Two Saints of Chastity

maria goretti tomb holy card
St. Maria Goretti, protect me everywhere!

A double saint-of-chastity day today. [Spanish]

One hundred sixteen years ago today, Maria Goretti died a martyr of chastity, before her twelfth birthday. She refused to give in to the sexual advances of a teenage boy. He threatened her life; she stood firm. He stabbed her to death. Maria Goretti made herself the young patroness of the #metoo movement over a century before Twitter got invented.

In our gospel reading at Mass, we hear the Lord call St. Matthew. Thanks to Matthew, we have “the Gospel of the Church,” a thorough compendium of Jesus Christ’s sayings and doings, written for readers already somewhat familiar with the Old Testament.

According to ancient Christian writings, St. Matthew wrote his gospel in the Holy Land, then set off to evangelize. He converted a pagan king, whose daughter Ephigenia made a vow of virginity to Christ.

A suitor then tried to persuade the princess to marry him. St. Matthew explained at Mass that Ephigenia had already committed herself. So the suitor killed St. Matthew in front of the altar.

There’s a little more… In AD 954, Christians brought St. Matthew’s remains to Salermo, in southern Italy, where they remain to this day. Your humble servant will visit the tomb next week. I will pray for you there!

caravaggio-call-st-matthew

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Mercy at the Beginning and the End

That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. (Matthew 9:6)

confessionalThe mercy of God. We repent of our sins, beg His mercy, and receive forgiveness in the confessional.

Does ‘mercy’ mean, then: Forgiving the one who repents, and starting fresh, rather than holding the offense against the offender? Yes.

But there is more. Mercy comes at the end of reconciliation. But it also comes at the beginning.

God became the Lamb and spread out His arms on the cross first. Christ crucified revealed to the sinful human race the unfathomable depths of the eternal and infinite mercy of God.

Examining our consciences to prepare for a good confession takes mucho courage. None of us could ever find that kind of courage, except that we know ahead of time that God forgives. He loves us with the love of an infinitely patient father, who has taken out a huge insurance policy on the family car and smiles when we smash it up on our learner’s permit. We admit the truth because we know we have nothing to fear. ‘Okay, yes, dad. I was driving blindfolded. So-and-so dared me to do it.’

So: On the one hand, we reject the idea of “cheap grace.” You can’t presume on God’s love and never bother to search yourself, acknowledge your sins, and work hard to do better.

But, by the same token: we do not start with slavish fear of judgment. That only leads to compulsiveness and pharisaism anyway. We start with Christ crucified for the whole human race. We start knowing that God loves with mercy, that He made us out of love and mercy in the first place, and that our very desire to live in His friendship is itself a free gift of His mercy.

45-Year Dream Come True

Junipero Serra Mass Monterey harbor

I am sending you as a prophet to a rebellious house.” (cf. Ezekiel 2:3) [Spanish]

This week we keep a double national anniversary. We are American Catholics, with a homeland stretching from sea to shining sea. So we rejoice in the 242nd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which took place here on the English-speaking East Coast. And we rejoice in the 249th anniversary of the landing of St. Junipero Serra in San Diego Bay, on what was then the Spanish-speaking West Coast.

As we read in the gospel this Sunday, Lord Jesus went home to Nazareth to speak the truth to His own people. Our own people are the people of America. And we Americans find ourselves at a dazzling turning point in our history right here and now.

Forty-five years ago, the US Supreme Court did something the Constitution never empowered it to do, namely: the Court laid down a national law permitting abortion. It made no sense 45 years ago; it makes no sense now.

For two generations, Roe v. Wade has hung over the life of our nation like a tropical storm front, full of lies. And all our cities and towns have missing people because of it. Sixty million missing friends and neighbors. All sacrificed to a cruel, false god of shame and fear, by heartless pagan priests in ramshackle “clinics.”

flag-mapNow, suddenly, in the summer of 2018, we find ourselves at a point in our history when we can reasonably hope that this will change. With a new justice, the Supreme Court likely will abandon its claim to govern the country when it comes to abortion. Sometime in the next year or two. Lawmaking authority in this area would then return to the normal democratic process. This is something that we have hoped and prayed for, for decades.

