St. Paul’s Areopagus Confidence

areopagusLet’s pause and admire the serene confidence with which St. Paul stood and spoke in the Athenian Areopagus.


Fearless, first of all, because he knew that his speech appealed to something that dwells in the heart of every human being:  the desire for God.

As we read at the beginning of the Catechism…

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself…This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. Man cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.  (CCC 27)

St. Paul was fearless also because he preached the answer to the question of man.  Man’s desire for God is a question, a question that words cannot adequately express.  God Almighty, Who has a Word more sublime than our human languages, has answered.  The answer is Jesus.

We, too, can stand and bear witness, with the same serene confidence that St. Paul had.  If the Athenians had chosen to stone St. Paul, he was ready.  If they had chosen to embrace him and demand more attention, he was ready.  If they chose to ignore him, he was ready.

St. Paul stood and spoke because he loved.  He loved the unseen God.  He loved the Word of God, Jesus Christ.  And he loved the Athenians, because he loved everybody.  We can love all the Roanokers, and everybody else we know–and stand and bear witness fearlessly, too.

Vision for Nicaea III, 2025

I went ahead and took my own advice–to think about how to celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the Creed.  Your Holiness, I humbly suggest…

An ecumenical council, held on the shores of Lake Iznik, Turkey.  World Youth Day and the World Meeting of Families would occur simultaneously, in the same place.

Asia Minor map w NicaeaThe Council would confess the Creed and solemnly receive the canon of Scripture (all the books listed at the Council of Trent).

They would together declare that the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a sure norm for teaching.

The Fathers would agree on how to compute the date of Easter, would commit to the discipline of choosing priests from among celibate men, and would raise a cheer to Pope St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae.

Then everyone would have a chance to go to confession.  To conclude the Council, all the Fathers will concelebrate Mass, with commuicatio in sacris for all.  Communicatio in sacris for all Christians would be the goal of Nicaea III.

Now, before you say, “Father, that’s not ecumenism, that’s you-come-in-ism!” let me make a few provisos.

First, to send invitations to the Council, the Pope would gather as many patriarchs as possible–Patriarch Bartholomew and all other willing parties–to issue the invitation.  I don’t think anyone needs to stand on particular prerogatives to convoke and confirm ecumenical councils.  At this point in Christian history, the centenary of Nicaea itself can convoke the world’s bishops.  All will come as pilgrims to the place where the 318 met at Emperor Constantine’s invitation, seventeen centuries–and countless saints and martyrs–ago.

nicaea-sistineSecond, the invitation would include the following: Holy Father Francis proposes that the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers the best existing instrument for fostering union. But the Catechism could conceivably be improved.  We will have a process by which any invitee could submit proposed amendments to the Catechism.

This process would need a governing body.  The Catechism already is the fruit of world-wide consultation, so the benefit of the doubt will go to the document as is.  Most of the work processing proposed amendments would have to get done before the Council.  (We need all nine years!)  But no one would foreclose the possibility that proposed amendments could be put to vote at the Council itself.  (All that said, we are not talking about any fundamental changes.)

Third, the invitation would extend to every bishop that any of the signatory Patriarchs recognize as legitimate, including non-Catholic bishops.  Also, we would have a process by which Anglican and Lutheran bishops could get regularized (and ordained according to apostolic succession, if need be), so as to be seated at the Council.  Other non-Catholic presiding ministers could receive invitations to submit proposed amendments to the Catechism.  (All of this presumes an acknowledgement that the Catechism teaches the truth as is.)

nicaea-creedFourth, the Mass itself, to conclude the Council…  I think we can say that any honest Protestant, who visits the local Catholic parish and hears the Novus Ordo liturgy, would have to acknowledge that the 16th-century criticisms of the Catholic ceremonies have been addressed.
On the other (Orthodox) side: The funeral Mass of John Paul II offers us a model for how to incorporate Eastern liturgical elements into a Roman-rite Mass on such an occasion.

