Ok, Lord. We Won’t Take it for Granted

Holy Thursday Notre Dame 2018
Holy Thursday, Notre Dame cathedral, 2018

As Christ the Lord was about to celebrate with the disciples the paschal supper at which he instituted the Sacrifice of his Body and Blood, he commanded a large, furnished upper room be prepared. The Church has always judged that this command applied to herself whenever she decided about things related to places, rites, and texts for the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist.

The first words of a familiar book. The Roman Missal.

In Rocky Mount and Martinsville, Va., we have a roof over our heads, under which we can celebrate Holy Mass. The tears the world shed on Monday—they taught us not to take that for granted.

Notre Dame represents… the French nation? The Gothic style? The Middle Ages? I’ve been glued to the coverage as much as anyone. Two obvious facts have gone unsaid.

1. A church—any church, including Notre Dame de Paris–is for: the Mass. Before there even was a French nation; before The Hunchback hunched his back; before they carved the gargoyles or the magnificent arches–Jesus of Nazareth desired to celebrate the Passover with His disciples.

2. Second thing about Notre Dame: The countless masons, craftsman, artisans, and laborers who lived and died building the cathedral did not build it to represent Paris. Or France. Or even the Church. They built Notre Dame to represent heaven. Anyone who ever set foot in that building, even once, knows: They did a pretty darn good job of it.

hunchback notre dameA beautiful church is beautiful because it lifts you up towards heaven. This is related to Point #1. The Mass unites heaven and earth, in the Body and Blood of the Incarnate God. A church building exists to house the Mass; therefore, a church building serves as a visible threshold of invisible heaven.

Let’s not take our lovely, cozy, orderly, luminous little churches for granted. Let’s not take each other for granted. And let me put this as humbly as I can: Let’s not take me for granted.

I mean: feel free to take me for granted as the middle-aged man with bad eyes and black high-waters. But: I think the Notre Dame fire breaks our hearts like it does because it involves such catastrophic damage to a faithful witness to the Church’s march through the centuries. And the Church marches through the centuries on the backs of Her priests.

The thing that connects the Last Supper to now—a thin, black thread, stretching across millennia. The sacred priesthood.

Let’s not take that for granted. Christ promised that His Church would always have priests. But He never promised that Rocky Mount, Virginia, would have a priest. Or Martinsville, Virginia. The Rocky Mounts and Martinsvilles of China, or Afghanistan, or even Norway—they don’t have priests.

To us, this place is home. And that our home has a priest—that’s a miracle we shouldn’t take for granted.

The fact that the Lord chose me to be that priest—well, I can’t even begin to fathom that one.

Dos Reyes

Christ mandatum footwashing Holy Thursday

Vemos a Cristo humilde, a los pies de Sus apóstoles. El es nuestro maestro, nuestro Señor, nuestro rey. Entonces, hay que contrastarle al otro rey en aquel entonces, César, el emperador romano.

César reinó sobre el mundo con una magnificiencia como la de un dios. Conquistó a los enemigos y distribuyó sus pertenencias. César tuvo poder–el poder de obligar con armas y castigos atroces. También tuvo belleza física–en la forma de ropa extravagante y obras de arte y arquitectura. Y tuvo placeres–banquetes de la mesa y todos los placeres sensuales.

César ofreció a la gente un constante desfile de entretenimiento en los circos. Ofreció comodidad, placer para los ojos, un estómago lleno, una mente que no se preocupa de dudas misteriosas. Teniendo a César como rey significaba una vida sencilla y testaruda—vida de sumisión, subsistencia, diversión, y de sueño. Con César de rey, siempre hay algo en la tele y una botana que comer. Y no tengo que preocuparme por el significado de la vida.

Por otra parte: Cristo, el Rey humilde. No promete ni un poder terrenal, ni placeres sensuales, ni tranquilidad, ni la euforia brumosa del constante entretenimiento. De veras nos promete en vez una vida dificil— de largas vigilias con los cinturones apretados, siempre lavando los pies de los demás. El nos ofrece una vida de batallas incesantes en contra de nuestras propias inclinaciones malas—y ser malentendidos, poco apreciados, castigados por hacer bien, y odiados por amar la verdad.

Caesar AugustusCristo Rey nos ofrece a Sus seguidores esta vida difícil—difícil y hermosa, y llena de amor verdadero.

Viendo Jesús humilde, a los pies de sus apóstoles, entendemos que no podemos servir a Dios y a la codicia. No podemos vivir por las satisfacciones de este mundo. Este mundo no nos puede ofrecer un hogar verdadero. Solo estamos de pasada. Tenemos nuestra ciudadanía en otro lugar, donde reina el Rey humilde.