We Catholics are pro-life. As Pope St. John Paul II explained to us, we Catholics simply cannot accept the idea of elective abortion. Accepting it would mean betraying the most central realities of our Christian faith.

That said, we also love, and sympathize with, all mothers who find themselves in situations which might tempt them to seek abortions. The culture of death, the throwaway culture—it poisons many minds, with its hopeless, dark fear of the future. We Catholic Americans fight the culture of death in our country not with anger and judgment, but with love.

Roe v. Wade accorded a “right” to abortion that does not exist. The irony is: this actually short-changed pregnant women of the rights they do, in fact, possess.

Every pregnant woman has the right to love and support, without being judged. Every pregnant woman has the right to the best healthcare available for her and her baby. Every pregnant woman deserves our friendship, our advocacy, our help.

Before too long, we will, in all likelihood, vote in elections in which laws about abortion in the State of Virginia will be a real campaign issues. So let’s begin to reflect clearly on where we stand.

No one has the right to kill an innocent unborn child. Healthcare does not include abortion. The idea that abortion counts as healthcare is a bald-faced lie. No honest doctor, nurse, or sonogram operator could maintain that lie for five minutes.

unbornOn the other hand, pregnant women can and do experience complications, including grave ones that can threaten the lives of both baby and mother. A good and reasonable doctor, treating a pregnant mother for a life-threatening complication, could apply a therapy or procedure that the baby cannot survive. That would not be an abortion, but rather a tragedy.

Now, we know that plenty of people fear what will happen when an abortion case reaches the Supreme Court with a pro-life majority and the whole legal situation changes.

Let’s sympathize with that fear. Let’s acknowledge that something has to fill the vacuum that Roe v. Wade will no longer fill. Something has to occupy the psychological space that the abortion industry has occupied in these last, lawless 45 years.

Let’s pledge ourselves: We American Catholics will fill that space with our Christian love. When the tropical storm that is Roe v. Wade finally blows out to sea, away from these shores, and the sun comes back out again: We will stand there with acceptance, support, and tender loving care for every pregnant woman.

There’s another irony here–one that I myself take great delight in considering. It’s a fact that the abortion industry kills a disproportionate number of non-white babies. Abortion has suppressed the population growth of non-white America for decades.

Our current President will appoint a justice who likely will tip the balance, and the Roe-v.-Wade abortion regime will end. Then the non-white proportion of the US population will begin to increase at an even greater rate.

So, thank you in advance, President Trump, for giving us more brown, red, and yellow native-born-American fellow citizens to welcome into our beloved nation!

Jairus and the Life-Giver

ily-repin-raising-of-jairus-daughter

Things have come around in a circle. We talked about Jairus the synagogue official and his twelve-year-old daughter three summers ago–in the lovely little parish churches of St. Francis and St. Joseph. Shortly after that, I had to go to Roanoke. Now, praise God, I’m back as the shepherd of Franklin and Henry counties. And we’re talking about Jairus and his daughter again. [Spanish]

That was a World-Cup-Soccer summer, too—the summer of 2015. The women’s. And we won it, the USA.

Now, we don’t know if Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter played soccer. We do know, from the end of the story, that she had a twelve-year-old-soccer-player’s appetite. We also know that the girl’s father loved her. He refused to accept the apparent death sentence her illness had imposed on her. He wanted to continue to help her grow up.

As his daughter lingered on her sickbed, Jairus found himself surrounded by well-meaning Debbie Downers from all over the neighborhood. O, alas, alas! She’s dying! Woeful tidings! Lamentations! What a hopeless, cruel world we live in!

Maybe Jairus simply got annoyed with the weepers and the wailers. He got up and left the house. He strode off to look for the famous Nazarene rabbi, who had just returned to Capernaum from a visit to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Pope Paul VI 1975Jairus found Christ and begged Him to come to his home. “Lay hands on my daughter, and she will get well and live.”

