Al Concluir La Temporada

full_moon_2

Celebramos la Misa y tratamos de aferrarnos a Cristo durante todo el año, por supuesto. Pero creo que todo el mundo sabe que durante un período de noventa días celebramos el misterio de Cristo de una manera especialmente intensa.

Celebramos el aniversario de la Redención del mundo con la primera luna llena de la primavera. Por cuarenta días antes de eso, ayunamos. Y durante cincuenta días después, nos deleitamos. Hoy concluimos la extravagancia litúrgica de noventa días de Cuaresma y Pascua.

Jesús es el Cristo, el Ungido, el hombre que lleva sobre Su frente una corona única. Jesús de Nazaret lleva a Dios, el Espíritu Santo, como una corona en Su Cabeza.

Comenzamos nosotros los noventa días con una especie de corona–una inusual: cenizas. Nos enfrentamos al hecho de que la vida en la tierra es corta. Dios nos formó de polvo, así que al polvo naturalmente regresamos. Nosotros decaemos como pecadores débiles, y una maldición de indiferencia sin sentido se cierne sobre nosotros–a menos que busquemos y encontremos a Dios. Nos enfrentamos a todos estos hechos, y los ponemos, como una corona sobre nuestras cabezas, en forma de una cruz de cenizas. Llevamos esa “corona” para declarar: “¡Sí, somos mortales débiles y pecadores!”

Caravaggio Crowning ThornsLuego, cuarenta días después, vimos a Jesús coronado. No con la monarquía terrenal de Israel, sino con una corona de espinas. Sólo la malicia del hombre caído podría llegar a algo tan perverso: coronar al Mesías con ramas espinosas retorcidas en una diadema cruel. Aunque Jesús no había pecado; aunque Él es la Vida que puede convertir el polvo de la tierra en carne viva; no se aferro a sus prerrogativas, Jesús tomó la maldición de la injusticia humana y la muerte sobre sí mismo. Los soldados romanos le coronaron con las espinas que nosotros pecadores merecemos.

Jesús sangró por nosotros y murió. Pero el poder de Su vida conquistó y venció. Sacaron la corona de espinas después que entrego su espíritu, y lo pusieron en el sepulcro empezando el sábado. Pero cuando las mujeres fueron a completar las unciones del entierro el domingo por la mañana, Jesús ya había dejado atrás todo el asunto de la muerte. El Padre le había coronado de nuevo con vida.

Cristo dio el Espíritu vivificante a sus amigos ese mismo día, como leemos en el evangelio, cuando Él los visitó por la tarde el domingo de Pascua. Pero esperó otros cincuenta días para coronarlos con su Espíritu. El Pentecostés, como oímos en la primera lectura, derramó el don: sabiduría, entendimiento, conocimiento, consejo, piedad, fortaleza y temor santo; derramó el Espíritu sobre sus escogidos, coronándolos con Dios–como había sido El coronado con Dios desde el momento de su concepción en el vientre de María.

Pope Francis Easter candle

Pues, no hay nada indefinido en la coronación espiritual de Pentecostés. A veces la gente habla del Espíritu Santo como si fuera una nube “quisquillosa.” Pero no podemos abaratar el Don de Pentecostés de esta manera. Jesús prometió algo muy específico cuando dijo a los Apóstoles que Él les daría Su Espíritu. Él les dijo: “El Paráclito tomará de lo mío y se los dará”.

¿Qué es exactamente lo que pertenece a Cristo, que el Espíritu Santo nos da? Bueno, todo pertenece a Cristo, por supuesto, ya que Él es Dios Todopoderoso. Pero lo que pertenece especialmente al Hijo encarnado es: la Redención del hombre. La Palabra eterna, la Sabiduría del Padre, se hizo hombre para redimir al hombre. Llevaba la corona de espinas para lograr esto. Esa corona de sufrimiento amargo descansa ahora, como un trofeo, junto a la cruz vacía. El Redentor victorioso reina en lo alto, dando libertad y nueva vida a Su pueblo a través de Su Espíritu.

Es un poco triste que estos noventa días de intensidad espiritual hayan seguido su curso. Es como si toda la Iglesia fuese a una especie de retiro de oración cada primavera, con la Sagrada Liturgia de Cuaresma y Pascua elevándonos a la contemplación de la conquista de Cristo en Jerusalén.

