John 6 Ecumenism

Pope Francis Jay Wright Villanova ball
Now the Pope owns the NCAA Championship ball!

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life. (John 6:27)

We kept the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council a few years ago, between 2012 and 2015. But maybe some of Pope Francis’ more-recent teachings lead us back to the Second Vatican Council again.*

Here’s one question: Was Vatican II overly optimistic in focusing on what Protestants and Catholics have in common?

One side would say: Yes, Vatican II was wrong there. It was a betrayal of sacred Catholic Tradition and the Council of Trent to affirm that Protestants and Catholics share the same faith in Christ.

–But isn’t that’s going too far? There’s only one Jesus. And we all personally know Protestants who truly and sincerely believe in Him. So Vatican II was not altogether wrong to emphasize what we have in common.

On the other hand, the other extreme would say: No, Vatican II had no misplaced optimism whatsoever. Christian re-unification is right around the corner, if only we could get over ourselves!

–But that’s going too far, too. No reasonable observer can deny that, in spite of a lot of common enterprises, and a lot of good intentions, the last fifty years have not seen a whole lot of real ecumenical headway. Quite the contrary.

Ross Douthat To Change the ChurchDuring the third week of Easter we read from John 6 at Holy Mass. Seems to me like we Catholics could lay down this marker, and live at peace with it:

We believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And we believe that He makes Himself present on the altar at Mass to be our food unto eternal life.

It seems to us that these two aspects of the faith—namely the Resurrection and the Real Presence—are really one aspect. It makes absolutely no sense to separate them. And why would anyone want to?

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*I have been reading Ross Douthat’s To Change the Church. Douthat illuminates things enormously, I think, by outlining the two alternative understandings of the past 55 years of Catholic history, “liberal” and “conservative.” But there’s more to the story, I think. And I want to try to bring it to light, as the opportunity allows.

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The παρρησία of the Apostles and Us

El Greco Pentecost

Parrhesia. Childlike boldness in praying to our heavenly Father. And fearless boldness in bearing witness to Christ before men.

Christian boldness springs from our conviction that God has spoken His Word of love in Christ. And we—obtuse and klutzy as we are—serve that Almighty Word.

Gamaliel the Wise counseled the Sanhedrin during the first Easter season: Leave these ‘apostles’ alone. If they act out of real obedience to God, then nothing will stop them anyway. If not, then their misplaced fervor will die out on its own.

So the Sanhedrin had the Apostles flogged and released, instead of jailing them pending execution. And St. Peter and Co. rejoiced—for having the opportunity to share in the sufferings of the crucified Word of God.

This parrhesia—our bold conviction that the Gospel of Christ is altogether true; that the man who fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish is the Anointed One—this “parrhesia” is one of our Holy Father Pope Francis’ favorite things.

Pope has used the word parrhesia over and over again in his teachings. And he has dedicated an entire section to the word parrhesia in his new exhortation to holiness. Let me quote the Holy Father:

Holiness is also parrhesía: it is boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world. To allow us to do this, Jesus himself comes and tells us once more, serenely yet firmly: “Do not be afraid.” …Parrhesía describes the freedom of a life open to God and to others…

Look at Jesus. His deep compassion reached out to others. It did not make him hesitant, timid or self-conscious, as often happens with us. Quite the opposite…

Parrhesía is a seal of the Spirit; it testifies to the authenticity of our preaching. It is a joyful assurance that leads us to glory in the Gospel we proclaim. It is an unshakeable trust in the faithful Witness who gives us the certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

God is eternal newness. He impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar… He takes us to where humanity is most wounded, where men and women, beneath the appearance of a shallow conformity, continue to seek an answer to the question of life’s meaning. God is not afraid! He is fearless! (Gaudete et Exsultate 129-135)

Then the pope quotes himself, from the speech he gave as a Cardinal, right before the conclave elected him pope.

We know that Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts. We read that in Scripture. But maybe He wants to go out “to escape from our stale self-centeredness.”

Some people find the pope controversial. A lot of people don’t. Regardless of whether we find him controversial or not, we have to hear what he is saying here. We have to let the Vicar of Christ remind us about this fundamental aspect of Christianity: Every human being searches for the meaning of life. And we cannot live in the truth ourselves if we do not take the risks necessary to form relationships with other human beings searching for the meaning of life like we are.

Especially the ones we do not want to form relationships with, because they do not presume the same things that we do. Relating to them is hard. It requires the very hard work of sincere communication. Which we can’t do without working hard at understanding ourselves. Which will ultimately lead us to the point where we have to acknowledge: we are fundamentally just as weak and clueless as any confused child.

But God loves us anyway. That is the Gospel!

