God Will Judge

The ancient Israelites sang in the Temple that “God will judge the world with justice.” The statement appears in three different Psalms of David. God will justly judge the world.

pantocratorA basic, inescapable conclusion of faith in God. We human beings, endowed as we are with some intelligence, have the capacity to investigate the truth and judge guilt and innocence. But our capacity to do this is limited and imperfect.

Almighty God possesses a perfect capacity to judge according to the truth. He will certainly execute His judgment, at the proper time, which He alone knows. All these are “Rational Monotheism Basics,” so to speak.

When the Messiah came, He offered us a lot more clarity about this. God the Father has appointed His Christ as the divine Judge. Jesus will make the final separation between the saved and the damned.

Christ also enlightened our understanding of the Law that He will apply. The Law of Divine Love. The Law of Love that unites the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, Who all live in their perfect blessedness by living for The Others.

Christ will judge us on how we have forgotten our fallen, selfish selves, loved the Truth, and loved our neighbor—and thereby found our true selves. He will judge us with uncompromising rigor: “When did we ever see you thirsty and not give you something to drink?” “When you despised the least one of My brothers, you accursed.”

St. Paul spoke in Athens to help the Greeks understand all this. We share in Paul’s apostolate, his mission to offer our neighbors as much clarity as possible about the judgment to come. After all, the Lord has revealed as much as He has about the judgment for a reason—namely, to help us human beings prepare ourselves.

scales_of_justiceThe peace of the reconciled Christian soul rests, therefore, on this sublime reality: In Christ, God has revealed both his unfathomable mercy and His uncompromising justice.

To someone whose soul actually rests in the peace of communion with this reality, the peace of communion with Christ—to such a soul, nothing could be more absurd than any suggestion that God is “nice.” Nothing could be more absurd than compromising the truth about God’s rigorous judgment according to the Law of Love, for the sake of supposedly being more evangelical and appealing to “the public.”

When he explained the final judgment to them, St. Paul paid his audience in Athens the compliment of assuming that they could see the facts in front of their faces. The world lurches along, estranged from truth and from justice. That’s reality. The world is not a nice place; innocent people suffer, and the powerful take advantage of the weak for the sake of their empty, fleeting self-indulgences. How could God’s judgment be nice?

So: anyone who preaches about a God Who doesn’t have any plans to settle everything righteously—what kind of non-powerful, non-righteous, non-worthy non-God would that be? How could such preaching of this Mr.-Nice-Guy God have any impact on this screwed-up world?

And what kind of consoling Gospel would it be? If it didn’t involve the assurance that all the injustices we see clearly with our own eyes will be set to rights? No, the Gospel of Christ assures us that all the evil we see will be set right by divine power and divine righteousness. Christ will accomplish this.

Meanwhile, He has provided us with everything we need to make our peace with Him. So that we can face Judgment Day without fear.

No one will ever find peace by pretending that Judgment Day will not come, or that we will endure it easily, without any trouble. But Christ crucified can give us peace, so that we can face His judgment serenely.

Advertisements

Holy Grapevine, Silent World

grape vine mosaicI am the vine. You are the branches. (John 15:5) [Spanish]

First, a quick Vine-and-Branches 101. The vine delivers sap to the branches. The branches depend completely on their connection with the vine. The branches bear fruit because they receive sap from the vine. A branch separated from the vine is known as a…dead twig.

So: Being Catholic, being Christian means depending 100% on Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our life, our hope, our source of all strength, wisdom, and happiness. We participate in Holy Mass, we pray, we strive to live right, we persevere as Church members—all because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the vine, and we are His branches.

For us this is totally normal, this idea of living in a state of total dependence on Jesus Christ. We know that He conquered death and reigns supreme in heaven. We know what the Bible says, because we hear the readings at Mass over the years. We know that the Church of Christ is a living family. And we know that the prayer of the Church—the Church gathered together at the altar, doing what Jesus started at the Last Supper—we know that in the Sacred Liturgy of the holy Catholic Church, the vine and the branches remain intimately connected. He in us, and we in Him–as He said.

