Babylonian Captivity

Ishtar Gate Babylon
replica of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, in a German museum

In our first reading at Sunday Mass, we hear about how they threw the prophet Jeremiah into a cistern to starve. Why? Jeremiah had prophesied that a foreign power, the Babylonian empire, would conquer Jerusalem and destroy it. [Spanish]

Was Jeremiah right about that? Yes. The Babylonians did conquer Jerusalem and destroy it. And they took the Jewish people into exile.

Babylon. The archaeological site lies outside Baghdad, in Iraq. The original Jew had lived in that area, before the Lord called him to the Promised Land. Correct: Abraham. Abraham’s hometown of Ur lay downriver from Babylon, towards the Persian Gulf.

The same Hebrew word gave us both “Babel” and “Babylon.” We know they had a tower in Babylon, of which God did not approve. Anyone know the ancient word for the tower of Babel? Ziggurat. Like a pyramid. In the pagan mind, a ziggurat served as a gateway between earth and heaven.

To punish that human presumption—our imagining that we can climb up to heaven by our own power—God Almighty allowed the human race to separate into different nations with different languages.

In our Sunday gospel reading, we hear the Lord Jesus declare that He came to bring division. But we must remember that human division actually began with our own delusions of grandeur, our own arrogance before God. Humbling ourselves before Him can unite us again. The Lord Jesus separates the humble from the arrogant. He unites the humble with God, and with each other.

tower_of_babel-erich_lessing
Tower of Babel by Erich Lessing

…Getting back to the exile of the Jews: that exile fell like a hammer blow upon them. Let’s recall what had happened before that. Abraham had occupied the land that God promised. And, by a miracle, the old man became the patriarch of a very large family. A famine then threatened the family’s survival. Again, by a miracle, one of Abraham’s great-grandsons happened to have control of all the granaries of Egypt.

Then the pharaoh enslaved the numerous descendants of Abraham. By a series of miracles, God raised up Moses and led the people out of slavery. They returned to the Promised Land. They built the Temple, according to God’s instructions. They thought they would live happily ever after, in a powerful and prosperous kingdom, ruled by a wise king.

Instead they wound up exiles. Pretty much right back where it had all began. The exiled Jews might have thought: We have nothing to show for the previous thousand years of dramatic national history. They might have despaired and simply given up on Abraham’s covenant with God.

But, actually, they did have a lot to show for their years of history as God’s chosen people. They had the Ten Commandments. They had the annual Passover and the other liturgical observances. And they had the Holy Spirit of God, speaking to them through the prophets, teaching them to hope.

The Babylonian exile taught our spiritual ancestors to do the basic things we do. 1. Base our lives on our faith in the Word of God. 2. Gather together to listen to the Scriptures and pray. 3. Confess our sins and try to purify ourselves of worldliness and vice. 4. Look forward to the final fulfillment of God’s plan, trusting that He is the Lord of all things and all time.

Jeremiah Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo’s Jeremiah, Sistine Chapel

The Babylonian exile could have meant the end. When Nebuchadnezzar deported the last Jews from Jerusalem and burned the Temple to the ground, all the other nations of the Middle East certainly thought: that’s the end of the Jews.

But it wasn’t the end. It was the beginning of another chapter. A chapter that involved trying to live humbly and faithfully under the domain of a worldly pagan culture.

Does the word “Babylon” appear in the New Testament? You might think not, since the city fell to the Persians five centuries before the coming of Christ.

But, in their writings, St. Peter and St. John both called the Roman empire “Babylon.” In that sense, “Babylon” means: any adverse circumstances under which the Christian faithful must live. Any realm governed by empty pride, outward show, and deep godlessness.

They threw Jeremiah in a cistern because they did not want to hear the truth: God had not made His chosen people an invincible empire destined to attract the world’s attention. Rather, the Lord had united a struggling band of sinners, who shared one thing: Needing a Savior.