All this said, a Mass can only have one celebrant.  At Nicaea III, that will be the pope.

Now, “wherever two or three are gathered in My name, there am I, in the midst of them,” saith the Lord.  No Christian can doubt this.  By the same token, no Bible reader can dispute that the Lord wills that we come together to take and eat, to take a drink, His Body and Blood.  We must seek communicatio in sacris; Christians must unite at Mass.  Nicaea III will offer the way.

The invitation to Nicaea III will not suit anyone who thinks we can have a Church without validly ordained priests, or who thinks that God calls women to the priesthood.  The invitation will not suit anyone who thinks Christ instituted only two sacraments, or who considers Christianity just one religion among many “spiritual paths,” or who thinks he or she can be his/her own shepherd and pope.

The invitation will not suit anyone who can’t recognize that Christ established a visible institution for the sake of mankind’s salvation.  Or who doesn’t see that this institution continues through the laying on of hands, from one successor of the apostles to the next.  And the invitation will not suit anyone obtuse enough to imagine that someone other than the pope can unite the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Most of the Christians of the world are Latin-rite Catholics.  No one sins against ecumenism by acknowledging this fact.  Also, Protestants and Orthodox can recognize most of what’s in the Catechism as their own teaching, too.  Nothing un-ecumenical about facing that fact, either.

Therefore, the invitation to Nicaea III will have two unambiguous subtexts:  1) The age of Protestantism has run its course.  Let’s come together and agree on what we read in the Catechism, so we can move forward together. 2) The age of autocephalous national Churches has run its course.  Let’s come together and agree on what’s in the catechism, and move forward together.

Why the commitment to celibate clergy?  The New Evangelization involves the apostolate of young people, families, consecrated men and women, widows and widowers–lay people in every situation.  It involves young people, families, consecrated, widows, and widowers gathered around their priest.

For the New Evangelization to bear fruit in souls, the priest need not be particularly competent (witness the pastor of St. Andrew/St. Gerard in Roanoke, Va.!)  But he must be celibate; he must commit his whole heart to love Christ (Head and members) and no one else.

Priests currently married can continue in ministry, of course.  But let’s acknowledge there’s no future in it.

Why the communal cheer for Evangelium Vitae?  One thing on which everyone still standing at the end of the process will agree:  We are pro-life!

Nicaea III will manifest Holy Church, more united than She has been for a thousand years. That union already almost-exists, thanks to:  1) Vatican II, and the ensuing efforts of many courageous souls, Pope St. John Paul II pre-eminent among them.  And 2) the spiritually desperate state of the contemporary world, which exercises a pressure on Christians to get down to basics.

A successful Council of this kind could lead to persecutions and martyrdoms afterwards, because the captains of the world will panic at the sight.  Not to mention how hard it will be to get the Turkish government to co-operate. And we’ll need as much money as the Olympics.

May God’s will be done.  Just an idea I had today while rambling in the woods. Your Holiness, I think this thing could be so awesome that Prince would come back from the dead to play covers of your favorite Christian-rock songs at the Saturday-night vigil before the concluding Mass!


Upcoming 1700th

Pope Francis Patriarch Bartholomew anointing stone

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew arriving at the Holy Sepulchre, May 2014.  They agreed that they/their successors should meet in Iznik in 2025.

At Holy Mass, we remember the death of the hero* of the Nicene Creed, St. Athanasius, 1,643 years ago today.

Now, some of us will live to see the summer of 2025.  The 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea.

Not too many meetings bear commemorating after 1700 years.  I think we can say, even before it happens, that the Republican convention of summer 2016 (memorable as it may turn out to be) will not live in anyone’s memory in AD 3716.

Lake-İznik Turkey Nicaea

The place where the bishops met in AD 325, currently under the waters of Lake Iznik

We might even wonder if the Synods on the Family, conducted these past two autumns in Rome, will bear remembering in the years 2184 and 2185.

