Simple Religion and the Trinity

What do we RCs say at the very beginning of Mass? “In the name of…”

The thing about the most sublime mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is: it is actually very, very simple. Religion of the simplest kind leads us right into the life of the Trinity.

Let’s start at the beginning. Wherever we are, no matter what is happening, whether there are other human beings with us or not… —Who is always there? Who is always with us, because He is everywhere, and knows everything?

…Now, where is everybody from? Who is from Hannibal, Missouri, like Mark Twain? Who is from Hampton Roads, like Allen Iverson? London, England–like Samuel Johnson? New York City, like Jonathan Goldsmith? How about Vancouver, British Columbia?

samuel-johnsonBut Who made us? Who put us here on this earth?

He is where we are really from.

I mean, I could say, ‘I’m from Poughkeepsie,’ or ‘I’m from Corpus Christi,’ or ‘I’m from the Province of Shanxi.’ But where I am really from is God. God is my Almighty Father. We all have God for our Father. We’re not all from Mexico. Be we are all from God.

Now, Who is the Son of God?

Continue reading “Simple Religion and the Trinity”

Judas’ Willfulness and Mine

giotto judas

We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way. (Isaiah 53:6)

Let’s reflect for a moment on Judas’ willfulness.

Before him stood the Messiah. Jesus had enchanted Judas, like He had enchanted all the Apostles and disciples, so that they became Apostles and disciples in the first place.

Judas followed Jesus around for months, years. He listened to Jesus’ teachings, saw Him work miracles. Judas witnessed the constant loving kindness of Christ. He heard the Lord’s words of eternal life. He traveled in the company of people who believed. Christ invited Judas into the most intimate moments of divine revelation.

But, as it turned out, Jesus of Nazareth did not prove to be the Messiah that Judas had in mind. He did not want this kind of Messiah.

judasNow, we can only speculate as to what exactly Judas wanted in a Messiah. A stronger political operator? A military organizer? A more self-effacing type of person, with less grandeur? That is, more of a Joe Sixpack of a Messiah? Maybe someone not quite so relentlessly spiritual and otherworldly? Or someone who would be not quite so perfectly comfortable with undesirables like prostitutes and tax collectors? A shorter Messiah? A native of a place with a more-storied history than Nazareth? Less of a poet? More of a horseman and less of an indefatigable walker?

Who knows? Judas came from a different part of the country than all the other Apostles. He was the only one who was not a northerner, a Galilean; Judas’ hometown was located south of Jerusalem. Perhaps Judas felt alienated for this reason, felt like an odd man out. In truth, Judas probably had good reason to think that he had been raised better than the rustics he found himself surrounded by. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what was in Judas’ mind exactly.

What we do know is that Judas did not agree; he did not accept; he did not approve; he did not open his heart to let the beautiful truth in. Instead, he decided: This man may be charismatic and wonderful; He may have a great following of humble and loyal disciples. But he is not what we need. We need something different. We need a different Messiah. Not this one. This claimant to the Messiahship needs to be gotten rid of.

Chairman MaoIn the face of the beauty and inexorable power of Jesus Christ, Judas came to this decision. His decision may strike us as incomprehensible. How could Judas be so stupendously willful?

But are we really so far from it?

My dear mom made her career as a high-school teacher. Among her friends was a teacher that I had during my senior year. This teacher of mine said to my mom, during a private friendly chat, “You know, your son is charming. And smart. But, my God, does he have a will of stone.”

This observation was offered with affection. But it was by no means a compliment. What she meant was: I am trying to help your son grow, and he won’t let me.

To that dear teacher, who only meant me good, and to countless others—to you, dear reader—I can only offer my sincerest apologies for being an obtuse, arrogant, willful numbskull.

CaligulaOur greatest heroes have had strong wills. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a will of iron. And Michael Jordan, too. And Blessed Mother Theresa. Our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis, seems to be one strong-willed dude. Great people tend to have strong wills. But Adolf Hitler also had a strong will. And Mao Zedong. And the emperor Caligula. And Judas Iscariot.

May God be merciful to us willful ones. The real sign of greatness, the quality of the living saint, is a will (of whatever size or strength) which harmonizes with reality. The truly great person is the one who recognizes the power and the plan of God, accepts it, and co-operates.

No matter how clever I may be, no matter how creative and enterprising—my will does not guide the Divine Hand. The Divine Hand guides me. If I know anything, if I have any good ideas, or good qualities, or energy, or talent—it is all because God has given it to me. God’s will, and only His will, is law. All of us, without exception, can say: God knows better than I do.

Better to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd like an insignificant little sheep than to get enshrined in some Hall of Fame somewhere at the price of my immortal soul. The good Lord has a plan for all of us. He doesn’t ask that we know it all. He simply demands that we believe.

Introducing the Thirty-Year-Old

We hear the same gospel reading at Mass today and two weeks from Sunday.

