More Re: Holy Father’s Answers

pope press conference

Our Holy Father talked about more than just Theodore McCarrick at his press conference on Sunday.

1. He also answered a question about a conversation he had with a prominent abuse survivor and victims advocate. She has since written to him, asking him to clarify his answer.

2. And there’s more. During the press conference, Pope Francis spoke at length about a highly celebrated court case in Spain, the “Caso Romanones.”

A young man had written to him–Pope Francis–in 2014, accusing a group of priests of sexual abuse.

At the press conference Sunday, the Holy Father narrated the subsequent series of events from what struck me as a strange point-of-view. His account includes clear factual inaccuracies. As Pope Francis told the story, the priests had suffered a terrible calumny, which the press had exacerbated. But, in the end, the priests got vindicated in court. And the whole thing goes to show you that sometimes sex-abuse allegations against priests aren’t true.*

The pope had met the priests in private audience last month and asked for their forgiveness.

Problem is this:

Yes, the one priest who actually went to trial was found not guilty. The court originally insisted that the accuser had to pay court costs. The priests were all restored to the ministry. But then the Supreme Court of Spain annulled the imposition of court costs. And declared that the lower court had not determined that the accuser’s story was false.

Caso Romanones

The accuser is known as “Daniel.” What had happened is that the prosecutor dropped the charges at the eleventh hour of the case. Apparently because the criminal case required proving WARNING anal penetration. Which Daniel’s testimony had not established.

Also, the other priests Daniel accused had never even faced trial, because of the statute of limitations.

Earlier this month, after he learned that the pope had apologized to the priests, Daniel wrote a letter pointing out that the canonical case against these priests should not be closed. “The civil court has not reached the conclusion that sexual abuse did not occur.”

Now, I do not claim to understand the Caso Romanones completely. Daniel has a lawyer, and that lawyer may be a charlatan, for all I know. I read Spanish ok, and I have perused a lot of news articles. I think I know as much about this case as any English-language journalist–based on the internet searches I have done. But I can hardly claim to know that the priests are actually guilty.

What I can say is this: The civil court did not determine that abuses, for which the priests should be held to account, did not happen at all. Daniel appears to have given somewhat incoherent testimony. On the other hand, forensic experts had studied the witnesses at the trial, and they had concluded that Daniel is a lot more believable than the priest. For that reason, there was widespread surprise when the prosecution dropped the case at the eleventh hour.

It is a fact that the Supreme Court of Spain declared in its judgment (after the accused priests were re-instated to ministry by the Pope and Archbishop of Granada) that the lower court had not judged Daniel’s testimony to be false.

* In my limited personal experience, sex abuse allegations leveled by non-homosexual men against other men are almost always true.

Advertisements

Fleshy unto Spiritual

I think we can find a particularly interesting paradox in the words of Christ which we hear at Sunday Mass, having to do with “the flesh” and “the Spirit.” [Spanish]

The people murmured: “This saying is hard. Who can accept it?”

Which saying? The one we heard last Sunday. My flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. The one who feeds on Me will have life because of me.

little last supperChrist, the man, flesh and blood, born of the womb of Mary. He possesses divine life, eternally flowing into Him from the Father. Infinite life. The Holy Spirit, Who has breathed life into everything that lives. This particular Galilean fellow, made of bones and cells and stuff, just like us. He gives His body and blood as the gift of divine life for us. The Holy Spirit gives life–through the flesh and blood of Christ.

Ok: A hard saying, which demands faith in the Incarnation and the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. He anticipated that His words would push some into disbelief.

The saying about the Body of the Galilean rabbi isn’t the only hard one involving flesh and blood in this Sunday’s readings, though. What about St. Paul quoting Christ quoting Genesis? A man shall join with his wife and become one flesh.

One flesh. Sex, marriage, procreation, and permanence go together. Like root beer and foam go together, or chips and salsa, or music and dancing. These are flesh-and-blood facts of life, brought to us by God Himself. You and me and baby makes three.

Maybe the idea that we all come into the world in this somewhat messy way; this one-flesh thing… maybe it strikes us as a little odd, if we think about it too meticulously. But God has His beautiful reasons.

wedding ringsThe birds and the bees are a fact of life. Like “This is My Body,” and “This is My Blood,” is a fact of Christian life.

We didn’t make up that marriage is the permanent bond of man and woman. We didn’t make up that the Holy Mass gives us Christ’s true flesh. We Catholics just take the Lord at His word. We believe. We know that, if we believe, then maybe we can begin to understand. But if we don’t totally believe, we will never understand at all.

