wax pedantic here. But we ought to meditate a little bit on the most basic foundations of the Catholic and Christian faith. We read that “His disciples began to believe in Him.” We want to follow Christ as disciples, too. So what exactly does a Christian disciple believe?

Can anyone identify this line from a movie: “It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

Now, we do not believe in “the Force.” We believe in: God. The One, the only. Source and goal of all things. All-knowing, all-good, all-powerful. Everywhere, and greater than everything. Both more intimate and more transcendent than we can imagine. God. The Almighty.

Michelle Dockery Lady Mary DowntonWe believe in Him. We acknowledge that to deny His existence seems utterly irrational, considering things like sunsets, vast oceans, people as lovely as Michelle Dockery, not to mention the human soul. Only a fool denies the existence of God. But, by the same token, only a fool claims to know, to understand, to grasp God’s infinitely beautiful and spiritual mind.

When the disciples “began to believe” in Jesus, they did not begin to believe that He had a beard. They knew He had a beard. They did not begin to believe that He could attend weddings. They saw with their own eyes that He attended the wedding in Cana.

What they began to believe is: This man, Who turns water into fine wine, is God. He, Jesus, is The One in Whom believers believe. God made the heavens and the earth; He makes the mighty rivers flow. The disciples began to believe: Jesus of Nazareth is the One Who knit Michelle Dockery together in her mother’s womb!

Feel me? This is what we call faith in the Incarnation. We believe not just that God could become man, if He so chose–which of course is true, since God is God and nothing less than omnipotent God. But we believe not only that the Incarnation is theoretically possible; we believe that it has, in fact, happened. Therefore, we make a bigger fuss at Christmas than at anyone else’s birthday.

Okay, we done with the theology lesson? Not quite. St. Faustus did not say that the joyful marriage of man’s salvation involves confessing the Incarnation.

St. Faustus could have said that, but he didn’t. Because we begin by believing in the Incarnation. The Word became incarnate for a reason: to reveal the unfathomable secret of God.

When the Lord Jesus came up out of the Jordan water, as we heard about last week at Mass, He did not pat Himself on the head and declare with His own lips: “I am very pleased with myself.”

the_holy_trinityWhen He knelt to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, He did not say, “Let this chalice pass from me. My own will be done.”

When He breathed His last on the cross, He did not groan and say, “Into my own hands I commend myself.”

No. When Jesus spoke, the One, eternal God spoke; the infinite and omnipotent spoke. The infinite and omnipotent Son prayed. He prayed to the infinite and omnipotent Father. God the Son has a father. God the Father has a Son.

And when God the Son finished the mission that God the Father had given Him to complete, God the Son sent the pure, glorious spirit of truth into the world. And that pure, omnipresent Spirit is God. But He is neither the Father, nor the Son, although He is, and can be nothing other than, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, anointed by the heavenly Father.

Trinity. The one and only God is tri-une. The disciples began to believe this. We have begun to believe this. And I say “begun” because we will not successfully finish believing in the Trinity until we actually gaze upon this mystery, totally unveiled before our eyes.

Believing in the Trinity is not confusing. This dogma of faith does not make a mess out of rational thinking. Just the opposite. Believing in the Father, in Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit of Pentecost offers the human race the only real path to a life that makes sense.

Our job is not to understand the mystery. Our job is to share in it. To live in communion with Jesus, loving and serving the Father. We profess our faith in words, to be sure, by reciting the Creed–words that we would rather die than deny. But the true profession of our faith is our lives. Lives lived–if I might dare to put it this way–lives lived “inside” the Trinity. By His life on earth, Jesus invited us inside the inner life of God. When we see, hear, react, think, judge, and act with Jesus, then we live in the embrace of the triune God.

The Kindness of God

Christ healing paralytic Mark 2

Prophet Samuel predicted how a king would inflict his authority over the people, and they would suffer—even though they themselves begged to have a king, like all the other nations. Hopefully these words do not serve as some kind of prophecy of things to come if America elects the wrong president.

But let’s not get into politics. Let’s focus on what happened in Capernaum. In the faith and love of the paralytic’s friends, the Lord Jesus saw the faith and love of the man himself. Only a man of faith and love would have such kind friends. So Christ forgave and healed the paralyzed man.

At Christmas, we read, “The goodness and kindness of our God have appeared.” When the Lord forgave the paralytic, the scribes said, “Only God can forgive sins.” True enough. Lord Jesus basically replied: “I am God.”

God is kind. God wills our good. When we get in trouble and suffer, God wills to heal us.

I haven’t exactly been paralyzed these past couple of weeks. But I haven’t been able to do some of the things I really love to do, like go for a run or even a walk. Of course, I suffer for my own sins. I should have known better than to get on that hoverboard. I have endured just chastisement.

But God is kind. That’s the revelation of Jesus Christ. God wills our healing. God wills our good. He is kind.

Mercy Basics

Logo for Holy Year of MercyThis year the Church keeps a special Jubilee Year of…

God heard Hannah’s prayer. He had mercy on her.

She had wept bitterly. She suffered. She longed to have a son. God heard her; her pain became His. He acted to relieve her suffering.

That, in a nutshell, is mercy. To experience someone’s suffering as my own, and to act to relieve it.

We human beings experience suffering whenever a necessary good is lacking. Hunger and thirst count as the most basic form of suffering, since we can’t survive if we lack food and drink.

In order truly to grasp the depths of divine mercy, though, we have to contemplate this: God, in His mercy relieved us of a much-more profound lack. The lack of existing.

It could have been that we wouldn’t even be. But God, in His mercy, made us. Not because we deserved it—we weren’t even around to deserve or not deserve. He made us because He is love, and He loves us.

Getting caught up in the question of what so-and-so deserves tends to turn us into merciless meatheads. Who am I to judge what anyone deserves? I know that I myself hardly deserve the safe and secure life that I enjoy.

No, the question is not what so-and-so deserves. Mercy means suffering right alongside someone who suffers. The question, if any, is: What can I do to relieve this suffering?