The Report

We have received a report. Two thick volumes. Took years to prepare. It recounts the underhanded workings of some seriously evil men. [Spanish]

I have a brother who works as a journalist. Writes for politico.com. He has taken to referring to that report that came out in Washington this week as the “Ferris Bueller Report.”

Not the report I’m talking about.

We have received a report. God started this whole business of human life by putting us in a garden of paradise. We foolishly and brazenly rejected His generosity. The shadow of death then covered the bright sun.

But it is not as if God is not God. By which I mean: Both infinitely powerful and infinitely good. God does not allow evil to despoil His good work–at least not without a plan to bring even greater good out of the evil.

resurrectionDevil has some tricks up his sleeve. But you cannot outwit God, Who knows all. God may appear to lose a battle to the devil. But God Almighty and all-beautiful does not lose no wars.

We have received a report, dear brothers and sisters. God became one of us, and walked into the capital city. We might think that Washington, D.C., festers like an evil swamp. But they’re having a Boy-Scout conference up there, compared to Jerusalem in 33 AD.

The God-man walked into the brood of vipers, with no weapon of any kind in His Almighty hands. They pounced on Him like piranhas. He bled and died. Almighty God bled and died in our mortal human flesh.

But we have received a report. Not the Ferris Bueller report. The holy and apostolic report.

Volume One awaited fulfillment. St. Peter, St. John, St. Paul; Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke—they gathered facts and gave us the New and Eternal Volume Two.

He rose from the dead.

They saw the tomb, empty, with the burial cloths neatly folded. Okay. Hmm… Empty tomb of the dead rabbi. Investigation needed here. “They have taken the body of our Lord, and we don’t know where they laid Him…”

“Mary… Cephas… Thomas… Paul… It is I.”

We have received the report. They saw Him. They touched His wounded, resurrected flesh. They ate with Him. They listened to Him some more.

He rose. He won. The all-good, all-beautiful, Almighty God-man does not lose no wars. Not with Satan, not with death and destruction, not with darkness and evil. He did battle with death, and won.

How solid is this report? Did the apostles and martyrs base it on flimsy evidence? Maybe the cynics can explain it all away? Spin it as a lovely myth? File it under “Nice Little Stories” for the weekend edition?

Don’t think so. Too coherent. Multiple witnesses, all eagerly ready and willing to die for the truth of it. And, as we experience through a grand tour of Old Testament passages at the Easter Vigil, Volumes One and Two support and confirm each other.

No, we have received as solid a report as you can receive in this world. We, too, will gladly die for the truth of the holy and apostolic report, if it comes to it. Jesus lives.

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Little Spanish Homily for Good Friday, Amigos

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

¿Qué pasó? No murió por nada.

En Cristo, Dios todopoderoso ha borrado nuestros pecados, para hacernos justos y santos en todo nuestro ser. Compartimos en la justicia de Dios, por la gracia del Espíritu Santo, que la Pasión de Cristo nos ha merecido. Todo esto se nos ha dado Dios por el sacramento de… Bautismo.

Compartir la justicia de Dios en Cristo. Implica dos cosas…

  1. La gracia de Cristo nos separa del pecado. Nos purifica el corazón. Nos libera de la esclavitud del chamuco.
  2. Nos une con el amor de Dios. Creemos en Él por Cristo. Confiamos en la justicia, la rectitud, la bondad, la mansedumbre y la amabilidad divina. Amamos a Dios con todo el corazón, y amamos al prójimo por el amor de Dios. Felizmente obedecemos a Dios, porque esto es la libertad verdadera.

Todo esto Dios nos ha dado por regalo a través de Cristo y Su cruz. No hay que hacer más que creer y vivir la vida de la Iglesia. Vivir nuestra vida al pie de la cruz, con confianza total en la resurrección.

