We Catholics don’t do “altar calls.” Or over-simplify the spiritual life with the phrase “being saved.” I can know if the changes to my Word document have been saved. But I won’t know that I am saved, until I get to purgatory, please God.
Nonetheless, we Catholics agree with every backwoods preacher on this: Eternal life starts with believing that Jesus is God and our Savior. Let’s listen to the Benedictine abbot, Blessed Columba Marmion:
The profound conviction that Christ is God, and that He has been given to us, contains all spiritual life.
Let us place ourselves at the feet of Christ and say to Him: Lord Jesus, Incarnate Word, I believe that Thou art God; true God begotten of true God. I do not see Thy divinity, but because the Father tells me, ‘This is my beloved Son,’ I believe it. And because I believe it, I submit myself entirely–body, soul, judgment, will, heart, sensibility, imagination, all my energies–I wish that all things may be subjected under Thy feet in homage.
‘I wish to follow Thee as my chief and that Thy Gospel may be my light and Thy will my guide; I wish neither to think otherwise than as Thou thinkest because Thou art infallible truth, nor to act without Thee, because Thou art the only way to go to the Father, nor to seek my joy outside Thy will, because Thou art the very foutain of life. Possess me wholly, through thy Spirit, for the glory of the Father!’
By this act of faith, we lay the foundation of our spiritual life, for other foundation no may can lay, but that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus.
Acts of faith in Christ’s divinity are extremely pleasing to the eternal Father, because all His exigencies–and they are infinite–are summed up in willing the glory of His Son.
And the more His Son veils His divinity, the more He abases Himself out of love for us, the more profoundly we ought to adore Him as Son of God…The more Christ humbles Himself in becoming a little Child, in choosng the hidden life of Nazareth, in submitting Himself to the gibbet like a malefactor, with the wicked; the more His divinity is attacked and denied by unbelievers–the more we ought to place Him high in the glory of the Father, and in our hearts yield ourselves to Him in a spirit of intense reverence and entire submission to His Person, and to labor for the extension of His reign in souls.
–Blessed Columba Marmion, Christ the Life of the Soul, II,1,5
In Christ, God and man have exchanged the ultimate gift: both live together now in one Person. (Reason 4 for the Incarnation: That we might partake of the divine nature.)
Here is Blessed Dom Marmion on this ‘admirable exchange’ of gifts, the divine nature and the human nature exchanging themselves with each other on Christmas morning:
In us likewise there will henceforth be two lives. The one, natural, which we have by our birth according to the flesh… The other life, supernatural… It is this life that God communicates to us by His grace, since the Incarnate Word merited it for us.
God begets us to this life by His Word and the infusion of His Spirit, in the baptismal font… It is a new life that is superadded to our natural life, surpassing and crowning it… It makes us children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, worthy of one day partaking of His beatitude and glory.
Of these two lives, in us as in Christ, it is the divine that ought to dominate–although in the Child Christ the divine life is not as yet manifested, and in us it remains ever veiled under the outward appearance of our ordinary existence.
It is the divine life of grace that ought to rule and govern, and make agreeable to our Lord all our natural activity thus deified in its root.
Oh! if the contemplation of the Birth of Jesus and participation in this mystery by the reception of the Bread of Life would bring us to free ourselves, once and for all, from everything that destroys and lessens the divine life within us; from sin, wherefrom Christ comes to deliver us… from all infidelity and all attachment to creatures; from the irregulated care for passing things… from the trifling preoccupations of our vain self love!
If we could thus be brought to give ourselves entirely to God, according to the promises of our baptism, when we were born to the divine life; to yield ourselves up to the accomplishment of His will and good pleasure, as did the Incarnate Word in entering into this world; to abound in those good works which make us pleasing to God:
Then the divine life brought to us by Jesus would meet with no more obstacles and would freely expand for the glory of our Heavenly Father; then we who are bathed in the new light of the Incarnate Word should show forth in our deeds what by faith shines in our minds; then our offerings would befit the mysteries of the Nativity.
[I have taken the liberty of rendering what, to me, are the most sublime turns of phrase in bold.]