St. Peter wrote: “The church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings…Greet one another with the holy kiss. Peace to all who are in Christ.” Let’s receive that brotherly greeting, and share it with each other. It’s meant for us, because we share in the same brotherhood. Exiled in Babylon, striving to hold fast to the one, true God.

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Mary and Jesus, Intertwined

angels nativity

As we make our way through the year of grace, we encounter Lord Jesus and Our Lady at different stages of their pilgrim lives. And we see how totally intertwined their lives are.

At Christmas, we encounter Jesus newly born. And Our Lady, new mother. Good Friday we encounter Jesus dying on the cross. And Our Lady at the foot of the cross. Pentecost we encounter Our Lady praying with the Apostles for the Holy Spirit. And Our Lord pouring out the Holy Spirit.

Today Our Lady entered heaven, body and soul. Because Our Lord took her there, by the death-conquering power of His body and soul.

My point is: it doesn’t require rocket science for a Christian to grasp the inseparability of Jesus and Mary. God entered the world as a human being by taking flesh from the body of one person—His mother, Mary. Mary came into her own as a human being—became the person God had preserved her from original sin in order to become—by being Jesus Christ’s loving mother.

pentecost_with_mary

Jesus the eternal God would not have been our brother and Savior—were it not for Mary. Mary would not have become herself, without Her Son.

Now, God became man in the Virgin’s womb in order to do… what? To reveal the love of the Father. By consecrating the human race through His own self-sacrifice—the sacrifice that conquered death and gave us our true destiny. To live as children of God, forever.

Of course there’s no separating the Blessed Virgin from this mystery. She lived as a pure vessel of divine love. She joined herself completely to Christ’s perfect self-sacrifice. So she shares fully in the undying life that her Son lives in His risen body. She shares it so completely that the sting of death could not touch her.

Now, do we presume too much to think: Okay, Mary and Jesus, inseparable. I want to be, and can be, that inseparable from the Savior, too! Do we presume too much to aspire to that?

Hardly. That’s the whole idea. Mary is not something other than a Christian. She conceived a child by believing in the promises of God. She gave her own flesh and blood to Him, while she carried Him in her womb, because of her total dedication to His mission. She prayed with Him. She listened to His every word, in order to know the revelation of God. She believed all His teaching and obeyed all His precepts. She followed Him faithfully to the end.

Paolo_Veneziano_-_Coronation_of_the_Virgin

Mary’s inseparability from Christ is not beyond us. To the contrary: She has shown us how. How to intertwine our lives with His. How to intertwine our very identities with His. She is the saint that we can never go wrong imitating.

Her faith. Her humility before God. Her courage in obeying Him. Her patience with the unfolding of His Providence. Her perseverance. Her tenderness.

Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven teaches us what to hope for. Her life on earth was Jesus Christ. So of course she shares His heavenly life now. The inseparability extends beyond just this short pilgrimage of a few decades. Just so, the Christian, whose whole life on earth is Jesus, inherits the heavenly life of Jesus, when this pilgrimage ends.

Guess where else it occurs–the intertwining between Jesus’ life and ours? In church. At the altar. The Sacred Liturgy.

We most imitate Mary in sharing Jesus’ life when we participate in Holy Mass with sincere faith and love.

The Faith of Abraham and Mary

In our second reading at Sunday Mass, we hear some of St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11. St. Paul praises the heroic faith of the ancestors of the Messiah. We hear this sentence: “Abraham prepared to sacrifice his only son Isaac, reasoning that God could raise the dead.” [Spanish]

Maybe you remember that we focused on this, on Palm Sunday: Abraham’s faith in God’s power to raise the dead. That day we heard in the gospel reading about the repentant thief who said to Christ, as the Lord hung on the cross: “Remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”

titian-christ-and-the-good-thief

Only the faith of Abraham could have moved the thief to ask such a favor. After all, what kingdom could he possibly mean? Here’s a poor rabbi, dying unjustly in agony, with no prospects of any kind. No kingdom to hope for. Except if you reason that God can raise the dead.

