Hard But Peaceful

They that hope in the Lord will soar as with eagles’ wings. (Isaiah 40:31)

Let’s freely acknowledge that the coming of Christ has not made things easier for us. Yes, He said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” But we can hardly maintain that believing in the Incarnation of God, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin—we can hardly claim that believing in that is easier than just ignoring it, like a lot of people do.

Ignoring Christ means maintaining a smaller and more comfortable frame of reference in life. Ignoring this particular baby means that God, if He exists, more or less leaves us alone to watch Dancing with the Stars undisturbed.

El Greco NativityOn the other hand, believing that God became a man; that the Father has revealed Himself to us by sending His eternal Word to live among us, as one of us—believing in Christ means life involves fundamental realities that extend way beyond what we can imagine. It means that God’s light shines so bright in this world that, for now, it blinds us and leaves us mostly in the dark.

The eagles’ wings on which we soar: Pure faith. Mary’s baby grew up, and He trusted in His heavenly Father all the way to Calvary hill. The divine Child in Whom we believe, with festive Christmas cheer—He died in agony, holding fast to the hope of a kingdom that lies on the other side of the darkness of the grave.

How can we claim that it is easy to base our entire lives on the promise of a crucified carpenter Whom–when He walked the earth two long millennia ago–most people simply ignored? Ignoring Him has been quite popular from the very beginning.

So: Easy? No. But: Do we find true rest, even in the utter darkness of faith—faith in the unfathomable Trinity and the ineffable Incarnation? Yes, we do find true rest there.

We soar on eagles’ wings when we acknowledge:

Okay, yes. Our Christian faith answers a few questions and then leaves a lot more questions wide, wide open.

But: To believe that life is fundamentally beautiful; to believe that love and tenderness touch God, because God has touched us with love and tenderness; to believe that honesty and truth really do bring their own reward, in the end: there’s peace in that cloud of faith—a peace unlike any we can find anywhere else.

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The Elements of Holy Baptism

st-john-baptist-greco

I have baptized you with water. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. (Mark 1:8)

Holy Baptism. A sacrament of the new and eternal covenant, the covenant between the one, true God and the human race. [Spanish.]

Holy Baptism involves three things: 1) an unbaptized human being, 2) water, 3) words.

The unbaptized human being: A son or daughter of Adam and Eve. Made in the image and likeness of God, but also weighed down by weakness and evil. Any unbaptized adult can present him- or herself for baptism. Or: Christian parents can present their infant or small child.

Baptism is the first sacrament of faith. The sacrament of a question and an answer: Do you believe in God? I do. Therefore, we have to wonder: Whose faith is it, exactly, that makes the sacrament of Holy Baptism possible? Is it the faith of the unbaptized person that makes the sacrament of baptism possible?

Well, that would be amazing. But it seems to put the cart before the horse, doesn’t it? Since Holy Baptism is the beginning of the life of faith, not the end. At the end of our earthly lives, when we go to meet God, we hope we will draw our last breaths with a living, all-consuming faith. We hope we will receive an A+ on Faith, at the moment of death.

bowling ballBut: Most of us need years, even decades, to grow towards A+-level faith. We need to go to Mass for many months of Sundays. A good bowler only gets good by bowling over and over and over again. Michael Jordan used to practice free-throws for three hours a day, even after he had three, four, or five championship rings. So: trying to require A+-level faith, at the moment of baptism? Or even B- faith? That would be like giving a grad-school exam to a kindergartner.

The question remains, then: Since the sacrament of baptism obviously requires faith, whose faith is it that makes it possible? The faith of… the Church. The family of God throughout the ages and all over the world. Holy Mother Church has A+ faith. The Church says an unequivocal, full-hearted Yes to the rejection of Satan and the embrace of the Creed. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church has the faith which makes the sacraments of faith possible.

