Catechism Section for Passiontide

Allow me to recommend a few paragraphs of the Catechism. Part One, Section Two, Chapter Two. Paragraph 1 on Article 4 of the Creed. (#’s 574-594)

These paragraphs shed light on the final conflict between Lord Jesus and the Jewish authority that condemned Him. The Catechism offers reflections on what the Lord Jesus had to say about the Law, the Temple, and the one, true God.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchThe Christ came to fulfill the Law—because the human race, the whole race and every individual, had not done so. The Christ revered the Jerusalem Temple and participated faithfully in the Temple feasts. But He knew it would be destroyed, because the true Temple is His Body. Above all, as the Catechism puts it: “Jesus gave scandal to the Pharisees when he identified his merciful conduct towards sinners with God’s own attitude toward them.”

Jesus identified Himself as God, the God Who can forgive sins. Thus, the Christ confronted the Jewish leaders with a very stark either/or. Again, quoting the Catechism: “By forgiving sins, Jesus either is blaspheming as a man, or is the person who truly does make present and reveal God’s name.”

The Sanhedrin had to confront that choice in all its utter starkness. Either condemn Him to death, or undergo a total conversion, which would require death to self and a new birth from above.

Confronted with such a choice, they convicted Him of blasphemy and condemned Him to death, as the Law required. The starkness of the choice they faced—again quoting the Catechism—“allows one to understand the Sanhedrin’s tragic misunderstanding of Jesus: they judged that He deserved the death sentence as a blasphemer.” They acted out of both ignorance and hard-hearted unbelief.

Let’s search our own consciences for the same emptinesses—and let’s let Christ fill them with His grace.

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People Don’t Change, Except When They Do

In the second reading at Holy Mass on Sunday, St. Paul tells us to have the same attitude as Christ. [CLICK por español.]

paulprison12
St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

Which attitude, exactly? He emptied Himself. He humbled Himself. God Almighty–the Creator, eternal Wisdom–became obedient unto death, in the holy Incarnation. The attitude of humble devotion to the will of the Father.

Now, speaking of attitudes–what’s one rule of thumb that a wise observer of human nature lives by? People don’t change.

The bride who imagines that her obtuse, self-centered, thuggish fiancee will miraculously change into a prince, by virtue of marrying her–that’s a woman living in a dangerous dreamworld.

Or the employer looking to hire someone who thinks: Well, her old boss says she’s lazy, and a complainer, and a gossip–but if she could work here, she could become diligent and creative and motivated! That’s a self-deluded boss asking for misery.

People don’t change. Except…

They do. The prophet Ezekiel:

If he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall surely live. (Ez 18:27)

Catechism puts it like this:

The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God, who makes our hearts turn to Him. God gives us strength to begin anew. When we discover the greatness of God’s love, our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending Him… [paragraph 1432]

Interior repentance is a return to God with all our heart, an end of sin. Conversion entails a desire to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy, and trust in the help of His grace… [paragraph 1431]

The same Holy Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion. [paragraph 1433]

People don’t change. But God does change people. By His holy Incarnation, and the Redemption He won for us, by humbly doing the will of the Father.

We encounter an exquisite irony here. Certainly, beyond a shadow of doubt: God does not change. What He is, which is the all-in-all: it’s eternal. We might think grandpa is stubborn and stuck in His ways. But that’s nothing compared to the immovable-rock-like permanence of the divine Being.

That said, what St. Paul declared did, in fact, happen: God took upon Himself an attitude, the attitude of humility and self-sacrifice. God didn’t change by doing this. He did, however, touch our stubborn and weary human nature with His grace by doing it. He touched our stubborn and weary human nature with His grace in order to overcome our stubbornness and weariness. The Unchanging entered the human race to change us–to change us back from bad to good.