En el principio, el Creador hizo el cielo y la tierra. Trabajo enorme, increíble, y bonito. Pero más enorme, más increíble, más bonito: Que Él nos hace santos. Que Él nos hace sus hijos e hijas, herederos con Su Hijo Unigénito del reino celestial. Por todo esto, adoramos la cruz de Jesús de Nazaret.

Ok, Lord. We Won’t Take it for Granted

Holy Thursday Notre Dame 2018
Holy Thursday, Notre Dame cathedral, 2018

As Christ the Lord was about to celebrate with the disciples the paschal supper at which he instituted the Sacrifice of his Body and Blood, he commanded a large, furnished upper room be prepared. The Church has always judged that this command applied to herself whenever she decided about things related to places, rites, and texts for the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist.

The first words of a familiar book. The Roman Missal.

In Rocky Mount and Martinsville, Va., we have a roof over our heads, under which we can celebrate Holy Mass. The tears the world shed on Monday—they taught us not to take that for granted.

Notre Dame represents… the French nation? The Gothic style? The Middle Ages? I’ve been glued to the coverage as much as anyone. Two obvious facts have gone unsaid.

1. A church—any church, including Notre Dame de Paris–is for: the Mass. Before there even was a French nation; before The Hunchback hunched his back; before they carved the gargoyles or the magnificent arches–Jesus of Nazareth desired to celebrate the Passover with His disciples.

2. Second thing about Notre Dame: The countless masons, craftsman, artisans, and laborers who lived and died building the cathedral did not build it to represent Paris. Or France. Or even the Church. They built Notre Dame to represent heaven. Anyone who ever set foot in that building, even once, knows: They did a pretty darn good job of it.

hunchback notre dameA beautiful church is beautiful because it lifts you up towards heaven. This is related to Point #1. The Mass unites heaven and earth, in the Body and Blood of the Incarnate God. A church building exists to house the Mass; therefore, a church building serves as a visible threshold of invisible heaven.

Let’s not take our lovely, cozy, orderly, luminous little churches for granted. Let’s not take each other for granted. And let me put this as humbly as I can: Let’s not take me for granted.

I mean: feel free to take me for granted as the middle-aged man with bad eyes and black high-waters. But: I think the Notre Dame fire breaks our hearts like it does because it involves such catastrophic damage to a faithful witness to the Church’s march through the centuries. And the Church marches through the centuries on the backs of Her priests.

The thing that connects the Last Supper to now—a thin, black thread, stretching across millennia. The sacred priesthood.

Let’s not take that for granted. Christ promised that His Church would always have priests. But He never promised that Rocky Mount, Virginia, would have a priest. Or Martinsville, Virginia. The Rocky Mounts and Martinsvilles of China, or Afghanistan, or even Norway—they don’t have priests.

To us, this place is home. And that our home has a priest—that’s a miracle we shouldn’t take for granted.

The fact that the Lord chose me to be that priest—well, I can’t even begin to fathom that one.

#2 on the List

cathedrale fermee
Screenshot from the French masstimes.com website

Zeal for your house consumes me. (Psalm 69:10)

Buildings that house the celebration of Holy Mass and serve as repositories of the Christian faith. We have such buildings in our towns and cities, thanks be to God. Let’s make a list of the most-venerable such buildings on earth…

1. St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

2.

My first reaction on Monday afternoon: Rage. How do you manage to burn down Notre Dame Cathedral by accident?

But it can happen. They accidentally burned down St. Paul Outside the Walls, in Rome, in 1823. Damage far more severe than what Notre Dame suffered in Monday’s fire. They re-built, and the basilica that houses the tomb of St. Paul re-opened, just as it stood before the fire, thirty-two years later, in 1855.

Second Monday-afternoon reaction: Utter heartbreak.

Lyon has the most-ancient cathedra in France. But Paris has had one for a long, long time. The city became Christian with the martyrdom of St. Denis, during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

For perspective: We live in one of the oldest dioceses in the U.S. Barry Knestout sits as the thirteenth bishop. The current Archbishop of Paris sits as the 141st.

