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At Holy Mass today, we commemorate the North-American martyrs. They came to these shores from France, to teach the Hurons about Jesus Christ and His Church. The martyrs happily gave their lives to spread the Gospel. What motivated them?
For a short and precise answer, let’s think back three years. Anyone remember what happened three years ago today, in St. Peter’s Square?
Here’s a hint. It involved the last Italian pope. Or at least the last Italian pope who lived for longer than two months in office.
Side note: It is amazing to think that we have not had an Italian pope in over 39 years. Most of the people living on the earth right now have never had an Italian pope. Which is amazing. We have had 266 popes in total. 196 of them have been Italians. Our current pope is an Italian-American, but that’s not quite the same thing.
Anyway: three years ago today, Pope Francis declared Pope Paul VI to be among the saints. The last Italian pope to live for more than two months in office became Blessed Pope Paul VI.
Blessed Pope Paul wrote many, many beautiful and inspiring things. He possessed an utterly tireless mind, along with a beautifully humble heart.
But a few sentences he wrote capture the spirit of the North-American martyrs perfectly, in my humble little opinion. We Catholics don’t proselytize, if proselytizing means assuming that people who do not know and accept our doctrines have not hope at all. We do not believe that. We believe that God has a plan for everyone, and God’s plans extend way beyond what we little creatures can grasp in our wee minds.
Nonetheless, we consider the task of evangelization urgent. Blessed Pope Paul explains:
It would be useful if every Christian were to pray about the following thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them.
But as for us, can we gain salvation if—through negligence, or fear, or shame –if we ‘blush for the Gospel’–or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?
For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this seed grows.
“One is coming after me who will baptize not just with water, but with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)
Who said that? I guess the Lord Jesus could have announced Himself, well enough, if He wanted to. He could have said, “Check it out, people! Son of God in the house!” But we know that (if we might put it this way): That’s not His style.
Christ gave John the Baptist the mission of heralding His coming. He gave the Church that mission, too. He gave the mission to each of us. Announcing, proclaiming: The Christ has come! The God-man, the Redeemer, the key of all knowledge, and the everlasting mountain of true happiness—He has come to us! He is Jesus, Son of Mary, born in Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus.
Now, we know that our beloved Knights of Columbus have an admirable ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ campaign. And I, for one, love wishing people a Merry Christmas. Even if they’re wearing a yarmulke, or phylacteries, or a Sikh turban, or a burka.
But, at the same time, we have to face facts. It’s not as if our culture has just momentarily forgotten about Jesus and the true, glorious mystery of Christmas. It’s not like everyone will suddenly wake up from the nightmare of Black Fridays, and Santa Clause dispatching teams of Mercedes, and Wal-Mart ads insisting that you can have as many wise men as you want! It’s not like the Western world will snap out of this nonsense and remember Jesus and His peace and His good news for the poor. Then everyone will sing Silent Night in unison.
We might think that the President of the United States, or the head of the UN, or the President of the European Union, or someone like that, ought to issue an official apology to Christ. It would say something like, “Dear Son of God, on behalf of all the members of this confused, self-centered modern culture, we want to tell you that we are really sorry for turning your birthday into a joke. Thank God, we have now remembered that you are the Light of the World and the Prince of Peace. We promise to be quiet now, and to pray from now until December 25, with fasting and penance, so that we can welcome you properly when you come.”
We might think that the CEO’s of all the Fortune 500 companies should issue their own statement, declaring that Christmas really is not about money. And all the cable channels and radio stations would announce their plan to give us some peace and knock off all the schmaltzy music and cheesy commercials.
But the facts do not support the idea that any of this is going to happen. The facts are starker and simpler.
As Christians in the USA in 2014, we do not face a culture in willful denial of the reality of Christmas. No, we face widespread ignorance of the reality of Christmas. The world is not intentionally ignoring the Person Whose birthday it is. The Western world of AD 2014 really just doesn’t know who He is.
After all, how is it that we know? How do we know that Jesus is the reason for the season? Everyone else thinks that ‘The Holidays’ means: Extra under-compensated work, so that the rich get richer and everyone else goes deeper and deeper into debt. How is it that we know different? How do we know that this time of year actually means true and profound joy?
We know what Christmas really means because generous souls before us found a way to build up the Church and give us a home in Her. We know Jesus, and the light of God’s holy incarnation, because we belong to the great family called the Catholic Church.
There was a time when some people claimed they could have their own personal Jesus, without the Church. But, of course, all those people got the faith they had in the first place from the Church. And they are all pretty much dead of old age now anyway.
There was a time when it took courage to “take on” the “established Church,” pointing out things like: even popes sometimes commit sins! True enough. But the Church, fundamentally, is the Mother from whom we receive Jesus. And it’s not like the world is made up of the people who receive Jesus from good priests and bishops and the people who receive Him from bad priests and bishops. The world is made up of people who, like us, have blessedly received the Good News of salvation from the Church. And people who haven’t.