Ahora debemos salir de la casa de retiro, por así decirlo, y enfrentar la misión que tenemos a mano. Es decir, participar – como Él nos llama a participar – en la redención del hombre, por nuestras oraciones fervientes y acciones incansables.

Pero avanzamos con nuestras coronas puestas firmemente sobre nuestras cabezas. La corona del don celestial de Dios, nuestra participación en la unción del Ungido.

Sí, somos polvo y cenizas, disminuyendo hacia la muerte inevitable. Sí, el Cordero inocente tuvo que llevar una corona de espinas por nuestros pecados. Pero Él nos ha redimido por su Don gracioso. La maldición sobre nosotros ha sido levantada. Y llevamos en el frente la diadema santa que nos marca como hijos de la casa de Dios, consagrados para la vida eterna.

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Holy Spirit, Painter

Anyone like to draw? Or paint? Anyone like to go to galleries and look at beautiful paintings?

Anyone ever seen a good painting or sculpture of the Lord Jesus? Many very famous master-painters have depicted Him. Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Velázquez, El Greco… Here’s a couple amazingly beautiful paintings I discovered recently:

Jacopo Pontormo Deposition of Christ
Jacopo Pontorno, “Deposition of Christ”
Caravaggio Crowning Thorns
Caravaggio, “Crowning with Thorns”

Can we all imagine Jesus? Can we ‘paint a picture’ of Him in our minds? Thank God, yes—I think we can.

Now, how about this: What about painting the Holy Spirit?

Not so easy. Maybe a stained-glass dove. But depicting the Holy Spirit…extremely difficult, because the Holy Spirit is…

Invisible.

Let’s turn the whole thing around. Instead of thinking about how to draw or paint the Holy Spirit, let’s recognize this: the Holy Spirit is the Great Divine Artist. He paints. He made the heavens and the earth. He made us.

God made everything, and He made everything beautiful. When we find ourselves at the beach, or on a lovely hillside or mountaintop, or anywhere where God’s creation has the chance to show us itself, we know that God made a beautiful world.

The universe does not consist solely of dust and atoms. It’s a beautiful work of art. It glows with beauty. The Holy Spirit has given it that glow.

st petersNow, of all the beautiful things that God has made for us, surely the most beautiful of them all is… A butterfly? A pony? The Grand Canyon? Monica Bellucci?

No, the most beautiful is obviously Jesus Christ. The man of pure truth and kindness. The man Who gave Himself to save those He loves. The man Who embraced death and conquered it. He rose from the dead, and He filled the world with His divine light. Nothing could excel the beauty of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

Again, we don’t see the invisible Holy Spirit exactly, when we contemplate Christ crucified and risen. But we do, kind of, see the Spirit because: The holiness of Christ, His beauty, His luminosity: that is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit “painted” the Christ, so to speak, on the canvas of the earth. And that made the divine work of art complete.

There’s more, though. How else can we see the invisible Holy Spirit? Whenever anyone obeys God, like Jesus did. Whenever anyone allows God’s love to work through him, or through her.

We don’t exactly see the invisible Holy Spirit then, when we see a Christ-like person, but we do see the Holy Spirit’s work. We see that the Holy Spirit can and does make human spirits holy. So the Spirit of Christ still paints, still produces beauty—the beauty of kind, loving, humble, honest, fair, patient, chaste, gentle, prayerful people.

John 17, the Coin

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priest

John 17 has two names. 1. The Priestly Prayer of Jesus. 2. The Prayer of the Hour of Jesus.

Both names ultimately mean the same thing. In Christ’s “Hour,” Judas betrayed Him, like Adam and Eve and all us sinners betrayed Him. Jesus answered this betrayal with His sacrifice. He offered Himself with perfect justice and infinite love, for the salvation of His betrayers.

Christ’s prayer in John 17 reveals that His death involved not just an injustice, not just the wrongful execution of an innocent man. The Priestly Prayer reveals that Jesus’ death was no ‘tragedy.’ Christ took up the cross to make a thoroughly deliberate, wise, and all-knowing religious sacrifice. It was the sacrifice of His divine love: He offered Himself with perfect love to the Father, out of perfect love for us.