We hear some more of Hebrews 11 Sunday morning. By faith Abraham set forth from his home and dwelt in a tent in the fields. Because he had his heart set on the heavenly city, prepared by God. By faith Sarah conceived a child, even though she had lived barren, way past her child-bearing years. By faith Sarah become the mother of countless descendants. The mother of God’s chosen people, the people that gave the world the Messiah.

Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. Then it actually happened; God exercised that power.

That’s why we frequent the local church building. That’s why we honor the Lord’s day on Sunday, the day of the Christ’s resurrection. That’s why the Holy Mass gives grace, gives life—because the sacrifice of the altar gives us the flesh and blood of Jesus, risen from the dead by the infinite power of God.

It’s also why we don’t just honor Abraham’s wife Sarah as our mother in faith. Sarah conceived by faith, to be sure, as St. Paul put it in Hebrews 11. But another lady conceived by an altogether more sublime faith. A virgin. And she gave birth to the child that Sarah’s son Isaac prefigured.

tanner-annunciation

Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, reasoning that God could raise the dead. But then the angel stayed Abraham’s hand. In the fullness of time, God accepted the sacrifice of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Son. She stood by His cross and offered herself to the Father along with Him. The Blessed Mother offered herself with pure faith in God’s plan. Reasoning that God can raise the dead.

Thursday we will keep the Solemnity of the final fulfillment of Our Lady’s faith. When Jesus, risen from the dead, raised His mother up to heaven. Raised her up to the eternal city, whose architect and maker is God.

The Solemnity of August 15 lifts our minds up to the final goal and spurs us on in hope and confidence. But it’s also a rough anniversary this year. Yes, fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock. But that’s not what I mean. As Providence would have it, exactly one year ago, on Assumption Day, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury released its crushingly damning report on abuse in the Church.

If we read widely, we can find two basic accounts of what has happened since then. According to one version of the history of the past year: the grand-jury report unfairly published old news as if it were new. The bishops had actually fixed the problem seventeen years ago. And the pope and bishops have shown even more decisive leadership during the last year.

El Greco Virgin MaryAnother account sees something different: An institution in the grips of a problem it appears unable to solve, because the entire leadership is compromised. This second point-of-view has multiple versions, casting blame on homosexuality, or abuse of power, or on a communist plot to infiltrate the Church.

Let’s thank the good Lord that, in the midst of all this, He has kept us close to Himself. He has continued to pour out the grace of faith, faith in His only-begotten Son. He has kept us in His Church–not by blinding our eyes to the problems, but by rooting us so firmly in our faith in Christ that we can face the problems honestly.

When the Lord drew our Lady up to heaven, He freed her completely from all the pain and confusion of this fallen world. He united her with the truth about God’s love. And the truth about herself. That she was made for eternal love. He made us for eternal love, too.

We exist because of God’s all-conquering love. He formed us out of nothing, so that we could give Him glory, by becoming ourselves in full. By trusting God enough to step forward without fear, into the future He has prepared for us.

On Good Friday, the thief said, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” As he said that, Mary stood there, quietly offering her broken heart to the heavenly Father. She trusted in God’s Providence even at the moment when her only son died. Both the repentant thief on his cross next to Christ’s, and our Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross–they both thought along similar lines: They reasoned that God can raise the dead.

Having that kind of faith opens up a road before us. A road that leads to a city with celestial foundations. A city free of abuses, of cover-ups, of lies, of confusion. A city free of shootings and violence. The city of peace and truth. Faith in Christ lead us to the city whose architect and maker is God.

Catholic Holocaust Remembrance Day

Women in Auschwitz May 1944
Birkenau, May 1944

From now on, as we celebrate the memory of this new saint every August 9, we cannot fail to remember the Holocaust.

