The Event

A person might ask a question like this, while staring at the sky, in a reflective moment:

In all the great sweep and roll of time, from the first moments when sun and stars coalesced, through the endless ebbing and flowing of the ocean tides; from the building of the pyramids and the Great Wall of China all the way through the Clinton E-mail Scandal of 2015; in the whole whirling, slapdash confluence of this and that happening, has there ever been a place, a moment, and a person who did the one thing that really matters?

In other words: Day and night, rice growing in paddies and cornstalks in the fields, dogs barking at passing runners, little creeks burbling down mountainsides, clouds forming and dissipating, people eating and talking to each other, stuff happening and happening and happening, not going anywhere in particular, not revealing much of a deep meaning exactly, time just loping along, like an antelope across a field: events, events, events; March Madness 2013, March Madness 2014, March Madness 2015…

In this whole welter, is there one event that makes the whole thing make sense? One event that stands at the center, so that light shines from it over everything else, and we can see: Yes! These other things all mean something! Being born and growing up, eating sandwiches, and driving here and there, learning how to tie a tie–all these things mean something, because this one thing has happened!

After all, what if there were no such event? What if nothing had ever happened that really mattered? I mean, it matters whether or not Benjamin Netanyahu controls the Israeli parliament–it matters, but does it matter a whole lot to us? Only a little bit, really. And it matters if I burn my toast in the morning, or knock over my coffee cup–but, in the grand scheme of things?

If all of history were just endless politics and daily routines and sports’ seasons and new tv shows; if it were all just an endless cycle of relatively insignificant events… What if, when something so monumental as a birth or a death occurred, there was nothing but facebook to try to understand the meaning?

(This is my new theme for 2015: Why going to Church is so daggone important.)

The event.

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

We are not born knowing about it. We learn it in church. We find it in church.

The center and heart of all history. The thing that has happened. And the decisive event of all of history is never far away from us, never separate from our little lives. Because, at Mass, we are right there, right there with Jesus, at the event of all time.

Halfway to Jerusalem: Remember to Remember!

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We find ourselves near the mid-point of Lent. Halfway to Jerusalem, so to speak. It seems like Lent only just began, so that means Holy Week will arrive before we know it: The week of our most intense commemoration, our most intense remembering.

Lent unites us with the ancient Israelites. God liberated them from slavery in Egypt. They journeyed home to the land that God had given their father Abraham. During that journey, God gave them their law.

One of the most important precepts of the law was: Don’t forget what happened in Egypt! No matter how settled you may get in the Promised Land, no matter how comfortable: never forget! You were beggarly slaves, living in cruel desperation. God Almighty reached down from heaven and freed you!

The Passover remembrance involved a lot more than just a yearly ritual. It actually gave the ancient Israelites the foundation for all their piety and their morality. By remembering that they owed God everything–that they owed Him their freedom and whatever prosperity they had–by remembering that they, too, had been desperate and poor, they kept compassion for the desperate and poor alive in their hearts. Their commemoration of the Passover taught them not to turn away from the desperate soul in distress. Because they, too, had been desperate souls in distress, and still would be–were it not for God’s gracious mercy to them.

el-grecost-paulAs St. Paul has explained, what happened in Egypt occurred in order to give us an image of what Jesus was to do in Jerusalem. In the days of Moses, God saved one nation from slavery.

Then God came to the earth Himself, and He saved all of us from an even more desperate and poor state. Slaves not just of Pharaoh, but of Satan. Destined to die in misery and languish forever in a hopeless netherworld.

But God did not turn away from us–desperate as we are, helpless as we human beings are, in the face of our own weakness and our inevitable death. He did not turn away. He turned toward us. He offered His face to buffets and spitting. He spread out His arms for the nails. He bowed His Head in death for us, and He overcame our Enemy and rescued us for eternal life.

The precept of precepts in our Gospel law is: that we never forget this! That we live with the constant memory of Christ redeeming us from the most desperate slavery. That we live with the constant memory of Christ giving us an unimaginably wonderful destiny, immeasurably greater than we could ever deserve.

This remembrance gives us the foundation of our piety and our morality, too. Christ laid down all He had for us, when we had nothing. So we have to lay down all we have, to help the brother or the sister who needs something.

____________________________
h/t Dr. Timothy Gray

Holy Week: Go to Church!

Pope Francis Palm Sunday

The Lord brings us together this week to share in His Paschal Mystery.