All this is the bread and butter of life, so to speak, for us practicing Catholics. Meanwhile, however: the world carries on as if Jesus had never been born. The world likes to act as if the Son of God didn’t exist.

It is rather odd. After all, Jesus of Nazareth is a very famous man, hard not to admire. He has the personal qualities that most decent people want to have. Yes, He insists that He is not just a highly admirable human being, but also the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father; He demands total faith and obedience. But He has no self-righteousness; He leaves us totally free to be ourselves. It’s just that the more we learn about Him, the more we realize that we have to change—change into people He made us to be, which we can only do with His help.

So He’s demanding; we’ll grant that. But no reasonable person can really have anything to say against Him. Jesus of Nazareth is too thoroughly beautiful; what is there to criticize? And yet the world blithely trips along, focusing on the weather and shopping and tv, going about its business–as if this man, the beautiful incarnate Son of God, had never been born.

Weird. There’s no getting around how weird it is. If we wanted to psycho-analyze the world, we could say that the way it ignores Jesus Christ is “pathological.” But: Let’s deal with it. Why whine? Things could be worse. In Japan and Vietnam, during bitter persecutions of the Church, Catholic communities had to live through multiple generations without ever seeing a priest even once. And still they kept the faith. And in Soviet Russia, Catholic priests got jailed and tossed into solitary confinement. We don’t have to deal with these kind of extreme hardships.

Now, there’s also an uncomfortable silence with our Protestant friends and neighbors. They look at us and think things like, ‘Wow, those Catholics are nice people. Too bad they worship Mary and can’t use birth control.’ Meanwhile, we look at them and wonder, ‘Nice folks. But, at their church services, do they ever read the parts of the New Testament about the Mass, the priesthood, and the papacy?’ Because the world keeps such a creepy silence about the Son of God, we Catholics and Protestants have a hard time talking openly and frankly about Him with each other.

But why whine about that, either? Why not just deal with it as best we can? After all, our relations with our separated Christian brethren could be a lot worse, too. It’s not as if we find ourselves in the middle of some kind of Protestant-vs.-Catholic war, like many of our European ancestors did.

Juke Miles
The Father Mark golden chariot just turned the century!

So let’s not whine; let’s not cry over spilled milk. Let’s focus on what we need, to deal with the world’s pathological silence on the subject of Jesus Christ. We need sustained personal spiritual discipline of our own. The world will not help us stay connected with the life-giving Vine, the Son of God–since the world stubbornly insists on treating Him like a non-person. So we must work to keep ourselves connected to Him.

It’s not hard. We know how to do it. It just takes initiative on our part. Weekly Mass, monthly Confession, and some kind of regular daily reading and meditation on the gospels.

When we cultivate that kind of basic Catholic spiritual discipline, we become ready and able to fill the depressing spiritual silence of the world. The world strangely has nothing to say on the subject of God and Christ. Ok. But we have plenty to say. When we pray, receive the sacraments, and meditate, we will find ourselves ready with the Good News. When we stay connected to the holy Vine, we can count on the Lord delivering sap to us—not just for our sakes, but also so that we can bear fruit.

Let’s look at it like this: If the world insists on acting like Jesus Christ was never born, that’s the world’s problem. But we ourselves must not keep silent. We have a mission to fulfill. To give glory to the Father by bearing fruit for the Son, by proclaiming that Jesus is Lord.

Resurrection Known and Unknown

resurrectionThe resurrection—Christ’s and ours—a fact, and a mystery. [Spanish]

What do Sunday’s Scripture readings say? The shepherd of our souls laid down His life in order to take it up again, by rising from the dead, in His body. St. Peter declared the resurrection to the Sanhedrin: Jesus Christ, the Nazorean, whom you crucified–God raised Him from the dead. And St. John applies the mystery of Christ’s resurrection to us: We shall be like Him. But St. John adds a caveat to remind us that we deal here with a mystery of faith: “What we shall be has not yet been revealed.”

Jesus suffered and died. They laid Him in the tomb. A night and a day passed, then the sun set again. At some time during that subsequent night, before full dawn, He rose from the dead.