Now, why did Jairus say this to Jesus? Did Jairus know what we know? Namely, that this wandering rabbi had the omnipotent power to form the heavens and the earth out of nothing? To knit together little girls and boys in their mothers’ wombs? So he could certainly save the girl from death?

Somehow, at least some part of Jairus did know. He believed in the Nazorean. Jairus appealed to this poor, dusty former-carpenter—appealed to him as if he were appealing to God. I think we can imagine the look that Jairus gave Jesus. Jairus had left the den of weeping and wailing that his home had become. He had stepped out into the light of day, because he refused to give in to despair. He wanted to keep fathering his daughter. He looked at Jesus with eyes that said: I have hope, because You have the power of life. Help me. Help us. Help our family.

Then the bad news came from the house: The little bundle of energy has lost the light from her eyes. She’s dead.

Now Jairus’ hope was about to falter. Maybe this is a meaningless world after all? But Christ returned Jairus’ gaze.

‘You had faith before. Hold on to it. You are dealing here with no mere traveling Torah expert. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Morning Star and the eternal Word. I am the Giver of Life. I love your daughter even more than you do.’

Jairus believed. He did not say, ‘Oh, no, teacher. It’s over. Let’s both go home. And I’ll start making funeral arrangements.’ No. Jairus believed that the girl who could eat her way through four or five pitas at one sitting, and who had a question about everything, and who loved to run around chasing the chickens—he believed what the Teacher said about her: She will live.

At that moment, dear brothers and sisters, we can find in Jairus something close to the epicenter of our own Christian faith. Because we believe in the Gospel of Life. We believe that God wills not that we should die, but that we should live. We believe that life and love have a meaning, an eternal meaning in God.

Pope Francis baby kissWe look at the earth and the sky; we see the people we care about around us; we honor the memory of those who gave us our inheritance. And we know: A power that gives life made everything. He wills a triumph of life. He loves with a life-giving generosity that never runs out. Death and darkness try to snuff out the power of life. But springtime comes.

People outside the Church think that our Catholic code of sexual morality and family life doesn’t make sense. They think the Catholic sexual rules cramp your style, limit your freedom, make you less of a person.

A huge irony, since denying the religious aspect of sex actually means failing to honor your own origins. We all come from that moment when a man and woman embraced in the way of marriage. That’s where we are all “from.” And it’s a holy place to be from. It’s where Jairus’ daughter came from, where all God’s sons and daughters are from.

This year we mark the fiftieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s solemn declaration that artificial contraception, condoms, birth-control pills, etc., have no place in the life of a Christian. Because the life of a Christian means believing in, and co-operating with, the Lord and Giver of Life, Who governs sex and marriage the way He does for His own very good reasons.

The entire sexual morality of the Catholic Church proceeds from this idea. There is nothing arbitrary or constricting about Christian chastity, inside or outside of marriage. Masturbation, pornography, sex outside marriage, homosexual acts, abortion, artificial fertilization, etc.—all of this is wrong for one precise reason: Because every human being always needs to be right where Jairus was spiritually when He looked at God and begged His help. And God looked back at him. And helped.

Jairus knew, at that moment: This is holy business, this business of marrying and having children and raising them. And God comes into the middle of it, to make it good. To give life. To fill the world with girls and boys who play soccer, and eat a lot, and spill stuff. And who fill our world with joy.

Messy Survival

At Holy Mass today, we hear the end of the Sermon on the Mount.

On the Mount, Lord Jesus taught us how to have a relationship with God. Christ spoke with the authority of… God.

A Christian simply obeys. Repent, beg mercy, live in Christ’s love. Not complicated. Obey Christ, live in His Church. She possesses His words, His sacraments, His heavenly graces. She is by no means perfect in every respect. But true friendship with the Creator is possible because: the Church survives through thick and thin, all over the world.

