Late in the evening, April 10, 1983, in the little bathroom of our upper-northwest Washington, D.C., house:
My brother and I came to blows.
It didn’t amount to much. But it was the worst fist-fight we ever had. And the last one we ever had.
The New York Islanders had just eliminated the Capitals from the Division Semi-Finals. As my poor, long-suffering brother brushed his teeth, I stood beside him, mocking the choke-artist Caps ruthlessly, with every ounce of my twelve-year-old obnoxiousness.
He finally spit out his toothpaste and took a swing at me. I had it coming, big-time. He beat me, like a man possessed with a vision of justice. We wound up in the bathtub, and I begged him for mercy that I didn’t deserve.
Since that day, now over 35 years ago, my dear brother has longed–with some of the most fundamental fibers of his being–for the Caps to bring home the Cup.
Do it, guys. For him.
[POST-SCRIPT, Six hours later: They did it! Caps win!!!!!]
Rocky Mount, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina are the same distance from each other as Nazareth, Galilee, and the Judean hillside town where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. And, of course, our Lady had no Nissan Juke to use on a well-maintained four-lane highway.
Now, exactly nine weeks have passed since… Holy Thursday. So today we would keep a Solemnity in honor of the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. But here in the U.S., we will keep Corpus Christi on Sunday instead.
Corpus Christi and Visitation Day go perfectly together. Because:
The Lord visited Elizabeth and Zechariah–and baby John the Baptist in the womb; Christ came in the flesh to their home. But you couldn’t see Jesus at that moment, because He still dwelt in His mother’s womb.
Likewise, the Lord visits us in the Holy Mass. He comes in the flesh, to every Catholic church or chapel, whenever we carry out the ceremony which He instituted on Holy Thursday. He bridges a gap of much more than eighty miles; He brings heaven to the earth.
But He veils Himself from our eyes. Like He did in Mary’s womb. The Holy Mass, the altar, the tabernacle–like our Lady’s womb, during those nine months: a place where Christ dwells, but hidden.
This is the fasting that I wish: Setting free the oppressed. (Isaiah 58:6)
Almighty God liberated His chosen people from slavery in Egypt—the Passover. Our Christian religion rests squarely on that event. We can consider our religion from a million different angles. But from all of them, our Christian understanding of reality arises from God liberating slaves.
Last week I spent a few days of precious vacation in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. I wound up doing some extensive reading on the 1822 Denmark Vesey Rebellion, a secretly planned slave uprising, which got thwarted by the authorities at the last minute.
Historians do not agree on the potential extent, or likelihood of success, that the rebellion might have had, if it had proceeded as planned. But this much seems perfectly clear: In the spring of 1822, the city of Charleston and its surrounding environs had two completely unconnected universes of communication.
The white universe regarded the enslavement of Africans as a normal, unobjectionable part of everyday life. The black universe—at least that part of it involved in planning the rebellion—regarded the wholesale killing of whites in a sudden, decisive military enterprise as altogether justified, for the sake of taking political control of the city and establishing a legitimate social order, free of slavery.
What Charleston did not have was a bridge of communication between these two universes. No one cleared the air by declaring openly: “Slavery is wrong, and killing is wrong. Let’s peacefully re-organize everything on the basis of the dignity of the human individual.”
Maybe a common agreement on that principle could have provided a starting-point for ending the incredible, unendurable tension in the Charleston air that spring. It could have saved many lives and immeasurable misery. And no genuinely sane and reasonable person could disagree with such a principle.
But such was the fog of mind that clouded the town that no one enunciated the principle openly, and no one agreed with it, and no one co-operated with others based on it.
Now… Yes, this is Trump Country, southwest Virginia is. But, dear fellow Catholics of southwest Virginia, we have many, many Dreamers among us. Many DACA recipients, and many more DACA-eligible. Many Americans, who were born in Mexico, but who have lived here through all or most of their upbringing. They speak English better than they speak Spanish; they understand math and the internet better than you or me; this is their home, this land.
Does the government of the state of Virginia, or of the USA, have any right to treat these friends and neighbors of ours any differently than everyone else? To deprive these young people of the right to drive a car, to study, to work, to go to the doctor—to even live here?
We are talking about young people in our parishes, people whom we all know. Altar servers, religious-ed teachers, members of the choir, high-school classmates. The idea that any of these people have less of a right to live and thrive here; the idea that Providence or Fate wills for them to inhabit a lower tier of society, with fewer rights—that idea is patently and obviously not admissible to a Christian mind. It is a profoundly objectionable idea; we execrate it.
And yet it is the reality with which the Dreamers among us must live every day. Can’t plan for the future. Can’t join the army. Can’t safely take out student loans. Can’t obtain professional certifications to be a beautician or a nurse. Can’t know for sure if I’ll be able to live in the same country as my younger brother or sister, who was born here.
