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.

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Beautiful Galilean Feet

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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.

Defenseless and Fearless in Church

martyrs of abitene
The martyrs of Abitine

 

Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind; blessed will you be because of their inability to repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:13-14)

When Christians come together to worship God, everything transpires peacefully—almost always. But not absolutely every time.

The ancient Romans sometimes prohibited celebrating Mass, and martyrs lost their lives as a result. Forty-nine Christians were arrested and ultimately executed in Abitene, Tunisia, in AD 304, during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. When the proconsul asked them why they defied the law and had Mass anyway, one of them replied, “We cannot live without Sunday Mass.”

Where Christians come together and worship God, the doors stand open. Everyone is invited. The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the outcasts and weirdos, the creeps and hateful people, the atheists and the nihilists. When Christians come together and worship God, it’s not a club with a clear list of members and non-members. It’s a sprawling, teeming, open public place.

So we have accept this fact: We cannot defend ourselves against cruel and random acts of violence. We can’t do it any more than anyone else can, anyone who wants to have an open, public place where people can come together, like a shopping mall or a public park. If a church isn’t an open, public place where people can come together, then it isn’t a church.

But: We have a totally different point-of-view on our bodily safety anyway. We love life, to be sure; we Christians have no death wish. But the fear of death can’t scare us away from church.

To the contrary: the fear of death scares us into going to Church. Being a Christian means sobering up to this inconvenient fact: we’re all going to die sooner or later anyway. What really matters is what’s going to happen then.

And the Lord clearly said: When you welcome everyone, even the one who would shoot you for absolutely no good reason, then you will receive a reward. We Christians do not fear the Devin Kelleys of the world. May he, and everyone he killed, find God’s mercy.

We will keep our doors open. We cannot live without Holy Mass.

Friends with Saints

john paul ii mother teresa

Age can catch up with a guy. The good Lord gives us plenty of reminders. Like the gray hair. The sore back. The diminishing powers of memory.

But how about when you celebrate the feastdays of saints that you met in person–back when you were young? Like Pope St. John Paul II. Or St. Mother Teresa. The good Lord blessed me with the opportunity to meet both of them, back before I had gray hair, and those two saints still walked the earth.

Not everyone gets opportunities like that. Being a seminarian gives you some special chances. But all of us have the opportunity to get to know particular saints. We can visit the places they lived. Or we can read about them. Or, if they themselves wrote, we can read their own writings.

st_therese_of_lisieuxSt. Therese of Lisieux died in 1897–way before I was born. (I’m not that old.) But I feel like I know her well, because I have read her Story of a Soul. Everyone who has read that book feels personally close to St. Therese, because she wrote so honestly and humbly and clearly.

St. Junipero Serra died in California even way before St. Therese was born, way before any of our great-great-great-great-grandparents were born. But I feel like I know St. Junipero well, too, because I had the chance to visit the missions he founded, from San Diego to San Francisco. I walked where the saint walked, and I saw the land and the sky from the same point-of-view as he saw them. Also: I got to concelebrate his canonization Mass with Pope Francis.

My point here is: Getting to know a saint or two—getting to know them personally, so to speak, is something we can all do. And when we do that, we discover that the saints always had a saint or two that they knew personally, to whom they prayed every day. St. Junipero was friends with St. Francis, even though St. Francis died centuries before Junipero was born. St. Therese was friends with St. Theresa of Avila, even though St. Theresa died centuries before St. Therese was born. Part of becoming a saint is to have a saint or two among your best friends, the people you talk to the most.

Reading really helps in this area. I love to read, so I have made friends with a couple saints who wrote a lot, especially St. Thomas Aquinas. That’s just me; we all have our particular interests, which means we will have affinities for particular some saints, and not others. The important thing is for each of us to find an interesting saint.

Or, let the saint find me somehow. A lot of times we stumble across a favorite saint, just by visiting a new church, or looking into things like: Whose feast day is my birthday? Or my wedding anniversary? Or such-and-such other day that is significant in my life.

So let’s all find a saint or two for close friends, if we haven’t already.

Of course, we all have the Blessed Mother for a close friend, of course. All the saints have loved the Blessed Mother best. That’s the way it should be. That is, all the saints have loved her the best, except she herself. She simply loves others with everything she has.

 

Just Thoughts, Righteous Feelings, Good Works

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
upon those boughs which shake against the cold.
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

(Wm. Shakespeare, sonnet 73)

Soon Mother Earth will edge into chill, even with global warming. The waning days of fall remind us that our pilgrim life flies fast. Here in the northern hemisphere, we approach the season of the Last Things.

The Word of God teaches us: the Son of Man will come in glory. At an hour we do not expect. The Judge Who sets all to rights will suddenly arrive from heaven.

st nikolaj velimirovic

St. Nikolaj Velimirovic wrote a little catechism to explain the Christian religion. He poses the question:

How should we prepare ourselves for that tremendous day, Judgment Day?

The saint’s answer:

With just thoughts, with righteous feelings, and with good works, according to the teachings of Christ and the Church, and the example of the saints.