Speaking of the world: World Cup. I would root for the US, but we’re not in it. So I root like mad for our friend and neighbor, the homeland of so many of our fellow parishioners, a nation with whom we share an enormous amount of history and culture, not to mention our Catholic faith.

Sweden slaughtered Mexico yesterday, 3-0. But Mexico survived to the next round anyway. Because South Korea beat Germany and knocked them out of the tournament. South Korea is out, too. South Korea and Germany went down in flames together. But because South Korea won, Mexico survived to play another day. When you survive, there’s hope. So Mexicans around the world are looking for Koreans to befriend.

St. Irenaeus
St. Irenaeus

Anyway: St. John the Apostle gave the mysteries of Jesus Christ to his pupil St. Polycarp. St. Polycarp gave them to his pupil, St. Irenaeus. St. Irenaeus is one of the first bishops who actually grew up Catholic, having been presented for baptism as an infant by Christian parents. St. Irenaeus shepherded his flock, in what is now France, before anyone ever thought of a book called a “Bible,” before anyone ever uttered the phrase “New Testament.”

Don’t get me wrong. The little books of the New Testament had long since been written. You could make a list of them, in fact, based on the writings that St. Irenaeus cited in his preaching and teaching. St. Irenaeus gave us the idea of a “New Testament,” a “Christian Bible”–by quoting from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Acts of the Apostles, and the letters of Sts. Paul, Peter, and John.

Irenaeus cited these writings because they expressed and deepened the teaching and the ceremonies that he had learned from St. Polycarp, which came from St. John, and from Jesus Himself. The Church’s simple Sacred Tradition.

Simple and beautiful. Except that, for St. Irenaeus, it wasn’t so simple or beautiful. It was messy, like Mexico surviving to the Round of 16. At the time in history when St. Irenaeus had souls in his care, plenty of other books circulated, in addition to the New Testament books, purporting to offer Christian, or “spiritual,” teaching. Plenty of other authorities sought to win the adherence of the people, outside the fold of the Church. Kinda like now.

So Irenaeus had to sort it all out. He had to find a way to keep the true, simple faith of the Church alive in his part of the world. By investigating, arguing, and studying the true words of Christ constantly.

Irenaeus did it. It was a messy fight, but he did it. He kept the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church alive in Lyons. For that we rightly regard him as a towering hero.

He dealt with hard, complicated things, so that we could inherit the simple, beautiful thing to which the New Testament testifies: the mystery of Jesus Christ alive in His Church.

He died a martyr 1,816 years ago today. Pray for us, St. Irenaeus! Especially for this joker who was born on your feastday. (And for his mother, who deserves the credit.)

“Judge Not, Lest You Be Judged”

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_Angelico
Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico

One of Lord Jesus’ most-famous sayings. But to understand its meaning, we clearly need a little context.

Because if we human beings stopped judging altogether, we would smash up the car and make enemies real quick. Plus none of us would ever learn anything.

Whenever you pull into a parking place, you have to judge the stopping distance and apply the brake proportionately. Whenever you encounter another human being, you have to judge what tone and manner of conversation fit the situation, to try to avoid giving offense, and to foster communication. And some of us have the responsibility of training others in doing good and avoiding evil—parents, teachers, supervisors, etc. So we have to judge the actions of others, and apply discipline sometimes–when our charges break the rules.

Constant judgments, therefore, in this life of ours.

What does our Creator and Lord mean, then, when He commands that we not judge? The answer is actually quite easy, quite precise, and readily available in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude to our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love. On the Last Day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (para. 678)

Our attitude toward our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love.

To understand ‘judge not, lest you be judged,’ we have to start with: Almighty God brought me into being, and has offered me eternal life in Christ, without my deserving it. God has loved me without me deserving it.

Therefore: let me love my neighbor without stopping to wonder about whether or not he or she deserves it. Let me love my neighbor with divine love. This is someone with whom I want to share heaven. And we both need mercy to get there.

