The Synod of Tweets

Whenever an October Synod of Bishops meets, I try to pay even more attention than usual to the MLB playoffs.

THE GREAT GATSBY
Leo made a great Gatsby
I’m for the Mets, since their home field sits right where the Eckleburg sign once glowered over the Long-Island highway, in F. Scott Fitzgerarld’s imagination.

Anyway…Ever visited Rome? To visit the churches of Rome means entering into a living memory that extends back two millennia.

I think we can justifiably say that the most memorable thing that has happened in Rome so far in the 21st century was the funeral of St. John Paul II. In the 20th century, Vatican II. On second thought, Pope Pius XII rushing across town to comfort the people in the bombed neighborhoods during WWII–pretty memorable also.

The nineteenth century saw the burning and reconstruction of the Basilica over St. Paul’s tomb. The sixteenth: St. Ignatius Loyola, Michelangelo. Before that, the return of the papacy to Rome and the Lateran Councils. Going back even further: the papacies of Gregory and Leo the Greats. And, even further back, the martyrdoms of Sts. Peter and Paul, and countless other heroes who died at the hands of merciless pagans.

The authority of the Roman pontiff comes from God Himself, in the Person of Christ, establishing the office. For most of the history of the Apostolic See, that authority has been exercised primarily by settling disputed cases and questions.

A visitor to the Vatican Museums can admire paintings of some of the great gatherings of bishops that have left their mark on posterity–by clarifying things: the Council at Nicaea, the Council at Ephesus, and at Trent.

During the fifty years since Pope Paul VI erected the current Synod-of-Bishops routine, the Synod has met many times. One of those meetings involved a discussion which led to a thoroughly memorable enterprise: the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The 2015 Synod of Tweets? History will be the judge. My money is on the World Series this year being considerably more memorable.

…Supposedly, one Synod bishop said that, in our contemporary world, two perennial pastoral axioms no longer apply. If that were really true, I would find myself quite at a loss. Because they are two of the basic rules I try to live by:

1. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

2. A priest should be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.

Christmas in the 21st Century–as it could have been, and as it Is

God came to visit His people by His holy Incarnation, by becoming one of us. Let’s consider for a moment the difference between what could have happened when God did that, and what actually did happen. Then I would like to add something about Christianity in the 21st century.

pantocratorFirst: what it could have been like, when the God-man came. He could have arrived full-grown and terrifyingly stern, intent on executing the strictest, most righteous judgment. He could have come on a black cloud, with a scales for balancing in His hand. In one pan: What the Creator has given us, namely everything. On the other pan, what we have given back–as far as religion, obedience, and eager service.

The judge would justly have condemned us all. Christmas could have been very different. It could have meant that we all got judged and sent to hell.

We might say, “That’s so depressing! Even God would be sad if Christmas meant nothing but strict justice!” But: We would only say that because we happen to know the real, true account of what Christmas is. Jesus has taught us to believe that God loves us and wills our happiness. So we think that God Himself would be sad if Christmas were the day when we all got sent to hell.

That, however, is not exactly true. Almighty God has always been and always will be perfectly happy, with or without us. He didn’t come to save us because He was lonely and sad. No. He came to save us because, in His infinite, endless happiness, He is perfectly selfless.

So He gave us Christmas as it actually is. He did not come the first time as a terrifying judge, six-and-a-half-feet tall, with eyes of fire. He came as a cooing baby, born of the sweetest, humblest, gentlest mother imaginable. He came as a poor child, of poor parents, with no clout whatsoever in this world.

God incarnate arrived with a clear and detailed mission. Namely, to do every single thing that needed doing for our salvation. He came to teach us the love of God, to show us how to live in a way pleasing to God. He came to offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice—as our perfect sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice that we, as the human race, truly have made to God. And He came to conquer death and pour out His undying grace upon us from heaven.

columba-marmionWe believe that what the first Christmas could have been—that is, a day of judgment by the God-man; we believe that such a day will come. But we need not fear such a day, because the first Christmas came to pass the way it did. Christmas saw the birth of a divine Savior, a divine Redeemer, a divine king Who rules by offering Himself as our Priest and gently shepherding our souls.

…The other morning I re-read the preface of one of the books of Blessed Columba Marmion. My mind lingered on the date when he wrote the preface, 1922.

In case you don’t know: Dom Marmion is like a latter-day Father of the Church. His books are comprised of notes people took while he talked, explaining, in retreats and sermons, the Good News of Christ, based on the teachings of Scripture.

