The Three Things We Believe In

st albans psalter road to emmaus

When the Lord Jesus walked with Cleopas and the other disciple on the way to Emmaus on Easter Sunday, He chided them for their lack of faith. “How foolish you are!  How slow of heart to believe!” [Spanish]

How slow of heart to believe. Are we slow of heart to believe?

To believe in God means to trust Him completely. We humble ourselves before the One in Whom we believe. We are all of us defenseless children, before the One in Whom we believe.

When we believe in God, we fulfill ourselves. He made us in His image and likeness. If we put our deepest trust in anyone or anything else, other than God, we will be betrayed. But if we love God with childlike hearts, we find the solid bedrock of absolutely reliable Truth.

If we are not foolish and slow of heart, we believe not just in God, but also in the Christ of God. We believe in the Son sent by the heavenly Father. By virtue of our faith in God, we can behold Christ, our brother, for Who He truly is: the eternal Son of the eternal Father, our divine Savior.

Velázquez cena in emmaus

The Christ offered Himself, in the sacrifice of pure divine love, for our sakes, on the cross. He rose from the dead. And He took His seat in the glory of heaven, where He reigns as High Priest and King. We do not hesitate to trust this King of Love, and to rely on Him completely.

We have to. We need Him. We need air, food, and a roof over our heads. We need Jesus Christ more.

Not only that. We Christian believers, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread. Faith in Almighty God. Faith in God’s Son, the Christ. Faith in the Mass.

The Church did not make up the Mass; Christ made up the Mass, and by doing so, He made the Church. The Church did not make up the sacred priesthood; Christ made up the sacred priesthood, and by doing so, He made the Church. The Church did not say ‘This is my Body,’ and ‘This is my Blood;’ Christ said ‘This is my Body,’ and ‘This is my Blood,’ and by doing so, He made the Church.

chaliceLord Jesus gathered His Apostles, entrusting His divine Body and Blood to them by His infallible words, and then He offered that same Body and Blood on the cross. His own words make clear the inseparable connection between the Mass and the cross:  “This is my Body, which will be given up for you;” “This is my Blood, which will be shed for you.”

In other words, to believe in the Mass is to believe in the Redemption, and to believe in the Redemption is to believe in the Holy Mass. The Mass and the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus are the same thing. The Church did not make this up; Christ made this up, and in doing so, He made the Church.

The dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus did not understand the Holy Eucharist that Jesus had instituted. They thought that Jesus’ condemnation and death involved a terrible tragedy. They didn’t realize that it was a religious sacrifice, that it was the sacrifice of divine love. They thought their beloved rabbi had suffered a crushing defeat. They didn’t realize that, on the cross, love triumphed. Jesus gave Himself to the Father, for us, with perfect love.

Pope St. John Paul II put it like this:

The sacrifice of our redemption is so decisive for the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it, as if we had been present there.

Namely, the Holy Mass.

So: No, not foolish or slow of heart to believe. No. We believe! We believe in God. We believe in Christ. We believe in the Mass. And we long, with everything we have, to unite again at the holy altar.

St. Augustine on Grace and the Mass

At Holy Mass today, we hear St. Paul give thanks that “on receiving the Word of God,” we Christians, “received it not as the word of man, but as it truly is, the Word of God.”

Almighty God has spoken His Word by sending His Son. The Scriptures bear witness to it. And I think we can safely say: Of all the sentences recorded in the Holy Bible, two of them loom uniquely large: “This is My Body, given up for you.” And “This is My Blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

st-augustineNow, speaking of shepherds, St. Augustine of Hippo died 1,589 years ago today.

We mediocre people can’t exactly speak of St. Augustine’s “life’s work,” since he did more good work on any given day of his life than most of us manage in a whole lifetime. But one big part of St. Augustine’s work involved: clarifying the truth about the Redemption.

Mankind has both great freedom and dignity and great moral and physical weakness. The coming of Christ enables us to understand this mystery of human greatness and human weakness–at least to some extent.