Bright Birthday

Chapel of St John Baptist in Ars
St. John Vianney built this chapel in honor of St. John the Baptist

St. Elizabeth gave birth during the brightest week of the year, when the long days almost swallow up the night, and the sun is as close as it gets (to the northern hemisphere.) [Spanish]

The prophet Isaiah declared: I will make you a light to the nations. The Lord Jesus Himself said of his cousin John: He was a lamp, set aflame and burning bright.

The Church makes a big deal of this summer birthday of the Baptist because… (three reasons, all of which have to do with light)

One. Christ had cleansed his cousin John of original sin before birth. When the Blessed Virgin, newly pregnant, came to visit her cousin in the Judean hill country, St. John the Baptist leapt in St. Elizabeth’s womb. The coming of the unborn Christ consecrated the unborn St. John. So the Baptist started life already holy, already brightened by God’s grace.

Two. St. John the Baptist had a totally unique relationship with Christ. The cousin became famous for his preaching of the coming Kingdom of God while Jesus still lived quietly in Nazareth. John baptized repentant sinners, like Christ’s Church would later do. Then John baptized his cousin, so that Christ could give to water His holiness, the sacramental power to cleanse the soul.

In other words, St. John prepared the way for Jesus, like a torch bearer. Before Jesus did any public preaching and teaching, St. John declared the truth about Him. Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior and King, in the new and heavenly covenant between God and man.

baptist-greco2Three. Like no one else, St. John can teach us about what Christ’s Church is. A couple of points on this.

First: the Church is the family of all people baptized into the mystery of Jesus Christ. Baptism involves purification, consecration, and enlightenment. Through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, Almighty God redeems us from the futile servitude of the fallen human race. He rescues us from a pointless life that only slouches toward death. He gives us a new birthright and makes us His own sons and daughters. He welcomes us into the everlasting, divine household.

For us to know this—to know the love of the Father who rescues His beloved children and gives us a life of hope and love: that is enlightenment. That is interior, spiritual sunlight. Holy Baptism delivers the faith of Holy Mother Church to us, the faith that St. John declared to the world: Christ conquers evil and gives eternal life. Holding that faith fills us with interior light. And that interior light of the Christian soul brightens the world even more than the sun.

Second way that St. John the Baptist teaches us who we are as Christ’s Church: The Church must live on earth in a kind of desert.

St. John left the populated areas of Israel and lived in the wasteland near where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea. St. John had only one foot in this world. The other had already stepped into the as-yet-invisible world to come.

That’s why people flocked to him. They came seeking something more than what this fallen world offers. This austere man drew them, because he had no traffic with the half-truths, the mixed motives, and the mediocre compromises with vice that fill the lives of most human beings.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Church isn’t just one big monastery. We Christians live in cities and in towns. The Church lives in communities of imperfect sinners. Because that’s what we are.

But, like St. John, the Church must keep only one foot here in the world of cookouts and soccer games and gas stations. The other foot is in the process of stepping into heaven. St. John the Baptist reminds us of that. Here on earth, we have no lasting city.

Anyone know the patron saint of parish priests? St. John Vianney. St. John Vianney loved the Blessed Mother, of course. But among all the rest of the saints, he loved St. John the Baptist the most. He took the name John Baptist at Confirmation. Then, when he became a parish priest, he built a chapel in his church and dedicated it to St. John the Baptist.

So: Happy Birthday. To the cousin, the holy man, the forerunner, the Baptist of the Son of God.

Dying out of Loyalty to a Not-So-Great Pope

Yeames_the_meeting_of_sir_thomas_more_with_his_daughter_after_his_sentence_of_death
“The Meeting of Sir Thomas More with His Daughter, after his Sentence of Death,” by William Yeames

St. Thomas More died willingly and peacefully as a martyr in 1535.

Everyone present at his execution, and everyone who knew him, would readily have granted that England had no more intelligent, knowledgeable, and cosmopolitan a statesman than Thomas More.

And everyone knew that he died for one reason: Because he would not betray his Roman-Catholic loyalty to the pope.

Beautiful. Especially when we think of the pope as personally representing everything virtuous and true.

