Say Some Prayers, Please

Crystal City immigration court
Immigration Court building, Crystal City, Virginia

Tomorrow will find your unworthy servant in a courtroom, along with a score of my beloved people.

One of them faces possible deportation. But tomorrow’s hearing could put him on a path to full American citizenship.

The rest of us will testify, one after another. We will explain a. our dear friend’s exemplary character, and b. the extreme hardship that his family will face if the government separates them.

Please pray for a good outcome! Thank you!

They Need a Miracle…

plenary-council-plaque
Stone tablet commemorating the Third Provincial Council of the US bishops in Baltimore

…when they meet in Baltimore next week. The bishops of the US.

We American Catholics received a little miracle at a bishops’ meeting in Baltimore once before. The Third Provincial Council of Baltimore gave us the Baltimore Catechism.

This year we need a bigger one.

A breakthrough. A triumph of Christian humility and prudence. A faith-restoring renunciation of all the defensive, self-pitying nonsense, of all the bureaucratic argle-bargle, of all the lawyering and pointless, counterproductive p.r.’ing.

A miracle: That they would say and do what Men of God under these circumstances would say and do. Not jockeying for position among themselves. Not thinking of what anyone else might think or say. No self-importance. No passive voice. No slogans. No gestures.

Just a humble reckoning with actual facts. Careful study. Fatherliness.

…Like I said: we have to pray for a major miracle here. So I have studied the best way to pray for these brothers. And my method is to pray for them by ecclesiastical province.

US_Roman_Catholic_dioceses provinces map
Handy map of all the US dioceses, colored according to province

There are too many dioceses–and way too many individual bishops–to keep in your mind. But not too many provinces. (An ecclesiastical province is an Archbishopric with its associated bishoprics.)

I haven’t participated in a Mass in absolutely every US ecclesiastical province, in my little life. But I have memories of most of them: friends’ ordinations in the provinces of Indiana, New Jersey, GA-NC-SC, Illinois, Louisiana, Iowa; Masses on various trips in the provinces of east and west Texas, southern California (and northern CA-NV-UT), Pennsylvania, Missouri, AZ-NM, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, CO-WY; weddings in CT-RI, OK-AR, New York.

Let’s pray, dear reader. For another Baltimore miracle. For some kind of genuinely heartening new beginning. Let’s pray for our bishops. I humbly suggest praying for them by province. But you choose your own preferred way. Just pray.

Yes, it will take a miracle for the total institutional free-fall of summer-fall 2018 to end in Baltimore next week. A miracle unlike any we’ve seen in these parts, in a long, long time.

But some unforeseen, beautiful thing could conceivably happen. Something that said to your honest Catholic, kneeling in the pew and trying to hold on: Yes, we can start fresh. We can actually begin building again, building an institution worth trusting.

Yes, that would be a major miracle. But we believe in miracles. So let’s pray for one.

Zeal for the Temple

cleansing

Zeal for your house will consume me. (Psalm 69:10)

As we read in St. John’s gospel, the Lord’s disciples thought of this psalm verse when Jesus cleansed the Temple. Took the worldliness out of it, the cynicism, the selfish dishonesty. The Lord gave back to the Temple the purity of its prayerfulness.

In Genesis we read about how our father Jacob dreamed of a ladder that stretched up to the realm of the angels. When he woke up, Jacob said, “The house of God is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16)

Thanks be to God, we have a lovely temple here (Rocky Mount, Va.), a building worthy of housing the celebration of Holy Mass. Ditto in Martinsville.

But, of course, the outward temple exists to serve the inward temple. The true temple is: the human person, made in the image and likeness of God. Consecrated in Christ as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

This is why we Christians understand crimes against the spiritual and bodily integrity of a human being—we understand the whole business in a special light. Pope John Paul II explained it all in his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae.

God destines and guides every human being towards divine communion; He has made everyone a temple of His own glory. Whenever anyone attacks or abuses the spiritual and bodily integrity of a human being, we have to stand up. We lament it. We condemn it. We cry out for justice. And we pray.

It all begins at the moment of conception in the mother’s womb. We Catholics incorrigibly insist on the right to life. With the Supreme Court transition underway here in the US, our bishops have proposed that we pray for nine Fridays, starting today. Pray that our nation will respect the right to life.

