Believe Romans 8:28

Romans 8:28: Brothers and sisters: we know that all things work for the good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. [por español: click here]

Wonderful. Do we believe it? Do we, in fact, know that all things work for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose? Let’s ask ourselves two questions.

“We know that all things work for the good for those who love God.” We “know” this.  How do we know it?

Let us freely acknowledge that Romans 8:28 is not self-evident.  There are a lot of people out there who disagree.  Many of our brothers and sisters in this world look around at the way things work, and they despair.  They see nothing but selfishness, or the law of the jungle, or the slow arc of inevitable death and dissolution.  Some people think that the higher powers calling the shots are unfriendly, or even malicious.  And there are the poor souls who imagine there is really nothing except atoms—no angels, no truth, no love, no honor, no glory. Atheism.

Synod of Bishops 1967 Paul VI
Pope Paul VI addresses the Synod fathers of 1967

Exactly fifty years ago, in 1967, Pope Paul VI convened the first Roman Synod of Bishops of the modern age. The idea was to address the problem of atheism. The contemplative monks of the world sent a message to the Synod, about the great gift of Christian faith. The monks emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit, the experience of the Spirit’s gifts, through prayer and the sacraments.

The Holy Spirit enables us to know that Romans 8:28 is true by the gift of knowledge: our interior perception that God is in charge of everything, that there is a reason behind everything. As Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI frequently pointed out, one doctrine distinguishes true religion: the doctrine that God is reasonable, rather than arbitrary.  To be sure, right now our minds cannot quite grasp all of God’s reasons for doing or permitting all the things that He does or permits. So we need to abandon ourselves in faith when our human reasoning reaches its limit.  But when everything is said and done, we will understand it all, because God’s entire plan proceeds according to reason. When we get to heaven, please God, we will see it all clearly; we will understand everything completely.

The Lord wills good; He permits evil.  His plan is so magnificent, and His power so awesome, that He brings greater good out of the evil which He permits.  St. Paul pointed out earlier in his letter to the Romans the supreme instance of God bringing good out of evil:  From Satan’s temptation in the garden, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the whole history of human sin, God brought about the infinitely greater good of the mission of His Son to the earth.  Jesus Christ—who suffered and died unjustly, then rose again—Jesus is the best possible thing that ever could have happened.  His goodness trumps all the evil that has ever been or ever will be; His goodness overcomes it all, and turns all evil into an opportunity for holiness, for good. Suffering the evil that God permits unites us with the Savior who suffered, for us.

So now we can answer our first question:  We know what Romans 8:28 says we know because: God became man, lived for us as a man, died for us as a man, rose again and ascended into heaven as a man, and He pours His Spirit out from heaven into our hearts to give us interior knowledge of Himself.

Holy Spirit dove sunQuestion #2: Things work for the good of those who love God, and who are called according to His purpose.  What is God’s purpose?

The answer is simple and obvious and impossible to fathom.  We know from the Gospel  that God’s purpose in everything is: that we would share the divine glory forever. Share in the divine glory forever.

Straightforward enough, yes. But: we do not yet see this glorious destiny of ours. As we will commemorate next Sunday, Saints Peter, James, and John saw for a moment the divine glory shining through Jesus, at the Transfiguration. But we have not seen such unique sights. In fact, the prospect of sharing the divine glory forever utterly transcends our capacities to feature. So for now our destiny must remain an interior mystery of faith.  Again, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid with a special gift.

Through prayer and the sacraments, the Lord pours divine wisdom into our souls, so that we can savor the sweetness of heaven a little bit now, even before we get there.  The sweetness we savor is nothing other than the sweetness of true love.  God’s purpose is: to love, and to love us above all.  The Holy Spirit lifts us up towards God so that we can have a little share in the divine love even now.

This heavenly wisdom even allows us to savor God’s sweetness in the midst of severe trials and tribulations, in the face of the evils God allows us to have to endure, so that we might grow in holiness.  Our pilgrimage is not easy, and we have to fight hard.  But through it all, we experience the Spirit’s gifts. Then we know—we even “feel”–that Romans 8:28 is true. All things are working together for our good, even and especially the crosses we have to carry as we follow in the footsteps of Christ.

St. Peter and the Unforgivable Sin

When we read the gospels, we discover that the Lord Jesus declared one sin to be “unforgivable.” Blaspheming the Holy Spirit.* And if it doesn’t terrify us that the Divine Mercy Incarnate declared one sin unforgivable, it should.

st-peter-in-penitence-el-grecoLord, we beg You in Your mercy to deliver us from ever even facing such a temptation! Deliver us from such perilous danger! May we never even know what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit!