Crying and Laughing: Dreamers

Just as you cannot understand Christ apart from the kingdom he came to bring, so too your personal mission is inseparable from the building of…that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace…A person who sees things as they truly are and sympathizes with pain and sorrow is capable of touching life’s depths…unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes.  (Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate 25, 76)

Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor…Ill humor is no sign of holiness. “Remove vexation from your mind” (Ecclesiastes 11:10). We receive so much from the Lord “for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17), that sadness can be a sign of ingratitude. (Gaud et Exul., 126)

Mercy Toward the Enemy

Whoever lives the truth comes to the light. (John 3:21) The light of calm, sober truth—which we can only reach by a patient search. A calm, patient search for truth. For instance, when an accused criminal faces a trial in a court of law, governed by fair rules.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote us a letter Monday, exhorting us to seek holiness by practicing mercy. Mercy not just towards the people we like, but towards everyone who needs help. After all, the Lord taught us to love our enemies.

osama-bin-ladenSo: Get ready for a doozy of a homiletic application. After all, this week marks the anniversary of two deaths.

The first one is the martyrdom of the Polish saint, Stanislaus. He died at the hands of a lawless monarch, who had kidnapped and plundered, and abused his power up and down the land. St. Stanislaus, as the bishop of Krakow, condemned King Boleslaw for this. So the king killed the bishop with his own hands, during Mass.

Now, St. Stanislaus recently had a very-famous successor as Bishop of Krakow. When Pope John Paul II visited his former cathedral to venerate the relics of St. Stanislaus, he referred to his holy predecessor as the “patron of moral order for the Polish people.”

Moral order. A sober society of law, justice, and peace, governed by the calm light of truth. That’s the ideal of Poland, and it’s our ideal, too. Truth, justice, the American Way. Terrorists have attacked that ideal by killing innocent people, especially on September 11, 2001. Decent people rightly condemn the terrorists for having done that.

But:

The other anniversary this week is what some people regarded as President Obama’s finest hour. Zero dark thirty happened seven years ago, during the second week of Easter. I remember reading John 3:16-21 at Holy Mass right after learning that we had killed Osama bin Laden.

VATICAN-US-OBAMA-POPEBut I cannot call that President Obama’s finest hour. Because he should have expressed one regret about what happened, and he never did.

Perhaps we never could have captured bin Laden alive and tried him for his crimes in a court of law. But it would have been better if we could have. If bin Laden had been tried, according to the rule of law, he might rightly have received the death penalty. But applying the death penalty without a trial—that is not what we stand for. That’s not the American Way. That’s not moral order.

I said this would be a doozy of an application of our Holy Father’s exhortation for us to practice mercy. But can we doubt that—even at the very moment when he breathed his last, after suffering a mortal blow—can we doubt that Saint Stanislaus prayed for king Boleslaw, the very man who had just killed him? Can we doubt it? After all, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them.” King Boleslaw and St. Stanislaus might be friends in heaven now.

Maybe, when Osama bin Laden died seven years ago, he went straight to hell. But we should not think that he did. We should assume that he is in purgatory, having been redeemed somehow by the omnipotent power of the blood of Christ. And we should pray and offer sacrifices for the repose of our enemy’s soul. It’s not easy to say, but we have to find a way to say: “May Osama bin Laden rest in peace.”

If we can’t bring ourselves to do that, then we’re not as holy as we should be.

Exhortation to Holiness, Kind Of

pope-francis_2541160k

Thank you, Holy Father, for giving us an exhortation to holiness. May the good Lord grant us the humility and grace to heed your words.

I am not for being suspicious of the pope. I am not for thinking the pope is “too liberal.” He’s our pope. We only have one. The more fools we, if we do not love him.

But there is something odd about this exhortation to holiness, and I cannot hold my tongue.

Pope Francis’ spiritual father, St. Ignatius Loyola, wrote at length about the vows of poverty and obedience, in the Constitutions of the Jesuit order. But the founder of the Jesuits got stingy with his words when it came to the vow of chastity. He wrote: On the matter of Jesuit chastity only one thing needs be said. Jesuits ought to imitate the purity of the angels. That’s it. –Pretty parsimonious, as far as giving the would-be angel something to go on.

ignatiuswritingBut not as parsimonious as our Jesuit pope

Gaudete et exsultate exhorts us to holiness over the course of 176 paragraphs, without ever using the word chastity at all.

Or purity. Or the word sex.* Holy Father never mentions the sixth commandment, or any of the Ten Commandments, other then the eighth (in para. 115, against slandering on the internet.)

Chapter Three includes a commentary on the Beatitudes. In commenting on “Blessed are the pure of heart,” Pope Francis refers to the Lord Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:19. The Holy Father quotes Christ: “from the heart come murder, theft, false witness, and other evil deeds.” But when we read the gospel verse we find that the Lord didn’t actually say ‘other evil deeds.’ He said “adultery, unchastity, and blasphemy.”

