Praying Heroes

Garofalo Ascension of Christ

Lord Jesus prepared to ascend to the Father. He gave a final benediction to His disciples, with two components.

First: I am sending you. He says that to us, also.

The Kingdom of God has one center, one “capital city,” so to speak: the human Heart of Christ. His Heart beats with love for every human being, because every human being exists by virtue of God’s divine love.

So the Lord says to us: I send you on a mission. To extend My Kingdom by extending My love. Live in My love, so that, living in love, you can love. You can love your neighbor in mercy and in truth. With that love, the divine love, you will conquer the kingdom of evil.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, wrote us a letter in March, to help us understand how we must base our lives completely on the mission that Jesus has given us. The same mission that the Lord gave to the original Apostles, as He prepared to ascend to heaven—He has given that same mission to us.

The key to our spiritual lives, the key to Christian holiness, the key to a vigorous and meaningful life in this world is: Our apostolate. Christ has consecrated us His apostles; we have a mission. And that mission involves loving our neighbors with the love of the Heart of Christ. It involves pursuing souls, to help them come home to holy Mother Church.

We have no doubt: what we receive at Mass offers the sustenance that every human soul desperately needs. So we extend the offer to our neighbors, ‘Come, share this feast with us!’ We risk contempt, rejection, all kinds of suffering. Christ went to the cross for us, out of love, and He sends us out into the world as ambassadors of His crucified love.

peter-crucifixionWhen we grasp all this, we grasp the true meaning of our lives. We grasp the true meaning of every human interaction we have–with anyone, anywhere, anytime. When we realize that we exist for the sake of our apostolate, we grasp the vital principle of reality. Because the world turns on Divine Love.

Which heroes do we admire as the most truly manly? How about St. Peter? He repented of his betrayal, and he admitted it. Jesus forgave him, and gave the first pope his mission. Then St. Peter went out and found a way to befriend recalcitrant Jews. He found a way to befriend Greeks, Roman soldiers, everyone—so that they could know Christ. St. Peter shepherded the whole flock, spread across the Mediterranean. Then he unflinchingly offered his own life, hanging upside down on a cross, on Vatican Hill in Rome.

Or how about St. Paul? What more manly hero could anyone ever imagine? Like St. Peter, a humble repentant sinner. And a tireless traveler and adventurer. St. Paul’s adventures make Indiana Jones look like Papa Smurf by comparison. St. Paul, like St. Peter, communicated with every kind of person, in all kinds of languages, so that everyone could know Christ. And St. Paul, too, offered his mortal body as a sacrifice to God on the outskirts of the city of Rome, where they beheaded the human author of half of the New Testament.

Jesus summons us today to this kind of humble, adventurous heroism. But there was a second component to Christ’s parting benediction. He didn’t just say, Go, evangelize. He said: Pray first. Pray that the Holy Spirit will come. Pray that heaven may clothe you with the power of divine love. Because you can’t do it without My Holy Spirit.

None of the heroic exploits of selfless love, undertaken by the original apostles, or by any of the martyrs and saints who have followed in their footsteps—none of these manly deeds could ever have happened, if it hadn’t been for the original Novena.

pentecost_with_maryThe original Novena involved the future heroes of Christ’s Church keeping quiet and still for nine days, trembling with fear and uncertainty about the future. Meanwhile, one person stood at the center and showed them what to do.

The Greatest Hero showed the other heroes what to do. They would all freely admit: they followed the lead of the one who quietly, unobtrusively, unpretentiously, steadily, gently prayed.

The Blessed Virgin. The Mother of the Apostolate.

Who won the Holy Spirit for us? Who moved God to pour out His fearless divine love into our unworthy hearts?

Jesus, of course. Also His Mother. For those nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, she prayed. Could the Apostles have prayed like they should have, without her? Are you kidding? They would have gone crazy with confusion and fear; they would have bickered endlessly—if the Blessed Mother had not been there to steady them and focus them on the task at hand. Prayer.

Hopefully everyone takes my point. We find meaning in life by grasping that God has consecrated us to do heroic deeds of selfless love to build His kingdom. And the greatest heroes of them all? Our mothers, who quietly taught us how to pray.

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A Pilgrimage Ends, Mysteriously

At Holy Mass on Sunday, we hear the end of St. Matthew’s gospel. Let’s meditate on the beginning and end of Jesus’ life. [Click AQUI por español.]

His divine life—the life of the only-begotten Son: God from God, light from light, true God from true God—that life began… well, it did not “begin.” It is. Eternally. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

annunciation-merodeSo the divine life of Jesus: eternal. On the other hand, His human life had a beginning, in Mary’s womb. But it has no end, since He conquered death.