The fundamentally important fact that St. Augustine clarified is: Holiness, goodness, virtue begins with God. God gives a fresh start to fallen man. Life as a Christian is, first and foremost, grace from God. He gives; He saves; He consecrates. Then, we undertake to co-operate.

Speaking of the Council of Trent… One thing they all had in common—that is, all the bishops and theologians gathered at Trent and Martin Luther and John Calvin: they all revered St. Augustine as an absolutely trustworthy teacher. They all sought to follow the teaching of St. Augustine.

Luther and Calvin had hostility towards the work of ordained Catholic priests. Not without good reason, since they saw around them an enormous amount of clerical corruption and ignorance, extending all the way up the hierarchy to the pope.

This led the Protestants to condemn the priesthood and the Mass, as precisely the kind of false, un-Christian religious work that Christ had come to free us from. They saw the Mass as a pagan-like ceremony, which interfered with our understanding of salvation as a pure gift. We don’t have to do these ceremonies as a sacrifice to God, they argued; we don’t need priests separated from the rest of the flock. Because Christ has already redeemed us, without us doing anything, making us a priestly people.

Ok. But in condemning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Luther and Calvin parted ways with their teacher, St. Augustine. Augustine taught the newly baptized, who had just attended Mass for the first time: the Holy Eucharist is a sacrifice in which Christ makes Himself present, in order to be recognized by faith and then received.

Luther and Calvin were right to insist that there is only one sacrifice. But the Mass isn’t another sacrifice. It is the sacrifice of the Redemption, which frees us from sin, sanctifies us, and unites us.


Sabbath, Passover, Mass


Christ reigns over the sabbath day. We keep the sabbath by celebrating Holy Mass, the Passover of Christ.

The ancient Israelites languished in slavery in Egypt. God had compassion on them. He liberated them through the Passover. They marked their doorposts with the blood of the unblemished lamb. They celebrated the feast with their loins girt, sandals on their feet—because the strife of that night would not end with death for them, but rather: freedom.

Holy Mass holds all this drama in its mystery, of course—and more. At the altar, we can rest in the Lord Jesus’ triumph, in His priesthood, in His undying life.

All we need is faith, faith in the whole beautiful unfolding of heaven that God has done, with the Holy Mass of Christ crucified right at the center.

Job, Mass, and the Divine Genius

God answers Job, by William Blake
God answers Job, by William Blake

Our first reading at Holy Mass Sunday, from Job, poses the question: “Who shut within doors the sea?” Later on in the same chapter, the question gets put another way: Does not the rain have a father?

Gospel reading provides the answer. Who shut within doors the sea? Who is the father of the rain? The Eternal Word of God, Christ, Who fell asleep in a boat once.

Allow me heartily, strenuously to recommend to you reading chapters 38-41 of Job. We human beings have words like ‘wisdom,’ ‘design,’ ‘genius.’ Our words, of course, fail to reach the reality of what Almighty God has, by way of a mind. Even to say that God ‘has a mind’ does not touch the Mind that God is.

But: The unfathomable mystery before which holy Job bowed his head: This impenetrable mystery has touched us in the Person of Christ. We can, therefore, have our share in God’s wisdom. The unbridgeable gap between infinite and finite, between God and us—the gap we could never bridge: God has bridged it, and the bridge is Jesus.

The New Testament and all the early Christian writings sparkle with this particular breathless joy: Now we can share in God’s knowledge! “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I call you friends, because I have revealed to you the Father’s Mind,” saith the Lord Jesus. In days of old, Job had to acknowledge that he knew nothing. But now we know God’s plan. And the plan is: For us to share eternally in Love, with a capital L.

illuminated-bibleWe return, therefore, to our theme for spring and summer 2015: Why it is so daggone important to go to Mass every week.