Is this not odd? This utter silence on the subject of sex, in an exhortation to holiness? In the year 2018? Maybe “chastity” is too abstruse a word? But the Holy Father repeatedly uses the words “gnosticism,” “Pelagianism,” and “semi-pelagianism.”

Now, I’m also not for having a siege mentality when it comes to the sexual revolution. In my experience, most people still know deep-down that a chaste life is a happier and better life.

But: Do we not face a problem? The billion-dollar pornography industry, with all its inhuman degradations? Young people highly confused about how to find the path to a lasting marriage? How do you publish an exhortation to holiness in AD 2018 that doesn’t have the word chastity in it?!

This reminds me of when I served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, before I entered the seminary. The five of us Baltimore volunteers–three men and two women, all between 22 and 24 years of age– we lived in a slightly ramshackle house on the edge of the ‘hood. The kind, fatherly Jesuits who lived nearby often visited us. They liked to do our dishes after dinner.

Let me re-iterate. We were all between 22 and 24 years old. Three men and two women, living under one roof. We needed guidance in the area of sex. Desperately. But none of our Jesuit fathers ever brought the subject up. Ever. I had one for a spiritual director for two years. I brought the subject up once. He did not want to talk about it.

Like I said, I am not for criticizing the pope. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. If I were writing an exhortation to holiness, I would insist on daily meditation on the inevitability of death. And I would encourage the fear of hell. But I’m not the pope.

However, I cannot let this particular matter pass in silence. I am dismayed by this omission. The young people of the West are groaning under the weight of utter confusion when it comes to sex and marriage, and our pope’s 2018 exhortation to holiness doesn’t even mention the subject.

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*The word lust does appear once, in a parenthetical list of vices, para. 159.

The View from the Center

ss_lateranensis_ecclesia
Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head

Anyone visited the Lateran Basilica? In the great city of… Rome!

Rome offers a unique view of the Catholic world. First time I visited, I realized that, until then, I had seen the world off-center. The Catholic world, which extends to every continent, not to mention back in time for two millennia—that world has one geographical and historic center. Rome. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church has a single geographic and historic center point. And, praised be God, you can get a good cappuccino there.

From that center point, you see the world from a unique point-of-view. You hear all the languages and see all the skin colors involved in the one Church.

Most holy places in the world receive pilgrims from some far-flung places—like the Shrine in Washington receives pilgrims from all fifty states, or the shrine in Guadalupe, Mexico, receives pilgrims from all of Latin America. But Rome alone receives pilgrims from everywhere.

One man sits on the chair at the center of Rome; one man sits at the center of the center of the Church. Namely…

pope-francis_2541160kWe owe him a huge amount of respect, if for no other reason than that he has this far-more comprehensive view of the world. The pope’s unique point-of-view can become a terrible burden. It also can fill him with a unique love for the one Church. He alone sees from the point-of-view of the man at the center of the center.

Also, the pope’s unique point-of-view allows him to grasp just how small he himself really is, in the grand scheme of things. He can see just how much everything really depends on God and His Providence.

So let’s rejoice in the fact that really matters, when it comes to the unity of the Church. All of us Catholics agree on it. Pope Francis is the pope. He alone has the right to sit on the chair of Peter. He alone has that crushing duty. We agree on who the pope is. That itself is an amazing and wonderful thing.

Maybe I think Pope Francis is the worst pope since Vatican I. Or maybe I think he’s the best. Doesn’t really matter what I think on that subject. None of us can competently judge the job-performance of a pope anyway. That judgment exceeds our pay-grade. Let’s leave such judgments to God.

The great thing is simply that we all agree on who the pope is. May he preside in health and holiness, from the center of our one, beloved, ancient, and worldwide Church. Long may he live. We love our Holy Father.

North-American Martyrs and Blessed Paul VI

saint_isaac_jogues
St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers

At Holy Mass today, we commemorate the North-American martyrs. They came to these shores from France, to teach the Hurons about Jesus Christ and His Church. The martyrs happily gave their lives to spread the Gospel. What motivated them?

For a short and precise answer, let’s think back three years. Anyone remember what happened three years ago today, in St. Peter’s Square?

Here’s a hint. It involved the last Italian pope. Or at least the last Italian pope who lived for longer than two months in office.

Side note: It is amazing to think that we have not had an Italian pope in over 39 years. Most of the people living on the earth right now have never had an Italian pope. Which is amazing. We have had 266 popes in total. 196 of them have been Italians. Our current pope is an Italian-American, but that’s not quite the same thing.

Anyway: three years ago today, Pope Francis declared Pope Paul VI to be among the saints. The last Italian pope to live for more than two months in office became Blessed Pope Paul VI.

