St. Luke Feastday Homily: Growing up with Jesus

Maybe all of us can relate to the experience I had when I was growing up:

At some point—maybe seven or eight or nine years of age—I began to grasp somewhat the readings from the gospel in church. The readings from St. Paul’s letters still sounded like a foreign language. But the gospel readings penetrated my mind.

By the time I was ten, certainly, I had reached this conclusion: Jesus Christ makes life make sense. He had the most interesting things to say of anyone, ever. And He lived the most beautiful life. I need Him; I need to hear His words and the account of His deeds. He teaches life and love and truth.

Saint LukeSo just as I was realizing that I was my own person with my own decisions to make, Jesus Christ became the center of my reflections about life. And for one reason: Because I heard readings from the gospel regularly, every Sunday in church, through the years of my childhood. Jesus, the real Person, was a living presence in my mind.

I don’t think I’m so unusual here. This is the most common way that Christian experience develops, I think. The supernatural effect of the sacraments, of course, transcends what I am talking about. But on the level of human experience and the maturation of a person’s mind and morals, I think the experience of hearing the gospels read regularly in church, every Sunday, year after year while you’re growing up—pretty fundamental.

So, the significance of this: Jesus, the four canonical gospels, the Church, Sunday Mass—these are all connected at a level so deep, so “organic,” that they simply cannot be separated from each other or from the absolute essence of Christianity. Jesus lives in His Church; the Mass is where we find Him and become His friends, become part of His Body. And hearing the words of the gospels, on a regular basis, puts Him in our minds. He unites Himself with us as the most important and most intimate companion we have.

For over a century, people have used the phrase “organized religion” to dismiss the experience I am talking about. Whenever anyone uses this phrase, it is pretty much always to excuse their own absence from church on Sunday. “Organized religion” supposedly has its problems, seems foreign to modern life, limits my wonderful individuality.

Indeed, anything involving human beings always has problems, always falls short of what it should be—including any given Sunday Mass in any given parish church. It’s never everything that it should be, because fallible human beings are involved.

But: The means by which we come to be united with the most sublime and wonderful person ever, the most interesting and genuinely helpful role model, the most beautiful soul—can this be dismissed as “organized religion?”

Isn’t church on Sunday; isn’t hearing the gospel, week in and week out—isn’t it something much more than that? Isn’t it the love of God at work in the world, giving us Jesus Christ?

St. Luke Day Homily

The four gospels provide us with our clear picture of the living Son of God. Four men composed these books, with the Holy Spirit guiding them, and using all their skill as writers, too.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have achieved a great literary feat. The subject of their writing emerges in vivid color, and they themselves disappear.

St. Luke did not write about himself; he wrote about the Son of God. Ditto for the three other invisible word-portrait painters. When they wrote, they forgot about themselves and gave us Christ.

Luke and John, though, do each provide one sentence to explain their goal in writing, namely to give true testimony. St. Luke spells it out most clearly. He addresses us directly:

Many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses have handed them down. I decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent lover of God. (Luke 1)

We have two extremely solid reasons, then, for trusting the four gospels of the New Testament as the definitive standard when it comes to information about Jesus of Nazareth.

1. If we hold the Christian faith, then it is because the Church has taught it to us. We believe that the Sacred Scriptures provide us with infallibly true teaching because the Church says that they do.

2. If we read documents with an historian’s critical eye, we recognize that the four gospels of the New Testament have a much higher level of credibility than any other source of information about Jesus of Nazareth. All the other sources—the “apocryphal gospels” and other fragments here and there—were all written generations later than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And many of the other supposed sources of information have obvious axes to grind, whereas the canonical gospels have, as we mentioned earlier, an evident purity of intention in their presentation.

So: Talk-show hosts and other sensationalists might jump all over so-called “discoveries” that Jesus was married, or had a girlfriend, or lived to be seventy, or wore a bandana and combat boots, or was a Hindu, or preferred horseback riding to religion. But anyone who actually knows something about this just laughs. We appreciate what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did to give us information about the Son of God upon which we can absolutely rely.

Seven Years, Season of John

No French cuffs. But an unforgettable moment nonetheless. Ad multos annos, Holiness.

…Everyone knows that we read from the Bible according to a three-year cycle at Sunday Mass? Year A, Year B, Year C. And, for the most part, the gospel readings come from either Matthew, or Mark, or Luke—depending on which year of the cycle we are in.