Christ’s prayer in John 17 reveals that the Crucified Lamb is the Creator and the Pantocrator, the ruler of everything. We can know Almighty God, and understand His many works, in only one way: By looking at a crucifix.

And this sacrifice, the true Passover sacrifice, is eternal. It happened at one point in time, to be sure, just as Jesus used a particular language and particular words to pray the prayer recorded in John 17. In that particular hour and using those particular words, however, the eternal, omnipotent Love–the unfathomable power that governs everything–revealed Himself.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchJesus’ prayer to the Father, “Consecrate them in truth,” is not one human statement among many. It is not just one audio blip in the endless noise made by fallen man on this earth. It is not just a “tweet” by a Nazarene carpenter.

Consecrate them in truth is the eternal, unchanging divine will. It expresses the groaning of the eternal Spirit in the Heart of Christ, the inexpressible groaning that moved Christ to utter His every word and do His every deed.

The Catechism has six mind-blowingly profound paragraphs on John 17—article 3 of chapter 3 of Part IV. It all may seem way above our pay-grade—until we realize that John 17 and the Our Father are like two sides of the same coin.

The ‘heads’—John 17—belongs to Christ, the Head of the Body. The ‘tails’ is our dearest of all friends, the Our Father. Whenever we celebrate Holy Mass, we have the whole coin.

Apostolic Ministry

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Our bishop will ordain deacons this Saturday, including two admirable young men who spent summers at our humble southwest-Virginia parishes in years past. Next year, God willing, Bishop will ordain these gentlemen to the priesthood. Theodore Cardinal McCarrick ordained me a deacon seventeen years ago yesterday. He ordained me a priest fifteen years ago next Thursday.

I bring all this up a propos of today’s feast. At Holy Mass today we commemorate the election of St. Matthias as the twelfth Apostle. As we read in Acts, after an election supervised by St. Peter, Matthias took the place vacated by Judas.

In the Collect for today’s Mass, we pray about the “college” of the Apostles. Jacob had twelve sons in the Promised Land, the founders of Israel’s twelve tribes. The new People of God, the Church of Christ, also began with a fraternity of twelve brother Apostles. Eleven can make up a soccer team (Go Mexico! in the Copa Mundial). But we needed twelve to start the Church.

In the Protestant world, people tend to think of a clergyman as a learned Bible scholar, qualified by his education and his natural talents to teach people about the Word of God. We Catholics would certainly agree that a clergyman ought to have a good theological education. And we preachers need to work constantly on our teaching skills.

Ecce Agnus DeiBut a careful reading of the New Testament shows that you cannot define a clergyman as a scholar of the Bible. Because the first Christian clergymen wrote the New Testament. The Bible as we know it now did not exist–until some of our Church’s original clergymen finished it and organized it.

So we have to go deeper, in order to define what the “apostolic ministry” is. The apostolic ministry has to do with the authority that lies behind a man’s words. A learned scholar speaks on his own authority. On the other hand, an apostle of Christ speaks the Word of Christ with the authority of Christ.

The Catechism expresses it like this, in para. 875:

No one…can proclaim the Gospel to himself… No one can give himself the mandate and the mission to proclaim the Gospel. The one sent by the Lord does not speak and act on his own authority, but by virtue of Christ’s authority; not as a member of the community, but speaking to it in the name of Christ. No one can bestow grace on himself; it must be given and offered.

It comes down to this: We have received a gift. God united the human race with Himself, in the Person of Jesus Christ. Christ gave Himself to us, and that Gift of Christ Himself comes to us, here and now, through the apostolic ministry.

This gift given us through the apostolic ministry equals or surpasses in value the gift of our having been created in the first place. We did not produce ourselves; God created us. In the same way, we did not “produce” the Christ, our Savior, and the High Priest of the world. God gave us the Christ, through the apostolic ministry.

This does not mean that no one can ever disagree with a single word that a deacon, priest, or bishop says. The sacrament of Holy Orders does not preserve us clergymen from the dunderheadedness that afflicts the human race in general.

