Mercy Toward the Enemy

Whoever lives the truth comes to the light. (John 3:21) The light of calm, sober truth—which we can only reach by a patient search. A calm, patient search for truth. For instance, when an accused criminal faces a trial in a court of law, governed by fair rules.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote us a letter Monday, exhorting us to seek holiness by practicing mercy. Mercy not just towards the people we like, but towards everyone who needs help. After all, the Lord taught us to love our enemies.

osama-bin-ladenSo: Get ready for a doozy of a homiletic application. After all, this week marks the anniversary of two deaths.

The first one is the martyrdom of the Polish saint, Stanislaus. He died at the hands of a lawless monarch, who had kidnapped and plundered, and abused his power up and down the land. St. Stanislaus, as the bishop of Krakow, condemned King Boleslaw for this. So the king killed the bishop with his own hands, during Mass.

Now, St. Stanislaus recently had a very-famous successor as Bishop of Krakow. When Pope John Paul II visited his former cathedral to venerate the relics of St. Stanislaus, he referred to his holy predecessor as the “patron of moral order for the Polish people.”

Moral order. A sober society of law, justice, and peace, governed by the calm light of truth. That’s the ideal of Poland, and it’s our ideal, too. Truth, justice, the American Way. Terrorists have attacked that ideal by killing innocent people, especially on September 11, 2001. Decent people rightly condemn the terrorists for having done that.


The other anniversary this week is what some people regarded as President Obama’s finest hour. Zero dark thirty happened seven years ago, during the second week of Easter. I remember reading John 3:16-21 at Holy Mass right after learning that we had killed Osama bin Laden.

VATICAN-US-OBAMA-POPEBut I cannot call that President Obama’s finest hour. Because he should have expressed one regret about what happened, and he never did.

Perhaps we never could have captured bin Laden alive and tried him for his crimes in a court of law. But it would have been better if we could have. If bin Laden had been tried, according to the rule of law, he might rightly have received the death penalty. But applying the death penalty without a trial—that is not what we stand for. That’s not the American Way. That’s not moral order.

I said this would be a doozy of an application of our Holy Father’s exhortation for us to practice mercy. But can we doubt that—even at the very moment when he breathed his last, after suffering a mortal blow—can we doubt that Saint Stanislaus prayed for king Boleslaw, the very man who had just killed him? Can we doubt it? After all, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them.” King Boleslaw and St. Stanislaus might be friends in heaven now.

Maybe, when Osama bin Laden died seven years ago, he went straight to hell. But we should not think that he did. We should assume that he is in purgatory, having been redeemed somehow by the omnipotent power of the blood of Christ. And we should pray and offer sacrifices for the repose of our enemy’s soul. It’s not easy to say, but we have to find a way to say: “May Osama bin Laden rest in peace.”

If we can’t bring ourselves to do that, then we’re not as holy as we should be.


25th Anniversary

Christ Sanhedrin

Lord Jesus was “put on trial,” after a fashion, by those members of the Sanhedrin willing to sit in judgment on Him in the middle of the night. They found Him guilty of blasphemy. [Spanish]

Are you the Son of God?  “I am.  And you will see me at the right hand of the Father, coming in glory.” (Mark 14:62)

The High Priest tore his tunic over these words. And he would have been right to do so, to execrate such blasphemy—had Jesus said something untrue. But it is true. The Nazarene will come in glory at the right hand of the Father. We will all see it, on the great and final day.

Jesus bore witness to the truth of Who He is. God. May we bear fearless witness to this truth, also. Let’s bear witness to it during the week to come. We will celebrate the most-sacred ceremonies of the year this week, the ceremonies that unfold the mysteries of Christ’s divine love. Thursday evening… Friday evening… then Saturday night.

Clovis Baptism St RemiSpeaking of witnesses to Christ: a week from now, we will have some new Catholics. Christ triumphed over the death that He suffered. The grace of His undying life comes to us in the sacraments. The Sacraments of Christian Initiation unite us with the Messiah Who conquered death. Baptism, Confirmation, First Holy Communion. We celebrate these sacraments with our adult catechumens and candidates at the Easter Vigil.

Holy Week means everything to all of us, of course. But for those of us who entered the Church as adults, this week has the additional significance of being our anniversary. Anyone who will keep a first anniversary as a Catholic this year? A second anniversary? A fifth? How about anyone who will celebrate any anniversary of joining the Church on Saturday night? Hands up, please.