But which popes occupied the Chair of Peter during Thomas More’s lifetime?

When Leo X was elected pope in 1513, he was not even a priest. He famously said, “Now that God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it!” Leo X enjoyed the papacy while St. Thomas More was in his late thirties and early forties.

Pope Paul III Titian
Pope Paul III, painted by Titian

St. Thomas suffered martyrdom at age 57, when Pope Paul III reigned in Rome.

Certainly Paul III was a holier man that Leo X. But Pope Paul did have a number of children by mistresses he kept while he was a young priest. And he did create his 14- and 16-year-old grandsons Cardinals.

So, we have to rethink this a little. St. Thomas More died willingly and peacefully as a martyr, rather than betray his loyalty to the pope. And the pope in question was not an altogether awesome superman of a white-robed pope. Rather, the pope at the time was what we would have to consider a mediocre Christian at best. A mediocre Christian like me, or you.

Does that make St. Thomas some kind of patsy? Should he have betrayed his loyalty instead of dying as a martyr out of loyalty for a mediocre pope?

Don’t think so. Christ never promised a succession of saintly super-popes. He promised that the unity and integrity of the Church would endure because the papacy would endure.

In other words, the pope is the pope. The famous martyr for loyalty to the papacy, St. Thomas More, did not distract himself by judging the pope. Thomas simply kept faith with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, governed by the one and only pope there is, at any given time.

Consolation in the Spider Web

The gospel passage from Ash Wednesday makes an annual return appearance, at a weekday Mass, once every hot summer.

Live to please your heavenly Father. Pray to please your heavenly Father. Do kindnesses, and make sacrifices, to please your heavenly Father.

He will reward us. He knows the truth. He knows our motives, our intentions, and our struggles. He gives us a marvelous gift: Enough self-knowledge to see clearly that, without His sacrifice for us on the cross, we would have no hope.

This summer suddenly seems hotter and harder than others. Inspector-General reports, disputed interpretations of law at the southern border, special-counsel probes laboring on, and all the World Cup games are too early in the day for anyone in this hemisphere to watch them. Sometimes the world seems like a huge spider web of unsympathetic misunderstandings.*

God knows the truth. Let’s live to please Him.

When He comes to judge, and the struggle of this life is over, He will reward the humble sinner who begs for mercy.

_______________

mccarrickNota Bene. I learned this morning that the Holy See has suspended from the priestly ministry the Cardinal who ordained me. Because of an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor in the 1960’s. Cardinal McCarrick is 87 years old now.

The allegation against the Cardinal apparently received the same kind of preliminary investigation as any accusation against a parish priest or religious-ed teacher. (May God be praised for that fact.) The allegation was found to be “credible.” That means immediate suspension of priestly ministry, pending future investigation. Cardinal McCarrick denies the allegation. Perhaps the Congregation for Bishops (part of the Pope’s governing operation) will judge the case.

Back in the spring of 2002, I was a transitional deacon. Public outrage over cover-ups of sexual abuse had reached a fever pitch. On a Washington street, I had to elude a small group of angry teenagers who, seeing my Roman collar, threatened me. “Priests molest children!” And I wasn’t alone, among the priests and seminarians I knew, in facing such spontaneous displays of public anger.

At that time, Cardinal McCarrick served as the sitting Archbishop of Washington. I just went back and read the archive of his columns in the Catholic newspaper during that spring. All the columns were about the sexual abuse crisis. At one point during that frantic spring, the Cardinal made a solemn public declaration that he had never had sexual interactions with anyone. Ever.

Today I pray for my father in God, before whom I knelt to receive the gift of the sacred priesthood.

When Pope John Paul II created him a Cardinal in 2001 (at the same Consistory that gave us Cardinal Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis) the Archbishop took us seminarians with him. I got to serve Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Cardinal ate pizza and drank Killian’s Red with us in the seminary basement once every school year. He laughed at my jokes.

May God have mercy on us all.