Second element of Holy Baptism: Water. The sacraments came from the Holy Land. A man who walked the earth gave us the sacraments, by teaching His disciples how to celebrate them. That man had unique knowledge, and it will take us the eternity of heaven to understand His mind. So, for now, it is not for us to understand Christ’s teachings first, and then obey them second. No: we obey first. Then we can begin to understand.

So: We could come up with many reasons why an individual comes to share in the Redemption won on the Cross through a ritual washing. Like: It symbolizes our cleansing from sin. Or: it represents Jesus’ death and resurrection. But the simple fact is that Jesus Himself commanded that we baptize with water.

Third, the words necessary for a baptism. We must speak the holy Name. The minister baptizes by uttering the words that refer to the ineffable mystery of divine love. The omnipotent love that made the universe, Who constantly guides His creation to perfect fulfillment.

It’s the most obvious, basic thing in the world: Baptism means uniting a person with God. In the middle of this confused, struggling world that arcs only toward death, baptism unites us with the all-conquering divine life. God reigns supreme; He transcends everything we see and know. He alone can give our lives real meaning. The one God, living and true. Holy Baptism establishes us in a relationship with Him.

Trinity ShieldWhat’s His Name? He is the Father. Jesus taught us that. He is Jesus’ Father, and our Father. And He is the Son. The Father taught us that–taught us, and continues always to teach us. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King. Jesus is our peace. His Heart is our heaven. The Son, too, is God, with the Father. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father. We have true life when we live in that love. And that love, uniting the eternal Father with the eternal Son–is all-powerful and ultimate; that love permeates everything with shimmering holiness; that love, too, is God. The Holy Spirit.

Every time we dip our finger in holy water and bless yourselves, we remind ourselves of our moment in the font, our birthday unto heavenly life. And we remind ourselves of it every time we go to confession, too–since the sacrament of Penance is our way back to our original purity in baptism.

Water and the name of the Trinity. A very simple beginning for an unending mystery: the great adventure of God calling us to true happiness, with Him.

Our Sister Who Was Never Her Own Worst Enemy

El Greco Virgin Mary

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who chose us to be holy and blameless in His sight, destined for adoption as His children. (Ephesians 1:3-5)

This pilgrim life on earth can be okay, at times. A nice sunset; a quiet, peaceful evening with some loved ones; a hearty meal, etc.

But we don’t have a permanent home here. And the things we have to deal with: they can get tiring. What we really want is heaven. Peace and happiness—life without struggle, without unwelcome surprises, without any fear or anxiety at all.

God has what it takes to give this to us. We solemnly believe that He made us in the first place for this exact reason, to give us eternal life with Him in heaven. On the cross, He offered an infinite sacrifice; He offered the eternal love of the Son for the Father. This love can and does overcome all evil. The sacrifice of the Son, since it involves eternal and infinite power, can bestow the goodness of heaven on anyone, anywhere, anytime.

So we might wonder: Why doesn’t God just give us heaven immediately? We know that He lacks nothing in generosity. Why does He leave us to struggle through an extended pilgrim life here on this confused planet, with all its spiritual and physical dangers?

shaving mirrorAnd not only that. Struggles and dangers that come from outside myself are one thing. But, when I’m honest with myself, I have to acknowledge that the greatest spiritual danger I face is myself. In the end, the only one who can truly ruin me is me. Satan can tempt; enemies can attack; bad circumstances can deprive me of every material thing—can even deprive me of my bodily life. But only I myself have the power to turn my self into something evil. Only I can do that. And the danger of me doing it is very real.

Who will deliver us from this? Who will deliver us from the evil we can do to ourselves?

Well, we know Who: Jesus Christ. And: His Mother.

We already went over how the Lord Jesus bestows heaven by the power of His infinite love, offered for us on the cross. And He doesn’t do it immediately, not because He’s trying to torture us, but because we need more time.

Heaven isn’t something that fits everyone the same way. Heaven will involve the person that I have become during my time on earth—the person I have grown into being, by making my way through all the trials of patience and perseverance that face me.