So let’s never kid ourselves. Imagine you were the father in the Parable of the Two Sons (which we will read at Holy Mass on Sunday), and you had a son with such a sullen attitude that he simply spitted out No! whenever you asked him to help you. If you had to contend with such a miscreant son, you would want to tread very lightly when it comes to investing such a brat with any real responsibilities. People don’t change.

But: On that particular day, the day of the parable… On that day, this person did change.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchThe punk made his usual petulant reply. “Help? No.” But then he thought better of it. Some new vision of things entered into his mind. The son saw what he had never been able to see before: His stubborn self-centeredness was wronging his good and kind father. Not to mention the fact that he was condemning himself to shiftless misery by being too arrogant to take a risk.

For the first time, the son perceived: I don’t have to live like this. It would be better; it would be happier; it would even really be easier, for me just to get up and walk out into the fields and see what’s going on. Let me see what contribution I can make. Maybe I could learn how to do something helpful.

So the son strode out into the field…

God’s grace can convert even the hardened sinner. Because the life that Christ embraced in His incarnation–the humble life, dedicated to obeying the heavenly Father–that life alone offers a human being genuine happiness. Whenever, by God’s gift, we catch a glimpse of the Christ-like life, we want to live it. We want that peace–the genuine, unshakable joy of co-operating with God.

Young ladies–give up the idea that you’re gonna change your man by your own magic arts. It won’t happen.

But may none of us ever give up on the idea that Christ can change people. Christ can, and does, turn sinners into saints.

Five Implications of Faith

Moses burning bush

The Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush, revealing Himself. God had revealed Himself before–to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, the Lord’s revelation of Himself to Moses “proved to be the fundamental one.”

He is one God, living and true, almighty, everlasting, and infinitely wise. He is faithful, compassionate, rich in mercy. God made the heavens and the earth; He reigns over all things; His sublime beauty and goodness give meaning and purpose to everything.

The Catechism goes on to point out that believing in God has five basic implications. I reserve the right to give a quiz on this at some future time.

  1. We believe in one God Almighty; therefore, we must seek to know Him and serve Him.
  2. We must give Him thanks for everything.
  3. We must acknowledge that all human beings share in equal dignity as His children, and that the entire human race is fundamentally one family.
  4. We must make use of created things only as means by which to get closer to God. We must detach ourselves from any created thing that estranges us from Him.
  5. We trust God in every circumstance.

Easy to say. Semi-easy to memorize. A lifetime of daily work to put into practice.

Spring Training for Heaven

spring training

[Click AQUI para leer en Spanish]

We do not know yet what heaven is like. But we know that it involves being personally united with God forever. If we hope to have this personal communion with God in the end, then we probably need to have some kind of communion with Him now, right? Some kind of practice or spring training, so to speak.

So here’s an easy question:  How do we develop a friendship with the Lord, now, while we are still here on earth?  Easy…by praying.

Anyone ever heard of the Catechism of the Catholic Church?  Everybody know that the Catechism is divided into four parts, for the four pillars of the Catholic faith? Part IV of the Catechism concerns prayer.  This part of the Catechism begins with the gospel reading for Holy Mass on Sunday, about the Samaritan woman at the well. Makes sense because:  To pray is like going to a well.  Someone who prays opens up his soul to God like a thirsty person opening his or her throat for cool, refreshing water.

When we open up like this, when we go to the well of prayer, we find Christ waiting for us there, like the Samaritan woman found Him. Upon meeting Christ, we discover three things…

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurch1. While of course we come thirsty to the well of prayer, we discover that the Lord also thirsts. “Give me a drink,” He says.

What do we possess that we can give God to drink? Can we give water to the One Who measures out the depth of the oceans and holds the rain clouds in His hands?

No. The Lord thirsts for one thing and one thing only. He thirsts for our devoted love. On the Cross He opened His arms to us. His throat was parched. He said to each of us, “I thirst. I thirst for you.”

