Apostolic Ministry

matthias

Our bishop will ordain deacons this Saturday, including two admirable young men who spent summers at our humble southwest-Virginia parishes in years past. Next year, God willing, Bishop will ordain these gentlemen to the priesthood. Theodore Cardinal McCarrick ordained me a deacon seventeen years ago yesterday. He ordained me a priest fifteen years ago next Thursday.

I bring all this up a propos of today’s feast. At Holy Mass today we commemorate the election of St. Matthias as the twelfth Apostle. As we read in Acts, after an election supervised by St. Peter, Matthias took the place vacated by Judas.

In the Collect for today’s Mass, we pray about the “college” of the Apostles. Jacob had twelve sons in the Promised Land, the founders of Israel’s twelve tribes. The new People of God, the Church of Christ, also began with a fraternity of twelve brother Apostles. Eleven can make up a soccer team (Go Mexico! in the Copa Mundial). But we needed twelve to start the Church.

In the Protestant world, people tend to think of a clergyman as a learned Bible scholar, qualified by his education and his natural talents to teach people about the Word of God. We Catholics would certainly agree that a clergyman ought to have a good theological education. And we preachers need to work constantly on our teaching skills.

Ecce Agnus DeiBut a careful reading of the New Testament shows that you cannot define a clergyman as a scholar of the Bible. Because the first Christian clergymen wrote the New Testament. The Bible as we know it now did not exist–until some of our Church’s original clergymen finished it and organized it.

So we have to go deeper, in order to define what the “apostolic ministry” is. The apostolic ministry has to do with the authority that lies behind a man’s words. A learned scholar speaks on his own authority. On the other hand, an apostle of Christ speaks the Word of Christ with the authority of Christ.

The Catechism expresses it like this, in para. 875:

No one…can proclaim the Gospel to himself… No one can give himself the mandate and the mission to proclaim the Gospel. The one sent by the Lord does not speak and act on his own authority, but by virtue of Christ’s authority; not as a member of the community, but speaking to it in the name of Christ. No one can bestow grace on himself; it must be given and offered.

It comes down to this: We have received a gift. God united the human race with Himself, in the Person of Jesus Christ. Christ gave Himself to us, and that Gift of Christ Himself comes to us, here and now, through the apostolic ministry.

This gift given us through the apostolic ministry equals or surpasses in value the gift of our having been created in the first place. We did not produce ourselves; God created us. In the same way, we did not “produce” the Christ, our Savior, and the High Priest of the world. God gave us the Christ, through the apostolic ministry.

This does not mean that no one can ever disagree with a single word that a deacon, priest, or bishop says. The sacrament of Holy Orders does not preserve us clergymen from the dunderheadedness that afflicts the human race in general.

The infallibility that the sacrament of Holy Orders does give us–it is actually much, much more humbling, because it is so much more exquisitely beautiful. Anyone can disagree with a priest or bishop, except when he says: I absolve you, or This is My Body and This is My Blood. That is Christ speaking, speaking infallible truth.

The living Son of God, risen from the dead, speaking now through the apostolic ministry. He could have chosen any means that He wanted, to stay close to His people through the ages—He is God, after all. He chose the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament, the silent Host.

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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.

Onomástico Sermon

St Mark tomb

Our first reading at Holy Mass today, from St. Peter’s first letter, ends with, “I send you greetings, as does Mark my son.” Salutat vos Marcus filius meus. These words adorn the sarcophagus of St. Mark, in the high altar of his basilica in Venice.

Inside the stone coffin: the mangled remains of the martyred bishop. St. Peter had sent Mark from Rome to Alexandria, Egypt–at the time, the second-most important city in the Empire. After eight fruitful years there, St. Mark was captured by enemies of the faith, while he was saying Mass. They dragged him through the streets for two days, and he died of his injuries on April 25, AD 68.

Someday I hope to visit my heavenly patron at his uniquely beautiful Venetian tomb. Apparently an angel had appeared to the saint once, when his travels had brought him to Venice. The angel said, “Peace be with you, Mark, my evangelist. Here your body will rest.” Maybe the next time I go to Roselawn, I will receive the same message. (That’s the local cemetery here in Martinsville. 🙂 )

Anybody seen the new St. Paul movie? Is St. Mark in it? Maybe not, since St. Paul and St. Mark apparently disliked each other. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that they traveled together briefly, then suddenly separated. There’s a happy ending, though: It seems that they patched things up later. St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, asking that Timothy bring Mark with him to see Paul.