They spoke of His exodus, which He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. (Luke 9:31)
The exodus of Christ. Yes: the same word as the title of the second book of the Holy Bible. The ancient Israelites languished as slaves in Egypt, away from their Promised Land, away from the sacred domain that God had given to Abraham their forefather. But then Moses led the Exodus: The Israelites escaped their bondage. They passed over the Red Sea. They made their way to their true home.
All of that happened by way of foreshadowing. It all symbolized the great exodus yet to come. God Himself would come to this Egypt and share with us sons and daughters of Adam the slavery of death. God Himself would walk in this foreign land–Justice and Truth Himself on an earth full of injustice and lies.
Why did He do it? He came to lead an exodus.
The Lord Jesus ascended Mt. Tabor and allowed His divine glory to shine through, and Moses and Elijah came to Him to talk—all for one reason: Apparently cruel, confusing, heartbreaking events would soon unfold in Jerusalem. The Lord wanted to show His chosen Apostles the hidden meaning of His Passion and crucifixion.
Yes, it will look like a defeat. Yes, it will appear to be an unmitigated disaster. But do not mistake it. It will be the beginning of a mighty and glorious exodus. God will in fact win a triumph in Jerusalem—a triumph so stupendous that it will make Moses parting the Red Sea look like a cheesy half-time show by comparison.
Now, pretty soon we will have a new pope. One thing a pope does is to declare saints. Pope John Paul II declared a great monk-priest named Columba Marmion to be a saint.
Blessed Columba Marmion lived a life of enormous holiness; he was holy in many different ways. Let’s focus on one: Dom Columba made the Stations of the Cross every day. In other words, he made them every Friday of Lent. Plus, he made them every other Friday of the year, since the Church keeps every Friday as a kind of little weekly Lent, year-round. Plus, Blessed Columba made the Stations every other day, also: Monday-Thursday, and Saturdays and Sundays, too.
Now, maybe you’re saying to yourself: “Father is telling me that this holy man—this saintly individual—that he made the Stations of the Cross every day. But I am not altogether sure what ‘making the Stations of the Cross’ means. What does it mean?”
Okay. Good question. Let’s start with a few words of Dom Columba’s, if I might quote them:
This contemplation of Jesus’ suffering is very fruitful…That is why, if, during a few moments, interrupting your work, laying aside your preoccupations, and closing your heart to all outward things, you accompany the God-man along the road to Calvary, with faith, humility, and love, with the true desire of imitating His virtues, be assured that your souls will receive choice graces, which will transform them little by little into the likeness of Jesus.
…It suffices to visit the fourteen stations, to stay a while at each of them and there to meditate on the Savior’s Passion…The more we enter into those dispositions that filled the Heart of Jesus as He passed along the sorrowful way—love towards His Father, charity towards men, hatred for sin, humility, obedience to the Father’s will—the more our souls will receive graces and lights.
Every parish church has the fourteen stations: Jesus condemned to death. Jesus taking up His cross. Jesus falling under the weight of the cross. Jesus meeting His mother in the street on the way Calvary. St. Simon helping Jesus to carry the cross. St. Veronica wiping the Holy Face. The Lord falling under the weight of the cross again. Jesus condoling with the wailing women in the street. Jesus falling a third time as He begins to climb Calvary Hill. The centurions roughly stripping Him of His tunic. The centurions nailing Him to the cross. They plant the cross in the earth, and, after three hours of agony, God dies. They take His Body down and lay Him in His Mother’s arms. Then they lay Him in the tomb.
Fourteen stations. On the Fridays of Lent, most of the parishes of the world pray the Stations together. In our humble cluster, we make our way through them together at 7:00 in the evening. On Good Friday, at 3:00 p.m.
This is the exodus of the Savior of the world. We celebrate it constantly in the Mass. As Bl. Dom Columba put it, “devotion to the sufferings of Christ in the Way of the Cross is the devotional prayer most closely linked to the Mass.”
Let’s assume we want to get to heaven. Failing to take advantage of this particular means of devotion would be like a miner failing to take advantage of a pickaxe, or a NASCAR driver failing to take advantage of a car. Sure, you can run 500 times around Daytona Speedway on foot. But why not drive? Likewise: yes, it is possible to get to heaven without praying the Stations of the Cross. But why not hop on board a train of prayer that is definitely headed in the right direction? Friday at 7:00 (check local listings).
