What did the vineyard owner do to deserve the tenants’ violent rebellion?
Which means: What did the good Lord do, to deserve the ancient Israelites violent rebellion? What did the ancient prophets say, which provoked the people to persecute and kill them?
Things like, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And your neighbor as yourself.” “You shall be holy as the Lord Himself is holy.” “Circumcise not just your foreskins, but your hearts.”
How about prophecies of the Messiah? “A virgin shall bear a son to be called Emmanuel.” “My servant shall not clamor or crush the bruised wick. He shall be pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins… We had all gone astray, but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.”
Or prophecies of the heavenly Jerusalem? “The gates of the city shall be the tribes of Israel, and the name of the city shall be: The Lord is there.” “Your dead will live; their bodies shall rise. Let those who live in the dust wake up and shout for joy. The dew shall be a dew of light.”
They prophesied, and bore witness to, the pure religion, the pure beauty, the pure self-sacrifice, and the pure divine triumph of the Christ. For this, the prophets suffered. At the hands of the complacent, the self-indulgent, the dishonest, the avaricious, the proud, and the desperately ego-centric.
But the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord Jesus can and will unite us with Himself, so that we can give to God our share of the produce, at the proper time. Then the prophecies of the new Jerusalem will come true, in us.
Now, we can give up Snickers Bars for Lent, or drinking wine, or playing video games—it’s all good. The Lord rewards every little sacrifice we make for Him. But, if we really want to keep Holy Lent, we have to do something other than just a nifty little appropriate penance. We have to contemplate those words, long and hard. He was hungry.
A couple years ago I had a conversation with someone who had just had sudden heavy-duty brain surgery. He could not talk. He could not hold his head up. He vomited everything they tried to get down his gullet. He could not use his hands. His head hurt as if there were no other reality on the face of the earth.
Forty days of fasting had gotten Christ to a physical state like that.
One time when I was hiking, I encountered a dehydrated man who had not had water or any liquid for at least 48 hours. He literally was like Christ on the cross, Who—though He had spikes nailed through His hands and feet, and a crown of thorns pressing into His temples—had only one physical complaint. Jesus considered none of His bodily suffering on the cross worth mentioning, except the one desperate need that He articulated when He cried out… “I thirst.”
This lost hiker that I met suffered thirst like Christ suffered on the cross. But the cross wasn’t the first time the Lord thirsted like that. He also suffered it in the desert, during the first Lent.
My point is: It’s good to give up little things, like a second cup of coffee, or listening to music. But the real point of Holy Lent is: for us to encounter the reality of Christ’s human body in a state of desperation unto death. Forty days of fasting doesn’t just make you hungry. It makes you desperate. I’m not telling you to fast like this! Please don’t! But we must contemplate it.
The true physical desperation of the fasting Christ: It can be found in hospital rooms, in prisons, in rehabs, in the corners of the world where war and cruelty have desiccated the soil. In those places, a fast like Christ’s fast is actually underway right now.
Now, why must the Lord drag us into such unpleasantness as this? Does He despise or dislike us? No. To the contrary. He wants us to find the sure footing by which we can answer this question: Where do we stand, you and I, in the relationship that unites the divine Father with the divine Son? Where do we belong, in that soberly syncopated everlasting festival dance of eternal triune love?
As we will read next Sunday, God the Father Almighty’s Word to us is: I love My Only-Begotten Son! The Son Who thirsted like a delirious lost desert hiker. The Son Who hungered for food with all the physical vehemence that can overtake a man trying to dry out in a drunk tank.
There is nothing dainty about the physical extremes that the Son of God suffered in His Body. He didn’t just feel like He was going to die of hunger and thirst during His fast in the wilderness. He knew He was going to die of asphyxiation, when His diaphragm ran out of cellular ATP and He could no longer distend His lungs to breathe, three years later.
The eternal Son has enjoyed the eternal love of the eternal Father from before the world began. Neither the Father nor the Son lacked anything. But the triune God is generous, infinitely generous.
So the Son embraced our utter physical desperation. We human beings, desperate unto death–hungry, thirsty, sick, mortal. He embraced us, right there, in our desperation. Right at the moment where we cry out, Abba, Father!