But the Council of Nicaea will demand solemn commemoration until the end of time.  Even in AD 170,325 (if we reach such a year ) Holy Church will remember the ecumenical Council of Nicaea.

But Father!  We already recall the Council of Nicaea every Sunday!  When we recite the Creed.

Good point.  But it just makes my point.

Namely, that the summer of 2025 will offer us an extremely important occasion for commemoration.  In the immortal words of Warren Carroll, at Nicaea the Church took “her first great step to define revealed doctrine more precisely in response to a challenge from a heretical theology.”  Bishops came from as far as India and France.  They also decided that Easter must fall after the spring equinox, no matter what the Jewish calendar said.

If you paid close attention at Mass yesterday, you heard Lord Jesus say, “The Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28)  And you probably wondered, isn’t that Arius’ very position?

Negative.  The Father is greater than the Son in two ways.  1) The Father, God, infinitely transcends the Son, in the Son’s human nature.  2) The eternal Father alone is innascible–unbegotten, not born.  The divine Son, perfectly equal to the Father, is begotten–eternally begotten.  Which is to say:  the eternal relationship of the Father with the Son means that the Son can say of His unbegotten Father, ‘He is greater,’ even though, as eternal God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are perfectly equal.

Nicaea w arius

icon of the Council, with Arius defeated

Anyway, it’s not too early to start thinking about appropriate ways to commemorate the 1700th of Nicaea.


*The villian’s name was Arius, who taught that there was a time when the divine Son was not.

First-Holy-Communion Homily

Raise your hand if you will receive your first Holy Communion at this Mass…  What did we just hear the Lord Jesus say?

The Father and I will come and make our dwelling in you. (John 14:23)

God coming and dwelling in us.  Dwelling in us, as our food for eternal life.

baptism-holy-card1It all begins with Holy Baptism.  The water of baptism cleanses us of original sin.  The Blessed Trinity–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–the divine Trinity, God, becomes the furnace of our souls, when we receive baptism.

Baptism begins something that only Holy Communion can sustain and complete.  Because the furnace in our souls needs fuel.

Jesus Himself received baptism–to begin His mission.  Then He proceeded to undertake a long and hard pilgrimage, traveling from town to town to teach and heal; walking to Jerusalem to fulfill the ancient religion; and ultimately giving His life for us.

The Lord Jesus kept a fast, at one point. But He didn’t fast His whole life.  We read in the gospels that He often ate.  Eating is a crucial part of living, after all.  And He ate not only to sustain His strength, but also to share HIs love.  He shared festive social dinners with His friends.  Every time, it meant not just bodily sustenance but also a foretaste of heavenly communion with God.  “I drink this cup with you now,” He said to the Apostles.  “Next time we will banquet together in the kingdom of heaven.”

It’s no accident that our little ones receive their first Holy Communion right at the time of life when our minds become our own.  Right when we start to realize:  I can decide to pray myself.  I can say to God, and ask God, what I choose to say and ask.

Ecce Agnus DeiOur little ones receive Holy Commuion at the time of life when everything stops being just a haze of sensory stimuli and starts being an on-going engagement with the reality of God and His plan for me.  Jesus is becoming a real person, in the mind’s eye, for our little ones receiving Holy Communion for the first time today.

The real Person, born in Bethlehem of a beautiful, kind, prayerful mother named Mary.  Raised by her, and by her hard-working, gentle, strong husband, Joseph.  Jesus, Who studied, grew up, and did His mission in life.  A mission that involved the cross.

It’s no accident that our little ones receive Holy Communion for the first time right at the point in life when the love of Christ, crucified for me, becomes something upon which to meditate.  A lot of us have memories of how we started to think about Jesus, and what He did on the cross–when we were seven, eight, nine years old.  When we, each of us, realized: He loves me.  So let me love Him back.

“Do not be troubled or afraid,” He says.  “I give you My peace.” “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” (John 14:27)

Christ doesn’t give us His peace as something that inevitably will get old and decay.  He doesn’t give us His peace for now–but we will soon get bored with it.