And let’s pray, while we’re at it, that our Church will be the Church of Evangelium Vitae. The Church of the New Evangelization. A true, cleansed temple.

Flying into Windows

robin bird

St. Peter wrote: Be serious and sober-minded, so that you will be able to pray. Lord Jesus said: When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance.

Reading between the lines here, we conclude: It is neither serious, nor sober-minded, to hold grievances.

Prayer offers us a cleansing of the interior temple. Humbly I come before God Almighty. I see that, at every turn, He has offered me the path of life. And I, like a self-destructive zig-zagging robin, have flown smack into a window instead.

Do robins who fly into windows judge other robins? Hold grievances against them? Don’t they rather think to their little selves: “As a group, we need help.”

May God have mercy. On us all.

What sober-minded, serious person surveys the world as it is, and thinks, “You know, everything would be absolutely, perfectly fine—if it weren’t for all those people who voted for Donald Trump!” Or what sober-minded, serious individual looks around realistically and thinks, “Gosh, everything would be awesome—if it weren’t for all those people who stand in the way of Donald Trump’s success!”

My point is: Everything most obviously is not fine, either way. We all find ourselves in one situation together: Morally speaking, the human race flies into windows constantly.

May God have mercy on us. Let’s beg Him to help us. Our grievances against each other were small-minded yesterday. Today, we can’t even remember why we have them. Better to focus on God, forget the grievances, and pray.

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.

Spring Training for Heaven

spring training

[Click AQUI para leer en Spanish]

We do not know yet what heaven is like. But we know that it involves being personally united with God forever. If we hope to have this personal communion with God in the end, then we probably need to have some kind of communion with Him now, right? Some kind of practice or spring training, so to speak.

So here’s an easy question:  How do we develop a friendship with the Lord, now, while we are still here on earth?  Easy…by praying.

Anyone ever heard of the Catechism of the Catholic Church?  Everybody know that the Catechism is divided into four parts, for the four pillars of the Catholic faith? Part IV of the Catechism concerns prayer.  This part of the Catechism begins with the gospel reading for Holy Mass on Sunday, about the Samaritan woman at the well. Makes sense because:  To pray is like going to a well.  Someone who prays opens up his soul to God like a thirsty person opening his or her throat for cool, refreshing water.

When we open up like this, when we go to the well of prayer, we find Christ waiting for us there, like the Samaritan woman found Him. Upon meeting Christ, we discover three things…

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurch1. While of course we come thirsty to the well of prayer, we discover that the Lord also thirsts. “Give me a drink,” He says.

What do we possess that we can give God to drink? Can we give water to the One Who measures out the depth of the oceans and holds the rain clouds in His hands?

No. The Lord thirsts for one thing and one thing only. He thirsts for our devoted love. On the Cross He opened His arms to us. His throat was parched. He said to each of us, “I thirst. I thirst for you.”

2. The well of Christian prayer is the well of our father Jacob, dug in ancient times for the Israelites. So we have to be willing to imitate Jacob. As we read in Genesis, Jacob struggled all night in the darkness. Some unknown foe wrestled with him, but Jacob refused to give in. Then, in the morning, Jacob received the blessing he sought, and a new name. The Lord called him Israel, because he persevered in his struggle through the dark night.

At this very well, the Lord Jesus pours out the living water of the Holy Spirit. But to pray in the Holy Spirit, we have to be willing to persevere through a dark struggle, too. The Holy Spirit is infinite divine love, but love can be rough. The Holy Spirit doesn’t send Hallmark cards. He lifts us up to dizzying, frightening, unfamiliar heights.

3. The third thing that we discover when we meet Christ at the well of prayer is this: The Lord Jesus is the Messiah Who makes it possible for us to worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Now, human beings are naturally inclined to pray.  But a lot of things can get in the way.  Spiritual laziness.  Self-centeredness.  Attachments to material things.  False ideas about God.  Distractions.  Distractions.  Distractions.

In Christ, we find humble and true prayer. In Christ, man prays for everything that is truly good. The Catechism has a beautiful one-sentence explanation of what Christian prayer is:  “Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation.” The response of faith to the free promise of salvation.

