St. Jerome and Voting

Statue of St. Jerome near Sheridan Circle in Washington, by Ivan Mestrovic

St. Jerome labored in a cave in Bethlehem for decades, to translate the Holy Scriptures into the street language of his people, Latin. Meanwhile, he also wrote about disputed subjects of his day, sometimes intemperately.

We pilgrims who visited Bethlehem together in 2009 celebrated Holy Mass in St. Jerome’s cave. Also, we pilgrims who visited Rome together in 2006, or 2008, visited St. Jerome’s tomb: the high altar in the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Jerome rests just above a relic of the manger.

Golas Jerome cave Nov 14 09
Father Robert Golas and myself concelebrating Mass, with the late Deacon Bill Walker and other pilgrims, in the grotto of St. Jerome in Bethlehem, November 14, 2009

St. Jerome died 1600 years ago yesterday. Our Holy Father wrote us an Apostolic Letter to mark the occasion. The pope notes how artists have depicted St. Jerome as a model of devotion to God and His Scriptures. My favorite painter, El Greco, did a number canvases of St. Jerome. Pope Francis singles out this painting by Caravaggio:


I think the greatest depiction of the saint sits on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C. Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic did statues of Our Lady for both ends of the exterior of the Shrine of Immaculate Conception in Washington. But I think we find the sculptor’s masterpiece in front of his country’s embassy: St. Jerome, reading (see above).

St. Therese of Lisieux died on the 1,477th anniversary of St. Jerome’s death. She discovered her vocation to follow the little way of love by studying the Scriptures. As she explained in her autobiography, she came to understand her life by reading I Corinthians 13.

St. Therese

Some readers wonder: Does the Word of God teach me for whom to vote in the U.S. presidential election of 2020? Won’t some courageous priest just tell me who to vote for? Doesn’t the evil of procured abortion make it perfectly clear for whom we must vote?

I wrote an essay in 2008, explaining why Roe v. Wade is so dreadfully wrong. You don’t need to read the Scriptures or study the magisterium of the Church, in order to know how wrong it is. You just need to look at a sonogram.

Religion comes into it like this: we have a Christian duty to stand up for the innocent children in the womb, the largest, most-heinously oppressed class of all time. We cannot shirk that duty.

Everyone must determine for him- or herself, according to his or her individual circumstances, how that duty binds. We can offer conclusive arguments that abortion involves unjustly taking an innocent life. We can offer only speculative arguments about how this or that vote, in this or that election, will affect the situation.

I believe that clergymen have a right to free speech, like everyone else, provided we respect the proper times and places to say what we have to say. When we “have the floor,” so to speak, at the Sacred Liturgy, we do not have the right to get into disputed questions of politics, when no one on the other side of the question gets a chance to offer counter-arguments.

Speaking for myself as a voter, I did not come away from Tuesday evening’s debate seeing a clearly good option. Same thing happened four years ago: bad options. I wrote another essay in 2008, about how we have to try and keep politics in perspective; politics, after all, is inherently messy business.

What I think we have to keep in mind, and pray hard about this year, is this: The election of 2020 will unfold like no other presidential election that any of us can remember. Neither candidate will concede the election to the victor on election night, because exit polling will not tell us who won. No one really knows exactly when, or how, the outcome of this election will become clear. Maybe it never will.

May the good Lord pour down patience, kindness, and mutual respect into our hearts. We will need every ounce of Christian virtue we have, so that each of us can do our part to keep the public peace.


Galilean Topography

[written 2/10/20]

View from Church of the Beatitudes
view from the Church of the Beatitudes in Galilee

We read in the gospel for today’s Mass about how the Lord Jesus disembarked at Gennesaret, on the Sea of Galilee. Healing power flowed from Him. They came to Him from all around.

Have you have been there, dear reader? Gennesaret. It’s now an archaeological dig, right by the little town of Tagbha. It’s near Capernaum and Magdala. Home of…

The Korazim plateau rises up from the Galilean seashore there. The hillside forms a natural amphitheater. The land is scalloped in such a way that a voice carries up the hill. Plus it’s a breathtakingly beautiful, peaceful spot to sit and listen to someone. You look out over the Sea of Galilee.

Seems likely that the Lord Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount in this place.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice and truth. Blessed are the clean of heart, who will see God.