St. Louis, Missouri, got its name from King Louis IX of France, who brought our Lord’s crown of thorns to Paris during the century of Notre Dame’s original construction. St. Thomas Aquinas taught in Paris then, and prayed in the cathedral while work was underway.

St Thomas Seat of Wisdom

They had a beautiful painting of St. Thomas hanging in Notre Dame on Monday. Right now it’s at the Louvre, with the curators trying to save it from water damage.

In prior centuries, Protestants smashed statues, and the republican revolutionaries desecrated Notre Dame and dedicated it to a false god. The church survived.

People went to Mass there this past Sunday and Monday. One of our families in Rocky Mount took a trip to Paris just a couple months ago, and went to Mass at Notre Dame.

Zeal for your house consumes me. Now we have the most-sacred ceremonies of the year to celebrate, brothers and sisters. And we have a roof over our heads to celebrate them under. May God be praised.

I don’t think we have even really begun to fathom the depth of the wound done to our souls by Monday’s fire on the Seine. I, for one, am still in a state of shock–with dreams of an empty cathedral with no roof, and everything broken, haunting my sleep. And I was only in that building once, and that was almost seventeen years ago.

So the wound is deep. But a mortal wound it is not. Paris may yet have another 141 archbishops, or more–before the Church’s march through time finally ends, and the eternal Easter begins.

Notre Dame Cathedral gave birth to many wonderful, beautiful things—and she will give birth to more. May our humble parish churches strive for that kind of fruitfulness, too—here in our little Parises on the Smith and on the Pigg.

Chrism Mass on the Titanic

Titanic

Here is My servant, upon Whom I have put my Spirit. (Isaiah 42:1)

Mary of Bethany anointed Him. He pointed out: It’s for My burial.

“Christ” means… same as “Messiah”… Anointed. Almighty God put His Spirit on this man. Mary of Bethany anointed Him at the beginning of Holy Week, for burial. But the triune God anointed the Christ at the moment of His conception in His mother Mary’s womb. Jesus always was, and always will be, The Christ.

All Christians revere Holy Week and keep it sacred. But of course it is especially sacred for us priests. The Lord drew us intimately into His work of salvation by choosing all of us, as He sat at table with His Apostles. And gave the world the Holy Mass.

All Christians receive the anointing of the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. But we priests have also received an anointing on our hands. We have to use our minds and our voices to do our work, to be sure. But also: the hands. To hold the Host and Chalice.

Do not let your hearts be trouble Passion of the ChristIn our Liturgy, the symbol of the heavenly anointing is an oil called… Sacred Chrism. Every Holy Week, we priests concelebrate Mass with our bishop to consecrate new Chrism for the year to come.

Baptized babies will receive anointing with the Chrism on the crowns of their heads. Christians ready to spread the reign of Christ will receive anointing with the Chrism on their foreheads. And the priests to be ordained in June will receive anointing with it on their hands.

Now, one hundred seven years ago today, the Titanic sank. Last year, Holy Mother Church struck an iceberg. And by all worldly estimations, She’s going down.

I never thought I would walk into the cathedral for a Chrism Mass, with the reasonable man in the back of my head thinking: Dude, you’re like one of those violinists on the deck of the Titanic.

But here I go, up the road to Richmond, knowing full well what all reasonable observers know, during Holy Week 2019: Holy Mother Church is sinking. And the men on the bridge have no idea how to save the ship.

But we have more than worldly estimations to consider in this Church. We have Jesus, the Christ.

Abraham’s Reasoning

titian-christ-and-the-good-thief

Jesus, remember me, when you come into Your kingdom.

In our parishes, we have sung that verse throughout Lent. We read the verse on Palm Sunday once every three years. St. Luke, alone among the four evangelists, recorded the plea of the repentant criminal on the cross next to Jesus’. [Spanish]

Jesus, remember me, when You come into Your kingdom.

