Forty Years Ago Today

Pope John Paul II: His Remarkable Journey

Pope St. John Paul II began his ministry as the pope. Over the course of the ensuing quarter century, many of us came to revere John Paul II as a hero and a spiritual father.

During the 1980’s, when I was in high-school, some of us held on to the pope for dear life. It seemed like he alone, on the whole face of the earth, offered a brave witness to sexual sanity, to chastity–while everyone else was awash in condoms and broken marriages.

Many of us spent the 90’s reading John Paul II’s writings. He consumed himself with teaching the faith inherited from the Apostles. He traveled the world and used the power of his reverberating voice and magnetic charm to evangelize.

Technocrats and feminists hated his intransigence on artificial contraception, abortion, divorce, and the men-only ministerial priesthood. Political and aesthetic conservatives hated his rejection of the capitalist profit motive and his embrace of Vatican II.

But in the middle, we vast multitudes of spiritual children listened eagerly to the man we loved as a trustworthy father. A lot of us wept more bitterly on the day that he died than we had since we were babies. Mainly because we knew we wouldn’t hear the sound of his voice on earth again.

Looking back now with 20/20 hindsight, we can wish that JP II had applied himself more to the reform of the Roman Curia. We can wish that he had understood the sex-abuse crisis better–understood it more as a practical matter, rather than as a purely spiritual one.

st john paul ii

And we can recognize: The way Popes Paul VI and John Paul II defined the Roman papacy after Vatican II left a huge gap in authority. That gap has now brought the Church to the point of paralysis.

Bishops need a disciplinarian, too—just like priests, seminarians, doctors, nurses, accountants, lawyers, bricklayers, school children–everybody needs a disciplinarian. But the world’s Catholic bishops don’t have one. The whole post-Vatican II system of Church governance assumes that bishops will do right. But, as we now know all too well, often they do not.

So St. John Paul II had human faults, blind spots—which we did not want to see, as we listened to him heroically urge us on to holiness.

But let’s go back to October 22, 1978, to what he said in his homily that day. His words resonate today with even more force than they had then.

Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us, to gaze on the Lord and to immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself…

The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth.

The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no dusk….

Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ… Christ knows ‘that which is in man.’ He alone knows it.

…Man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart… He is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.

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To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 20, and Nikko Lane at OnePeterFive

To Kill a Mockingbird Jem Scout Dill

Three children have snuck into the Maycomb, Alabama, county courthouse to hear a trial. The children of the defense attorney, Scout and Jem, and their friend Dill. They sit in the “colored” balcony, because they’re not supposed to be there. It’s too ‘grown-up’ for them.

The accused is black, and everyone but the children know that he will not get justice. At one point during the trial, while the prosecutor cross examines the defendant, something in eight-year-old Dill begins to realize: the truth doesn’t matter in this courthouse. He starts crying. Jem and Scout take him outside for a breather.

A town fixture named Dolphus Raymond sits outside the courthouse, drinking from a bottle in a paper bag. He tries to comfort Dill. “He’s crying because the world hasn’t gotten a hold of him and made him blind to its meanness.”

Raymond offers Dill a sip from the bottle to calm his nerves. Jem and Scout are horrified at first, but turns out: it’s not whiskey. It’s just Coke.

…That’s us, those kids. Sitting outside the courthouse. They went inside to hear their father do his work. They assumed that all the people running things there were basically honest. It had never occurred to them that there are such things as corrupt judges and county prosecutors. Just like we sons and daughters of the Catholic Church assumed. Until the summer of 2018.

Now we’re sitting outside the courthouse in a daze, trying to dry our tears.

We, too, need a little sip of Coke. Here’s one. Excerpts from an article called “The Laity Action Plan for Our Dark Times.”

*

The pope has no answers for us. Do we really need them at this point?

The bishops he has promoted defend him and continually deflect public attention away from him and his camp. And what do we lay faithful do? We sit, we worry, we ruminate, we pray.

Is this enough?

With the hierarchy covering for themselves and their allies amid this scandal and the lower clergy without the power to implement change in this present pontifical climate, our Church leaders remain static. It seems the Church, like its lay members, as an institution (innocently and guiltily), is stalling, waiting for change to occur with a pope who has given no indication of making changes and reforms, no indication of admitting fault, no indication of stepping down.

