Altars, Pagan and Christian

First of all, let me say this: To see LeBron get sat-down was…SWEET!

…At Holy Mass, after Communion, when the deacon or priest cleanses the chalice, he says this prayer quietly to himself:

Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine, pura mente capiamus: et de munera temporali fiat nobis remedium sempiternum.

The translation of this Latin sentence which appears in the current English Sacramentary is an utter mush.

But soon we will have a new English-language Missal! This is how the prayer will be translated:

What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.

Beautifully put. Speaking of well-written sentences: I have seen Hamlet many times. I have seen all the movies, and I have seen it on stage probably a half-dozen times.

The other night I saw the best Hamlet I have ever seen. At the Folger Shakespeare Library. (Not the Folger Shakespeare Theatre Company downtown, which is to be avoided like a noxious cesspool.)

The Hamlet at the Library was great. Seeing it restored my faith in the art of Thespis. Ophelia stole the show. The play made sense to me in a new way–as the story of ruined love. Do whatever you can to get a ticket.

…Here is a short Ascension Day homily:

Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by hands, but heaven itself, that He might now appear before God on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:24)

St. Paul traveled the world to teach the Good News. When he went to the pagan city of Athens, he observed the many shrines to the many pagan gods. This moved him to explain the difference between pagan worship and Christian worship.

Continue reading “Altars, Pagan and Christian”

Evening Homily for Second Advent

This is my prayer, that your love may increase more and more, in knowledge and every kind of perception. –Philippians 1:9

These were St. Paul’s words to the Christians in Philippi, when he wrote to them from prison.

Moses with his "horns"
The church in Philippi was the first that St. Paul founded in Europe. It was the community that was most dear to him. The purpose of his letter was to beg the Philippians to comfort him by persevering in faith and love.

Let’s pay careful attention to what the Apostle wrote: “This is my prayer…that you may increase in knowledge and every kind of perception.”

St. Paul did not write to the Philippians to correct them. They had not abandoned the true faith, nor gotten confused, nor slipped back into paganism or into Judaism. The Philippians were on the right track, and St. Paul rejoiced in it.

But he prayed that they might increase in knowledge and discernment. A few moments ago, we made a similar prayer for ourselves. At the beginning of Mass, we prayed: “Father, let us share the wisdom of Christ.” Let us share the wisdom of Christ.

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Praying for Miracles


As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”

And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”

…Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

Immediately he received his sight… (Luke 10:46-49, 52)

This is what happened when the Lord Jesus was leaving Jericho. In two and a half weeks, I will be entering Jericho myself.

The blind man had the sense to cry out to the Lord, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” The blind man persevered and kept calling for help even when they tried to make him stop.

We pilgrims are going to the Holy Land to cry out like Bartimaeus, to beg the Lord to have pity on us, to ask God to do good things for us and help us.

maerati(If you have any particular intention for which you would especially like me to pray, write it down on in the comment box, and I will carry it with me to Israel.)

Bartimaeus had the faith and the courage to ask the Lord for what he wanted. He wanted to see—which is a reasonable enough thing to want. Most of us take it for granted. It’s not like Bartimaeus was asking for something extravagant, like an Xbox or a Maserati.

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I know we all like to find little insights into the New Testament. P&BD readers tend to be New Testament junkies

Among the Apostles of Christ, two were named James. After the Lord ascended into heaven, one of the Jameses became the head of the Church in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Gamaliel, died A.D. 62
Rabbi Gamaliel, died A.D. 62
This James is known as “James the Less.” He wrote a letter, which is one of the 27 books of the New Testament.

St. Paul addressed his letters to the Christians of a particular town, like the Romans or Corinthians.

St. James, on the other hand, addressed his letter to:

“the twelve tribes in the Diaspora.”

The term Diaspora refers to Jews living outside the Holy Land.

Apparently, there were many letters written by Jewish religious authorities in Jerusalem to the brethren of the Diaspora.