And the Blessed Mother helps me in this way: She is both wonderfully like me and wonderfully unlike me. She is like me because she’s a human being who had to rely completely on God, on Christ, just like I do. She always had the same hope for heaven that I have: namely, Jesus.

But the Blessed Virgin is wonderfully unlike me in my craven, self-destructive selfishness. The Lord, in His mercy, spared her that. Mary was never her own worst enemy. She stands above me–above us all–as the beacon of pure-hearted love, of peacefulness in doing God’s will. Her purity always keep us believing that we can learn to love like that, too. That there’s hope for us fallen children of Adam and Eve.

Our Lady is one of us, and yet the Lord freed her at the moment of her conception from the enemy within. She still faced plenty of trials. She had the life of a poor woman, then she had to watch cruel men kill her innocent Son. But even then—even in her hours of greatest distress–her entire heart and soul rested in total dependence on the generous goodness of God.

The serenity of love that Our Lady has always had: it means there’s hope for me. There’s hope for us, as we make our pilgrim way.

The Shepherd

Bishop Barry Knestout portraitThe Lord is my shepherd. (Psalm 23)

Feels good to have a bishop. We find ourselves at a good moment to reflect a little bit on the great mystery of Holy Church. Apparently, Bishop Knestout wanted to follow me from the Archdiocese of Washington to the diocese of Richmond.

But seriously. Our church is a small place where we can try to know and love each other, an intimate little band of pilgrim souls. And our Church grandly extends all over the earth and back through 2,000 years of history.

The Church belongs to no one but Her Lord, Jesus Christ. He shepherds His Church on earth unfailingly. He does this through mystical, interior works—through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and all the holy inspirations we receive within. And He shepherds His Church by reaching us through the unchanging constants of our life together—the Sacred Liturgy, the Holy Scriptures, the sacraments, etc. And He shepherds us through the on-going pastoral government of the institution.

St. Nicholas died 1674 years ago today. He participated in the on-going pastoral government of the Holy Church. St. Nick served as a bishop and participated in the ecumenical council at Nicaea. Where would we be without those bishops, who gave us our Creed? Seventeen centuries have passed since then, and it took place on the other side of the world. Yet the Creed of Nicaea means everything to us, right here and now, in southwest Virginia.

st nick

So we don’t want to go it alone. We can’t manage it, if we’re isolated and on our own. We never want to find ourselves separated from the living Body, the unique organization that has all these attributes of Christ’s loving pastoral touch. The Church.

Christ the Good Shepherd of our souls: He is perfect. He does everything perfectly. We human shepherds—He chose us and put us in our places. But we do not do everything perfectly; we could hardly claim that we do. Pope Francis does not claim to be the perfect pope. Bishop Knestout makes no claims at being a perfect bishop or priest. (I’ve known him a long time—20 years. He has no delusions of perfection.) And God knows that the pastor in Rocky Mount/Martinsville is, well…hardly perfect.

But we imperfect men have been chosen to take our places in the great family–and to try and shepherd the flock as Christ would have us do. Pope Francis isn’t the perfect pope, but he is the pope—and thank God we have one. And now Bishop Knestout is our bishop, and thank God we have one.

Because we sheep want nothing more than to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd Jesus and to feel the loving touch of His crook. We can be sure that Christ does indeed shepherd us, when we stay united to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, founded on St. Peter and governed by His successors and by all the bishops in communion with him, spread across the globe.

Conscience and the Commandments

Rembrandt Moses Ten Commandments

The Parable of the Vigilant Servants, according to St. Mark. Here the Lord singles out the gatekeeper from among the servants. Does the watchful gatekeeper represent anyone in particular in the Church? Who among us must keep watch through the night, so to speak, for the benefit of the rest of the household? [Spanish.]

Maybe we could say: The monks and nuns? Or the Pope? Or the bishops? Or all us priests? Indeed, we all have our particular duties in the service of God, and we shepherds must concern ourselves not just with the dangers that could affect our own souls, but with all the souls in the whole flock.