Many human eyes saw the Lord in the flesh after He rose. He appeared to many witnesses, as we have seen in our readings these past three Sundays. The testimony of these witnesses can leave us in no doubt about the simple fact: the resurrection of Christ did occur. They could not have sat and ate with Him, if he had not risen in the flesh.

But the testimonies all refer to events after the fact. No one actually saw Him rise—that is, no mortal human being saw it. No human being was in the tomb with Him as He rose. Christ’s act of rising from the dead lies shrouded in the mystery of that holiest of nights.

As a man, Jesus passed over from human life as we know it, burdened by a fundamental separation from God, to human life as God intended it, perfectly united with Himself. The true Passover: Christ passing over from a mortal life in the body to an immortal life in the body.

The disciples who saw Christ after the resurrection saw the evidence that the Passover had occurred in His flesh. But they did not see the Passover itself. It is not something that mortal eyes can see. It is a mystery of faith.

passover seder plateIn the same way, our own eventual bodily resurrection from the dead lies shrouded in the deepest clouds of divine mystery. Yes, on the one hand, it is a fact. We can’t really doubt that Christ rose in the body. So we can’t doubt that we, too, will rise. Christ rose from the dead, in the body: fact. All the dead will rise, in the body: fact.

But what our life will be like then: Mystery. We don’t know. It belongs to “the age to come.” Jesus, the Head of the mystical Body, Who passed over to immortal life 1,985 years ago—He will return to the earth with His divinity not hidden, but fully manifest. The Age to come.

The cynical world will say to us Christians: How can you possibly believe in such ethereal mysteries? Do you not know that the body is a chemical machine? It decays after death, unto dust.

To which we reply: It is precisely with reference to the facts of death and dusty graves that we speak. Would you cynics have us believe that the life of man as we know it—which, yes, does involve chemicals and the weight of mortality, but which also involves love and beauty and the longing for heaven—do you expect us to dismiss all the spiritual nobility in human life as some kind of chemical fluke?

After all, what real alternative do we have to faith in Christ’s bodily resurrection, and our own? Should we hope for real happiness from something else? Like facebook surfing, or good wine, or getting a lapel pin after 25 years of service on the job? Or can we hope for some purely spiritual eternity, with no body? What kind of heaven would that be for us, anyway?

No: We flesh-and-bone mortals have one solid hope, the hope that Christ has given us. The bonds of love we form by His grace during this pilgrim life will in fact last forever in His divine kingdom, when all the dead rise.

little last supperWe Christians who believe in Christ’s bodily resurrection and hope for our own, even though we can hardly understand it—we are no credulous fops living in a myth. To the contrary: We confront the reality of our inevitable death as it is, and we deal with it in the most reasonable way possible. By humbly trusting that the Word spoken by Almighty God is true.

We Christians never said that Christ’s bodily resurrection is something that we mortals can altogether understand. But nonetheless it is an intimate reality, which we touch by faith whenever we come to the holy altar of Christ’s Body and Blood. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:

The ‘how’ of our bodily resurrection exceeds our imagination and understanding…Yet our participation in the Eucharist gives us a foretaste.

The mystery of immortal bodily life is close, familiar–a friend. Christ, already having passed over to immortal life in the body, does not dwell on some unreachable alien planet. He lives with us right here. He is always with us. He unites us with Himself when we receive Holy Communion.

Even More on John 6 and Sandwiches

Falafel_sandwich
Falafel in a pita!

Why do we eat? We get hungry, and we eat to stave-off starvation. Plus, hopefully we find the experience pleasant. Also, we can commune with our fellowman very fruitfully over a meal together. The common meal makes the family.

Now, what if bodily death meant The End? The End of all this eating?

We nourish our bodies daily, but to what purpose—if bodily death means a total Sayonara? After all, our bodily death comes inevitably—no matter how well, and how sociably, we eat. Why stave off starvation then? If death means The End, then the whole business of staving off starvation for a few short, seventy or eighty years seems like a pathetic, desperate exercise in futility.