Ain’t right. We as a people will not get to a better future this way.
Dear Dreamers, We, the American electorate—We acknowledge that we bear ultimate responsibility for the fact that you find yourselves in this situation in mid-February, 2018. We are sorry. We want something better for you, and for us.
Nathaniel Russell, born in Rhode Island in 1738, had a great knack for organizing commercial shipping. He moved to South Carolina and married into a wealthy family. He built a grand house and entertained graciously. One of his daughters married the Episcopal Bishop. [SPANISH]
Russell’s Charleston home has become an evocative museum that takes you back two hundred years. Visiting the place gives you an intimate feel for how well-respected, prosperous city gentlemen lived. Russell was known as a scrupulously honest businessman, diligent in paying his taxes. He was altogether honorable.
Just one thing: He made a lot of his fortune by buying and selling other human beings as slaves. In 1772 he wrote to a fellow sea-merchant: “There have been a great many Negroes imported here this summer and many more expected. They continue at a very great price.”
Now: Should this properous, honorable South-Carolina gentleman have known better? Should his conscience have accused him for enriching himself by buying and selling people as if they were animals? Is it fair for us to apply our morals to a man who lived three centuries ago? After all, no civil law prohibitted his business. To the contrary, the laws of of South Carolina made it almost impossible to free a slave. The enslavement of Africans had become an established institution.
But a man who lived under Russell’s own roof knew better. The blacksmith, a slave named Tom. Tom Russell participated in the planning of a thwarted slave rebellion, led by the famous Denmark Vesey. Tom was hanged right alongside Vesey by the Charleston City Council in 1822. What motivated the would-be rebels? The idea that Holy Scripture teaches that slavery runs contrary to the laws of God.
You can’t erase God’s truth, no matter how hard you might try. Something blinded Nathaniel Russell to the obvious. He had built his comfortable house not just on sand, but on sin. The grave, detestable sin of human slavery ran like rainwater through the streets of his town.
But this Charleston gentleman was no rank, malicious villain. He only wanted what we want: material security, a comfortable life for himself and his family, beautiful things around him. His neighbors admired him greatly and sought his friendship. We can hardly imagine that, when he lay on his deathbed at age 82, in the year 1820, he suffered any pangs of conscience over his business dealings. The evil of slavery had become too familiar.
But at the very moment when the owner drew his last breath in his comfortable bed, down in the back yard, Tom the slave knew the truth–that he was no animal, and that his enslavement at this rich man’s hands was wrong. You can’t erase God’s truth.
Be merciful to us, O Lord! We sinners stumble through life with huge blinders on. For all we know, we oursleves may have graver evils to answer for than all the well-liked Nathaniel Russells of history. Like him, we could know better, if only we took the trouble to look into it–to study Your Holy Word, and make it the absolute rule of our lives.
Help us to purify our hearts and minds. We confess that we can never truly become good without Your help. We know we don’t deserve the grace of compunction and deeper conversion to the truth. But we beg for it anyway!
They built an amazing new cathedral in the diocese of Raleigh, NC.
It sits out in the suburbs, with land for more buildings someday.
When you walk in, you can hardly believe that God found a way to get something like this built in 2016-17. It seats 2,000.
With side aisles lined with saints.
They put St. John Neumann (resting in Philadelphia) in place before the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
And a memento mori St. Francis.
Try not to mind the goofball in his driving duds…
The statues seem a little lifeless to me. But the Stations…stunning.
Gold bas-relief images of the Evangelists’ symbols flank the tabernacle…
And a Michelangelo-esque dome illumines the crossing and transepts…
May the faithful of Raleigh glorify God here for the next thousand years.
In 2005, I visited Rome with a dear friend, priest of the Diocese of Raleigh. We had the privilege of meeting Cardinal Ratzinger just a few weeks before he became Pope Benedict.
At that time, I had Washington, D.C., for my home–and the Cardinal had certainly heard of Washington. But when he asked my friend about his home diocese, His Eminence had to admit that he had never heard of Raleigh, N.C.
Forty days after Christmas, we commemorate a unique and dramatic moment. When the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph brought the firstborn to Jerusalem, the eternal Son entered the Temple of the eternal Father.[SPANISH.]
Now, this coming of the Son into the bosom of the Father—this is an eternal thing—the eternal thing that explains everything else. Literally everything.
The only-begotten Word, coming forth from infinite Love, returns, with infinite Love, to His Origin. The triune communion of God, unending and glorious—from this life all things come, and towards this life all things tend.
