Even More on John 6 and Sandwiches

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.

All Yourself


…all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. (Mark 12:29-30, Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

That’s a lot of ‘all’s.  In fact, when it comes to the powers within us, this commandment–the Shema–touches on all the ‘all’s.  Heart, soul, mind, strength.  All of all of them.  That’s me in toto, isn’t it?

God spoke through His prophet Moses, and now through His Son Jesus:  “You must love Me entirely.  Everything that counts as you must love Me.”

Now, before I say something like, ‘Gosh, that’s demanding!’ let me pause and consider:  What else am I going to do with my entire self?

If I never do anything with my entire self, that seems like a waste.  Seems lame.  If spend my life focused on what’s on tv, and leave whole powers within me trailing off, unused–like high-octane fuel leaking out of a tank–then it’s either going to start smelling bad around me, or a dangerous fire will start.

On the other hand, if I try to love anything other than God–or even any array of things–with my whole self, what will happen?  Disappointment with a capital D.

I mean, I love sushi.  But sushi cannot satisfy my every desire; it cannot occupy my every interior power.  Even sushi, with a Sapporo, at sunset, streetside in sunny Sausalito, reading Shakespeare’s sonnets…  sounds satisfying.  But still something in me would remain either idle or unsatisfied.

God’s command that we love Him entirely–it’s not for His benefit.  It’s for our benefit.  It’s because we are bigger than we think we are.  He gave us this commandment to keep us from selling ourselves short.  Everything that we can see, smell, taste, touch, or feel–we are bigger than.

Shema!  Love the Unseen Grandeur!  With everything you have.  Love God entirely.  That way, you can be yourself.

Rolling into Roanoke on John 6

The ancient Israelites grumbled in the desert. The heat got to them. And thirst. And hunger. They preferred slavery in Egypt. They did not like the trial of endurance on which Moses had led them.

“Promised Land? Sure. But we don’t see it. We see nothing but parched desert sand.” So the Lord worked his ancient prodigies to help them. Water from the rock, manna from heaven. Even delicious quail.

quail-dinnerAnyone ever enjoyed quail? I only had the opportunity once. Not a lot of meat on the bone, so to speak. But very flavorful.

Anyway, the crowds followed Christ after He miraculously fed 5,000 men and their families, with five loaves and two fish, as we heard at Mass last week. These people who followed Jesus: they had the ancient miracles on their minds.

Moses gave the people bread from heaven. When that happened, the grumblers started to believe–the complaining liberated slaves. They saw the sign from heaven, and they believed. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Lord Jesus had accomplished a similar great miracle. Thousands fed to satisfaction. Seemed like the same ancient power had come to the Israelites’ aid again, like in the desert. Could the Nazarene carpenter be the new Moses? A great prophet? A liberator?

Christ knew their thoughts. He knew the crowd that followed Him liked the idea of free food. But He wanted to lift them up from their baser motives and purfity their intentions. He knew that, deep down, they sought God.

“What can we do to accomplish God’s works?” they asked. They liked to fill their hungry bellies, but they liked the idea of serving God more. Hopefully that describes us, too. Who doesn’t like to eat? But obeying God aways comes first.

What do we do to do work of God? Lord Jesus says, “Believe.” Our first act of obedience; our first act of service to God: believing. Marching hungry and thirsty through the desert might strike us as challenging. But believing, through thick and thin, requires even more. Believing in God and believing in the Christ that God has sent. Focusing our interior eyes on Jesus Christ, on His Mystery, which transcends everything we think we know–seeing everything else by the light of Christ–that gets every bit as hard as slogging through a desert sometimes.

So He works for us an even greater sign than His ancient feeding of the 5,000. He gives us His Body and Blood to eat and drink. He gives us Himself, when we come together and celebrate Holy Mass. The Bread of Life, come down from heaven to give life to the world.

taubman museum in roanoke[Material of local interest follows…]

I take it as a great privilege and a sacred responsibility to have been made the pastor here [at St. Andrew’s in Roanoke.] I know that Fr. Matt feels the same way about being parochial vicar. We have the honor of celebrating Mass for you. We come together; we believe. And the Lord feeds us and refreshes us. With Himself. Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. What kind of priest am I? The kind who can’t belive that I get to say the words of consecration and bring the Incarnate Word of God into the world, as our food.

I’ve been a priest for twelve years. For the past four, I was the pastor in Rocky Mount and Martinsville. For the past two years, I also cared for the school here as the chaplain.