May the good Lord give us the grace for that to be us.

Jerusalem and Auschwitz Liberation Anniversary

(written 1/27/20)

Pope Francis Western Wall

In the first reading at Holy Mass today, we read about how King David captured the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites, a non-Hebrew Canaanite people.

We tend to think of Jerusalem as the most thoroughly “Biblical” of cities, as God’s city. But archaeologists tell us that the city had a 3,000 year pagan history before King David captured it.

According to ancient tradition, the founder of the Hebrew people, Abraham, came from what is now Iraq. He prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac on the spot that later became the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

So, after King David captured the city from the Jebusites, David’s son Solomon built the Temple on that spot. The site that Abraham had consecrated centuries earlier by his faithful obedience to God.

King David captured Jerusalem by military conquest. Today we recall another military capture. Pope Francis said we should commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Soviet army capturing the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland. The Red Army liberated the surviving Jewish prisoners.

As a young GI, my grandfather participated in the liberation of a different concentration camp. He was utterly horrified by the sight of the emaciated prisoners, whom the Nazis had all but starved to death. In fact, the sight impacted my grandfather so heavily that he never spoke of it. We never knew that he had participated in the liberation of a death camp. But after he died, my mother and aunt found black-and-white photos he had taken with his little camera, after his division captured the camp.

May God be merciful to us for the horrible crimes we human beings have managed to commit against each other. May He pour out His grace to help us find peace among ourselves.

Little Homily for Virtual Palm Procession

2008 called, with a photo of me from the top of the Mount of Olives

Sometimes technology works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we get to gather at our favorite spots. Sometimes we have to shelter in place. [Spanish]

God gazes with love upon us, always. When we pray to Him, we unite.

Holy Week means going to Jerusalem, spiritually. We couldn’t go there physically right now, even if we wanted to. They’re sheltering-in-place there, too. Lord Jesus rode the donkey down the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron Valley, surrounded by crowds shouting with joy. But that pathway lies in silence now.

Look: prayer always was the way, after all. Not to get too heavy, but: Let’s face it. We all must go to meet God one day, and each of us will go alone. No spouse, no parent or child, no priest or counselor goes along.

You or I could kneel beside the same person in church for decades, talk through every sports’ season after Mass, through dozens of Final Fours and World Series. And one could wind up in heaven, the other in hell.

Standing next to each other is nice; smiling, shaking hands, chatting. Nice. But prayer alone truly unites. Prayer in Christ. The Savior Who entered Jerusalem to hosannas from everyone, then days later died alone on His cross, having given His mother to His beloved disciple.

He unites. Christ. And He wills to unite us now, too.

It’s our choice. Do we go with Him now, down this path that leads to Calvary? If we do, then this can be the holiest Holy Week ever.

Holy Family

(written 12/27/2019)

Egypt Holy Family map.jpg

Out of Egypt I called my son.

Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt, to flee from the violence of Herod. As read at Holy Mass, the gospel does not provide any details about the Holy Family’s time in Egypt. But Egyptian Christians have preserved sites which the Holy Family visited there. According to Egyptian Christian tradition, the Holy Family spent three years in Egypt, traveling throughout the land—the land where their ancestors had been slaves. [Spanish]

Of old, in Egypt, God had shown His mighty power, working great miracles to free His beloved people from bondage.  Now God came in the flesh to Egypt, an infant fugitive. St. Joseph had brought the family there, trying to find peace, when Herod threatened bloody murder and slaughtered the innocent in the kingdom of Judah.

The Holy Family found peace and quiet in Egypt. Baby Jesus nursed at the breast, and was weaned–all while they were in Egypt. He listened to His foster father and His mother sing to Him the songs that King David had sung a thousand years earlier, the Psalms.

Forgive one another, as you have been forgiven…Bear with one another with compassion, kindness, humility, and patience…Be thankful.  Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

The Holy Family lived all this together, with sweetness and gentleness greater than we can imagine.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph show us the peace that the merciful love of Christ can bring to a household, to a town, to a country—to the world.

JMJLike I said, Christians in Egypt still venerate the places where the Holy Family sojourned. Pilgrims pray and light candles at the well where Our Lady drew water to use to bathe the little body of the infant Son of God. They have churches and monasteries at the points along the Nile where the Holy Family stopped on their journey.