The infallibility that the sacrament of Holy Orders does give us–it is actually much, much more humbling, because it is so much more exquisitely beautiful. Anyone can disagree with a priest or bishop, except when he says: I absolve you, or This is My Body and This is My Blood. That is Christ speaking, speaking infallible truth.

The living Son of God, risen from the dead, speaking now through the apostolic ministry. He could have chosen any means that He wanted, to stay close to His people through the ages—He is God, after all. He chose the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament, the silent Host.

Praying Heroes

Garofalo Ascension of Christ

Lord Jesus prepared to ascend to the Father. He gave a final benediction to His disciples, with two components.

First: I am sending you. He says that to us, also.

The Kingdom of God has one center, one “capital city,” so to speak: the human Heart of Christ. His Heart beats with love for every human being, because every human being exists by virtue of God’s divine love.

So the Lord says to us: I send you on a mission. To extend My Kingdom by extending My love. Live in My love, so that, living in love, you can love. You can love your neighbor in mercy and in truth. With that love, the divine love, you will conquer the kingdom of evil.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, wrote us a letter in March, to help us understand how we must base our lives completely on the mission that Jesus has given us. The same mission that the Lord gave to the original Apostles, as He prepared to ascend to heaven—He has given that same mission to us.

The key to our spiritual lives, the key to Christian holiness, the key to a vigorous and meaningful life in this world is: Our apostolate. Christ has consecrated us His apostles; we have a mission. And that mission involves loving our neighbors with the love of the Heart of Christ. It involves pursuing souls, to help them come home to holy Mother Church.

We have no doubt: what we receive at Mass offers the sustenance that every human soul desperately needs. So we extend the offer to our neighbors, ‘Come, share this feast with us!’ We risk contempt, rejection, all kinds of suffering. Christ went to the cross for us, out of love, and He sends us out into the world as ambassadors of His crucified love.

peter-crucifixionWhen we grasp all this, we grasp the true meaning of our lives. We grasp the true meaning of every human interaction we have–with anyone, anywhere, anytime. When we realize that we exist for the sake of our apostolate, we grasp the vital principle of reality. Because the world turns on Divine Love.

Which heroes do we admire as the most truly manly? How about St. Peter? He repented of his betrayal, and he admitted it. Jesus forgave him, and gave the first pope his mission. Then St. Peter went out and found a way to befriend recalcitrant Jews. He found a way to befriend Greeks, Roman soldiers, everyone—so that they could know Christ. St. Peter shepherded the whole flock, spread across the Mediterranean. Then he unflinchingly offered his own life, hanging upside down on a cross, on Vatican Hill in Rome.

Or how about St. Paul? What more manly hero could anyone ever imagine? Like St. Peter, a humble repentant sinner. And a tireless traveler and adventurer. St. Paul’s adventures make Indiana Jones look like Papa Smurf by comparison. St. Paul, like St. Peter, communicated with every kind of person, in all kinds of languages, so that everyone could know Christ. And St. Paul, too, offered his mortal body as a sacrifice to God on the outskirts of the city of Rome, where they beheaded the human author of half of the New Testament.

Jesus summons us today to this kind of humble, adventurous heroism. But there was a second component to Christ’s parting benediction. He didn’t just say, Go, evangelize. He said: Pray first. Pray that the Holy Spirit will come. Pray that heaven may clothe you with the power of divine love. Because you can’t do it without My Holy Spirit.

None of the heroic exploits of selfless love, undertaken by the original apostles, or by any of the martyrs and saints who have followed in their footsteps—none of these manly deeds could ever have happened, if it hadn’t been for the original Novena.

pentecost_with_maryThe original Novena involved the future heroes of Christ’s Church keeping quiet and still for nine days, trembling with fear and uncertainty about the future. Meanwhile, one person stood at the center and showed them what to do.

The Greatest Hero showed the other heroes what to do. They would all freely admit: they followed the lead of the one who quietly, unobtrusively, unpretentiously, steadily, gently prayed.

The Blessed Virgin. The Mother of the Apostolate.

Who won the Holy Spirit for us? Who moved God to pour out His fearless divine love into our unworthy hearts?