It’s a big one for me. Twenty-five years. On Holy Saturday night, 1993, I became a Catholic. I was 22 years old then. Now I’m… So I have a working title for my memoirs. “Growing Old a Catholic.”

May the Lord give us all a prayerful Holy Week. May He fill us with His graces, unto eternal life.

Homiletic Summary of Placuit Deo

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You shall no longer say ‘my God’ to the work of your hands. (Mark 12:30, Hosea 14:9)

No individual human being can “save” him- or herself.

We don’t even come into existence by our own power in the first place. We arrive as the fruit of our mother’s and father’s loins. We learn how to deal with reality according to the ways and customs of our people and nation. And somewhere around age seven, we realize: I am a unique person with a unique path to my destiny. I have been formed out of nothing and set on this path by the one Being Who knows and understands it all, God Almighty.

chesapeake-bay-sailing1Where does this path of destiny lead? Unto “salvation.” I can say certain things about what that means. No more sickness and death. No more cruelty, injustice, oppression, and slavery. Joy. Peace. Unlimited Sno-Cones.

But any honest inquiry into the specifics of heaven leaves us right here: Just as our human origins lay shrouded in mysteries beyond our full comprehension, so does our human destiny. We believe in the heaven of Jesus Christ, which we cannot right now see.

It may be like the Grand Canyon on a sunny day with kegs of craft beer everywhere. It may be like an Italian restaurant with charming waiters and waitresses and plenty of espresso. It may be like a sleek sailboat on a broad reach, with a multi-color spinnaker, headed to a tropical island. It may be a warm bowl of tomato basil soup, and a glass of chianti, beside a wood fire. All of this and more than this—‘redemption, ‘salvation’ transcends our minds.

But: the elevated spirituality of heaven does not mean that I reach it only by removing my interior self from the world as I know it. To the contrary. The Lord–Whom we must love more than the works of our own hands–command us: Love your neighbor.

We came to be who we are through an amazing web of relationships: mom and dad, the whole family, the people who wrote all the books I have read, and who grew the food I have eaten on their farms, and who built the roads I have traveled on, etc. etc. A web of dependence gave rise to our very existence. And we reach our destiny through a web of dependence, too. Praising and thanking God in the bosom of His Church, loving everyone around us. Fulfilling myself not by focusing on myself, but by forgetting myself.

May God make us wise and prudent enough to follow His paths with humble faith.

Salvation is found in relationships that are born from the incarnate Son of God and that form the communion of the Church… Salvation does not consist in the self-realization of the isolated individual. Rather salvation consists in being incorporated into a communion of persons that participates in the communion of the Trinity. (Placuit Deo 12)

Remembering the Holy Past

Scripture commands us: Take care not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory, as long as you live. (Deuteronomy 4:9)

A ‘for instance’ might be: At one point in time, we had sunny mornings in this part of the world. Some of us can remember the sun rising into a beautiful blue sky. We need to teach our young children about this–that such things can happen–even though the little ones will have a hard time believing it, never having seen it themselves.

el_greco-sinaiOf course we could think of many other examples of historical events to cherish in our memories. The Scriptures got written in order to keep alive the memory of certain events that we never saw, but which our spiritual ancestors saw.

The ancient ones saw the pillar of fire leading them from slavery under a cruel taskmaster into the freedom of God’s children. They saw Mount Sinai enveloped in lightning and clouds as God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Most importantly of all, our spiritual ancestors saw the Christ crucified, buried, and then: risen from the dead, never to die again.

Now, when it comes to keeping alive the memory of the tablets from Mount Sinai, we might get depressed. At one point the Ark of Covenant got lost forever, and they’re not making Indiana Jones movies anymore.

But we need not despair: God actually wrote the Ten Commandments into our very nature as human beings. All of us are born rational, social, religious animals. The Ten Commandments cannot pass into the oblivion of the forgotten past, since we inherit them simply by getting born as human beings.

When Jesus conquered death and gave Himself to us as the medicine of immortality, He made following the Ten Commandments both possible and worthwhile. Without Christ’s heavenly grace, we could never overcome our moral weaknesses. And without the horizon of eternal life, we wouldn’t bother to try to overcome them.

But, as it is, we have a great historical fact upon which to base everything. We base our lives on Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. The Holy Mass expresses this fact and connects us with it. Christ lives with us in the Mass. And the fact of the Holy Mass means that endless sunny mornings await those who live in Christ.

Unremarkable Fountains of Grace

At the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee, ten years ago, with Father Tim Meares of Raleigh

There were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian. (Luke 4:27)

Lord Jesus’ point: familiarity breeds contempt. Prophets tend to exercise their powers when people revere them from afar. Up close prophets look too much like regular human beings.