Blessed Pope Paul wrote many, many beautiful and inspiring things. He possessed an utterly tireless mind, along with a beautifully humble heart.

But a few sentences he wrote capture the spirit of the North-American martyrs perfectly, in my humble little opinion. We Catholics don’t proselytize, if proselytizing means assuming that people who do not know and accept our doctrines have not hope at all. We do not believe that. We believe that God has a plan for everyone, and God’s plans extend way beyond what we little creatures can grasp in our wee minds.

Nonetheless, we consider the task of evangelization urgent. Blessed Pope Paul explains:

It would be useful if every Christian were to pray about the following thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them.

But as for us, can we gain salvation if—through negligence, or fear, or shame –if we ‘blush for the Gospel’–or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?

For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this seed grows.

Christ: The Light of the American Nation, Part II (Laudato Si’)

We have to start by going back to the 90’s, and to the work that Pope St. John Paul II did to help us understand our continent and our heritage as Americans. 1992 marked the anniversary of…? Knights? In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Pope St. John Paul II visited the island of Hispaniola to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first proclamation of the Gospel in the New World. In his homily, the pope addressed himself to all the sons and daughters of “America,” from Canada to Chile and Argentina. He referred to his brother bishops “of America.” Continue reading “Christ: The Light of the American Nation, Part II (Laudato Si’)”

The Mass is the Oil

Pope Francis Patriarch Bartholomew Holy Sepulchre
Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew together at the tomb of Christ

In the parable of the ten virgins, five of them had something, and five did not. Having that something made a great difference—all the difference. The five who had it entered the wedding feast. The five who did not found a locked door, and they heard God say to them, “I do not know you.”

Oil. Oil for the lamps. This is a parable. What does the oil represent?

Pope Francis and the bishops have made today the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. The Holy Father issued a joint statement with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. A brief, penetrating, and captivating statement. Come to my Vespers talk on Sunday, and we will study every word of it [4:30pm, St. Joseph’s, Martinsville, Virginia. Parish dinner to follow!]

Right now let’s focus on one sentence. The statement of course exhorts all Christians to pray: to pray that all things in heaven and on earth will be restored in Christ, to thank the Creator and pledge our commitment to care for His handiwork. Then the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew write:

An objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world.

The oil in the parable is: prayer. And not just any prayer, but prayer in the Holy Spirit; prayer in which I, me, myself truly speak and communicate and open my heart, but not unilaterally. Rather: when I pray in the Holy Spirit I am myself only in co-operation with God.

So we can be even more precise: The oil is our regular celebration of the Holy Eucharist. When we participate in Mass, we pray—we ourselves, thanking God, asking Him for help, begging His mercy. But as much as the Mass is our work, much more so is it God’s. After all, in the Holy Mass, the triune Lord continues the Incarnation, and unites us to the mystery of His infinite love bodily. In the Mass, God makes our co-operation with Him as physically intimate as physical intimacy can possibly be. As Pope Francis put it in his encyclical on Mother Earth:

It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation…The Eucharist is the living center of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love… The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration. (Laudato Si’ 236)

This is the oil we need.

The View from Mount Nebo

Pope Benedict Mount Nebo

If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted. (Matthew 18:19)

If two of you agree. Sounds pretty easy. But if you think so, you’ve probably never attended a parish council meeting. And you’ve definitely never been married.

As we read at Holy Mass today, Moses stood on Mount Nebo and saw the entire Holy Land, from Dan to Beersheba, from Naphtali to Idumea. To be sure, the view from Mount Nebo is majestic, like the view from McAfee’s Knob, or Moore’s Knob in Hanging Rock State Park, NC. But no human eye could see the entire Holy Land from Mount Nebo. The Lord must have given Moses a share in His own divine vision, in order for the prophet to see the whole expanse of the land.

Then Moses died, and Joshua assumed his office. Now, two popes have stood at the same place on Mount Nebo and taken in the same view as Moses, at least the part that can be seen by the human eye.

At Holy Mass a week from Sunday we will hear the Lord speak about the Church’s authority to bind and loose (we hear about that at Holy Mass today, too). Our spiritual Mother, the family formed by God through the sacrifice of Christ, governed by Christ’s Vicar on earth: She possesses the holy concord, the agreement, the harmony of spirit which the Lord promised to reward. She teaches us how to pray and how to live.

We human beings rightly cherish our sacred personal independence. But this does come as good news: our Creator has not left us on our own to seek Him. He has not made us religious free agents.

Yes, we only truly find Him when we have the courage to enter into the depths of our consciences to find our true selves, the saints He made us to be. But our true selves never stand alone. We always belong to the family God forms from the flesh of His only-begotten Son.