John 17, the Coin

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.”

A Motto Worth Trying to Live By + “Transgender”

Our prayers should not be long and tedious but short, earnest, and frequent. –St. Ambrose

…The other day, someone asked our Holy Father this question:

I would like to ask you, what would you say to someone who has struggled with their sexuality for years and feels that there is truly a problem of biology, that his aspect doesn’t correspond to what he or she feels is their sexual identity?

Can’t say I fully understand the question.  Not sure what “aspect” means here.

human_male_karyotpe_high_resolution_-_xy_chromosome_croppedBut I would like to point out: the Catholic position is that doctors should not lie to people. Medical science does not have the power to control everything.  When surgeons and biochemists get delusions of grandeur, it only confuses and misleads people who already have a lot to suffer.

Can an abortion make it like there never was a baby?  No.

Can artificial contraception completely remove the fact that sex is for making babies?  No.

Can any medical intervention render homosexual acts fruitful?  No.

Can surgeries and pills change a man or boy, whose every cell has XY chromosomes, into a woman or a girlOr a woman or girl, whose every cell has XX chromosomes, into a man or a boy? No.

People who struggle need friends who won’t tell them lies, especially lies about what doctors can really accomplish with the limited tools at their disposal.

“Being healthy” has to start with the truth.  The truth is that there is much more to us human beings than meets the eye, much more about us that science doesn’t understand (as opposed to the little bit that it does understand).  All the so-called “medical” procedures listed above actually involve grotesque acts of violence–profoundly unhealthy acts of violence.

Better to go to church and pray to the good God Who made us the men and women that we are.

The Way

Tenth Station
Tenth Station

Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? (Luke 6:39)

The Lord forms us in our mothers’ wombs in order to march forward through time, to a goal. And none of us can see that goal. Even us independent Americans need a guide. Because we cannot see heaven. We are all blind people when it comes to our ultimate goal.

God Incarnate has become our guide; Jesus Christ has opened the way before us. When we enter a church, the Lord guides us by His own Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, and by His Word. But, whenever we enter a church, let’s take notice of the visual representation of the way to heaven, which the Lord Himself walked. All Catholic churches have the fourteen Stations of the Cross emblazoned on their walls.

When we visit the stations, we see…

1. The love of Christ for the Father.

2. His love for our souls.

3. The humility with which Jesus acted to fulfill both those loves.

Christ had fiery moments; He had angry moments–all perfectly virtuous. But one particular “Hour” of His life demonstrates the deepest parts of Himself–the Hour of His Passion. During that Hour, He showed us His ineffable humility.

Stations of the Cross

Ascensiontide Theology

Ecce Agnus Dei“We celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of Your Son, his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven…”

When do we say this? After the consecration at every Mass. The Holy Eucharist recalls to our minds not just the Passion and death of our Redeemer, not just His conquest of death, but also His Ascension into heaven.

Now, the Mass Christ instituted recalls His Passion and death very vividly and clearly. His words declare His saving death: “My body will be given up for you.” “My blood will be shed for you.”

That said, the very same words of consecration declare His Resurrection as well. Because: He lives to give us His flesh and blood. If He were still dead, we could hardly receive Him bodily into our midst, in the Blessed Sacrament. We can have Mass because He is alive. Pretty clear.

Now, what about His Ascension? For our Ascension-tide theological question, let’s try to figure this one: How does the Holy Mass commemorate Christ’s Ascension?

tabernacleWell, we could say this: The whole business of the Mass involves the celebration of Christ’s Passover. He passed over from life as a pilgrim to life in glory. Passed through death to eternal life. We cannot see the life that Christ the man shares with God. Our eyes do not now have the capacity to see that.

Which means that the Lord’s very in-visibility in the Mass commemorates His Ascension. He passed beyond our sight when He ascended, and He appears in a way that we cannot see at the consecration at Mass.

That said, Christ’s invisibility in the Mass is by no means absolute. If it were, we would celebrate Mass just by closing our eyes and looking at the inside of our eyelids. But we don’t do that.