–Pope St. John Paul II, at the canonization of the Jewish philosopher Edith Stein–who had become Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

She did not die on August 9, 1942, in a wild frenzy of racist violence. She died in the due course of the Nazi’s systematic implementation of an explicit policy–a policy they had developed over the course of two decades.

According to National-Socialist racial doctrine—which Hitler and his allies openly proposed as their party platform during the 1930’s—Jews had ‘infiltrated,’ had ‘invaded,’ had aspired to ‘conquer’ the German nation. Hitler alone had the clarity and courage to ‘fight back,’ to enunciate clearly that Germans must preserve the purity of their race.

St. Edith Stein
St. Edith Stein

The Nazis declared this the fundamental national priority. The presence of Jews in the life of the German nation was not, in their eyes, the simple reality of history. It was a problem. The #1 problem.

Hitler and the Nazis unapologetically proposed this idea as the basis for an entire political, legal, and military regime. The power that martyred Sister Teresa Benedicta was not a band of bloodthirsty marauders, obvious monsters, or stereotypical jackbooted thugs. No. A political alliance, based on Hitler’s ideas about German blood, developed an extensive technical and bureaucratic organization. Over the course of a decade, the Nazis established their idea as the organizing principle of German national life.

At Holy Mass today, we hear Moses rejoicing in the gift of God’s law. He revealed it fully on the cross, when the soldier pierced His Heart: the eternal law of love.

We human beings can go wrong. Our laws do not always correspond to the divine decree revealed in the wounded Heart of the Savior. We must constantly search ourselves for the evil of racism. And pray that, by the grace of God, we will see each other as who we truly are–one human family, with the loving God as our Father.

Patron Saint

 

ars ceiling
Inside the Basilica in Ars, France

Rich in what matters to God. (Luke 12:21) [Spanish]

Here’s a quote from a preacher who died 160 years ago Sunday:

Man by himself is nothing, but with the Holy Spirit he is very great. Man is all earthly and all animal; nothing but the Holy Spirit can elevate his mind, and raise it on high. Why were the saints so detached from the earth? Because they let themselves be led by the Holy Spirit.

One hundred sixty years ago Sunday, the Rev. Father John Vianney breathed his last, in Ars, France.

The French Revolution broke out when he was a toddler. The government prohibited the celebration of Holy Mass. Thirteen-year-old John Vianney received First Communion at a Mass celebrated by an underground priest, in a remote farm house. They blocked the windows so no one could see the altar candles burning inside.

Napoleon Bonaparte re-established the Church in France three years later. As a teenager, John Vianney revered as his heroes the priests who had risked their lives to keep the faith going in France.

st-john-vianney-confessionJohn left his farm to get an education so he could become a priest. He had trouble with the books, but he got ordained. Three years later, he became the pastor of the obscure country town of Ars. At that time, only a handful of old women ever came to the parish church.

Father Vianney would remain there as pastor for 41 years. For four decades, he gave relentlessly strict sermons.

Does everyone know St. John Vianney’s great claim to fame? His reputation as an insightful and holy confessor began to spread throughout the country. People began to come from all over, to go to confession to him. So Father Vianney wound up hearing confessions for 18 hours a day.

The train company had to open a special window at the Lyon train station to sell tickets for the train to the little farm town of Ars. An average of 20,000 penitents came every year.

The priest lived on a few boiled potatoes per week and just a couple hours sleep each night. He said His Mass, recited his breviary, taught catechism, and visited the sick daily; he preached on Sundays and Solemnities. And he heard thousands upon thousands upon thousands of confessions.

When Father Vianney finally died at age 73, they preserved the parish church and rectory just as it was. They encased the little church in a basilica, to hold the saint’s tomb. The pope proclaimed St. John Vianney the patron saint of parish priests.

I had a chance to make a pilgrimage to Ars shortly before I was ordained. I was a transitional deacon, so I got to hold the chalice at Mass. It was a chalice used by the saint himself.