Just thoughts, righteous feelings, good works.

Now, how do we know what thoughts are truly just, what feelings truly righteous, and what works are truly good? By studying the teachings of Christ and His Church, and the example of the saints.

Next week we keep the Solemnity of…?

All Saints day falls on its proper date because, back in Roman times, the pope consecrated a chapel in honor of all the martyrs on November 1. But it’s no co-incidence that we keep the Solemnity of all the saints at the very time of year when the trees and the air remind us that we will all die.

Because the legions of saints show us how to be ready. They teach us that everyone has his or her own individual way of readying him- or herself, by growing ever closer to Christ in the specific little life He has laid out for each of us.

Jesus Christ and His Church—that’s what all the saints have in common. The saints had just thoughts and righteous feelings, and they did good works. We can, too, just like they did—when we stay close to Christ, in His Church.

North-American Martyrs and Blessed Paul VI

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St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Margaret Mary and Friedrich Nietzsche

St. Margaret Mary* received the vision of the… Sacred Heart. The divine human Heart. Of Jesus. Beating right now.

St. Paul began his letter to the Romans by declaring the fundamental historical fact involved in the proclamation of the Gospel: the divine man Jesus died and rose again. The resurrection..

Lord Jesus Himself referred to this fundamental fact in our gospel reading at Holy Mass today, too: The sign of God’s saving work on earth is the sign of Jonah. The death of Christ; His burial; then His resurrection from the dead on the third day.

Mencken NietzscheIs Christianity something nice? Something good? Something helpful? Does Christianity make positive contributions to world history? Does it have beneficial psychological effects? Does it make people better citizens? More productive? Better educated?

Anyone ever heard of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche? About 125 years ago, many European Christians lost confidence in the historical reliability of the gospels. These Christians decided they weren’t 100% sure that Jesus actually did rise from the dead on Easter Sunday.

Instead they started arguing things like: Our ancient Scriptures may not be altogether true, but isn’t Christianity good for mankind anyway? Hasn’t it contributed to the progress of the human race? Doesn’t it make people nice?

Nietzsche responded with a withering attack. Christianity has helped the human race? No! To the contrary. It makes people too weak and submissive. Too stoic about their difficulties. Too resigned to suffering. Christianity makes people too sympathetic with others and un-competitive. Christianity has hurt the human race worse than anything, Nietzsche argued, because we do better when we put our individual selves first and fight!

Now, to our ears, these sound like scandalous arguments. Selfishness is better? Contempt for the weak is better? Nietzsche’s ideas strike us as appallingly ugly.

Except that they tend to ring true in the world as we know it. The world is manifestly not nice. If the question is: Is being nice better, or is being competitive better? Or: Is being selfish better, or is being empathetic better? Or: Would the human race be more “advanced” if no one had ever heard of Christ? If those are the fundamental questions, we don’t have the answers.

Which is why we always have to stay focused on facts. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Selflessness, kindness, and being willing to suffer for true love are all better. But only because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

That fact comes first. We can leave questions about the “advancement of mankind” to others. We’re not even sure that we ourselves are really all that nice. But we are Christians. Because Jesus of Nazareth is alive.

 

__________________________

*Died 327 years ago tomorrow.

Rise and Walk

John XXIII Vatican II

We keep a Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII today, because he solemnly opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11.

And he spoke on that occasion with such gentle faith, such serene confidence in the goodness of God, and of man, that it almost makes you want to weep to read it, fifty-five years later…

The Church has always opposed errors, and often condemned them with the utmost severity. Today, however, Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity…

Not that the need to repudiate and guard against erroneous teaching and dangerous ideologies is less today than formerly. But all such error is so manifestly contrary to rightness and goodness, and produces such fatal results, that our contemporaries show every inclination to condemn it of their own accord—especially that way of life which repudiates God and His law, and which places excessive confidence in technical progress and an exclusively material prosperity. It is more and more widely understood that personal dignity and true self-realization are of vital importance and worth every effort to achieve. More important still, experience has at long last taught men that physical violence, armed might, and political domination are no help at all in providing a happy solution to the serious problems which affect them.

As the pope spoke then, the great world wars of the 20th century still lay fresh in everyone’s memory. The ravages that systematic atheism had wrought: it stood in front of everyone’s eyes, an open wound on the face of the earth. The pope thought to himself (I paraphrase): We have learned something from this terrible upheaval and senseless slaughter. Living now in communion with Christ, and made wiser by harsh experience, we can become the human race that He made us to be!

The pope went on:

The great desire, therefore, of the Catholic Church in raising aloft at this Council the torch of truth, is to show herself to the world as the loving mother of all mankind; gentle, patient, and full of tenderness and sympathy… To the human race oppressed by so many difficulties, she says what Peter once said to the poor man who begged alms: “Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, that I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk.”

In other words it is not corruptible wealth, nor the promise of earthly happiness, that the Church offers the world today, but the gifts of divine grace which, since they raise men up to the dignity of being sons of God, are powerful assistance and support for the living of a more fully human life. She unseals the fountains of her life-giving doctrine, so that men, illumined by the light of Christ, will understand their true nature and dignity and purpose. Everywhere, through her children, she extends the frontiers of Christian love, the most powerful means of eradicating the seeds of discord, the most effective means of promoting concord, peace with justice, and universal brotherhood.

