St.-Joseph-Day Homily

Natural questions, as the rug comes out from under the human race:

How could God allow this catastrophe?! He must not exist! Or not be “good.” Show me how this nightmare makes any sense, naive believer!

On the Solemnity of St. Joseph, we Catholics read at Holy Mass about the faith of our spiritual father Abraham.

Abraham never believed in anyone’s idea of God. Abraham simply believed in, and obeyed, God Himself. Abraham’s faith and obedience began the process through which the Messiah entered the world.

We Catholics don’t believe in anyone’s idea of God, either. We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Whose only-begotten Son became man.

God Himself died of suffocation. Granted, not suffocation brought on by severe pneumonia, caused by coronavirus. Rather because, on the cross, His diaphragm became too exhausted to distend His lungs.

But the fact remains: Almighty God died of suffocation, like all the coronavirus fatalities. Then He rose on the third day. They will all rise, too, on the last day.

Point is: We Catholic believers have no glib answers about why the good and merciful Lord allows suffering. We don’t need them. We simply gaze with love at our crucified God.

Solemnity selfie
Solennità di San Giuseppe selfie

Hobbits, Small and Big


Lord, increase our faith! (Luke 17:5) [Spanish]

The Christian faith defies definition. Our faith is something mysterious, since it involves: our finite minds somehow touching, somehow knowing the infinite God. Holding the Christian faith means receiving a gift from heaven. And co-operating with it, mentally.

We express our faith in the… Creed. We believe in God Almighty, Creator of all, Lord and Giver of life. We believe that He made everything out of nothing.

Why does earth orbit the sun–the third planet out, in this particular little solar system–with Venus our neighbor inward, and Mars one planet out? Because of physics and gravity? Well, yes…except then you have to ask: Why then is there a sun and an earth and a Venus and a Mars, and physics and gravity? Because of the Big Bang? Maybe. But if there was a Big Bang, then you have to ask: Why then was there a Big Bang? Our faith gives us a certain answer: Because God wills.

The infinite Power has an infinite Will, which wills that the universe exist, and that we exist, exactly as things stand, right now. If He willed otherwise, things would be otherwise.

Let’s ask ourselves this: Is our faith in this infinite, omnipotent God a comfort to us? Or is it terrifying?

Maybe it’s a comfort?  God governs everything with His inexorable power. So we can let go of our delusions of grandeur. We can accept that, in the great sway of the divine government, we are very small. Like little hobbits occupying an obscure corner of the cosmos, living on earth for a brief moment in the grand scheme of years. Our little pilgrim lives will pass away as swiftly as they came.

God is big. We are small. God can move mulberry trees at will; we are small enough to fit under a mulberry tree. So we can shed our Messiah complexes and enjoy our dinners in peace. May God’s will be done. Knowing the future is above my pay-grade.

But wait: This is a little terrifying, too—the greatness of God, and the littleness of us carbon life forms on the third rock from the sun. I mean: Do we matter? We believe in the awesome infinite God, Who has laid out the heavens and the stars. We ourselves huddle here like so many little specks of life on a little planet. Do we matter?  Our smallness can just about overwhelm us.

Let’s go back to our original question. What is the faith that we pray the Lord will increase in us? The holy Catholic faith. Which believes in God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things, the visible and the invisible. And our faith also believes in–part two of the Creed–Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.

Do we matter? Well, the infinite God, Who cracks mulberry trees in half at will, by thunderbolts and hurricane winds—He made Himself one of us. He became incarnate and walked the earth.

And we have to seek precision here. God did not ‘incarnate’ Himself in the form of some fleeting vision. He didn’t even just send an angel. The holy Incarnation has no ephemeral aspects. He took our human nature to Himself in such a way that He Personally became one of these little semi-hairy creatures, who take up a tiny patch of territory on this little, remote planet, for a fleeting period of time, punctuated by daily dinners.

elanorgamgeeGod is a man. From the first Annunciation Day forward, He always will be a man. And that is His most awesomely powerful act of all. He saves us sinners and gives us eternal life. He makes us His intimate friends, His kith and kin: the eternal Son’s brothers and sisters, the eternal Father’s beloved children. For God to become man, while remaining pure God—that involves the kind of omnipotence that makes thunderstorms and hurricanes look like so many little splashings in a bird bath, by comparison.

