…In five weeks, we will start working the famous pew-cards with the revised translation of our Mass prayers. When we do, we will discover some different words in our beloved Nicene Creed.
The first question is: Why do we recite the Creed at Mass? Any thoughts?
Right. Because this is what we believe about God Almighty. We Catholics believe specific things.
Whenever I encounter someone who says something like “Who needs organized religion?” or “Don’t we all pray to the same god anyway?” or “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual,” I experience two simultaneous reactions.
1. Thank God, I intend first and foremost to sympathize, to extend a friendly hand, to put the best possible interpretation on the other person’s point of view. After all, God indeed does transcend all the words we use to focus our minds on Him.
2. Meanwhile, though, whenever I hear such vague shibboleths about religion, I cannot help but think to myself: “Gosh. Do you have a thought in your head? How can you be satisfied with nonsensical flim-flam about God? Shouldn’t you take yourself a little more seriously?”
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children. (Matthew 14:19-21)
Anyone ever heard of St. Ignatius Loyola? As a young man, he dreamed of a life of knighthood and soldiering. But he fell, gravely wounded, in his first battle.
During his long recovery, Ignatius began to read passages from the gospel and imagine himself as a minor character in them. Over time, Ignatius became intimately familiar with every detail of the life of Christ. He gave up the idea of being a soldier and longed to serve Christ as His dutiful knight.
Ignatius studied and became a priest. He founded the Jesuit order. He became famous for his unswerving adherence to Church teaching. ‘Something might look white to me, but if the Church teaches that it is black, then I conclude that it is black.’ Ignatius died 455 years ago today.
St. Ignatius encouraged frequent Holy Communion. He wrote:
One of the most admirable effects of Holy Communion is to preserve the soul from sin, and to help those who fall through weakness to rise again. It is much more profitable, then, to approach this divine sacrament with love, respect, and confidence, than to remain away.
We read in the gospel that the Lord Jesus felt pity for us in our hunger. He knows that we human beings have appetites that don’t quit. He formed us from dust, and we tend toward dust. For all the magnificent intricacy of our bodies, they nonetheless starve to death without regular feeding.
Ah, the parable of instant oatmeal. Jesus made it quick, because He knew that everyone has a short attention span.
So he told the parable about how God makes us holy like we make instant oatmeal: Packet, bowl, hot water. Badda bing, badda boom.
Wait. What? The Lord never told a parable of instant oatmeal? The parable concerns seeds and soil and farming?
What does He think? That this is some kind of agrarian society?
Does He honestly believe that we are going to wait patiently through the glacial pace of farming? Wait for seeds to germinate, grow, sprout, and grow some more? Does He think that we will sit still through hundreds of news cycles?
Here’s a homily from the 2007 archive to enhance our summer-wedding-season experience:
When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,” and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.
But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher;” then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:7-14)
According to St. Luke, this is a parable. Of course we know that a parable is an image or set of images from everyday life which Christ used to help us to grasp the invisible reality of the Kingdom of God. The Lord’s parables may not be easy to understand, but we can usually recognize one when we hear it.
Why, then, do these words of Christ sound a lot more like good advice than a parable?
If you find yourself at a Knights-of-Columbus pancake breakfast with Spanish-speakers from various countries, you will encounter different words for ‘pancakes’: panqueque, crepa, cachapa, panqueca, güirila, panqué…
The older of my brilliant nephews was born on April 9. Palm Sunday fell on April 9 that year, 2006.
Palm Sunday also fell on April 9 in 1865, the day when Robert E. Lee rode up to the McLean house and, in the words of James Robertson, “after 39 years of dutiful military service, did what duty demanded of him.”
The Army of Northern Virginia most certainly was beaten. Lee nonetheless displayed acute moral discernment at Appomattox.
The prospect of the southern cause continuing as a guerrilla war was the most likely sequel to the fall of Richmond and the routing of Lee’s army. At Appomattox, Lee rose above the normal pattern and effected a decisive stroke for reconciliation.
Then Clooney decided to go after the solitary-monk-with-bad-habits thing again last year. So I was pretty siked when “The American” DVD showed up at the local library.
