Deuteronomy Choice

Qumran Deuteronomy

Choose life, says the Lord. Choose to believe in God Almighty. And in His Christ, sent into the world with infinite divine love.

Choose to pray. Choose to seek wisdom from God and His saints. Do good. Avoid evil. Study God’s laws, and obey them.

Love God’s people. The people first gathered as the sons and daughters of Abraham, and now gathered as all the faithful in communion with St. Peter’s successor. Love Holy Mother Church, in other words. Never betray her or do violence to her.

Humble yourself in order to exalt yourself. God didn’t make no dummies, and He didn’t make no trash. He has a plan for peace and true happiness for all of us. But we can only know that plan one little step at a time. We don’t have infinite, providential minds. We’re no dummies, but the smartest thing we can do is: obey God. Acknowledge Him; revere Him; kiss His earth for His sake; submit to Him.

…I have been reading one book after another about climbing Mount Everest. I bring this up because we have begun to climb spiritually, up the ‘mountain’ of Easter.

One lesson of the books I have read about climbing Everest: You can’t fight with the mountain. Mount Everest will win. You must submit completely to the entire reality determined by the mountain itself.

Which means: Even though you may have dumped tens of thousands of dollars in to your Everest expedition, you might get to the top. And you might not.

The weather might simply refuse to co-operate. Your own body might react to the thin atmosphere in such a way that summiting proves simply impossible for you. Your teammates might have health problems that make the final ascent impossible.

In other words: A greater power than you will determine whether or not you reach the top. Not you. If you become willful about summiting, what may very well happen to you? RIP.

So, dear brothers and sisters: Let’s kiss God’s earth at the bottom of the mountain of Easter. Let’s look up at God—the God-man, crucified and risen from the dead, ascended on high. Let’s look up at Him and say: Lord, Thy will be done.

Remembering the Holy Past

Scripture commands us: Take care not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory, as long as you live. (Deuteronomy 4:9)

A ‘for instance’ might be: At one point in time, we had sunny mornings in this part of the world. Some of us can remember the sun rising into a beautiful blue sky. We need to teach our young children about this–that such things can happen–even though the little ones will have a hard time believing it, never having seen it themselves.

el_greco-sinaiOf course we could think of many other examples of historical events to cherish in our memories. The Scriptures got written in order to keep alive the memory of certain events that we never saw, but which our spiritual ancestors saw.

The ancient ones saw the pillar of fire leading them from slavery under a cruel taskmaster into the freedom of God’s children. They saw Mount Sinai enveloped in lightning and clouds as God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Most importantly of all, our spiritual ancestors saw the Christ crucified, buried, and then: risen from the dead, never to die again.

Now, when it comes to keeping alive the memory of the tablets from Mount Sinai, we might get depressed. At one point the Ark of Covenant got lost forever, and they’re not making Indiana Jones movies anymore.

But we need not despair: God actually wrote the Ten Commandments into our very nature as human beings. All of us are born rational, social, religious animals. The Ten Commandments cannot pass into the oblivion of the forgotten past, since we inherit them simply by getting born as human beings.

When Jesus conquered death and gave Himself to us as the medicine of immortality, He made following the Ten Commandments both possible and worthwhile. Without Christ’s heavenly grace, we could never overcome our moral weaknesses. And without the horizon of eternal life, we wouldn’t bother to try to overcome them.

But, as it is, we have a great historical fact upon which to base everything. We base our lives on Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. The Holy Mass expresses this fact and connects us with it. Christ lives with us in the Mass. And the fact of the Holy Mass means that endless sunny mornings await those who live in Christ.

The View from Mount Nebo

Pope Benedict Mount Nebo

If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted. (Matthew 18:19)

If two of you agree. Sounds pretty easy. But if you think so, you’ve probably never attended a parish council meeting. And you’ve definitely never been married.

As we read at Holy Mass today, Moses stood on Mount Nebo and saw the entire Holy Land, from Dan to Beersheba, from Naphtali to Idumea. To be sure, the view from Mount Nebo is majestic, like the view from McAfee’s Knob, or Moore’s Knob in Hanging Rock State Park, NC. But no human eye could see the entire Holy Land from Mount Nebo. The Lord must have given Moses a share in His own divine vision, in order for the prophet to see the whole expanse of the land.