And when we cry out to Him like the Son did, the Father replies—of you, and of me: “This is My chosen son. This is my chosen daughter. This is the one I live to love.”
Choose life, says the Lord. Choose to believe in God Almighty. And in His Christ, sent into the world with infinite divine love.
Choose to pray. Choose to seek wisdom from God and His saints. Do good. Avoid evil. Study God’s laws, and obey them.
Love God’s people. The people first gathered as the sons and daughters of Abraham, and now gathered as all the faithful in communion with St. Peter’s successor. Love Holy Mother Church, in other words. Never betray her or do violence to her.
Humble yourself in order to exalt yourself. God didn’t make no dummies, and He didn’t make no trash. He has a plan for peace and true happiness for all of us. But we can only know that plan one little step at a time. We don’t have infinite, providential minds. We’re no dummies, but the smartest thing we can do is: obey God. Acknowledge Him; revere Him; kiss His earth for His sake; submit to Him.
…I have been reading one book after another about climbing Mount Everest. I bring this up because we have begun to climb spiritually, up the ‘mountain’ of Easter.
One lesson of the books I have read about climbing Everest: You can’t fight with the mountain. Mount Everest will win. You must submit completely to the entire reality determined by the mountain itself.
Which means: Even though you may have dumped tens of thousands of dollars in to your Everest expedition, you might get to the top. And you might not.
The weather might simply refuse to co-operate. Your own body might react to the thin atmosphere in such a way that summiting proves simply impossible for you. Your teammates might have health problems that make the final ascent impossible.
In other words: A greater power than you will determine whether or not you reach the top. Not you. If you become willful about summiting, what may very well happen to you? RIP.
So, dear brothers and sisters: Let’s kiss God’s earth at the bottom of the mountain of Easter. Let’s look up at God—the God-man, crucified and risen from the dead, ascended on high. Let’s look up at Him and say: Lord, Thy will be done.
He reigns in heaven. He sends out missionaries of divine love. Missionaries of His triumph over evil, ignorance, and death. Consecrated Christians who greet every person and every moment with the open Heart of Jesus Christ.
This is “the Church.” The Lord built His Church on a rock—that is, St. Peter, missionary apostle of Jesus’ divine love. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, in all its splendor, sits on top of the little bones of a relatively short man who took no money and no second tunic.
The year 2019 rumbles along. When will we get any good Church news? Seems like the wheels just spin and spin, stuck in a mud patch.
But there is Good News. Christ still trains and sends missionaries of divine love. That still is what the Church essentially is.
Yes, our Church finds Herself in a massive land war against multiple formidable enemies, with colonels who can’t read a compass. We can’t be naïve about “the brass.” We can’t fantasize that they know how to organize the war effort. They clearly don’t.
But we can still gladly die on the battlefield, so to speak. As missionaries of the divine love of Jesus Christ.
‘Our prophet Elijah did not save one of our widows from starvation. He saved a pagan widow–a Gentile foreigner. And our prophet Elisha did not cure the leprosy of one of our Jewish generals. He cured a Syrian who didn’t even want to wash himself in our Jordan River. He thought of it as a muddy creek. But our Elisha healed him in those very waters anyway.’
So the Nazarenes got mad at their countryman for pointing out that God loves the Gentiles as much as the Jews. As you will likely get mad at me, before I’m done here.
Most of the world now knows that there’s a Catholic boys school in Covington, Kentucky. At least everyone with a smartphone knows it. And everyone knows that a group of Covington-Catholic boys traveled by bus to Washington, D.C., to march for life. To stand up for the innocent and defenseless unborn children—the most vulnerable class of people in contemporary America.
After the March ended, the boys visited the Lincoln Memorial. In hindsight, they now think to themselves—and all those who know and love them think—they should have stayed inside the Memorial, quietly reading and meditating on the Gettysburg Address. It’s chiseled into the marble wall.
Instead, the boys stayed outside. And mixed it up with some strange characters.
A dishonest person made a cellphone video, and accused the boys. ‘They surrounded a Native-American man beating a peace drum! Then mocked him and threatened him! An aggressive racist mob!’
Once the video hit the internet, another aggressive mob took over. The social-media mob. A bandwagon of moral indignation. ‘These boys should be expelled from school! They make us Catholic pro-lifers look bad! They stand for everything racist and unjust in this country!’
