Epiphany Family

Rubens "Melchior the Assyrian"
Rubens “Melchior the Assyrian”

The Gentiles are co-heirs. (Ephesians 3:6)

St. Paul wrote these words from the point-of-view of someone who put the population of the world into two categories, namely ______s and ___________s. ‘Gentile’ means non-_____, someone not descended from ____________.

Now, before we get all righteous about the us-vs.-them approach, let’s call to mind the following fact. Human beings always divide the world into two categories of people, namely: people I can talk to in my language, and people I can’t. It doesn’t make someone racist, or evil, or prejudiced, if he or she tends to associate with people who speak the same language, as opposed to people who don’t.

St. Paul nonetheless declares: The Gentiles, who do not speak our language: they are co-heirs.

Co-heirs. Will also inherit. Inherit what?

abrahamSt. Paul himself answers the question. “The promise.” Dear brother Jews, guess what? The Gentiles inherit the promise right along with us.

The promise made to Abraham that we would become a nation more numerous than the sands of the seashore and the stars of the sky. And that all the world will find a blessing in us.

The magi at the crib represent the Gentiles, as I think we all know. And, of course, that means they represented us at the crib–since very few, if any, of us can claim to descend from Abraham genetically.

In other words: the promises and the blessing have come to rest on us, too–us Gentiles. We get counted among the stars in the night sky that belong to our father Abraham.

Many of us have spent time meditating on this: the language we use to speak to each other has more to it than just a functional, purely practical aspect. Our language saves us from the unimaginably terrifying prospect of not belonging: not belonging to any family, not belonging to any people, not belonging to anybody at all. People have long regarded exile as a fate just as bad as death. To dwell on this earth utterly alone, without a people, without a family: Horrible.

baptism-holy-card1In the time of the Old Covenant, belonging to the family of God had its distinctive marks. The Hebrew language, the Holy Land, and, of course, the definitive sign: all the men were __________________.

Now that the New Covenant has come, what is the definitive sign of belonging to the family of God? ________________.

Not all Catholics have the same language. But we have some fundamental things in common, like…Celebramos la misa. La queremos a la Virgen. Pensamos en que el padre habla demasiado a veces.

God has made us co-heirs of His good things, of His blessings. We do not make the pilgrimage of earthly life alone. We belong to the family of God.

What year is it now? Well, in our family it is 2015, since it has been 2,015 years since…

Ok. In our family, what’s a person supposed to do on Sunday mornings, or late-Saturday afternoons? Go to Mass!

And every morning, first thing; and every night, before bed–what do we do, in this family? Pray! Once a month, we examine our consciences and go to…

Listen, let’s plan on doing a lot of things together as a family this year. Mass every week. Lots of praying. Special feast days, which we can learn all about by carefully studying the AD 2015 Epiphany Proclamation.

Happy 2015! Let’s thank God that He has given Himself to us, so that we can be His people, and that He has given us each other, to be a family.

epiphany triptych

Temple-Mount Chaos

Goofball on the horizon
Goofball on the horizon

Not sure if everyone knows that the city of Jerusalem sits on the brink of chaotic violence at this moment.

I laid eyes on the Dome of the Rock myself, up close, on Feb. 24, 2008. I wanted to see the place where Abraham obeyed God unto the edge of utter darkness. But: having a Roman cassock on gets you waved off by the Jordanian guards right quick…

This evening, on the PBS Newshour, Judy Woodruff misidentified the Dome of the Rock, calling it the Al-Aksa Mosque (which sits 100 yards south of the site of the near-sacrifice of Isaac). An understandable mistake. But at the same time, quite telling–when it comes to our utter ignorance, as Americans, of what we are dealing with.

If I might, an amateur’s dime-store history for you:

Abraham climbed the mountain with Isaac, but God wound up providing the lamb for sacrifice. Centuries later, Solomon built on this site, and the sweet scent of burning oblations began to ascend at the appointed hours.