Apparently, as the Holy Family traveled around Egypt, staying in various places for a few weeks or months at a time, they dwelt in a number of different types of humble accommodations, including in caves. Baby Jesus would have felt comfortable, since, as we discussed a few days ago, the stable where He was born was a little cave with an extended roof.

Let’s recognize that under the roof of our humble parish church, we come together under the same circumstances as the Holy Family traveling together in Egypt.  The God-man Jesus Christ, present with us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, makes a family out of us, and He gives us a share in His gentleness and peace.  His love binds us together. As time passes, we grow closer to Him and to each other.  Through our whole pilgrim lives we travel as wayfarers, like the Holy Family did, longing for our true home, which is with God.

Now, some of us, when we went to school, headed our all papers with the inscription JMJ at the very top. Stood for… Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

Well, the two-thousand twentieth year of our Lord lies before us, like a blank sheet of paper. Let’s inscribe JMJ on the top. May we live the year to come in communion with the Holy Family.


(written 12/24/2109)


Let’s consider the place. Bethlehem Anyone ever visited?

Not far from Jerusalem. Nazareth, on the other hand, lies 70 miles north, in different region of Israel, namely… Galilee. Mary and Joseph lived north of the Samaritans; they lived away from the ancestral homeland of their tribe. Mary and Joseph were like native Virginians living in Connecticut.

They had to travel south to Bethlehem, to the ancestral homeland, for the… census. They found no room in the guest house. So they spent the night with the animals. When the baby was born, they laid Him in the feeding trough, for a makeshift crib.

Some people dismiss all this as a kind of fairy tale. But Bethlehem is no fairy tale. These days, the city of Bethlehem has internet cafes and gas stations, surrounding Manger Square and the Basilica of the Nativity. The Bethlehem of 2,000 years ago remains, however; the Bethlehem where Lord Jesus was born. It remains, in the same place where all the ruins of 2,000-year-old towns can be found. Underground.

Now, let’s consider this question. Why have a town there in the first place? That is, when Bethlehem first got built up, on those particular hills, between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago. Why did they choose that particular spot for a town?

The little caves in the hillsides of Bethlehem provided a good reason to have a town there. The people lived off their livestock; their livestock were their grocery store and bank account all rolled-up into one. So they built little houses for their families, right above the caves in the hills. An ancient-Bethlehem house entailed: a cave for the animals, with a staircase leading up to a little thatch- or wood house for the humans.

You could expand the size of the cave for the animals –the little “stable”—by making the floor of the house double as an extended roof of the cave. Kind of like split-level houses built on top of the two-car garage these days. Just imagine the garage as a stable, instead of a garage.

nativityNow imagine all the split-level houses with garages built into the hills of greater Martinsville or Rocky Mount. There’s a good number of them.

The cave in which God was born—2019 years ago tonight–that cave was one of many such caves, holding animals for the night, underneath many such houses built into the hillsides of ancient Bethlehem. The cave of Jesus’ birth did not stand out, back then.

Today, of course, it does. That particular cave sits underground, under the high altar of the 1,700-year-old Basilica of the Nativity. Same cave.

Bethlehem has changed over the course of 2,019 years. But the cave where Lord Jesus was born remains the same. They don’t use it as a stable for animals anymore. It’s a place to pray now; it’s part of a chapel.

Makes me want to go there. You? Tonight, we go there spiritually, as we celebrate Holy Mass to rejoice in the unique human birth that occurred in that particular place. In a year, in January 2021, we will have a parish pilgrimage to go there, to the Holy Land. Save your shekels.

Merry Christmas.

Martyrdom of the Best Man

Machaerus diagram.jpg
drawing of the Machaerus fortress, based on archaeology

St. John the Baptist died on August 29. Not in Jerusalem, but in what is now the Kingdom of Jordan, on the east side of the Dead Sea. (In New-Testament times, they called the region Perea.)

Herod the Great had rebuilt the fortress of Machaerus, after the Romans under Pompey had destroyed it in 57 BC.

head-platterHerod the Great died decades before John’s martyrdom. The Herod who ordered the execution was his son Herod Antipas, who received Galilee and Perea as his inheritance. (A different Herod, Jr.—Herod Archelaus—ruled Judea and Samaria, until the Romans re-organized it as a prefecture, governed for a time by Pontius Pilate.)