And if bodily death spells Todo Finito, then why try to eat well? Why cook well? Why try to make eating pleasant? I guess you could answer: Because tomorrow we will die, so let’s enjoy today with good savors on our tongues! But that seems empty and pathetic, too. The sweetness of a good meal loses its appeal when we think of ourselves as mere random conglomerations of chemicals.

paniniAnd if bodily death ends everything, then why eat together? Why build a family or friendships? None of it will last; our loves will die with our bodies. If bodily death means Tutto Chiuso.

My point is: The idea that bodily death ends everything—that idea is foreign to our experience of eating. The entire human enterprise of the table: it presumes that eternity somehow lies within our grasp. Somehow; we can’t conceive exactly how. But we know that human communion over dinner touches eternity somehow.

In other words, we feed on material food, yes—because we are material boys and girls. But we feed also on love, and on hope for friendship lasting forever. Hope and love make human meals human, as opposed to animal trough sessions.

Jesus Christ came from heaven to restore and fulfill human life. Yes, He brought something altogether new to the world. But His newness is not foreign to our human ways. His newness brings about the perfection of our present stumbles and flawed attempts at the greatness that fundamentally does belong to us.

We need to feed on the resurrected, immortal Body of Christ in order to eat anything else in peace. When we eat His Body with a clear conscience, what nourishment do we receive? How about the assurance of the hope that love lasts forever? How about: Eternal Life?

When we have that kind of confident hope, every plate of tamales, every lasagna, every bowl of pho we share means the coming of the Kingdom of God.

More on John 6, Sandwiches, Etc

The holy angels have no bodies. They “feed on” truth, on God, by gazing upon Him with their purely spiritual minds.

Ecce Agnus DeiWe human beings, on the other hand, feed on truth and bread, since we have souls and bodies. We need both truth and bread to survive and thrive. Without this nourishment, we perish.

God feeds on nothing other than Himself; He possesses infinite life. He is obviously immortal—He’s eternal, the eternal source of all life–spiritual life and material life.

We understand from Holy Scripture that God formed mankind from the dust of the earth for the sake of giving us immortal life. Originally He made us to feed on the truth, and on the material largess of the earth–without ever experiencing the disintegration of the flesh.

But we disobeyed His law and fell away from the eternal source of life, leaving us to face the struggle to survive and the dissolution of our bodies back into dust.

God, infinitely merciful, became a man Himself, to unite our flesh with His life-giving power. He underwent our bodily death in His flesh. Then He conquered that death, rising again to a life no longer limited in any way by struggle or impending death.

But that’s not all: His work of uniting His death-conquering life with our flesh included the institution of the Mass and the Church. By instituting the Mass He instituted the Church, and vice-versa. The Mass is the life of the Church.

And the Mass is the way, perfectly suited to our human nature, by which we can feed on God. We cannot feed on Him like the angels do, since we do not see Him with spiritual eyes like they do. We need a bodily way to feed on the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of the Christ. That way is: the Holy Mass.

John 6 Ecumenism

Pope Francis Jay Wright Villanova ball
Now the Pope owns the NCAA Championship ball!

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life. (John 6:27)

We kept the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council a few years ago, between 2012 and 2015. But maybe some of Pope Francis’ more-recent teachings lead us back to the Second Vatican Council again.*

Here’s one question: Was Vatican II overly optimistic in focusing on what Protestants and Catholics have in common?

One side would say: Yes, Vatican II was wrong there. It was a betrayal of sacred Catholic Tradition and the Council of Trent to affirm that Protestants and Catholics share the same faith in Christ.

–But isn’t that’s going too far? There’s only one Jesus. And we all personally know Protestants who truly and sincerely believe in Him. So Vatican II was not altogether wrong to emphasize what we have in common.

On the other hand, the other extreme would say: No, Vatican II had no misplaced optimism whatsoever. Christian re-unification is right around the corner, if only we could get over ourselves!

–But that’s going too far, too. No reasonable observer can deny that, in spite of a lot of common enterprises, and a lot of good intentions, the last fifty years have not seen a whole lot of real ecumenical headway. Quite the contrary.

