Humble Pope, Humble Savior

Shepherd One
Shepherd One

If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all. (Mark 9:35)

If we really want to understand what this means, I think we have to meditate on Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate.

Christ had made what St. Paul calls His “noble confession.” That is, Jesus had declared His true identity. He possesses absolute authority. There is only One Who rules all. Christ, only-begotten Son of the eternal Father, is that One.

Here He stands, the One Who actually is truly the first, standing before a feckless Roman careerist with highly limited insight, and less courage. The Emperor of All Things stands in the dock, at a shabby excuse for a tribunal of justice, accused of blasphemy for declaring what is true. And, because this new, divine Adam loves you and me as much as He does, He bows His head, accepts His death sentence without protest, and takes up His cross.


Lately, the airwaves have coursed with news of Pope Francis and his visit to these shores. This week we will certainly see a lot of Pope-Francis coverage. Your unworthy servant will have the privilege of concelebrating Mass with His Holiness on Wednesday afternoon in Washington, when the pope will declare the Apostle of California, Fr. Junipero Serra, a saint. Holy Father will use Fr. Serra’s language, the original vernacular language of the Church in North America…Spanish.

pope-francis_2541160kAnyway, people love Pope Francis for his humility, as well we should love him for it. He occupies the office with the world’s greatest responsibilities in a perfectly unassuming way. Now, those of us with functioning memories can recall that Popes Benedict XVI, John Paul II, John Paul I, Paul VI, and John XXIII all occupied the office of Successor of St. Peter with unassuming humility, also. But that doesn’t make Pope Francis’ humility any less powerful and beautiful. To really understand the power of the pope’s humility, though, we have to try to understand its source.

The Holy Father does not practice humility because his enormous ability to influence people and events embarrasses him. Much less does he practice humility in order to out-humble previous popes. No. Humble Pope Francis is as humble as he is for one reason, the same reason that humble St. Francis walked the streets of Assisi as humbly as he did: because of the humble Savior.

One of the best devotional exercises we can do, I think, is to try to imagine how the world would look to us if we had never heard of Jesus Christ. Of course, we can never completely succeed in imagining this. Most of us have fed on Christ as our spiritual food since our earliest years. But, since the world around us has fallen back into paganism, we can do this spiritual exercise a lot more successfully than our grandparents could.

So, let’s ask ourselves: Could anyone really practice humility, the virtue of humility, in a world without Christ? Pagan nations have not generally prized humility as a virtue in their own citizens, though of course they loved having humble slaves. As the Lord Jesus said, “The pagans lord it over each other. The masters insist on making their authority felt.”

Ambitious pagan people jockey for position, stab each other in the back, claw their way to the top, stomping on the heads of their closest associates—and for what? Status in a puny pecking order.

the_passion_of_the_christYears ago, I had friends among the aspiring avant-garde artists in New-York-City. One of them said to me, after a supposed friend of his had trashed him viciously in order to get a leg up for an obscure gallery show: “It’s par for the course. The fighting is so fierce because the stakes are so low.”

Meanwhile, here stands Christ—with power, glory, eternal beatitude in His sovereign hands. With those very hands, He grasps the cross He carried for us.

Of course, the most humbling thing for us about Jesus Christ’s incandescent humility is this: this is Divine Mercy for us. We have to humble ourselves enough to see that… 1. For all our vain human ambitions, we have absolutely no hope at all for anything truly good, without Christ, and 2. He loves us enough—loves us, lumps and all, foolishness and all—Almighty God, our Creator, loves us enough to stand before Pilate and bow His head, so that we won’t have to, when the day of reckoning comes.

There is nothing we ever could have done, or ever could do, to deserve such love. Yet He loved us enough to satisfy for our sins as one of us. This is even more humbling. We can say, “Look, Father! Our brother Jesus is just! The human race does not totally suck. Not at all. We have Jesus, and all of His saints, especially His Blessed Mother!” And when we cry out to Him like this, which is what we are doing every time we pray Holy Mass together, He smiles and says, “Yes, My children. Yes.”

The humble pope will soon give us a special holy year, a jubilee year, of mercy. So that we can share more fully in what Christ has humbly done for us. Jubilee Year of Mercy begins December 8, the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the second Vatican Council. More on that as the day gets closer. In the meantime, let’s pray for our Holy Father’s safe travels and rejoice that he has come to visit us!

Ladylike Humanity

"The Singing Butler" by Jack Vettriano
“The Singing Butler” by Jack Vettriano

Perhaps we might ask: Why does the Church make us read the account of the virginal conception of Christ on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of His mother? After all, our children get confused enough about this. December 8 is the day when our Lady was conceived in the womb of St. Anne. But at Holy Mass we read about the day, approximately fifteen years later, when our Lord was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Guess what? There’s a good reason.