After Babylon leveled the Temple, the Israelites rebuilt. Half a millennium later, Herod the Great enlarged the humble Second Temple and made it a wonder of the world.

Zechariah (of the New Testament) found himself struck dumb here, because he didn’t believe he could father John the Baptist. Our Lord frequented this site often, as we read. But the sacrifice of the new and eternal covenant took place outside the then-walls of the city. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (which houses Golgatha also) lies west of the Temple Mount, a good twenty-minute walk through the maze of Old-City streets.

Thus, the journos’ claim that the Temple Mount is holy to Christians, just like Jews and Muslims: Not exactly, not exactly. It is exceedingly imprecise to refer to the Temple Mount as a Christian holy site. We have no particular designs on worshiping there.

Anyway, back to the dime-store history: Rome leveled Jerusalem in the first and second centuries of the Age of Grace. The western wall of Herod’s temple survived. After Constantine converted to Christianity, Jerusalem had a few centuries as a Christian city.

Mohammed consecrated the Temple-Mount site for his followers in some way that I neither know nor understand.

A millennium later, under Turkish rule, the Status Quo was established. I am in no way an expert on this, but I think I can safely summarize: On a certain date, about half a millennium ago, Jews of various kinds prayed in various places, and in various ways, and at various times of day (and week and year) in Jerusalem; Christians of different kinds did the same; Muslims of different kinds also. The way they prayed at that time was enshrined as the norm, and it cannot be changed.

The Status Quo enjoys the beautiful authority of having been established by none of the partisans, and–at this point in time–it also has history behind it. It is the delicate and precarious arrangement that keeps the peace in every holy place in the holiest city in the world.

If you have never visited, you cannot adequately imagine just how up-close-and-personal the realities of the Status Quo are. There is literally no elbow room, no room for error; the people on either side of the lines established by the Status Quo can smell each other, and I am not exaggerating. The first time I ever entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I wanted to pray in the Golgatha Chapel. For five minutes I could, but then I had to leave, since I am a Roman Catholic priest, and the Status Quo prohibits us being in that chapel when the Orthodox have their evening prayers. Muslims meditating among the trees between Al-Aksa and the Dome of the Rock literally stand on top of Jews praying at the Western Wall. “Cramped” does not even begin to describe the religious reality of Jerusalem.

To modern times… After the Holocaust, the Western world fully embraced the Zionist enterprise, and the nation-state of Israel received international approbation and support. But Jerusalem did not make up part of the original land. Jerusalem and environs remained in a unique category (I guess, like the Vatican). To this day, our official US policy does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the city. (Israel took control of Jerusalem in 1967.)

For some time now, Jerusalem has been a relatively safe place. No reasonable person would hesitate to travel there as a Christian pilgrim. That appears to be on the verge of changing. To read of an Israeli-Palestinian gunfight in the neighborhood that immediately abuts the site of the Last Supper (and the Assumption of our Lady; they are right around the corner from each other)–this is chilling news. The Israeli police disturbed the Status Quo by asserting authority (which, in fact, the sovereign of Jordan actually possesses) and shutting the Temple-Mount mosque today. Palestinians appear to be mustering for mischief.

Please, let’s pray.

Father Abraham and St. Joseph

St Joseph shrine immaculate conceptionHe is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed. (Romans 4:17)

In my book, it is wonderful to contemplate the deep brotherhood shared by Abraham and St. Joseph, the two ends of the long chain of lineage that gave the world the Christ.

The brotherhood they share: Both Abraham and Joseph sought the Lord–with upright, religious hearts. Both longed, above all, to do God’s will.

Both received visits from angels. And in both cases, the angel demanded faith in a highly improbable promise, a promise that most of us certainly would have doubted.

To Abraham: “Yes, you are old. And you’re wife is barren. But you will have offspring more numerous than the sands of the seashore and the stars of the sky, and all the nations will be blessed in your progeny. And even if I ask you to sacrifice your only son, don’t doubt Me then, either. Lead him to top of the mountain, teaching him that God provides the lamb.”

