Today at Holy Mass, we read the Parable of the Ten Virgins. They await the bridegroom’s arrival, deep into the night. Then, behold, he comes! But only five of the young ladies have an extra flask of oil, to keep their torches burning.
Here’s a little compendium of links to the homilies I have given about the parable, over the years.
Can’t remember the last time the Georgetown Hoyas went to the Big East tournament Finals. And it has come just in time for Coach Ewing’s fourth anniversary at the helm.
McCarrick reigned over Seton Hall for almost two decades. They offered him an apartment there, for his retirement. Makes our semi-final victory over the Pirates all the sweeter.
The tears in my eyes take me back to February, 1981, when the best high-school basketball player in the country announced to a room full of Boston reporters that he would go to Georgetown the following fall. (He was super-nervous and had his parents and coach standing next to him.)
My humble little northwest-Washington corner of the world became the center of basketball greatness. In the years Ewing played at Georgetown, the Hoyas always went to the Big East Finals, not to mention the NCAA Final Four.
It is practically impossible for young people now to imagine how vicious the racism was that young Patrick Ewing had to face at away games. Opposing-team fans regularly held up signs that read: “Pat Ewing–the missing link!”
Ewing bore it all patiently and quietly. He answered with blocked shots, dunks, and wins.
In chapter 19, of Book IV of the SCG, St. Thomas completes the “psychological analogy” for the Holy Trinity and explains how we can understand the “spiration” of the Holy Spirit.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord ends Epiphanytide. In the parishes here in Rocky Mount and Martinsville, we had the Epiphany custom of solemnly announcing the important dates of the liturgical year to come.
On the 17th day of February will fall Ash Wednesday… On the 4th day of April, you will celebrate Easter day… On the 16th day of May will be the Ascension… On the 23rd day of May, the feast of Pentecost. On the 6th day of June, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. On the 28th day of November, the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Last year, on Epiphany Sunday 2020, we had the solemn announcement of the dates. Little did we know what lay in store. This time last year, we had no idea what a wild ride the liturgical year of 2020 would become.
I mentioned early last year that I hope one day to climb the tallest mountain in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney. If you paid close attention to my little videos last May and June, you saw a poster of Mount Whitney that I had on my wall behind me. Good Lord willing, I will make the ascent this coming August.
Last February I traveled out to the Sierra Nevadas to size Mount Whitney up, so to speak–to get a feel for what I would need to do, to get to the top. While I was out in that area, I also visited the Grand Canyon.
As I gazed out over the Grand Canyon on February 20, 2020, a group of rafters 5,000 feet below me had just set out for a month-long trip through the bottom of the canyon, along the Colorado River. There’s no cellphone service down there, so those rafters had no contact with the world outside the canyon for a whole month. That was the idea—to get away, to get “off-grid.”
The rest of us spent that month learning about the virus that had started in Wuhan, China. We looked on in disbelief as the whole nation of Italy shut down. Then our own United States shut down. The rafters emerged from the Grand Canyon, and back into contact with the world, on the very day that the bishops here in the U.S. shut down public Masses until further notice, in the middle of last March. I think we can imagine how stunning it must have been for them. They left a normal world, and returned to… well… highly abnormal.
Anyway, for the second half of Lent last year, and for most of the Easter season, we only had Mass via facebook live. We had Palm Sunday and Holy Week via smart phone, with contactless drive-thru palm pickup. Then the parishes here partially re-opened on Ascension day. In the meantime, I had gotten removed as pastor and suspended from ministry.
When we start the year by doing the solemn announcement of the dates of the big feast days, I think it gives us a sense of steadiness, stability. We start the year by remembering that Christ’s Church will make Her way through the annual cycle again, respecting the rhythm of the seasons as we always do. Hopefully we will grow a little closer to God this year. Steady progress toward heaven. That’s how gardens grow. Maybe it seems boring on the surface. But ultimately, it’s very beautiful.
This past liturgical year involved just about everything except steadiness and stability. The disturbances in parish life have wounded us all. We should not underestimate how deeply they have wounded us. Trauma in your spiritual life is the worst kind of trauma, and takes the longest to heal. We need to go easy on ourselves.
And we need to try to hold onto whatever liturgical steadiness we can get our hands on. Marking our calendars for the big holy days of 2021—to do that, after the year we have had—it takes on a whole new significance, I think. The life of Jesus Christ’s grace will continue. We will carry on. This past year saw a painful number of business closures, and an even-more-painful number of human deaths. But not Christianity. 2020 did not kill our faith.
The trauma during the holy days of 2020 has made keeping the holy days in 2021 more urgent. And it will make keeping them more sweet. God remains with us. Jesus Christ, our Savior.