Making this plea required heavenly faith. The criminal said these words to a wretched Galilean rabbi, so near death that he obviously would not survive another hour, with no apparent prospects whatsoever of coming into any known kingdom.

Even to begin to fathom the depth of the faith involved in the criminal’s plea, we have to back thousands of years.

God promised Abraham descendants as numerous as… the grains of sand on the seashore or the stars of the sky. Even though Abraham and his wife had long since left their childbearing years behind them.

God gave them Isaac. But then what happened? God asked Abraham to offer Isaac in sacrifice. Abraham prepared to obey.

dore_abraham_isaac471x600

Now, Abraham believed that God would make good on His promise to give him and Sarah countless descendants. And Abraham willingly prepared to sacrifice their only heir. How do we possibly figure that? Hebrews 11:19 gives us the answer. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.

Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.

In a way, Abraham said these words to Christ–since only Abraham’s faith could move anyone to say them to the rabbi hanging on the cross. The criminal saw Christ dying in pure innocence, out of love for the Father and for us, as the pleasing sacrifice that Isaac represented, until the angel stayed Abraham’s hand. And the criminal reasoned that God could raise His Son from death.

Everyone with the faith of Abraham, then—all of us, arcing as we are toward our own inevitable death, gazing at Christ dying on the cross in agony, with no earthly hope—we plead with the perfectly pure, but utterly forsaken One. We reason that God has the power. Jesus, remember us, when You come into Your Kingdom.

And, with blood dripping into His eyes, with hardly any strength in His diaphragm left, even to inhale enough oxygen to speak, He calmly assures us: You will be with Me in paradise.

Good News

abraham_stars721x597

Thank you, dear reader, for praying. The judge ruled to keep the family together, here in the United States. Praise the Lord!

…You may remember that we had a theme for Passiontide last year: The failure of faith involved in the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of Jesus for blasphemy.

This year, let’s focus on one aspect of Abraham’s faith. We and the Sanhedrin have failed to believe something, and this lack of faith caused Christ’s Passion. But, of course, God brought great good out of that evil.

Abraham simultaneously believed that God would give him countless progeny through his son Isaac, and that God demanded Isaac as a sacrifice.

Either Abraham was utterly irrational, or he reasoned that… [Hint: Hebrews 11:19]

Homily to Start Passiontide

Ten Commandments Charlton Heston Red Sea

We have reached the holiest time of year, when we study the death of Jesus Christ. [Spanish]

For the ancient Israelites, these opening weeks of spring meant focusing on the death of the Passover Lamb, whose blood marked the homes of the chosen ones. The people marched across the bed of the Red Sea, to freedom. Then the water swallowed up their enemies, to the glory of God.

That was the annual rite in the days of the Old Covenant. But at Holy Mass on Sunday we hear the prophet exhort us, in the name of God: Remember not these old exploits of mine. Don’t dwell on what I did for your ancient fathers. After all, I will do great things for you! I make a way through the desert for you to walk, and the very jackals and ostriches will chant like a choir as you pass down the highway to the Promised Land.

This highway opens before us. It invites us, beckons us. With beautifully obscure clarity. With shimmering darkness. With enticing terror. Because the highway to heaven is the cruel and agonizing death of Christ.

adam-eveWe read at Holy Mass on Sunday: They came to test Him, so that they could have some charge to bring against Him.

From the beginning, our Creator asked only for obedience. ‘See! I set you in a garden of happiness. Just acknowledge reality, bow before your Father Who made you, and I will provide for you.’

But we replied, ‘No, thank You! We’ll try our own luck with our own knowledge and pride. Thanks anyway.’

We began to sin at the beginning, we children who God made for Himself. But the true enormity of our original sin—the extent of its utterly foolish malice—only became evident when the Creator came to be with us, one of us, sharing in our human weakness.