The “Diaspora letter”–or Diasporabrief, as the German scholars call it–is a particular type of ancient Jewish literature. A Diaspora letter always urged Jews living among Gentiles to hold fast to the Covenant.

Perhaps St. James had these letters in mind when he wrote his letter. Likewise, the first readers of St. James’ letter might also have been familiar with “Diaspora letters.”

jewish diasporaThis makes St. James’ letter interesting not only for what it says, but also for what it does NOT say. It does not have the usual “Diaspora letter” content.

St. James’ letter does not urge the audience to keep the Mosaic law and the traditions of the Pharisees and rabbis. It does not encourage travel to the Holy Land. It does not pray for victory over the Romans (who were in the process of crushing the Jewish community in Israel).

Instead, St. James presents the teachings of Christ. The letter reads like a paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount–a paraphrase given by someone who heard the Sermon with his own ears and learned to live in accord with it.

In other words, the letter of James IS a Diasporabrief. St. James intentionally imitated the rabbis. He was a rabbi, after all–a scholar and leader of Jews.

But St. James’ Diasporabrief was addressed to Jews who realized that the true Jerusalem is in heaven, and Jesus Christ is the High Priest of the Temple.

Priestly Prayer of Christ

christ_high_priest_crucifixJesus raised His eyes to heaven and said…

In the Sacred Liturgical Year of the Church, this is the final week of the Easter Season.

During this week, at Holy Mass, we read the Priestly Prayer of Christ.

This prayer is recorded in John 17.

The prayer is explained in Part IV, Section 1, Chapter 3, Article 3 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Lord Jesus prays this prayer to the Father in every Holy Mass. It reveals the unfathomably intimate friendship of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.

You and I are invited into this friendship.

“You are the Christ”


The Lord Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am.”  St. Peter replied, “You are the Christ.”  With this answer, St. Peter said the most important thing that has ever been said.  Jesus being the Christ means three all-important things for us.



First, His being the Christ means that Jesus is our High Priest.  His sacrifice of His own Body and Blood pleases the Almighty Father.  Christ has restored the human race to God’s friendship.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood.  If we did not have this sacrifice to offer, we would have no hope for glory.  With it, we look forward to eternal life.


Second, His being the Christ means that the Lord Jesus is our teacher.  Everything that He said is enlightening; His words are the words of God.  He has taught us that there is a kingdom of heaven, and He has shown us how to get there.  There are many different things for us to learn as we make our way through life, but none of them are anywhere near as important as learning the teachings of Jesus Christ.


Third, because the Lord Jesus is the Christ, He is our King.  Having conquered death and ascended to heaven, He reigns supreme.  He is in charge; we are His servants.  He does not expect us to know everything; He does not expect us to be able to see into the future.  He has a plan for all things to come to fulfillment, and the plan will unfold as He sees fit.  What He expects from us is that we report for duty every day.  If we mess up, we owe Him a humble apology in Confession.  He forgives us, and we move on and continue to try to serve Him well.


“You are the Christ.”  Let us make St. Peter’s answer our own.  The Lord Jesus is our priest, teacher, and king.  To Him be glory and honor forever.

The Consecration of a Priest

The office of Apostle has been handed down by the laying on of hands since the Lord Jesus originally consecrated His chosen Twelve.  A man becomes a priest when a bishop lays his hands on him and says the prayer of consecration.  What does it mean when this happens?

A priest is consecrated by the grace of Christ the High Priest.  Christ is a priest by virtue of His holy humanity, because it is only by being human that He has a relationship with the eternal Father that includes being a part of creation.  A priest offers sacrifice in order to reach across the great divide between heaven and earth.  Of course, this sacrifice of the incarnate High Priest Jesus Christ is the infinite offering of the Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit (the Uncreated divine love).  But Christ’s offering is only a priestly sacrifice because it is made by a creature (albeit the unique creature who is Personally also the Creator).  In other words, only creatures need priests; only creatures can be priests.  The priest’s office is to connect creation with the Creator.  (I learned all this from Bl. Columba Marmion’s book on the priesthood.)