Our Lady did not bear original sin. She did not have the self-destructive tendency that began, for the rest of us, in the Garden of Eden. Satan tempted our First Parents into disobedience of God’s law by telling them that they would become like gods.

Fundamental rule of life: God is God, and we are not. God, with infinite wisdom, has planned all of history. We have not done that. He guides everything toward the good, even bringing good out of evil. We do not do that. God has a mind that can exercise absolute sovereign control over all things. We do not.

Now, I am about to get myself in trouble with both the gentlemen and the ladies. I am going to throw both women’s lib and machismo right out the window at the same time.

The true nature of our race, in relation to our Creator: essentially feminine. Who is “The Man?” God. We are the lady. Our peace, our fulfillment lies in submitting to Him, accepting that He has the plan. On our own, we cannot conceive how our lives will work out. He can. On the great dance floor of life, God leads.

fra-ang-annuncOriginal sin involves the delusion that we are “The Man.” Forgetting that an infinitely stronger and wiser Power actually governs the world. Original sin involves forgetting how to be ladylike with respect to God. All the Lord asks of us is a sincere Yes. A sincere: I will follow. He takes care of the rest. But we delude ourselves into thinking that we can lead.

This is precisely what did not happen when the Archangel Gabriel came to visit the Blessed Virgin. The angel proposed something altogether wonderful, something our Lady never could have imagined.

If original sin had deluded her, she would have said, ‘No, thanks. I have other plans.’ She would have said: ‘I want to suit myself.’ She would have said what we human beings weighed-down by original sin tend to say: ‘Wait, I’m in charge here!’

But she said none of these things. She said what becomes us, as ladylike human beings, when The Man asserts Himself. She said Yes. So be it. I will co-operate.

God makes everything out of nothing. We can’t even conceive of that. When we receive what He has made with grateful love, however–like the Virgin received the angel’s message—when we say Yes, Lord; we will follow where You lead—when we do that, we share in the immaculate Yes. And the dance of life comes off beautifully.

Chariot Race to Heaven

Goody's Martinsville NASCAR

Long before NASCAR, they held chariot races. Sometimes a team of two horses pulled the chariot.

Maybe you will rejoice to learn that, according to St. John Chrysostom, the gospel parable this Sunday actually narrates a head-to-head chariot race.

St John Chrysostom in St PatricksThe Pharisee drives one chariot. The first horse on his two-horse team: Righteousness! The Pharisee fasts, and he tithes, and he does them both above and beyond the call of duty. Jews were bound by divine law to fast once a year. He fasts twice a week! Jews were bound to give 10% of their agricultural produce. He gave 10% of his entire income!

No question. He is righteous. And righteousness is a fast horse.

Problem is, the second horse in the Pharisee’s team is…Pride. “Thank you, Lord, for making me better than other men.” And the particular breed of his pride? Contemptuous. “Not only, Lord, did you make me better than other men in general. You made me better than this particular loser standing in the shadows of the colonnade at the back of the temple courtyard.”

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Pride of David, Humility of God

How exactly did David sin by ordering a census? It would seem that the simple act of counting the people does not, in and of itself, constitute a sin. God ordered Moses to count the people. Hence we have a book called…Numbers.

So David did not sin simply by ordering the count. The sin had to do with David’s intentions. Did he want the sword-bearing men counted because he had a mind to expand his realm even further, in order to bring greater glory upon himself?

David’s general Joab initially objected to the taking of the census. At this point in time, the king had reached old age. Joab certainly thought, with good reason, that there could be no sense in launching another military campaign anytime soon.

We admire King David as a beautiful and noble man. We also know him to have been weak and sinful, too. After all, who among us can claim immunity from pride and vanity?

So perhaps David ordered the census for vanity’s sake, and thus it was a sin.

It is a happy co-incidence, then, that we read about this—speaking of counting—on the 39th day after Christmas, which is the day before the baby Jesus was presented to the Father in the Temple.

If anyone has good, solid reasons to be vain and proud, that would be God. God would have every right to enter His Temple in splendor and state, with smoke and thunder.

But He did not do so. He did not even travel under His own power when He entered His Temple. He had not yet learned to walk.

Mid-winter is the time of year for blessing church candles, and for using blessed candles to bless people’s throats. With the April temperatures we have had, it hardly seems necessary to give St. Blase blessings. But let’s not jinx ourselves. The groundhog could still see his shadow.