2. The well of Christian prayer is the well of our father Jacob, dug in ancient times for the Israelites. So we have to be willing to imitate Jacob. As we read in Genesis, Jacob struggled all night in the darkness. Some unknown foe wrestled with him, but Jacob refused to give in. Then, in the morning, Jacob received the blessing he sought, and a new name. The Lord called him Israel, because he persevered in his struggle through the dark night.

At this very well, the Lord Jesus pours out the living water of the Holy Spirit. But to pray in the Holy Spirit, we have to be willing to persevere through a dark struggle, too. The Holy Spirit is infinite divine love, but love can be rough. The Holy Spirit doesn’t send Hallmark cards. He lifts us up to dizzying, frightening, unfamiliar heights.

3. The third thing that we discover when we meet Christ at the well of prayer is this: The Lord Jesus is the Messiah Who makes it possible for us to worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Now, human beings are naturally inclined to pray.  But a lot of things can get in the way.  Spiritual laziness.  Self-centeredness.  Attachments to material things.  False ideas about God.  Distractions.  Distractions.  Distractions.

In Christ, we find humble and true prayer. In Christ, man prays for everything that is truly good. The Catechism has a beautiful one-sentence explanation of what Christian prayer is:  “Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation.” The response of faith to the free promise of salvation.

What did the Lord say to the woman at the well?  “If you knew the gift of God!”

The woman had rebuffed the Messiah at first, because He made a request she didn’t think she could deal with.  She couldn’t fully grasp what He was asking her.  She had her ideas about how she fit into the world.  And this interaction with Christ fell outside those ideas. If only we knew the gift of God!

Instead, we waste our time thinking thoughts like:  I’m a loser, because I don’t have very many facebook friends.  Or:  I’m not worth anything, because I’m fat.  I’m not cool, because I only have an iPhone 4.  I suck, because I can’t cook, I can’t jump, I can’t attract attention at parties.

No!  If we only knew the gift of God, the promise of salvation.  He is saying to us:  I died for you, at the exact weight you are now, with the exact number of facebook friends you have right now!  You don’t need to be any thinner, or have any more facebook friends, for me to love you.  I suffered agony and died for you exactly as you are—I suffered that much, and died that miserably, precisely to show you how much I want you with me in heaven.

So, please, for a minute, says the Lord, just forget your diet and your job and your husband and your wife and your children and your parents and your neighbor and your car and your business and your dog and your cat and your homework and your resume and your money and your apps and your DVR—forget it all for a minute. And believe that your Maker has suffered and died on the cross out of love for you.

St. Barnabas Miscellanea

Raphael Sacrifice at Lystra
Raphael, Sacrifice at Lystra

You probably remember that, six weeks ago, we read from Acts, chapter 13, as part of our Easter-season Scripture reading at Mass. We heard the narration of Sts. Barnabas and Paul setting sail from Syria to begin their first missionary journey. We paused to venerate that beautiful and decisive moment.

That moment also led to the most comical episode in the New Testament. Barnabas and Saul eventually reached the pagan town of Lystra, in Asia Minor. Paul healed a crippled man who believed the Gospel. The townspeople then decided that Barnabas and Paul must be… the gods Zeus and Hermes. The priest prepared oxen to sacrifice to them.

“Men, why are you doing this?! We are human beings like you! We proclaim the good news that you should turn from your idols to the living God, Who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St. Barnabas on two important points…

1) “Do not live entirely isolated, as if you were already justified, but gather instead to seek the common good together.”

2) “You shall not slay the child by procuring an abortion.”

St. Barnabas loved his native Cyprus. He returned there after his many journeys to see to the Christian education of his people. Barnabas lived to be an old man, but eventually enemies of his from Syria came to Cyprus and conspired to have him killed. Barnabas suffered martyrdom by stoning.

Pray for us, holy apostle Barnabas! Give us a share in your majestic humility and zeal for souls!

“Knowledge” in CCC 2751

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priest

We think we know things. But we really don’t.