To Joseph: “Yes, the love of your life appears to have gotten pregnant by another man. But do not despair of her single-hearted love for you. Her child comes from the Holy Spirit. Marry her as you planned, and raise the eternally-begotten Savior into manhood as any human father would raise a son.”

If you and I didn’t doubt the first promise, then we most certainly would have doubted the second. At least we would have doubted our own ability to carry it out.

But Abraham did not doubt, and neither did Joseph. They believed what they could not themselves envision; they trusted the heavenly Father they could not see. They stepped forward, abandoning all self-interest, and gave their lives over completely to the God of outlandish promises.

So: Who is our “father in faith,” our patriarch, the father of the faith of the Catholic Church? That’s what we call Abraham, and it is also what we call Joseph.

No contradiction in it, really—calling both Abraham and St. Joseph our patriarch, father. There would be competition between them for exclusive claim to that title, if the two men were anything less than incandescently selfless. But as they are both consummate vessels of the one divine will—since they both offered their lives as obedient sons of the heavenly Father–then we rightly identify both ends of the genealogical line—Abraham and Joseph—as the “father” of the Body of Christ, our father.

After all, the most important lesson a father can teach is the one they both taught the Christ, and us: How to live as children of God.

Abundant Harvest and Lumen Fidei

The harvest is abundant. (Luke 10:2)

One of the themes Pope Francis highlights in his encyclical on faith is this: Faith involves hearing a promise made by God, remembering it constantly, and looking forward to its fulfillment.

The promise of an abundant harvest goes all the way back to our father Abraham. God, the true God, the personal God—the God who makes a beautiful promise to us, speaking to us in our words—He established an alliance with Abraham. He made Abraham His partner in the unfolding of His Providence.

Pope-Francis-Lumen-FideiYou! Old man, aging shepherd: Do as I tell you. Wander into a new land. You will have many, many, many descendants. You consider yourself half-dead with old age. But your and Sarah’s fruitfulness will surpass even your wildest imaginings. Just do as I say, my friend. I’m not forcing you. You are free. But just do as I say, and the harvest will be wonderfully abundant.

A promise. Abraham believed it. Abraham’s life became a friendship with the Almighty One Who can and does fulfill such incomprehensible promises. Abraham never grasped what it was all about. Abraham waited to his dying day for it all to make sense. Then he waited almost two thousand years in the limbo of the fathers, until he saw the Christ of God in the womb of the Virgin. He believed all along: The harvest is abundant.

But: The laborers are few. Because the first and decisive task is to believe. When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?

We human beings like to know stuff. No harm there; we were made to know stuff.

But isn’t this the first thing we know, namely that the God Who made us and governs all things—that He is immeasurably greater than anything we can know? We know for sure that we do not know Him.

The only way to enter into this great alliance with the Master of the abundant harvest is to believe. Not blindly, like an ignorant person, but wisely, like a sage: I have studied this. I know that I cannot know the power, the mind, the love of the Creator. So I simply take Him at His word.

The wise man acknowledges to himself: My own lights do not always serve me so well. I’m full of changeable moods. I get tired. I make mistakes. Often, I can’t think straight.

But the Lord says that the harvest is abundant. It’s not just a bargaining stratagem; it’s not just a partisan perspective; it’s not just a story. It’s the Word of God Himself. The harvest is abundant. The poor and meek and merciful will be blessed. The kingdom of heaven is coming.

Ok. I believe. I believe the Word of God. We believe. To believe is our first labor.

The rest of the job gets easy–once we let go of knowing the big picture and simply believe that God does. Let me just do my little job, right here and now. The harvest will be abundant.

Miscellany + What the Jennifer Ehle Fan Notices

Archbishop Dolan with his second-grade teacher

Click HERE for Timothy Card. Dolan op-ed on Reforma Migratoria.