Jesus Christ Himself, the real Person, Who the Blessed Virgin held in her womb, ready to give birth, 2,014 years ago—He is the most beautiful, the most wonderful, the most liberating, the most hopeful, the most thoroughly ravishing thing ever. He is the true and everlasting God, and the source and strength of all human goodness. We find Him in the Church, which He Himself founded, so that everyone could know Him and find salvation and true life in Him.
These are not just pretty theories, or the personal opinions of preachers and adherents. These are the facts of God’s plan. Christ is the source of joy for all mankind.
Mankind is not willfully ignoring all this, and choosing to watch commercials and play video games instead. Mankind is wasting its time with a lot of nonsense these days because, actually, without Jesus, mankind tends to become cruelly boring.
Now, are we going to curse the darkness, when we have matches in our pocket? When we have a torch in our pocket? 2,014 years ago, only a few people knew about Jesus Christ. They pretty much all died in a blaze of glory, spending everything they had to share the Good News of His coming. Let’s do that, too.
The sun of justice will rise, with its healing rays. (Malachi 3:20)
The liturgical year draws to a close. A week from Sunday we will keep the Feast of Christ the King. Then Turkey Day. Then Advent begins.
Time marches on. Time heals all wounds. The Lord patiently delays the final judgment, so that we can repent of our sins and turn to Him. He makes time our friend: Every day He gives us 24 more hours to learn to love Him better.
And 24 more hours to testify to His goodness. Lord Jesus said that He would give us words. To those who believe; to those ready and willing to die for Him, He says: Don’t worry about what you will say. Just say it. You have more than your own limited mind to work with. You also have the Spirit of my Father within you. Speak in faith. Harmonize your tongue with the grace in your soul, and the right testimony will sound forth.
A week from Sunday we will read about the Lord Jesus promising to help us evangelize. Like St. Paul evangelized. As we hear at Holy Mass today, St. Paul aspired to proclaim Christ to those who had never been told, to those who had never heard of Him. And as we also know, of course: St. Paul proclaimed Christ without fear.
As we will discuss a week from Sunday, the Lord promised to give us the words. The Holy Spirit will work within our meager minds and move us to heroic acts of loving evangelization.
Because the world needs us to share the truth of Christ. The world right now needs an army of St. Pauls.
Mankind is a noble creature. America a splendid nation. Martinsville a beautiful, warm community. But without Christ it all gets sad and weird and silly.
Without Christ, life come down to nothing but noise and hustling for money and maybe a fully belly and streaming videos. In other words, life without Christ winds up brutish, desperate, and short.
And if our neighbors don’t know the love of God, who deserves the blame? St. Paul refused to live in fear of any man, because God had made him a herald of divine love. He has made us heralds of divine love, too.
PS. Don’t forget that the Georgetown Hoyas’ season begins tomorrow morning in Seoul, South Korea.*
* At this very moment, it is already Saturday morning in Seoul. Even though it’s still Friday morning in Martinsville. So the game is this evening. But in Asia they play American college basketball games on Saturday mornings. So the first-ever American college basketball game in Korea will take place tomorrow morning. Later today.
We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works, not absenting ourselves from the assembly, but encouraging one another. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
The assembly. The Apostle has just gotten through explaining how the ancient sacrifices, offered in the Temple according to Moses’ prescriptions, do not effect definitive peace and reconciliation with God. Rather, these sacrifices were instituted solely to foreshadow the truly pleasing sacrifice, the offering of the one, true priest of Melchizedek’s heavenly order, namely…*
The holy assembly, from which we must not absent ourselves—this assembly convenes for one reason: to participate in the one offering that consecrates.
Moses designed the ancient Temple after the pattern of the vision of heaven which God granted him to see. Our assembly, the assembly to which St. Paul refers—this assembly convenes not in Jerusalem, Israel, but rather on the threshold of that original Jerusalem—Jerusalem, Heaven.
Now, some have the custom of absenting themselves from this assembly. We can’t very well blame God for that, and it would be un-Christian to judge others, so I think we have to blame ourselves.
Others absent themselves because I have not helped them to want to participate like should have. I have been overbearing when I should have been lighthearted. I have held my tongue out of fear when I should have spoken courageously out of love. I have secretly betrayed my own principles, and that betrayal has publicly shone forth in my lackluster, uninspiring behavior.
But it’s not too late! The great Judgment draws ever nearer, but we still have today. We still have today to get over ourselves and reach out with love. We still have today to trust God enough to risk everything for the sake of helping other people get to heaven.
The sacrifice around which we assemble: It will never fail. It is not just human; it is human and divine. The love with which the Son has always loved the Father and always will: that love, and nothing less, is our sacrifice. The divine love will not fail. Nothing is more solid. It holds up the very pillars of the earth.