God shares His mind with us in His own mysterious ways. We can never fully fathom all the ways. But the basic way that God has chosen to share His mind with the human race is perfectly obvious. We can share in the joy of the Apostles and early Christians, who stepped lively on the paths of the ancient empires, because God had revealed His plan to them; we share this unique and unsurpassable joy of sharing God’s knowledge by keeping ourselves in constant contact with God’s Word.

And when we say ‘God’s Word,’ we cannot and must not get bogged-down in some pedestrian way of understanding the phrase. Keeping ourselves in constant contact with God’s Word means…

1. The Bible, taken as a beautiful, coherent whole—the Bible explains to me the living reality that enfolds me within itself. We Catholics are not ‘fundamentalists’ in the way that most people understand that term. We actually believe in the absolute truth of the Bible much more deeply than ‘fundamentalists’ do. We train ourselves, by constant reading, to perceive all of reality according to the Bible.

If that sounds somewhat abstract, just think of it like this. The Our Father. We could say that the Bible has one single, solitary purpose, namely: to make our lives an extended Our Father. Breakfast, lunch, dinner; work, play, sleep and wake; inside, outside, home, away from home: Our Father, Our Father, Our Father. A life that is an Our Father.

2. The Word of God does not only touch us in the readings at Mass, though of course we always need to pay careful attention to the readings. The truth is, the entire Mass, from beginning to end—actually, from even before it starts, from when we prepare ourselves spiritually for Mass, all the way through, past the end, when we execute the commandment that concludes the Mass, and go in peace—all of this is one extended contact with the Word of God, the incarnate Word, Christ.

By this extended contact, we unite our minds with the Mind of God.

Ascensiontide Theology

Ecce Agnus Dei“We celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of Your Son, his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven…”

When do we say this? After the consecration at every Mass. The Holy Eucharist recalls to our minds not just the Passion and death of our Redeemer, not just His conquest of death, but also His Ascension into heaven.

Now, the Mass Christ instituted recalls His Passion and death very vividly and clearly. His words declare His saving death: “My body will be given up for you.” “My blood will be shed for you.”

That said, the very same words of consecration declare His Resurrection as well. Because: He lives to give us His flesh and blood. If He were still dead, we could hardly receive Him bodily into our midst, in the Blessed Sacrament. We can have Mass because He is alive. Pretty clear.

Now, what about His Ascension? For our Ascension-tide theological question, let’s try to figure this one: How does the Holy Mass commemorate Christ’s Ascension?

tabernacleWell, we could say this: The whole business of the Mass involves the celebration of Christ’s Passover. He passed over from life as a pilgrim to life in glory. Passed through death to eternal life. We cannot see the life that Christ the man shares with God. Our eyes do not now have the capacity to see that.

Which means that the Lord’s very in-visibility in the Mass commemorates His Ascension. He passed beyond our sight when He ascended, and He appears in a way that we cannot see at the consecration at Mass.

That said, Christ’s invisibility in the Mass is by no means absolute. If it were, we would celebrate Mass just by closing our eyes and looking at the inside of our eyelids. But we don’t do that.

At Mass, we see a sacrifice, carried out by a priest, with a priestly people united around the altar. All that is perfectly visible—and it is a visible manifestation of Christ, ascended into heaven. Because He ministers in heaven as our eternal High Priest, forever offering Himself, in perfect love, for us.

So: Holy Mass recalls Christ’s Ascension to our minds, both by what we don’t see, and by what we do.

Vague vs. Biblical, Con’d

In our first reading at Sunday Mass, we hear Moses prophesy the coming of another leader who would shepherd the people like Moses himself had shepherded them, leading them to the Promised Land. In the gospel reading we hear how even an unclean spirit could declare the fulfillment of this prophecy and recognize the truth about Jesus, the Holy One of God.

ignatiuswritingIf you happened to find yourself reading here a week ago, hopefully you remember how we started talking about the kingdom of the Holy One of God.

As Pope Paul VI put it, Jesus came first of all to proclaim a kingdom. His kingdom is the true Promised Land. The phrase “Kingdom of God” refers to the one absolute reality of life. Everything else is relative.

