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.

Basilicas of the Patron of Comedians

Titian Martyrdom of St. Lawrence
Titian’s Martyrdom of St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence died for the faith 1,758 years ago today.

Rome has at least two grand basilicas of St. Lawrence. But we have one, too—a basilica of St. Lawrence, here in the Appalachian mountains.

Why did they erect a basilica in honor of St. Lawrence in Asheville, North Carolina? Is it because Lawrence exercises a special patronage over brewers? But the basilica came before the craft-beer movement…

St. Lawrence loved the faith, and the Mass, and the poor. He went to his martyrdom so fearlessly that he made his famous joke, as they burned him alive: “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.” At that moment, he became the patron of both cooks and comedians. The Perseid meteor shower occurs on or around St. Lawrence’s feast day to remind us of the sparks from the fire that burned him into heaven.

Anyone visited the basilica in Asheville? It’s no St. Andrew’s—just like Asheville is no Roanoke. But you don’t visit a church with a soaring elliptical-dome roof every day. It’s like the peaceful and prayerful Oval Office of God.

Good St. Lawrence, pray for us.

Card. Ratzinger on New-Evangelization Method

Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves…do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:16,19-20)

The New Evangelization. Our mission. St. Kateri beheld her mission and gave herself over to it, here in this land, almost four centuries ago. Now it’s our turn.

But how? How do we participate in the New Evangelization? Here’s how Cardinal Ratzinger put it, back in the Jubilee Year 2000, before he was chosen Pope Benedict XVI.

New evangelization must surrender to the mystery of the grain of mustard seed and not be pretentious… Instead we must accept the mystery that the Church is at the same time a large tree and a very small grain…..

Card. Frings and Joseph RatzingerOf course we must use the modern methods of making ourselves heard in a reasonable way—or better yet: of making the voice of the Lord accessible and comprehensible… We are not looking for listening for ourselves—we do not want to increase the power and the spreading of our institutions, but we wish to serve for the good of humanity, giving room to He who is Life.

This expropriation of one’s person, offering it to Christ for the salvation of men, is the fundamental condition of the true commitment for the Gospel. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive, says the Lord (John 5:43). The mark of the Antichrist is the fact that he speaks in his own name.

The sign of the Son is his communion with the Father. The Son introduces us into the Trinitarian communion, into the circle of eternal love, whose persons are  pure acts of giving oneself and of welcome. The Trinitarian plan—visible in the Son, who does not speak in his name—shows the form of life of the true evangelizer—rather, evangelizing is not merely a way of speaking, but a form of living: living in the listening and giving voice to the Father. He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, says the Lord about the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).

Conclave Liturgical Anniversary

Pope Francis waving

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, became pope on Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent, 2013. The conclave lasted only a day–the Cardinals entered the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday. Four years ago today, according to the liturgical calendar.

At daily Mass, this fourth week of Lent belongs to John 5. On a sabbath, Lord Jesus told a sick man, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” And the man did as ordered.

Can God break the sabbath? I think we have to say No to that one. He consecrated the sabbath Himself with His own blessed rest at the beginning of the world, His happiness with all that He had made.

But, His work isn’t over until…the fat lady sings? History moves; God moves history. God, in His blessed, undisturbed peace—He works. Each morning He gives us the new day. A fresh gift, healed of the weakness and weariness of yesterday.

History moves, with God working, giving life and renewal. Springtime 2013 held great promise. New pope, new evangelization, new hope for the Gospel to light up the world.

I’ll say that four years ago today, I never could have imagined the ways in which Pope Francis would choose to love us. He has brought me to my knees. I guess I love him like I love the cross-country coach I had in high-school, who made us run until we vomited.

But God knows what He’s doing. He said to the man He had healed: “Look, you’re well. Do not sin anymore.” That’s what He says to us each morning. He gives us new birth by His mercy. Do good. Avoid evil. Rock on.