After all, the universe really only appears to dwarf us human beings with its vastness. Yes: we get tired just walking from one end of a Walmart to another. But, in fact, every single individual human soul extends to a greater space than the entire universe of stars and planets, supernovas and galaxies. We can conceive and envision and number all the elements of the universe. The very huge cosmos, in which we find ourselves so small—this universe is, in fact, something of which we can conceive, something about which we can have a clear idea, as we gaze at the night sky. Which means that our minds are bigger than it is. Not in feet and inches. But in total spiritual comprehension. Each of our minds is bigger than the entire universe.

God did not unite Himself Personally with a supernova, or even with the Milky Way galaxy. He united Himself with us little goofballs right here. To give us His eternal friendship. That He did that is more awesome than anything.

We pray that our faith in that unfathomable mystery, the mystery of the eternal Son of the eternal Father becoming man–we pray that our faith in that awesome mystery will always increase.

Good News


Thank you, dear reader, for praying. The judge ruled to keep the family together, here in the United States. Praise the Lord!

…You may remember that we had a theme for Passiontide last year: The failure of faith involved in the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of Jesus for blasphemy.

This year, let’s focus on one aspect of Abraham’s faith. We and the Sanhedrin have failed to believe something, and this lack of faith caused Christ’s Passion. But, of course, God brought great good out of that evil.

Abraham simultaneously believed that God would give him countless progeny through his son Isaac, and that God demanded Isaac as a sacrifice.

Either Abraham was utterly irrational, or he reasoned that… [Hint: Hebrews 11:19]

The Law of Christian Faith

Lord Jesus said to the royal official in Galilee (with an ailing child), “Your son will live.” Reminds us of when the Lord said to Martha of Bethany, “Your brother will rise.”

Which brother? Correct: Lazarus.

Did Martha believe Christ, that her brother Lazarus would rise from the dead? Yes. She said to Jesus, ‘I believe that You are the Messiah. I believe You when You say, I am the resurrection and the life.’

Did Lazarus rise? Yes. Did the royal official’s son live? Yes. Thus the royal official and his whole household came to believe.

El Greco Christ blessing croppedBelieve what? In God, and in the One Whom God has sent. At the Last Supper, Jesus told His Apostles, “You have faith in God. Have faith also in Me.”

We will go to the mat for this. The Incarnation. Jesus is God. As Pope Francis put it, in his first encyclical:

Christian faith is faith in the incarnation of the Word. (Lumen Fidei 18)

The Christian faith is a gift from heaven that, as St. Paul taught us, liberates us from the ancient law. But the Christian faith also has a “law” within it, so to speak.

Namely, that we must hold fast to our faith in the Incarnation; that we must hold fast to the entire mystery of Christ—no matter what. Even if you or I face the choice between betraying Christ and dying for Christ.

A Christian would never seek martyrdom. But every Christian must be prepared for martyrdom, and must welcome martyrdom, if it comes. That is the law of Christian faith.

We submit ourselves to that law! Christ reigns over us as our immortal, heavenly King. All of us have to die sooner or later anyway. To Jesus Christ be the glory, whether we prosper or suffer; whether we succeed or fail; whether we live or die.

Man-Born-Blind Homily

Not as man sees does God see…The Lord looks into the heart. (I Samuel 16:7)

Pope-Francis-Lumen-FideiThe Lord sent the prophet Samuel to anoint the king of Israel, from among the sons of Jesse. Samuel saw Jesse’s elder son Eliab and thought, “Surely, the Lord’s anointed is here.” Eliab looked like Denzel Washington.