St. Mark and St. Paul had in common that they collaborated with the original Apostles, while they themselves had not lived with Jesus during His pilgrimage on earth. Nor had Paul or Mark seen Him during the forty days after Easter.

If we think about it, that makes their faith even more amazing. Faith in Christ unto a martyr’s death, having embraced Christianity by pure trust in the Church’s nascent Tradition.

In other words, Saints Mark and Paul entered into the Christian mystery like we have entered into it. The Nazarene about Whom we have heard—and thank you St. Mark! for writing down what St. Peter said about Him!—this Nazarene man is worth living and dying for. He is worth spending all our energies on. He is the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father, the Incarnate Divine Love.

Happy Fathers’ Day

st-josephThe holy day of Lord Jesus’ foster father and our parish’s heavenly patron here in Martinsville, Va.

When St. Joseph breathed his last and died, with Jesus at his bedside, was that on March 19? Maybe not, since some ancient books say that Joseph died in July.

When St. Joseph heard the pleas of the starving people of Sicily a thousand years ago, and the saint’s intercession with God won a miraculous rainfall for the island—did the rains come on March 19? Maybe.

Regardless of how this particular day became St. Joseph’s Day, it is Fathers’ Day. In Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Bolivia, Honduras, Liechtenstein, and Andorra.

Baby Jesus did not spring from St. Joseph’s loins. But St. Joseph did save Jesus from Herod’s slaughter; did protect and care for Jesus’ mother; did teach Jesus how to speak, pray, work, and: how to follow the Law of Moses; how to ride a donkey and navigate the road of Palestine; how to show respect for others, how to live a steady life, how to walk uprightly before God.

Our dear Protestant brothers and sisters suspect us Catholics of some kind of funny business when we lavish our prayers and devotion on St. Joseph. After all, Holy Scripture does not record a single word that the man said. But let’s remember:

During the greater part of his life Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor. His religious life was that of a Jew obedient to the law of God… Jesus was obedient to his parents and he increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 531)

God Incarnate was famous for three years of His earthly pilgrimage. He was not famous for the other thirty. How could anyone claim to know Him, without rejoicing in the mystery of His “Hidden-ness” during all that time?

When Bl. Pope Paul VI visited Nazareth in 1964, he said:

The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus–the school of the Gospel. A lesson of silence.  A lesson on family life.  A lesson of work.

Sign of Jonah, Greatest Generation

This evil generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. (Luke 11:29)

The ‘sign of Jonah.’ A mysterious phrase, especially since the Lord Jesus Himself interpreted it in two different ways. As we read at Holy Mass today, He said at one point: Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites. On another occasion, he explained: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

Mysterious. Speaking of ‘generations,’ Pope St. John Paul II, Thomas Merton, and Billy Graham were of the same generation, sometimes called “The Greatest Generation,” the generation that matured during World War II.

Billy GrahamThomas Merton entitled one of his books The Sign of Jonas. Merton reflected on the paradox of monkish solitude and universal love, on loving the world by leaving its business behind, on attaining true life by embracing the Cross.

The ‘evil generation’ wants something showy, something impressive to the eyes—a magic trick to distract us from the challenge of reality: the reality of how daggone mysterious God is, and how hard real love is. The evil generation needs the true Jonah—Christ crucified.

May Jesus’ crusader Billy Graham rest in peace. Here’s an irony that he and his friend Pope St. John Paul II might have smiled over together: Protestant Evangelical Billy Graham will benefit from a lot of Catholics praying for the repose of his soul. Mr. Graham did go so far as to say: “Purgatory may be real.”

It is, and may you get through it as quickly as possible, Mr. Graham.

Christ crucified saves. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He can resolve every spiritual conundrum, every disagreement, every apparent paradox. May He give us the grace to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, staying focused on the endless light of His Holy Face, so that we can grow in communion with the one, true God of love.

Pope St. John Paul II (1920-2005), pray for us.

May Thomas Merton (1915-1968), rest in peace.

May Billy Graham (1918-2018), rest in peace.

Teenage Adventures

TP_278400_LYTT_DWILLIAMS_1
Super-Bowl-XXII MVP Doug Williams

Today we keep the 130th anniversary of the holy death of St. John Bosco. Among many other accomplishments, Don Bosco published an apologetics magazine. Catholic Readings defended Catholic faith and practice, using extensive Scripture citations. To protect and fortify the souls of teenage boys, Don Bosco became a famous media mogul. He is the first canonized saint ever to have been interviewed by a newspaper reporter.

