Beautify the Basilica Instead of Building the Wall

guadalupe face

Four hundred eighty-seven years ago today, the mother of God appeared on our continent, to assure us of her love for us.

That was before the United States of America existed, or the United States of Mexico. At that time, the Rio Grande did not mark a “national borderline.” Nor did any kind of border run through the Sonora desert. And baja California and alta California were both parts of one place. [Click for Part I and Part II of my extended commentary on this.]

Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico City. She left her image on his cloak, which still hangs in the basilica there.

Twenty years ago, Pope St. John Paul II visited the same spot. He had gathered the bishops of the entire American continent. The pope made December 12 a feastday in all these lands. He recognized Guadalupe as the spiritual center of the western hemisphere.

By the grace of God, I have laid eyes on the tilma twice, in ’95 and ’97. Maybe you, dear reader, have seen it, also. Hopefully someday all of us Catholics of America will make a holy pilgrimage, to see the indescribably lovely image and receive the unique graces of our Lady’s presence here with us on our continent.

When the pope visited Guadalupe, he made no comment regarding the architecture of the current basilica. They built it in the mid-1970’s, to accommodate up to 10,000 people. Anyone ever seen it? Or a picture of it? It looks like a wrecked spaceship, in the shape of a melted Hershey’s kiss.

Basilica Guadalupe

I don’t think we want a wall between us and the place where Our Lady visited us. A wall would only get in the way of a pilgrimage there.

Maybe, instead of spending $1 zillion on a pointless, counter-productive border wall, we could spend the money building a new, nicer Guadalupe basilica instead?


Final Jeopardy! and a New Beginning

A liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which is the Sunday closest to the feast of this ‘first apostle.’

Final Jeopardy question yesterday evening. In the category of “Catholicism.”

None of the contestants got the correct answer. It was a hard question. For two years I served as pastor of St. Andrew’s parish in Roanoke, and I can confidently say: only about 10% of the parishioners of St. Andrew’s would have known that the correct answer is St. Andrew.

We call Andrew the ‘first’ because he recruited his brother… Right: St. Peter. We call them all ‘apostles’ because: St. Andrew, along with everyone else in the upper room on Easter Sunday, saw Jesus after He had risen from the dead.

We could say a lot more. Each of us baptized Christians exercises the ‘apostolic ministry’ in some way. So there is certainly a great deal to say about it.

But let’s start here: The original Apostles saw Jesus. Risen from the dead. They saw Him multiple times, over the course of forty days. The “New Testament:” the original Apostles testimony that they saw Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, with their own eyes. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church believes that testimony.

missale-romanum-white-bgNow, speaking of resurrection: Alex Trebek reminded me. St. Andrew Day means: it’s time to flip back to the beginning of the book. The Missal. The Lectionary. The Breviary.

We start again. We cannot overstate the spiritual significance of the liturgical year. It organizes the Sacred Scriptures for us. It unfolds the mysteries of the Savior’s life. It consecrates the months and seasons. It redeems time, draws daily earthly life up into eternal heavenly life.

It doesn’t get old, the business that begins anew every year on the First Sunday of Advent. We flip the ribbons back; we start fresh. The world outside gets older. But the Sacred Liturgy of the Church offers us, quite literally, a heavenly Fountain of Youth.

Was this past liturgical year the worst in the history of Jesus’ Church? From my limited vantage point on the unfolding of events, I would say: Absolutely.

Will the year to come actually bring even worse? No doubt. We’d be fools to imagine otherwise. Our ‘leaders’ have given us nothing upon which to base any optimism. To the contrary, their heartbreaking ineptitude has all but ground us down in to despair.

I still stand by the suggestion I floated in August. Namely, that the whole lot of them, from the pope on down, resign. And we fill their places in the hierarchy by a lottery that chooses parish priests from around the world at random. But, Father! That might result in an incompetent hierarchy! Well…

All that said: A new year of saving grace dawns for us Catholics anyway. The holy Church can still light the candles of Advent. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, still reigns in heaven. And He continues to sanctify His people through the annual celebration of the unfathomable mysteries of His pilgrim life.

Forty Years Ago Today

Pope John Paul II: His Remarkable Journey

Pope St. John Paul II began his ministry as the pope. Over the course of the ensuing quarter century, many of us came to revere John Paul II as a hero and a spiritual father.