Jesus, of course. Also His Mother. For those nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, she prayed. Could the Apostles have prayed like they should have, without her? Are you kidding? They would have gone crazy with confusion and fear; they would have bickered endlessly—if the Blessed Mother had not been there to steady them and focus them on the task at hand. Prayer.

Hopefully everyone takes my point. We find meaning in life by grasping that God has consecrated us to do heroic deeds of selfless love to build His kingdom. And the greatest heroes of them all? Our mothers, who quietly taught us how to pray.

God Will Judge

The ancient Israelites sang in the Temple that “God will judge the world with justice.” The statement appears in three different Psalms of David. God will justly judge the world.

pantocratorA basic, inescapable conclusion of faith in God. We human beings, endowed as we are with some intelligence, have the capacity to investigate the truth and judge guilt and innocence. But our capacity to do this is limited and imperfect.

Almighty God possesses a perfect capacity to judge according to the truth. He will certainly execute His judgment, at the proper time, which He alone knows. All these are “Rational Monotheism Basics,” so to speak.

When the Messiah came, He offered us a lot more clarity about this. God the Father has appointed His Christ as the divine Judge. Jesus will make the final separation between the saved and the damned.

Christ also enlightened our understanding of the Law that He will apply. The Law of Divine Love. The Law of Love that unites the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, Who all live in their perfect blessedness by living for The Others.

Christ will judge us on how we have forgotten our fallen, selfish selves, loved the Truth, and loved our neighbor—and thereby found our true selves. He will judge us with uncompromising rigor: “When did we ever see you thirsty and not give you something to drink?” “When you despised the least one of My brothers, you accursed.”

St. Paul spoke in Athens to help the Greeks understand all this. We share in Paul’s apostolate, his mission to offer our neighbors as much clarity as possible about the judgment to come. After all, the Lord has revealed as much as He has about the judgment for a reason—namely, to help us human beings prepare ourselves.

scales_of_justiceThe peace of the reconciled Christian soul rests, therefore, on this sublime reality: In Christ, God has revealed both his unfathomable mercy and His uncompromising justice.

To someone whose soul actually rests in the peace of communion with this reality, the peace of communion with Christ—to such a soul, nothing could be more absurd than any suggestion that God is “nice.” Nothing could be more absurd than compromising the truth about God’s rigorous judgment according to the Law of Love, for the sake of supposedly being more evangelical and appealing to “the public.”

When he explained the final judgment to them, St. Paul paid his audience in Athens the compliment of assuming that they could see the facts in front of their faces. The world lurches along, estranged from truth and from justice. That’s reality. The world is not a nice place; innocent people suffer, and the powerful take advantage of the weak for the sake of their empty, fleeting self-indulgences. How could God’s judgment be nice?

So: anyone who preaches about a God Who doesn’t have any plans to settle everything righteously—what kind of non-powerful, non-righteous, non-worthy non-God would that be? How could such preaching of this Mr.-Nice-Guy God have any impact on this screwed-up world?

And what kind of consoling Gospel would it be? If it didn’t involve the assurance that all the injustices we see clearly with our own eyes will be set to rights? No, the Gospel of Christ assures us that all the evil we see will be set right by divine power and divine righteousness. Christ will accomplish this.

Meanwhile, He has provided us with everything we need to make our peace with Him. So that we can face Judgment Day without fear.

No one will ever find peace by pretending that Judgment Day will not come, or that we will endure it easily, without any trouble. But Christ crucified can give us peace, so that we can face His judgment serenely.

What Does Love Mean?

The Scripture passages for Sunday’s Holy Mass read like: Love, Love, Love! [Spanish.]

The word appears nineteen times in the readings. Nineteen times. And that’s just in the second reading and the gospel. The word ‘love’ nineteen times. So, we get the message, I hope.

God is love. The law of God: love. Christ’s commandment: love. They’ll know we are Christians by our love. Love is all you need. Gimme love, love, love, love, crazy love.

Marvin the MartianWe got it.

But if an alien has just arrived from another planet, totally unfamiliar with our human tendency to use shibboleths, empty words without real meaning … If he were standing in the narthex, and he heard the word ‘love’ nineteen times during our Liturgy of the Word, perhaps he might honestly ask us, “This word, ‘love,’ my dear earthlings, what does it mean?”