Ross Douthat To Change the ChurchDuring the third week of Easter we read from John 6 at Holy Mass. Seems to me like we Catholics could lay down this marker, and live at peace with it:

We believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And we believe that He makes Himself present on the altar at Mass to be our food unto eternal life.

It seems to us that these two aspects of the faith—namely the Resurrection and the Real Presence—are really one aspect. It makes absolutely no sense to separate them. And why would anyone want to?

_________________

*I have been reading Ross Douthat’s To Change the Church. Douthat illuminates things enormously, I think, by outlining the two alternative understandings of the past 55 years of Catholic history, “liberal” and “conservative.” But there’s more to the story, I think. And I want to try to bring it to light, as the opportunity allows.

The Faith

Resurrection tapestry Vatican Museums

We know that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, because it is a verifiable fact of human history.

Let’s look at it this way. When we read the Scriptures during Holy Week, we encounter a number of unfamiliar names. Malchus, the Temple guard who lost an ear in the Garden of Gethsemane. Alexander and Rufus, the sons of Simon the Cyrenian, who helped Jesus on the way to Golgatha. Clopas, the husband of one of the women at the foot of the cross. Salome, who came to the tomb.

We might wonder why these names appear in the gospels. They appear without explanation. We hardly know anything at all about these individuals; to us they are “just names.” Why did the gospel writers throw those names in?

Simple explanation. Because the gospel writers knew them. St. Mark knew Alexander, Rufus, Clopas, and Salome. St. John knew Malchus. The gospel writers knew them personally. And the people for whom the gospel writers took the trouble to write their books—they knew Malchus, Alexander, Rufus, Clopas, and Salome, too.

So St. Mark and St. John didn’t explain who Malchus, Alexander, Rufus, Clopas, and Salome were for the same reason that I wouldn’t need to explain to you [the English-speaking people of St. Joseph’s parish, Martinsville, Virginia] who Bob Humkey, or John and Joseph Nguyen, are. You already know who they are. See what I mean?

The Holy Gospels put us right in the middle of the original Church–the living, breathing social network of the first Christians. The number of people who saw Jesus after He rose from the dead—not small. Five hundred plus. The number of ancient documents bearing witness to the widespread accounts of His appearances—not a small number of documents. The twenty-seven most reliable ones make up a familiar volume, namely…the New Testament. And there are many other documents attesting to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.

st-peters-sunriseAncient history is not a science in which anything can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. But an honest historian of the ancient world would readily acknowledge: The evidence for the fact that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead vastly outweighs any evidence to the contrary. To make the case that He did rise, you can refer to these many documents. To make the case that He didn’t, you need a vivid imagination for conspiracy theories in order to explain away these documents.

So the man rose from the dead. Fact.

What we believe—what we hold by the divine gift of faith—is this: Jesus’ rising from the dead has something to do with us. What makes us Christians is: believing that the mystery of why we exist gets resolved by the fact that this man rose from the dead.

We believe that the mysterious power Who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs, and brought us forth into the light of day, and fills our lungs with air, and spreads the stars in the sky for us at night—God. We believe that He has revealed His plan. Namely, that Jesus’ eternal life would be our eternal life. That is our faith.

The New Testament, therefore, offers us two things at the same time. 1) An impressive collection of historical records from the ancient world. 2) The account of how our family began.

A reasonable person can’t doubt that it happened. What we believe, by the grace of God, is that when it happened, it happened to us.

 

The Dead Body

The Body of Christ Dead in the Tomb Hans Holbein

They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. They laid Jesus in the tomb. (John 19:40, 42)

God willed to be laid in a tomb. Sacred Scripture refers to the wounded dead body, taken down from the cross, as “Jesus.” They laid Jesus in the tomb.

We know what happened then. And what didn’t happen.

What happened: Jesus’ body lay quietly in the tomb Friday evening, Friday night, and Saturday. His soul visited the saints of the Old Covenant, who languished in the realm of the dead. Then, during the night, before dawn on Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead, bodily.

