Giving and Getting It All

The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise. That they are vain. (I Corinthians 3:20)

The wise of the world. Like Oprah Winfrey or Mark Twain. Like Socrates. Like the framers of the US Constitution–Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Co. Like the entrepreneurial geniuses–Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk. Or the gray eminences of Hollywood–Samuel Jackson, Shirley MacLaine, Denzel Washington, or Meryl Streep. Even the the sage of the ultimate mystery, NCAA bracketologist John Lunardi.

joe-lunardi[Click HERE to read in Spanish.]

All their thoughts–about who will get into the tournament, or about how to make money, or write a book, or please an audience, or govern a country–all of those human brainwaves: completely vain, saith the Scriptures.

Let’s go a step farther. Who’s the wisest Christian who ever lived? Gotta be St. Thomas Aquinas, right?

Near the end of his life, someone asked him about all his voluminous writings of wisdom. He said, “It’s all straw.”

Something transcends it all. By comparison with its wisdom, the deepest thoughts of men mean nothing. And that something is Christ crucified.

St. Paul went on to write: “So let no one boast of human beings, for everything belongs to you…the world, or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.”

Wow. But how to understand this? How do we understand St. Paul telling us that everything–as in: the whole cosmos–belongs to us? To try to understand, let’s work our way down, in order to work our way up. We have to let the commands of Christ humble us utterly, so that His sacrifice can utterly exalt us.

In the gospel at Sunday Mass we hear Jesus tell us: “Offer your left cheeck to the one who strkes your right. Love your enemy. Pray for the one who persecutes you. Do all of this to live as children of your heavenly Father, Who makes His sun rise on everyone, and Who loves everyone perfectly.”

Mark TwainNow, Who must this man be, Jesus, to issue such commands? No human being ever made the sun rise, or prevented its rising. No human being has ever known better than God when it should rain, or when it should stop raining.

When Jesus speaks, we hear the voice of the One Who owns and operates everything. He knows every human mind, and He knows that not one of them contains enough knowledge to judge a human soul. If I think so-and-so is my enemy, I may have my human reasons for thinking that. But it could be that God gave me so-and-so as a friend. What I know for sure is that God made so-and-so to be His, God’s, friend.

The doctrine of Christ utterly humbles us. Because Christ’s wisdom is not human wisdom. It is divine wisdom. Jesus is something other than a wise sage, something completely different from an “expert.” Jesus is a man with God’s Mind in His Head. God owns and operates the cosmos, whole and entire. And everything that God owns and operates, Christ owns and operates. And everyone that God loves, Jesus loves. And that’s everyone.

Now, does everything that Christ owns and operates belong also to us? Including His universal love?

Lord Jesus stretched out His arms on the cross not just for those who love Him, but also for those who hate Him. They took His cloak, His tunic, and His sandals. They beat and battered Him. They scourged Him and spat on Him, and yet He peacefully offered more. He opened His Hands and relaxed His Feet for the nails. And, as the hammer fell, He loved the very men who pounded the spikes into His flesh. He gave everything and held nothing back for Himself. He gave His very life’s breath to His enemies.

An utter fool, the Uncreated Divine Wisdom. An utter fool for love, His Blood dripping to the ground below, as He said, “Father, forgive them,” about the men who at that moment mocked Him and spat with contempt on His wounded ankles.

But the Fool for Love reigns. Even hanging on His Cross, Christ our God owned and operated everything, with His infinite divine power and knowledge. And at that moment, He handed it all to us. The cosmos. And His infinite Love.

For free. For nothing. As a gift.

He made this gift to both those who love Him and those who hate Him. God gave to sinners the gift of His loving friendship. All things work to the benefit of the friends of God, by His power and grace. Not because we are good, or wise, or cute–but because He is generous: We have it all.

Earthy-Homily Week Continues…

Procession St Agatha relics
Procession with St. Agatha’s relics, Catania, Sicily

Since St. Agatha won her crown of martyrdom by heroic chastity, and since she intercedes for us constantly to help us grow in chastity ourselves, and since she is the heavenly patroness of all women suffering from breast cancer, we can, I think, take the occasion of her Memorial and the great procession in Sicily in her honor—we can take this occasion to meditate on this:

God loves breasts.

Torturers mutilated Agatha’s breasts. The Lord sent St. Peter during the night to heal them.

