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.

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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

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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

st_therese_of_lisieux

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…

Diocletian.

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.

Merciful Like Chrysostom Says Easter Is

St John Chrysostom in St PatricksSt. John Chrysostom died 1611 years ago tomorrow. He was a Syrian. He suffered at the hands of hostile secular rulers. He suffered at the hands of jealous fellow clerics. He lived an endless love affair with Christ, with learning, and with his flock. He bequeathed to us an all-but-bottomless treasury of Christian love, rendered in writing.

At Holy Mass today, we heard the Lord Jesus command us: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.

How?

One way to answer that question might be to meditate on another question: To whom does Easter belong? Here is St. John Chrysostom’s answer to that question:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Are there any who are grateful servants? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord! Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; if any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt, for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate, but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first….

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it. He destroyed Hell when He descended into it…

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Even More Dramatic

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If we were looking for something more-dramatic than the controversy involving the pope and bishops, we found it. The Passion of St. John the Baptist, the anniversary of which we keep today.

St. John, while languishing in prison, sent two of his disciples to Jesus, to ask if He is indeed the Christ. I think we can safely assume that John sent these disciples with this question for their benefit, not his; he knew the truth.

Anyway, the Lord Jesus answered the question with a kind of question of his own (though it was hardly a prevarication 🙂 ) The Lord asked them: What do you see?

I have come, and the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear; lepers are clean, the dead rise again, and the poor have hope. Blessed is the one who takes no offense in Me.

In other words: Look, I may be a humble, dusty, sweaty Nazorean with no property, surrounded by low-class followers. But I am obviously the Messiah. You can see with your own eyes that I am the King of Justice, Peace, and true Life.

Tissot Herod
Herod

…Now to the dramatic moment of St. John’s death.

Herod drunk at his egomaniacal birthday celebration. Engaging in perverse, incestuous sensuality by leering at his own step-daughter, who was also his half-niece, the daughter of his half-brother. Reveling in his worldly power, swearing up and down to give her anything–as if he, Herod, were some kind of tin-pot god.

Then a dark thunderclap cuts through all the debauched levity. Execute the holy man. Kill the herald of the Messiah.

The mother and daughter had called Herod’s bluff.

Herod knew that what they asked him to do was wrong—grievously, preposterously wrong. He knew that a sober man would not think of such an act of violence. He knew that John, and John’s lord Jesus, spoke righteous truth, gave hope, offered people a path toward a good and wholesome life in the sight of God.

A big part of Herod’s own soul wanted to go down that path. But he couldn’t choose it; wouldn’t choose it. Instead, he chose merciless, hopeless, meaningless death. All because he feared being exposed for the puny little fraud that he actually was.

May God save us from such a fate. May He strengthen us so that we can face our choices humbly and soberly.

Let’s start by freely acknowledging that we ourselves are puny little frauds. No need to fear being exposed as such; we declare it ourselves! Then let’s stay close to Jesus and His saints.