Now, speaking of teenage boys… Today we also mark the 30th anniversary of the greatest of all the Super Bowls, number XXII, which took place under the open sky, in San Diego, California.

don bosco catholic readingsIn those simpler times, the late 1980’s, it could come to pass that a middle-class lawyer in Washington, D.C., might find himself in possession of two Super Bowl tickets, through a business connection. He might think of giving those two precious tickets to his enterprising 17- and 15-year-old sons.

Those sons might buy cheap airplane tickets with their part-time-job money. They might learn the San Diego public transit system. The boys might, with their own eyes, then behold Doug Williams the Great making mincemeat of the Denver Broncos defense, in a resounding 42-10 MVP performance. The boys might have seats right behind the very end-zone in which the Washington Redskins scored five touchdowns in the second quarter. Then, the young men might catch a bus to the airport, then a red-eye flight back east, and find themselves in school before the first bell rang on Monday morning—which was the one stipulation their mother made in order to grant her permission for the trip.

Such adventures could happen in 1988, and they did. In those days, we did not suffer from as much fear of the outdoors as we do now. I’m not sure the world was really any safer then. But dads like ours had faith in Providence, so they weren’t afraid to let their teenage sons travel clear across the country on their own, to go to the Super Bowl. Also, my brother and I were tall and big and maybe a little cleverer than most 17- and 15-year-olds.

Anyway, Don Bosco knew that publishing his magazine involved risking his life. Mid-19th-century Italy was no safe place for a well-known zealous Catholic priest. In those days, people got beat up in the streets for defending the papacy. But Don Bosco prized the souls of his young readership over his own mortal life.

Faith in Jesus’ Father can, and does, give you the kind of courage that can turn life into an adventure.

Mark White Redskins fan

Not a Democracy

Fra Angelico ordination

Back in Apostolic times, some pagans of Asia Minor venerated the fertility god Dionysus. They kept a festival in honor of Dionysus in the latter part of January. One year, during that festival, they killed St. Timothy. That’s why we keep his memorial at this time of year, right after the anniversary of St. Paul’s conversion to Christ.

In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul refers to how he laid hands on him, consecrating him as a Church official. Also, yesterday was the 53rd anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. Churchill, who famously said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms.”

winston-churchillNo doubt, democracy has a stabilizing effect. And it corresponds to the dignity of the human person to have a vote. But the Church can’t be a democracy, and here’s why.

She has a King. Jesus Christ is the source of all ministry in His Church. He is the one true “official” of the Church, and He appoints Church officials by His own sacred means.

We participate in the life of the Church for a reason: to submit ourselves fully to Christ’s rule. For us members of the fallen human race, freedom from the slavery of sin comes only when we submit ourselves to Christ.

So we can’t think: This Church ought to reflect the votes of the members. We can only think: This Church ought to reflect the will of Her divine Founder.

We can’t think: I have the right as a human being to influence the constitution and laws of the Church. We can only think: I have the right as a human being to receive the good things that Jesus Christ gave to His Church when He founded Her.

We can’t think: The Church would have a more-stable life if only a majority vote could determine its rules and who the officials are. We can only think: The Church, in spite of all the vagaries of human history, has had a more-stable life than any other institution known to man. We can only credit that to the work of the divine Spirit Who does, in fact, govern Her.

Mental Prayer and PB & J’s

Soil that receives the seed, allows it to grow, and then brings forth fruit thirty-, sixty-, a hundredfold. As the Lord explained, that fertile soil represents “those who hear the word and accept it.”

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parableThe Word: Jesus Christ, the Person. Those who hear Him. Those who hear the gospels, and think about them regularly. Those, in other words, who live under the “roof” of the Church, venerating the Son of God, rejoicing in the salvation He won for us, and striving always to participate in His unfathomable love.

The Lord gave me the gift of mental prayer at a young age. I know I had it by age twelve, since I have a vivid memory of writing a poem about the Lord Jesus for a seventh-grade English assignment.

But Christian mental prayer is no extraordinary, esoteric gift—at least not for people raised in the Church. It was just the simple fact that my parents made sure I was where I was supposed to be every Sunday morning. So I heard the gospel readings, and I found them interesting. I found Him interesting—Jesus Christ. More interesting than anything else, even including basketball. My middle-school existence consisted, therefore, of Christian mental prayer at chance moments, and endless shoot-arounds, lay-up drills, and three-on-threes.