Blessed Columbia Marmion, OSB (from Christ in His Mysteries 2.6.1):
If you listen to the sacred oracles of the prophets of Israel, you will remark that the traits whereby God depicts the Person of the future Messias, and specifies the character of His mission, are at times so opposed that it seems as if they could not be encountered in the same person.
Sometimes the prophets attribute to the Redeemer prerogatives such as could only befit a God; sometimes they predict for this Messias a sum of humiliations, contradictions, infirmities and sufferings with which the last of men could scarcely deserve to be overwhelmed.
You will constantly be coming across this striking contrast.
2. Here is our Blessed Columba Marmion quote of the day:
Let us remain faithful to our sublime calling to seek God.
We shall not arrive at the realization of our ideal in a day nor yet in a year.
We shall not arrive at it without difficulty or without sufferings–for that purity of affection, that absolute detachment, full and constant, which God requires of us before giving Himself entirely to us, is only gained by much generosity.
But if we have decided to give ourselves completely to God, without reservation, and never to bargain with Him for the least corner of our heart, let us be assured that God will reward our efforts by the perfect possession of Himself, wherein we shall find all our happiness.
Just as man needs bread, so does man have even more need of God. (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for Lent)
Tomorrow we begin our little forty-day journey to Easter.
Lent is our chance to re-initiate ourselves as Christians.
We started off well, when we emerged from the baptismal font. But time takes a toll. We get distracted. We get lazy. We do things shabbily. We do not pray like we should.
We can do better. For forty days, the Church feeds us with the pure bread of the Word of God. The food we need is set before us in church.
Our Mother the Church, who is full of solicitude for her children, knows to what perils they are ever exposed; she knows, on the other hand, what powerful graces of life are given to us through the mysteries of the Incarnate Word…and so she recalls to us each year, at the beginning of Lent, the mystery of the Temptation of Jesus.
She wills that during forty days, we should live like Him in the spirit of penance, retreat, solitude, and prayer. (Bl. Columba Marmion)
…On Ash Wednesday we fast and eat no meat. On Fridays during Lent we eat no meat…
…Many of us are members of families of mixed religion. We can look forward to interactions like the one depicted in the first minute of this clip, when the MacDougals were visiting the Barones for Easter:
Two months ago, I was in the town of Cana. All the couples in our pilgrim group renewed their wedding vows in the church built on the spot where the Lord turned water into wine.
Then we went on to the Sea of Galilee, where we spent the day. In the evening, we got on the bus to head back to Nazareth, where we were staying. On the way, the perfect thing happened.
We had to pass through Cana on the way back. The region of Galilee is rural countryside. There are not a lot of roads, and the roads are narrow. The only way from the Sea of Galilee to Nazareth is through Cana.
So we drove back into Cana, and, like I said, the perfect thing happened: We got stuck in a traffic jam.
It took us 40 minutes to get through two traffic lights. There were just too many cars and not enough road. Rush hour in Cana of Galilee.
This was the perfect thing to happen. The miracles of Christ are things that really took place, in this very world of ours, where traffic also occurs. The world where Jesus worked miracles, and the world where you and I get stuck in traffic: It is the same world.
In the town where we sat at a red light for half an hour, the God-man went to a wedding of poor people.
The family had done everything within their means to provide for their guests. Now they were confronted with an embarrassing situation.
What Christ did for them is very revealing.
Let us first take note of what He did not do. He did not say, “It’s just as well the wine ran out, because these people have already had more than enough fun.”
No. He did not frown. He smiled. He turned water for ritual purification into an enormous amount of choice table wine. The joy and revelry did not end. The Son of God kept it going.
The fact that our Lord did this is revealing for two reasons. First: It reveals the kind of human heart He has. His Heart is generous. He does not measure His kindness. He does not give with one hand and take with the other. He just loves.
The second thing His action reveals is even more profound. The loving kindness of Christ the man reveals to us the infinite divine love of Christ our God.
We can neither perceive nor imagine the love of God. God’s qualities are altogether beyond the capacities of our little minds. But the human love of Christ give us a glimpse of the ineffable divine love. One of the saints put it like this:
Nothing so much attracts our poor hearts as to contemplate Jesus Christ, true God as well as true man, translating the eternal goodness into human deeds.