 

Growing in God

farm

The Parable of the Seed’s Growth. The farmer sleeps and rises, night and day, and his plants grow. He knows not how. [Spanish]

Even if this particular farmer had a doctorate in cellular biology, or botany, or meteorology—he still could not claim really to know how his plants manage to grow. To produce blade, then ear, then the full grain in the ear. The sun has power, and the rain, and Mother Earth, and the genius of the little seed: all have power which the farmer does not fully understand.

If he’s a contemplative sort of person, the farmer sleeps and rises, night and day. He watches this power unfold itself before his eyes. He gives God the glory.

Which brings us to the fact that the Lord Jesus presented this image as a parable of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps we could synthesize the parable’s meaning with one sentence. Life means growing in divine love.

Now, do we care what life means? Or do we just want pleasure, or wealth, or power, whenever and wherever we can find it? Without bothering to try to understand why we exist?

Well, I think we care. We want to understand why we exist. And try to do it right. We know that no matter what doctorates or other forms of education or expertise we might have, we need God to teach us the meaning of life. No one else can.

Bill ClintonDivine love. God loves. The infinite and all-powerful God loves infinitely and all-powerfully. We exist because He loves.

He was fine. He was happy. He longed for absolutely nothing, because He had everything. But: Because He loves so generously, He made the heavens and the earth, the angels, and us.

He loves us. The meaning of life involves loving Him back. The human race failed to love our Creator, and made a huge mess of sin, but He didn’t give up on us. To the contrary, He came to the earth, and spread out His arms on the cross, to show us an open Heart, and to open our hearts by the power of His love. That’s Jesus Christ. That’s the Holy Spirit and the work of the Church, the life of the sacraments.

Therefore, life means: living in Christ’s Church, loving God back for the love with which He has loved us. And it grows. By the grace of the sacraments, divine love grows in a Christian heart. We know not how.

Time passes. Some of us could say that the Bill-Clinton presidency seems like just yesterday. Or even the Reagan presidency, or the Carter presidency.

The world turns. We meet people. We try to treat them right. We try to live in the truth. We pray. We try to obey God. We try to do well the work God has given us to do. Meanwhile, through all this, decades pass, and we grow in divine love.

Setbacks come, to be sure. We amaze ourselves with our own moral weaknesses. But we don’t give up. Life means loving the God Who loves me, Who loves us. Let me learn. Let me understand better. Let me master myself. Let me forget myself. Let me grow.

earthsunAnd it happens, we know not how. Now, not knowing how—that goes against the grain for us little human geniuses, who pride ourselves on our knowhow.

But: God is God. What do we really know about Him? Loving God is like loving a country which we have never even visited. The pictures we have seen—they’re accurate, yes. Jesus Christ and His saints, they are the pictures of eternal heaven. And they are absolutely accurate pictures. We can’t doubt the glory and beauty of the God we love. But we have never been to that country, not yet. We don’t know. We do not know God.

The contemplative farmer stares at the sky, and the rain clouds forming in the west, and his fields with the little cornstalks in their rows—doing their thing, getting bigger in tiny, daily increments. He gazes at all this, and he thinks to himself:

‘This is something. This is life living. I’m the farmer, and I cultivated this ground and sowed these rows of seed—so I have to credit myself with making some contribution here. But I can only consider myself a docile, uninformed custodian. It requires an intelligence a million times bigger than my own, and a power a million times bigger than mine, to make one single ear of corn. To God Almighty be the glory!’

I think that may be what the Lord intends to teach us with this parable. We grow in God’s love, night and day, sleeping and waking, precisely by: humbling ourselves before Him. Like that farmer humbling himself before the power of earth and sky and Mother Nature.

Growing in divine love involves not knowing everything and controlling everything. Like I said, that goes against the grain for us sons and daughters of this technocratic age of unbridled human cleverness. But: trying to know and control everything stifles our growth in divine love. Growth in divine love requires one thing: Faith.

When we believe in Christ, the love that dwells in His Heart can and does dwell in our hearts, too, by the power of the Church’s sacraments. Then, we just patiently do our duty. And our hearts grow in God.