During the 1980’s, when I was in high-school, some of us held on to the pope for dear life. It seemed like he alone, on the whole face of the earth, offered a brave witness to sexual sanity, to chastity–while everyone else was awash in condoms and broken marriages.

Many of us spent the 90’s reading John Paul II’s writings. He consumed himself with teaching the faith inherited from the Apostles. He traveled the world and used the power of his reverberating voice and magnetic charm to evangelize.

Technocrats and feminists hated his intransigence on artificial contraception, abortion, divorce, and the men-only ministerial priesthood. Political and aesthetic conservatives hated his rejection of the capitalist profit motive and his embrace of Vatican II.

But in the middle, we vast multitudes of spiritual children listened eagerly to the man we loved as a trustworthy father. A lot of us wept more bitterly on the day that he died than we had since we were babies. Mainly because we knew we wouldn’t hear the sound of his voice on earth again.

Looking back now with 20/20 hindsight, we can wish that JP II had applied himself more to the reform of the Roman Curia. We can wish that he had understood the sex-abuse crisis better–understood it more as a practical matter, rather than as a purely spiritual one.

st john paul ii

And we can recognize: The way Popes Paul VI and John Paul II defined the Roman papacy after Vatican II left a huge gap in authority. That gap has now brought the Church to the point of paralysis.

Bishops need a disciplinarian, too—just like priests, seminarians, doctors, nurses, accountants, lawyers, bricklayers, school children–everybody needs a disciplinarian. But the world’s Catholic bishops don’t have one. The whole post-Vatican II system of Church governance assumes that bishops will do right. But, as we now know all too well, often they do not.

So St. John Paul II had human faults, blind spots—which we did not want to see, as we listened to him heroically urge us on to holiness.

But let’s go back to October 22, 1978, to what he said in his homily that day. His words resonate today with even more force than they had then.

Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us, to gaze on the Lord and to immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself…

The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth.

The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no dusk….

Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ… Christ knows ‘that which is in man.’ He alone knows it.

…Man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart… He is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.

Missionary Martyrs

Fr. Jayme martyred
The Death of Father Luis Jayme at Mission San Diego, November 4, 1775

In Christ you were chosen to exist for the praise of God’s glory…You have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of our salvation. (see Ephesians 1:11-14)

Missionaries evangelize. They proclaim the Gospel and initiate pagans into the life of Christ and His Church. Missionaries give up everything and risk everything. They make friends with people who speak another language, with unfamiliar customs. All in order to share the heavenly life of Jesus.

Missionaries often get themselves killed. In New York and Ontario, the French Jesuit martyrs we commemorate at Holy Mass today met death at the hands of Hurons and Iroquois.

In San Diego, California, the Kumeyaay killed a Franciscan named Luis Jayme during a night raid of the mission. In 1597 the Guale killed five Franciscans near Savannah, Georgia. Here in Virginia, eight Jesuits died as martyrs in 1571.

One thing many of these martyrs have in common is this: They loved the native Americans and learned their languages and customs, but they would not compromise with polygamy. As we know from reading the holy gospels, the Son of God preached a Gospel involving monogamous marriage for life. The early missionaries of these lands practiced ‘enculturation’ like nobody’s business. But the Gospel always requires some change in people’s lives. Like renouncing polygamy.

Anyway: While the martyrs of what is now the USA shed their blood here, the life of the Church had all kinds of issues in Europe. Don’t know if they had federal grand jury investigations in those days. But plenty of secular authorities clashed with corrupt bishops and priests.

Meanwhile, the missionaries here bore their pure and loving witness to the urgency of conversion to Christ. Mankind needs the Gospel, and Jesus, and His Church. Internal ecclesiastical problems don’t make that need less clear; they make it all the more clear.

Peter and Paul Conflict

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

circumcison knifeWho wrote this? St. Paul. The first pope had erred how?

By acting in a hypocritical manner. Apparently because he feared conflict—over a matter in which conflict could not be avoided.

St. Peter knew by divine revelation that under the New Covenant all foods were “clean.” The Lord had given St. Peter a vision, while the Apostle made his way to the pagan home of…? The centurion Cornelius.