I thought I knew how to paddle a small boat. But it turns out that, if you want to paddle properly, the main force of your stroke has to come from pushing with your upper hand, not pulling with the lower.

Who knew? I learned this yesterday during the annual 10th-grade Roanoke-Catholic-School kayaking trip. Which of course included the obligatory excessive splashing of Father.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurch…The Catechism has a brief, lapidary explanation of the priestly prayer of Christ in John 17 (which we read at Holy Mass this week). I find it one of the hardest parts of the Catechism to understand. So, during the seventh week of Easter, I always try to re-read it.

Here’s the concluding sentence of this section of the Catechism:

The priestly prayer of Christ reveals and gives us the ‘knowledge,’ inseparably one, of the Father and the Son, which is the very mystery of the life of prayer.

See what I mean? A mysterious sentence.

The knowledge the Father has of the Son, and the knowledge the Son has of the Father–a single, unique knowledge. Who has it?

Well, Lord Jesus tells us: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” (Mt 11:27)

Humbling. We don’t really know anything ultimately worth knowing; we don’t know lambshanks from shinola, unless the Son reveals to us the unique knowledge that He has of the Father. That fact constitutes a prevailing theme of the priestly prayer of Christ, in John 17.

But what does the Son say, after He says, ‘no one knows nada without Me?’ He says: Come to me, all you weary lambs, who struggle and strive and sweat and cuss under your breath– Come to me, and I will give you rest for your souls. Learn from me. I am gentle and humble of heart. My yoke is easy and my burden light.

It’s not so hard. Prayer. Life. All He wants us to do is to say the Our Father every day and mean it.

St. Joseph and Bernie Sanders

st-josephA double blessing is a double grace.
Occasion smiles upon a second…

…feastday for the heavenly patron of our parish. On his first feastday this year, we blessed the new addition to our building (in Martinsville). Which of course could not have gotten built without carpenters and other workers.

God Himself was called ‘the carpenter’s son.’ God laid down ‘the law of work,’ as we pray in today’s Mass.

What does this mean, ‘the law of work?’ Catechism of the Catholic Church 2427-2428:

Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another. Hence work is a duty: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat.”

Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him…In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work.

A new candidate has entered the race for the presidency, and he calls himself a ‘democratic socialist.’

Before anyone calls the House Un-American Activities Committee, let’s recall the problem with socialism. Socialism isn’t wrong just because it isn’t capitalism. Socialism is wrong because it denies God, because it’s atheist.

Pure Marxism misses the most important aspect of the very thing that it tries to focus on, namely the nobility of honest labor. Honest labor is eminently noble. Because it proceeds from the power embedded in man by the divine Hand.

workers posterIMHO we have two scandalous blind-spots as a nation in AD 2015.

1. We continue to slaughter the innocent and defenseless unborn in an on-going holocaust that makes the Nazis look nice by comparison.

2. We continue to believe blindly in an ‘invisible hand’ that supposedly makes selfishness into justice somehow.

I don’t mean to get all political. But it’s hard not to, on the 129th anniversary of the Haymarket Riot and the feastday of our patron, the Worker.

We need to be pro-life God-fearing socialists. To me, the abortionist and the one-percenter look like mirror images of each other. Both are blind, cannot perceive the work of God.

A pro-life, God-fearing socialist insists that all human beings have the rights to: life, from conception to natural death; just compensation, with a minimum established by an authority more rational than ‘the market;’ eight-hour workday, with leisure time and the opportunity to go to church; health care, education, and full citizenship for all law-abiding residents of our land.

Hillary people and Fox-News people, have at me as you will! The one thing you have in common is selective reading of the Catechism.

100% Catechism adherence = pro-life, God-fearing socialism.

Four Reasons, Four Points for Meditation

My favorite points for meditation at this time of year are the four reasons for the Incarnation, as explained in the Catechism, paragraphs 456-460.