Lanfranco, Giovanni St Peter Healing St_Agatha

St. Augustine put it like this: Christ is like the Breast of God. If I might summarize the sermon:

A baby cannot digest solid food. The mother transforms solid food into warm milk for the baby.

Our minds cannot handle the full truth of God, at least not yet. We need to be given warm milk, so that we can mature to the point where we are ready to see God.

I fed you milk, not solid food. (I Corinthians 3:2) Christ is like the breast of God.

The Son knows the Father fully. Christ transforms the solid food of divine knowledge into the babies’ milk that we need. His teaching is our breast milk.

If we consume Christ’s teaching, and live on it, we will grow to maturity. Then some day we will be able to live on the solid food of the beatific vision.

Beautiful Church

"I don't know what he's talking about.  I'm from New Jersey."
“I don’t know what he’s talking about. I’m from New Jersey.”

“This Temple has been under construction for 46 years!” (John 2:20)

King Herod ruled when the Lord Jesus was born. Herod’s son Herod “ruled” when the Lord was crucified. The earlier Herod had great vision and skill as a builder of magnificent buildings. He laid out the plans to transform the small, unassuming second Jewish Temple into the enormous complex that Jesus drove the oxen out of.

Anybody know what happened on February 22, 1987, and then on November 25, 2001? On those dates, the Bishop of Richmond solemnly dedicated the buildings of our cluster parish churches. It hadn’t taken a full 46 years to build either of them. But it took plenty of blood, sweat, and tears.

Anybody ever been to the National Shrine in Washington? Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Washington has one very significant thing in common with Rome. Both cities have one huge Catholic church, which everyone thinks is the cathedral, and then another large Catholic church, which actually is the cathedral.

The Pope's cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica
The Pope’s cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica
The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is not the cathedral of Washington, D.C. Anybody know what the actual cathedral there is? Right, St. Matthew’s.

What exactly is a ‘cathedral’ anyway? To know that, we have to know what a ‘cathedra’ is. Anybody?

The cathedra is the seat from which a bishop teaches, sanctifies, and rules the Christian people of his diocese. Simply put, then, the cathedral is the bishop’s church.

Who is the bishop of Rome? Papa Francesco, of course–the world’s most beloved Italian-American. Everybody thinks St. Peter’s is his cathedral. But it isn’t. St. Peter’s Basilica is where St. Peter’s bones are. San Giovanni in Laterano is the pope’s cathedral. It’s on the other side of town, in a more ancient part of the city of Rome.

St. John Lateran took about ten years to build, originally. It was solemnly dedicated 1,690 years ago this Sunday. The church has undergone a few expansions and renovations since then, involving people like Michelangelo and Bernini.

Buildings can help us a great deal, since we are not wolverines; we are not jaguars; we are not caribou. We cannot spend all our time outside. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have places inside, where we can celebrate Mass. And it helps us pray when these places express our faith in their appointments and adornments.

Continue reading “Beautiful Church”

Faith and Owning Everything

Everything belongs to you…the world, life, death, present, future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God. I Corinthians 3:21-23

Wow. The world belongs to us. The present and the future. Unheard-of wealth. Everything ours, because we have nothing but God, and to have God means having everything.

Now, this ownership we have does not present itself immediately to the senses. I was just thinking this morning, ‘Wish I had me a Kirk Cousins jersey.’ But I don’t own one, and I am not about to own one between now and my death.

bassanoTo experience our ownership of things, we need total abandonment to faith.

Like St. Peter, who said: ‘Rabbi, all evidence points to our not catching any fish right now. We fished all night, and caught nothing. Your demand that we lower the nets now strikes me and all logical people as absurd. Must be some kind of joke.

‘But, you know what? I trust you, O Nazarene, more than I trust myself. After all, what do I know? I am not God. So here goes.’

Plenty of fish, bursting nets—Bring an extra boat, or we’ll sink! Yes, a miracle. But an even bigger miracle is: Faith. When a human mind gazes into the impenetrable darkness of God’s infinite greater-ness, and humbly concludes:

‘Yes, we human beings got some smarts. We got even more smarts than African fish-eagles, and they know all about thousands of miles of geography, rivers, air currents, other birds, etc.’

But the miracle of faith takes all human intelligence in, with sober respect, and then says, ‘Compared to the Word of God, the thoughts of the wise are vain. The only thing I really know is that the smart money is on God knowing better than me.’