At Mass, we see a sacrifice, carried out by a priest, with a priestly people united around the altar. All that is perfectly visible—and it is a visible manifestation of Christ, ascended into heaven. Because He ministers in heaven as our eternal High Priest, forever offering Himself, in perfect love, for us.

So: Holy Mass recalls Christ’s Ascension to our minds, both by what we don’t see, and by what we do.

Striving to Rest

breviary

The promise of entering into his rest. (Hebrews 4:11)

St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews offers us the definitive interpretation of Psalm 95. And Psalm 95 must be important, since we priests recite it every day, first thing. It is the daily opening of the Divine Office.

The psalm exhorts us to sing praise to the Creator, to acknowledge His universal sway, and to submit to him like sheep submit to their shepherd. “Today, listen to the Lord!” Soften your hearts. Because the stubborn will not enter into his rest.

Interpreting all this, St. Paul exhorts us: “Let us strive to enter into that rest.”

A paradoxical thing to say, to be sure. Strive! To rest. Since I am a runner, and therefore know that there is nothing more relaxing than running many miles, I can feature this paradox pretty well.

Juniper Serra tombWe all can, I think. Back in the day, before Roe v. Wade, the few weeks before Ash Wednesday had a sleepy, restful feel in the typical American parish, and naps were allowed. But we cannot rest in late January now. We have to go on a pilgrimage and stand up for human rights.

So we strive, in order to enter into rest.

Speaking of striving and entering into his rest: Father Junipero Serra, Apostle of California.

Perhaps you recall that some brother priests and I followed in Father Junipero’s footsteps for a week last winter. The California missions he founded wrap the pilgrim up in prayerful quiet and devotion to God even now, 200 years later. I prayed for all of us at Father Serra’s tomb.

The very-exciting news for us American Catholics: Holy Father will canonize Junipero Serra this fall! When Pope Francis comes to visit the U.S. Really wonderful news.

The Point of Christian Funerals

I think most Christians have forgotten the controversies that gave rise to Protestantism, when it first started. One of the problems had to do with prayers for the dead. The Protestant thinking went like this: since sometimes Church authority has encouraged people to pray and make sacrifices for the dead in a way that seems un-Christian–like asking for money for indulgences–therefore it’s best not to pray for the dead at all.

That controversy has passed into the mists of history. Prohibiting prayers for the dead clearly runs contrary to one of the deepest inclinations of the Christian spirit. But a deeper question, which lay underneath the controversy, still has to be faced, now more than ever: What exactly is the point of a Christian funeral?

Garofalo Ascension of Christ#1. Reason numero uno: We believe in the resurrection of the body. The Lord Jesus rose on the third day, in the body with which He had made His earthly pilgrimage, formed originally in the womb of the Virgin. Christ ascended into heaven bodily, flesh of our flesh. And He promised to come again, at which time all the dead will rise from their graves, just like He rose from His.

This is the Christian faith.

During the 20the century, some Christians decided to get fashionable and try to interpret the resurrection of the body, which we confess in our ancient Creed, in a ‘spiritual’ or ‘figurative’ sense. But, as St. Paul put it: that would make us the most pitiable of men. We believe in the promises of Christ more than we believe our own eyes—at least we should believe Christ’s promises more. The dead will rise. We rest in the earth after our bodily death, but not forever.

We have no choice, then, but to treat the bodies of our deceased loved ones with the most loving reverence. This flesh will course with life again. Arbitrarily to destroy the remains of our beloved dead—which is what pagans do—Christians do not do that. Certain things distinguish Christians from pagans—like loving the poor more than money, like having joy in the midst of suffering—and this one: We lavish love upon the bodies of our dead.

Continue reading “The Point of Christian Funerals”

Deliverance from the Test

Father, hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.
(Luke 11:2-4)

The Lord gave us our main prayer. The prayer that expresses our faith perfectly, expresses our religion perfectly, and which asks for precisely what we need—everything that we truly do need, and nothing that we don’t.

We need daily bread, we need forgiveness for our offenses, and we need deliverance.