Ask and You Shall Receive the good Holy Spirit

cropped-me-with-pope-jp-ii.jpg
on my way down to kiss the ring of the fisherman, 3/9/00

Seventeen years ago today, I assisted at Mass with Pope St. John Paul II. He welcomed seminarians into his little chapel in the papal apartment every morning. Room enough for about 30 people, with half of them standing along the back wall. I’ll never forget how we got ushered in there at 7am, hushed, after passing through a chintzy metal detector and going up an old elevator—and there he was, kneeling in front of the altar, preparing to vest for Mass. Afterwards, we got to meet him in the library outside the chapel, and he encouraged us in our service to Christ.

On that day–March 9, 2000–the sun shone through the crisp Roman air. Spring was springing–just like it is here, in what I like to think of as the second-most-beautiful city in the world, Roanoke, Va.

This weather reminds us of the ancient origins of our English word for the 40 days before Easter. The word comes from “lengthen,” because the days get longer. “Lent” literally means “springtime.”

Which is why, when the Lord tells us, “Ask, and you shall receive,” we immediately blurt out: “Please! No snow this weekend!” He promised that He would lavish “good things” on those who pray. Snow ain’t no good thing.

st john paul iiBut, speaking of those “good things:” again we must briefly contend with a slight discrepancy in what our Lord said on two different occasions.

As we read at today’s Holy Mass, St. Matthew recorded the Lord, during the Sermon on the Mount, promising “good things” to those who pray. But when St. Luke recorded Christ’s teachings on prayer, He quoted Him as promising the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

So is it “good things” or “the Holy Spirit?”

Come on, people. This apparent discrepancy hardly poses the kind of tricky challenge we faced yesterday, when we had to clear up what the “sign of Jonah” was. This one is easy by comparison. After all, what thing could be as good as the Holy Spirit? The original Goodness from which all things flow?

So, if it be His will that snow fall this weekend, on the very night when we lose an hour’s sleep, then so be it. We can take it. God’s will be done.

By the day seventeen years ago when I had the privilege of kissing the fisherman’s ring on his finger, St. John Paul II had grown old and thoroughly enfeebled. His vigorous youth–when he hiked, and camped out, and said Mass on the back of a kayak for his college students–had vanished.

But he rejoiced in the Lord nonetheless. He rejoiced in the divine will. He rejoiced in the great mystery of Christ crucified, in the springtime–the mystery by which a spring will come that will never fade.

 

Human Freedom +Amoris Laetitia Session

We read at today’s Holy Mass: This is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke. (Isaiah 58:6)

sistine isaiahWhat does it mean for man truly to reign over himself in freedom? We need to know that, in order to co-operate with it. As we read: above all sacrifices, the Lord demands my co-operation with the true freedom of my neighbors. Not to mention: my co-operation with the true freedom He wills for me, myself.

Freedom comes from knowledge. We can only make free choices about things that we know and understand. Human knowledge extends only so far, so human freedom extends only so far. We don’t have absolute freedom. Only God knows everything, so only God can act with absolute freedom.

But we human beings do have it in us to reign over all the other creatures in the material cosmos. For us to serve anything beneath us means slavery. And we can’t enslave ourselves to each other, either. Which means we must cultivate free minds.

How about if we strive during Lent 2017 to attain genuine independence of thought? If I have an independent mind, I will know how to respect my neighbor’s right to exercise his or her independent mind.

How? By smashing my interior idols. God alone has absolute authority to teach me the truth. I must offer Him constant access to my mind. By keeping silence. By reading unfamiliar things. By listening to others patiently. By speaking only what I know to be true. By eliminating gossip from my life altogether.

amoris-laetitia-coverThe free person is not the one who serves nothing. The free person is the one who learns from God and serves Him out of love. When I live this free life, I will know how to respect everyone else’s right to live it, too.

We had an illuminating parish study session on Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia yesterday evening. Since Lent is supposed to be hard, I distributed a six-page handout and gave some pop quizzes.