That said, the fact is that every Christian must see him or herself as the gatekeeper in this parable. Because we all have to keep watch over ourselves. We have to pray insistently with the prophet Isaiah: Lord, when You come, may you find us doing good, and not evil!

Now, where do we live? I mean, at this point in our pilgrims’ progress? And I don’t mean Rocky Mount or Martinsville. I mean: “the world.” Right now we live under temporary circumstances, in a place that is not really “home.” A place where things change all the time, and it’s often difficult to get to the heart of the matter, and it’s easy to get confused. We live in a place where doing good doesn’t always come easily. And avoiding evil can involve enormous struggles. We walk as pilgrims in “the world”–a beautiful but dangerous land.

So we must keep watch over our actions and our omissions. We must examine ourselves interiorly, like the night watchman examines the dim horizon. And when we do that; when we live a reflective, careful, sober life–we find within ourselves a helper, a source of insight into the truth, a kind of “moral pacemaker,” so to speak: the voice of conscience.

Charlton Heston Ten Commandments MosesThe invisible and transcendent God, Who has a plan to get us all to heaven–He speaks to me, deep within my heart and mind, to guide me along my pilgrim way.

God never fails to guide us. But I can and do fail to heed His guidance. And every time I ignore the voice of my conscience–every time I sin–I effectively turn down the volume on the interior speaker, if I might put it that way. Every sin makes the voice of conscience weaker. The more I sin, the deafer I become.

Lord, that You might meet us doing good! Because doing good gives us real peace. Doing good makes us genuinely happy. Sin might offer short-term pleasure–none of us would ever sin if it didn’t. But sinning always becomes a dog in the long run; sin always turns from short-term pleasure to long-term slavery. So we pray insistently with the prophet: Lord, rend the heavens and come down! Shake us out of our moral mediocrity! Make us good, by guiding us in the truth!

The Lord replies: Children. I already did that. I already opened up the heavens to help you morally. Ever hear of Moses and Mount Sinai? Remember when I gave you the eight commandments? (Trick question.)

When God gave Moses the tablets spelling out the fundamentals of doing good and avoiding evil, He did our consciences the greatest favor ever. Our consciences cannot work right without the Ten Commandments guiding them. When we stay close to God, the Commandments sit at bottom of the hull of our souls, so to speak, like a keel that keeps the boat from capsizing.

If I find myself starting to think things like, “Maybe one of these ten commandments really isn’t necessary,” then I know that I have strayed. I have turned the volume on the interior speaker of conscience down to zero by settling into one sin or another. I have become a stranger to the truth.

But if the Ten Commandments sing to me like a ten-stringed guitar; if I can hold them like a musical instrument in my hands, to give glory to God by living in obedience to His plan, then I can be sure that the volume knob on my conscience is turned up to the right level, and I can stride forward in life with confidence.

So, the $10,000 question. Do we know all the Commandments by heart? What greater Christmas present could I give myself than making sure that I do? My spiritual project for Advent maybe ought to involve re-memorizing the ten guiding lights of my conscience.

1? No other gods. 2? Don’t take His name in vain. 3? Keep the sabbath. 4? Honor father and mother. 5? Don’t kill anyone, either their body or their good name. 6? No adultery. 7? No stealing. 8? No lying. 9? No lusting. 10? And don’t get materialistic; live for God alone.

We want interior harmony. Harmony between our little wills and God’s great, all-encompassing, purely loving will. He showed us on the cross that He wills only our good, our salvation, our eternal life.

The Ten Commandments don’t solve every dilemma. Sometimes we need more help–prayer, advice, etc. But most of the time we can keep ourselves ready for the advent of the Lord by simply keeping the Ten Commandments in mind. And taking care not to break them.