I myself first saw the “viral” video late that Saturday evening, when I “checked my Twitter.” I did not at first notice the “Make America Great Again” caps that some of the boys wore. I just saw high-school kids making more noise than they should, as high-school kids often do. And a Native-American man beating a drum endlessly for no immediately apparent reason. And a staring contest that made no sense.
I watched the video with my own particular interest, because I know that spot very well, as I imagine many of us do. One of my college jobs involved giving tours of the National Mall. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech right where the famous video was shot. The east staircase of the Lincoln Memorial, at the western end of the Reflecting Pool. A uniquely beautiful place, a place for quiet reflection—not for beating drums, or school chants, or staring contests.
But, like I said, when I watched the video, I didn’t notice the MAGA hats at first, because I’m not a particularly observant person. But a lot of people did notice the hats. That’s why they jumped to unreasonable conclusions. As they checked their Twitters and facebooks that Saturday, they saw the caps, and they immediately suspected the boys of harboring ill will towards non-whites.
Not fair. Not fair to judge the morals of a high-school boy, based solely on his cap. In the ensuing days, the truth emerged, about what happened between the boys and the Native-American with his drum. The boys had not mobbed anyone. The original viral video had a context. Other cellphone videos, recorded at the scene, revealed the full sequence of events. Then some people in the original social-media mob faced up to the truth and admitted their serious mistake. They looked in the mirror and realized that they had done to the boys what they had accused the boys of doing. Forming a cruel mob.
But, we’re not done here yet, fellow Israelites. We cannot simply say: Vindication for the good, pro-life boys; episode over. No.
The political life of our president began years ago. That is, it began when he claimed that our previous president, the first non-white President of the United States, actually came from Africa, not the USA.
Then Donald Trump began his campaign for president with a particular premise: Namely, that Mexicans steal, rape, and murder.
The social-media mob saw MAGA hats and over-reacted. Over-reacted big time. But: Had someone given them cause to over-react? Had someone given the MAGA hat a particular meaning? Namely: This country is primarily for white people. Yes, someone did give the hat that meaning. Donald J. Trump gave the hat that meaning.
Ok. The whole business at the Lincoln Memorial upset a lot of people. And I probably upset you, by even bringing it up. Do what’s the antidote?
Guess what? Ain’t hard. The antidote is: Going to Mass.
Some people think the internet is pure evil. Some people think it’s where we can finally find true democracy. One thing is for sure: Everything on the internet gets put in perspective when we come to Mass.
Yes, we can learn beautiful things that we never knew, over the internet. And we can join cruel, irrational mobs from our own couches, over the internet.
But the fundamental social network—it’s not on the internet. It’s at the holy altar of Jesus Christ. Where people actually know each other, and give each other the benefit of the doubt, and recognize each other not as “legals” and “illegals” but as: fellow sinners in need of God’s loving mercy.
I have probably said something that makes you mad. But I’m just trying to do my job as a priest–whose main job is: to say Mass. Holy Mass is the opposite of a viral video causing a “Twitter storm.” At the altar of Jesus Christ, dear reader, we can actually find peace with each other.
Let’s try to put the three readings for Holy Mass this Sunday together, into two sentences.
From all eternity, God Almighty ordained a holy law, to fill His creatures with true blessings. Jesus came to bring that law of divine love to fulfillment, by gathering us all into His Body.
The Body of Christ. His flesh, given for us, offered to the heavenly Father on the cross. A human body, Jesus’, comprised of different parts—feet, hands, ears, eyes, nose—all forming a unity. Now, He reigns on high, risen from the dead. And He abides with us in the Church, uniting us intimately with Himself, through the sacraments.
By heavenly grace, we make up a part of Christ’s Body. Each of us—distinct, individual members of one, living body. Doing something together. That is, forming Christ’s Church, here and now, in the winter of 2019.
Well, everyone has his or her own reasons for showing up at Mass. But I think we can say this much. All the members of Christ’s Body have at least one thing in common. God. We frequent the church building because of God.
God is… God. He deserves worship and praise. He deserves prayerful attention from us. He deserves our obedience. He has a sovereign will. By that eternal will, all things have come to be. He governs all His creatures. He decrees our good, our blessing, our abundant life.