Anyway: St. John died outside Jerusalem, because he was not the Christ. He was the greatest of all the prophets, the greatest man born of woman, who served as the friend of the incarnate Bridegroom. St. John prepared the bride to meet her Husband.

He prepared the faithful remnant of Israel. That preparation involved his public condemnation of the marital infidelities of Herod Antipas and Herodias, both of whom had other living, royal spouses.

As the Lord Jesus put it: the coming of the Messiah meant the restoration of the law of lifetime marital fidelity. By His own offering of Himself on the cross for His bride, Christ consecrated the marriage bond as a sacrament of God’s fidelity to His people.

St. John died for bearing witness to this nuptial mystery of the coming of the Messiah.


Elijah fiery chariot

We read in Sunday’s gospel about how the Lord and the Apostles took an unusual route to Jerusalem. Galilean Jews, like Jesus and the Apostles, usually crossed to the east side of the Jordan River to travel south by a safer and more welcoming road. In other words, pilgrims from Galilee generally took the long way.

Because the straight way passed through Samaria, the lands occupied by the remnants of the northern tribes of the Hebrew people. Nearly 1,000 years of history had passed since all the children of Jacob had been united. The northern tribes had never accepted Jerusalem as a capital or site for the Temple. And the northern tribes had interbred with the Assyrians. Hence the use of ‘Samaritan’ as a term of opprobrium among Jews.

But for His own mysterious reasons, the Lord decided on this particular trip to take the more direct route, straight through Samaria. Which meant risking harsh treatment and rejection at the hands of the unsympathetic natives.

I think maybe we can relate to the emotions that the Apostles experienced when the Samaritans mistreated them. It hurts when the natives mistreat you, when you are a stranger and a sojourner in a land that is not your own.

NT Holy Land mapAs we read, the Lord would have none of the Apostles’ angry reaction. He insisted that everyone stay focused on the one thing necessary: to keep moving toward the goal.

Now, maybe we Catholics are just silly idealists on the subject of immigration. After all, in church, we exercise no border controls at all. All of us seek ‘asylum’ in church. Every baptized person belongs, no exceptions. And any un-baptized person can join our church by receiving Holy Baptism. There are no other criteria. Our Lord commanded His Church to embrace all nations. Every human being needs Jesus Christ, so our doors must stand open to every human being.

As you know, we read the same Sunday readings every three years. So let’s look back over the past six years, and see where we have come as a nation, when it comes to strangers and sojourners entering our lands–like Jesus and the Apostles entering Samaria.

Six summers ago, the US Congress labored long and hard on “immigration reform.” A lot of people spent a lot of energy to try to find a solution to the problem of immigrants living in the shadows here in America, unprotected by our laws. Many of us here had high hopes; the Catholic Church in the USA had high hopes for a good compromise. But the immigration-reform compromise never even came up for a full Congressional vote.

Then, three summers ago, the last time we read this reading about Jesus and the Apostles getting rejected by the Samaritans, we Americans were getting ready for a presidential election the following fall. We were struggling as a nation to decide what kind of future we wanted for ourselves.

US Mexico border wall

Would we continue to welcome immigrants? Would we treat the immigrants already here more fairly and protect them by law from abuse and exploitation? Would we Americans continue to see ourselves as a nation that has enjoyed extraordinary blessings–which therefore imposes a duty upon us to help others? A duty to keep our doors open, and to rejoice in the gifts that immigrants bring to America.

Now, it’s three years later, and we read this gospel passage again. We have to face the ugly fact. We chose the other path. We look back over the past six years, and we see a stunning transformation. We have become like the Samaritans who refused to welcome the pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem. I would say that we have lost ourselves as a nation; we have forgotten who we really are, when it comes to welcoming immigrants.

But before we get all depressed about our political situation, let’s put the whole business in perspective. Let’s remember why we frequent the church. Namely, to commune with the mysteries of our faith. And the mysteries of our faith teach us an important fact: Here on earth, none of us have a lasting city.