He could say: “I hear people use this word to mean such different things. Some of you earthlings wear t-shirts that say, I love me my Dairy Queen. Some people say they love baseball. Some stand up and declare, ‘I love you forever,’ and then get divorced.”

The alien would have us dead to rights, wouldn’t he? We have got to come up with some kind of respectable definition of ‘love.’

Let’s start with this: God loved us first. Before we were twinkles in daddy’s eye, even before the heavens and the earth were arrayed to accommodate us, God loved us.

He brought us into being, not because He had to, not because he had a complex or was compulsive or was saying to Himself, ‘I need people on earth, or I’m going to freak!’ No. He calmly, deliberately, with sovereign blessedness, made us. He made us solely and simply out of good pleasure, delight, graciousness, and love. As Pope Benedict put it: We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved.

Then, when we turned away from Him, He sent His Son, out of love. To die, because of love. So that we could be reconciled to our Maker and live in the love that He had for us from the beginning.

He loved us first. Our love, such as it is, is our response to God’s love. Which means that Part One of any accurate definition of love involves: Loving God as the source of all goodness, upon Whom we depend for everything. Love worthy of the name begins, in other words, with religion, with piety, with prayer, with hymns and adoration and praise.

And while we engage in our acts of love for God, we of course must listen to what He says. And what does He say? He says: The man in need, right near you: that is Me. The little child, who comes into the world demanding everything, with nothing to give but eyes full of wonder: that is the wise sage that I want you to learn from. The person whom you dislike, and who dislikes you; the one of whom you do not approve at all: that is the one you must love above all.

El Greco St. Paul in St LouisLove isn’t love if it isn’t humble. St. Paul put it that way in his world-famous thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians: Love does not insist on its own way.

TV commercials use the word ‘love’ to mean, “I want. I need. I will have!” But love, according to St. Paul, actually means: “I let go of what I want. I let go of myself altogether.” Love means submitting myself to something other than myself, something beautiful and true. St. Paul teaches us: Because I love, I forget myself and make sacrifices without even thinking about it, for the sake of the beautiful good which I love.

Ok. Next question: Is love a passion, an emotion that we can’t control? Or do we work at love by making choices?

The idea that we could love by pure personal will-power is kind of laughable. How seriously would anyone take me if this happened: Megyn Kelly walks into the building, saying, “I am looking for a priest to interview.” And I say, “Well, I don’t really want to talk to you. But for the good of souls, I will do it.” Hardly. Of course I would be like, “Please, sit here. Can I get you some coffee? A pizza? My car?”

Love always starts as a passion. But, by the same token, the idea that real love is pure passion and no will-power—no one in a marriage that has lasted longer than a week thinks that, either. Love might be pure passion in the movies. But, in real life, the passion of love must become the virtue of love, by our own repeated acts of discipline, whether we feel like it or not.

Love, also known as charity, is, in fact, one of the seven virtues that makes a Christian a Christian. And the seven virtues go hand-in-hand; they rely on each other. True love, therefore, is: faithful love, hopeful love, prudent love, just love, brave love, and temperate love.

At the same time, it is love that makes all the other virtues truly virtuous. For us, not just faith, but loving faith. Not just hope, but loving hope. Not just prudence, but loving prudence, loving justice, loving fortitude, and loving temperance.

Only God knows what ‘love’ means exactly. But just because something lies shrouded in divine mystery doesn’t mean that we can sit still and let it become a vague and meaningless word. Love—true love, the love of Christ—that’s our religion, our fundamental program of life.

The Apostolate

Philip & James

How can we understand the meaning of our lives? The life of a Christian makes sense as an apostolate: The Son of God has consecrated us and sent us to help build His kingdom.

Christ has consecrated some Christians to propose His Holy Name to people Who have never heard of Him, or barely. And the Lord has consecrated others to live relatively quiet lives, in a small circle, building up the kingdom by daily prayer and acts of kindness.

We have two heavenly patrons of missionary work: St. Francis Xavier, who went to India and Japan to preach the gospel, and St. Therese, who lived a short, hidden life in a convent. Both St. Francis and St. Therese made sense out of the lives in the same way: They had been consecrated by God for the apostolate, to serve the building of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Christians have no starting point for understanding reality other than Jesus Christ Himself. And He gives us an apostolate, which makes getting out of bed every day worthwhile.