Great system. We thoroughly read all three gospels. All three—Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Wait. What? Of course. The gospel of the eagle.

St. John’s gospel gets its props every year during Lent and Easter.

This is the week of John 3. We were here back on the fourth Sunday of Lent also. During Lent we had weeks for John 5 and John 8. Next week is John 6. Then we roll into John 14, 15, 16, 17—which recount all the amazing things the Lord Jesus said at the Last Supper.

…One way or another, everyone who has ever walked the face of the earth has known God. Everyone has had a relationship with God—a relationship of some kind. God gives existence to all existing things. So: to exist is to have a relationship with Him, and to know about existing is to know God.

So we all know God. Except we don’t. God gives existence. But the way that God Himself exists? His infinite being? Totally beyond us.

Totally beyond all of us. Except one. One man knows God from the inside, knows Him like a fish knows water. Jesus.

All the gospels present this fact to us—the fact that the mind of Jesus truly knows God, that Jesus’ knowledge of God is utterly unique among all those ever born of a woman. All the gospels teach us this fact.

But we have St. John to thank for recording all the intimate and sublime ways in which the Lord Himself explained it. And we have the Easter season to luxuriate in reading it all.

Why was Christ Baptized? (The LONG answer)

Today the Church commemorates the occasion on which John baptized Christ. This commemoration inevitably gives rise to the question: Why did Jesus go to John to be baptized? After all, Christ did not need to repent of sin and be cleansed.

Confronted with this eminently reasonable question, I have frequently proposed the following: The waters of John’s baptism did not cleanse Christ. To the contrary, by going into the Jordan, Christ conferred on water the capacity to give saving grace through the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

I have not and do not propose this answer by myself. Countless saintly catechists of the past have proposed as much, including St. Ambrose of Milan. And I do not propose this as the answer, but rather as an answer—i.e., a true, though not exhaustive, answer.

Here, however, is the problem. The response I give can be greeted in three ways.

1. Accepted as coherent.

2. Accepted as a viable statement of Catholic piety, but dismissed as far as being an historically defensible assertion.

3. Rejected as a kind of theological fantasy that does not correspond with the facts of history.

If your reaction is #1, feel free to give up on this little essay, which will doubtless prove to be tedious.

Continue reading “Why was Christ Baptized? (The LONG answer)”

Completing the Prophets’ Picture

The saints who wrote the four holy gospels had an enormous task, namely to present to us the Person of Jesus Christ, the God-man.

The evangelists’ primary literary means for doing this was to recount the ways in which Christ fulfilled all the prophecies that had foretold His coming.

The prophecies express the beautiful vision of salvation. And yet, the picture does not come fully clear in the Old Testament books. Only when they were fulfilled in Christ did the meaning of the prophecies fully emerge.

The evangelists grasped this, and wrote their books in order to complete the Bible, to make the Old Testament make sense by writing the New.

The vision of the prophets included the healing of the blind and deaf, and many other miraculous works which transcend the fallen state of created nature.

Above all, the prophets foresaw the New Covenant as a whole: the state of reconciliation and friendship between sinners and the Creator, Who had previously been justly offended by sin.

This is why the four evangelists narrate the miracles worked by Christ as a series of preludes, leading up to the miracle of His death and resurrection. Faith in the New Covenant made in Christ’s blood is the ultimate miracle. It is the miracle of the restoration of the original friendship between God and man. This friendship, which we have by faith in Christ, is itself the foundation of all the many other gifts of the Creator, like sight and hearing, knowledge and wisdom.

Unforgiving Steward, Dishonest Steward

As I reflect upon my meager efforts to discharge faithfully my sacred duties, I recall that I have tackled a good number of the Lord Jesus’ parables.

One of these days, I will present you with a handy compendium of my many tedious commentaries on the little stories of our Lord. In the meantime, here goes a ‘compare & contrast’ to whet the appetite…

The parable of the dishonest steward presents us with a great challenge. What does it mean?

Book of the Holy Gospels
Maybe it will help to compare and contrast this parable with the parable of the unforgiving steward.

Both parables present the same set of circumstances: a failed bureaucrat gets called to account by his master. Both stewards find themselves in desperate straits, because their boss has discovered their enormous incompetence.