Fire, Brimstone, and Swallows

At Holy Mass today, we read the fearful prophecy of Daniel about the Second Coming of Christ and the final judgment of the world. Lord Jesus referred to this very prophecy immediately before the verses of St. Luke’s gospel which we read today. “The four winds of heaven stir up the great sea… The Ancient One takes His throne, with wheels of burning fire. A surging stream of fire.” (Daniel 7:2,9) “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” (Luke 21:26)

They will die of fright. Then Jesus immediately segued into a fig tree budding. The gentle signs of summer coming. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano.

A stunning transition. From fire and brimstone to figs. “Know that the Kingdom of God is near.” The kingdom of God is fire, brimstone, and figs. Figs that bloom like little bundles of eiderdown, softer than a small bag of cotton balls.

Sodom and Gomorrah burned for depraved self-indulgence, for moral dissipation, for utter estrangement from the truth. Then the Great Judge came to world Himself, the Lord of Sinai, the King of all righteousness—He came and vindicated Himself; He exercised His unquenchable zeal by…

…dying, with a wounded Heart, on the holy cross.

The Truth, that vanquishes all evil with irrevocable thunder—He comes in sweet mercy, like a gentle fig bud, to anyone who humbly strives to live in His love.

 

Beautiful Galilean Feet

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St. Andrew was crucified on November 30

How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14)

Has everyone we know heard of the Lord Jesus Christ? Probably they have all heard His Name, and they know that He has something to do with righteousness and religion. But have we Christians done our part to preach the full truth about Him? To invite others into friendship with Him in His Church?

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

We can have feet as beautiful as the Galilean feet of St. Andrew, if we let the grace, goodness, and love of Christ permeate us so much that we bring His good news everywhere we go. The more we come to know the Lord, the more deeply we love Him, and the more ardently we extend the invitation to others to share in His life.

Christ alone has offered to mankind the one thing that we human beings are meant to have: an eternal life of true love. We Catholics aren’t zealous proselytizers; we try to stay humble enough to respect everyone—their backgrounds, their own choices. But we can’t be shy about the love of God in Christ. We can’t hide the Light of the Nations under a bushel basket.

St. Andrew had the courage give his life for the sake of sharing the love of Christ. St. Andrew took his own cross into his arms with loving devotion, because He loved His crucified Lord so much. May we have the grace to love Christ, and love our neighbors, like that.

Commandments Make Wisdom Easier

Daniel
the prophet Daniel, in the Sistine Chapel

The annual cycle of readings and prayers at Holy Mass concludes this week; the new year begins Sunday. We wrap up the liturgical year by reading from the book of the prophet Daniel.

Daniel lived in exile. The pagan empires had over-run the Holy Land and dispersed the Jews to the four winds. But Daniel remained a faithful Israelite, a child of Abraham and a disciple of Moses—even in a foreign land. And Daniel distinguished himself, even among the Babylonians, as extraordinarily discerning and wise.

Now, what do we members of the People of God have, which the pagans do not have? Well, tons of things. For one: how about the gift that God gave to us on Mount Sinai? Maybe it wasn’t a pure co-incidence that King Nebuchadnezzar regarded Daniel as ten times as wise as the Chaldean sages.

We’ll talk about this more on Sunday. But for the moment let’s pause and give thanks for the enormous advantage in wisdom and discernment that we enjoy, because we have the Ten Commandments.

moses_ten_commandmentsYes, it’s true that God did not spell out anything on Mount Sinai that we could not have figured out on our own. Everything in the Commandments is actually in our consciences, also. But God giving us the Decalogue makes the whole business of acting in accord with our consciences so much easier. It’s like He built a bridge for us over a river—which we would have had to wade across otherwise.

In the pagan world, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty over whether “morality” is even important. But we know that it is—not because it’s an end in itself, but because it involves our relationship with God.

In the pagan world, people dispute over even the most basic principles of good and evil. Many people live with troubled consciences—and the interior agitation that goes with them—just because of moral ignorance. But God has made it so much easier for us; we just have to obey the Ten Commandments.