What did the Lord say to the woman at the well?  “If you knew the gift of God!”

The woman had rebuffed the Messiah at first, because He made a request she didn’t think she could deal with.  She couldn’t fully grasp what He was asking her.  She had her ideas about how she fit into the world.  And this interaction with Christ fell outside those ideas. If only we knew the gift of God!

Instead, we waste our time thinking thoughts like:  I’m a loser, because I don’t have very many facebook friends.  Or:  I’m not worth anything, because I’m fat.  I’m not cool, because I only have an iPhone 4.  I suck, because I can’t cook, I can’t jump, I can’t attract attention at parties.

No!  If we only knew the gift of God, the promise of salvation.  He is saying to us:  I died for you, at the exact weight you are now, with the exact number of facebook friends you have right now!  You don’t need to be any thinner, or have any more facebook friends, for me to love you.  I suffered agony and died for you exactly as you are—I suffered that much, and died that miserably, precisely to show you how much I want you with me in heaven.

So, please, for a minute, says the Lord, just forget your diet and your job and your husband and your wife and your children and your parents and your neighbor and your car and your business and your dog and your cat and your homework and your resume and your money and your apps and your DVR—forget it all for a minute. And believe that your Maker has suffered and died on the cross out of love for you.

More Hebrews 2 + Our-Father Question

He is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:18)

Every day we beg our heavenly Father, “lead us not into temptation.” Thoughtful Christians rightly wonder sometimes about this petition. Would our good God lead us toward evil? This prayer doesn’t really make sense!

dog-cuffsThe problem here comes from translating Greek into English. To us, “lead” sounds like what a dog-owner does when taking Fido out for a walk. Fido prays, “Don’t lead me down the street with the mean Doberman! Lead me to the fire hydrants instead.”

But the Greek doesn’t imply this. It implies that God possesses the power both to protect us from temptation and to help us resist it when it comes.  God Himself wills no evil and tempts no one. He has made nothing that is evil in itself. In fact, within ourselves, in the depths of our souls, He has endowed us with powers of goodness that we don’t even know about yet.

That’s why our pilgrim lives involve ‘tests.’ If instinct alone guided us, we wouldn’t confront any tests. We would just chase squirrels and never become any better or worse.

But we have more than instincts inside us to guide us. We have the power to discern. We can strive and struggle to overcome every destructive impulse, and thereby blossom as the good people God made us to be.

Temptations come because we are actually better than we think we are. With God’s help, we can resist, and that brings out the hidden good person within. Being tempted is not a sin; the sin is to give in.

So let’s fight. Let’s hold our tongues instead of carping and gossiping. Let’s try to see the good in others, instead of judging them harshly. Let’s possess ourselves in patience, instead of flying off the handle. Let’s exercise our bodies and minds in prayer and wholesome enterprises, instead of letting ourselves grow dim-witted and lazy.

Yes, our pilgrim lives involves tests. We must pray daily for the grace both to avoid them, if it’s best for us to avoid them, or endure them, if it’s best for us to fight and win.

With God’s help we can pass the tests we have to take. We can earn A’s. Because “He is able to help those who are being tested.”

Pro-Life Candidate, Etc.

john paul ii loggia be not afraidTomorrow some of us will keep the Memorial of Pope St. John Paul II on the road.  We will pass through a Holy Door in Charleston, WVa., and then hightail it through Kentucky, headed for Thomas Merton’s Gethsemani Abbey.

The good Lord gave me two fathers to grow up under, Kirk White and Pope John Paul. At my dad’s funeral, we read the same reading we read at Holy Mass yesterday, which includes:

I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and earth is named.

(Ephesians 3:14-15)

I semi-resent this translation.

The word ‘family’ renders the Greek word πατριὰ, patria. You don’t have to qualify as a scholar to see that patria has something to do with pater, father.

“Family” is a beautiful word, to be sure.  But I think we have had more than enough gender neutrality.  I myself kneel before the Father, from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named. (And Eddie Vedder singing “Man of the Hour” runs through my head.)

I’m having a hard time keeping up with all the e-mails and phone calls from my people, asking me to tell them which of the two distinguished presidential candidates they’re supposed to vote for.