In Christ, the unknowable eternal goodness turned water into wine for a poor family in the little town where we sat in traffic. We cannot know God by ourselves, dear brothers and sisters. But Jesus reveals Him. And we see the sweet truth: God is kind.
Now, it is no accident that this revelation took place at a wedding.
The Lord Jesus was not destined to marry on earth. He came to die for the sins of all the children of Adam and Eve.
But He worked His first miracle at a wedding to show us this: God loves marriage and child-bearing. Yes, when we are born, we are born sinners. But it is still a good thing to be born. The human race is meant to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth. Christ came to save everyone ever born.
The miracle at Cana, then, was the beginning of what we call the “Culture of Life.” Christ showed us that day: God wants babies to be born.
This is what the March for Life is about. It is a continuation of the wedding at Cana.
Speaking of births, yesterday would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 81st birthday. Dr. King has a niece named Alveda. She recently wrote the following message to us:
I work in the civil rights movement of our century — the right of every one of every race to live.
I am asking you to join me. Let me tell you why. Abortion and racism are evil twins, born of the same lie…
Racism springs from the lie that certain human beings are less than fully human…So it is with abortion.
Racism oppresses its victims, but also binds the oppressors, who sear their consciences with more and more lies until they become prisoners of those lies. They cannot face the truth of human equality because it reveals the horror of the injustices they commit…So it is with abortion.
Racism is a way to gain economic advantage at the expense of others. Slavery and plantations may be gone, but racism still allows us to regard those who may keep us from financial gain as less than equals. So it is with abortion.
Listen: Dr. King was killed before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal on January 22, 1973. But you know that if he were still alive, he would be marching on Friday.
If any of us think that the pro-life cause is not our problem, not our fight to fight, we need to think again.
Dr. King would be yelling at us right now. He yelled a lot louder in the pulpit than I ever do.
He would yell, “Get yourself up! Stand up for what you know is right! Every little baby in the womb—every black one, every white, yellow, or red one—every last one has the right to be born!”
Not sure you understand Advent? Blessed Columba will help you:
All the Old Testament is a prolonged Advent, the prayers of which are summed up in this prayer of Isaias:
Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just…Let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior!
The idea of this future Redeemer fills all the Ancient Law; all the symbols, all the rites and sacrifices prefigure Him; all desires converge toward Him. The religion of Israel was the expectation of the Messias.
But the greatness of the mystery of the Incarnation and the majesty of the Redeemer demanded that the revelation of Him to the human race should only be made by degrees…
It was by a dispensation, at once full of wisdom and mercy, that God disclosed this ineffable mystery only little by little, by the mouth of the prophets.
When the human race would be sufficiently prepared, the Word, so many times announced, so often promised, would Himself appear here below to instruct us.
The miracle is that the Hoyas scored as many points as Syracuse after forty minutes of play.
It is only right that the Orange won in overtime, because they dominated the Hoyas. They named Onuaku the game MVP, but in my opinion it was Dievendorf’s five threes that killed us. I am still at a loss as to how the Hoyas managed to put the game into overtime.
Apparently, there are many provisions in the “economic stimulus package” which regulate health care. I have heard that one of these will require a cost-benefit analysis for expensive procedures. The years a patient could be expected to live would be assigned a monetary value. Then this amount would be measured against the cost of the procedure.
I do not know if this provision has in fact been enacted into law. Perhaps a knowledgeable P. & B. D. reader could chime in on that question.
The idea of measuring the years of a person’s life in dollars reminded me of something Bl. Columba Marmion wrote about the priesthood:
The goal for a priest is for an unbeliever to consider his life utterly worthless.
The priesthood only makes sense by the light of faith. Without faith, a priest’s life appears to be a complete and total waste.
So my goal is: When it comes time for health-care dollars to be allocated according to a cost-benefit analysis of productivity and quality of life, I hope the experts will value my life at no more than $5.00 per year.
My health-care allowance will cover two tubes of toothpaste annually (or one tube, plus dental floss). If it’s more than that, then I have not been following my vocation properly.
The office of Apostle has been handed down by the laying on of hands since the Lord Jesus originally consecrated His chosen Twelve. A man becomes a priest when a bishop lays his hands on him and says the prayer of consecration. What does it mean when this happens?