Granted, morally complicated situations can arise, when we need additional prayer, reflection, and advice, in order to discern good from evil. But most of the time we can stay on the right track—and we can distinguish ourselves as wise and insightful among the pagans, like Daniel—just by holding fast to the ten rules God gave to Moses.

Refreshment for the Depleted

standard of ur sheep goats
Sheep and goats on the ancient Sumerian “Standard of Ur”

Hungry, and you gave Me food. Thirsty, and you gave Me drink. A stranger, and you welcomed Me. Naked, and you clothed Me. Sick, imprisoned–and you visited Me. [Spanish.]

In other words: Jesus, in His distressing disguise, presented Himself as a depleted, exhausted, woebegone wastrel. And the righteous gave Him refreshment. They refreshed the suffering Chist–renewed His strength, restored His drooping spirits. They changed a moment of discouragement, even despair, into a new beginning, by a simple act of kindness.

Of whom might we think when we imagine these righteous ones who refreshed the weakened, enfeebled Christ? Our Lady, of course. She refreshed her Son with little motherly kindnesses more times than we can even imagine. And Mary Magdalen, who anointed the Lord’s weary, desert-chapped feet. And St. Veronica, who wiped the blood and sweat from His face as He made His way to Golgatha.

The righteous, the just, the saints: they offer refreshment to us human beings. God knows we need it. This world can start to seem dark and dangerous sometimes. But the saints make it into a hopeful place, a place with a future, a place where we would want our children to grow up. They might do something as simple as asking if you want a glass of cold water. Or something as complex as writing a book that helps us make sense of life. Or something as hidden as praying and fasting for us, without us even knowing about it. But all the saints have this in common: they offer some kind of real refreshment to this hungry, thirsty, tired, depleted world.

St Veronica in St PetersAnd offering refreshment is the distinguishing saintly characteristic because it is the distinctive divine characteristic. Yes, in the beginning God created everything out of nothing, and that is truly awesome. But: that act of creation is not God’s most awe-inspiring accomplishment.

Remember what St. Peter said to the citizens of Jerusalem during the first Easter season: “Turn to God, that your sins may be wiped away! Thus may a season of refreshment be granted you by the Lord.”

What kind of ‘season of refreshment?’ We hear it described at Sunday Mass, in the 23rd Psalm of David: “In verdant pastures, the Lord gives me repose. Before restful waters He leads me. He refreshes my soul.”

The most awe-inspiring thing the Lord does is this: The universe that He made constantly tries to slip back into the darkness and nothingness from which it came. But He always refreshes it, and gives everything new life.

The darkness of sin, of death, of dissolution, of exhaustion, of starvation, depletion, desperation, inertia, depression, addiction, confusion, frustration, disinformation, full-scale conflagration–none of that darkness can overcome the refreshment that the Lamb of God offers the world.

With what does Christ refresh us? With His Blood! His lifeblood, shed for us on the cross. It poured out on Mount Calvary and watered the earth. Then He rose from that very earth, with His lifeblood flowing again through His veins to refresh His own flesh. And He gives us that divine blood and flesh as the constant refreshment that conquers all the evil in us.

Praised be Christ, our King! In return for the refreshment He offers us, let us pledge to Him our loyal service.

Act of Consecration to Christ the King

Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before you. We are yours, and yours we wish to be; but to be more surely united with you, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to your Most Sacred Heart.

Many indeed have never known you; many, too, despising your precepts, have rejected you. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to your Sacred Heart.

Be King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken you, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned you; grant that they may quickly return to their Father’s house, lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.

Be King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and the unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one Shepherd.

Grant, O Lord, to your Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give tranquility of order to all nations; make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: Praise to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honor for ever. Amen.

The Good News of the Last Judgment

 

pantocrator

After a long time the master of the servants came back and settled accounts with them. (Matthew 25:19)

Once every three years, we spend three Sundays in November reading the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel at Holy Mass. Last week we heard the parable of the ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom. This Sunday, the Parable of the Talents. Next Sunday, we’ll read about the separation of the sheep from the goats. [CLICK FOR SPANISH.]