They came to honor the Child. The shepherds and the magi. We go to honor Him, too, by making a spiritual pilgrimage to Bethlehem. Not just to honor Him, of course, but also to praise and adore Him, and to rejoice at His birth. But let’s focus on the giving of honor. [Spanish]
We honor God above all things. All goodness, all nobility, all truthfulness, all grace comes from God. We owe God everything. We exist because of His generosity. We respond to His kindness by consecrating ourselves in His service and honoring Him for Who He is.
Like the shepherds and the magi, like St. Joseph and the Virgin, we honor God made man in Christ. By honoring the Son, we honor the Almighty Creator and provident Father of the universe. And by honoring the incarnate Word, not only do we honor the triune God, but also we honor everything virtuous and honest about mankind. The God-man has infinite divine virtue and the perfection of humanity. We honor all of that, when we honor the newborn Christ.
Recognizing all that is honorable about God and man in Jesus liberates us from idolatry. Honoring the Christ attunes us to reality as it truly is. God is God, and only God is God. God made the human race beautiful, in His image. We betrayed that; we betrayed our true selves. But God became one of us to restore and fulfill the original holiness of mankind. We honor that true loveliness of our race when we honor Jesus.
To give honor where we should give it, and not where we shouldn’t: that’s a matter of honesty and justice, a matter of maintaining personal integrity as human beings. (See St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica, Pars II-II, q63 a3.) It’s a sin to neglect to honor someone who deserves our honor. That’s called disrespect. It’s also a sin to honor someone who doesn’t deserve it. That’s called flattery or sycophancy.
A couple weeks ago, a priest who supervised and guided me when I was a seminarian became a bishop. I watched the ceremony on YouTube, praying for my one-time mentor and for the people of his new diocese.
The Cardinal Archbishop who presided over the ordination gave a long homily, as they always do. But this one wasn’t totally boring. The Archbishop reflected on where bishops come from and what their fundamental role is.
The office of bishop comes from Christ, and the bishops give us Christ. Jesus founded His Church on the Twelve Apostles, the first priests and first bishops. Without the unbroken succession of the laying on of hands that started with the Twelve, and which has now continued for two thousand years, we would not have the Holy Mass or any of the sacraments. No one can make himself a priest. Only a bishop can make a man a priest, who can give the Body and Blood of Christ to the people.
We have to honor this. We have to honor bishops and the pope, because they are the successors of the original Apostles as Jesus’ representatives on this earth. The pope and bishops of today are the living ends of the chain that links us with the baby born in Bethlehem.
All that said, we have to remember what we read in Scripture: Like snow in summer, honor for a fool is out of place… Like one who entangles the stone in the sling is he who gives honor to a fool. (Proverbs 26:1,8)
Very few people attended my one-time mentor’s ordination as a bishop. The people of his new diocese were stunningly, painfully absent from the ceremony. The pandemic kept people away, to be sure. But that’s not the whole story.
One of the priest-abusers likely killed one of his young victims. It is a murder mystery that still lingers. A skilled investigator wrote a book about the case a couple years ago, calmly laying out all the facts. It is practically impossible to read that book and retain any sense of honor for the clergy of the Catholic Church.
Another old priest friend of mine died just before Christmas. I attended his funeral, but I could not concelebrate, since the bishop here has unjustly suspended me from ministry.
Now, I don’t mean to “project” as the psychologists put it. But I think that my standing away from the altar at my friend’s funeral put me in the strained kind of place that a lot of Catholics find themselves in these days. I knew I belonged in church for the funeral. For me to be anywhere else would have involved betraying my friend and my faith. But I could not fit in there, as if nothing were wrong. For me to concelebrate the Mass peacefully—that would have required my making concessions to the bishop months ago, concessions that would have betrayed my conscience.
This is where I find myself as the new year of grace begins. I daresay you, dear reader, find yourself in a similar place. Let’s make a resolution for 2021: That we will trust God and trust Christ. Let’s trust that His plan will involve better days to come. And let’s trust that, to get there, we won’t have to betray either the Church or ourselves.
We commemorate the birth of our Savior. His Nativity makes the long, cold night holy and bright. [Spanish]
The virgin Mary gave birth to the Savior in the humblest of circumstances, with the cattle lowing and the hay on the floor. The quiet humility of the people—the Child, His mother, St. Joseph, and the shepherds—that humility makes the night lovely. The loveliness of their humility begins to draw us into the holiness of the moment. But we have to go deeper into that holiness to identify it correctly. We have to find the path of humility ourselves.
We know that this poor family lives in intimate communion with the God of Israel. Mary and Joseph found themselves in the stable in Bethlehem, with a newborn child, in December, precisely because of their membership in the chosen nation.
They are descendants of king David, children of Abraham; they are praying Jews. Their kinsfolk Elizabeth and Zechariah lived a few miles away, not far from the Temple in Jerusalem. Zechariah ministered as a priest in that Temple, originally built by king David’s son.
Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem in the first place, and had to deal with spending the night of the child’s birth with the animals, because their people lived under the yoke of foreign occupiers. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus would have spent the night comfortably at home, if the children of Abraham were not subject to oppression. That was their nation’s history, beginning in Egypt.
This family’s chosen-ness as humble Israelites, then—that draws us into the holiness of the moment. But still we have to go deeper.
We know that the child born in the stable will become the wisest and gentlest of teachers. He will give His followers a body of doctrine, both classic and new. He will teach about religion, human relationships, justice, mercy, and the meaning of life. He will become the most-profound religious and ethical philosopher the world has ever known.
This fact makes us see the night of Christ’s Nativity as an “enlightenment” of the dark world. Jesus lived His teaching with perfect fidelity, total honesty and consistency. His whole life reflected what He taught. In fact, His consummate lesson was simply His life. He lived what He taught and taught us above all by how He lived.
This convincing wisdom of the Savior helps us understand the spiritual radiance of the night of His birth. Still, though, we have not reached the heart of Christmas holiness.
The holiness of Christmas fundamentally involves this:
The Savior born on this night went to the cross. He offered Himself to the Father. His whole human existence led to His crucifixion. He died an innocent Lamb. He became a priest, and offered Himself, as a religious sacrifice on behalf of the whole human race, His people.
The sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth saves us because it is both human and divine. For a man—even the noblest of men—to offer himself in death as an innocent victim of injustice—that would inspire us as an act of selflessness. That is precisely the case of the many martyrs that we venerate. But even the noblest self-offering of a human being cannot in itself save the human race from evil.
What happened with our Savior is: God became a human being, and offered His divine holiness, justice, and love, in sacrifice—as one of us. The eternal Word became flesh, and then He gave Himself back to the Father, as a man, for the salvation of all His human brothers and sisters. The unfathomable Trinity opened up to us, and drew us into the Eternal Love of the Father and Son, the Holy Spirit.
That is salvation. That is heaven opening, and grace pouring down upon us. Our salvation involves a divine human being, a human God. The dark, cold night of Christmas shines with radiant holiness because the cooing child is the infinite, incarnate Creator.
The Christmas mystery. The Person Who Jesus is. The mystery of the Incarnation silences the night because God’s grandeur surpasses our capacities of expression, even of thought. The holiness of the moment makes the whole situation perfectly simple. All we can do is worship.
God transcends us. He transcends everything. We know we cannot master God. Therefore, we cannot master Christmas, either. We cannot even fully fathom the word “Savior,” which we use to identify the Child. What we can do is believe. We can believe in the Incarnation precisely because it is God Almighty Who could and would make Himself one of us. We can call Jesus our Savior not because we understand what that means, but because we believe that Almighty God can and will save us.
Therefore, when we draw spiritually near to Bethlehem, we worship. We kneel before God in Christ. All praise, honor, glory, and majesty to Him, the Word of God made flesh for our salvation.
How good a friend to us is the Lectionary? It’s the best. [Spanish]
Maybe you wonder: What does he mean by Lectionary?
Let’s start by saying that the Holy Bible offers our souls medicine that gives us faith and hope for heaven. But to get sustained benefit from the medicine, you have to take it in regular doses.
The Lectionary gives us those regular doses. The Sunday lectionary gives us readings from Scripture for the Lord’s day and the biggest feasts of the year. The weekday lectionary gives us a daily dose Monday through Saturday.
Our ancestors in the Christian faith apportioned and organized the doses. The Lectionary doles out the medicine according to a schedule that respects the seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall. It also takes into account the relative importance of the different books of the Bible.
How to read this medicinal Lectionary? You can read it out of a book called a “Missal” or a disposable “Missalette.” (Back before the plague, we used to have the books or booklets in the pews. Good Lord willing, we will have them there again someday soon.) You can also read the daily readings from the Lectionary on your computer or smart phone with a Catholic devotional app.
You could resolve to spend a few moments reading the Lectionary readings at least every Sunday. Or even try to build the habit of reading the Lectionary every day. The best way of all to read the Lectionary, of course, is to present oneself for Holy Mass. The Lectionary contains the readings we read at Mass.
When the Lectionary becomes a weekly or even daily companion, the Holy Scriptures begin to enter our minds and take up residence there. Over the years, the decades, the quarter centuries, the Word of God can become the fundamental organizing principle of our thoughts. No training regimen could produce a better outcome.
The angel found Mary alert, ready to inquire about mysterious matters. How can I conceive a son and remain a virgin? –You will conceive the Christ by believing in Him. Put your faith in the Savior, and the Holy Spirit will make Him flesh in your womb. Mary had an inquiring mind, but she also stood ready to believe. Yes, she thought. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator of heaven and earth—He can do this. I believe.