Focusing on the idea of my life as an apostolate can help me resolve all kinds of questions, with relatively little difficulty. To start with: Do all ‘religions’ offer equally good paths to God? As far as I know, absolutely not. There’s only one Christ, one Savior, one Incarnate Word.

st_therese_of_lisieuxBut: Should I try to convince people about Him using any methods other than those that He used? Namely, to choose to suffer rather than inflict suffering; to understand and empathize before speaking; to love all, and hope the best for all, and believe in the Father’s love for all. Of course I should use no other methods in my apostolate–only Christ’s methods. We apostles march gently beside the Prince of Peace, Who rode a little donkey, not a war stallion.

Does it matter what Christian “denomination” you are? As far as I know, it matters a very great deal. Did Jesus Christ Himself found the Thomas Road Baptist Church?

The Roman Catholic Church does not claim to be perfect in every respect. Far from it. She spent the twentieth century meditating very deeply about Herself, about who She is exactly, about what She possesses–and what She doesn’t possess.

One thing the Catholic Church does not possess is: A ready answer to every question or problem. She does not possess a divine mandate to govern everything about how we live our pilgrim lives.

Our Mother the Church, governed by St. Peter’s successor in office, possesses: 1. The faith of the apostles, expressed in our creeds. 2. The seven sacraments instituted by Christ Himself. 3. The rules God  has given us to help us sort out right and wrong. 4. The prayers that we need to worship God and communicate with Him as He Himself has ordered us to do, for our own good.

Every Christian ought to have all these good things at his/her disposal. But how could anyone take good advantage of any of these rich endowments, unless someone—some apostle—offers them in a kind and sympathetic way? The Church’s divine gifts only bring about their good effects when people embrace them freely and sincerely.

Let’s march on, fellow apostles, beside the Lord! He makes our lives worth living, when we spend them for the good of those around us.

Holy Grapevine, Silent World

grape vine mosaicI am the vine. You are the branches. (John 15:5) [Spanish]

First, a quick Vine-and-Branches 101. The vine delivers sap to the branches. The branches depend completely on their connection with the vine. The branches bear fruit because they receive sap from the vine. A branch separated from the vine is known as a…dead twig.

So: Being Catholic, being Christian means depending 100% on Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our life, our hope, our source of all strength, wisdom, and happiness. We participate in Holy Mass, we pray, we strive to live right, we persevere as Church members—all because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the vine, and we are His branches.

For us this is totally normal, this idea of living in a state of total dependence on Jesus Christ. We know that He conquered death and reigns supreme in heaven. We know what the Bible says, because we hear the readings at Mass over the years. We know that the Church of Christ is a living family. And we know that the prayer of the Church—the Church gathered together at the altar, doing what Jesus started at the Last Supper—we know that in the Sacred Liturgy of the holy Catholic Church, the vine and the branches remain intimately connected. He in us, and we in Him–as He said.

All this is the bread and butter of life, so to speak, for us practicing Catholics. Meanwhile, however: the world carries on as if Jesus had never been born. The world likes to act as if the Son of God didn’t exist.

It is rather odd. After all, Jesus of Nazareth is a very famous man, hard not to admire. He has the personal qualities that most decent people want to have. Yes, He insists that He is not just a highly admirable human being, but also the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father; He demands total faith and obedience. But He has no self-righteousness; He leaves us totally free to be ourselves. It’s just that the more we learn about Him, the more we realize that we have to change—change into people He made us to be, which we can only do with His help.

So He’s demanding; we’ll grant that. But no reasonable person can really have anything to say against Him. Jesus of Nazareth is too thoroughly beautiful; what is there to criticize? And yet the world blithely trips along, focusing on the weather and shopping and tv, going about its business–as if this man, the beautiful incarnate Son of God, had never been born.