But the two stewards react in diametrically opposed ways. The unforgiving steward initially begs his master’s mercy—and receives it—only to lose it by being stingy and unmerciful himself.

The dishonest steward, however, compounds his dishonesty by secretly forgiving his master’s debtors. Then he finds himself praised by his master for doing so.

One element of the stories that leaps out is this: The unforgiving steward utterly failed to understand his master’s thinking, whereas the dishonest steward understood his master even better than he knew.

The first steward promised to repay his own enormous personal debt to his master. The master knew that would never happen, so he wrote off the debt for good. But the servant failed to grasp that his master was being merciful with him. The steward marched out into the street believing his own nonsense about coming up with lots of money that he didn’t have and never would have.

The dishonest steward, on the other hand, was actually remarkably honest and practical with himself. He knew his limits and immediately took action to turn a desperate situation into a livable outcome. He knew that his very survival depended on his cultivating friends, so he used the means he had at hand to win some people over.

Can we doubt that his master smiled at this behavior precisely because this is the way in which he himself became rich? When he saw his steward seizing his opportunity, he thought to himself, ‘This dude really isn’t as much of a numbskull as I thought he was.’

Another common element of the two parables is this: In both cases, the masters possess enough wherewithal to write off massive losses indulgently. They both lose a lot of money because their stewards are incompetent, but they do not give the lost money a second thought. Instead, they focus on the persons before them.

So, the moral: God smiles on us when we humbly and practically seek the help we need to get our sinful butts to heaven.

Acceptable 2010 starts with St. Luke

The Hoyas tore up the hapless Rutgers Scarlet Knights this afternoon.

The most interesting part of the game was a Subway radio commercial. The delirious announcer promises a hot pastrami sandwich, “We will follow you blindly, like nearsighted bison on a flavor stampede.”

Here is a homily for tomorrow’s Holy Mass:

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you. (Luke 1:1-3)

In the synagogue in Nazareth, the Lord Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Our kind and loving Creator is giving us this year of 2010. He has given us almost a month of it already. What are we going to do with this precious gift?

We are not little amoebas floating in the waters of time. We are not bystanders of 2010, watching it flow by, as it becomes the kind of year that is not acceptable to God, with nothing for us to do about it. No. We can take a firm grip on A.D. 2010 and turn it into something beautiful and good.

Now, let me tell you the first thing we are going to do to make this year acceptable. This year we are going to read the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke.

Continue reading “Acceptable 2010 starts with St. Luke”

There is Always Hope

This scene is not in the book (like a lot of the movie version of Two Towers). But it is pretty sweet.

cover…Did you know that when a man is ordained a bishop, two deacons hold the book of the Gospels open over his head?

Meanwhile, the ordaining prelate prays the consecratory prayer.

…Speaking of hope, here is today’s homily…

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” (Mark 6:7, 10-11)

The Lord Jesus sent the Apostles out to teach the human race about getting to heaven. The Apostles preached repentance and healed the sick. They were able to restore those who believed to moral and physical health.

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Admissions, Etc.

Book of the Holy Gospels
Book of the Holy Gospels
I admit that my NBA Finals prediction has proven to be woefully inaccurate.

I admit that my last post was both 1) random, and b) insensitive to “Babe” lovers. (“Babe” is the best pig movie ever.)

I admit that I was hoping against hope that we would not have to watch the puppets during the NBA Finals–but these hopes have been mercilessly dashed over and over again.

(I thought it would be brutta figura to run these ads after the Cavs lost, and LeBron did not make the Finals. But apparently Nike does not share these sensibilities.)

gospel commissionYesterday, I had the privilege of witnessing the ordination of a friend to the transitional diaconate. This means that he will be a deacon for a year or two; then, please God, he will be ordained a priest.

It is a thoroughly moving ceremony. One of the questions that the bishop asks the candidates is based on I Timothy 3:9.

After the newly ordained deacon is vested, the bishop hands him the book of the gospels and commisions him:

Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach.

May the good Lord help us to fulfill this demanding mission!

Words of St. John the Baptist

st-john-baptist-grecoThe mission of St. John the Baptist is to call us to repent of our sins so that we will be ready to welcome Christ.

This is what St. John said, as recorded in the New Testament:

Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 3:2-3)

Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:8-10/Luke 3:7-9)

To King Herod: It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife. (Matthew 14:4, Luke 6:18)

Continue reading “Words of St. John the Baptist”