What about the earthly pilgrimage of the Lord Jesus?

His pilgrimage on earth began in the same place where His human life began—just like it does for us. In our mother’s wombs. But, whereas our earthly pilgrimages end with… death, Jesus’ earthly pilgrimage did not end with death.

A lot of people thought it had ended with His death. Usually when condemned men died on crosses in the occupied territories of the Roman Empire, that spelled the end of that particular person’s earthly pilgrimage. When Jesus gave up His spirit and bowed His Sacred Head in death—it seemed to all observers that a human pilgrimage had ended.

But in this case, it had not. By no means. He rose from the dead on the third day, Easter Sunday morning. And He spent another forty days as a human pilgrim on earth. Walking, eating, talking, etc., like we do. Except that now He could not die. Because in His human flesh, He had already overcome the power of death. His resurrection has taught us that death does not go on forever, like infinity. It has a limit. And Jesus’ human life extends beyond that limit of death.

Now, maybe we want to ask: Lord, why did you continue to live as a pilgrim on earth for forty days after you rose from the dead? As opposed to fifty days, or ten? Or six years? Or ten thousand years? Or just a few hours?

We know that the Apostles needed some further instruction. They needed exactly forty days worth of further instruction, apparently. But maybe we think we need some further instruction, too? And we’d like to encounter Jesus here on earth, as a fellow human pilgrim here. But He’s in heaven, and His presence on earth lies hidden behind different veils. He does indeed come among us—in the Blessed Sacrament, and the other sacraments of the Church, and in our brothers and sisters, especially the poor and suffering. But we can’t see Him. We greet Him here on earth solely by faith.

So I don’t think we can really answer the question: Why did He stay forty days after He rose–as opposed to forty years or forty minutes or forty thousand years? We don’t know that answer. We just know that what happened happened. Forty days after He had risen from the dead, His human pilgrimage on earth ended, because He… ascended into heaven.

Pietro Perugino AscensionGood! Correct! But before we settle back and preen ourselves for knowing that easy answer, let’s consider how little we actually know about it.

We reflected earlier on the beginning of Jesus’ human pilgrimage, in the womb of the Virgin. But we have a hard time really grasping, really getting a lock on that reality.

After all, we have a hard time conceiving fully the reality of any human conception. Do I altogether understand how I myself came to be in my mother’s womb? How my human pilgrimage began? Does my mind have a lock on every aspect of that reality? Every biological, historical, relational, anatomical, nutritional, sociological, ontological aspect? And there are lots of other aspects besides. I for one cannot claim to understand fully even a single one of those aspects.

Then, in Jesus’ case, you throw in something else. When the Holy Spirit conceived Him in Mary’s womb, God Almighty, eternal and ineffable, began a human pilgrimage. God became a tiny baby. That’s what we call a genuinely unfathomable mystery.

My point here is: The same degree of mystery attends the end of the Lord’s pilgrimage. We believe in the Incarnation, because God has given us the gift of faith. We need that same gift of divine faith to hold in our minds the sublime reality of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven.

Yes, we know as a simple fact that His earthly pilgrimage did end. But that conclusion of His pilgrimage involved a human being, body and soul, entering…

Heaven. The realm of God. Eternity. Perpetual peace. Utter happiness that nothing can disturb. Endless joyful music that never gets boring. A meal that never leaves you tired or bloated. Fearless, comforting friendship. Wisdom with no darkness at all.

The pilgrimage of the Lord Jesus ended by Him entering all this, body and soul, as a man. The same beatitude that He had, as God; the same communion with the Father that the eternal Son eternally possesses—now this man, Jesus, God incarnate, entered into it. With that His pilgrimage on earth ended.

In this, and in nothing less, lies our Christian hope. In our pilgrimage on earth, we must often drink the cup of bitterness. This world, beautiful as it can be, does not know justice. It does not know truth. We will truly enjoy happiness only when we share in the undisturbed communion that binds the divine Father with the divine Son.

Jesus, every bit as human as we are, has entered into that communion completely, in His flesh. Therefore, we fellow human beings can hope to get there, too.

Ten-Point List of Easter-Season Instructions

Everyone knows who wrote Acts of the Apostles? I mean, besides God. The human author. Right! St. Luke.

So: not only do our first reading and gospel for Holy Mass on Ascension Day have the same human author, but also: the two readings form one continuous passage from St. Luke’s work. We just read them in reverse order. Our gospel reading comes from the end of St. Luke’s first book. And our reading from Acts is the beginning of his second.