What didn’t happen, thank God: Nobody read the poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye that goes, “Don’t stand at my grave and weep, because I am a thousand winds the blow and diamond flints of snow.” No one burned Jesus’ body to ashes. No one put the ashes in an urn on the mantelpiece, or sifted them into necklace pendants and charm bracelets, or scattered them at the beach.

vitruvian-man

The Lord had said, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.” He spoke of the Temple of His body.

Back in the twentieth century, we had one problem, when it came to funerals. The 20th-century atheist did not believe that the human soul lived on after bodily death. We Christians had to remind the world that our souls are immortal, and the death of the body does not mean the final end of life.

Now, in the 21st century, we have a different problem when people die. The 21st-century pagan does not respect the beauty and integrity of the human body. We Christians have to remind the world that our bodies will rise again.

Our limbs and sinews and musculature; our ribcages, kneecaps, and little fingers; our teeth and glands and earlobes—God formed it all with His masterful hands. He regards the whole thing—head to toe—as immeasurably precious.

As He faced imminent death, did the Lord Jesus take comfort in the idea that His “spirit” would live on in peoples’ memories? Did He regard His teaching and good example as some kind of ‘legacy’ that would endure through the generations?

Hardly. Human memories don’t last very long. If our hope for life beyond death rests solely on the fickle memories of our fellow man, then immortality doesn’t really amount to much.

Nor did the Lord imagine Himself getting absorbed into some kind of cosmic unity when He died. He did not say:

I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight
I am the soft star-shine of the night.

No. Christ gave practical instructions. He said to His disciples: “After I have risen from the dead, I will go before you into Galilee.”

Our Christian reverence for the bodies of the dead began on Good Friday. We read in the Church decree which establishes how Christian funerals should be conducted:

By means of funeral rites, the Church, as a tender mother, not only commends the dead to God but also raises high the hope of Her children and gives witness to Her faith in the future resurrection of all those baptized into Christ.

They lovingly laid Him in the tomb. We Christians do not cast the body aside and then delude ourselves, imagining some kind of purely spiritual triumph over death. No. Christ rose in His body. We believe in the resurrection of the body.

History and Heaven

galilee-boat
Sea of Galilee

Lord Jesus reigns in heaven, and we have a heavenly kind of connection with Him. In His flesh, He conquered death and ascended to the right hand of the Father. From there, He pours out the Holy Spirit. He gives us grace: He helps us pray. He helps us do good. He reconciles us, when we sin and confess it. He makes Himself present on the altar, to be our sacrifice to the Father. He feeds us with His Body, Blood, soul, and divinity. [SPANISH.]

In other words, we have a supernatural connection with Jesus of Nazareth, the only-begotten Son of the Father, the God-man Who reigns as King over the choirs of angels. We believe in the mystical connection we have with Him—we believe in it, because it’s real.

But Father! Jesus of Nazareth was a regular guy. He started out as a carpenter, then became a rabbi. He made friends in the fishing town of Capernaum. He cured the fever of the mother-in-law of one of His friends, and she proceeded to give them a meal.

All of this sounds homey and down-to-earth, not mystical and otherworldly. His reception by Peter’s mother-in-law sounds like Jesus of Nazareth finding a kind of “home-away-from-home,” once He struck out as a teacher and left His own hometown behind. We can relate to that. Father, instead of going on about heaven and invisible stuff, why don’t you come back to earth and talk about Capernaum?

Ok. The city of Capernaum sat right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Fifty years ago, in 1968, a team of archaeologists did extensive excavations of the site. They discovered that Christians had gathered and worshiped at one ancient house beginning in the first part of the first century AD.

Here the Son of God had His kind-of home-base during his three year ministry. The house where people crowded to see Him, hear Him, touch Him.

excavation of house in Capernaum
Where God took naps while in Capernaum

We know the site; I’ve been there twice myself. It’s walking distance to the peaceful shore of the sea. Actually, Galilee is more like what we would call a lake. It is exactly double the size of Smith Mountain Lake. Lake Michigan could hold 350 Seas of Galilee.

The Galilean shore is just the kind of peaceful place where we could easily imagine the Lord Jesus strolling of the evening, rapt in prayer to the Father.