Was the holy pope a dreamer? Overly sanguine? Can we see him in our mind’s eye 55 years later, and not think: What a kind man—but naïve!

Well, if we dismiss St. John XXIII as naïve, we might as well stop saying the Our Father. Let’s pray for the grace to believe in God and in man, let evil rage as it might. If we die at the hands of the wicked, with them mumbling, “What hopeless naifs these Catholics are!” so much the better.

Seeing

The Samaritan saw the wounded man. Seeing the man in his distress moved the Samaritan—moved him to compassion. He saw, and seeing moved him. Seeing the reality of the wounds, the suffering, the victimization of the innocent.

Was the robbery victim perfectly innocent? Perfectly pure? We don’t know that. Be he did not deserve to be robbed and beaten and left half-dead by the side of the lonely road. That much the Samaritan instantly saw. The others had not seen it—the priest and levite, distracted as they were by important matters…

How can we see each other like the Samaritan saw the wounded man? I find myself a bit overwhelmed today, as if by an avalanche of events and emotions. The man eight nights ago manifestly did not see the people in the plaza below like the Samaritan saw the wounded traveler. An unimaginable blindness had overtaken the man in the Mandalay hotel. Scales harder than granite covered his eyes. Not that he couldn’t see to aim. Obviously he aimed successfully. But he could not really see what he successfully aimed at.

Why? What caused his lifeless blindness? Must we not find compassion for him, too? Somehow?

Then Tom Petty died. And it seems like Prince just died. Like yesterday. And I cannot handle all this death of my musicians.

Plus today is the anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Denis. They cut off his head on Montmartre in Paris. But he picked it up and carried it a few miles north of the city, preaching the whole way, before he lay down and died.

Some profound Europeans met in the city of St. Denis last week. They made an amazingly penetrating statement about themselves. It’s a statement that can help us Americans a lot, I think.

Jason Aldean made a statement on Saturday, too. He’s the musician who was singing when the shots rang out last Sunday night. He covered Tom Petty’s “Stand My Ground” in New York on Saturday. To very inspiring effect.

But these gentlemen of Europe managed to express some principles for us. Principles by which we can stand our American ground, even when things happen that can drive you to despair. I’ll probably have a lot more to say about this Paris Statement. It distinguishes the “true Europe” from the “false Europe.” For today let me just quote these few sentences:

The true Europe has been marked by Christianity. The true Europe affirms the equal dignity of every individual. This arises from our Christian roots. Our gentle virtues are of unmistakably Christian heritage: fairness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, peace-making, charity.

I think we can substitute “the true America” for “the true Europe” in this quote.

The true America has been marked by Christianity. The true America affirms the dignity of every individual. This arises from our Christian roots. Our gentle American virtues are of unmistakably Christian heritage: fairness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, peace-making, charity.

Brother Knights, and all dear brothers and sisters, fellow Americans, let’s celebrate Columbus Day by begging our Lord Jesus Christ for the grace to live the love that lets us see each other like the Good Samaritan saw the wounded man.

Wandering Straight, Into the Darkness

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St Francis Receiving the Stigmata by El Greco

 

Today we commemorate the 791st anniversary of the holy death of Francis of Assisi. At Holy Mass, we read from the gospel about how Lord Jesus renounced all possessions and lived as a penniless wanderer. St. Francis embraced the same poverty for the sake of the Kingdom of God. This led St. Francis to wander, also—around his home country, and further afield—all for the purpose of extending the reign of Christ.

But let’s pause and meditate on this: the poverty of Christ, which St. Francis embraced so thoroughly, went way beyond just the renunciation of worldly possessions—of home, and family, and security.

Yes, the Lord Jesus did renounce home and family and security, and that allowed Him to wander, and teach and heal. But Christ did not simply wander as an itinerant rabbi–as if that alone sufficed to fulfill His mission.

In all His wanderings, Christ had a final destination, towards which He proceeded tirelessly, without swerving to the right or to the left. Now, only He could fully perceive the unfolding of this path before Him; even His most-intimate companions could not see the path. But that doesn’t mean Christ didn’t walk straight down it. He did.

The road to the cross.

A Franciscan–a Christian—renounces everything not just because that gives you greater freedom to wander the world and spread the reign of Christ. No: a Christian lets go of everything because death is inevitable, and it’s the only way to God.

A Christian knows that the only thing worth having is God. And there is no way to “have” God during this mortal pilgrim life, except by faith. We “possess” the unknowable God only in the darkness of faith.

God Himself is the light that turns the darkness of faith into the brightness of understanding—but the only way to that light is to share in Christ’s death. His death.

That’s the poverty that liberates and makes us not just wanderers but pilgrims to the Holy Temple. We believe so thoroughly in Christ’s triumph over death that everything (most of all my self) utterly pales in comparison with the prospect of sharing in that triumph.