St Luke
St Luke
We read from Acts 1, “In my first book, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day He was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles.”

“The day He was taken up.” What day was that? Today! Ascension Day.

A day of transition: The transition between St. Luke’s first book and his second. The transition between Christ’s ministry to the human race on earth, and His ministry to the human race from heaven.

He made us essential to His ministry from heaven. We read that, for forty days prior to his transition from earth to heaven, the Lord Jesus gave instructions to His apostles. For the forty days after He rose from the dead, Jesus remained on earth, instructing.

Do we know exactly what those instructions were?

Yes and no. We can’t exactly download the podcast. For us to know and understand the instructions Christ gave during the original Easter season, we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Only when we get to heaven, please God, will we fully know and understand everything.

But let’s speculate a little, about the instructions He gave. What if He rendered them in the form of a ten-point list?

1. My friends, you saw Me die. But I live. When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.
2. Break the bread, in memory of Me.
3. Do not be afraid.
4. Gird your loins, and light your lamps, for you do not know when the final hour will come.
5. Sell what you have, and give to the poor, and 6. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
7. Love one another.
8. Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
9. Rejoice and be glad! Your names are written in heaven.
10. Be good to your mom.

Ascensiontide Theology

Ecce Agnus Dei“We celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of Your Son, his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven…”

When do we say this? After the consecration at every Mass. The Holy Eucharist recalls to our minds not just the Passion and death of our Redeemer, not just His conquest of death, but also His Ascension into heaven.

Now, the Mass Christ instituted recalls His Passion and death very vividly and clearly. His words declare His saving death: “My body will be given up for you.” “My blood will be shed for you.”

That said, the very same words of consecration declare His Resurrection as well. Because: He lives to give us His flesh and blood. If He were still dead, we could hardly receive Him bodily into our midst, in the Blessed Sacrament. We can have Mass because He is alive. Pretty clear.

Now, what about His Ascension? For our Ascension-tide theological question, let’s try to figure this one: How does the Holy Mass commemorate Christ’s Ascension?

tabernacleWell, we could say this: The whole business of the Mass involves the celebration of Christ’s Passover. He passed over from life as a pilgrim to life in glory. Passed through death to eternal life. We cannot see the life that Christ the man shares with God. Our eyes do not now have the capacity to see that.

Which means that the Lord’s very in-visibility in the Mass commemorates His Ascension. He passed beyond our sight when He ascended, and He appears in a way that we cannot see at the consecration at Mass.

That said, Christ’s invisibility in the Mass is by no means absolute. If it were, we would celebrate Mass just by closing our eyes and looking at the inside of our eyelids. But we don’t do that.

At Mass, we see a sacrifice, carried out by a priest, with a priestly people united around the altar. All that is perfectly visible—and it is a visible manifestation of Christ, ascended into heaven. Because He ministers in heaven as our eternal High Priest, forever offering Himself, in perfect love, for us.

So: Holy Mass recalls Christ’s Ascension to our minds, both by what we don’t see, and by what we do.

Inner Eyes

fishing1

Not everybody knows this, but we have two kinds of eyes.

We have the eyes we use to catch and throw a ball, to go looking for seashells at the beach, to watch the teacher write things on the board, and to drive a car—once we have a license.

These are our outer eyes. They help us enormously, of course. We tend to take them for granted. Until we come across someone who suffers from blindness. Then we thank God that we have the great gift of sight in our eyes.

But if anyone has ever really gotten to know someone who is blind, whose outer eyes don’t work; if any of us have ever read a book written by a blind person, or listened to a blind person sing, or tell a story—then we realize: these outer eyes are not the only eyes that we human beings have.

We also have inner eyes, spiritual eyes. With our spiritual eyes, we can see things that our outer eyes can’t see. Like memories. Like things we imagine. Some of us just used our inner eyes a moment ago, when I mentioned the beach. We imagined it, and we could see the ocean with our inner eyes–even if we do not find ourselves anywhere near the beach at this moment.

First HC in the cluster!
First Holy Communion in the cluster!
Like I said, we thank God for the blessing of our outer eyes. But the truth is that our inner eyes are even more powerful and important. Let me tell you why.

Lord Jesus walked the earth for a particular period of time. He died and rose again from the dead. For forty days after His resurrection, He continued to walk the earth and talk to His friends. They saw the risen dead man with their outer eyes, and He looked even more wonderful than before.

But then the time came for Christ to ascend to heaven. He told the disciples that He would pass away from their outer sight. But don’t worry. Don’t fear. ‘I will remain with you always,’ He promised.

When He said that—Don’t worry, even though you won’t see Me anymore—when He said that to them, did they take it in stride? Did they say, ‘Got you, Master. No problem.’