But that doesn’t mean that the problem was simple. God had given the Law of Moses to His Chosen People. Not all of that Law admitted of revision. The Ten Commandments still remained in effect, of course. And circumcision had distinguished God’s people for almost two millennia. Also, in pagan homes, worshiping false gods usually involved eating foods offered to them. Christians had to take care to avoid even the appearance of co-operating with pagan worship.

To try to deal with these difficult matters, they convened the Council of…? Jerusalem.

Much to the relief of the adult pagan men who wanted to enter Christ’s Church, the Council decided that they could retain their foreskins.

That said, the Apostles decided that the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 remained in effect. No homosexuality, and no marriage within the family (including in-laws).

Moral: Sometimes finding our way together as God’s People gets difficult. But the Lord does help us.

Words of St. Francis


St. Francis’ brief Rule of Life contains sage advice:

I admonish and exhort the brothers that, in their preaching, their words be well chosen and chaste…speaking to the people of vices and virtues, punishment and glory in a discourse that is brief, because it was in a few words that the Lord preached when on earth.

Speaking of the Lord’s words: He sent out his 72 missionaries. The Rule of St. Francis quotes liberally from Christ’s missionary instructions. Since the Way of St. Francis consists simply in following them. Sell what you have, give it to the poor. And come follow Me.

“Carry no money bag.” “Wherever they welcome you, say ‘Peace to this household,’ and eat what is set before you.” Have nothing, except the Gospel. Live as heirs to the Kingdom of heaven.

St. Francis died 794 years ago yesterday. Among his dying words:

Above everything else, I want the most holy Sacrament to be honored and venerated.

A Welcome Oasis


We look around for some solid place to stand. We have a hard time finding one.

But of some things we can be sure:

St. Therese of Lisieux died 121 years ago yesterday. There is absolutely no chance that she ever got drunk in high school. Or that she ever falsely accused someone of getting drunk in high school.

There is no chance that St. Therese ever promoted to a higher position a miscreant who belonged in jail. Or that she ever had political motives in accusing a superior of a cover-up.

St. Therese certainly never turned a deaf ear to someone crying out for help. There is no doubt whatsoever that she kept the confidences entrusted to her; she never leaked anything to the press.

She never had worldly ambitions that blinded her to right and wrong. She never moralized at the expense of human sympathy. She never hedged her bets and waited for the next news cycle, in the hopes that her difficulties would drop off the radar, so she could pretend they didn’t exist.

She never got grandiose. She never got belligerent. She never got overly technical. She never cared about anything, except honestly loving Jesus and the people around her.

She wasn’t born perfect. But she preserved the purity of her heart from childhood to death. She had a powerful, precise, inquiring mind. She was a Little Flower with the courage to stride out alone into the dark night of the soul. She believed, through the bitterest physical and spiritual sufferings.

And she is real. She lived in rural France, died at age 24 of tuberculosis, and went to heaven. She is no plaster statue. Her glorified soul offers us a bona fide spiritual oasis.

We need one. We might doubt whether Lord Jesus will find any faith on earth when He comes. But when we think about St. Therese: we can hope that, indeed, He will. A lot of faith–hidden in millions and millions and millions of little corners.

Click here to read Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter proclaiming St. Therese a Doctor of the Universal Church


Diocletian Persecution and Donatism

[WARNING: High-level difficulty quiz. Might need a Catholic Encycolpedia]

Cosmas Damian apse
mosaic depicting Sts Peter and Paul ushering Sts. Cosmas and Damien into heaven

Today, at the altar, we remember the martyrs Cosmas and Damien, who went to their deaths during the persecution of the Emperor…


Ironically enough, Diocletian appears to have ordered the persecution precisely because he had such piety. As a pagan.

He believed that the Roman Empire would thrive if everyone participated in the cult of the gods, and that the empire would collapse if they did not.

What provoked the crisis was the emperor styling himself as divine, according to the pagan system. Christians soldiers then refused to wear their insignia, because it depicted the emperor as a god. And they refused to take their oaths, because it referred to the emperor as a god.

From that starting point, widespread hideous cruelties against Christians began. The pope was martyred, and the Church couldn’t elect a successor for… how long? Three years. Countless bishops and clergymen were martyred for refusing to hand over the Scriptures for desecration.

This gave rise to which heresy and schism? …Donatist.