Let us not forget what started all of this: sexual abuse of minors, adolescents, and adults alike by clergymen and the continued cover-up from the lowest to the highest levels of the Church. These victims call for us to break the static, even when it is apparent that Francis and company have no intention of acting on anyone’s behalf but their own.

Being the voice of Jesus Christ’s Church when society will call you crazy is what sainthood is all about… This is especially true in light of the scandal: when the Church’s leadership are outed as perpetrators of injustices against the people, the Church will require strong, saintly lay defenders of the faith moving forward.

The best way to seek our Lord’s consolation is by getting back to the basics of our faith. Attending daily Masses on a regular basis, spending time in adoration with the Blessed Sacrament, and engaging regularly with a confessor in the Holy Sacrament of Reconciliation are all wonderful ways we can return to what makes us Catholic – and thus seek the solace we so desperately need as His damaged but unbroken Church.

Let’s reclaim our place in the Church as its driving force. This starts with the seemingly mundane, daily activities we can take part in in our local parishes. Be a strong leader of your parish. Get involved. Join councils and committees at your parishes and in your dioceses. Be the support the victims in our own communities need.

The strength of our Church as a whole starts with you. It starts at home.

What does this have to do with the scandals we face today, right now? Pope Francis calls us as lay Catholics to lead the Church out of a scandal that he refuses to face. So be it. This is how we lead.

While the response by the Church’s leadership has been unacceptable up until now, Pope Francis may get what he asks for. He calls us to take this scandal into our own hands. Through his inaction and silence, he may be inadvertently provoking us to do just that. Take Pope Francis’s influence for what you will, but the lay faithful will be the force the Church needs to overcome this dark time. These initiatives – fervent prayer; a desire to defend Church doctrine, tradition, and values; and enabling ourselves to lead our Church on our local levels – may seem small, but the Lord moves mountains with our small actions.

Mother Teresa put it wonderfully: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” That’s what our Church needs right now. That is what we can do.

Being Catholic Now. Q1 a2

Vatican II stalls

Whosoever knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by God through Jesus Christ would refuse…to remain in Her could not be saved. (Vatican II Lumen Gentium 14)

On the one hand: She is the Mother of the People of God. She is the eternal Israel. She gathers where Satan has scattered.

You need the gift of divine faith to see this. But not blind faith.

After all, where do cultures intersect, enrich each other, and bear fruit in genuinely peaceful human interaction? In the Church. Where do people come together, help each other, and form a real family that transcends blood and tribe? In the local parish church.

What institution has preserved the facts about Jesus Christ? What Christian community can, with perfect truthfulness, claim Him for Her founder?

And what religion has a single leader who can truly unite the world?

…On the anniversary of the appearance of the Lady in white to the children in Fatima–May 13, 2001–I gave my life to the holy Roman Catholic Church. With total faith and trust, I, along with my seminarian brothers, promised to serve Her all our lives long. I still love Her like I did then. No, I love Her a hundred times more.

After we made our promises, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, duly appointed Archbishop of Washington, ordained us transitional deacons. That was our “wedding day.” The beginning of long, happy, fruitful lives as clergymen, in the bosom of Mother Church, dedicated to helping our neighbors get to heaven.

On the other hand: McCarrick should have been in jail that day.

Last week, our dear bishop of Richmond gave us a pastoral letter. In it, he wrote the following:

“I support, and promise my full co-operation, with any independent, lay-managed, authoritative investigation into the scandal of Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick.” (page 4)

Problem is: The day before Bishop Knestout gave us this letter, the president of the US Conference of Catholic bishops met with the pope. According to Cardinal DiNardo’s own statements prior to that meeting, he had traveled to Rome to ask the Holy Father to authorize an investigation into ‘the scandal of Theodore McCarrick.’

But Pope Francis authorized no such investigation. After the meeting in Rome, none of the participants so much as mentioned any investigation.

Ergo: We will never know how and why a dangerous criminal became a Cardinal. And flashed his red hither and yon for seventeen heady years. Making a mockery of pretty much all of us–all of us east-coast-USA Catholics aged 35-70. No one will ever be held accountable for this utterly crushing betrayal. The pope appears to have no intention whatsoever of holding anyone accountable for it.