So let’s rouse one another by confessing our sins and living out of this divine love. Only God knows what all will come of our efforts. But He has given us to know that nothing we do in the name of building up this assembly—none of it will be done in vain.
Other assemblies come and go. There will come a day when the Virginia General Assembly will cease to convene. And the U.S. Congress. The U.N. General Assembly. Even the international Star Trek Aficionados Convention will one day meet no more.
But our assembly will last forever. Nothing we do to build it up will be done in vain.
* The Lord Jesus Christ!!!
Do you also want to leave? (John 6:67)
The Lord Jesus asked His Apostles this question after many of the other disciples left and returned to “their former way of life.” The Apostles said, “No, Lord. You have the words of eternal life. We are not leaving.” But a lot of the other disciples left and never came back.
What had the Lord said, which made these other disciples take a walk? He told them that He came from God as the anointed Savior, the One for Whom Abraham, Moses, and all the prophets hoped. He told them that His Body and Blood, shed for the life of the world, would feed the human race unto eternal life.
He demanded an act of faith. Believe in Me. Believe in the divine food I will give. It is the flesh of God made man. Believe.
Some of His disciples could not make this act of faith. “Okay. Yes, he’s an impressive teacher. Yes, he works miracles. But does my worldview have room for a divine man who invites me to eat his flesh? I mean, I’m just a simple working stiff. Can I feature this scary-talking wise man, who calmly, gently, and lovingly insists that my sins will cost Him His life, but He will rise again and establish a Temple in heaven? Can I feature this? Not really. I like hamburgers, sleeping late on the weekends—all the normal stuff. I like watching t.v. I’m not cut-out for what this Nazarene preacher has in mind. Time to go back to the way things were before.”
The Church welcomes everyone. Christ loves everyone in His Sacred Heart. He died on the Cross for everyone, so that everyone can get to heaven.
That said, the Lord has clearly indicated in the gospel that the Church will encounter conflicts. Situations will arise in which we have to shake the dust from our feet and move on.
Of course, love must always motivate us, even when we shake the dust off.
I think we can safely propose that genuine love moves us to affirm two principles that bring us into profound conflict with many of our contemporaries.
We can stand with patience and peace on these two principles. Their truth can be established by arguments from every possible rational point-of-view. We would be fools if we ever thought that these principles could “change.” They can’t change. So we stand on them and move into the future with confidence.
Our contemporaries do not openly deny these principles, so much as they obliquely hold them against us as being objectionable.
The two principles I have in mind are:
Is it me, or does today’s parable from St. Luke’s gospel sound strangely familiar? On Sunday we heard a slightly different version, which was recorded by St. Matthew.
The version which St. Luke records includes one extra element. Anyone catch it? The master goes to be proclaimed king. Some among his subjects do not want him to be the king.
Jesus Christ has ascended to heaven and has been crowned king of the universe. He will return again in glory when history comes to a close.
When we consider Christ the King–when we perceive His gentleness, His truth, His honor, His compassion, His mercy, His love—when we meditate on the unsurpassable goodness and peace of His reign—we might reasonably wonder: Who on earth would not want this man to be the king? Who could rule better? Christ’s reign comes as the answer to every human hope and prayer.
Perhaps we could imagine some truly hardened sinners who would not want to be subject to Christ. Christ’s realm is honest, chaste, and humble—humble, at least, by the standards of this fallen world. Christ’s subjects do not enjoy great earthly wealth and pleasure.
The poor souls who have all but lost their taste for truth and for heaven, because they live habitually in the throes of vice—maybe we could see why they would reject Christ as a king.
But a person has to fall very far into sensuality before he winds up hating Jesus Christ. We cannot be satisfied with this as the full explanation for this element of the parable. In order to explain why some of our brothers and sisters do not want Jesus Christ to be their king, we have to look at ourselves.
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council declared:
Undeniably, those who willfully shut out God from their hearts and try to dodge religious questions are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame; yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation…To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.
Our king sits in heaven, inaccessible to earthly eyes. The Church carries the image of Christ to present to the world. When we present Him faithfully, He Himself attracts; people immediately perceive that He is the best king to have.
But if we, His ambassadors, lose sight of Him; if we get wrapped up in ourselves and forget about Him—then it becomes our fault if others don’t want Him to be their king.
We may all be attractive, in our own particular ways–sure enough. Praise God. But Jesus Christ is infinitely more attractive than we are. When He shines out in us, people learn to love and obey Him—maybe sooner, maybe later, but they do.
May the world see Him in us.
Remember when Ferdinand Magellan reached the Philippines?
Well, this afternoon my Evangelization Team and I reached the southwest corner of my little city parish.
Every Friday afternoon, we knock on doors and invite people to church. We take the parish block by block.
It felt great to reach one of the corners of our territory. We memorialized the moment with a cellphone snapshot.
Three more corners to go.