The scribes and Pharisees looked, and trawled, and went fishing for something against Him. “Won’t you condemn the adulteress, rabbi?”

“Will you?”

They quailed at Christ’s serene, God-like silence. They knew that they, too, had broken faith.They slunk away.

But then the pride and malice of our original sin truly showed itself. Those who would trap the Christ slunk away, but not for good. Our loving Creator loved us, mercifully loved us. But we did not love Him. We did not see that He would, in fact, give us all good things, and heaven besides.

No, in return for His love, we crucified Him.

You figure this constitutes a pretty overwhelming condemnation of the human race: Guilty of killing our Maker. He walked among us as an innocent lamb, pouring out at every turn the infinite love with which He began the whole business of our existence in the first place. And we killed Him for it.

So we stand guilty not just of saying, ‘No, thanks,’ to the peaceful garden He offered us in the beginning, if only we would acknowledge Him—but guilty, also, of spitting in His face, pummeling His ribcage with blows, lacerating His flesh, and reviling Him unto death.

What is human sin? This.

Grunewald the Small Crucifixion

How bad sinners are we, really? Bad enough to scourge our Creator, crown His beautiful head with thorns, nail His hands and feet to wooden beams, and leave Him to die in bitter agony, with crows circling.

We stand condemned—condemned by these cold, hard facts of history. We crucified God.

Here we are, Lord, like the woman caught in the act of adultery. Our love for You has not been faithful, like Yours has been for us. The Law of Moses prescribes stoning. We deserve to die. What do You say?

We hear Him say it at Sunday’s Mass. ‘I do not condemn you.’

St. Paul puts it so well for us (in Sunday’s second reading):

Everything else is so much rubbish. I don’t care about it at all. If only I can be found in Christ. He is my justice, my righteousness, my holiness.  He is my wisdom. I gladly embrace my share in the mystery of His death. I gladly give myself over completely to the One Who died for me.

Let me just believe in Jesus, and press on down the holy highway. I hope, with the hope of a child, that in the end I will share His glorious resurrection.

May our church observances of the coming weeks draw us closer together as a people. And closer to Christ, the Savior of sinners.

The Law of Christian Faith

Lord Jesus said to the royal official in Galilee (with an ailing child), “Your son will live.” Reminds us of when the Lord said to Martha of Bethany, “Your brother will rise.”

Which brother? Correct: Lazarus.

Did Martha believe Christ, that her brother Lazarus would rise from the dead? Yes. She said to Jesus, ‘I believe that You are the Messiah. I believe You when You say, I am the resurrection and the life.’

Did Lazarus rise? Yes. Did the royal official’s son live? Yes. Thus the royal official and his whole household came to believe.

El Greco Christ blessing croppedBelieve what? In God, and in the One Whom God has sent. At the Last Supper, Jesus told His Apostles, “You have faith in God. Have faith also in Me.”

We will go to the mat for this. The Incarnation. Jesus is God. As Pope Francis put it, in his first encyclical:

Christian faith is faith in the incarnation of the Word. (Lumen Fidei 18)

The Christian faith is a gift from heaven that, as St. Paul taught us, liberates us from the ancient law. But the Christian faith also has a “law” within it, so to speak.

Namely, that we must hold fast to our faith in the Incarnation; that we must hold fast to the entire mystery of Christ—no matter what. Even if you or I face the choice between betraying Christ and dying for Christ.

A Christian would never seek martyrdom. But every Christian must be prepared for martyrdom, and must welcome martyrdom, if it comes. That is the law of Christian faith.

We submit ourselves to that law! Christ reigns over us as our immortal, heavenly King. All of us have to die sooner or later anyway. To Jesus Christ be the glory, whether we prosper or suffer; whether we succeed or fail; whether we live or die.

The Prodigal Son

Bartolome Murillo Hijo Prodigo
“La despedida del hijo pródigo” by Bartolome Murillo

The son asked for his inheritance, and the father let him go. Maybe the young man sought adventure. He wanted to see, to experience, to know about the world.