Then Moses died, and Joshua assumed his office. Now, two popes have stood at the same place on Mount Nebo and taken in the same view as Moses, at least the part that can be seen by the human eye.

At Holy Mass a week from Sunday we will hear the Lord speak about the Church’s authority to bind and loose (we hear about that at Holy Mass today, too). Our spiritual Mother, the family formed by God through the sacrifice of Christ, governed by Christ’s Vicar on earth: She possesses the holy concord, the agreement, the harmony of spirit which the Lord promised to reward. She teaches us how to pray and how to live.

We human beings rightly cherish our sacred personal independence. But this does come as good news: our Creator has not left us on our own to seek Him. He has not made us religious free agents.

Yes, we only truly find Him when we have the courage to enter into the depths of our consciences to find our true selves, the saints He made us to be. But our true selves never stand alone. We always belong to the family God forms from the flesh of His only-begotten Son.

Sacred Heart Solemnity

In the first reading at Holy Mass today, we read, “It was not because you are the largest of nations that the Lord set His heart on you and chose you…It was because the Lord loved you and because of His fidelity.” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

Charles Bosseron Chambers Sacred Heart of JesusWhy does the Lord love us?

Does He love us for our good looks?  For our many achievements and splendid exploits?  Does He look at how well we cook, or how well we drive, or how well we play cards, or tennis—did He see all that, from heaven, and then fall in love with us, because we are so charming and wonderful?

Did He see us excelling in virtue, shimmering with perfect honesty and generosity and prudence and a sensible diet—did He see all this from heaven, and then say to Himself, ‘Well, gosh!  How lovable these human people are, how can I help myself but love them?’

Well, no.  Negative.  God does not love us because we are great.  God does not love us because we are successful.  He does not love us because we are clever, or nice, or athletic, or talented, or generous, or hard-working.  We can lay no claim to His love; we do not deserve it; we have not earned it.

Not being great—being pathetic little lumps of clay that sometimes can’t even manage to tie our own shoelaces properly; who often turn left when all the signs clearly read, ‘Danger ahead! Turn right immediately!’ being small-brained, small-hearted, whiny, petulant, little nincompoops—being all this and less, we nonetheless receive the free and all-conquering love of God.

He loves the morally, spiritually, and psychologically bankrupt.  And then He makes us beautiful and interesting and worthwhile.  He loves the small into greatness.  That’s the way He is.

All it takes is looking at a crucifix for one moment to remember that He loves us, and how He loves us.

Why?  Why did He become man and die on the Cross for us?  Why did He allow His heart to be pierced by the soldier’s lance, so that every last drop of His Precious Blood flowed out?

We hear the answer in the second reading at Mass today:  God loves us because God is love (I John 4:8).  His love is the origin of all things.

Door of Faith, Mercy, Love, and Humility


mezuzah mezuzot

Anyone ever kissed a mezuzah?  Or, to be more precise:  touched the mezuzah, and then kissed your hand?

A mezuzah hangs on the doorpost of a devout Jewish home.  It contains a small paper, with the Shema:  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone.   You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

Deuteronomy commands the people to inscribe the Shema on their doorposts.  But the word mezuzah appears for the first time in the Bible in the passage we read every year on Holy Thursday.  Exodus 12 commands the people:  “Take some of the blood of the Passover lamb, and apply it to your mezuzot, your doorposts.”

Now, a mezuzah can be an exquisite little work of art, adorning the doorway.  Generally, they don’t look at all messy.  But even the most dainty little mezuzah represents the sprinkled blood of the lamb, the blood which moved the angel of death to pass over the house.

Logo for Holy Year of MercyThis year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us two ways to obtain a jubilee-year indulgence.  First, the old-fashioned way:  to pass through a Holy Door.  Usually, during Jubilee Years, you have to go to Rome to pass through a Holy Door, or at least to a papal basilica.  But this year, Pope Francis extended the prerogative for Holy Doors to every diocese.

