Hermits for a Season

Rejoice while you have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor. (I Peter 1:6-7)

St. Peter’s words to us. Rejoice in your trials, because they test your faith, like fire tests the purity of gold. [Spanish]

thomas mertonDoes everyone know that the Church of Christ has a “vanishing center?” A mysterious, invisible heart. Who lives there? Christian hermits.

In the 20th century, Father Thomas Merton gained fame among Catholics by seeking this total solitude. And many of us love St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, for the same reason.

A Christian hermit devotes his or her entire life to praising God and fostering the world’s salvation. How? By separating him or herself from human society, in order to live a life of pure prayer and penance.

Christian hermits manifest the interior aspect of the mystery of salvation. Personal intimacy with Christ. A hermit lives hidden from other human eyes and preaches the Gospel silently. By surrendering absolutely everything to God in the desert of silence, the hermit finds the glory of Christ crucified.

All this comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 920 and 921. Maybe it sounds all too familiar right now. We could re-word the Catechism sentences like this:

Living as a Catholic during the coronavirus epidemic manifests the interior aspect of the mystery of salvation. Maintaining a spiritual life during isolation involves personal intimacy with Christ. The Christian staying at home on Sunday morning for the sake of public health finds in the desert of silence the glory of Christ crucified.’

st_therese_of_lisieuxMay God give us strength and insight. By His invisible power and grace, these weeks can deepen and intensify our spiritual lives.

May we co-operate with His grace! May we find the discipline we need. The real hermits will be the first to tell us: when your home and your church are the same little building, and you never leave, you either get holier. Or you lose it altogether.

On the other hand… We read something else in Sunday’s readings at Mass: They devoted themselves to the communal life. All who believed were together. (Acts 2:42, 44)

The Lord has not called us all to live as Christian hermits forever. By no means.

What should we be doing as a parish right now? We should be having First Communions, with the kids in their white suits and dresses. And big Quinceañeras. Cakes after Mass. Weddings with string quartets and trombones. Processions to the Virgin’s grotto. Mexican dances with tambourines and somersaults. Candles, chants, incense.

After all, Catholicism doesn’t mean just, “here come the hermits.” Catholicism means: “Here comes everybody.”

Now, you know me as a man of stone-like stoicism. I find my own personal emotions so uninteresting that I consistently ignore them–so that they will leave me alone.

But you will see me cry. When we come together again in church. Before I can even make the sign of the cross to begin Mass, I guarantee you: I will be crying for joy like a daggone baby.

Human Means of Divine Communication

St Mark stained glass StA
St. Mark stained-glass window in the St. Andrew’s sanctuary, Roanoke

Today we keep the feast of my heavenly patron, who died 1,949 years ago today.

First reading at Holy Mass comes from the first letter of… St. Peter. He wrote the letter to… “The chosen sojourners of the diaspora” in Asia Minor (now Turkey.) He wrote to them from… “Babylon.” Literally, Babylon? No. In the New Testament, “Babylon” = Rome.

At the end of his letter, St. Peter sent the greetings of his “son”… Mark!

St. Peter, father; St. Mark, son. Not by conjugal generation, but by spiritual relationship. St. Peter accompanied the Lord Jesus through His saving pilgrimage on earth. St. Mark accompanied St. Peter during his time in Rome.

st-peters-sunriseAlso at Mass today, we read the end of St. Mark’s gospel. Lord Jesus entrusted His mission to His Apostles, and He ascended into heaven. A transition took place: Christ passed-over to a realm that we cannot now see. But His work on earth continues apace, through the ministry of those who believe in Him.

Some years later, another transition occurred: the Apostles who had seen and heard Jesus came to the end of their earthly lives. Someone needed to write down their accounts of Christ’s words and deeds. St. Mark wrote down St. Peter’s memories.

We love the New Testament, and the entire Bible. Not because it’s some kind of “magic book.” Reading the Bible gives us communion with God through the perfectly normal means of human communication.

The incarnate divine Son walked the earth, did things, taught stuff, accomplished His mission. People who loved Him saw and heard it. And people who loved those eye-witnesses took the trouble to write it all down for us.

Not magic. But wonderfully real; wonderfully human, and wonderfully divine, all at the same time.

Praise you, Lord, for communicating with us in this way! And thank you, dear St. Mark, for doing your part. May we have the grace to do our part, too.

Green Time

When we come back to the green time of the year, it reminds us of at least one very important fact.

Green things grow. They burrow quietly and mysteriously into their source of nourishment and moisture. And green things fan themselves out to feel the invigorating sunlight.

Adversities come the way of green things, to be sure. They can suffer some rough strife. Not enough water. Sudden cold snaps. Predators of many kinds, including diligent human hands pulling them up to their deaths. Terrible calamities can befall entire metropolises of green creatures—like a large parking lot being laid down by bulldozer and steamroller.

But as soon as things quiet down, the green things will be at it again, growing in their inimitable, invincible way. Time seems always to be on the side of the green things. Their patience, over long, long periods of time—the patience green things have in calmly and quietly asserting their power to grow: this patience will outlast the era of the automobile. It will outlast all the fleeting human mechanisms of our present age. Someday the green things will re-take every parking lot on earth, and where our cars are parked now, a little dale of ferns will grow.

So it is, dear brothers and sisters, with the power of God’s grace. St. Peter’s first letter reads like a gentle and loving reminder to us of the evergreen-ness of God.

The world may seem to have grown old, decadent, even cadaverous. You may have tired yourself and worn out your own patience. The adversities we face—indeed, they are real. Satan loves to try to lay down parking lots on top of us.

But the love of God continues to pour itself out upon the world—with all the vim and vigor of the first day of creation. Today—May 30, 2012—today has been foreknown by the great Source of all life, foreknown in every detail. God planned that today would be the beginning of the eternal happiness prepared for us from the foundation of the world. Yesterday might have been a great day. On the other hand, yesterday might also have sucked. Doesn’t matter. As far as God’s power to make us grow is concerned, today might as well be Day One.

We just have to burrow a little into the soil, and spread ourselves out a little to the light.

The green things know the truth. Cold spells come and go. Weed-Eaters come and go. Bulldozers come and go. The earth will never run out of nourishing soil. And in the end the sun will shine.

N.T. Diasporabrief #2

Depart from me Lord

St. Peter is often depicted as a simple-minded man who acted out of pure emotion.

But the fisherman’s first statement to Christ reveals something else.

After the Lord Jesus brought in a miraculous catch of fish, St. Peter fell to his knees and cried, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

These are not the words of a shallow individual. Peter could have said, “Yippee! We are going to make a lot of money today. I like your style, teacher.”

asia minorInstead, he reacted to a miracle the way a pious, prayerful man would. He reacted like someone who knew his religion well, like someone who prayed regularly.

…It is not surprising, then, that St. Peter also wrote a Christian Diasporabrief, like St. James the Less.

Unlike St. James, St. Peter specified his audience somewhat, addressing the dispersed tribes in Asia Minor.

And, unlike St. James, St. Peter did not write from Jerusalem.

Instead, he wrote from “Babylon,” which is how the Apostle referred to Rome. Babylon, of course, was the site of the exile of the Jews in the sixth-century B.C. It was the perfect metaphor to use in a letter to exiles, written by an exile.

May all of us exiles find our way home to the heavenly Jerusalem when everything is said and done.

…Everyone is raving about this new priestly vocations video:

Forgive me for being a curmudgeon. This video doesn’t do much for me. The music is too melodramatic.

Thoughts on the video? Are the Redskins going to be any good this year?