Cristo nos da los ojos espirituales para ver más allá de las nubes del cielo. El Reino que deseamos nos espera; Cristo se ha llevado su trono allá. Ahí no hay cobertura celular. No se lo necesita. Todo es bello y verdadero; todo es luz y amor, donde reina Jesús.

Yo exijo todo, dice el Rey humilde. Abandona tus compromisos con una vida mundana. Hínchase, y vive para algo más.

Door of Faith, Mercy, Love, and Humility


mezuzah mezuzot

Anyone ever kissed a mezuzah?  Or, to be more precise:  touched the mezuzah, and then kissed your hand?

A mezuzah hangs on the doorpost of a devout Jewish home.  It contains a small paper, with the Shema:  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone.   You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

Deuteronomy commands the people to inscribe the Shema on their doorposts.  But the word mezuzah appears for the first time in the Bible in the passage we read every year on Holy Thursday.  Exodus 12 commands the people:  “Take some of the blood of the Passover lamb, and apply it to your mezuzot, your doorposts.”

Now, a mezuzah can be an exquisite little work of art, adorning the doorway.  Generally, they don’t look at all messy.  But even the most dainty little mezuzah represents the sprinkled blood of the lamb, the blood which moved the angel of death to pass over the house.

Logo for Holy Year of MercyThis year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us two ways to obtain a jubilee-year indulgence.  First, the old-fashioned way:  to pass through a Holy Door.  Usually, during Jubilee Years, you have to go to Rome to pass through a Holy Door, or at least to a papal basilica.  But this year, Pope Francis extended the prerogative for Holy Doors to every diocese.

Trust me, Fr. Matt and I lobbied to get a holy door at St. Andrew’s.  But the Bishop decided the cathedral in Richmond should have the holy door for our diocese.  Fair enough.  Now that winter has ended, the time has come for everyone to plan a little pilgrimage to Richmond, or to the National Shrine in Washington, to pass through the Jubilee-Year door.

The second way Pope Francis gave us to obtain an indulgence this year:  doing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.  Comfort the afflicted, counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently, pray for the living and the dead.

The Lord liberated our forefathers from slavery during the Passover, because He loves.  He sent His only-begotten Son, the Lamb of the new and eternal covenant, to shed His Blood for us on the cross—because He loves.  He gave us the Holy Mass, the sacred priesthood, the Church—because He loves.

The events we read about in the Bible unfold the mystery of divine love, and they have brought about this result:  God has opened a door for us.  He has opened the door of faith.  The door of mercy.  The door of divine love.

And one more thing:  the jubilee-year door of faith, mercy, and love must also be the door of humility.  Faith means humility, since believing the Word involves acknowledging that God knows more than we do.  Mercy means humility, since God forgives those who humbly repent.  Above all, divine love means humility, since the love of God works through simple, un-glorious, practically invisible deeds.

Brothers and sisters, let’s step through the door—the door of faith, mercy, love, and humility!  On the other side of this door lies the Kingdom of God!

Pope Francis foot kiss

Holy Thursday Reflections from the Unworthy Dunderhead


1. In the upper room, Christ gave us the Holy Eucharist of His Body and Blood, extended Himself with breathtakingly humble love towards His companions, and made them priests of His holy mysteries.

His gifts of divine love, of His own flesh and blood, and of the ministry of this gift: It’s all pretty clear, there at the source–on this holy night almost twenty centuries ago.

But, as centuries pass, things that started out clear can become obscured. Difficult situations can then lead to helpful clarifications.

During the fourth century, the emperor Diocletian condemned Catholic priests to death. Some priests faced the prospect of summary execution with heroic courage. Many did not; they apostasized.

When the persecution ended, some Catholics said: The cowardly priests can’t be priests anymore! A priest must be holy! Their Masses are no good!

Anyone know what this Church controversy was called? The Donatist schism. The Donatists held that the ministry of an un-holy priest is nothing, fruitless, pointless, a charade.

missale-romanum-white-bgNow, a priest should always seek holiness, of course. But: If a vain, impatient, feckless, easily-distracted, oversized dunderhead priest, who hardly deserves to serve as a waterboy for a Little-League team with a losing record–if even such a priest says a Mass, as happens regularly in the Martinsville-Rocky Mount parish cluster–the bread and wine still become the Body and Blood of Christ. So long as the priest manages to say and do what’s in the book.