Because of St. John Vianney’s selfless pastoral love, devotees of the saint have a special devotion to his heart. They keep his heart in a separate reliquary, in a small chapel outside the basilica. The Knights of Columbus sponsored a tour of St. John Vianney’s heart through the US this past year. Anyone get a chance to visit the relic? The closest it came was Alexandria, VA.

During my seminarian years, the austerity of St. John Vianney’s life mystified and frightened me. Subsisting on a meager weekly portion of boiled potatoes. And hardly any sleep.

st-john-vianneyBut then I, too, got ordained. And started hearing confessions. I realized: the saint didn’t live like that for its own sake. He just had a lot of people lined up, waiting to reconcile with God—and he didn’t want to keep them waiting any longer than he absolutely had to.

“Rich in what matters to God.”

St. John Vianney simply did not care about anything other than God and the salvation of souls. Nothing else interested him or distracted him. He prayed, “Lord, grant the conversion of my parish. I am willing to suffer whatever you wish.”

Now, I myself can eat more tamales in one day than the number of potatoes St. John Vianney ate in a week. I get up early—but nowhere near as early as he did. You do not have a very holy priest. But I can honestly say: nothing interests me more than all of us getting to heaven together.

“The eyes of the world see no farther than this life, but the eyes of the Christian see deep into eternity.” A quote from St. John Vianney’s instruction to his people about the Holy Spirit. He went on:

“The Holy Spirit is like a man with a carriage and a horse, who wants to take us to Paris. We only have to say Yes, and get in. It is an easy matter to say Yes. Well, the Holy Spirit wants to take us to heaven. We have only to say Yes and let Him take us there.”

Baptism Homily Inspired by Summa Theo. II-II Q164 a1 reply1

st-thomas-aq

Imagine if our tongues were made of uakitite, or synthetic boron nitride. (Mononitride rocks, as hard as diamonds.) We could hardly taste anything, then. Or if our nostrils were lined with titanium. Couldn’t smell. Or if our hands were made of stainless steel.

St. Thomas Aquinas pondered this, by way of an explanation for our fragile mortal bodies. God made us human beings to perceive His glory, beginning with tasting, smelling, touching, hearing, and seeing things—using our five bodily senses. Which means that we need bodies forged of atoms—but atoms arranged with the kind of suppleness necessary to receive impressions from exterior stimuli.

In other words, in order to perceive reality as God made us to do, our bodies necessarily possess an inherent chemical instability. The very physical quality that makes them capable of tasting, smelling, and feeling things—it makes them mortal, also.

baptism-holy-card1The elements of the human body have to fall somewhere between the hardness of quartz and the softness of eiderdown–in order to register the taste of basil pesto and the smell of the briny sea. Rocks don’t feel or smell. And rocks don’t die, either.

Now, this would qualify as a genuine tragedy—the sensing, living human being, doomed to dissipate into dust, eventually. Were it not for Jesus Christ.

All the delicate, mortal jumble of perception that a human being is—the Lord united it all with the immortal absoluteness of God Almighty.

He submitted Himself to the disorder of the desperate, sinful world—which unjustly killed Him. Why? So that all our perceiving of things could lead to God, instead of to oblivion. Jesus makes this soft flesh immortal, by the mystery of His cross and resurrection.

Holy Baptism initiates us into this: Jesus’ Christ’s 100%-human eternity.

Liguori + Final Judgment

Basilica St Alphonsus Liguori Pagani Italy

St. Alphonsus Liguori died 232 years ago today. His body lies in the Redemptorist basilica in Pagani, Italy.

Not that we count St. Alphonsus among the pagani! The town presumably got its name from the ancient pagani of Pompei.

Reminds me of a couple I knew, in a former parish. The Pagans. Mr. and Mrs. Pagan. Devout Catholics. Not pagans.