Our business: To co-operate. To do the good that God wills. And to avoid evil, which we know displeases Him.
1. God is God, from all eternity unto all eternity. Eternally willing goodness, life, fruition, blessedness.
2. We’re not God. We dwell on the earth. We are God’s creatures. He summoned us out of nothingness by His power. To give Him glory, by forming His Body.
We cannot see Him; we cannot understand Him. We struggle even to find the words to begin to speak to Him and about Him.
In between the two ends of this vast expanse—the impenetrable, exalted heaven of God on the one end; us here, walking around our little corner of the lowly earth, on the other—in between these two ends stands one man.
He stood up in the synagogue and read from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He fulfilled the prophecies. That is: The prophecies that slavery and blindness would end. That time would not just march on meaninglessly, but would reach a goal. He stands at the point that unites us with our Creator. He unites God and mankind in Himself. The Christ.
From all eternity, God ordained a holy law, to fill His creatures with true blessings. Jesus came to bring that law of love to fulfillment, by gathering us into His Body.
St. Francis of Asissi parish, St. Joseph parish–every Catholic parish: a “religious organization.” Our parishes are “religious organizations.” No doubt. Like I said earlier: What brings us together under one roof? God. God does. We come to church to practice religion.
But the phrase “religious organization” doesn’t quite do justice to the reality. It doesn’t quite capture the Body of Christ that we are. God, the Almighty and unknowable, has fulfilled His eternal law in Christ, the humble and the knowable.
He, like us, had the custom of frequenting the local church building on the Lord’s day. He, like us, read and meditated on the Scriptures. He, like us, participated in the ancient liturgy.
In other words, the Christ exercised religion. In order to bring religion to its fulfillment. Union with Christ means not just imitating Jesus’ scrupulous submission to God; it also means sharing in His perfect fulfillment of God’s love. He loved His Father in heaven. And He loved every human being, enough to die on the cross for each of us and all of us.
We need each other to form the Body He made us to be. At the same time, each of us needs to seek God and His ineffable heaven. We must do that individually, in order to be for each other what we must be for each other. We love each other best by loving God first.
It all sounds demanding. Because it is. But we can’t go wrong if we keep the eyes of our minds fixed on the one man, the God-man, Jesus Christ.
“Who but God alone can forgive sins?” (Mark 2:7)
Sin involves corrupting the pure integrity of God’s beautiful plan. A plan for the salvation and glorification of all things.
We pray for the marchers up in Washington. We share their zeal. In the womb, God knits together an unfathomable plan. It’s like a little Garden of Eden. May no hand of violence ever desecrate that garden.
God, the pure One, can forgive the sins of us impure ones. He even uses some of us impure ones as His instruments of mercy. The Son of God entrusted “the power of the keys” to His Church. He gave His Apostles and their successors in office the authority to forgive sins in the name of God. To continue the Incarnation, so to speak. Jesus, when He walked the earth, had the authority to forgive sins. Bishops and priests have that same authority, as ministers of Christ.
But a profound responsibility accompanies that authority, doesn’t it? When we go to confession, we go with faith in the power of the keys. But we also need to have confidence in the human integrity of the confessor. We have to trust that the priest who hears my confession will respond according to true discipline, guided by holy teaching.
That is: He won’t distort my own conscience by calling good evil or evil good. He won’t betray God’s mercy by being too hard on me, or betray God’s justice by being too easy on me.
My point is: The supernatural grace of Holy Orders means that even a sinner can offer Christ’s sacraments. But in the confessional, our faith in that supernatural grace has to meet a representative of a human institution with integrity. Yes, all priests are sinners, too. But a confessor receiving penitents cannot be a liar. He cannot be a swindler or a sodomite. He cannot be an atheist or a heretic.
…On March-for-Life Day, the young Catholic Church in America takes Her vigorous stand. Faith, hope, and love show up on Constitution Avenue.
But She limps this year. Her faith God invigorates Her as always. But Her inability to trust in the fundamental integrity of the clerical hierarchy saps Her strength.
Our faith in the triune God does not contradict reason. But, at the beginning of 2019, we cannot rationally claim that our clerical hierarchy has integrity. If we did claim that, reasonable non-Catholics would make arguments to the contrary. And we would have no answers.