This lectionary passage–which we will read at Mass on Sunday–we call it the… Annunciation. Gabriel came to the Blessed Mother to announce a heavenly message. She asked her question, then put her faith in the announcement. The Annunciation.
This is how good a friend the Lectionary is to us:
What will the date be, on Sunday? Correct. December 20.
I mentioned that the Lectionary has two “volumes,” so to speak, Sunday and weekday. For most of the year, there is no “competition” between the two volumes. One covers the Sundays and big feasts, the other covers ordinary Mondays through Saturdays.
But when Christmas gets close, the daily lectionary covers not just six, but the full seven days. The seven days before Jesus’ birthday. The Lectionary keeps sacred all seven dates before Jesus’ birth date.
So the Fourth Sunday of Advent has some competition from the daily Lectionary. The Fourth Sunday of Advent always falls within those seven sacred days before Christmas. It’s a Sunday, with Sunday readings. So there’s a little competition there, for which readings to use. The Sunday readings win.
This year, however, that could have caused a Lectionary disaster. Because December 20 is the day for reading the Annunciation passage. What if Christmas came and went, and we never read that gospel passage? What kind of devoted students of Scripture would we be then?
The Lectionary, however, is a better friend than that. Turns out, in this year, 2020—a year when disaster seemed to loom everywhere, and, to top it all off, we might even miss the December 20 gospel reading of the Annunciation—on this difficult year, the Sunday lectionary has an important passage assigned to the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The Annunciation.
It’s as if we were riding a bike for the first time, and we were getting up to speed, but then we lost nerve, and panicked, and we started to wobble, and oh no we’re going down… But there’s our father’s strong hand on the back of the bike holding it up. No crash. No problem. He’s got it.
That‘s how good a friend the Lectionary is. You can be a fifty-year-old priest, and it can still surprise you. It holds you up in the life of faith, even when you fear you will fall.
There is one among you whom you do not recognize. (John 1:26)
This is what St. John the Baptist said to the priests and Levites. We will read this gospel passage at Sunday Mass. The Baptist told them: The Son of God is here, but you don’t see it. God became man and walked the earth, and most of the locals did not notice. [Spanish]
Let’s consider the how and the why of this. How could it happen?
First of all, people were looking forward to the coming of Christ, but they expected it to be different. The pagans had all kinds of myths about the gods coming down to earth, but none of them involved stables and mangers, and gentle, humble virgin mothers. The pagan myths about gods coming to earth involved smoke and lightning bolts, terror and fury.
The pagans back then respected wealth and prestige, just like they do now. They were not looking for a poor carpenter who taught His closest followers to give away all their possessions.
The Jews, meanwhile, were looking for a field general to lead a revolutionary army. They were convinced that God would come to smite their foes. It was us vs. them. The Jews did not think that the Messiah would come and say, “Love your enemies,” and “Turn the other cheek.”
Also, when God became man, He veiled His divinity with His humanity. He took our human nature to Himself so intimately that He only made His divinity evident a few times during His pilgrim life, like when He worked miracles, or at the Transfiguration. Otherwise, the Christ was indistinguishable from other men. He ate, drank, slept—just like us. The God-man walked wherever He went, just like the other poor people of the time.
Considering all this, it is not hard for us to see how people could miss the Christ.
Now we come to the hard question: Why?
Why did the Lord conceal Himself this way? Why did He choose to be born of an insignificant woman, instead of a queen? Why did He labor in obscurity in a carpenter-shop for most of His earthly life? Why did He reveal His true identity only to a chosen few, ordering those who saw His miracles not to tell anyone about them? Why did God allow Himself to be arrested, tried, and condemned like a petty criminal? Why did He let Himself be crucified as if He were a powerless mortal? Why is He so confoundedly humble?
Now, we cannot, of course, presume to read the depths of God’s infinitely glorious mind or understand His plan. May it please Him, we will spend eternity contemplating His generous love, which led Him to do everything He has done, in the way that He has done it.
We can, however, give a short answer to the question of why God came so gently and unassumingly to earth, why He submitted to indifference and insult. Simply put, the reason is this: He came not to condemn, but to save.
The day will come when the heavens and the earth will shake. The day will come when the Lord will show Himself in power and glory, and no one will miss it.
He could have come that way the first time. But He did not come to terrify; He came to love. He came to make justice and praise spring up, as we will read from the prophet Isaiah on Sunday. Slowly, quietly, like a garden grows. His first coming was to plant the seeds.
The Lord does not want to find us unprepared for the final Judgment. He came to the earth humbly in order to give us the grace and knowledge we need to be ready when Judgment Day does come.
Now, even when the people failed to recognize Him in the flesh, God remained altogether powerful. Jesus the poor man made everything we see and know. But this is what shows us how awesome He truly is: He was willing to be ignored. He cast aside even His own divine honor in order to save us.