He went up to the holy city of Jerusalem to worship with His people, the Israelites whom God had spared from death and liberated from slavery. Jesus kept the Passover with His friends. He changed the ancient ceremony into the mysteries of His Body and Blood.

The original Holy Week of Christ’s Passion took place nearly 2,000 years ago, to be sure. But it is as real now as it was then. We are caught up in it. Our lives, our hopes, our faith in God–all of this is caught up in the events we hear recounted in church on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday–and which we live out whenever we celebrate the Holy Mass together.

The Lord has given us the privilege of taking our part in all this. We thank Him that He has given us this Holy Week 2014 together to draw closer to Him.

Christus Marcius Coriolanus

“Now we see that you are possessed.” (John 8:52)

Leave it to our Passiontide readings from St. John’s gospel to bring us face-to-face with this particular fact every year: No reasonable person can regard Jesus of Nazareth as an unremarkable, nice guy.

What possessed Him?

He was, after all, a kind, attractive, intelligent, skillful man. He had a pleasant enough future ahead of Him, had He chosen to embrace it. Instead of provoking all the authorities in Jerusalem, He could have lived out His life as a respectable teacher in the relatively quiet precincts of the north; He could have found a sweet Galilean lass; eventually, He could have died in His bed, remembered fondly and with honor.

jerusalem-sunriseBut something possessed Him. So He stepped into the seething cesspool of petty jealousies and vicious antagonisms that was Jerusalem. Something possessed Him to say just enough about Himself, and at just the right times, to lead to His being mercilessly scourged and crucified during Passover, while He was still in His early thirties.

We can have no real doubt that He neither had a perverse death-wish nor was He so obtuse that He didn’t know what His words would lead to. He was neither suicidal nor naïve.

So what possessed Him?

Something in Him raged against falsehood, smallness, and death with such serene indomitability—a fire burned in Him that the close air of the fallen world simply could not contain, but only fanned. A zeal for conquest overtook Him. He became literally hell-bent on pulverizing every ounce of life-choking b.s. that the arrogant and hypocritical human race has managed to pile up on the surface of this earth, over the course of the groaning millennia that we have lived here.

Jesus would not back down. He came like a flaming battering ram at the twisted face of faithless deceit and selfishness. He cracked a hole in the fortress of Satan. And then He ran in by Himself, like Gaius Marcius Coriolanus charging the Volscian city of Corioli alone. The only weapon Christ held in His hands was His absolutely fearless willingness to open them up for the nails.

He was a man possessed. Possessed by the one power that actually can wash away all the evil in the world with one cleansing stroke. He was Personally possessed by divine Creator.

Newsflash: Spy Wednesday

Irish Wake

The Hour of our Redemption is at hand.

Once and for all, in the times of the Roman Empire and Pontius Pilate, the Savior gave Himself over for us. He submitted Himself to the power of evil men and died a horrible death. That one, single springtime–two millennia ago–saw more grace flow down from heaven than the world could ever use up.

But every year we renew the time—the Holy Hour of our Redemption—because Christ has willed that we do so.

pontius-pilateWe hear in today’s gospel reading how He commanded that the place be prepared for the celebration of the Passover. And at every Mass we hear how he commanded us to celebrate these rites in His memory.

On the one hand, it all happened once and for all, two millennia ago. On the other, we keep a yearly observance in order to sanctify our times. Because the One Who made the sacrifice is Christ, and the One Who renews it is Christ, the ‘once and for all,’ and the ‘every year’ do not contradict each other.

When we remember Jesus Christ, and what He did during Holy Week, it is not like conjuring up someone gone, reminiscing as if we were at an Irish wake. To the contrary: Jesus Christ is not dead. He is a million times more alive than we are. When we remember Him by fulfilling His commandments, He acts on us. He connects us with His eternal, undying life.

The once-and-for-all sacrifice of our Redemption is the sacrifice of the divine Son to the divine Father: It is the triune life of God. It has no end. The Hour of our Redemption is always right now. By commanding us to keep Holy Week, Jesus wakes us up again every year to this fact. The Hour of our Redemption unfolded in the world 2,000 years ago and has not run out yet. It doesn’t tick away like the minutes on a clock. Rather, it lifts every moment of time up to itself, until the Lord comes again and the Age of Grace becomes the Age of Glory.

So let’s prepare the place: our church, our schedules, ourselves—for a good Confession this week, if at all possible. Let’s prepare our hearts to accompany the Savior through the events of our Redemption. Let’s live the rest of this week in the thick of the real news: Jesus Christ has gone up to Jerusalem to keep the feast.