Then Samuel saw the other, older sons. And the prophet thought, ‘The Lord surely must have chosen one of these!’ Jesse’s other older sons looked like Pierce Brosnan, Lebron James, Eric Estrada, Tom Brady, Raul Julia, and Charleton Heston, respectively.

But the Lord had chosen none of them, because God Almighty does not judge by appearances. He perceives things by a deeper, more penetrating light.

In the gospel reading at Holy Mass this Sunday, we hear the Lord Jesus declare: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently marked the fourth anniversary of his pontificate. The first encyclical he gave us, back in 2013—anyone remember what it was about? Faith. The Holy Father commented on this-coming-Sunday’s gospel reading. The pope wrote, and I quote:

Those who believe, see. They see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the Morning Star that never sets.

Now, who knows where that phrase comes from? “The Morning Star that never sets?” Right! From the hymn at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. Which is coming in three weeks!

When Pope Francis claims that “those who believe, see,” he means, and I quote:

Our faith in the Son of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth enable us to grasp reality’s deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself.

Without faith, we can see movies. We can see our friends and neighbors. We can even see beautiful sunsets. But we can’t see the wisdom that guides it all, sustains it all, moves it all towards a goal. Without faith, we cannot see the fact that all the things we see are moving towards an as-yet-unseen fulfillment.

Pope Francis Easter candleJesus Christ—His whole pilgrimage, from the Virgin’s womb, through 33 years, to his final trip to Jerusalem; His death; His resurrection; His ascension—all of this, Jesus Christ’s life as a human being: the Good News about it reaches us as both a. a promise about the meaning of life and b. the fulfillment of the promise.

a. Christ offers us the promise of eternal bliss. He said, ‘In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places, and I have prepared one for you.’ His resurrection from the dead makes that promise shine like an as-yet-invisible light—and that promise–that light–becomes the interior light of our lives.

b. Christ fulfills the promise, too—because He Himself gives us all the divine gifts that make our life of faith possible; He pours out the Holy Spirit. Christ’s grace, Christ’s life flows into our souls through the sacraments. He is alive. He is at work. And He Himself awaits us at the end of time as the true, just, and loving conclusion of everything.

“Awake, o sleeper,” therefore, “rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Yes, it’s true: we don’t even know what He looks like. Does Jesus look like Ryan Gosling? John Legend? Does He look like Abraham Lincoln, only shorter? We don’t know what Christ’s Holy Face looks like, up there in heaven.

But, even though we cannot now see His face, and we don’t have any photographs or Facebook-Live videos—even though the whole thing is an experience of pure faith: the light that shines from Christ’s face in heaven enlightens our minds. Not so that we can see what He looks like, but so that we can see the world the way that He sees it.

He sees everything from one particular point-of-view. Namely: The point-of-view of the eternal Son of the eternal Father. He experiences everything as the chosen and beloved heir of the divine throne–the heir to whom God wills to give everything that God has to give. Christ receives it all, as the gift that it is. And He offers it back to the Father as a sacrifice of love, to give His Father glory.

By faith, dear brothers and sisters, we participate in this.

First Sunday of Lent Homily, Lectionary Year A


Once every three years, we read the account of the Fall of Man at Sunday Mass.  To begin Lent.  We remember that somewhere in the murky past, we human beings had at least one moment of purity, when we enjoyed a better life–a life without all the struggles we now have.

We weren’t always this way.  We did not always lurch through our experiences in such a Homer-Simpson-like manner.  Our hearts did not always start fluttering whenever we see a frozen yogurt machine or a chocolate-chip cookie.  We did not always have such a hard time concentrating on God’s Word, while meanwhile having such an easy time concentrating on why so-and-so should have spoken to me before speaking to that other person—how dare she snub me!

We would still live in that paradise, in that peaceful Garden of a bigger life—if only we human beings did not have such a hopeless penchant for false pride.

“Oh, okay, Mr. Serpent!  You’re saying we human beings actually know better than God?  Really?  Well, we wouldn’t necessarily have thought that…  But if you say so.”