A priest is consecrated by the grace of Christ the High Priest. Christ is a priest by virtue of His holy humanity, because it is only by being human that He has a relationship with the eternal Father that includes being a part of creation. A priest offers sacrifice in order to reach across the great divide between heaven and earth. Of course, this sacrifice of the incarnate High Priest Jesus Christ is the infinite offering of the Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit (the Uncreated divine love). But Christ’s offering is only a priestly sacrifice because it is made by a creature (albeit the unique creature who is Personally also the Creator). In other words, only creatures need priests; only creatures can be priests. The priest’s office is to connect creation with the Creator. (I learned all this from Bl. Columba Marmion’s book on the priesthood.)
So Christ the God-man is a priest. He stands at the center of creation and gives it beautiful order; He makes it fitting and good: He offers His gift to God to express the gratitude, submission, adoration, and glorification that the creature owes the Creator, and His gift is the infinite divine love, offered from a pure and upright human heart.
The priest makes the relationship between creature and Creator visible by standing at the altar and offering sacrifice to God in the sight of the people. Then he gives what is sacred to the people. Christ did this perfectly by offering the Holy Sacrifice of His Body and Blood, and giving Holy Communion. The Holy Priesthood in the Church is the continuation of this until the end of time.
So the ultimate goal of the consecration of a priest is the Holy Mass. The pattern that is to be unfolded according to the wisdom of God for His glory and the well-being of creation is for everyone to come to the altar of God to assist the priest in the Holy Sacrifice. The Holy Mass, with the priest standing at the altar in the place of Christ and the people gathered around him in praise and worship of the Triune Majesty, is the image of creation perfectly fulfilled and consummated. Everything that God has made possesses an inherent movement towards this consummation which is expressed in the Holy Mass. May it please God: When history is over, what we see under a veil at Mass will be fulfilled in heaven; we will be filled with peace and joy by glorifying God forever through Christ our High Priest.
To attain this goal the Church must preach the Gospel, and the priest first and foremost must preach, as the Prayer of Consecration says: With the same loving care you gave companions to your Son’s apostles to help in teaching the faith: they preached the gospel to the whole world. Preaching is clearly necessary for two reasons:
1. In order for people to come to Holy Mass regularly, they need to know that there is one God, Who is the loving Father that Christ has taught us about, that the Lord Jesus is God made man, that He instituted the holy sacrifice and all the sacraments. People need to be taught all the things they need to know in order 1) to get in the habit of coming to Mass and 2) to hope for the heaven that the Mass promises.
2. Even if people regularly come to Mass, they may not be participating in the Holy Sacrifice in such a way as will get them to heaven. The gathering of the people around the holy altar with the priest has to be pure and true, which means that the souls of everyone present have to be cleansed and purified. The only way for this to happen is by virtue of the Blood of Christ, which cleanses souls through the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. Baptized sinners have to confess their sins and turn to God, and they are much more likely to do so if the priest preaches the truth and exhorts his people to penance and the practice of virtue.
So here we have the story of my life: the Lord has chosen and consecrated me to say Mass at the appointed times (in Upper Marlboro, Md., for the time being) and to baptize, hear Confessions, and administer all the sacred things. I have to be tireless and generous in doing this, as the Lord Jesus Himself was. (Though I need to take care of myself and the dignity of the priesthood, too.) Also, I have to preach: preach to the people in the parish who do not come to Mass, and preach to the people who do.
It is easier to see how I am supposed to preach to the people who do come to Mass, since they listen to what I say when it comes time for the homily. In a way, I guess, I am preaching to everyone when I do this, since the doors are open, everyone knows that our building is a Catholic church, and the Mass times are clearly posted. Obviously, I have to stick to the teaching of the Church in my homilies.
I preach to everyone in the parish boundaries by being at my post, wearing my cassock and clerical clothes, coming out of the house and doing the things that a priest would reasonably be expected to do. I think I can hope to make my way to heaven by dutifully doing these things for the rest of my life at whatever assignment I have.
In the hopes, however, that some of the people who do not come to church might read what I write here, I am undertaking to publish some occasional essays on the internet. Even if no one ever reads these, my attempts to write out the things that I think about will certainly do me some good. And it will get me out of the house to my favorite watering hole. Here you have the first installment of my little blog. The good Lord knows how many more are to come. May He be glorified in every word and work; may we all come home to Him when everything is said and done!