Weird. There’s no getting around how weird it is. If we wanted to psycho-analyze the world, we could say that the way it ignores Jesus Christ is “pathological.” But: Let’s deal with it. Why whine? Things could be worse. In Japan and Vietnam, during bitter persecutions of the Church, Catholic communities had to live through multiple generations without ever seeing a priest even once. And still they kept the faith. And in Soviet Russia, Catholic priests got jailed and tossed into solitary confinement. We don’t have to deal with these kind of extreme hardships.

Now, there’s also an uncomfortable silence with our Protestant friends and neighbors. They look at us and think things like, ‘Wow, those Catholics are nice people. Too bad they worship Mary and can’t use birth control.’ Meanwhile, we look at them and wonder, ‘Nice folks. But, at their church services, do they ever read the parts of the New Testament about the Mass, the priesthood, and the papacy?’ Because the world keeps such a creepy silence about the Son of God, we Catholics and Protestants have a hard time talking openly and frankly about Him with each other.

But why whine about that, either? Why not just deal with it as best we can? After all, our relations with our separated Christian brethren could be a lot worse, too. It’s not as if we find ourselves in the middle of some kind of Protestant-vs.-Catholic war, like many of our European ancestors did.

Juke Miles
The Father Mark golden chariot just turned the century!

So let’s not whine; let’s not cry over spilled milk. Let’s focus on what we need, to deal with the world’s pathological silence on the subject of Jesus Christ. We need sustained personal spiritual discipline of our own. The world will not help us stay connected with the life-giving Vine, the Son of God–since the world stubbornly insists on treating Him like a non-person. So we must work to keep ourselves connected to Him.

It’s not hard. We know how to do it. It just takes initiative on our part. Weekly Mass, monthly Confession, and some kind of regular daily reading and meditation on the gospels.

When we cultivate that kind of basic Catholic spiritual discipline, we become ready and able to fill the depressing spiritual silence of the world. The world strangely has nothing to say on the subject of God and Christ. Ok. But we have plenty to say. When we pray, receive the sacraments, and meditate, we will find ourselves ready with the Good News. When we stay connected to the holy Vine, we can count on the Lord delivering sap to us—not just for our sakes, but also so that we can bear fruit.

Let’s look at it like this: If the world insists on acting like Jesus Christ was never born, that’s the world’s problem. But we ourselves must not keep silent. We have a mission to fulfill. To give glory to the Father by bearing fruit for the Son, by proclaiming that Jesus is Lord.

Onomástico Sermon

St Mark tomb

Our first reading at Holy Mass today, from St. Peter’s first letter, ends with, “I send you greetings, as does Mark my son.” Salutat vos Marcus filius meus. These words adorn the sarcophagus of St. Mark, in the high altar of his basilica in Venice.

Inside the stone coffin: the mangled remains of the martyred bishop. St. Peter had sent Mark from Rome to Alexandria, Egypt–at the time, the second-most important city in the Empire. After eight fruitful years there, St. Mark was captured by enemies of the faith, while he was saying Mass. They dragged him through the streets for two days, and he died of his injuries on April 25, AD 68.

Someday I hope to visit my heavenly patron at his uniquely beautiful Venetian tomb. Apparently an angel had appeared to the saint once, when his travels had brought him to Venice. The angel said, “Peace be with you, Mark, my evangelist. Here your body will rest.” Maybe the next time I go to Roselawn, I will receive the same message. (That’s the local cemetery here in Martinsville. 🙂 )

Anybody seen the new St. Paul movie? Is St. Mark in it? Maybe not, since St. Paul and St. Mark apparently disliked each other. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that they traveled together briefly, then suddenly separated. There’s a happy ending, though: It seems that they patched things up later. St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, asking that Timothy bring Mark with him to see Paul.

St. Mark and St. Paul had in common that they collaborated with the original Apostles, while they themselves had not lived with Jesus during His pilgrimage on earth. Nor had Paul or Mark seen Him during the forty days after Easter.

If we think about it, that makes their faith even more amazing. Faith in Christ unto a martyr’s death, having embraced Christianity by pure trust in the Church’s nascent Tradition.

In other words, Saints Mark and Paul entered into the Christian mystery like we have entered into it. The Nazarene about Whom we have heard—and thank you St. Mark! for writing down what St. Peter said about Him!—this Nazarene man is worth living and dying for. He is worth spending all our energies on. He is the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father, the Incarnate Divine Love.