Anyone know what that’s called? Very important Latin phrase… ex opere operato. By the work being worked, the grace is given. The minister of the grace may be hopelessly unworthy. Doesn’t matter. It’s still the Body and Blood of God.

Which brings me to reflection #2. Dunderhead that I am, it took me a few years of actually doing it to realize what the key to “priestly spirituality” is. “The key” in my opinion, anyway.

The Lord Jesus prayed, celebrated Passover, and, as He did so, gave us the Holy Eucharist.

From the beginning, we have repeated Christ’s words of institution as part of a longer prayer, called the _________ _________.

Always addressed to our heavenly Father, always imploring Him to send the Holy Spirit. The prayer of the Church united as one, we pray for every member of the Church, and for everyone on earth, and for all the souls in purgatory–that all of us sinners would find mercy, and get to heaven, and share the bliss of the Kingdom.

A rough summary of the Eucharistic Prayer–but pretty accurate, I think. That’s the prayer that the Church as a mother intends for the priest to say, and for everyone else to join in with an interior sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, and petition.

Now, the priest must recite the Eucharistic Prayer, whether he personally ‘means’ it or not. The priest’s head might be full of high-school basketball memories or plans for buying a new car. But praying the Eucharistic Prayer is our job, we priests.

The key to ‘priestly spirituality,’ I think, is… (It’s so simple and obvious, it took me, obtuse as I am, years to grasp it.) My personal spiritual task, as the priest, is: to mean the Eucharistic Prayer when I say it.

I say it as a duty. And I strive to say it because it’s exactly what I mean. I strive to want to say to God exactly what the Eucharistic Prayer says. I strive to will and hope and pray for what the Eucharistic Prayer wills and hopes and prays for.

That He would send His Holy Spirit so we can feed on Him; that He would unite us and fill us with His divine love, sinners that we are; that He would draw everyone to Himself, and lead us all to the perfect life of heaven.

Omniscience Forgetting; Omnipotence Kneeling

Christ mandatum footwashing Holy Thursday“Fully aware that the Father had put everything into His power, …He began to wash the disciples’ feet.” (John 13:3,5)

The Father had put everything into His power, and He knew it. Jesus knew the extent of His divine power.

He holds all things in His hands. All things: Tonight. Our lives. Our pasts and our future. All fall under the sway of what Christ knew at that moment, when He rose from the table to perform the work of a slave.

Pope John Paul II used to remind the priests of the world every year: Remember that Jesus thought of you that night, when he gave the sacrament to the Apostles. He chose you, at that moment, to be His priest. The plan according to which you would one day have the privilege of celebrating Mass—He held that plan in His mind at that moment.

Same thing goes for all of us Christians. How is it that we find ourselves at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, sharing in the gift of communion in the Redeemer’s holy Body and Blood? How did it come to pass that we would come together tonight, to rest our souls on the bedrock of holy truth, the fundamental mysteries of our faith? It has come to pass because He conceived it all–conceived us in our places at church–in His beautiful Messianic mind, when He first said, “Take this, all of you…”

The Father had put everything into His power. Awesome: the omniscience, the omnipotence of the God-man.

But there is something even more indescribably awesome, something even more awesomely powerful, than Christ’s divine foreknowledge or His divine Providence. The most breathtakingly powerful thing of all is that He proceeded to minister unto them as if He were their slave.

Continue reading “Omniscience Forgetting; Omnipotence Kneeling”

Quick Viri-Selecti Apologia

Pope John Paul II kisses the foot of a clergyman during the Holy Thursday ceremony at St Peter's

I thank the men who, as the real heroes of generosity at our parish Mass of the Lord’s Supper yesterday evening, submitted to having their feet washed by their overly intense pastor. They endured the most difficult task of the evening.

Now: Yes, the book (Missal) clearly indicates that men should be chosen to receive the ministrations of the priest in the footwashing rite. As the Lord Jesus washed the feet of twelve men at the Last Supper, so the priest.

The business admits of many different profound interpretations, and those who witness it draw spiritual fruit according to each person’s own unique interior life. The duty of the priest is to follow the instructions printed in the Missal.

Over my (soon to be ten) years as a priest, I have, with some reflection and practice, developed the way in which I wash people’s feet on Holy Thursday evening. I do not claim that it is a good way; I only ask that it be respected as the result of some extended reflection on my part. To be perfectly honest, I studied the way that Pope John Paul II did it, and I attempt to do it that way.

Yesterday, our Holy Father washed the feet of ten young men and two young women. May God be praised that we have a Pope, and a healthy and loving Pope.

Does this mean that the instruction in the Missal will be changed regarding who should be chosen to sit for footwashing? Only time will tell.