What about Naaman’s cleansing? Elisha ordered him to bathe in the River Jordan. Is the River Jordan some kind of unique, amazing river? A splendid spectacle, like Niagara Falls, the Blue Danube, the mighty Hudson, and the holy Ganges all rolled into one? Hardly. The Jordan looks like other, familiar rivers, like the Shenandoah, the Roanoke, the Smith, or the Dan.

So Namaan the Syrian got mad. ‘Why did I bother with this Israelite prophet, who I thought was awesome? He just prescribes the same remedies I might have found back in Syria.’

But the servants reasoned with their valiant general. ‘Sir, if the prophet had ordered you to scale Mount Everest with your hands bound in oily gauze; if he had demanded that you do hot yoga, or a juice fast, or a coffee purge and a Japanese tea ceremony—you would have done these things. So why not go down to this little Jordan River, unimpressive as it is, and just see what happens?’

And Naaman’s leprous flesh was cleansed; it became like the skin of a little child. And the Syrian learned that the world has no god other than the God of Israel.

Tried and true remedies actually have a way of bringing about wonderful results. To find God, you don’t necessarily have to go to an ashram, or a Chumash sweat lodge, or on a pilgrimage to a remote Mongolian yurt. Confession and Mass at the friendly neighborhood parish church might do the trick.

The Green-Eyed Monster

Othello and Iago by Solomon Alexander Hart
“Othello and Iago” by Solomon Alexander Hart

Saul kept a jealous eye on David. (I Samuel 18:19)

From the desk of Snowbound Father Mark… A summary of Question 36 of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, part II-II: De Invidia.

Goodness makes us rejoice. Evil makes us sorrow.

We naturally want honor, a good name, a good reputation–and the prosperity that tends to go with a good reputation. But when we focus too much on winning the esteem of others, we grow vain.

We observe that sometimes people enjoy prosperity and a good reputation because they deserve it. But sometimes the unjust and undeserving prosper, and that makes us indignant.

When we meditate on the truths of the Christian faith, we recognize that success and prosperity in this world is one thing–relatively short lived. On the other hand, success and prosperity in the pursuit of holiness and eternal life–that’s another thing. That’s worth pursuing with zeal, with jealousy. May we all jealously strive to get to heaven.

While we do, we’ll forget about vanity. And we’ll learn to accept the fact that this world deals out rewards and punishments in an amazingly unfair way.

Divine love rejoices when anyone prospers with the truly beautiful goods of eternal life–with virtue and genuine excellence. By the same token, divine love sorrows and feels pity whenever a neighbor suffers.

When, on the other hand, we lose sight of the real goal of all our striving, and seek only success and recognition in this world, then we live in a state of competition with our peers. We sorrow at the neighbor’s achievement and excellence–because I think his or her success somehow harms me, makes me look like a loser by comparison.

Now, even good people experience twinges of envy–these twinges are venial sins. But if I forget heaven, grow vain, and let the green-eyed monster take over my my mind, I will gossip; I will tear down; I will hate. And then I will heartlessly rejoice at the misfortune of the one who has excelled me.

The rule to measure ourselves by: The loving, merciful person does not envy anyone–except the saints in heaven, whom he hopes to join. But the envious person shows no mercy.

Looking for God, Experiencing God


“What are you looking for?” The first words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John. Christ asks this question of those who follow Him. Andrew and the other gentleman literally followed Christ–after they saw Him walk by and heard St. John the Baptist call Him the “Lamb of God.” [Spanish.]

“What are you looking for?” Christ asks us the same question, we who propose to follow Him as His disciples, here and now, 2018. What are we looking for?

How about: “We’re looking for God.” We seek our Maker, our Lord. We seek His true and eternal goodness and beauty. We behold His works: the splendid visible creation, and the great mystery of ourselves. We see from His handiwork that God has unimaginable power and knowledge. We long to share in His wisdom. We know that we can have no peace without His friendship.

St. Andrew and the other gentleman answered Jesus’ question by calling Him “rabbi.” A rabbi taught the Law, the wisdom of God. By addressing Jesus with this title, they said pretty much what we just said. That is, “Jesus, sir, teach us about God.”

They added a question of their own. “Where are you staying?”