The weekdays of Epiphanytide and the first Sundays of the year present us with similar gospel readings, because these liturgical days have similar goals: namely, to present to us the Christ, grown now to the fullness of manhood, emerging from the quiet hidden-ness of His life in Nazareth into the view of the world, ready to begin His decisive work.

El Greco ChristWhat do we see when we behold Jesus Christ at age thirty?

We see a man of robust health, familiar with hard manual labor. A man of study and piety, intimately versed in the ancient Scriptures and all the prayers of Israel. A man with many friends, who has interacted widely with all His kith and kin throughout the region. He seems comfortable and familiar in all situations and settings.

He stands tall; gazes with serene eyes; speaks softly, clearly, and with commanding authority; His heart courses with tenderness and affection for every humble soul He encounters; towards the proud and hypocritical, He casts a steely eye of truly frightening penetration.

We see a man whose presence communicates promise, hope for the future, openness to the unfolding good which lies in the bosom of the provident Father above. In the presence of this thirty-year-old Nazarene, we feel: Something beautiful—something absolutely delightful—will soon come into view.

Above all this, we see one other quality that this man has, His most mysterious quality: An interior guiding light, which no one else sees, directs Him. He moves as a man upon whom a mission has been laid. His zeal to fulfill it consumes Him like an unquenchable fire.

He loves the hills, the sea, the city, the synagogue, His cousins, His friends. No one could be more comfortable and at-home in the places he frequents than the thirty-year-old Christ is.

But all of it—all of it—He will sacrifice in a second for the sake of fulfilling His mission. He will turn His back on all earthly light and step into the deepest darkness, if that’s what it takes to fulfill the will of the Father.

Quote of the Day from Douthat Beach Reading

The Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. He’s a celibate ascetic who enjoys dining with publicans and changing water into wine at weddings. He’s an apocalyptic prophet one moment, a wise ethicist the next. He’s a fierce critic of Jewish religious law who insists that he’s actually fulfilling rather than subverting it. He preaches a reversal of every social hierarchy while deliberating avoiding explicitly political claims. He promises to set parents against children and then disallows divorce; he consorts with prostitutes while denouncing even lustful thoughts. He makes wild claims about his own relationship to God, and perhaps his own divinity, without displaying any of the usual signs of megalomania or madness. He can be egalitarian and hierarchical, gentle and impatient, extraordinarily charitable and extraordinarily judgmental. He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners. He blesses the peacemakers and then promises that he’s brought not peace but the sword. He’s superhuman one moment; the next he’s weeping.

Bad Religion‘s chapter about the “quest(s) for the historical Jesus” made me laugh with delight and cry with sweet consolation.

If you don’t have time to read the (impressively erudite) book right now, the moral of this chapter is: Jesus, the Church, and the canonical gospels (and the whole New Testament) go together like love and marriage and a horse and carriage. If you want to get in touch with the “Jesus of history,” you do well to begin by reciting the Nicene Creed.

Proud? Maybe. But also pretty Awesome.

A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house. (Mark 6:4)

The usual picture of conflict between Creator and created puts Proud Man versus God. Pride caused original sin. Pride leadeth to a fall. The most deadly infection a human being can contract is: too-big-for-his-britches disease.

Okay. But could it be that the problem with our sinful pride is not that it leads us to think too much of ourselves, but that it actually leads us to think too little of ourselves? Could it be that, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden apple, they sold themselves tragically short? That they under-estimated what God had in mind for them?

The people took offense at Jesus. “He speaks heavenly wisdom and works miracles! But isn’t he just a Galilean hillbilly like the rest of us? Where does he get off being so grand? Who does he think he is? God?”

The omnipotent One, infinitely above us: He suffered death as a man, so that we men could hope for heaven. The crucified is God. God made the earth His own native place; He made every home and hearth, every grimy street corner, every place where a human being can find him- or herself—He made them all his own house.

God grew up alongside other Galilean children. God had no-count cousins who some Nazarenes chose to avoid. God learned how to talk from a carpenter and a teenage girl. God got hungry and thirsty; His feet got dirty; He drank wine with irreputable people.

Continue reading “Proud? Maybe. But also pretty Awesome.”

Slow, Invisible Growth

The parable of the seed scattered on the ground would seem to present one distinctive element, namely the invisible power of growth which the seed possesses.

The parable has three moments in its drama:

1. The man appears, and sews the seed.

2. What seems like a long time passes in which the man does not appear. Instead, an invisible force brings about the slow growth of the corn.

3. The man appears again at just the right moment, sickle in hand, to harvest the ripe corn.

The parable presents an image of the Kingdom of God as it appears in history.

1. The King appeared on earth and deposited the power of salvation.

2. Ages pass in which the King does not visibly appear. But His invisible power operates; the Kingdom grows. As St. Paul put it, regarding his own ministry, “Neither he that plants is anything, nor he that waters, but God gives the increase.” (I Cor 3:7)

3. When everything has been completed, the King will appear before our eyes again, and the blade of His truth will separate good from evil. He and everything good will shine with glory.

The moral of the story, then, as I see it: Patience, trust.