Raise your hand if you already know Fr. Matt Kiehl from his Masses this past month… Fr. Matt will take over as chaplain at Roanoke Catholic.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of St. Gerard’s parish… Down Orange Ave. Fr. Matt and I together have the responsibility for these two parishes, St. Andrews and St. Gerard. Seven Masses, each weekend, between us. In these two beautiful churches, full of inspiring people. It’s not a “parish cluster,” in case you were wondering. Not a parish cluster. It’s just that the two parishes have the same pastor and the same parochial vicar.

We will have years to get to know each other. Roanoke’s as close to heaven as you can get on this earth, so I’m fixing to stay here as long as I can. I’m looking forward very much to the years we will have together. These pastoral assignments start kind of like arranged marriages in rural India. I promise to do my best to be a good husband.

For right now, let’s respond to Christ’s words to us with the faith He asks for. Let’s declare, by our devotion, that we believe, and that we want to receive the Bread from heaven always. He will feed us with this Bread as we make our pilgrim way. He will refresh us in our thirstiest moments.

The Promised Land to which we journey–it is real. Roanoke seems altogether wonderful to me, but the Promised Land–the land of true justice, of peace, of genuine fulfillment and happiness–the Promised Land of light without darkness, where death no longer has its sting, where love doesn’t end–the Promised Land which we read about at the very end of the Bible–it exists. It’s real.

The Lord feeds us with His own Body. We unworthy priests bring the Bread from heaven to earth, so that we can eat and drink, and restore our strength as we make our way. I’m glad that we will be making our way together.

Serious Pancakes


The first psalm echoes the words of the prophets, from Moses to Malachi to Zechariah: There are two paths. Leading to two ultimate destinies. The way up. And the way down.

We pray, with desperate insistence, that the Lord in His goodness will help us to stay on the right path. We pray that He will deliver us from our enemies who try to lead us down the wrong one. We rely on God’s grace and mercy. We have no hope without God’s help.

Martinsville uptownBecause Jesus has revealed the love of God to us, we have complete confidence in the divine assistance. We rest our souls in His provident care. And we can smile and laugh and make merry with light hearts, we can eat pancakes in a park in the rain at mid-day, because God is so good as to help us get to heaven, even though what we really deserve is to be left to flounder our way to hell.

Christian joy has nothing of the frivolous in it. The flower of our happiness in the Lord grows from the soil of the fundamental dead seriousness of being human.

Dogs can frolic and gambol their way through their lives, focusing exclusively on tennis balls and squirrels. Cats can nap away their time.

But being human means accepting the eternal drama of every decisive moment. In this moment, I can choose good or evil. And what I choose matters.

It is not too much to say that all the countless stars in the sky, and the vast oceans and prairies, and all the thousands of species of beetles, and everything else that makes up the material cosmos—it is not too much to say that all of it exists for one reason: so that at this moment I can choose good and reject evil. It exists so that I can choose to love selflessly and humbly and justly and honestly and follow Christ to heaven.

The moral beings of the earth, the ones with minds and free wills—we moral beings reign as the kings and queens of time and space. Each of us rules over a domain more precious than all the gold and diamond mines of Africa: my own choices. How I exercise my transcendent power to choose good and reject evil—how I exercise it means everything.

A person can know the light-hearted joy of Christ because he or she takes him- or herself seriously as a human being. A serious person takes this responsibility. What do we call this seriousness? I think we call it religion. I think we call it reality.

God made me, and I owe Him everything. He has taught me right from wrong, and I owe Him the careful study of all that He has taught. He made me free, and I owe Him good actions.

Learning Wisdom in South Philly

philadelphia shrine rita of cascia

Many God-fearing mid-Atlantic Catholics regard Philadelphia as the center of the known world. Not sure about that.

But the shrine of St. Rita on Broad Street may in fact be the spiritual center of the western hemisphere.

It is good to stop in a beautiful church to pray. It is even better to stop in a beautiful church to pray, and then, after you said your prayers, walk down Federal Street and get a south-Philly cheesesteak at either Geno’s or Pat’s.

St. Rita died 556 years ago today. Pope Leo XIII canonized her 113 years ago, and Pope John Paul II received her relics at St. Peter’s 13 years ago, saying,

If we ask St Rita for the secret to [her] work of social and spiritual renewal, she replies: fidelity to the Love that was crucified.