The gospels and the science of archaeology, therefore, come together to unite us with the enchanting facts of history. Jesus was a real man who slept in particular places. You run into plenty of “George Washington slept here” signs up and down the East Coast, and you can’t believe them all. But we can confidently believe that the house the archaeologists excavated on the shore of the Sea of Galilee is in fact a place where Jesus of Nazareth slept.

The point here, I think, is this: We have a connection with Jesus on two levels. On the one hand, our connection with Him is real and verifiable on the basic historical level. We’re connected to Jesus of Nazareth by the normal handing down of human memories, through the writing of books and the building of memorials in important spots.

Yes, He walked the earth a long time ago. You wouldn’t usually expect to have much solid information about someone who lived two thousand years ago. But, in this case, we have a huge amount of solid material. Plenty of smart, forward-thinking people knew at the time that everything Jesus of Nazareth said and did had decisive importance. So they took note, handed it down, kept records, marked important spots, etc.

washington crossing delawareSo we don’t have to get all mystical and transcendent in order to establish that we have a connection with Jesus of Nazareth. That said, we do, of course, have a mystical and transcendent connection with Him. He triumphed over death; He ascended into heaven; He gives us grace through the sacraments. His heavenly graces transcend history; they put us in touch with the eternal reality of God. But all of them have their origin in the facts of history.

The two kinds of connection we have with Jesus, then—let’s call them the historical and the mystical—these two connections go hand-in-hand with each other. Our faith in the mystical connection isn’t blind or purely “spiritual,” since we base it on the facts of history. At the same time, we don’t think of Jesus as just another historical person, like George Washington. We know that Jesus is the living God, and that all the facts of His life two thousand years ago have meaning for us, here and now—they connect us with God.

Hopefully this reflection can help cure us of the shallow and dumb idea that “all religions are the same,” or that “the details of religion don’t matter—what matters is being a spiritual person.”

All religions are not the same. Our religion has to do with one particular Spirit-ual Person, Who lived on and off for three years in a particular house in the little city of Capernaum. We have zero interest in anything “religious” that doesn’t have to do with this man. He is our religion.

And every detail of His life has theological meaning—every detail deserves our meditation. Being vague and uninformed about religion, or about Jesus—what a waste of time! When He has given us so much to go on—so many specifics.

Sometimes it’s okay to be vague. If anyone asks me about which team I will root for in the Superbowl—I’m prepared to fudge that answer. I’m prepared to say something vague about that.

But not when it comes to Jesus Christ. When it comes to the Savior of the world, let’s always work with precise facts.

Not a Democracy

Fra Angelico ordination

Back in Apostolic times, some pagans of Asia Minor venerated the fertility god Dionysus. They kept a festival in honor of Dionysus in the latter part of January. One year, during that festival, they killed St. Timothy. That’s why we keep his memorial at this time of year, right after the anniversary of St. Paul’s conversion to Christ.

In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul refers to how he laid hands on him, consecrating him as a Church official. Also, yesterday was the 53rd anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. Churchill, who famously said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms.”

winston-churchillNo doubt, democracy has a stabilizing effect. And it corresponds to the dignity of the human person to have a vote. But the Church can’t be a democracy, and here’s why.

She has a King. Jesus Christ is the source of all ministry in His Church. He is the one true “official” of the Church, and He appoints Church officials by His own sacred means.

We participate in the life of the Church for a reason: to submit ourselves fully to Christ’s rule. For us members of the fallen human race, freedom from the slavery of sin comes only when we submit ourselves to Christ.

So we can’t think: This Church ought to reflect the votes of the members. We can only think: This Church ought to reflect the will of Her divine Founder.

We can’t think: I have the right as a human being to influence the constitution and laws of the Church. We can only think: I have the right as a human being to receive the good things that Jesus Christ gave to His Church when He founded Her.

We can’t think: The Church would have a more-stable life if only a majority vote could determine its rules and who the officials are. We can only think: The Church, in spite of all the vagaries of human history, has had a more-stable life than any other institution known to man. We can only credit that to the work of the divine Spirit Who does, in fact, govern Her.