Now, the Lord rarely allows demons to possess people, so it’s not that kind of deliverance necessarily. The way St. Luke put down the prayer helps us to understand the final petition, I think. Let’s look at it like this:

What lies before us is a way, a path. We cannot stand still, here in the middle of the forest, and we cannot go back the way we came. Life is a path which winds through the marvelous realm of God, the domain He has established with His infinite creativity. The pathway of humble, dutiful love leads to peace and happiness.

Saint LukeGod made free creatures who make our way through the realm by exercising our capacity to choose good and avoid evil. Some free creatures have not chosen the right path, including purely spiritual creatures much more powerful than ourselves. So there is an awful lot of evil in the forest. And the evil, though it can appear to us haphazard and chaotic, actually operates under the tutelage of an ingenious captain.

Our First Parents faced a test of choosing humble, dutiful love over shiny, appetizing pleasure. The Devil made evil look very, very good to them. They did not persevere, our original parents; they did not endure; they did not hold fast to the invisible Creator. Rather, they took; they grabbed; they consumed: They consumed a poison that looked like utter, complete, and total deliciousness.

We pray, then, that God will spare us such a difficult test. We do not want to face Satan alone. We pray that the Lord will keep us close to the bosom of His Church—so that our friends, though they may not be exactly perfect, will not be great tempters or temptresses. We pray that the Lord will fill our lives with simple and wholesome pleasures—pleasures which we will be able to renounce if and when we ever have to, because of our duties.

In other words, we pray like schoolchildren that the teacher will give us tests that are not too hard. That way, we will succeed, in spite of our highly limited competence in fighting off the devil.

The Even-Better Communications Device

telegram

The Son of God is… Jesus!

Is Jesus just kind of god-like, sort of divine? No, of course not. He is eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God. God and man.

Rosary PrayersGod the Son, Son of the Father. And also the Son of…the Virgin Mary! The Mother of God.

Now, when some of us older people were young, we used to stay in touch with our friends and loved ones by talking with them on the phone, which used to be attached to the wall in the house. We did not “text.” Our grandparents did text, when they were young. It was called sending a telegram.

Anyway, way before that even, the Mother of God gave us the perfect device for staying in touch with her and her divine Son. You can keep the device in your pocket, just like a fancy cellphone. This device is actually more lightweight. It never needs software upgrades. And you never need to charge it in a wall outlet or with a car charger.

The Holy Rosary is the most effective handheld communication device ever. And, speaking for myself anyway, I find it considerably easier to use than any phone.

Some people like to send like 50 or 53 texts per day. Fine.

But, meanwhile, let’s keep in touch with Our Lady and her Son by saying 53 Hail Marys, with six Our Fathers, six Glory Bes, and a Creed.

Onomatopœia: Battalogein

In praying, do not babble like the pagans. (Matthew 6:7)

Do not prattle. Do not prate. Do not babble. Do not vainly repeat. The heavenly Father has infinite patience. But don’t press your luck.

Rosary PrayersThe Greek word in the gospel here—which, apparently, arose from a Hebrew word for vanity—sounds just like what it means. When you pray, do not battalogesete. Logos, of course, means…word. Do not batta the Lord with words. “Babble” seems like the perfect English equivalent, since it has the same onomatopoeia to it.

Do not battalogesete the Lord. Because He knows what we need before we ask Him. He knows what we need much better than we do.

So: Before I ask Him to conform His will to mine, let me pray for the grace humbly to conform my will to His. Before I tell Him what I imagine the earth ought to be like, let me pray that it be more like His unimaginably wonderful heaven.

Before I tell Him what’s supposed to happen tomorrow, let me beg Him for what I need today. Before I tell Him how to change somebody else, let me pray for the grace to change myself for the better.

Now, people accuse us of violating the divine precept against battalogesete-ing the Lord by reciting the Holy Rosary. I, for one, can hardly imagine a more baseless, even ironic, charge.

Our Fathers, punctuated by begging our Lady ten times to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our deaths. Does not sound vain to me. Sounds pretty close to exactly what we should say.

So let’s let the experts and geniuses try to come up with some better way to pray. In the meantime, let’s keep praying daily for our bread and begging for mercy and Our Lady’s help as many times a day as we can manage.