So Christ the God-man is a priest.  He stands at the center of creation and gives it beautiful order; He makes it fitting and good:  He offers His gift to God to express the gratitude, submission, adoration, and glorification that the creature owes the Creator, and His gift is the infinite divine love, offered from a pure and upright human heart.

The priest makes the relationship between creature and Creator visible by standing at the altar and offering sacrifice to God in the sight of the people.  Then he gives what is sacred to the people.  Christ did this perfectly by offering the Holy Sacrifice of His Body and Blood, and giving Holy Communion.  The Holy Priesthood in the Church is the continuation of this until the end of time.

So the ultimate goal of the consecration of a priest is the Holy Mass.  The pattern that is to be unfolded according to the wisdom of God for His glory and the well-being of creation is for everyone to come to the altar of God to assist the priest in the Holy Sacrifice.  The Holy Mass, with the priest standing at the altar in the place of Christ and the people gathered around him in praise and worship of the Triune Majesty, is the image of creation perfectly fulfilled and consummated.  Everything that God has made possesses an inherent movement towards this consummation which is expressed in the Holy Mass.  May it please God:  When history is over, what we see under a veil at Mass will be fulfilled in heaven; we will be filled with peace and joy by glorifying God forever through Christ our High Priest.

To attain this goal the Church must preach the Gospel, and the priest first and foremost must preach, as the Prayer of Consecration says:  With the same loving care you gave companions to your Son’s apostles to help in teaching the faith: they preached the gospel to the whole world.  Preaching is clearly necessary for two reasons: 

1.  In order for people to come to Holy Mass regularly, they need to know that there is one God, Who is the loving Father that Christ has taught us about, that the Lord Jesus is God made man, that He instituted the holy sacrifice and all the sacraments.  People need to be taught all the things they need to know in order 1) to get in the habit of coming to Mass and 2) to hope for the heaven that the Mass promises.

2.  Even if people regularly come to Mass, they may not be participating in the Holy Sacrifice in such a way as will get them to heaven.  The gathering of the people around the holy altar with the priest has to be pure and true, which means that the souls of everyone present have to be cleansed and purified.  The only way for this to happen is by virtue of the Blood of Christ, which cleanses souls through the sacraments of Baptism and Penance.  Baptized sinners have to confess their sins and turn to God, and they are much more likely to do so if the priest preaches the truth and exhorts his people to penance and the practice of virtue.

So here we have the story of my life:  the Lord has chosen and consecrated me to say Mass at the appointed times (in Upper Marlboro, Md., for the time being) and to baptize, hear Confessions, and administer all the sacred things.  I have to be tireless and generous in doing this, as the Lord Jesus Himself was.  (Though I need to take care of myself and the dignity of the priesthood, too.)  Also, I have to preach:  preach to the people in the parish who do not come to Mass, and preach to the people who do. 

It is easier to see how I am supposed to preach to the people who do come to Mass, since they listen to what I say when it comes time for the homily.  In a way, I guess, I am preaching to everyone when I do this, since the doors are open, everyone knows that our building is a Catholic church, and the Mass times are clearly posted.  Obviously, I have to stick to the teaching of the Church in my homilies.

I preach to everyone in the parish boundaries by being at my post, wearing my cassock and clerical clothes, coming out of the house and doing the things that a priest would reasonably be expected to do.  I think I can hope to make my way to heaven by dutifully doing these things for the rest of my life at whatever assignment I have.

 In the hopes, however, that some of the people who do not come to church might read what I write here, I am undertaking to publish some occasional essays on the internet.  Even if no one ever reads these, my attempts to write out the things that I think about will certainly do me some good.  And it will get me out of the house to my favorite watering hole.  Here you have the first installment of my little blog.  The good Lord knows how many more are to come.  May He be glorified in every word and work; may we all come home to Him when everything is said and done!