On February 2nd, Mary carried the baby into the Temple, and this reality of the eternal triune love became visible on earth. Visible, that is, under a veil. At that moment, the human eye could only see a small, poor family carefully fulfilling the Law of Moses. But the eyes of faith, like Simeon had—they perceived at that moment divine Light, the Light of triune love. Simeon’s eyes perceived the fulfillment of all things in the love that brings the only-begotten Son back to the bosom of His heavenly Father.
When we believe, we see light overcoming the darkness of winter. It is absolutely not a co-incidence that Candlemas and Groundhog Day are the same. Centuries ago the Germans has a superstition that if clouds covered the sky on Candlemas morning, then winter would end early. The custom involving Punxsutawny Phil comes from this superstition getting imported to Pennsylvania.
Some people believe completely in the groundhog, even though statistics demonstrate that he only gets it right 40% of the time. We, on the other hand, believe 100% in the baby Who made this day special in the first place.
We believe in His light. He grew up and died, at the end of winter. But then He rose again, and brought a springtime that will never end.
The handouts below overlap, because we got sidetracked with discussion and never completed page 2. So page 2 always became page 1 for the following week. And we only made it as far as verse 16 (the most world-famous verse of the Bible.)
All that said, you might enjoy clicking through the links and reading St. Thomas’ reflections…
During the past few autumn weeks, the gentle mountainsides of southwest Virginia have shown so splendidly with living color that a person might find oneself tempted to worship them. Then I had a chance to scale Pilot Mountain down in northern NC. And its majestic strangeness also invited a kind of pagan adoration.
Wisdom 13 seems to sympathize with paganism, with the worship of beautiful places and things. Because God has indeed made so much bewitching beauty. Some modern philosophers, theologians, and poets have had a similar sympathy for the openness of the pagan heart–because the pagan at least knows how to abandon himself to the life-giving power of communion with the earth.
Modern man has achieved a great capacity to analyze and control Mother Nature. So much so that we have a tendency to forget that God created it. We forget that creation has a mysterious depth which we will never completely understand, which we must simply revere. We analyze and control things so much that we have a tendency to forget that religion is actually our most natural, and most important, pursuit. Religion—that is, submission to a higher intelligence, a higher power, a greater glory than ourselves—religion is what makes us most fully human, most fully ourselves. Religion organizes our minds and our lives; religion unifies our being; religion keeps us open to reality.
Which is worse? To worship the Blue Ridge, or to think of the Blue Ridge as a little sideshow in my purely secular life? Which disrespects God more? Wisdom 13 seems to suggest that God has more sympathy for a soul that mistakes something beautiful for the Source of all beauty, rather than the soul who concludes foolishly and blindly that beauty is really just a fluke, nothing more than a photo-op.
Pagans can graduate easily enough to true religion, upon seeing the most-beautiful thing ever: Christ crucified for love. But how can anyone find a way out of the bottomless pit of modern secularism? The technocratic mind assumes that beauty is merely something we see–atoms in a shape that we arbitrarily find pleasing. It doesn’t really mean anything, and we owe it nothing.
But the truth is: beauty exists, utterly independent of our perception of it–and it takes a lifetime of religious discipline on our part for us to see it as it truly is. Beauty is a language being spoken by the Friend to Whom we most desperately need to listen. We have a solemn duty to revere the beautiful. And to worship the One Who made it, and Who communicates with us by its very beauty.
Christ did not drive out demons by the power of the prince of demons. He drove them out by “the finger of God,” the Holy Spirit.
We believe that Jesus of Nazareth possesses an utterly unique spirit within. He pours His spirit out on His beloved. Christ’s spirit is absolutely holy. It is, in fact, God.
Yesterday, by God’s grace, we blessed our new baptismal font at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Rocky Mount, Va. As part of the ceremony, we declared:
Over this font the lamp of faith spreads the holy light that banishes darkness from the mind… A stream of living water, coming from Christ’s pierced side, now flows.
We implored the Creator:
Lord, we ask you to send the life-giving presence of your Spirit upon this font, placed here as a source of new life for your people.
The power of your Spirit made the Virgin Mary the mother of your Son; send forth the power of the same Spirit so that your Church may present you with countless new sons and daughters and bring forth new citizens of heaven.
The baptismal font stands as the womb of Mother Church. It represents the faith that She holds. Mother Church holds the faith perfectly. All of us, Her sons and daughters, hold the faith imperfectly. We strive, with the helps that our Mother offers us, to hold it better.
We will discuss this more on Sunday. But nothing could illustrate it better than the blessing ceremony for this new font. Our faith in the fundamental institutions of the Church; our trust that God Himself has given these things to us, so that we might have communion with Him: that faith and trust is the deepest bedrock of our identity.
We have not been born naked and alone in this world. We have been born, through Holy Baptism, into the communion of the Church. Endowed with the inheritance She freely presents to us, each of us can come into our own as individuals, and give God glory by being the sons and daughters He made each of us to be.