Now, we know that St. Peter did a pretty daggone rotten thing. At table with the Lord, He had declared, “I will die with You, Master, rather than deny You! See, I’m brave and consecrated to the truth, just like You!”

Then, when push came to shove, and the Jerusalemites recognized Peter’s rustic seaside accent, the fisherman said, “Oh, yes. Indeed, I am a Galilean. But I have no dealings with this fanatic rabbi, whom they now rightly condemn as a lawless miscreant. Please excuse me while I go about my business, which most certainly does not involve following this lunatic as one of his disciples!”

Wow.

Rotten. Weak. Cowardly. Small. Faithless. Heartless. What kind of friend is this? An ungrateful, wicked, self-deluding one.

But: None of this involved blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Not at all. Jesus spread out His arms on the cross and gave up His Spirit precisely so that we rotten, weak, cowardly, small, faithless, heartless, ungrateful, wicked, self-deluding sinners could be forgiven.

Christ never expected us to be good before He died to redeem us. We sinners need to behold the Lamb of God, crucified out of love for us, first. Then, we can find the strength to examine ourselves and face the truth.

St. Peter never came close to blaspheming the Spirit which Christ breathed into the world by redeeming us on the cross. When his Lord was crucified for him, faithless, weak, self-deluding Peter loved Christ more than ever before. Peter’s own confused and sinful heart broke with love for his Jesus, crucified for him.

No. The one who blasphemed the Holy Spirit wasn’t Peter. It was… Judas. And betraying Christ to the Sanhedrin did not itself involve blaspheming the Spirit. We know that the Lord Jesus would have forgiven Judas’ betrayal just as freely as He forgave Peter’s.

No, Judas blasphemed the Divine Mercy not by betraying Jesus, but by despairing. Judas blasphemed the Holy Spirit when he made his own evil the ultimate sovereignty of his little life. When he hardened his heart and closed himself off completely from the merciful gaze of the gracious Father.

Lord, we beg You: Pour out Your Spirit upon us, to soften our hearts and illuminate our souls, with the warm light that shines from the face of Christ crucified—Christ crucified for us.

_________

* Matthew 12:31, Mark 3:29, Luke 12:10

Painting Pentecost

Jan Joest
Jan Joest
Titan Pentecost
Titian
Giotto Pentecost
Giotto
Book of Hours Pentecost
from a Book of Hours
El Greco Pentecost
El Greco

When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, in order that He might continually sanctify the Church…He is the Spirit of Life, a fountain of water springing up to life eternal.

…The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted children.

The Spirit guides the Church in the way of all truth.  He unifies Her in communion and in works of ministry…By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church keep the freshness of youth.  He renews Her and leads Her to perfect union with Her Spouse.  The Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord, ‘Come!’

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council extolled the Holy Spirit with these words.

Inspiring words.  But what about paintings?  Let me confide in you that I have never found a painting of Pentecost that I like.  Eminent sacred artists have produced impressive renditions of Pentecost.  And, of course, our own Stephen Brailo, of St. Andrew’s in Roanoke, has done for us a beautiful new baptismal mosaic, in honor of our former pastor.  Msgr. Miller will visit next week at the 11:30 Mass for the dedication.

brailo mosaic
new mosaic at St. Andrew’s in honor of Fr. Tom Miller, by Stephen Brailo

No offense to any of these artists.  Of all the events depicted in Christian art, Pentecost poses the greatest challenge.  For an obvious reason:  The subject of the work of art is

Invisible.

“It is better for you that I go,” said the Lord Jesus.  “Rivers of living water will flow from within the one who believes in Me.”

The one who believes.  Faith.  In the invisible.

Christ made the invisible God visible, by becoming a man.  But then He ascended to heaven, out of our sight.  From the true Temple above, He pours grace out of His own human Heart, upon the whole earth. It is better for us that He went.

That’s the thing about paintings of Pentecost:  Jesus isn’t in them.  He had completed His earthly pilgrimage by then.

The great artists have painted Christ, in the various events of His pilgrim life, so as to depict visibly the invisible life within Him.  But painting the third divine Person, Who comes as a gentle wind, a breath, tongues of flame, a dove, an anointing, an interior inspiration…  Well, I’m no artist.  But I do know that painting something invisible is downright difficult.  I think our Stephen Brailo deserves a lot of credit!

The Holy Spirit does make Himself perfectly visible in one way, though.  By filling the hearts of the people He makes saints.

The Invisible shows Himself whenever a Christian bears witness to the hope that is in us.  The unimaginable Spirit comes into view when someone has the courage to reach out in love.  The gentle Spirit speaks when a parent or teacher or friend gives good advice, or soothes the pain, or encourages.