No.  Receiving Holy Communion means that we can have the peace of God Himself, as our food.  His peace is perfect happiness that never ends.  Like a beautiful afternoon, with no homework.  No rain, no fights, no problems of any kind.  Just pure fun.  I remember when I was seven or eight, I went over to a friend’s house.  His father served us a snack.  Toasted bagels, with butter melting in every little fluffy bite.  I had never had a bagel before.  It tasted like heaven on earth!

At every age–from seven or eight on up–we have responsibilities.  Which means we can suffer anxiety.  But Jesus has done everything so that we can have interior peace.  We can have within the peace that He had within–the peace He had, even when He stretched out His arms on the cross.

Now, of all the things Jesus did, what’s the biggest of them all?  He died…then He rose again!  When we receive Holy Communion, eternal life is our food.  The undying life of Christ dwells within us, and feeds our interior furnace.

Congratulations to you!  Now let’s pray hard through the rest of Mass…

Prince E-Mail Exchange

Very interested in your thoughts, dear reader.  Maybe my kind and thoughtful correspondent has me dead to rights…

Dear Fr. Mark,
It was very distressing to hear you quoting Prince lyrics in your homily. As he was apparently a massive drug abuser, rumored bi-sexual and/or roue, and  infamous for sexually explicit lyrics I feel he is not appropriate as a Christian example.

With regard,
Peace be with you,

[name withheld]


Dear —-,

Thank you for your e-mail.  I appreciate your writing to me.

I don’t remember citing Prince as a Christian example, and I don’t think I quoted any sexually explicit lyrics.  (I don’t approve of those.)  I think he was a magnificent artist, and his music has given me great joy over many years.  I have no position on his personal morals, as they are none of my business.

I may very well have expressed myself poorly.  I am sorry to have distressed you.

Love, Fr. Mark


Father White,

Thank you for your response. I suppose we disagree on a ‘see no evil’ approach to words from the pulpit.

God bless you.


Complete Joy

…just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in His love. (John 15:10)

Tuesday we meditated on how Christ’s obedience brings about our salvation and our freedom to be ourselves.

Let’s focus on this:  The intimacy of Christ’s obedience to the Father’s will.

lippi abraham knife strozzi chapel


‘This command I have from my Father:  that I must lay down my life, and then take it up again.’ (see John 10:18)

The “command” that led Christ to the cross is both clear and mysterious.  On the one hand, it all happened simply because Jesus unswervingly adhered to the Law of Moses.  He walked the earth as a true Jew.  The intimacy that Abraham had with God, which is what established the Jewish faith–Jesus lived according to that kind of prayerfulness, Abraham’s kind of prayerfulness.

On the other hand, the interior promptings the Lord Jesus received transcend our understanding:  Jesus wound up on the cross because of His honest testimony to the ultimate divine mystery, namely that He is God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  The “command” that Christ obeyed by enduring His Passion and death, therefore, can only be grasped fully from the divine point-of-view, not from ours.

I think the upshot for us is this:  ‘spirituality,’ ‘intimacy with God,’ ‘inner peace’–all of these come from obedience–obedience to the Commandments, and to the interior promptings that we receive when we consistently obey the Ten Commandments.

In other words, real ‘spirituality’ does not generally involve esoteric emotional experiences.  (Maybe people much more spiritual than me have these emotions.)

True joy does not consist of shallow feelings.  It involves daily obedience.  Obedience to the commandments enables us to perceive the promptings of God.  And those promptings tend to get harder and harder, less and less pleasant, as the Lord gives us the freedom to do what He asks of us.

Religion vs. Self-Realization?

Jesus declared that He went to the cross because: the world must know that I do just as the Father has commanded me. (John 14:31)

The word “religion” gets used frequently enough.  But do we clearly understand what the word means?

elgrecochristcrossThese days, religion is often defined as, “a particular system of faith and worship,” as if all the world’s particular “religions” fit into a neat category.