…Here’s a little homily for today:

The Lord Jesus chose His twelve Apostles. Then He stood to speak to a great crowd. Anyone know what He said to begin? The first part of the great sermon? The heart of His teaching?

Here’s a hint: “Blessed are…” The Beatitudes.

Ok. Let’s review from the beginning. I mean literally the beginning. The first man’s name was… The very first man. Starts with an ‘A’…

Adam and Eve sinned and lost God’s friendship. They lost their blessedness. But the Lord began a covenant with another man whose name starts with ‘A,’ namely… The father of the nation of Israel…

twin towersNow, God asked Abraham to leave his homeland and wander as a nomad. God demanded absolute obedience from Abraham. Truth to tell, God gave Abraham a pretty rough life, a life requiring enormous faith. But Abraham kept going, because God had given him such wonderful…

To Abraham, God had made magnificent…

“You will have descendants more numerous than the sands of the seashore and the stars of the sky. In your descendants, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”

God promised Abraham that he would father a unique nation–the nation of salvation, the nation of blessedness. Abraham never completely understood the Lord’s promises. But he believed them. He believed them.

So maybe we could say: Lesson #1 we can take from the Holy Bible is this: God makes promises, and He keeps them.

Jesus’ Beatitudes promise us that if we dedicate ourselves to God, we will find His kingdom. In the meantime, we will suffer. We will be hungry. We will have to struggle to hold on to what is good and holy. When we dedicate ourselves to God, we find that other people wind up having more money and being more popular. Other people have fancy lives, while we wait on God in the cheap seats.

But: It’s worth it. God makes promises, and He keeps them. We read how power went forth from Christ, power that overcame sickness and evil. That power dwells in us, when we have faith.

Probably none of you young people can remember. Twelve years ago tomorrow, all of us older Americans had to look at death over our morning coffee. Because a catastrophic terrorist attack hit our country, almost out of nowhere. Over 2,000 innocent people died.

We needed spiritual power that morning. We needed to listen, as if for the first time, to Jesus’ Beatitudes. Yes, in this world, there is suffering. Yes, evil comes our way. But when we love God and seek His kingdom; when we try to make peace and act with justice; when we let go of the fleeting pleasures of life and reach out towards God’s eternal holiness: when we follow Christ, in other words, we have nothing to fear. Even death. We don’t even have to fear death, because the Lord has promised us eternal life.

Let’s pray for peace. Let’s hope for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus keeps His promises. Blessed are we when we remember that.

kings-speech ehle rush firth

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again. (The Tempest, Act III, Scene 2)

Any run-of-the-mill Jennifer Ehle fan takes note of the fact that she and Colin Firth re-united in “The King’s Speech.”* Ehle plays Lionel Logue’s wife Myrtle.

Jennifer Ehle ElizaMyrtle says ‘perhaps’ exactly like Eliza did in the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice. Though, with only two short scenes with Lionel, Ehle hardly has the opportunity “to exhibit”–as Mr. Bennett would put it.

What would require a higher level of intensity in the Jennifer-Ehle-fan department: Noticing that the Pride-and-Prejudice reunion involves another actor, too.

Mr. Collins also appears in “the King’s Speech:” David Bamber plays the director of the Richard III production that Lionel does not get a part in.

But did any other Jennifer Ehle fan, while watching “The King’s Speech,” notice this? For the amusement of his sons, Lionel recites a speech from Shakespeare–Caliban’s speech, about the enchanted isle where The Tempest takes place.

Who dwells on the isle? Which innocent daughter of the resident magician? Miranda. And who portrayed Miranda in the Arkangel Shakespeare audio production?

Jennifer Ehle.

* I know the movie came out some time ago. But it just arrived at the public library.

Midnight Conversation

Importunate Neighbor

In the Near East, the heat of the day can grow extremely intense. Therefore, back when people rode camels, they often traveled at night, by moonlight. These days, people with young children often travel at night in order to avoid ‘Are we there yet?’ a thousand times, because the kids are sound asleep.