A whirlwind carried the prophet Elijah from this world up to heaven. Our Savior, when He walked the earth, had no home in which to lay His head. Christ revealed to us what our life here really is: a pilgrimage. An arduous journey toward a goal. All Americans are immigrants, to be sure. But even more so: All Christians are emigrants. We are on our way somewhere else. The Church makes Her way forward as a caravan of migrants, on the way to heaven.

We do not see our destination. We believe in it. Why can’t we see it? Why can’t we see the heavenly Jerusalem? Because it is invisible? No. The angels know how brightly that city shines—a million times more splendid than the Manhattan skyline on a starry night.

We can’t see the heavenly homeland now because our eyes do not possess adequate seeing power. Our minds, which see by faith—our minds perceive reality more comprehensively than our eyes. That is, provided we live by the Spirit and not by the flesh.

Let’s pray that we will always love our neighbors with pure hearts. And that we will welcome strangers–since that’s the distressing disguise in which Jesus comes to us. In the heavenly Jerusalem, chaste and true love of God and neighbor is the very light and air by which everyone sees and breathes. May we always serve that love, as we make our way as migrants, pilgrims, towards the Kingdom of God.

Pater Noster

cloister of the Church of the Pater Noster in Jerusalem

At Holy Mass this summer, we get to hear the Lord Jesus teach us the Our Father not once, but twice. Today we read about it from Matthew 6. On Sunday, July 28, we will read about it from Luke 11.

Anyone ever visit the Church of the Pater Noster on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem? The walls display the words of the Our Father in 100+ languages.

The closest we can get to the original is… Greek. Anyone know the Our Father in a language other than English? Latin? Spanish?

After Mass this past Sunday, an earnest soul asked me: ‘Father, when will we change the Our Father? Because of Pope Francis.’

Knowing this dear person as I do, I thought I knew the source of his slight confusion. So I googled: “Fox News Our Father Pope Francis.” I immediately discovered a report about the pope changing the wording of the Our Father. Unfortunately, the reporter failed to grasp that the change this year affects only the Italian-language Missal. Not the English.

Here’s what the Catechism says about the phrase they changed in Italian. They changed it in French in 2017. The German bishops voted not to change it.

It is difficult to translate the Greek verb. It means both “do not allow us to enter into temptation,” and “do not let us yield to temptation.” God cannot be tempted by evil and He tempts no one. We ask Him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin. This petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength. [para. 2846]

If I were pope, I certainly wouldn’t encourage any bishops’ conferences to go around changing the words of prayers that we all learned at our mothers’ knees.

The pope learned it a certain way: no nos dejes caer en tentacion. “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

I think the Italians will find it quite confusing when the priest tells them to change the way they pray their most-familiar prayer. The new Italian version introduces the verb abandon which no one has ever thought the original Greek word means. I certainly don’t envy the poor Italian parish priests, who have to deal with this.

But so far we English-speakers don’t have to worry about it. When it comes to adding reasons to get mad at the pope, o heavenly Father, lead us not into temptation.


Hidden Visitations


The Blessed Mother traveled eighty miles to visit her cousin Elizabeth and help her. By comparison, regarding distance: my twice-weekly trips between Rocky Mount and Martinsville would get me only halfway there. Our Lady would have continued on, as far as Greensboro.

Rocky Mount, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina are the same distance from each other as Nazareth, Galilee, and the Judean hillside town where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. And, of course, our Lady had no Nissan Juke to use on a well-maintained four-lane highway.

Now, exactly nine weeks have passed since… Holy Thursday. So today we would keep a Solemnity in honor of the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. But here in the U.S., we will keep Corpus Christi on Sunday instead.

Corpus Christi and Visitation Day go perfectly together. Because:

The Lord visited Elizabeth and Zechariah–and baby John the Baptist in the womb; Christ came in the flesh to their home. But you couldn’t see Jesus at that moment, because He still dwelt in His mother’s womb.

Likewise, the Lord visits us in the Holy Mass. He comes in the flesh, to every Catholic church or chapel, whenever we carry out the ceremony which He instituted on Holy Thursday. He bridges a gap of much more than eighty miles; He brings heaven to the earth.

But He veils Himself from our eyes. Like He did in Mary’s womb. The Holy Mass, the altar, the tabernacle–like our Lady’s womb, during those nine months: a place where Christ dwells, but hidden.