Some sly bishops tricked their way out of getting martyred by handing over heretical, non-canonical Scriptures, instead of actual Bible books. The pagan authorities didn’t know the difference, and those bishops squeaked through.

After the persecution finally ended, the Donatists denied the validity of the ordination of the bishops who tricked their way through. The Donatists insisted that if they were real priests, they would have willingly gone to their deaths.

The schism lasted for over 100 years. To finally resolve the issue, it took someone as clever and enterprising as…?

St. Augustine.

A couple morals of this little story

1. We can’t worship the President of the US, or any political leader—or even religious leader. He may be right or wrong about this or that, just like all fallible human beings. We fallible human beings help each other stay honest by challenging assertions that appear to be wrong. (Only exception: Pope of Rome speaking ex cathedra on faith or morals.)

And Moral of the Story #2. We have had big, confusing, painful messes in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church before. And, by God’s grace, we managed to survive.

The Man with Eyes All Over

William Blake Ezekiel vision four living creatures
William Blake’s illustration of Ezekiel’s vision of the four living creatures

The man wrote a book. One of a set of four, written by four different men. St. Matthew knew one of the other three very well, to be sure. But he may never have even met the other two.

Together, but apparently without explicitly co-ordinating anything among themselves, the four evangelists produced four little books filled with unique divine fire. These four books occupy so elevated a place in the history of books that the only possible image for them is: Terrifying angelic animals (and a man) gazing out in all directions from the throne of God itself. Of the “four living creatures” of Ezekiel’s and St. John’s visions, the man represents St. Matthew.

But the most important image is this: The image that reading these four books forms in our minds. We read these four books over and over again, and we read all the other Scripture books connected with these four. And, as we read, God gives us the image of Himself. God Himself, made man. Jesus. In our minds.

What if these four brothers of ours–St. Matthew and the other evangelists—what if they had never bothered to undertake the painstaking task of writing? What if they had, instead, chosen a more-pedestrian pursuit, one less fraught with agonies of self-doubt and fear of misunderstandings?

Where would the human race be? In what desperate darkness would we linger, if the image of Jesus of Nazareth simply had never been communicated to us? If the four Holy Gospels, which paint the definitive portrait of the everlasting Adam—what if these books did not exist? Then we would have to come to church and listen to someone read out from the works of James Patterson or the Dalai Lama.

And what about all the other forebears of ours who lovingly preserved these books for us, so that we can read them now? Against all odds, considering the way time eventually ravages everything. We revere these forebears of ours as a group under the name “holy Mother Church.”

So: Thank you, St. Matthew and the other evangelists, for writing. And thank you, holy Mother Church, for loving their words enough to give them to us as an inheritance. A four-fold literary treasure beyond all price.


four living creatures evangelists carving.JPG

Neopolitan Miracle

januarius blood naples miracle

Naples, Italy. The name “Naples” comes from Neapolis, Greek for ‘new town.’ It was a new town—five hundred years before Christ.

Saints Peter and Paul both preached there. Two centuries later, the Emperor Diocletian wrought the Great Persecution. He not only prohibited all Christian practices, he also required that Christians perform pagan rites. If you refused? The death penalty.

Bishop St. Januarius presided over the church in the inland town of Benevento. During the persecution, he traveled incognito to the Bay of Naples. He went to visit a deacon who had been imprisoned. When Januarius came to visit, they threw him in jail, too.

The Roman governor of the province of Campania tried to feed them to the lions, but the lions wouldn’t eat them. So he had them beheaded.

A Christian woman preserved some of the blood that spilled when they beheaded St. Januarius. In the duomo in Naples, they preserve the blood in a vial. (Your unworthy servant prayed there for you in July.)

On the anniversary of the saint’s martyrdom, the blood in the vial miraculously liquefies. Then the Archbishop carries the vial out in front of the altar for the people to see. Everyone cheers, because they take it as a sign of divine favor toward the city.

It happened this morning, praise God. (Though the Cardinal Arcbhishop had a fainting spell during the ceremony. May God be with him.)

God does indeed favor the city of Naples, as you can tell by the gelato. May His merciful kindness favor us all.

From the Scandal File:

I apparently started a little trend, writing an open letter to Theodore McCarrick.

Father Gerald Murray of New York has now written one, too. It’s a doozy. Amen, brother.