Either way, a true friend welcomes travelers, even in the middle of the night. With cellphones and 7-11s, and other modern conveniences like breadmakers and refrigerators, rarely these days does a night-traveling friend arrive at your home without warning and find you altogether unprepared to hook him up with food and a beverage.

Continue reading “Midnight Conversation”

Sacred Tradition from the Beginning

The conclusion of Genesis narrates how the descendants of Abraham came to leave the Holy Land. In other words, it narrates how our people came to leave the land of Canaan after living there for three generations. One thing makes this particular people unique: we worship the God in Whom Abraham believed. And the conclusion of Genesis recounts this part of our history.

israel-mapIt all began with God revealing Himself to Abraham. Abraham learned something of God’s plans. Much mystery remained. But Abraham learned that the whole world would be blessed through his descendant. This divine revelation established an alliance between God and Abraham’s people.

And we can see in today’s reading at Holy Mass how this alliance continued as a sacred tradition. In other words, from the very beginning, our holy religion has been a matter of handing down divine revelation from one generation to the next.

Abraham’s grandson Jacob was himself the patriarch of a very large family. Jacob would not leave the Promised Land without sacrificing to the God of his father Isaac, Who is the God of Abraham.

We see from what happened that the alliance—the covenant between Abraham’s people and God—this does not preclude new things from happening. God spoke to Jacob at the southern boundary of the Holy Land. God told Jacob to go without fear into Egypt. Your going into Egypt will not break the alliance. In fact, doing so will strengthen it. Your going into Egypt is part of my plan for your people, for the people of Abraham. Thus the Lord directed Jacob at this fateful moment.

So a living sacred tradition does not atrophy a people. Rather, it allows us to move forward through history without losing ourselves in the great ebb and flow of time. Because we have inherited the holy tradition which God inaugurated by speaking to Abraham, we can greet everything that the present sends our way. But we will fall out of alliance with God, and lose ourselves in the process, if we do not always act in accord with the sacred tradition we have inherited.

As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council put it:

In His gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. (Dei Verbum 7)

So we rejoice to receive from our fathers the mystery of salvation that belongs to the Church. And because we keep faith with it, we have nothing to fear from whatever comes our way today. We do not face the present alone; we face the events of today as members of the ancient People of God.

From the Lectionary Cutting-Room Floor + Encyclical

Rebecca at the Well Pellegrini
Rebecca at the Well by Pellegrini

Our Lectionary readings from Genesis run long and unfold erratically, because long sections of the book get omitted.

When the aging Abraham enjoined his servant to find a wife for Isaac from among his kin, the servant fulfilled Abraham’s instructions perfectly. The servant returned with Rebekah, who was Abraham’s niece by marriage.

Let’s notice two things: 1. Abraham’s adamantine resistance to the idea of Isaac leaving the land of Canaan.

Abraham focused everything on God’s promise. The promise of God had established an alliance, and Abraham would not break it. Here’s what our Holy Father says about Abraham’s faith in his encyclical:

Abraham’s faith [was] always an act of remembrance. Yet this remembrance was not fixed on past events but, as the memory of a promise, it becomes capable of opening up the future, shedding light on the path to be taken.

2. When the servant traveled to Mesopotamia to find the wife, he prayed and bowed down before the Lord at every step of the way.

The servant fulfilled his promise to Abraham by approaching the whole business with Abraham’s faith. Abraham had told the servant that his promise no longer bound him if the woman refused to return to the land of Canaan. So the servant did not try to exert control. He put everything in God’s hands. At the crucial moment, Rebekah’s mother and brother asked her, “Do you want to return to Canaan with this man?” And she replied, “I do.”

In other words, the history of Israel began with the free response of people who believed in God and hoped in His promises. We, too, believe in God, with Abraham. And so we hope in God, too, like Abraham’s servant did, and like Rebekah did.

And the Lord provides.

John 8:51-49

The words and deeds of Jesus Christ: too outrageous to allow for any compromise. And too beautiful to be blasphemy.