And none of us can reasonably believe that the very bishops who flat-footedly stood by, as McCarrick took all the limelight for himself during the Scandal of 2002–thereby making a pathetic mockery of all of them— None of us can reasonably believe that any of them will stand up like men and vindicate their own honor. By personally punching McCarrick in the face.

In fact, none of us can reasonably believe that the course of justice will move forward in the McCarrick case at all.

Maybe sometime next year we will learn that the pope quietly laicized McCarrick. And that, supposedly, will satisfy justice. When the good faith of thousands of American Catholics has been cruelly mocked.

…By the way, I wish McCarrick nothing but grace from God. I bear the man no ill will. I hope he gets to heaven. I have no doubt that he has more right to go to heaven than I do.

But when you minister as a priest and then as a bishop, and when you represent the holy and Apostolic See as a Cardinal, your crimes touch the faith of all the souls around you.

How will any of us find peace? Unless those crimes get reckoned with, publicly, by a competent, impartial, honest judge. Which would certainly embarrass all of McC’s cynical accomplices. But isn’t such crushing embarrassment precisely what they deserve?

Anyway, you know we have reached an abysmal low point when the one person who makes sense is: Theodore McCarrick’s lawyer. Last week the New York Times quoted the lawyer saying, “the accusations are serious and McCarrick looks forward to invoking his right to due process at the right time.”

Amen to: The accusations are serious. And Amen to: Due process.

So the question:

What kind of institution is this? This institution necessary for the salvation of the human race. With which no one could safely choose to associate him- or herself–at least not anyone who prizes honesty and integrity, and who has ever heard of Theodore McCarrick.

…Just to repeat: The “Scandal” is not (and has never been) that so-and-so sexually abused so-and-so. Painful as it is to face, such things happen. And they will continue to happen, until the Last Day.

The scandal is: So-and-so abused so-and-so, and so-and-so, who was supposed to deal with it, to help everyone move on, by reckoning with the crimes publicly, did… [crickets].

In the case of Theodore McCarrick, The Scandal continues, unabated.

Good Morning to the Admirable Atheist

Grunewald the Small Crucifixion

Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if He did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 324)

From the grudging respect department. Some people say: How can I believe in God, when I see so much evil?

Two things to respect here:

1. Having the honesty to see evil and call it evil. Doing so is actually an act of faith in the goodness of God. Because to call evil evil requires measuring it against good. If you don’t measure evil against good, evil isn’t evil. It’s just “stuff.”

For instance, Pontius Pilate would not have described the crucifixion of the perfectly innocent divine Lamb as “evil.” The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in AD 64: “Christus, from whom name of the sect has its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius.” Calling evil evil is good. Calling evil by a bureaucratic euphemism is evil.

2. The one who says, “I won’t believe, because I see so much evil,” also deserves credit for this: Taking us believers at our word when we say we believe in God Almighty.

You cannot compromise with the word omnipotent. God is omnipotent. There is nothing at all, except what He wills. He wills good. He wills to permit evil.

If God isn’t omnipotent, He’s not God. We tend to imagine God as a kind of nice pet who soothes our feelings. We want Him to follow the rules of niceness that we follow. Except that He obviously doesn’t.

So we concede the admirable nobility of mind that moves someone to say: I won’t believe, because I see so much evil.

We respond:

Amen. We don’t believe in Mr. Nice Happy Pet God, either. We fearlessly gaze at the evil you see, and we give it its proper name. We don’t believe in Mr. Everything is Lovely Everything is Great God.

But you have not grasped Who we believe in. You think we believe in a god who engages in some kind of on-going competition with Satan, as if the two were on the same plane.

No. We believe in the one and only true, omnipotent God: Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the eternal Father. Jesus Christ crucified and risen. There is no God but He.

From His point-of-view, and from His point-of-view alone: it all makes sense. He knows all the good that comes even from the gravest evil. He knows the all-conquering power of divine love. On the cross, we see that He knows it.

We do not claim to know it. We only claim to believe in Him.