God knows His business. Everything we need is right under our noses, in the perennial customs of the Holy Church. In due time, we will grow to ripe fullness.

Eternal Health

The leper came to Christ seeking health, well-being, soundness of body.

Soundness of body constitutes an essential element of our lives. We do everything we can to preserve our health. When we lose it, we try to get it back by every means we have at our disposal.

In what, though, does true health fundamentally consist?

Mustn’t we face the fact that we all suffer from a mortal disease that no medicine can keep at bay forever?

True health, enduring health, health that death cannot conquer—where do we get that? What pills can we take? What spa can we go to? What doctor can help us attain undying health?

We do well to seek health of body. We do even better to seek health of soul. Our souls thrive when they feed on the truth. When we live in Christ’s truth, no disease can destroy us, because we share in God’s eternal life.

Revealing All Takes Time

When Christ came to the fullness of age and began the decisive work of His pilgrim life, He faced an enormously complex challenge.

He bore in His human hands the power of God. His Sacred Heart beat with divine love for every soul He encountered. He struck fear into the demons, and He dealt them crushing blows.

It pertained to His mission as a man to reveal His divine identity by His words and works. But His particular challenge, as He started out in His ministry, was that for God to reveal Himself to us is more easily said than done.

It is not that God has trouble expressing Himself. It is that we have trouble understanding Him.

It’s not that He is inarticulate. It is that we are obtuse. We are too quick to grasp and hold on for dear life to little things when He has much bigger things to give.

God bestows every benefit we receive. But the greatest benefit of all is God Himself.

So the Lord Jesus healed and exorcised. He benefitted His beloved people with health and psychological peace.

But He could not allow them to think that this was “it.” He did not come to earth to cure people’s colds, miserable as a cold can make a person. Aching sneezing stuffy head fever can’t rest—a bummer, to be sure. But God did not come to the world to do the work of NyQuil. He came to cure people’s tendency towards sin and death.

So, as we read: He unfolded some of His divine power to manifest His identity and His zealous love. But He had to keep moving, keep pushing, keep lifting everyone around Him to the higher levels of spiritual vigor and communion that lead to the transcendent goal.

Yes, I will heal your diseases. Yes, I will feed your hunger. Yes, I will expel the demons who afflict you. Of course I will do these things. I am your Creator Who made you for health and happiness, and I love you and came to help you.

But no, I will not rest here. No, I will not hang up a shingle as your local wonder-worker and settle down in a little house of my own where you can bring your cripples and your lepers for treatment during the office hours I advertise.

No, I have to march on. My main duty is to the truth.

…This week we begin another year of reading our way through the gospels and the other scriptures of our lectionary. Time marches on.

The Lord has the same challenges with us as He did with the residents of Capernaum. We know Him. We know His word. We know His divine identity. But He has more to reveal. We have not grasped it all. He has added another year to our lives for one reason: to teach us some more.

Accepting the Back Nine

“There is one among you whom you do not recognize.” John 1:26

St. John the Baptist spoke these terrifying words to some Pharisees—some Pharisees who did not acknowledge that the Messiah was then walking the earth. God had become man, but these Pharisees did not recognize it.

Perhaps we can understand the Pharisees’ confusion. They saw Jesus’ miracles. But they also saw a man with a former prostitute and a former tax collector among His closest friends. The Pharisees heard His noble teachings about prayer, penance, and purity in God’s sight. But they also heard Him presume to forgive sins, and they heard Him promise to rebuild the Temple in three days after it was destroyed.

The Nazarene carpenter had them quite confused: An amazingly powerful and noble guttersnipe, beautiful and out of His mind. He fed multitudes, slept on rocks in the wilderness, caused trouble in Jerusalem, and captivated everyone with His words. He talked like God, acted like God, and walked like a rustic Galilean.

Continue reading “Accepting the Back Nine”

Temple Consecration

As the liturgical year draws to a close, we read from the books of the Maccabees and from St. Luke’s account of Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem.

Reading these passages simultaneously sets up a breathtaking drama regarding the Temple. The books of the Maccabees recount a number of great acts of heroic fidelity to the Old Covenant. Above all, the accounts climax with the first Hanukkah, when the Maccabees defeated the Greeks, cleansed the Temple of pagan defilements, and reinstituted the divine service.

The Maccabees had brought off a glorious achievement in the history of God’s covenant with His people. The city of Jerusalem rejoiced. But the story was not over. It was 165 years before the coming of Christ…

No one has ever loved the Temple in Jerusalem more than Jesus of Nazareth loved it. When Christ, too, cleansed the Temple, as Judas Maccabeus had done before Him, the only words that could describe the moment were: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

But: The Temple of God is not a building.

The Son of God came to reveal many truths, and among them is the fact that God builds His Temple in the hearts of His beloved children.

If we seek the “Holy of Holies” outside ourselves, we will search in vain. The Holy of Holies can only be found where God meets me, where the light shines that distinguishes right from wrong and shows me the path to heaven. In other words, the Holy of Holies can be found in the invisible center of myself, where I pray and submit myself to the truth.