False pride.  True pride would have said to the serpent:  “Wait a minute.  God made us.  He loves us.  He has the best plan.  Maybe we don’t understand His rules perfectly.  But we will understand, in the end.  All will come clear in God’s time.  Meanwhile, we trust our heavenly Father!”

But:  We human beings tend to confuse ourselves with God.  Satan preyed on this.  He tricked us into doubting the heavenly Father’s Providence.  And we fell.

televisionA question:  We know from experience what it’s like to live now after the Fall of Man.  But how could we possibly know anything about what human life would have been like before the Fall?  How can we say what kind of life Adam and Eve had, before they ate the fateful apple?

Anybody know the answer?  In the fullness of time, the un-fallen Eve and the un-fallen Adam gave us a window into what our life was originally meant to be like.  Who brought the Garden of Eden back to the earth?  The Blessed Mother and her Son. Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin enjoyed perfect intimacy with the Creator. That intimacy teaches us about what life was like in the Garden of Eden. And, of course, it teaches us about heaven, too.

Question 2Death.  We fell from grace in the garden, and our mortal nature kicked-in. We are dust, and unto dust we shall return.  Did God punish us by allowing this?

Well, our First Parents succumbed to false pride.  Therefore, all their children inherit human flesh bearing the humiliating mark of inevitable death.  Sounds like punishment.

But maybe death came as a remedy for the Fall?  We lost the peace of perfect friendship with the Creator, and so this pilgrimage comes with daily doubts and struggles.  Death means the end of all this confusion and strife, the human agony that the Fall has caused.  Death means that our “fallen-ness” doesn’t last forever.  Death means the Lord has opened up a doorway that leads to something else, something other than just a life of tv, and failed diets, and paying bills, and never quite getting everything right.

The intimacy of Jesus with the Father.  The hungry man Who feeds on God’s truth says to the tempting devil, “Man lives on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  The perfectly free, perfectly self-possessed man, united with the Creator, says to the tempter, “We owe our service to God alone, and we must not put His Providence to the test.”

christ-fastingNow, God may test us.  He may give us an unusually hard Lent.  A terribly frustrating Lent.  A Lent of good intentions that limp along lamely, well short of the mark.  If such be the Lent that the Lord has a mind to give us, so be it.  We will trust in His love and His mercy.  We will try to die to our own false pride.

If the Lord uses this Lent to draw us into a dark night of the soul, and we don’t feel His presence, and any good and hopeful future seems a long way off—we will praise and bless Him for it.  Nothing draws us closer to God than when He demands that we live by pure faith, without any consolations in this world.

Each of us has his or her own particular problems.  But we all have one problem in common:  We are members of the fallen human race.  And the Lord offers us all a common solution to our problem:  Faith.  Faith in Jesus Christ and faith in the heavenly Father Who, out of pure love, sent His eternally begotten Son to live a human life, so that we sinful human beings could get to heaven.

We want the intimacy with our Creator that we lost when our First Parents fell, the intimacy that we hope to have in the heaven that Jesus won for us. Indeed, we do have that intimacy even now—when the Spirit leads us stumblingly out into the desert, into the dark cloud of pure Christian faith.

Via Negativa, Faith through Hearing

The mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven… (Matthew 13:11)

Here’s a mystery for you: We come equipped with our five senses. By them, we attain knowledge. Mosquitoes, water, leaves on the trees, chicken-salad sandwiches, other people, etc… We know about all these because we have five senses by which to perceive their existence.

It’s impossible to imagine knowing anything other than what we perceive through our five senses, and then analyze. Granted, things like 2 + 2 = 4 are abstract knowledge, which does not require seeing or hearing or tasting or feeling or touching anything. But it is impossible to imagine that we could know that 2 + 2 = 4 without having first seen two apples, and then two more apples, and counted four apples. Or two Legos, or two baseball cards, or what have you.

earSo, the mystery: We have knowledge because we have five senses. But the one thing we exist in order to know cannot be perceived by the five senses, under any circumstances that we know of.