If going off for an adventure were a sin in and of itself, then the father would not have allowed it. But he gave his son the money. ‘You are a free man, my son. Go as you wish. The world is yours.’

This father, perhaps, knows something of the world himself. He knows that the world is dangerous. And hard to navigate all by yourself.  But also beautiful and full of enchanting mysteries.

How can we not like the adventuresome son? He starts out full of himself, to be sure. He’s insensitive to the feelings of his father and brother.  He is tragically unrealistic about himself. But he has courage. He has energy. This world has something to offer, if only we go looking for it!  Let’s have some fun!

Likable, yes. But what’s missing? Self-respect. The one thing he doesn’t see is that the most wonderful place in the wonderful world is his own home.

Let’s imagine the prodigal son in the first tavern he comes to, along the road. Someone there says to him, ‘Hey, you’re a barrel of laughs, buddy.  But aren’t you…aren’t you Lord Such-a-one’s son? The most noble, gracious, and beneficent man in this country—isn’t he your father? Don’t you and your brother stand to inherit the great estate?

‘Gosh, here you are carousing with us. But couldn’t you have champagne and music right there at home? I remember reading in the paper that you were supposed to marry Lady So-and-so—beautiful, virtuous, mysterious, and demure.

‘Isn’t that who you are, buddy?’

Murillo Prodigal Son Among Cortesans
Murillo’s “La disipación del hijo pródigo”

So the son crept out of that tavern and proceeded to travel farther away, to find a place where no one would know his family.

Our rebellion: The heavenly Father built this house for us, full of light—this world. We get to share the house with people who really are not so altogether annoying–each other. This house has order and peace, because our heavenly Father governs it. He gives us what we need.

Above all, He gives us a certain hope: Everything that we want, the desire that grips us in a way we can’t even understand: We will have it. We will be satisfied.  The real adventure of this life starts with faith. We salute God’s sun every morning. We do our daily work, say our prayers, and love our neighbors—we do this, in this pilgrim life, and then all will be wonderfully well, forever, in the life to come.

We can see where the son got his prodigality. The father himself gives with prodigal generosity–lavishly, extravagantly.

But somewhere deep in the darkest basement of our souls, a sinister voice whispers: ‘You don’t deserve it.  It’s too good for you. You aren’t really a prince of this realm. Take a walk, and find your own kind. In the gutter.’

In the end, the adventuresome son’s money ran out. In the sty with the unclean beasts, he thought to himself: ‘What kind of adventure is this?’ The world runs its course, and its pleasures do not satisfy.

But the lovable young man still had one thing left: himself. He paused. He stopped. He found a moment of silence and truth. And he saw into the center of himself, where he finally found the true basis of his self-respect: a compass pointing to his father.

goodshepherdThe compass had always been there; the son just hadn’t looked at it. He had ruined himself by seeking pleasures that were beneath him. But now he took notice of the inner compass, and he remembered that his home stood waiting for him. He could still find shelter under his father’s beautiful roof. And he finally understood that his own home really was the most wonderful place in the world.

Here’s a question. Where is the image of Christ in the Parable of the Prodigal Son?  Aren’t the parables supposed to include an image of Christ?  After all, we see Christ clearly enough in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, which can also be found in the 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke.  In the parable of the Lost Sheep, Christ is the shepherd.

But where is Christ in the Parable of the Prodigal Son?

Christ crucified actually lights up the parable of the Prodigal Son so that we can see what’s there. We see the lordly father, so prodigally generous that he won’t even listen to his son’s entire confession of sin. Instead, he just starts the music and pours champagne, because he has his son back home again.

How do we know that this unfathomably gracious and loving father is our Father? How is the face of the infinitely merciful heavenly Father revealed? One way: Christ crucified. Christ crucified is the light that shows us that the prodigal son’s father is our Father.