Anyway… In His preaching and teaching, Lord Jesus clearly announced the final judgment. He left us in no doubt about it. The Catechism puts it like this:

The conduct of each individual and the secrets of hearts will be brought to light. The culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing will be condemned. Our attitude toward our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love

To break that down:

Salvation on Judgment Day begins with: believing in God and His saving Christ. Faith in Jesus comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit. But we have a responsibility to accept that gift, and to live by our faith in the triune God.

Second: The Judge will say, “As you did to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me.” The Lord will judge us according to our co-operation with divine love, in all our interactions with our fellow human beings.

So: We will face Jesus Christ as the judge of our whole lives, He Who knows all and sees all, Who understands us better than we understand ourselves. This is a supernatural fact that God Himself has revealed to us. We believe it with utter conviction, because of the authority and trustworthiness of God Almighty, Who revealed it.

We know neither the day nor the hour. So we live with an eye to the final judgment and the life to come. In the meantime, the more fully prepared for judgment we are right now, the more deeply do we grow in friendship with God .

Daring Prayer and Evangelization

El Greco Christ in Prayer

Abraham negotiated with the Judge of the world. About the possible innocent souls in Sodom and Gomorrah. In the course of these negotiations, when Abraham had worked the Lord’s cut-off number from fifty down to twenty, Abraham acknowledged, “I have dared speak to my Lord thus.” [Spanish]

He dared.

Some people grow up scared of their fathers, afraid to ask anything, for fear of bad repercussions. And some people grow up counting on both parents for understanding and compassion in every possible circumstance. Abraham had begun to learn that pure prayer to God Almighty involves more childlike confidence than fear.

Ready for some Greek?  I wouldn’t put you through this, but this particular Greek word appears in the New Testament 41 times. And it’s in the Catechism.

Parrhesia. Childlike openness, frankness, confidence and boldness.  Speaking with the knowledge that the listener will understand and indulge you.  That the listener loves you.

When you pray, say “Father.” Father. In other words, speak with parrhesia. The disciples had asked the Lord Jesus, “How do we pray?” When you pray, children, say ‘Father.’ Dare to say, “Father.”

After all, Christ revealed, in His own prayers, how to speak to the Father with confidence:

Father, I give You praise, because what You have hidden from the wise and the learned, You have revealed to the merest children.

Father, take this chalice from Me. But not My will, but Yours, be done.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.

Father, I pray that they might be one, that I might live in them as You live in Me, and that their joy might be complete.

Father consecrate them in truth.

The incarnate Son spoke to the heavenly Father with consummate parrhesia.  Christ always took for granted: the Father knows all, understands all, guides all toward the true good. “The birds of the air and the flowers of the field neither toil nor spin, yet your Father in heaven provides for them.”

St. Paul expresses what parrhesia means like this:  “Christ pours His Spirit into our hearts, and we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’”

The Roman Catechism of Pope St. Pius V explains:  We call God Father, with the bold confidence of beloved children, because:

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1. He made us out of nothing in His own image and likeness.

2. He unfailingly provides for our needs by exercising His tender providence.

3. He redeemed us from the condemnation we deserved through His Son’s perfect sacrifice, and He pours out heavenly grace through the ministry of the Church.

In other words, Almighty God has shown Himself to be the very compassionate, gentle, understanding, and indulgent Father that Abraham boldly talked down from wrath to mercy. God has shown Himself to be the Father Who patiently waits for our repentance, longs for our reconciliation, forgets our iniquities, forgives the injuries we have done Him, and grants us an altogether fresh start in Christ.

All this makes us bold and confident in another way, also. In prayer we speak to the Father fearlessly, as His beloved children. We also speak that way before the world, about the Father.

Because we know how generous and trustworthy God is, we have nothing to fear from this world. Come what may, we stride forward in confidence to fulfill our mission: to make the Good News of the good heavenly Father known.