The Pope went on to refer to St. Rita’s ‘feminine genius.’ Like the feminine genius of God, about which we read in the first reading of today’s Mass:

Wisdom breathes life into her children
and admonishes those who seek her.
He who loves her loves life;
those who seek her will be embraced by the Lord. (Sirach 4:11-12)

The first part of the book of Sirach teaches us how to learn the ways of God. We must fear Him; we must submit to Him; we must keep the commandments, honor our elders, and search diligently for the truth.

Today’s reading from chapter four goes on to point out that the search for true wisdom involves confusion and struggle:

She walks with him as a stranger
and at first she puts him to the test;
Fear and dread she brings upon him
and tries him with her discipline
until she try him by her laws and trust his soul. (4:17)

Two chapters later we read an even more provocative metaphor. Seeking divine wisdom is like submitting to slavery:

Put your feet into her fetters,
and your neck under her yoke.
Bend your shoulders and carry her
and do not be irked at her bonds. (6:24-25)

St. Rita with stigmata“Put your neck under her yoke; carry her…” Sounds difficult. But it also sounds like another sentence of Holy Scripture.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. (Matthew 11:29-30)

Tornadoes may come. Loved ones may pass away. The world may seem to be filled with nothing but ads, nonsense, junk, and noise–in that order.

But it is not as hard as all that.

When we keep in mind that Christ has conquered death.

St. Rita loved the King of Peace and received the gift of the stigmata, but in a unique way: one prick of a thorn in her forehead.

The confusion and struggle of life pricks us like a single thorn. And Christ rescues us like a tornado of eternal love.


…Your humble servant read with delight the news that the cause for canonization of Fr. Matteo Ricci has actually ‘advanced.’

Summer reading suggestion for you: Generation of Giants by George Dunne, SJ.

Our Food

proscuitto melone

Fact is: The Lord does not want for us to go hungry. We read at Mass today how He fed a multitude for which two-hundred days’ wages could not have bought enough food. On Sunday we will read about how He appeared to the hungry Apostles by the Sea of Galilee and gave them a nice breakfast. And He promised that, in His kingdom, we will sit at table, and He will wait on us.

The hand of the Lord feeds us. I for one love tamales, spring rolls, penne alla vodka, pancakes, pork barbecue, shrimp scampi, cannolis, mac’n’cheese with little chunks of Virginia ham, crisp apples, raisin bran, kippered herring, Greek salads, veal cutlets, prosciutto e melone, pad thai…

cannoliBut man does not live on bread alone. Man lives on bread and the truth. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, the Chalice of Everlasting salvation.

Sometimes we should fast from earthly food. Our bishops have asked us to fast today, in fact, that the Supreme Court will uphold the Defense of Marriage Act. Sometimes we should feast and drink champagne.

But every day, no matter what day it is—Lent, Easter, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, even Saturday—baseball, basketball, football, or soccer season—every day, we need food for our souls. Christ. He feeds us.

Proud? Maybe. But also pretty Awesome.

A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house. (Mark 6:4)

The usual picture of conflict between Creator and created puts Proud Man versus God. Pride caused original sin. Pride leadeth to a fall. The most deadly infection a human being can contract is: too-big-for-his-britches disease.

Okay. But could it be that the problem with our sinful pride is not that it leads us to think too much of ourselves, but that it actually leads us to think too little of ourselves? Could it be that, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden apple, they sold themselves tragically short? That they under-estimated what God had in mind for them?

The people took offense at Jesus. “He speaks heavenly wisdom and works miracles! But isn’t he just a Galilean hillbilly like the rest of us? Where does he get off being so grand? Who does he think he is? God?”

The omnipotent One, infinitely above us: He suffered death as a man, so that we men could hope for heaven. The crucified is God. God made the earth His own native place; He made every home and hearth, every grimy street corner, every place where a human being can find him- or herself—He made them all his own house.

God grew up alongside other Galilean children. God had no-count cousins who some Nazarenes chose to avoid. God learned how to talk from a carpenter and a teenage girl. God got hungry and thirsty; His feet got dirty; He drank wine with irreputable people.

Continue reading “Proud? Maybe. But also pretty Awesome.”

Backyard-barbecue, Catholic American

If you would offer me burnt offerings, then let justice surge like water,

saith the Lord, through the prophet Amos. If you would barbecue your beef outdoors and make a pleasing aroma, then let justice surge like water.

Thank you, Lord, for giving us this admonition on our national barbecue day. We know that You love and bless the United States of America. You do not hesitate to address the words of Your prophet to us directly, to remind us that we must seek justice—if we would eat our hamburgers in peace, with untroubled souls.