Anyway: taken all together, the facts of life, given by God in today’s readings: fleshy. Altogether fleshy. Husband and wife: one, inseparable flesh. Holy Communion: Christ’s flesh and blood to eat and drink. Almighty God does not despise human flesh. To the contrary, He has embraced it more intimately than we can conceive.

Hence, the paradox: In the same breath with which the Lord lays down these stunning affirmations of intense fleshiness, He also says, “it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words I speak to you are spirit and life.”

The flesh has life. The flesh even has life to give. But the flesh itself is not ‘life.’ God wills to give us life in these muscles and bones of ours. He wills that we receive our lives through our parents’ flesh and bones. He wills that we receive eternal life through His incarnate Son’s living flesh.

But our life is not just in the flesh. It’s not just breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, tv, and bed. Our life is God. God is immeasurably greater than all flesh and blood. God is so pure and spiritual that we cannot begin to imagine, cannot begin to conceive. He is the Beauty of everything beautiful, the Truth of everything true. He is our goal. God, purely God, awesomely, mysteriously God.

Everything Christ ever said has one fundamental meaning for us: that we would never shoot for anything less than God Himself.

The Ugly Beauty of Ezekiel 16 + Wuerl Fail, Part II

Father forgive them Passion of the Christ

Difficult reading. Our first reading at Holy Mass today, from Ezekiel, chapter 16. When you were born, your navel cord was not cut… You were thrown on the ground as something loathsome… Then I passed by and saw you weltering in your blood.

The chapter actually gets a lot worse, more graphic. But the good souls who produced our Lectionary decided to spare us the worst of it, for reading publicly in church.

The Lord addresses His words in this prophecy to… the city of Jerusalem. The holy city. But, as the prophecy points out, Jerusalem began her urban life as a pagan city. Yes, Abraham obeyed God and climbed the mountain, willing to sacrifice his only son there. But then eight centuries passed before David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. And even after the temple got built there, other Hebrew holy sites vied for precedence with it. As we read in John 4, the Lord Jesus Himself debated with the Samaritan woman about where a child of Abraham ought to worship.

But: Something consecrated Jerusalem as the holy city, the image of heaven. A totally unique event. One that makes the ugliness of Ezekiel 16 look like a Hallmark card by comparison. The crucifixion of the innocent Lamb of God.

jerusalem-sunriseThe Crucifixion consecrated the city and fulfilled the prophecy. When the sacraments unite us with Christ crucified, the beautiful part of Ezekiel 16 comes true: I bathed you with water, washed away your blood and anointed you with oil. I clothed you with an embroidered gown and put sandals of fine leather on your feet.

Christ bleeding, suffering, groaning to heaven, gasping for breath, dying: that has consecrated Jerusalem. That has consecrated us.

Difficult reading: The famous PA grand-jury report. I have read a great deal of it; stayed up late last night reading it. Difficult. Like looking at a crucifix.

We know that Christ suffers on hospital beds, and in war zones. He suffers in hungry children. He suffers in mothers who have lost a child. We know all this. We must bear this sight also: Christ suffers in victims of sexual abuse, including children. Including children abused by priests, priests that they and their families trusted.

The PA grand jury has done what our bishops have not had the stomach to do: They have held this crucifix up in front of us. Please, let’s see the report for the spiritual gift that it is. On the cross, Christ triumphed by His trust in the Father. The victims who told their stories to the grand jury triumphed over the evil they had suffered, with the same trust.

Nothing about any of this is truly “scandalous”—at least not to anyone prepared to endure the scandal of the Cross.

The scandal is this: Our bishops have strayed far away from this cross of Christ. The refused to look at this crucifix, and for the most part they continue to refuse.

Donald Cardinal Wuerl took to the airwaves two nights ago and submitted to an interview, in an attempt to save his reputation. He proceeded to show the world that he never could look squarely at this crucifix and still has no interest whatsoever in looking at it.

But we can look at it. A lot of people thought Mel Gibson had lost his mind when he made The Passion of the Christ. But what he did was give us the Stations of the Cross in the form of a movie. It brought us back to the truth. The PA grand jury has given us a similar gift.

————

One additional note about the above interview…

The Cardinal insists that things changed in 2002.

On the one hand, the data supports that. (History shows, however, that it takes years for victims of sexual abuse to summon the courage to accuse their abusers. So low numbers in the past decade don’t really prove anything.)

But: Even if it is true that the Dallas Charter of 2002 has improved the situation, that does not address the fundamental point. The grand-jury report itself takes cognizance of the Charter. They point out correctly that it came as a reaction to the work of the journalists of The Boston Globe.