May God send us leaders to get our footing back. It will take a long time. But we can do it, if we hold on. We sinners, who want to live honest lives.
We can find a familiar word in Sunday’s gospel reading. The news and political debate of the last election made this word very popular on cable news and Twitter. A sizable group of immigrants, traveling north together. [Spanish]
Just like: Jesus’ parents, on the way home from Jerusalem, thought He was in the caravan.
Blessed Mother gave birth to Jesus in the city of… Is that a long way from Jerusalem? Hardly. Six miles. You’d think that would mean just a quick trip between them.
But what lies between Jerusalem and Bethlehem now? It wasn’t there when the Lord Jesus was born. If it had been, the wise men couldn’t have followed the star to the stable.
There’s a wall. A border wall.
Do I look like I’m making this up? The state of Israel built a wall between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. A wall that divides Israeli territory from Palestinian territory.
The Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem wrote about the wall one Christmas a few years ago, as the Israeli government was completing the construction. The Patriarch wrote:
In this Christmas feast, we pray for the towns, cities, and villages of the Holy Land, because they are isolated from each other. With pain and deep sadness, we observe civilians being blockaded by the erection of walls and barriers. These contribute to violence and humiliation, generating grudges and hatred, whereas what we need is mutual trust, friendly co-operation, and a quiet, serene life.
As we gaze at the manger, we realize: the very mysteries of Christmas make demands on us. Demands that turn politics in contemporary America into a seriously painful and difficult business, for a Christian.
On the one hand: baby Jesus, with His quiet cooing, loudly insists: you must be pro-life. The true hope of the world turns on reverence for life in the womb. Only dark despair could ever even try to justify killing an unborn child in an elective abortion.
Nowhere in any of the true sources of human wisdom can we find anything that establishes a “right” to destroy a child. The idea that a “right” to abortion can exist in an enlightened civilization—that is an absolute lie. As we gaze at the newborn Christ, we know we have a duty to call it a lie, and to stand up for the truth.
Like the Jerusalem Patriarch put is: “Mutual trust. Friendly co-operation. Serenity of life.” This does not include abortion. As long as abortions, occur, we do not have peace on earth.
But what else? The Holy Family migrated. As a Latino congressman pointed out in a congressional hearing ten days ago: If Egypt had built a wall at their border with Herod’s kingdom, baby Jesus would have died in the slaughter of the newborns.
Jesus never obtained citizenship papers in the Roman Empire. If He had, our Redemption would not have occurred. Christianity as we know it would not exist. The Romans did not crucify their citizens; they only crucified non-citizens. Our Savior died on the cross as an undocumented non-citizen.
A barrier wall at our border, to keep people out? Have we not read our Bibles? The prophets celebrate one ultimate reality: All people, all nations, streaming toward Jerusalem, from the four corners of the earth. Throw open the gates! They come from Ethiopia and Cush, from Phoenicia and Tarshish, from Chaldea and Persia!
Some people say: Father, you have fallen prey to the typically naïve false compassion of the liberal clergyman. The Scriptures are about spiritual things. But we need secure borders.
How about this? It is naïve, totally naïve, to imagine that a nation turned in on itself, paranoid of enemies and fearful of immigrants, can prosper. Nations do not prosper when whole classes of people live in the shadows, because the reigning authority denies them the rights of citizenship.
Let’s start 2019 by acknowledging that this supposedly Christian nation has fallen far away from the truly Christian path. We have for the most part stood silently by, while one-fifth of the people who should have been our friends and neighbors got killed in the womb.
And we have stood silently by, while a path to citizenship for our law-abiding, undocumented-immigrant neighbors got taken off the political negotiating table. Then the path to citizenship for immigrants who came as children got taken off the political negotiating table. Now federal government workers have at least one paycheck in jeopardy—all because of someone’s fantasy of an impractical and pointless border wall.
Everyone says, “Yes, it’s a mess, our government is a mess”–without admitting: We made this mess, we who have the right to vote. We live in a representative democracy. If our government is dysfunctional, it’s because we dysfunctionally elected the people who make it up.
May the caravan Lady, Mary of Nazareth, and the divine fruit of her womb, help us find a way to clean up this unholy mess.