When I witnessed the following on Wednesday evening, I had some thoughts…

1. How did we wind up here, we the proud Pro-Life Movement?  With a pro-life candidate who can barely manage to articulate the pro-life message? And who has practically no credibility as a champion of our movement?

2. As a body politic, poised for yet another post-Roe v. Wade presidential election, how can we not see the full significance of killing so many of our of innocent and defenseless unborn children?  Isn’t it the decisive political issue of our age? Hasn’t widespread abortion had a profound economic impact? A crushing psychological impact? Hasn’t it distorted healthcare and the medical profession? Hasn’t killing so many of our children cost us dearly in family and community life? And doesn’t the fact that we never talk about any of these things show how much of a devastating impact abortion has had on the truthfulness of our public discourse?

Never in a million years could I counsel anyone to vote for either of these two candidates. Except under one set of circumstances: when these are the only two real candidates on the ballot. Then we face the duty of choosing one. Say your prayers and do your best.

thomas mertonAs you may know, Thomas Merton loved Boris Pasternak’s novel about the Russian civil war, Dr. Zhivago.  In one chapter during the final third of the book, the Red army tries to recruit Siberian townsmen who are sitting and eating leftover paskha for a late-winter lunch.

Again, no one need qualify as a scholar to recognize the word origin.

Easter will come.  Even with Bolsheviks on the march, Easter came in Siberia a century ago. Easter comes. France has had five republics. Easter has come every year. In 1860, the election of Abraham Lincoln led to the secession of the southern states. Easter came.

I don’t think either candidate mentioned God even once during any of the three debates. True enough, neither of them aspire to a religious office; our US presidency has to do with temporal matters. But we do need to pray.  With confidence in the love and wisdom of the triune God.

…Just in case you’re interested, for our spiritual reading while on the bus during our little pilgrimage, we will listen together to the following:

1. The homily of Pope John Paul II’s Inaugural Pontifical Mass, October 22, 1978

2. Thomas Merton’s No Man is an Island, chapters 2, 5, and 8.

3. Merton’s novice conferences on “the Spiritual Journey,” and “Prayer and Meditation.”

εὐδόκησα

baptismchristgreco1When the Lord Jesus came out from the Jordan River, after His Baptism, the heavens opened and the Father spoke:  “This is my beloved Son, on Whom My favor rests/in Whom I am well-pleased.”

That moment in Christ’s life expresses the goal of our spiritual lives, doesn’t it?  To rest in the pleasure of God, right here, right now.  To live on the will of the Father as our food and drink, like the Lord Jesus lived on the Father’s will.  To love God and please Him—by lovingly obeying His plan to make us ourselves, in full.

Qoheleth penetratingly assessed the vanity of the world.  It’s all perfect futility–with the rivers running to the oceans through generation after generation, and Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar, and, Mao Tse Tung, and Whitney Houston, and every other dead person, moldering in dusty graves.  And all of us facing the same oblivion…  Pure futility. Unless we have the mind of Christ, and rest in the divine good pleasure.

To share the triune love–which heaven vividly revealed to us on the bank of the Jordan—that gives life meaning.  That gives life true joy.  Without a share in the divine good pleasure: vanity and chasing after wind.

We Catholics very much favor dialogue with other religions.  Anyone who does homage to the one true God we recognize as a brother or sister.  We always seek mutual understanding and peace with everyone.

But we would never say:  “All religions are really fundamentally the same.”  Because, without the mind of Christ—it’s all vanity.

We Catholics love to seek unity with other Christians, which we call “ecumenism.”  We recognize anyone who confesses Christ as a brother or sister, with whom we seek peace and mutual understanding.

But we would never say, “All denominations are really the same.”  Because having the mind of Christ is fundamentally a matter of supernatural grace.  We cannot rest in the pleasure of the Almighty Father, in union with the Son, without a Gift from on high.

That Gift comes to us through the sacraments that Christ gave to His Church, when He founded Her.  On the rock of Peter—one, holy, catholic, and apostolic—united on earth by the Bishop of Rome, our pope.  With whom we pray at every Mass, seeking to share the mind of our Lord through the holy mystery we celebrate at our altars.