The interviewer, Mr. Fizgerald, confronted Cardinal Wuerl with this observation: What could have changed about abusing a child? In other words, how could it become more wrong in 2002 than it was in 1960?

…It’s not the public’s job to understand the history of ecclesiastical regulations. It is a shepherd’s job to love Jesus in those who suffer. And to love his people enough, and trust them enough, to live in the truth with them.

The Trust of Christ

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The hillside. The crowd. Time to eat. And time to trust in divine Providence. [Spanish]

St. Andrew knew about the boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But he also doubted the Lord’s miraculous bounty. “What good are these for so many?”

Let’s focus on St. Andrew. I visited St. Andrew’s tomb in Amalfi, Italy, two weeks ago. Let’s examine St. Andrew’s part in this particular situation–with the hungry crowd and the provident God.

God provides. To obey and follow Christ means acknowledging that God owns everything, and I own nothing–not even myself. Lord Jesus sent His Apostles into the world with nothing but a walking stick. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently put it, “the walking stick is the attribute of the pilgrim.”

The pilgrim announces the Kingdom of God simply by being a pilgrim. The pilgrim claims nothing for his or her own, but trusts in the heavenly Father. “Give us this day our daily bread.” God is God. God loves His children. He will always provide for His little ones. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

tabgha loaves fishes multiplication mosaicLord Jesus took this trust to the cross. He trusted His Father, unto death. “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” And Jesus trusted rightly. Not in vain, or blindly, or foolishly. Heaven vindicated the Christ’s trust. On the third day…

This whole mystery of the trust of the pilgrim Christ–the trust in heaven which we see in the Heart of the Son of God at every moment of His pilgrim life–this whole interior gift of trust in Providence emerged into full view on that hillside, with the hungry crowd. And St. Andrew got nervous.

They had come by the thousands, trusting in the miracle-working rabbi, abandoning themselves to Him. He ordered that they… recline. He did not say, “Have the people start picking the nearby crops. Or boiling their shoes to make stew.” No. He told them to relax. God provides.

So they did relax. Except poor St. Andrew, who fretted. ‘These five loaves and two fish are enough for one family, Lord. But, gosh–look at this crowd!’

Now, St. Andrew’s fretfulness on the hillside didn’t last forever. On Pentecost, he received the spiritual gifts that fill a soul with total trust. In the end, St. Andrew got crucified himself, a martyr, like his brother St. Peter and the other Apostles. St. Andrew died with serene trust that the kingdom of heaven awaited him. He hardly knew what the kingdom of heaven involves, but he trusted that it is good. After all, by then St. Andrew had seen His Lord feed 5,000 men and their families with five loaves and two fish. He had learned to fear nothing–other than sinning against Christ by mistrusting Him.

Outside the cathedral in Amalfi which houses St. Andrew’s tomb, there’s a fountain in the piazza. Water flows out of nymphs and mermaids–all under the feet of a statue of the Apostle. Holding his X-shaped cross in his arms, like a trophy. The trophy of: trust in Christ unto death.

Charles Bosseron Chambers Sacred Heart of JesusTrust in Divine Providence doesn’t mean comfort in this world. It doesn’t mean always getting what I want, or what I think is best. The trust of the miraculous hillside means walking through life with empty hands. I had empty hands when I came into this world. And I will have empty hands when I go forth from it.

Trust in divine Providence means accepting that I do not know exactly what God will provide and when. He knows best. Will He provide me with a meal today, or will He provide me with a moment to offer up my hunger? Will He give me another day of life tomorrow, or is today to be my last?

I don’t know. We don’t know. God does. He wills to give me His Kingdom. And only He knows exactly what that kingdom is. The Kingdom of God has one castle, one throne room, one banquet hall–and it’s all hidden in the invisible interior depths of the Heart of Jesus Christ.

At every moment of our pilgrim lives, God offers us a way into the hidden kingdom. We never have to live anywhere else. We just have to accept that we have nothing and know nothing. God has everything and knows everything. And what He has and knows and is: it’s pure good.

Al Concluir La Temporada

full_moon_2

Celebramos la Misa y tratamos de aferrarnos a Cristo durante todo el año, por supuesto. Pero creo que todo el mundo sabe que durante un período de noventa días celebramos el misterio de Cristo de una manera especialmente intensa.

Celebramos el aniversario de la Redención del mundo con la primera luna llena de la primavera. Por cuarenta días antes de eso, ayunamos. Y durante cincuenta días después, nos deleitamos. Hoy concluimos la extravagancia litúrgica de noventa días de Cuaresma y Pascua.