But the point is this: The beautiful candle of divine humility has been lit. The Blessed Mother and St. Joseph carried Him in. Simeon did not cower in terror. Rather, the old priest saw a smiling divine baby, and he sang his canticle of peace. The promise of the prophets has been fulfilled with a quiet word of love; the Messiah has come, and He is, above all, gentle.

Pride and vanity spoil for war. Humility brings peace.

…But, speaking of war: Georgetown Hoyas. UConn Huskies. 7:00 p.m. No prisoners.

Fraternal Correction

People who love each other correct each other. “Honey, you are driving too fast.” “Baby, I know you can do better than a B minus.” “Come on, man. Play some defense!”

A Christian cultivates kind manners and bites his tongue rather than utter a harsh word. But someone who never corrects anyone about anything is either a coward or—worse—just doesn’t care.

Every case of fraternal correction has two points-of-view: the one who corrects and the one who stands corrected. Let’s start by considering the correcting point-of-view.

For correction to prove effective, it must proceed from truth and from justice. When the Lord Jesus gave instructions regarding fraternal correction, He outlined three steps. The three steps are intimately connected with each other. But, when things go well, everything gets settled at the first step.

Step One involves private discussion. A teenage girl pulls her sister aside at school and says, “Listen, I didn’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends. But you are wearing my shirt, and you never asked me if you could. You should have asked me.”

Quiet. Private. A beautiful example of kind, loving fraternal correction. Assuming the accusation is true.

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Canaanite Groveling

A Canaanite woman came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not say a word in answer to her.

…“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” (Matthew 15:21-27)

The Canaanite woman addressed Jesus as ‘Son of David,’ and ‘Lord.’ In other words, she acknowledged Him as the Christ. She made no imperious demands, but simply stated the facts. She could hardly have been more humble.

But the Lord appeared to ignore her. She prayed; He remained silent.

Now, is God mean? Why would He remain silent when we pray?

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Provocation to Humility

Mt. Precipice, Nazareth

Jesus said, “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.

“Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. (Luke 4:25-29)

Last Sunday we read that the Lord Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and announced to the faithful Jews in His hometown that He is the Messiah.

We might think that this dramatic revelation would have led to immediate euphoria. We might think that, when the Messiah revealed Himself to the people who had known Him since He was a boy, everybody would have believed, and rejoiced, and smiled, and hugged, and said nice things about each other.

But this is not what happened. The people in the synagogue doubted. “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

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For Man it is Impossible

For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. Mark 10:27

To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

proud camelThe wise man knows that the peace of God surpasses all human understanding. The wise man knows that we find our peace in doing His will. God’s plan is perfect. God hears our prayers and answers them in the way that is best for us.

“For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.”

Many things are impossible for us human beings–like remembering all your computer passwords, understanding the tax code, or making pancakes that have fewer calories than celery.

Above all, the thing that is most impossible for us is to find true, lasting happiness in this world.

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Just in Case…

…you were starting to worry that everyone in the world is rude and arrogant:


It is worthwhile listening to the whole speech. You will weep when he talks to his family.

My favorite line: “Have you ever got on your knees and prayed really hard for something?”

delpo and fed

I had two dreams this week.

One was to win the U.S. Open and the other one is to be like Roger.

One is done, but I need to improve a lot to be like you. You fought until the final point; you are a great champion.

–Juan Martin del Potro

Being classy never goes out of style.

Seven Deadlies Compendium, Etc.


I woke up this morning feeling basically okay with myself. But then I discovered that I agree with Ken Woodward…(If the comic strips appearing here are too small for you to read, you can see a larger size by clicking on it.)

stoning…According to the Law of Moses, capital crimes were to be punished by stoning to death.

The first stones were to be cast by the witnesses upon whose testimony the guilty party was convicted. Then everyone else could join in the stoning. By this violent act, the injustice of the crime would be purged from the nation.

God is perfectly just. He examines every heart. Before Him, no one is innocent.

But He has not cast a stone and done violence to the guilty ones. Rather, He subjected Himself to violence at the hands of the unjust.

By this violent act, our injustice is purged. We are not condemned to death.

devilGod restores justice; we are pardoned; we may live.

…Here is a little compendium of my sermons on the seven deadly sins…


Greed and Envy

Anger and Lust

Gluttony and Sloth

chaliceAlso, there are some new Bests above.

And I added a new feature above…a collection of the collections.

…I wish I could say that I am willing to take the sins of others upon myself, like our Lord.

I can say this, though: I do take the germs of others upon myself.

This is what communion under both species means for the priest: Taking the germs of the entire people upon yourself.