But in the interest of honesty, I feel obliged to say the following. I do not mean it as a judgment on anyone else; it is simply my personal sensibility:

I could not in good conscience maintain the manner in which I execute the footwashing rite if a woman were sitting before me. I do not imagine myself to be Brad Pitt on wheels. But neither am I eighty years old and altogether beyond the virile stage. I could not engage in the physical intimacy (which, to my mind, the rite demands) with a woman who was either married to someone else or unattached. It would be unbecoming for us both.

Okay! May the Lord bless us with a Good Friday full of graces.

How We Know that God is Love

We say that God is love, that love pours out infinitely from the bosom of the Creator and Father of all.

We say that God’s love moves us to love, to think first of our neighbor and only secondly of ourselves. To let ourselves get lost, really, in the rough and tumble of paying attention to other people and how we can help them. We forget ourselves, lose our egos like a set of keys—and then we wind up finding ourselves again at the end of the day, when we’re ready for an honest night’s sleep after spending our strength doing our duty to others.

last-supperWe disciples of Christ say that a bottomless spring flows with love. We drink from this fountain, and the invisible, spiritual water is holy and divine and makes us capable of doing things that the world deems impossible, like not being selfish all the time.

Now, how do we know all this? How do we know that the river of love never runs dry, because God Himself loves, and loves infinitely?

After all, someone might ask us: If God is love, why do people die, and when I don’t want them to? Why do good people get diseases? Why do liars and cheaters prosper, while the honest man can’t even afford to pay his taxes?

Continue reading “How We Know that God is Love”

Upper Room Religion

To worship God in truth, we go to the Upper Room. The Upper Room of Jesus’ Passover formed the Church of God. How did this come to pass?

Maybe, in some primordial arbor of trees, in the morning before Adam and Eve sinned, a simple altar stood. Our First Parents could have offered God a worthy sacrifice there and worshiped Him in friendship.

Continue reading “Upper Room Religion”

Come, O Sacred Days

The most sacred days of the year are upon us, the days of the sacrifice of Christ.

The Lord never takes a day off from us, of course. But we have a tendency to take days off from Him.

So, in His mercy, God gives us the holy days to draw us back to Him. During Holy Week the Lord reaches down from heaven and grabs the cosmic remote and turns off the stupid t.v. that fills our heads with noisy nonsense.

Then He brings His people and His priests together in church. On Monday evening, the priests of the diocese were together with the Bishop in the cathedral. Tomorrow evening, the Sacred Triduum will begin, with God’s priests and His people together, in church.

Because of God’s love, we can say—we priests—we can honestly say: Being in church on the holy days is the most important thing in our lives. We can honestly say—not because we are particularly heroic guys, but simply because of Christ’s love: We would sooner die than let Holy Week pass without celebrating the sacred rites.

Let’s just say hypothetically: If the powers of the world tried to lay down a law that made celebrating Mass on Holy Thursday a capital crime, you would find us priests in church anyway. What else would we do? Are we going to spend Holy Thursday evening relaxing, watching a George Clooney movie on DVD and throwing back some popcorn? No.

All this is a gift from God; the holy days are a gift from God. Why does He do this for us? Why does He renew the world with His goodness every year during Holy Week–without fail, year after year, century after century? Why does He call men to His priesthood in every generation, in an unbroken march down the ages? Why does He feed us with His Body and Blood at the holy altar whenever we come to Him?

He does it now for the same reason that He did it in the first place, in the first Holy Week: Because He loves us. He loves us with an ardor that cannot and will not be thwarted. The passing of time does not diminish the intensity of divine love.

So the same goes for you: What else are you going to do, other than keep the holy days in faithful prayer? Are you going to spend Good Friday lounging in a recliner and saying to yourself, “Who cares about God? Who cares about my neighbor? All I want to do is watch t.v.” No.

Even if the powers of the world tried to make it illegal to love Christ and your neighbor, you would do it anyway. You would sooner go to jail or die than pretend that Christ the King of love is not the Lord.

Praise God. Let’s let the Lord hush us down, so that we can keep the great feast.

Simple Enough

We pray that in this eucharist we may find the fullness of love and life.

This is part of the prayer with which the Mass of Holy Thursday begins. We pray that we will find the fullness of love and life.

Whether or not we find the fullness of love and life seems to depend solely on a simple act of faith.

God transcends every possible thought; He unfolds Himself to us as an inexhaustible mystery. And yet He proposes to us this evening something so exquisitely simple that it stops us short.

Continue reading “Simple Enough”