Anyway, it struck me as altogether stunning to imagine that on the very day when Dom Marmion wrote the preface to this particular book of his, F. Scott Fitzgerald sat in his Long-Island home, writing his novels. The spiritual crisis of the western world caused by World War I was setting in.

angels nativityIf I might put it like this: the 20th century became a century of uncertainty about God. Does He exist? Can we really believe what the Bible says? Can we trust the teaching of the Church? Twentieth-century man had the idea that ‘I have to decide for myself what is true and what isn’t true, when it comes to God.’

Our grandparents—some of them anyway—imagined such systematic doubt to be a noble undertaking. But: Doesn’t doubting like that—doesn’t it really condemn you to the first kind of Christmas that I described? Setting myself up as the ultimate religious authority means: on Christmas Day, I have nothing but a God of strict justice to judge me.

Because the wonderful mystery of the real Christmas, the Christmas of my salvation—that good news comes to me as a gift that transcends my capacity to comprehend. A gift that I can only receive like a child receives something from his mother.

Now, the good news for us is that the spiritual struggles of the last century do not have to be ours. We need not get bogged-down in questions that have grown obsolete. We can hold the faith of the Church with childlike hearts, without giving a second thought to whether or not we are “modern” enough. We are plenty modern, whether we want to be or not. We don’t need to work on ‘updating the Church.’ We need to work on giving the next generation of Catholics the ancient faith that we received.

The Christian life is actually a lot simpler than many 20th-century people thought. We just have to be prepared to be martyred. Our true Christmas merriment comes from our knowing that the only life worth living is one of total fidelity to this particular baby. He gave me His life. I owe Him mine. We all owe this baby, Who founded our Church—we owe Him our lives.

But that, after all, is the greatest gift of Christmas, the real Christmas: It gives us a chance to live a life worth living. To live not for myself, but for Christ.

John-17 St.-Lucy-Day-Crown Candles

St Lucy crown

Father, I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:22)

I have given them the glory you gave me. The ‘them’ is us: we who believe in Christ.

The ‘I’ is Christ, true God and true man.

The ‘glory’ is the glory which God has given to the Christ. What is this?

From eternity unto eternity, the Father begets the divinity of the Son, the unlimited glory of God.

We, being limited creatures, cannot receive this glory. So He cannot mean this.

From the moment of His conception in the Virgin’s womb, the Christ received from God the fullness of grace, the human share in divinity: wisdom, knowledge, perfect love, indomitable fortitude—the full spiritual equipage of the holy man, the man perfectly united with the Creator and Governor of all.

From the moment of our Holy Baptism, Christ shares this grace with us. It grows in our souls through our pilgrim lives as we persevere in faith, do good, and avoid evil.

princeBefore dawn on Easter Sunday, the Christ received from God the permanent re-invigoration of His human body. This, too, we will receive–on the last day.

Why? Why has the Christ given us the glory that God gave Him?

So that we, His believers, may share the unity of the Father and Son. So that we may share the Holy Spirit.

Again, we cannot share this as God, because we are not God.

But we can share it as divine love poured into human hearts. As Christ’s Heart is, so can our hearts be: Moved altogether with love for the truly beautiful and truly good. Impervious to evil and death. Alive with the same life that made the whole world, keeps it made, and guides it to its fulfillment.

That the Father and Son are one in the Holy Spirit is the foundation of everything else. That foundational love that makes things exist—as opposed to not exist—that very love can be in our hearts now and forever. That very love–nothing less. The love that is the foundation of the earth, of the universe.

Prince, in his heyday; Prince rocking ‘When Doves Cry’ in 1984, would have nothing on us. Michael Jordan in his heyday; Jordan knocking down 69 points in one game would have nothing on us. F. Scott Fitzgerald, sitting down and writing The Great Gatsby like an ethereal poem of pathos, would have nothing on us. Alexander the Great, ruling from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas, would have nothing on us.

To be among those for whom the Lord prays in the words of John 17 is to be a burning candle in the St.-Lucy-Day crown of the world.

Three More Middlemarch Quotes

George EliotBad enough that the doors shut on the Holy Father with nightfall in Italy. I also came to the end of the best novel I have ever read–on the same daggone day! Pray that I will find a reason for living tomorrow.

It was one of those moments in which both the busy and the idle pause with a certain awe. (Chapter 83)

We are on a perilous margin when we begin to look passively at our future selves, and see our own figures led with dull consent into insipid misdoing and shabby achievement. (Chapter 79)

Not too many novels can compete with The Great Gatsby for most-powerful moralizing final paragraph. But Middlemarch wins. Eliot writes of her heroine, who has gone on to live an unremarkable life as the wife of a small-time politician:

Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength,* spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

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* One of Cyrus’ prize horses drowned in a river which fed the Tigris. Enraged and bent on “revenge,” he ordered his entire army to spend the summer digging trenches on the river banks, to turn the swelling river into a marshland of rivulets. Then, the following spring, he went on to conquer Babylon.