The human soul longs for justice. When particularly grievous evils occur, it oppresses us; it shakes our faith. I think we all know how, two weeks ago today, a man walked into a church in Texas and shot 26 innocent people, for no reason. We might think: How can God stand idly by? How can a good God let such evil occur, and do nothing?

Okay. But how about this question first: Is the Bible true?

About 150 years ago, the truth of the Bible became a hotly debated topic. Is the Bible true, or is evolution true? Is Jesus Christ the only savior, or do all religions lead to heaven? Do we need religion at all, or is it better just to try to be a good person?

thanksgiving-BeverlyHillbilliesDebates on questions like this gave rise to a particular idea of God. According to this idea, God exists, but He does not have anything directly to do with the world. He is “above” it all. “Above” all human arguments about religion; “above” all disagreements about right and wrong; “above” all the suffering in the world. It’s an idea of God that supposedly resolves all religious controversies and allows people to have Thanksgiving dinners without family bickering.

But: If we have this idea of an above-it-all God, when we think of all the evil and injustice on earth, we are left to wonder: How can God stand aloof and do nothing?

Now, we Catholics are not fundamentalists. We see clearly that the collection of ancient books called the Holy Bible contains reading material that we cannot understand without the help of careful reflection and good teachers. No one who has ever sat down and actually tried to read the book of Revelation thinks that biblical fundamentalism works.

That said, we Catholics do not and cannot accept the idea of God being “above it all.” Because that idea contradicts what Sacred Scripture clearly reveals. God is not “above” the fray. God does not stand idly by. To the contrary, we solemnly affirm these two things about God.

  1. God Himself has embraced the bitter depths of human suffering and death. Twenty-six innocent people died bloody deaths, in church, two weeks ago today. Almighty God also died a bloody death as an innocent person, in Jerusalem, in AD 33. A lot of people still mourn down in Texas. Like our Blessed Mother mourned—and she mourns with them.
  2. This same God Who died will, in the end, judge everyone with perfect justice. All crimes will receive their due punishment from the divine Judge.

Now, we do not usually think of the doctrine of hell as something that makes our Catholic religion appealing to un-churched people. But it seems to me that the full Catholic teaching about the Final Judgment is precisely what the un-churched world needs right now.

The human soul longs for justice. The idea that evil would go unpunished—we simply cannot tolerate that. Some people, thinking they make Christianity more attractive by doing so, try to present Jesus Christ as some kind of super-nice person. But He is not. He is a demanding person. He is the jealous God of Israel. He does not tolerate evil–at least not for long. The righteous holiness of Jesus can and should terrify everyone.

scales_of_justiceChrist is not an “idea” of God. He is a real Person. The Person Who will, as the man that He is, stand in judgment. His eyes penetrate to the level of absolute truth. No injustice, no matter how small or big; no act of physical or emotional violence; no exploitation or abuse escapes His gaze. He reckons it all.

What happened in Texas did not happen in a meaningless universe with a powerless and aloof God standing far away. It happened under the all-seeing eyes of Jesus Christ. Justice will be done. Bad people don’t die, and then it’s all over. No, bad people who don’t repent die, and then they go to hell.

Which hopefully reminds me that the bad person I really need to worry about is myself. And that makes me love Jesus not so much for the Final Judgment as for the cross. On the cross, the terrifyingly righteous Judge made it possible for me to find mercy at the final reckoning. He made it so that even someone like Devin Kelley could find mercy, or Osama bin Laden, or any of the famous evil people of history. On the cross, God Himself paid the price of justice for all human sin. He did it as a human being. He joined Himself to all the suffering of the innocent, in order to redeem even the guilty.

The revelation of the Final Judgment truly comes as good news, as consolation and peace—compared to the prospect of a meaningless world in which evil never gets adequately punished. And we can face the Final Judgment without fear, when Christ crucified is the love of our lives.