God brought us into being so as to know Him and, by knowing Him, love Him. But God we cannot see, smell, hear, touch, or taste. Everything that we see, smell, hear, touch, or taste is less than God. Because everything we can perceive is something that God made, like He made us.

(Remember, the most-important idea ever: there are two basic categories. The Creator and the created.)

Feel me? Maybe not. This is called via negativa—acknowledging to ourselves that the one thing truly worth knowing is the very thing we absolutely, positively do not know.

That said, the via negativa is not the only via. There’s another via, by which we can, in fact, know God somewhat, during our pilgrim lives.

The unknowable God became man and dwelt among us. The tidings of His life have reached us, by word of mouth.

So, while sight, smell, taste, and touch still have to follow via negativa very strictly; while we still have to say to ourselves that our chicken-salad sandwiches, no matter how delicious they may be, are not God; while we still have to exercise great discipline in this area, we do, in fact, have one sense that can give us solid knowledge of God: hearing.

When we believe what we have heard from the Apostles, then we truly know God. (And, just to clarify, reading counts as hearing, not seeing. Reading is like a secondary way of hearing.)

To put it in a nutshell: what we read in Scripture and the Catechism gives us knowledge of the one thing truly worth knowing, God Himself.

Impertinent but Understandable John-16 Question

Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you,” saith the Lord. (John 16:23)

Can we imagine that people like our Lady, Mary Magdalen, and St. John heard these words of Christ’s, and perhaps thought to themselves, “I have half a mind to call His bluff?”

After all, He had just told the people who loved Him the most, “I am going away. You will not see Me. You will weep, mourn, and grieve. You will suffer rough strife, like a woman in labor, gasping and panting in anguish. But then you will see Me again, and everything will be fine.”

Then He proceeded to promise them solemnly that their prayers in His name would be answered.

El Greco Christ blessing croppedNow, if it were me, cheeky pipsqueak that I am, I might have said:

‘Okay, rabbi. I pray in Your Name that we skip the suffering part. I solemnly pray that the Father not receive You back into heaven, in such a way that we can no longer see You.

‘I pray that You remain here on earth with us, and rule the world visibly, openly. I pray in Your Name that Christianity be a whole lot easier, a whole lot more like worldliness, with easygoing comfort and not so many occasions for patient forbearance.

‘What do you think about them apples, Mr. Promiser-of-Answers-to-Prayers?’

To which He would of course reply: ‘Which part of it is better for you that I go did you not understand, numbskull? Have I been with you this long, and still you do not know Me?’

Moral of the story: There is only one way to pray “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Namely, to accept everything about Him—all His words; all His deeds; His visible-ness for 33 years; His invisible-ness for all these ensuing years—to accept all of it, as an absolute given, as the one, all-important, all-governing fact, the divine Fact—to accept Jesus Christ exactly as He actually is, maddening as He may be at times—to accept Him as the revelation of the unknown, eternal Glory… and then take everything else from there.

He says we do better by making a pilgrimage of obscure faith for a year, ten years, eighty-five years. He says that does us more good than instantaneous blessedness would do us. He says so. Ergo, it is true.

He made the pilgrimage that He made. He reached the goal He reached. He shares His invisible grace by the humble visible means that He instituted—water, oil, bread, wine, bumbling priests like myself. He did all this. Ergo, it is all for the absolute best.

Christ, as He is: the Given. Everything else: health, sickness; suffering, comfort; wealth, poverty; honor, ignominy; a long life or a short one—all of these are relative. They are good or bad as measured against the absolute given standard, Who is Christ.

Pruned by Humble Faith

“I am the vine, you are the branches…By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
(John 15:1-8, the gospel at Holy Mass today)

I know my memory is slipping, but I could have sworn that I just gave you a homily on this very passage.

Last year, on the fifth Wednesday of Easter, we discussed the pruning of the branches. God pruning our little shoots of ego can cause even more pain than that other type of cutting that they debated at the apostolic Council of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit taught the first generation of Christians that Baptism suffices to engraft Gentiles onto the vine. The Greek men rejoiced.