Jesús es el Cristo, el Ungido, el hombre que lleva sobre Su frente una corona única. Jesús de Nazaret lleva a Dios, el Espíritu Santo, como una corona en Su Cabeza.

Comenzamos nosotros los noventa días con una especie de corona–una inusual: cenizas. Nos enfrentamos al hecho de que la vida en la tierra es corta. Dios nos formó de polvo, así que al polvo naturalmente regresamos. Nosotros decaemos como pecadores débiles, y una maldición de indiferencia sin sentido se cierne sobre nosotros–a menos que busquemos y encontremos a Dios. Nos enfrentamos a todos estos hechos, y los ponemos, como una corona sobre nuestras cabezas, en forma de una cruz de cenizas. Llevamos esa “corona” para declarar: “¡Sí, somos mortales débiles y pecadores!”

Caravaggio Crowning ThornsLuego, cuarenta días después, vimos a Jesús coronado. No con la monarquía terrenal de Israel, sino con una corona de espinas. Sólo la malicia del hombre caído podría llegar a algo tan perverso: coronar al Mesías con ramas espinosas retorcidas en una diadema cruel. Aunque Jesús no había pecado; aunque Él es la Vida que puede convertir el polvo de la tierra en carne viva; no se aferro a sus prerrogativas, Jesús tomó la maldición de la injusticia humana y la muerte sobre sí mismo. Los soldados romanos le coronaron con las espinas que nosotros pecadores merecemos.

Jesús sangró por nosotros y murió. Pero el poder de Su vida conquistó y venció. Sacaron la corona de espinas después que entrego su espíritu, y lo pusieron en el sepulcro empezando el sábado. Pero cuando las mujeres fueron a completar las unciones del entierro el domingo por la mañana, Jesús ya había dejado atrás todo el asunto de la muerte. El Padre le había coronado de nuevo con vida.

Cristo dio el Espíritu vivificante a sus amigos ese mismo día, como leemos en el evangelio, cuando Él los visitó por la tarde el domingo de Pascua. Pero esperó otros cincuenta días para coronarlos con su Espíritu. El Pentecostés, como oímos en la primera lectura, derramó el don: sabiduría, entendimiento, conocimiento, consejo, piedad, fortaleza y temor santo; derramó el Espíritu sobre sus escogidos, coronándolos con Dios–como había sido El coronado con Dios desde el momento de su concepción en el vientre de María.

Pope Francis Easter candle

Pues, no hay nada indefinido en la coronación espiritual de Pentecostés. A veces la gente habla del Espíritu Santo como si fuera una nube “quisquillosa.” Pero no podemos abaratar el Don de Pentecostés de esta manera. Jesús prometió algo muy específico cuando dijo a los Apóstoles que Él les daría Su Espíritu. Él les dijo: “El Paráclito tomará de lo mío y se los dará”.

¿Qué es exactamente lo que pertenece a Cristo, que el Espíritu Santo nos da? Bueno, todo pertenece a Cristo, por supuesto, ya que Él es Dios Todopoderoso. Pero lo que pertenece especialmente al Hijo encarnado es: la Redención del hombre. La Palabra eterna, la Sabiduría del Padre, se hizo hombre para redimir al hombre. Llevaba la corona de espinas para lograr esto. Esa corona de sufrimiento amargo descansa ahora, como un trofeo, junto a la cruz vacía. El Redentor victorioso reina en lo alto, dando libertad y nueva vida a Su pueblo a través de Su Espíritu.

Es un poco triste que estos noventa días de intensidad espiritual hayan seguido su curso. Es como si toda la Iglesia fuese a una especie de retiro de oración cada primavera, con la Sagrada Liturgia de Cuaresma y Pascua elevándonos a la contemplación de la conquista de Cristo en Jerusalén.

Ahora debemos salir de la casa de retiro, por así decirlo, y enfrentar la misión que tenemos a mano. Es decir, participar – como Él nos llama a participar – en la redención del hombre, por nuestras oraciones fervientes y acciones incansables.

Pero avanzamos con nuestras coronas puestas firmemente sobre nuestras cabezas. La corona del don celestial de Dios, nuestra participación en la unción del Ungido.

Sí, somos polvo y cenizas, disminuyendo hacia la muerte inevitable. Sí, el Cordero inocente tuvo que llevar una corona de espinas por nuestros pecados. Pero Él nos ha redimido por su Don gracioso. La maldición sobre nosotros ha sido levantada. Y llevamos en el frente la diadema santa que nos marca como hijos de la casa de Dios, consagrados para la vida eterna.

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.

But:

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

jordan
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.