To quote St. Ignatius Loyola: “Health or sickness, wealth or poverty, honor or dishonor, a long life or a short one”– all are matters of indifference, compared to the Kingdom of God.

If you were reading last week, you may recall that we considered two possible interpretations of the phrase “Kingdom of God:” the vague, shallow interpretation vs. the more concrete and precise interpretation, based on the Holy Scriptures.

We were just getting ready to tackle two particularly vague things about the vague, shallow interpretation, when we ran out of time a week ago. The vague, shallow interpretation insists on being especially vague and shallow when it comes to two things.

Continue reading “Vague vs. Biblical, Con’d”

Scared of the Devil?

Robert de Niro Louis Cypher Angel Heart

There was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon. Luke 4:33

Possession by demons. Scary. The other day the Youth Director at one of my beloved parishes told me some of her plans for the fall. She intends to hold a party on Halloween. They will watch “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” I told her to count me out. Too scary.

When I was in high-school, I pretty much ran with the jocks. We considered ourselves tough and manly. In 1987, another movie about the devil came out, called “Angel Heart.” The title makes the movie sound sweet, but it was about the devil taking a person’s soul. Mickey Rourke starred, and Robert de Niro played Mr. Lou Cypher. Anyway, when we came out of that theater at about 11:00 at night, five or six tough members of the varsity basketball team, we went together to my house. We all bedded-down for the night on the floor of my room, nestled-in together like 10-year-old girls at a slumber party. We were scared out of our minds.

Demonic possessions. Scary for the movies, sure enough. But the truth is that Satan has a far-scarier trick up his sleeve. He tried to use this trick on the Lord Jesus Himself, in the desert. If possessing people were Satan’s best shot at capturing souls for his nasty, horrible domain, he would use it all the time. But he doesn’t. The demons use their other weapon much more often because it is a much quicker and easier way to destroy a soul. Not possession, but…temptation.

How can we protect ourselves? The gospel reading at today’s Holy Mass has the clear answer. We human beings naturally can and should fear the demons of hell. But, as we read, the demons themselves fear someone. They fear Jesus Christ, because He is the Holy One of God.

So we protect ourselves from the powers of evil by staying close to our protector, the Lord Jesus. And how do we do that? Daily prayer, of course. And by using the guaranteed means of keeping Christ at work within us, namely the…sacraments.

Which are the two sacraments that we use over and over again, to keep Jesus within us and scare away the devil? Mass and confession.

Raise your hand if the idea of having to fight the devil scares you. Me, too. A lot. So let’s be smart and pray every day, go to Mass at least every Sunday, and go to Confession every month.

The Mass: Our Trinity-ness

Pope Francis Mass consecration

For God so loved the world that He gave us John 3, verse 16, the most famous of all Bible verses, which sums up the meaning of life and of the world, in one sentence.

And God so loved the world that He not only gave John 3:16 as a written sentence, but also as a living reality. God loves the world so much that he gives His Son now. We share in His Trinity-ness even now, by the exercise of our religion.

Continue reading “The Mass: Our Trinity-ness”

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?

Bringing God’s Word to Completion

Iron Butterfly

St. Paul wrote to the Colossians:

I am a minister of the Body of Christ…to bring to completion for you the word of God. (1:25)

To bring the word of God to completion for you.

Now, in this letter, it seems that St. Paul was addressing a largely non-Jewish audience. In other words, a confused and deluded, formerly pagan audience. At the beginning of the letter, the Apostle gave them a vivid image by which they can understand reality. To summarize:

The Creator made all things through His eternal Word, Who is now made man, Jesus. Jesus gives the universe and history its center. His resurrection began the final fulfillment of God’s original purpose in creating the world. Everything has been made to serve as a kind of choir, giving praise to the eternal glory of the Maker. Christ sings the first voice of the choir, by the entirety of His life. All the rest of the music proceeds from Him, as we strive to harmonize.

Continue reading “Bringing God’s Word to Completion