Two instants in the movie thrilled me:
1. The sound of the reports of a custom-built rifle cut the movie’s cloudy silence like music.
2. When it seemed for a second that the mystery of Clooney’s character’s identity and destiny might be revealed in a clever, intelligently plotted manner, I thought, ‘My gosh, Hitchcock has come back from the dead!’
But I hoped for too much. When all was said and done, I stared at the screen. “Seriously?” You’re not allowed to make movies that don’t make sense.
Then it occurred to me. A specific problem has ruined the movies: No one has retained the skill of film editing.
A film editor must hold himself utterly aloof from the production process. When the time comes to cut the endless reels into the shortest-possible feature, the editor must understand the future audience’s total ignorance of the whole business. The audience should not be required to have read beforehand about “what the director is trying to do.” The film editor bears the burden of relating to the ignorant masses.
Regrettably, no one bothers to shoulder this burden anymore. My theory: The problem arises from the fissiparation of movie watching as a coherent activity. Editors do not detain themselves with the art of producing a single movie that makes sense. After all, the market devours DVDs containing deleted scenes, “director’s cuts,” and “extended editions.” Sitting and watching the movie through once, just as it is—like we used to do in theaters—this act no longer provides the editing norm.
Jonah went to the enormous city of Nineveh and informed the people that the Lord intended to destroy the place in forty days. In other words, the prophet presented himself as a sign to the Ninevites, a sign of the transcendent justice of Almighty God.
The king of Nineveh saw the sign and believed. Speaking on behalf of the whole city, the king repented of his injustice and declared that all the Ninevites would lay aside the violence that each had in hand.
The king took for granted that he and all his people had violence in hand. This was a fair assumption. One does not like to generalize, but we can safely say of ourselves that we sinners generally have some kind of violence in hand. Maybe not shedding blood. But violence to someone’s good name, or violence to someone’s vulnerable feelings, or violence to good order and someone’s rightful place. Our egos are voracious; they make us do violence, often under-cover.
So, talk about a good thing to do for Lent: to recognize the violence I have in hand for what it is, and lay it aside. Because look at what happened next in the Book of Jonah: When the Ninevites laid aside the violence they had in hand, the Lord laid aside the violence He had in hand.
We know the Lord is meek and gentle. But we also know that He is unfailingly righteous. He is perfect peace in Himself. But His omnipotent truth and justice destroys evil and deceit. Do we think the tsunami in Japan was a formidable force? The truth of God will roll like a tsunami over all lies, and it will make the north of Japan look like a kiddie pool. God does not will violence, but His willing of peace does violence to disorder, selfishness, and pride.
So, dear brothers and sisters, let us lay aside the violence we have in hand—the jealousy, grudges, turf wars, one-upmanship, gossip, selfishness, pettiness, meanness—let’s lay it all aside and beg God with desperate hearts:
Lord, we know that in justice we deserve condemnation, but have mercy on us anyway, forgive us, and help us!
…In the first game of the NCAA tournament, four players fouled out. Sportscaster lingo: “DQ” for disqualified. Five fouls? Dairy Queen.
By the by, the Dairy Queen density of southwest Virginny crushes the DQ density of metro Washington. Not even close. At this moment, there are 16 DQs within twenty miles. (Total number of Dairy Queen in the Archdiocese of Washington? Five.) Cannot wait for Lent to be over.
When crabbers pull their pots from the water, they quickly identify the crabs that are about to molt. The color on the edge of the backfins is different.
Crabs that are outgrowing their shells slip out of the back of the old hard shell. They emerge as delectible little creatures that can be eaten whole.
There is no greater pleasure on earth than to devour an entire fried soft-shell crab in a few bites, consuming every cell of the organism in a chomping frenzy of bliss.
But supervising crabs that are about to molt requires great vigilance. The crabber must check his tanks every couple of hours and remove a newly emerged soft-shell crab for immediate refrigeration. Otherwise, the other crabs in the tank will cannibalize the defenseless one, or its shell will quickly harden.
So the faithful crabber interrupts his sleep like a monk to keep watch over the tank of molting ‘peelers.’ He does it so that that you and I can go to a restaurant and order soft-shell crab.
Yes, there are many things wrong with this world. But let’s not take the good things for granted.