We agreed, I think, that we possess a shining nugget of gold. Namely, the image of marriage which we behold when a man and a woman exchange vows before a clergyman and the holy altar–and then go home and start making babies.

This image shines with a particular light: the light of God giving life. Human beings can and do bind themselves to the service of such a mystery. And our conjugal service to God the Giver of Life goes to the death, just as Jesus went to the death to espouse Himself to His people.

In order for sex or marriage to make sense, they must mean the same thing. Neither prudish nor crass, we recognize our own origins in this reality. And we recognize in Christ crucified, in His sacred wounds, the revelation of the meaning of life. Eternal Love made us to be His friends forever.

Which brings me to this: The more times I read Amoris Laetitia, the less I get out of it. I’ll give you my current bottom line on it.

Catholics living in “irregular” sexual situations can and do receive Holy Communion all the time, without consulting the parish priest. Perhaps they do so with tranquil consciences. No one gets scandalized who doesn’t know. The communion lines at our parishes here in Roanoke are anonymous-enough places.

If someone initiates a conversation with a parish priest about his/her irregular sexual situation, it’s because s/he does not have a clear conscience about it. Trying to shepherd souls lovingly, I of course cannot close the door on such a conversation with a “get away from me, sinner!”

But, by the same token, saying, ‘go ahead and receive Holy Communion,’ seems to me like closing the door in a different way. I have read Amoris Laetitia three times through, and have yet to find anything that convinces me that it makes sense to tell people having sex outside of canonical marriage that they’re fine.

Sed contra: In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Cardinal Coccopalmiero proposed this case:

Think of a woman who lives with a married man. She has three little children. [Note: Apparently the man’s children; not hers.] She has already been with this man for 10 years. Now the children think of her as a mother. He, the partner, is very much anchored to this woman, as a lover, as a woman. If this woman were to say: ‘I am leaving this mistaken union because I want to correct my life, but if I did this, I would harm the children and the partner,’ then she might say: ‘I would like to, but I cannot.’

In precisely these cases, based on one’s intention to change and the impossibility of changing, I can give that person the sacraments, in the expectation that the situation is definitively clarified…How can she leave the union? He [her civilly married spouse] will kill himself. The children, who will take care of them? They will be without a mother. Therefore, she has to stay there.

I see problems. Instead of saying, Yes, of course, go to Holy Communion! I would ask if she thought she should tolerate her husband’s suicide threats, since they are no less aggressive than threats to her life. I would ask if he had sought to obtain an annulment, so they could be married in church. I would try to point out to her that she was being exploited.

In other words, with all due respect, I think the Cardinal’s case is not very convincing.

Would love to read you thoughts, dear reader!

 

Chair-of-Peter Homily

mount-kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro

Jesus: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter: “You are the Christ.”

An old saw in the Catholic world has it, “The Church is not a democracy.” Indeed, a King rules: our Lord Jesus, the Christ, enthroned in heaven. St. Peter declared it on the first Pentecost: “Jesus is exalted at the right hand of God.” (Acts 2:33)

Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. True enough, when it comes to running affairs pertaining to this world: democracy seems like the best choice from a bad lot.

But Holy Mother Church cannot operate as a democracy, because She exists solely to love and serve Her heavenly King. The Church cannot operate as a democracy for the same reason that creation itself, the cosmos, cannot operate as a democracy. The Creator rules creation, and the Creator rules the new creation–the Church of the Christ.

Copy work for the Telfair Museum of Arts and Sciences
From Moneterrey Square, Savannah, by West Fraser

We need a shepherd. I mean, our souls.

Democracy may offer the greatest prospect for a nation’s prosperity in this world. But if we try to worship democracy as something sacred, we will wind up with a handful of dust.