Trust me, Fr. Matt and I lobbied to get a holy door at St. Andrew’s.  But the Bishop decided the cathedral in Richmond should have the holy door for our diocese.  Fair enough.  Now that winter has ended, the time has come for everyone to plan a little pilgrimage to Richmond, or to the National Shrine in Washington, to pass through the Jubilee-Year door.

The second way Pope Francis gave us to obtain an indulgence this year:  doing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.  Comfort the afflicted, counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently, pray for the living and the dead.

The Lord liberated our forefathers from slavery during the Passover, because He loves.  He sent His only-begotten Son, the Lamb of the new and eternal covenant, to shed His Blood for us on the cross—because He loves.  He gave us the Holy Mass, the sacred priesthood, the Church—because He loves.

The events we read about in the Bible unfold the mystery of divine love, and they have brought about this result:  God has opened a door for us.  He has opened the door of faith.  The door of mercy.  The door of divine love.

And one more thing:  the jubilee-year door of faith, mercy, and love must also be the door of humility.  Faith means humility, since believing the Word involves acknowledging that God knows more than we do.  Mercy means humility, since God forgives those who humbly repent.  Above all, divine love means humility, since the love of God works through simple, un-glorious, practically invisible deeds.

Brothers and sisters, let’s step through the door—the door of faith, mercy, love, and humility!  On the other side of this door lies the Kingdom of God!

Pope Francis foot kiss

Jesus: “Hear, O Israel”

When we hear the Lord Jesus quote the Shema in order to express the greatest commandment, He draws us back into the beautiful drama of the book of Deuteronomy.

Hear, O Israel. You shall not have strange gods.

Now, the “strangeness” of any god other than God—this strangeness runs deeper than just ancient Jewish national identity.

Serving any god other than the real God estranges any human being from himself, not just a Jew.

The ancient Israelites received gestures of love and friendship from the Almighty Creator of heaven, earth, and every nation. Therefore, when we Gentiles read about God’s dealings with the Israelites—that is, when we read the Bible—the storyline does not come off as “strange” at all.

To the contrary, a harmony sounds in the depths of our souls: This God of the ancient Israelites is no stranger to us. He is our Maker and our Lord. We have known Him since the first moment we looked with wonder upon His world. The Bible is not the book of a foreign people. It is our book, because this is our God. The one God.

In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people: Do not degrade yourselves by serving anyone or anything other than God.

Do not degrade yourselves. In other words: We do not serve God for God’s sake; we serve Him for our sake. Unlike the strange pagan gods who manipulate, mistreat, and play vicious games with their adherents, the true God deals with us with strong, serene, and generous love.

Of course, God is nonetheless breathtakingly demanding. While serving Him does not in any way demean us, it does, however, require of us something more than any strange god could ever demand.

A person could spend his whole life as a slave of avarice or lust, exhausting himself while piling up money or chasing pleasure. But the innermost depths of such a man would never be touched. All his other faculties get strained to the breaking point with futile exertion, but his heart of hearts atrophies within him, like an un-used muscle.

Serving God, on the other hand, demands constant exercise of the center-point of my very being. We cannot serve the true God any other way than by loving Him with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength.

What is Love?

It was not because you are the largest of nations that the Lord set His heart on you and chose you…It was because the Lord loved you and because of His fidelity. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

God does not love us because we are great. God does not love us because we are successful. He does not love us because we are clever, or nice, or athletic, or talented, or generous, or hard-working. We can lay no claim to His love; we do not deserve it; we have not earned it.

But if God does not love us because we deserve it, if He does not love us because we are so wonderful, then why does He love us?

We know, of course, that He does love us. All it takes is looking at a crucifix for one moment to remember that He loves us, and how He loves us.

Why? Why did He become man and die on the Cross for us? Why did He allow His heart to be pierced by the soldier’s lance, so that every last drop of His Precious Blood flowed out?

God loves us because God is love (I John 4:16). His love is the origin of all things.