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.

Spy Wednesday

When Satan betrayed God, he thought he had good reason.

After all, Satan was the Light Bearer, pre-eminent among the shining angels, resplendent in intelligence and power.

When the Lord revealed that everything had been made for the sake of the glorified worms who pad around the earth on goofy-looking feet…When the Infinite let on that He would unite Himself with a chickpea-chewing, hairy-backed carpenter made of clay—well, Lucifer could not let that stand.

Continue reading “Spy Wednesday”

Springtime Revelations

Here is my Palm Sunday homily to my beloved Northeast Washington flock. Perhaps you websurfers will get something out of it…

Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. But not my will, but Yours be done. (Luke 22:42)

Not everything is immediately visible to the eye. It takes time for some things to be revealed.

Admit it: When I first arrived here at Holy Name, you thought to yourself: What in the world is this tall, quiet, nineteen-year-old white boy doing here as the pastor of our parish? You know you were thinking this.

With time, though, I hope something that was hidden has been revealed. I may be a stiff, quiet, young-looking white man. But: You can count on me to get up here and put the Word of God on you. I am going to preach Jesus Christ to you as much as any man—old, young, black, white, yellow, or red.

St. Albans School
Maybe this was hidden at first. Hopefully it has been revealed now.

God did not give you Barack Obama to be your pastor. Young-looking Father White–upper-northwest St. Albans boy, crewcut, glasses, goofy nerd—I am the pastor God gave you, and the white boy is just the one you need.

So we see: With time, hidden things can be revealed.

This happens every spring. Springtime comes. All the beauty of the earth, which has been hidden through the winter—that beauty is revealed to our eyes.

The Lord Jesus was conceived in His mother’s womb in the springtime. Our Lady consented to the Archangel Gabriel on March 25. The Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and the Word became flesh in her womb.

As soon as the Son of God became one of us, He declared His obedience to the Father. Christ prayed in Mary’s womb and said, “Behold, Father: I come to do your will.”

Throughout His pilgrimage on earth, the Lord Jesus always did the will of the Father, down to the most minute detail of His life.

“My food is to do the will of the One Who sent me…I do only what I see the Father doing…The Father works, so I work.”

But the full extent of Christ’s obedience lay hidden for most of His life. Everyone who knew Him saw that His will belonged to God above. But no one could have imagined just how perfect Christ’s obedience really was.

It was in Holy Week that the full measure of Christ’s submission was revealed. What was hidden in the Virgin’s womb was made visible when He went up to Jerusalem for the last time.

In the womb, He had said, “Behold, Father, I come to do your will.”

Then, in the Garden, He said: “Father, if it be possible, let this most bitter cup of suffering pass from me. But not my will, but Yours be done.”

Unusual Week to Come

Have you noticed how life can become boring and repetitive?

Days pass; weeks pass. We don’t even notice. The weeks are all the same, a dull routine.

This is the way it has always been. There were plenty of people living in Jerusalem at the time of Christ who were living dull, routine lives.

When Holy Week came, they missed it. It was just like any other week–just like the week before and the week after–part of the boring, meaningless routine of workaday life.

But what happened that week? The most important things that ever happened.

It is the week that lies at the center of all history, the week that makes life worth living, the week that makes all things new.

The Church exists to keep that week alive on this earth. We are at the threshold of our Church’s most important duty.

Holy Week is not just another week. It is not part of the dull routine. It is not a week that passes us by, un-noticed and instantly forgotten.

No. It is the center of our lives. It is the week out of which we live. It is the week upon which we focus all our attention and longing.

Our sacred mission is to keep next week holy, to live every minute of it with Christ–as if we were in Jerusalem with Him, following His every step.

Festival Day

Hail, thee, festival day!

Fr. Andrew White, S.J.
Don’t forget that this is the 376th anniversary of the first Holy Mass in the English-speaking colonies.

It was offered on St. Clement’s Island in the Potomac River by Fr. White!

…Annunciation Day and Holy Week are always in the spring.

In the spring, many things that have lain hidden finally come into view. The goodness of the earth reveals itself.

In the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the instant when He was conceived and became man, the Word of God declared to the Father: “Behold, I come to do Your will!”

For many years, this perfect obedience lay hidden within the soul of Christ.

Then, during Holy Week, it was fully revealed.