No. They did not say that at all. They whined; they complained. ‘Why can’t you stay visible forever, and make yourself visible to everyone? Why do we have to live by faith and not by our outer eyes?’

Now, if I might put His response in my own words. He replied:

“I understand why you panic like this, my children. But you fail to grasp that your inner sight is a million times for important than your outer sight. I will go to heaven, and from there I will send the power of love into you, inside you.

“Your outer eyes can see baseballs and squirrels and gas stations on the highway. But all these things come and go.

“With your inner eyes, you can love the holiness that lasts forever. With your inner eyes, you can see God, and you can see the true beauty of another person’s soul.

steviewonder“Not only that. With your inner eyes, you can see that heaven is always right in front of you. All you have to do, to step into it, is: love. Step forward in love, and you will enter heaven.”

We do not understand all these mysteries. At least I don’t. But I know for a fact that our inner eyes see more than our outer eyes. Because, for now, only our inner eyes can see Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Using the unworthy voice of His priest, Christ says, “This is my Body,” and “This is my Blood.” We do not see Him with our outer eyes. But we do know He is here. We see Him with our inner eyes, our eyes of faith. He beckons us to come to Him, to receive Him, to unite ourselves with Him.

Impertinent but Understandable John-16 Question

Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you,” saith the Lord. (John 16:23)

Can we imagine that people like our Lady, Mary Magdalen, and St. John heard these words of Christ’s, and perhaps thought to themselves, “I have half a mind to call His bluff?”

After all, He had just told the people who loved Him the most, “I am going away. You will not see Me. You will weep, mourn, and grieve. You will suffer rough strife, like a woman in labor, gasping and panting in anguish. But then you will see Me again, and everything will be fine.”

Then He proceeded to promise them solemnly that their prayers in His name would be answered.

El Greco Christ blessing croppedNow, if it were me, cheeky pipsqueak that I am, I might have said:

‘Okay, rabbi. I pray in Your Name that we skip the suffering part. I solemnly pray that the Father not receive You back into heaven, in such a way that we can no longer see You.

‘I pray that You remain here on earth with us, and rule the world visibly, openly. I pray in Your Name that Christianity be a whole lot easier, a whole lot more like worldliness, with easygoing comfort and not so many occasions for patient forbearance.

‘What do you think about them apples, Mr. Promiser-of-Answers-to-Prayers?’

To which He would of course reply: ‘Which part of it is better for you that I go did you not understand, numbskull? Have I been with you this long, and still you do not know Me?’

Moral of the story: There is only one way to pray “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Namely, to accept everything about Him—all His words; all His deeds; His visible-ness for 33 years; His invisible-ness for all these ensuing years—to accept all of it, as an absolute given, as the one, all-important, all-governing fact, the divine Fact—to accept Jesus Christ exactly as He actually is, maddening as He may be at times—to accept Him as the revelation of the unknown, eternal Glory… and then take everything else from there.

He says we do better by making a pilgrimage of obscure faith for a year, ten years, eighty-five years. He says that does us more good than instantaneous blessedness would do us. He says so. Ergo, it is true.

He made the pilgrimage that He made. He reached the goal He reached. He shares His invisible grace by the humble visible means that He instituted—water, oil, bread, wine, bumbling priests like myself. He did all this. Ergo, it is all for the absolute best.

Christ, as He is: the Given. Everything else: health, sickness; suffering, comfort; wealth, poverty; honor, ignominy; a long life or a short one—all of these are relative. They are good or bad as measured against the absolute given standard, Who is Christ.

Feast Day for the Sufferers

Sudden Death
Sudden Death

Everyone knows that the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after He rose from the dead. And everyone knows that, as He prepared to ascend, Christ commanded His disciples to pray. Thus began the original Novena—nine days of prayer before Pentecost.

Everyone knows these things, of course. So there’s no sense in dwelling on the fact that no one knows when we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension anymore.

Garofalo Ascension of ChristLet’s focus on the bright side. Since today isn’t the Solemnity of the Ascension (even though it is), we get to keep the Feast of St. Matthias this year!

And the Feast of St. Matthias holds special significance for the most exquisite of all sufferers, the most rarefied of all white martyrs, Washington-Capitals fans.

Because May 14 is almost always the day after the Caps get knocked out of the playoffs by either the New York Rangers or the Pittsburgh Penguins.*

The apostolate involves suffering. As St. Paul put it, those who proclaim Christ go like sheep to the slaughter. Our reward does not come in this present life, fleeting as it is, but in the great and mysterious life to come.