God became man in order to…

1. Save us by reconciling us to God.

2. Reveal God’s love.

3. Be our model of holiness.

4. Make us partakers of the divine nature.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchNow, no one can prove that God has become man. We can only grasp the truth of Who Jesus is by faith.

But these needs we have, as a race, which our heavenly Father addressed, by sending His Son to live a pilgrim life like ours–these needs can hardly be denied by a rational individual.

We don’t naturally find ourselves in a state in which we can claim to be ‘right with God.’ We don’t even know what that means, without Jesus showing us, by making us right with Him on the cross.

Are we born knowing that God loves us the way Jesus has shown us that God loves us? Hardly. We get born terrified and hungry. We desperately need someone to teach us that God loves us.

Do models of holiness grow on trees in this world? Even non-Christians acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth has offered mankind a uniquely sublime path to follow, has taught mankind what selflessness is.

As to the fourth reason for the Incarnation: no sane person can begin to maintain that mankind ‘partakes of divine nature’ naturally. Yes, we have unique capacities, as creatures go. No dog ever painted a Mona Lisa. Fish can’t do calculus. Plants don’t write poems.

But: That we would share in the eternity, the simplicity, the infinite beauty of the genius Who made everything; that every human being, no matter how humble or downtrodden, could hope for everlasting peace in a kingdom of undying friendship: Until Jesus came, mankind had never dared to imagine that we could possess such a destiny–and that we all possess it, as a united human family.

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment when the Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold!

Pope St. Pius V and John 3:16 in Action

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (from the gospel at today’s Holy Mass)

At the beginning of today’s Mass, we acknowledged that God provided us with Pope St. Pius V so that, among other things, we might “offer more fitting worship.”

Pius V in Santa Maria Maggiore
Pius V in Santa Maria Maggiore

Like the pope saints canonized this past Sunday, Pope St. Pius V led the Church in the wake of an ecumenical council. Like Vatican II, the Council of Trent aimed at reforming the Church and re-focusing the sacred ministers and the faithful on the fundamentals, the essentials of the Catholic religion.

Certainly our Liturgy ranks as the most fundamental of all the fundamentals, the most essential of all the essentials. And isn’t the worship of the Catholic Church really our united celebration of the truth of John 3:16?

If I might, let me quote the Catechism:

catechismBlessing is a divine and life-giving action, the source of which is the Father…When applied to man, the word ‘blessing’ means adoration and surrender to his Creator in thanksgiving. From the beginning until the end of time, the whole of God’s work is a blessing…In the Church’s liturgy the divine blessing is fully revealed and communicated. The Father is acknowledged and adored as the source and the end of all the blessings of creation and salvation. In his Word who became incarnate, died, and rose for us, he fills us with his blessings…The Church, united with her Lord, …blesses the Father ‘for his inexpressible gift’ in her adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. (CCC 1078-1083)

God so loved us, that He chose us to celebrate His blessing, week in and week out, in church. For His glory. For the salvation of our souls.

And for the sake of keeping the door open to all our neighbors–to keep it open, so that they, too, might share in this great blessing and this most-salutary of all celebrations: the living, breathing expression of John 3:16, the Sacred Liturgy of the Church.

Believing Like Martyrs Have Believed

When the hemorrhaging woman touched Christ, power flowed into her body from His flesh. No wonder it did—the flesh of Christ is divine. The flesh of Christ conquers all sickness, conquers even death.

If you recently flipped through your copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you may have noticed a reproduction of an ancient painting on page 277. A painting of the woman touching Christ appears at the beginning of the section on the sacraments.

The man that the woman touched dwells in heaven. He touches us through the sacraments of His Church. The same power that cured the woman works in the Church now. The same power that raised the dead—that power lives, and breathes, and gives life, even now, in Christ’s Church.

…Some of us spent last Friday evening watching a movie about St. Thomas More. The script for the movie comes from a play called “A Man for All Seasons,” by Robert Bolt.

Continue reading “Believing Like Martyrs Have Believed”