Seriously, though, let’s listen to St. Francis de Sales. They laid the Gentle Doctor to rest 395 years ago today, so January 24 makes an especially good day to listen to him. That said, a lot of people make their way toward heaven by studying the teaching of St. Francis de Sales every day. …Anyway, he wrote:

Children learn to speak by hearing their mother talk, and stammering forth their childish sounds in imitation; and so if we cleave to the Savior in meditation, listening to His words, watching His actions and intentions, we shall learn in time, through His Grace, to speak, act, and will like Himself.

Christian mental prayer—which is the highway to heaven—involves absolutely nothing that the average bear doesn’t already have in his or her life. The opposite. Christian mental prayer is like sandwiches, folding laundry—like making sure there’s milk in the fridge—it’s the homiest, most day-to-day thing, for a practicing Catholic. When we are where we’re supposed to be every Sunday morning, the gospels become part of the way we think, feel, react, and speak.

Once we reach adulthood, however, we do become susceptible to Word-choking distractions in life. So we must set aside time for the Lord every day, time for meditation on the gospels–at least a few minutes.

May the good Lord help us to do that. So that He can bear His fruit in us.

El Héroe del 12 diciembre

Nuestra madre, la madre de Jesús–¿cómo se llama? Sí. Ella puso su imagen en una “tilma.” ¿A quien perteneció esta tilma?

GuadelupeSí. A San Juan Diego. Cuauhtlatoatzin,—“águila que habla.”

Pues, ¿fue ver a la Virgencita el evento más importante en la vida de San Juan Diego?

Aparentemente no. Escuchamos al papa, San Juan Pablo II, hablando de Juan Diego, en la misa de su canonización:

Siendo ya adulto y casado, Juan abrazó el Evangelio, y, juntamente con su esposa, fue purificado con el agua bautismal.

Ahora—¿fue eso antes o después de cuando San Juanito vio la Virgen? Fue antes. La Santísima Virgen se apareció a un indio cristiano, un fiel de la gente indígena de México.

El papa continuo:

San Juan Diego, después de su bautismo, vivió como cristiano, bajo la luz de la fe, y de acuerdo a las obligaciones asumidas ante Dios y la Iglesia.

Podemos decir que el país de México no tiene un  héroe más grande que El Águila que Habla. Él representa todo lo que es rico y puro en el corazón del país. Fue místico de la belleza de la tierra que Dios ha dado a la gente.

Y él vio a la Virgen Madre de Dios, y recibió la imagen que distingue la gente. De veras, esta imagen distingue toda la gente de América—del norte al sur. San Juan Diego no es solamente héroe de México, sino héroe del continente entero.

Pero él vio, y recibió la imagen, porque fue bautizado. Porque fue cristiano fiel, cumpliendo diligentemente sus promesas bautismales.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe no quiere gloria para sí misma. Ella no quiere ser puro signo de nacionalismo u orgullo racial. No. Ella quiere gloria solo por su Hijo. Ella quiere ser imagen de la gente de América solo para unirnos en la Iglesia santa y católica, la Iglesia de su Hijo.

Si la amamos a la Virgen de Guadalupe, no pensamos tanto en el milagro de la tilma—aunque es milagro maravilloso—sino pensamos más en el milagro de la fe cristiana. San Juan Diego merece nuestra admiración, no tanto por recibir la imagen, como en vivir fielmente como hijo de Dios, bautizado en Cristo. En vivir lleno de amor por los misterios de la fe cristiana, especialmente los sacramentos—la santa Misa, confesión, etc.

Que vivamos en esta manera, como San Juan Diego, acercándonos a Dios por los sacramentos. Y Dios sabe que tipo de milagros podamos ver.

Beautiful Galilean Feet

standrew
St. Andrew was crucified on November 30

How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14)

Has everyone we know heard of the Lord Jesus Christ? Probably they have all heard His Name, and they know that He has something to do with righteousness and religion. But have we Christians done our part to preach the full truth about Him? To invite others into friendship with Him in His Church?

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

We can have feet as beautiful as the Galilean feet of St. Andrew, if we let the grace, goodness, and love of Christ permeate us so much that we bring His good news everywhere we go. The more we come to know the Lord, the more deeply we love Him, and the more ardently we extend the invitation to others to share in His life.

Christ alone has offered to mankind the one thing that we human beings are meant to have: an eternal life of true love. We Catholics aren’t zealous proselytizers; we try to stay humble enough to respect everyone—their backgrounds, their own choices. But we can’t be shy about the love of God in Christ. We can’t hide the Light of the Nations under a bushel basket.

St. Andrew had the courage give his life for the sake of sharing the love of Christ. St. Andrew took his own cross into his arms with loving devotion, because He loved His crucified Lord so much. May we have the grace to love Christ, and love our neighbors, like that.