If we worship the “sacred democratic nation,” the politicians will just wind up looking at each other uncomfortably and asking themselves, “Are these people bowing down? Yeesh! We’re not the worst bounders in the world, but we are egomaniacs who love the sound of our own voices. These people are worshiping a dirty business.”

St. Peter declared the bedrock of all truth, “Jesus is the Christ.” With that declaration, the Lord established the Chair from which Peter and his successors govern the pilgrim Church on earth.

Here’s an analogy. If we can honestly bring ourselves to believe that all the atoms in the universe democratically organized themselves into things like Niagara Falls, or Adele’s vocal chords, or Mt. Kilimanjaro; if we think that the oceans, and the planets, and the sun and moon, arrived at their state of harmonious motion through consensus among themselves—then we can say that religion ought to involve democracy.

But, since the idea that the Hudson River found its course by taking a poll; or that Shakespeare got his genius through a fair election in Stratford upon Avon; or that the city of Savannah, Georgia, has such beautiful trees in its squares because the voters elected them—since these ideas are patently absurd, let’s just rejoice in the fact that the hierarchical organization of our Church makes the same amount of sense as the beautiful, hierarchical organization of the universe.

Amoris Laetitia on Grandparents

amoris-laetitia-coverIn his letter to us about family love, Holy Father urges nice long talks with grandma and grandpa…

The lack of historical memory is a serious shortcoming in our society. A mentality that can only say, “Then was then, now is now,” is ultimately immature. Knowing and judging past events is the only way to build a meaningful future. Memory is necessary for growth: “Recall the former days” (Heb 10:32). Listening to the elderly tell their stories is good for children and young people; it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families, their neighborhoods and their country. A family that fails to respect and cherish its grandparents, who are its living memory, is already in decline, whereas a family that remembers has a future…

Our contemporary experience of being orphans as a result of cultural discontinuity, uprootedness, and the collapse of the certainties that shape our lives, challenges us to make our families places where children can sink roots in the rich soil of a collective history. (Amoris Laetitia 193)

Amoris Laetitia Catena, Part II

amoris-laetitia-coverChapter 4 of Pope Francis’ letter on family love explains the phrases in St. Paul’s famous I Corinthians 13. Three selections, dripping with wisdom…

Love bears all things and hopes all things…

Married couples joined by love speak well of each other; they try to show their spouse’s good side, not their weakness and faults. In any event, they keep silent rather than speak ill of them. This is not merely a way of acting in front of others; it springs from an interior attitude. Far from ingenuously claiming not to see the problems and weaknesses of others, it sees those weaknesses and faults in a wider context. It recognizes that these failings are a part of a bigger picture. We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal. It is real, albeit limited and earthly. If I expect too much, the other person will let me know, for he or she can neither play God nor serve all my needs. Love coexists with imperfection. It “bears all things” and can hold its peace before the limitations of the loved one. (para. 113)

Each person, with all his or her failings, is called to the fullness of life in heaven. There, fully transformed by Christ’s resurrection, every weakness, darkness and infirmity will pass away. There the person’s true being will shine forth in all its goodness and beauty. This realization helps us, amid the aggravations of this present life, to see each person from a supernatural perspective, in the light of hope, and await the fullness that he or she will receive in the heavenly kingdom, even if it is not yet visible. (para.117)

Love believes all things…

This trust enables a relationship to be free. It means we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything. This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships. The spouses then share with one another the joy of all they have received and learned outside the family circle. At the same time, this freedom makes for sincerity and transparency, for those who know that they are trusted and appreciated can be open and hide nothing. Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are. On the other hand, a family marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its members to be themselves and spontaneously to reject deceit, falsehood, and lies. (para. 115)

Love endures all things…

Dr. Martin Luther KingHere the pope quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at length:

The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls ‘the image of God’, you begin to love him in spite of [everything]. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never slough off… Another way that you love your enemy is this: when the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it… Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and so on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil… Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.

[Click HERE for Part I of the Amoris Laetitia catena]