Everyone—Pharisees, Sadducees, Apostles, disciples, God-fearers, olive-pressers, shepherds, Jerusalem street-sweepers, everyone—agreed on one thing: Abraham held the true faith. Abraham believed in God, and the God in Whom Abraham believed is real.

Passion Caviezel teachingCan we search the Scriptures and find the episode that most reveals the content of Abraham’s faith? …certainly, when he was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, out of obedience to God, yes.

But what about when he pleaded for the city of Sodom?

“Lord, if there are fifty innocent men in the city? Or forty-five, or forty, or thirty, or twenty, or ten? Spare the city for their sakes!”

So it seems that Abraham believed in an infinitely powerful, all-knowing God of mercy, who would forget His justified and righteous anger against the human race for the sake of one truly innocent man. Our father in faith believed correctly, because a. he was ready to obey, and b. he knew that God had compassion, love, and pity for us in our human misery.

Indeed, Abraham was right. Even though fire and brimstone fell on ancient Sodom in the end, because the Lord couldn’t find any innocent people left there, Abraham was nonetheless absolutely right that God is Mercy.

God Himself knew, of course, that Abraham was right. It’s just that the day of mercy was yet to come. Abraham looked forward to it. Abraham fell asleep looking forward to his descendants receiving the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Then the day came. The merciful God came to earth and spoke, a man among men. He said things that would have been blasphemies worthy of stoning, except that this man saying them is God.

Abraham rejoiced to see my day.

Yes, Lord, because this Sodom in which we live has been spared because of You!

Before Abraham came to be, I am.

Amen, Jesus. All glory to You, O uncreated, crucified Mercy and Love, as in the beginning, now, and unto the ages of ages forever.

Pope Francis bracket

Pillar of Salt

Mount Sodom in the Holy Land, made almost entirely of rock salt

Remember the wife of Lot. (Luke 17:32)

Let’s remember. Which book of the Old Testament? Right. Genesis. Lot was whose nephew? Right. Abraham.

Abraham and Lot travelled toward the Promised Land together. Both had very large flocks, so they needed to separate. Lot chose to live on the plain south of the Dead Sea. Which cities were located in that region?

Right. Sodom and Gomorrah.

Meanwhile, Abraham pleased God by his… Faith! God visited Abraham with two angels in tow and chose Abraham as the patriarch of the holy nation, the People of God. Contrast this with: the unholy activities of the citizens of Sodom.

Abraham, being a reverent man who always knelt before the great mysteries of divine justice and the sacredness of human life, begged that the Lord would spare Sodom if only five righteous people could be found dwelling there.

But, alas, five were not to be found. To the contrary, the whole city came out to try to rape God’s angels! Yeesh.

So the fire and brimstone were coming; the sky was getting ready to rain down some serious hard justice. But, because Lot a) lived outside the city walls as a herdsman and abhorred even the idea of sodomy, and b) because he was somebody’s nephew… Right! Abraham’s—for these two reasons, Lot and his family were to be spared.

The angels literally took them all by their hands, like little children, to lead them to safety. The guardian angels made one proviso: Whatever you do, don’t… Look back!

Sure, all your familiar territory will be laid waste; sure, your acquaintances, in-laws, confreres, and tradesmen will all be lost to you forever; sure, this is all happening very suddenly.

But the Lord provides. Don’t look back. Just rush forward with all the speed you can muster to the unknown future the Lord has in store for you.

But somebody looked back… Right. Why? Do the Scriptures tell us why she looked back? Yes: Wisdom 10:7. The pillar of salt is the tomb of a soul that had no… faith.

Remember Lot’s wife. She had no faith in the unseen God. She hankered for the city where she could get the internet, watch t.v., eat, drink, and be merry with the footloose-and-fancy-free people. Therefore, she did not make it.

The people who made it, on the other hand, ran into the empty desert at full speed. Simply because God had told them that He had a home for them there, just over the horizon.