“You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” (John 15:3)

Almighty God has spoken in Christ, and we have believed. The “we” including: our parents, godparents, and/or other guardians who carried us to the baptismal font when we were infants, most of us. And all the other people whose strong faith has sustained us, especially our patron saints up in heaven who have prayed for us our whole lives.

Grim Babushka painting anon artistGod’s pruning the tendrils of our egos involves our constant engagement with the faith of our great family, the Church.

And this may be the most humbling thing of all: Namely, for me to acknowledge that my mind, powerful as it may be; acquainted with Shakespeare, or astrophysics, or high finance, or detailed mechanical engineering as it may be; as brilliant an orator, or tactician, or interior decorator, or pet trainer as any of us may be individually… These great minds of ours, in fact, can do no greater thing than to believe what countless generations of short, little, stubborn, simple-minded Russian babushkas have believed: that Jesus Christ is God.

Smart, clever, talented: all great things, to be sure. But humbly believing in what our grandparents and great-grandparents believed in, in what St. Francis and St. Joseph, neither of whom had any real delusions of grandeur, believed in–believing the faith of the Church, because it is bigger than me: that’s even greater than talent, smarts, skill, success.

Humbling, yes. But hopefully consoling also.

Annunciation-Day Faith


Let’s try to hear the Archangel Gabriel’s words as Mary heard them, letting go of our knowledge of subsequent events.

You will bear a son, who will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Now, Mary had faith as pure as anyone has ever had. But she also certainly had a practical turn of mind. Her subsequent question aimed solely at the immediate logisitcal difficulties. Usually no man means no baby.

Had Mary not thought in such humble, practical terms, she might have asked: “Hold on. What are you talking about? Can you please explain the meaning of your grand phrases?”

Son of the Most High. Throne of David. House of Jacob. Endless kingdom. Sounds grand. But what exactly does it all mean?

Now, one thing Mary certainly understood immediately, with no need of explanation. The angel was telling her that she was to give birth to Moshiach.

Bar Elyon (Son of the Most High), throne of David = Messiah. Mary certainly instantly understood this much: The angel was telling her that she would give birth to the Messiah.

1967-Cadillac-EldoradoClear as a bell. Except for the fact that the entire New Testament drips with evidence that, while the Jewish people awaited the Messiah with eager longing, they hardly had a clear consensus about what the Messiah would do exactly.

Kick out the Romans. Distribute raisin cakes. Make the High Priests more honest. Sing better than King David himself. Bring an end to history. Give a new beginning to history. Not a lot of clarity there.

So, back to the Blessed Mother: One thing did immediately happen. She got pregnant. She said Yes to the angel, and she got pregnant. So she knew that the angel did not lie. She had the Messiah in her womb. Then, nine months later, more proof came: the shepherds and wise men arrived, making momentous declarations about the baby.

But, putting ourselves once again in Mary’s sandals: Wouldn’t all these proofs that Yes, He is the Messiah–wouldn’t they have made the obscurity and total normalcy of the ensuing years all the more mysterious? She knew He was the Messiah. But He grew up and became a carpenter.

If it were you or me mothering this Messiah, we would certainly be thinking, “My boy’s the Son of the Most High. Where’s my Cadillac? Why aren’t I rich and famous, like Queen Elizabeth?”

Mary watched her only Son, the Messiah, be crucified and then die in agony.

‘But the angel said something about the throne of David and an endless kingdom… What the…?’

Mysterium fidei. In the gospels, don’t we hear the Lord Jesus trying to get the people to grasp this over and over again? The mission of the Messiah is a mystery of faith. The only Cadillac involved is the interior Cadillac that carries us straight to the throne of the heavenly Father, the Cadillac that does us more good than a million Rolls Royces.

Believing. Like Mary believed, without understanding, from Word One spoken by the Archangel Gabriel, all the way through to Easter Sunday morning.