Children don’t imagine that they have to know how a car works. They just say, “Daddy, can you drive me to the park?” They don’t imagine that they must understand the chemistry of cooking.  They just say, “Mommy, can you make me some macaroni and cheese?”

Our heavenly Father does not require us to strategize extensively about how to gain souls for His kingdom through artful persuasion and clever tactics. He can devise tactics a million times more cleverly than we can. Our role is: to bear witness. To offer confident, childlike testimony about the goodness of God.

Testimony that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. That God is the loving and kind Father of the whole human race. That He rules His kingdom of justice and peace with an open Heart. That the Holy Mass contains all the riches and wisdom of God. That the Church is a real family, to which everyone can belong.

Heavenly Father, we boldly ask You lovingly to give us boldness. We securely petition You for confidence and serenity in prayer, and in all our interactions in this world. We know that You know what we need before we ask You, and that You grant liberally all that we ask in the name of Your Son. So we trustingly ask You in the name of Jesus to give us the grace of His unfailing, rock-solid trust in You.

“Understand” the Mystery of Faith

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parableJesus Christ is Himself the Word of God, the Wisdom of God, and the Bread of heaven.

He unites us and gives us the hope of genuine communion with God and among ourselves.

In the Person of Jesus Christ, we encounter the divine Love, the very inner-mystery of God.

The Lord says: He who has ears ought to hear this. Which means pretty much everybody. Ought to hear that Jesus lives, that He makes everything right with His infinite rightness, that in His Church we find mercy and love and heaven.

The Lord says: Receive this Word of God, and understand it. That’s the seed that falls on good soil.

Understand it? What does He mean? Since, in fact, we receive the Word of God with faith. We neither see nor know the tri-une and incarnate God. So how can we possibly understand Him?

Short answer: We cannot and do not understand God during this pilgrimage. But that’s not the ‘understanding’ of which the Lord speaks.

He means: Understand everything else by the light of the truth in which we believe. Start with Christ. By the light of His divine truth, understand everything else.

We believe in Him. So we don’t give up on loving each other, no matter how impossible it might seem to do that. We believe in Christ. So we untiringly seek the truth in every situation, even the apparently hopelessly complicated ones. We believe in Jesus. So we hope for good things to come, even when everything seems hopeless.

The country and the Church only seem to be confused and divided beyond repair. They are not, in fact. Because Jesus reigns. By cleaving to Him, we will be able to help make things better.

That’s the spiritual gift of understanding. We understand: what may seem hopeless is not, in fact, hopeless. What may seem to contradict our faith in God, does not, in fact, contradict it.

It just gives us a chance to believe better, hope more deeply, and love more generously.

Easter in July

Mary Magdalene Tiberias Jerusalem church
painting in the Russian Orthodox church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem

Mary Magdalene loved the Lord Jesus enough to seek restlessly for Him. Then she found Him—or He found her. She learned that He had risen from the dead.

The Bible tells us that Mary Magdalene announced the resurrection to the Apostles. One tradition reports that she traveled to Rome to tell the Emperor Tiberius that Jesus had risen.

Mary presented an egg to the emperor as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection. Tiberius replied, “That man no more rose from the dead than that egg is red.” Whereupon the egg turned red—the first dyed Easter egg.

Mary also apparently sailed to France, where she proclaimed the Gospel, then lived as a hermit until her death. (Presumably on July 22.) They preserve her remains in a Gothic basilica outside Marseille.

Three years ago Pope Francis raised today’s commemoration from the rank of Memorial to Feast. Christians have commemorated Mary Magdalene on July 22 since time immemorial. During the Middle Ages her feast day was a holy day of obligation in England.

Anyway, today’s feast gives us a little extra Easter, in July. Mary’s beloved Lord rose from the dead, to give us life. Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Basilica St Maximin w tomb of Mary Magdalene
Basilica of St. Maximin, with the tomb of Mary Magdalene