Or the word “religion” is used to mean some interest or activity of mine, to which I give top priority—as if religion were something that I make.

But neither of these definitions captures the meaning of the word.  Religion means:  my response to God, my obligation to try to give to God what I owe Him.

I think the great divide in the world is not between men and women, or cat people and dog people, or Republicans and Democrats, or even between Christians and Muslims.  I think the great divide lies between these two fundamental guiding principles:  1) Life means obedience to the Creator, which offers peace and happiness.  Or: 2) Life means inventing myself, which offers real individuality.

What we say is this:  Jesus practiced, revealed, and is true religion.  And the true religion that is Jesus’ life means peace, happiness, and self-realization.

What distinguishes Jesus Christ as our Savior?  What makes Jesus—and not Mahatma Gandhi, or Michael Jordan, or King Louis XIV, or anyone else—our Savior?  Fundamentally, it is Christ’s obedience.  His obedience to the Father’s will.  God had revealed His will in the Law of the Old Covenant—but only in shadows.  Christ went to the cross fundamentally because:  it was the perfect fulfillment of the Father’s will.

Christ’s obedience redeemed us from the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  We, the human race, taken as a whole, let ourselves get side-tracked by a particular delusion.  Namely that there could be more to life than simply being obedient children of the heavenly Father.  Because of this Fall, we face inevitable death.

Christ, in embracing death on behalf of all of us, justly condemned to death for under-estimating ourselves, has revealed what we really can be:  ourselves in full; our own fearless selves; ourselves eternal.  Our heavenly Father wills only that we would be glorious.  Religion—that is, sharing in Jesus’ obedience—means becoming our glorious selves.

Civilization of Love

Some of us read all the teachings of the popes, through the years. And some of us listen to a lot of Prince.

We all know of course that Pope St. John XXIII convoked a meeting of the world’s Catholic bishops fifty years ago…Vatican II. We know that Vatican II marked the beginning of “the New Evangelization.” The world of today needs the Gospel message, just like the ancient pagans that Paul and Barnabas visited needed it.

Vatican II stalls

Bishops at Vatican II

Those of us who read all the papal teachings know that one theme runs through everything since the end of World War II. One theme: How can you just leave me standing, alone in a world so cold? The popes’ theme is: Building a civilization of love.

A civilization: an organized, stable community of peoples, based on one fundamental fact: Every human being possesses the dignity of many, many sparrows. As the Lord put it: The Father’s eyes are on the sparrow. Not one falls to the ground without His notice. But you are worth more than many sparrows, child.

A civilization of love. “I give you a new commandment,” says the Lord. “Love one another. As I have loved you, laying down My life for you, spreading My arms out on the cross for you, shedding My life’s blood for you, offering My death in agony to the Father for you…saying I Would Die 4U, and then really doing it–in just that way,” says the Lord,” you must love one another.”

A civilization of this kind of love. This kind of trust. This kind of selfless attention to others. The popes have said for two generations–since the end of World War II, they’ve said: You say you want a leader. But you can’t make up your mind. I think you better close it. And let me guide you: The human race has one hope for a good future. Building a civilization of love.

Naïve? Politicians and pundits tend to misrepresent and misconstrue papal teachings to make them sound like what they want to hear, and then they dismiss the real meat of what the Church stands for as pie-in-the-sky naiveté. “Of course the pope stands for world peace, universal health care, and a moratorium on the death penalty. But that’s because he’s naïve.” “Of course the pope stands for the right to life of the unborn and an end to pornography and all sexual exploitation. But that’s just naïve.”

Family CircusIs it? Really? Is our Catholic vision of a civilization of love naïve? Let’s look at it like this. When the Lord Jesus commanded us to love one another, with a love like His, was that naïve?