The prophet Amos warned the Israelites against wishing that Judgment Day would come. He reminded them that the reckoning would prove more fierce and terrifying than they could imagine. Just do good and avoid evil. Live honestly. Eat your humble hamburger in peace, having wronged no man, and let God be God.

God has indeed done something in this 236-year-old country that hardly anyone could have anticipated. Even 75 years ago, I think, it would have been hard to imagine the peaceful middle-class life that most of us English-speaking American Catholics now enjoy. We love the Pope; we love the United States; we try hard to do our best by both. –The American Catholic, 2012, eating his hamburger—and maybe fanning himself with his church bulletin, because there’s a 15% chance he doesn’t have electricity, owing to the recent storms. He’s at peace on this soil.

Could Thomas Jefferson have imagined us easy-going Catholic Americans? Could King Henry VIII have imagined us? I don’t think so. God has accomplished an amazing thing.

So, having kept our Fortnight for Freedom, let’s eat our hamburgers and relax.

But hopefully, during this fortnight, we have learned something about how fragile this backyard-barbecue, Catholic-American peace really is. Without the daily struggle to do good and avoid evil, without the long, arduous pursuit of justice—without the virtues upon which our Church was founded, and the virtues upon which our nation was founded; without faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; without these hard-won jewels of our spiritual treasury, we will not have peace.

Even with them, we may have a rough time. Can we reasonably doubt that we Catholic Americans have enemies? People who hate us, precisely because we stand for what we stand for. Because we love the Pope and his teachings, and we will do everything in our power not only to live by them, but also to teach them to others.

When you have courage and clarity, you have enemies—just like the Lord Jesus did. Which means you have the golden opportunity to love your enemies. To pray for them, listen to them, make sacrifices for them, and do every honorable thing to win them over as friends.

May God be pleased to keep us at peace—our little miracle of backyard-barbecue, easy-going Catholic America. May our children inherit this peace—if such be the divine will.

But may the Lord also be pleased to stoke our hearts with the fire of divine love. May that fire keep us humble, faithful, and true—through whatever battles may come.

Fasting for Freedom

Tomorrow we begin the fortnight of prayer and fasting which our bishops have asked us to undertake. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus gives instructions for “when you fast.” In other words, He does not bind us to fast all the time. Sometimes He does.

Why is this one of those times? Because we perceive a serious problem in our country. And we hope that, with divine assistance, we can avert a crisis.

Jonah proclaimed a fast in Nineveh. The Ninevites fasted, and the tide of history turned.

How do we fast? First of all, we stop sinning. Also, we eat less than usual. We renounce–for a time–some of the pleasures that we rightfully enjoy at other times.

We quiet everything down. We focus on the invisible, tremendous power of God.

Instead of snacking, we pray. Instead of watching t.v., we read a holy book. Instead of going to the movies, we go to church to watch a movie.*

We focus on what matters. We acknowledge that life on earth passes quickly, and we fix our eyes on our true goal. We let the cellphone go, and we communicate with our most faithful friends, who are in heaven.

Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons”

Christ has offered to the Father the worthy sacrifice that rights all the wrongs of history. The sacrifice of the Cross, the sacrifice of the Mass—the infinite sacrifice of divine love: this sacrifice, and this sacrifice alone, can turn this world into a place of peace and truth.

We Christians can and must participate in the sacrifice of Christ by our own humble sacrifices. The Lord offered Himself to the Father in the thick of this confused and misguided world. The crucifixion of the innocent Lamb convicts the world of dishonesty and malice. We fast because this conviction still stands. Something is rotten in the State of Denmark. It cries out to heaven when the government tries to tell the Church that She must violate Her own teachings, or else be punished. May God be merciful and give the whole business a fresh start.

We pray that the Fourth of July will find America united in peace. May the Lord move in His own way to open eyes and soften hearts.

We know that without God we know nothing at all and have no taste whatsoever for anything good.

May His holy will be done. And may whatever strife we endure now in the heat of spiritual battle serve to fill us with more love for God and for each other.

* In our humble little parish cluster, we will get together to watch a “Man for All Seasons.”

Tolerance, Pentecost, and Love

We human beings have a tendency to get on each others’ nerves. Living in close proximity to each other can cause conflicts. We don’t see eye-to-eye. Each of us has our ticks. Sometimes we don’t co-operate very well. We annoy each other.

We need a way to coexist peacefully. Which brings us to the virtue that reigns supreme on today’s popular airwaves. We try to live together in peace by practicing the magnificent virtue of…TOLERANCE!

Continue reading “Tolerance, Pentecost, and Love”