In other words, the invisible Holy Spirit is as visible as the living, breathing Church.  The Church, consecrated in truth, burning with divine love, marching with certain hope towards the glory that awaits us.

How about this, dear artists?  The third Person of the divine Trinity left Himself so difficult to paint, because He Himself is a painter.  The Master Painter.

He painted the adorable natural world, using a brush that could make a universe out of nothing.  He painted the unique beauty of the High Priest of all creation, Jesus Christ.  And now He paints us—whenever we allow His holiness to overcome our sinfulness, and we do something good for God.

Homily for Latin Mass

pentecost_with_mary

John 14:23-26: Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (gospel for Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit)

The earth has her many cultures, her many languages. To my mind, it does not make sense to speak of “culture” as something abstract, as if anyone could understand the idea of “culture” without having a commitment to one form of culture in particular. “Catholic culture” is not some abstract thing. Catholic culture is the way we try to live our lives, striving to obey God. And of course a Catholic culture is a “Culture of Life,” a culture that embraces the gift of life for what it is: something sacred, to be venerated with religious devotion.

We have our languages. No matter what vernacular language I try to say Mass in, there will always be plenty of people who don’t understand what I am saying. So having Mass in Latin is the “great equalizer:” no one understands.

The important thing is that we believe in Christ, in His promise to send the Holy Spirit. The idea that people who don’t speak the same language very well could actually make up a living spiritual family, working together, praying together, loving each other—that would be hopeless, if it weren’t for one thing: Jesus Christ, His Holy Spirit, His living Church.

People say that the international language is the language of love. That’s perfectly true, provided that what we mean by ‘love’ is: The Mass.

When people use the word ‘culture,’ my eyes generally glaze over immediately. Instead of talking about it, let’s just build our lives around the Mass.

Anyone who centers his or her life around the Mass really shares the same fundamental culture, the culture that we have all received as an inheritance. That is, being Catholic. Different vernacular languages are secondary; socializing is secondary. Praying comes first; praying truly unites. We have that in common. Hoc est enim corpus meum.

How Not to Be a Whitened Sepulcher

“You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.” (Luke 11:44)

Maybe you remember how we talked about this a little two years ago. All existing reality is divided into three sections: The holy, the clean, and the unclean.

God is holy and the source of life, vitality. Clean means adjoining God; it means vigor and the full-flowering of the gift of life; cleanness allows growth. Unclean means separated from God, squelching life, making growth difficult or impossible, impeding and thwarting the unfolding of God-given vitality.

Now, we are not talking about Ebola here. Though let’s certainly pray that the Lord will help everyone suffering from the disease, and that those who have died will rest in His peace.

thomas mertonWhat we are talking about is the severity of the imprecation that the Lord leveled against the Pharisees: Woe to you who spread the vigor-killing uncleanness of your self-righteousness, by covering it over with a cloak that makes it look clean!

St. Paul put it so beautifully: Against love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control there can be no law. None of these can be found in any unclean tomb; none of these can impede life. To the contrary, the fruits of the Holy Spirit are the sign of the greatest vigor, the cleanness of union with God.

Apparently, something came out in Rome on Monday, while I sat in the woods reading Merton, eating pb&j’s, and trying to pray a little. I think we should remember that the things the Church stands for don’t change at a Vatican press conference.

Problem is, there may be whitened sepulchers of self-righteousness both to the right and to the left, as we continue to tread the path the Lord has laid out for us in AD 2014.

–There can be no divine law against faithfulness and chastity. Kinda suggests that there is a divine law against both unfaithfulness and unchastity.

–By the same token, there is no divine law against patience and gentleness. Which kinda suggests that there is a divine law against both impatience and rudeness.

Breathless journalists tend to forget: there is only so far away that people can run from their consciences. Sooner or later, our consciences can and will do their work–if not in this pilgrim life, then at the moment we step into the next. And the human desire to make peace with death will keep the Church in business until way after USA Today folds.

The Lord Jesus ferociously imprecated the Pharisees for trying to burden other peoples’ consciences with burdens that they themselves couldn’t carry. Let’s make it our business to accept the rightful burdens that our own consciences legitimately put on us, and to help others carry the burdens that their consciences legitimately put on theirs.

And of course the best way to pursue this business is to go to Confession every month.

Reality Novena

Father, consecrate us in the truth. Protect us from our propensities to subterfuge and close-mindedness. Free us from ourselves and the tendency we have to make up our own version of reality.

Now, if ever there were days to make a Novena…This is the week of the original Novena.