Now, on the one hand, it’s a strange question to ask the Son of Man–Who had no place to rest His Head, Whose only true dwelling is with the Father. But, on the other hand, the question expresses genuine earnestness. It means: ‘Teacher, we want to learn from you, not just as religious tourists chasing curiosities. We want to follow You as real disciples, living in intimate closeness with You. We will give up our own homes, and we will make our home at Your feet.’

Can we say the same? We said that we follow Christ because we want God; we know that only God can give us true happiness and peace. Can we join St. Andrew and St. Peter in putting everything on the line for the sake of learning God’s wisdom from Jesus? Everything: all that we thought was ours, all that we thought we knew. Can we renounce every ounce of pride and self-satisfaction and put ourselves humbly at Jesus’ feet?

aquinasHe demands no less. “Come and see,” He says. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, this means: Come, follow Me, and experience true union with God. Experience it, because it cannot be explained using words alone.

Christianity is not something in which you can dabble. It’s not a hobby. It involves an all-encompassing experience of God’s revelation in Christ.

Yes, to be sure, the baby Jesus is lovable and cute. And God became just such a baby so as to communicate the indescribable tenderness and gentleness of His love.

But the cute baby grew up to become the High Priest Who baptizes with the unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit. He grew into the rabbi who taught doctrine so demandingly sublime that His rivals came to hate Him for it, and they wanted Him dead.

Now: How can we possibly experience what Jesus demands that we experience? Namely, His Holy Spirit working in our souls, giving us an intimate union with Almighty God. Putting us in communion not just with the heavens and the earth, but with He Who made the heavens and the earth.

Well, if you expect me to have a complete answer to that question, think again. I’m hardly qualified to discourse about such holiness.

But we can say this much: We experience the work of the Holy Spirit in our souls when we stay close to Christ in His Church. He speaks to us through the Scriptures and all the words and works of the Sacred Liturgy; He fills us with His grace through the sacraments.

Yes, it’s amazing that this humble building of ours could house such mystical activity. It’s incredible that these simple ceremonies we do here actually involve God incarnate ministering to us. It’s hard to believe that we unremarkable individuals could find ourselves caught up in the work of the Holy Spirit of God. It’s amazing. But it’s true.

So let’s stay faithful to it. What more can we do, other than stay faithful? We can’t claim to understand the works of God. We certainly don’t know of anything more wonderful. So let’s stay faithful, and the Holy Spirit will do His work in us.

Knowing the Meaning of “Love”

baptismchristgreco1I guess we could formulate the fundamental question of life in various ways.

Like “Why do I exist?” Or “Where is all this headed exactly?”

But one question that seems to distill everything to its essence would be:

Does God love me or not? Does God love and care about us bipeds with opposable thumbs, or not?

Massive catastrophes can and do befall the human race, leading us to suspect that the Omnipotent One does not love. Bomb-cyclone winter weather events. Sicknesses and early deaths. Think about all the people who drowned in the Great Flood. And even Noah and his family probably got sick and tired of floating on all that water.

But then God gave a sign about the answer to the question, Does God care? He gave a sign that the answer is Yes. A dove. The dove returned with an olive branch in its beak. Yes, God justly punishes sin. But that is not His primary interest. He more-ardently renews the earth with His mercy.

We say, “God is love.” We don’t really know what that means. We don’t know what the word ‘God’ means. And we don’t really know what the word ‘love’ means.

But we do not remain altogether baffled, because: The dove descended upon Christ. God and love: Christ reveals the truth of the matter. The Holy Spirit is God, is love, is fire and uncompromising justice, and comfort and healing oil and a gentle breeze.

Did the Flood make sense to the people who drowned? Or even to Noah and his family on the ark?

If we think we can even formulate the fundamental question of life—let alone answer it—without the one man Jesus Christ, living and real, Who has a Church; if we think there’s some science of reality, and of love, other than Him…

Well, I don’t know. But I’ll venture to predict that any other basis for coping with reality will ultimately collapse under the weight of reality itself.

On the other hand: the beloved Son, in Whom the Father is well pleased; the One Who knows how to say, Abba, Father; our Lord Who underwent the exodus of Calvary: He will assure us, with the witness of His indubitable beauty, that God does indeed love.

Another 1968?


Le Pape Paul VI A New York

On the eighth day after His birth, the newborn Israelite boy was circumcised and given His Name… Which means: “God saves.”

The pope has declared Jesus’ circumcision day to be the “World Day of Peace.” Monday was the 50th World Day of Peace. Which means the first one was: January 1, 1968. Let’s see; what happened that year?

Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated. Robert Kennedy assassinated. Riots in Washington, DC, Chicago, Baltimore, Kansas City, Wilmington DE, and Louisville KY. The Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Protests, shootings, and Black-Power fists at the Olympics in Mexico City. The students shut down Columbia University. Riots in Paris. Prague Spring—then Soviet tanks rolled in. President Johnson won’t run for re-election. Nixon wins the presidency.

Also: Blessed Pope Paul VI taught definitively that artificial birth control is immoral, and he approved the revised Order of the Mass.

1968 was not, actually, pure chaos. Pope Paul and President Johnson spent the spring working together to try to bring an end to the war in Vietnam that everyone seemed to be protesting.

Our current US president graduated from the University of Pennsylvania that spring, then received a draft deferment. And our current pope was finishing his theology studies before his ordination to the priesthood in 1969.

Will 2018 unfold as dramatically as 1968 did? Will it prove to be another year of apparent chaos? Maybe. Only the good Lord knows. The good Lord Who saves us. By becoming one of us. Jesus.

One thing we know for sure: He lives, and He loves. He will love us through 2018, no matter what this year brings.

Moses and Us Seeing the Invisible


Once every three years on Holy Family Sunday we read from the eleventh chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. [Spanish.]

Now, the Bible contains many inspiring chapters.  To claim that any particular chapter qualifies as The Most Inspiring Chapter of the Holy Bible! Who could make such a judgment?  But Hebrews 11 will give any chapter a run for the money.  If you only intend to read one single chapter of the Bible between now and the end of 2017, and you decide to make it Hebrews 11–good choice.

We hear at Holy Mass how the paragraphs of Hebrews 11 begin. They begin with “By faith, So-and-so did such-and-such.”  By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to move to an unknown land.  By faith, Abraham received the power to generate offspring, even though he had passed the normal age, and had a sterile wife.  By faith, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up his son Isaac.

Now, Hebrews 11 recounts not just Abraham’s faith.  The chapter chronicles the faith of the successive generations of Israelites who awaited the fulfillment of God’s promises.  The chapter exhorts the Christian Church to unswerving faith.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, based practically his whole encyclical Lumen Fidei on Hebrews 11; he quotes the chapter thirteen times.  Like when he writes:

If we remove faith in God from our cities, mutual trust would be weakened.  We would remain united only by fear, and our stability would be threatened. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that ‘God is not ashamed to be called their God…’ (Heb 11:16)… The intention is to say that God, by his concrete actions, makes a public avowal that he is present in our midst and that he desires to solidify every human relationship. (paragraph 55)

Anyway, one particular verse of Hebrews 11 struck me.  In the section of the chapter after the part about Abraham and his sons, St. Paul considers the faith of Moses.  We read:

Pope Paul VI 1975By faith, Moses left Egypt, not fearing Pharaoh’s fury.  For Moses persevered as if he could see the invisible God.

Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, marching towards the sea, with chariots in hot pursuit.  No earthly consideration could have made the situation hopeful.  Didn’t look good at all.  But Moses marched forward as if he could see the invisible God.

We see the baby Jesus, a baby, a boy.  A human being, like us.  But, by faith, we look at the infant in the manger as if we could see the invisible God.  The Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the shepherds:  gazing at the baby, adoring Him, as if they could see the invisible God.

Nothing will evangelize like this.  The world needs the Good News of Christ.  And nothing will convince like the witness of people who speak and live as if we could see the invisible. Let me quote Pope Paul VI:

The world shows innumerable signs of denying God.  But, nevertheless, she searches for him in unexpected ways.  She painfully experiences the need for Him.  The world is calling for evangelizers to speak of a God whom they know and are familiar with, as if they could see the invisible. (Evangelii Nuntiandi 76)

For us, this requires discipline.  It requires constant engagement with Christ, through Scripture and the sacraments.  It requires renouncing the “concupiscence of our eyes,” which grasp like desperate babies for stimulation.

Moses did not lead the Israelites to the Promised Land by pulling out his smartphone all the time and checking it.  Moses could see the invisible because he had conquered the concupiscence of his eyes, by denying them the immediate satisfaction that they crave.

Let’s think of the long, slow nights which Mary and Joseph spent with the baby.  Hours of quiet breathing, little baby noises, in the pitch-black night.  Totally unexciting.  Except that they could see the invisible God.

That’s how we can learn to see the invisible, too.  By embracing quiet, and solitude—and not running away.  By becoming people who are not afraid to pray, to pray with reckless abandon to the unseen God. Utterly unseen—except, in Jesus Christ, we see Him, and we know Him.