But when we say, ‘God is love,’ let’s think carefully about precisely what we are saying. It is not that we are born knowing what true love is, and then we see Jesus and expertly identify a good example of true love. It is not like we are the teacher, and He is the student, and we give Him the grade of A+ for loving us.

No—it’s the other way around. We have no idea what true love is until we fix our eyes on Jesus Christ. We can say that God is love because God has taught us what love is.

And He does more than teach us. He also gives us the grace and strength to love like Him, to return love for love. He has loved us first. Let’s love Him back with all we have.

The Holy Nation

The Virginia State Capitol, near VCU

Moses asked the people of Israel a question: “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

When Moses asked this question, it was rhetorical. The Israelites knew the answer: “There is no such nation! The Lord has chosen us and made us a light to the Gentiles!”

Moses asked this rhetorical question some three and a half millennia ago. What would we say, if he posed the same question to us now?

What would we say if Moses asked us Catholics of Franklin County, Virginia, or the Catholics of whatever city or county: “What nation has so just a law as the Sacred Tradition entrusted to the Catholic Church?”

I guess we would say, “Well, we Catholics are proud, patriotic Americans. We thank God for the American rule of law, and we wouldn’t have things any other way.”

Fair answer. But: Is it enough for us Catholics just to blend in peacefully? Hasn’t the Lord given us something that no one else has–and aren’t we supposed to do something with it?

I don’t mean that we should be presumptuous. In many places, we are surrounded by good and gracious non-Catholic Christians who deserve our admiration. At Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount, we are no holier a motley crew of sinners than any other church community in these hills.

But, at the same time, we cannot deny our spiritual birthright. Our church is not one ‘denomination’ among many. Our parishes form tiny little branches of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, founded by Christ, governed by the successor of St. Peter, and endowed with a unique inheritance.

Our Catholic inheritance of spiritual, moral, intellectual, and artistic riches outstrips the patrimony of any other group of people on the face of the earth.

Franklin County has its proud heritage. Virginia has its proud heritage. Our Protestant brethren have their proud heritages. But: You could put Ben Franklin himself, with Jubal Early and Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Billy Graham—you could put them all together in the Virginia State House, or the front steps of Monticello, or in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, or in Westminster Abbey in London or Geneva or wherever—you could sit all those luminaries down in one grand room, and it would be a thoroughly impressive group.

But if St. Francis himself walked in, or St. Therese, or St. Thomas Aquinas, or Michelangelo, the whole group would be eclipsed. If St. Augustine walked in, or St. Paul, or St. Peter or John, or our Lady, all these luminaries would bow their heads in respect.

And then there is the Blessed Sacrament. Franklin County, Va., abounds with wonderful and beautiful things. But there is only one place between Roanoke and Martinsville where you can be in the same room as Jesus Christ Himself. There is only one tabernacle with a sanctuary lamp burning. Our non-Catholic neighbors, good as they are, would be better off if only they knew that Jesus is here with them in the Blessed Sacrament.

So…Are we Catholics humble sinners who presume to be no better than anyone else? Yes. But: If we take stock of all that the Lord has given to us, we have no choice but to shout out like the Israelites: “There is no nation on earth like ours!”

Courtroom Drama

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery.

They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

They went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She replied, “No one, sir.”

Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:2-11)

Let’s step into this gospel passage. Let’s get into it ourselves, like a scene on a stage. Where do we fit into the scene? Let’s find ourselves in it. The Lord Jesus, the Pharisees, the adulteress, the bystanders…where are we?

Continue reading “Courtroom Drama”

Instructions for Lent

Pretty cool cover of a lovely song:

Here is a homily for the First Sunday of Lent:

In the original Lent, the Lord Jesus spent forty days praying and fasting in solitude. The devil came to tempt Him. Christ rebuffed the devil by quoting Scripture three times.

1. “Man does not live by bread alone.”

2. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him alone will you serve.”

3. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Let’s see who is really on-the-ball. When the Lord quoted these words of Scripture, which book of the Bible was He quoting? All three verses come from the same book.

Continue reading “Instructions for Lent”