“Father, consecrate them in truth,” prayed the Lord Jesus. “Wait until you are clothed with power from on high,” He told His disciples.

ezekiel bonesCome, Holy Spirit of truth. Come and consecrate us with the greatest gift any human being can ever receive: a firm grip on reality.

I don’t know about you, but on Sunday something struck me like a ton of bricks, as if for the first time. The Savior came to the world, showed Himself the Savior, overcame death—and then He vanished.

He was here. At one time, Jesus wore shoes and a tunic of some kind, and dust collected on His garments, and He had to spend time cleaning His teeth every day.

But then He departed from the world. Peace out. To heaven. And—except by certain visionaries—He has not been seen with human eyes on the earth since.

This would seem to mean heartbreak and pain for His disciples. We read on Sunday, however, that they rejoiced and praised God when Jesus ascended and disappeared from their sight (Luke 24:52). The Master had triumphed altogether and returned to the unimaginable heaven from which He had come. Unlike the Christians of Miletus, who wept when St. Paul left them for good. In Jerusalem, after the Ascension of Christ, the disciples did not cry. Rather, joy filled their hearts as they prayed the first Novena.

el_greco-sinaiNow, we know that the Lord Jesus does not despise the world. He abides with us here still in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. And He promised one day to come again in the sight of every human eye. His sandals will touch the earth again. Then heaven and earth will come together. Where He disappeared to on Ascension Day, and where we are now, will be the same place.

And it’s not just a matter of our passively waiting for Him to come back in all His glory. We can hasten the re-union. By prayer and zealous works of justice and peace.

But this reality which the Holy Spirit helps us get a grip on… This truth…

The Holy Spirit, Who looks like…what exactly? Pentecost looks like: “power from on high.” I think the greatest artists will freely tell us: Not easy to depict this for human eyes. Actually, it’s altogether impossible.

For now—while we still make our pilgrim way—the true reality which the invisible Holy Spirit helps us grasp is itself a lot more invisible than it is visible. “Getting a grip”—really getting a grip on reality—means believing. We pray with joy that God will help us to get a firm grip on the ungraspable Truth that He Himself is.

Knowing what Christ the King Knows

Christ is the faithful witness.

Jesus said, ‘For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.’

Christ has born faithful witness to the great and enduring truth. We need to grasp this truth, if we are to make any sense out of our lives. But we could never have figured it out, if Jesus had not born faithful witness to it and testified to it.

Christ bore witness faithfully. In other words, he testified without swerving, without fudging, without prevaricating, without betraying the truth. That Christ bore ‘faithful’ witness does not mean that He testified to His own personal “faith.” He testified to what He knows and has always known, namely God. Christ knows the great, enduring, and transcendent truth. He knows; we believe. We have faith in the knowledge of Christ.

With me? Good. Now, how did Christ bear faithful witness? How did He testify to the mysterious truth of God?

Continue reading “Knowing what Christ the King Knows”

Tolerance, Pentecost, and Love

We human beings have a tendency to get on each others’ nerves. Living in close proximity to each other can cause conflicts. We don’t see eye-to-eye. Each of us has our ticks. Sometimes we don’t co-operate very well. We annoy each other.

We need a way to coexist peacefully. Which brings us to the virtue that reigns supreme on today’s popular airwaves. We try to live together in peace by practicing the magnificent virtue of…TOLERANCE!

Continue reading “Tolerance, Pentecost, and Love”

Original Novena (or Sextena)

“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now,” said the Lord, to the Apostles.

St. Augustine made the best comment on this verse, in my opinion. We should not worry too much about knowing the ‘much more’ that the Lord intends eventually to reveal. If even the holy Apostles couldn’t bear it, we can be damn sure that we can’t, either.

The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. Someday we will know it all. Someday we will know things like: Why some people get cancer and other people don’t. Or why some people get born poor and hardly have half a chance, while some people are set-up so easy that they really have to work hard at squandering their advantages in order to wind up somewhere other than Easy Street. And we will learn why some people we know and love go ahead and do just that: work hard for pretty much their whole lives at squandering all their advantages.

In the meantime, though, even when we don’t understand something, we can always pray.

The time has come to make the original Novena. When He ascended into heaven, the Lord said, “You stay in Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.” They prayed for nine days. Then the Holy Spirit came.

If you are like me, you can hardly get used to celebrating Ascension Day three days late. Especially since it turns the novena instituted by God into a sextena.

But the most important thing is to pray.

Lord, fill us with Your wisdom. Our own folly has become intolerably boring to us. Fill us with Your knowledge, because we are tired of our own ignorance. Fill us with Your prudence. We have made enough of our own mistakes.

We will gladly take on faith for now what You would have us take on faith. We know that when the time is right, Your Holy Spirit will make everything perfectly clear.