I, for one, would say the opposite. I would say that all the teachings of Christ boil things down to pure practicality. We either love, trust, and give ourselves to each other as children of the same heavenly Father, or… we play video games all the time? Or binge-watch Zombie Apocalypse? You don’t have to watch Dynasty to have an attitude.

The teaching of Christ and the popes is the opposite of pie-in-the-sky, the opposite of naïve, because really we have no choice. The commandment of love casts our whole human destiny in stark relief: One the one hand, love and trust that leads to the cross, and to the hope of a better future. On the other hand, a lifeless abyss of selfish, lonely boredom. Love come quick. Love come in a hurry.

During the past two generations, while the popes have exhorted us to civilize ourselves with Christ-like love, they have repeatedly pointed out that it all starts with family life.

The original civilization of love: the family. Mom and dad loving each other like Christ loves, loving the children like Christ loves, the children loving each other, and mom and dad, like Christ loves. Practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, right at home. Patience, forgiveness, instruction, encouragement, a cool refreshing glass of water at an appropriate time, putting things away when asked, cleaning the room, never treating anyone like a slave.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has re-emphasized, with new urgency, the importance of family life in building a civilization of love. In his recent Exhortation to us, he cites the passage we have for our second reading at Holy Mass, St. John’s vision of heaven: “I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God.”

amoris-laetitia-coverNo offense to anyone with their various pastimes, but St. John did not write: “I saw the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, prepared like Lane Stadium.” St. John did not write, “coming down, like a shiny new Camaro,” or “a killing purse and boots for a night out with the girls.”

No. Heaven meets earth like: a bride meeting her husband. Like a bride and groom at the altar, consecrating themselves in a permanent little civilization of love. Sign o’ the times, mess with your mind, hurry before it’s too late. Fall in love, get married, have a baby, call him Nate.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, marriage involves the greatest form of friendship, after our friendship with God. Pope Francis says marriage “is a union possessing all the traits of a good friendship: concern for the good of the other… intimacy, warmth, stability and the resemblance born of a shared life.”

Let’s grow old together, building a civilization of love, starting right at home. There will be peace for those who love God a lot.

Prince CD-Burning HQ

Batman opener

(from the opening credits of Tim Burton’s Batman, 1989)


Burnt myself a CD.  To cope.  I may or may not listen to any other music during the rest of my life.  Just Prince, in between Shakespeare plays.

Better Prince Playlist

Seems like the internet should offer a place to share which songs you put on your Prince bereavement CD, if you want to.

Around the World in a Day is my favorite album.

Quindon Tarver did the best “When Doves Cry” cover (on the Leo DiCaprio Romeo + Juliet soundtrack).

When the first Batman movie opened on M St. in downtown Washington, everyone cheered for Prince.

You can be the president, I’d rather be…

Party Over?

prince 1999

It didn’t occur to me until yesterday that Prince was a mortal man.

I know that sounds funny, coming from a Christian believer.  And one who aspires even to Thomistic clarity.  We Christians don’t believe in any immortal God-men, other than Jesus.  And you don’t need the rigor of St. Thomas Aquinas’ mind to grasp that all men die, even the apparent demi-god behind Anotherloverholeinyohead.

But life is a dance.  Lord Jesus taught me that early on.  And He used Prince to teach me–and a lot of other people I love, too.  So I’m kind of a weepy mess today.

Especially when you throw in the fact that our gospel reading at daily Mass is the funeral gospel, that I have read and preached on in the company of more dead people in their caskets than I can count.

What did St. Paul say to the Pisidian Antiochians?  Not “I’m your Messiah and you’re the reason why.”  St. Paul said:  “But God raised the Messiah from the dead, and for many days He appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem.  Those are now His witnesses before the people.”

It ain’t over.  The Lord is risen.  We are His witnesses.  Music is music because death doesn’t win.  Sometimes I wish that life was never-ending.  Two thousand zero zero party over oops out of time?  No.  The chords of I Wanna Be Your Lover will resound forever.  Let’s dance.