St. Matthias received his vocation as an apostle during the original Novena between Ascension and Pentecost. He struggled to mortify himself and his fleshly desires. For this reason, people struggling with alcoholism have revered St. Matthias as a patron. St. Matthias attained his reward when he was stoned to death by cannibals.

May his holy prayers help us to keep these days especially holy.

____________________
* May 13, 2015: Caps knocked-out by Rangers. May 13, 2013: Caps knocked-out by Rangers. May 12, 2012: Caps knocked-out by Rangers. May 13, 2009: Caps knocked-out by Penguins.

Civilization of Love

Garofalo Ascension of Christ

Lord Jesus ascended into heaven.

We might well wish that He had not. We might prefer that He had remained on earth, with us, so that we could see Him. We might think that God being visible on earth would make the Christian faith considerably easier to sustain.

But St. Thomas Aquinas explains in the Summa Theologica why we should, in fact, rejoice that Christ ascended into heaven–even though, for now, it is beyond our sight. St. Thomas gives a number of reasons. One of them is this: We rejoice in Christ’s Ascension because it directs our fervor toward the invisible Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, which Christ gives us from heaven, is, to quote St. Thomas, “love drawing us up to heavenly things.” The Holy Spirit is nothing other than “love drawing us up to heavenly things.”

In other words: God is; our religion revolves around; the meaning of life is: love drawing us up to heavenly things. I would say that this may be the key concept for our spiritual lives in AD 2014, fifty years after Vatican II.

Continue reading “Civilization of Love”

Reality Novena

Father, consecrate us in the truth. Protect us from our propensities to subterfuge and close-mindedness. Free us from ourselves and the tendency we have to make up our own version of reality.

Now, if ever there were days to make a Novena…This is the week of the original Novena.

“Father, consecrate them in truth,” prayed the Lord Jesus. “Wait until you are clothed with power from on high,” He told His disciples.

ezekiel bonesCome, Holy Spirit of truth. Come and consecrate us with the greatest gift any human being can ever receive: a firm grip on reality.

I don’t know about you, but on Sunday something struck me like a ton of bricks, as if for the first time. The Savior came to the world, showed Himself the Savior, overcame death—and then He vanished.

He was here. At one time, Jesus wore shoes and a tunic of some kind, and dust collected on His garments, and He had to spend time cleaning His teeth every day.

But then He departed from the world. Peace out. To heaven. And—except by certain visionaries—He has not been seen with human eyes on the earth since.

This would seem to mean heartbreak and pain for His disciples. We read on Sunday, however, that they rejoiced and praised God when Jesus ascended and disappeared from their sight (Luke 24:52). The Master had triumphed altogether and returned to the unimaginable heaven from which He had come. Unlike the Christians of Miletus, who wept when St. Paul left them for good. In Jerusalem, after the Ascension of Christ, the disciples did not cry. Rather, joy filled their hearts as they prayed the first Novena.

el_greco-sinaiNow, we know that the Lord Jesus does not despise the world. He abides with us here still in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. And He promised one day to come again in the sight of every human eye. His sandals will touch the earth again. Then heaven and earth will come together. Where He disappeared to on Ascension Day, and where we are now, will be the same place.

And it’s not just a matter of our passively waiting for Him to come back in all His glory. We can hasten the re-union. By prayer and zealous works of justice and peace.

But this reality which the Holy Spirit helps us get a grip on… This truth…

The Holy Spirit, Who looks like…what exactly? Pentecost looks like: “power from on high.” I think the greatest artists will freely tell us: Not easy to depict this for human eyes. Actually, it’s altogether impossible.

For now—while we still make our pilgrim way—the true reality which the invisible Holy Spirit helps us grasp is itself a lot more invisible than it is visible. “Getting a grip”—really getting a grip on reality—means believing. We pray with joy that God will help us to get a firm grip on the ungraspable Truth that He Himself is.

To An Unsinkable Location

Just over a month ago, the world marked the 100th anniversary of the demise of the RMS Titanic. The unsinkable ship went down to the murky north-Atlantic deep. Like a floating city of lights, clean and fine and elegant in every appointment—it darkened; it fractured; it foundered. Now all its intricately carved banisters and mantelpieces, all its monogrammed china and crystal martini glasses—all of it lies in the mud, covered with aquatic mold.

Maybe you remember the scene in the Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet movie: the ship’s designer, on board for the maiden voyage—he knows that the Titanic will sink in one hour. He has surveyed the ice-berg damage, knows where the holes in the hull are, and he has reached his inescapable conclusion. The huge ship is slowly going down.

Continue reading “To An Unsinkable Location”