Priesthood Ex Opere Operato

Ecce Agnus Dei

Jesus said to them: “I am the Bread of Life.” (John 6:35) [Spanish]

In the Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself, our Passover. (Vatican II)

Christ, our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer Himself to God the Father by His death on the altar of the cross. But because His priesthood was not to end with His death, at the Last Supper, He willed to leave His beloved spouse, the Church, a visible sacrifice. By the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ our Lord. (Council of Trent)

In the Blessed Sacrament, Christ is present in the fullest sense. That is to say, Christ, God and man, makes Himself wholly and entirely present. (Pope Paul VI)

God Almighty. His Son Jesus Christ, Savior and Redeemer of the human race. The Last Supper, the Holy Mass, the sacred priesthood, the Church, our Church. We stand on our faith, on what we believe, on what God Himself has revealed to us about Himself, the Bread of Life.

God loves. Loves eternally. He begot the eternal Son out of eternal love. In the fullness of time, the eternally begotten Word of God became one of us, a human being, a man. Out of love for us human beings, wretched sinners. The Word became flesh, and He gave us this heavenly mystery, the Mass: Jesus Christ, our Bread of Life.

Boston Globe 2002Older people like myself remember a very tough period in the life of the Catholic Church in the USA. “The Scandal.” Sixteen years ago. Now we have another one: the retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C. Turns out, he preyed on young people for years.

Just so happens that this now-notorious former Cardinal—he and I, along with eight other young men—we had a very important encounter on May 24, 2003. He ordained us priests. So this hurts. This is personal for me, not just a story on the news. Forgive me for bringing it up, unpleasant as it is. But we have to find a way through this together.

The thing about the sacraments of Jesus Christ, though; the thing about the living Bread of Life, Who we offer to the Father and then receive at a Mass celebrated by a validly ordained priest—the thing is: Christ does not fail. We fail. He does not.

Our beloved seminarian David has faithfully done his best this summer, here in Rocky Mount and Martinsville. Done his best to grow into the man God made him to be. May it be God’s will, in six years, maybe David will celebrate his first Holy Mass here. Sunday he concludes his summer assignment. We’re sad to say goodbye for now. But you go with our gratitude and best wishes, David.

David of course didn’t go to the seminary to offer his life to God in a scandal-plagued Church, any more than I did. Now he and I have this in common: having to get through seminary during a time when many Catholics reasonably struggle with a crisis of confidence in our bishops.

But. This does not mean that we don’t have the Bread of Life. It doesn’t mean that Christ fails us. We fail Him. But He keeps loving. A thousand McCarricks committing a thousand crimes cannot stop Jesus loving us in the Mass and giving us Himself as the Bread of Life.

priest_jesus_mass

After all, what did the Word Incarnate do? Why do we have a Church at all? He died, so that we prodigal sinners could be reconciled to our heavenly Father. And receive our heavenly inheritance again.

All it takes is an honest confrontation with the truth. That’s the New-and-Eternal Covenant ‘deal,’ so to speak. God says to us inveterate moral scrubs: “I, dear souls, am infinitely merciful. I will forgive you, no matter what. Just face the truth. That’s all you have to do.” Then we–bolstered in our confidence by this unmerited promise, freed from fear of the condemnation we deserve—we can face the truth.

Same thing with the Catholic Scandal of the summer of 2018. Sure, I might be tempted to think: A predator, a villain who belonged in jail on that very day—he ordained me a priest. So my priesthood… it’s weakened, or tarnished, or rendered meaningless.

But I can honestly say that I am not really tempted to think that at all. I actually think the opposite. Yes, I want to punch the man. For the evils he did to others. And for the fraud he pulled on us–all of us priests and seminarians who gave him the benefit of the doubt, and trusted him, and spent ourselves for years, helping him exercise his ministry.

But the dark human truth about the sinner who ordained me—it actually only makes the sacred mystery involved in the sacrament of Holy Orders all that more evident. Because the priesthood, the Mass, the holy Church—these things do not exist for this man’s worldly glory or that man’s power and influence. McCarrick may have lived for worldly things. But that’s not why the priesthood, the Mass and the Church exist. They exist because of faith—faith in God and His Christ.

We believe in God Almighty, Who sees all, knows all, and judges justly. We believe in His Son, the Divine Mercy. We believe in the sacraments He gave His Church. We believe in the Bread of Life.

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.

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.