Pangs of Strife

When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. (John 16:21-22)

I’ve never given birth. I think we men, and everyone who has never borne the pain of childbirth–we have to concede to mothers the definitive interpretation of John 16:21.

Leonardo da Vince Madonna and ChildBut:

What about when the bishop suddenly decides to re-assign you to a place 70 minutes away from your mother, who lives in an assisted-living facility (which right now is across the street)? How about when ecclesiastical authority arbitrarily wounds the heart of the woman who endured the pangs of childbirth so that you could come into the world?

Not to mention tearing you away from the ministry that you feel like you have just begun, and the people whom you feel like you have just gotten to know and love, and the routines that you have just gotten used to?

And all of this for no evident reason?

So I guess we all have our share in the agony which our Lord uses as His metaphor in John 16:21.

Nonetheless, I have it on good authority: the pain of childbirth does end. This bitter strife doesn’t last forever.

Our loving brother Jesus, very much alive and well, ascended somewhere beyond this veil of tears. He dwells in a place where everything makes perfect sense to everybody. And you never have to say goodbye. And your mother never has to suffer just because your bishop is apparently a mean person.

What makes us Christians is that we believe in that place, the place where the Lord Jesus now lives. And we know that, when we cling to Him, we can find our way there.

Impertinent but Understandable John-16 Question

Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you,” saith the Lord. (John 16:23)

Can we imagine that people like our Lady, Mary Magdalen, and St. John heard these words of Christ’s, and perhaps thought to themselves, “I have half a mind to call His bluff?”

After all, He had just told the people who loved Him the most, “I am going away. You will not see Me. You will weep, mourn, and grieve. You will suffer rough strife, like a woman in labor, gasping and panting in anguish. But then you will see Me again, and everything will be fine.”

Then He proceeded to promise them solemnly that their prayers in His name would be answered.

El Greco Christ blessing croppedNow, if it were me, cheeky pipsqueak that I am, I might have said:

‘Okay, rabbi. I pray in Your Name that we skip the suffering part. I solemnly pray that the Father not receive You back into heaven, in such a way that we can no longer see You.

‘I pray that You remain here on earth with us, and rule the world visibly, openly. I pray in Your Name that Christianity be a whole lot easier, a whole lot more like worldliness, with easygoing comfort and not so many occasions for patient forbearance.

‘What do you think about them apples, Mr. Promiser-of-Answers-to-Prayers?’

To which He would of course reply: ‘Which part of it is better for you that I go did you not understand, numbskull? Have I been with you this long, and still you do not know Me?’

Moral of the story: There is only one way to pray “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Namely, to accept everything about Him—all His words; all His deeds; His visible-ness for 33 years; His invisible-ness for all these ensuing years—to accept all of it, as an absolute given, as the one, all-important, all-governing fact, the divine Fact—to accept Jesus Christ exactly as He actually is, maddening as He may be at times—to accept Him as the revelation of the unknown, eternal Glory… and then take everything else from there.

He says we do better by making a pilgrimage of obscure faith for a year, ten years, eighty-five years. He says that does us more good than instantaneous blessedness would do us. He says so. Ergo, it is true.

He made the pilgrimage that He made. He reached the goal He reached. He shares His invisible grace by the humble visible means that He instituted—water, oil, bread, wine, bumbling priests like myself. He did all this. Ergo, it is all for the absolute best.

Christ, as He is: the Given. Everything else: health, sickness; suffering, comfort; wealth, poverty; honor, ignominy; a long life or a short one—all of these are relative. They are good or bad as measured against the absolute given standard, Who is Christ.

Ascension Delay?

Living in a place where Ascension Thursday gets celebrated on Sunday does get confusing.

After all, our Lord ascended bodily into heaven on Thursday. St. Augustine celebrated the solemnity on Thursday. Christopher Columbus celebrated the solemnity on Thursday. And, since the original Novena began on Ascension Thursday, starting it three days late turns it into a Septena instead.

christopher_columbusBut let’s look at the bright side. Can’t we imagine that the disciples would gladly have seen the Lord delay His ascension a few days? Our Lady? Don’t we figure she would have said every morning from Easter Sunday ad infinitum: ‘Son of mine, don’t go today. Wait until tomorrow.’ None of the people who loved Him wanted to see Him vanish into heaven. They were not eager for that. No rush.

But—as we will discuss on this subject on Sunday—the Lord knew best, as always.

A little while, and you will not see me.”

Lord, make it 43 days instead of 40! Stay with us on earth three days more!

“No…But do not despair. You will weep and mourn, you will grieve—while the hard-hearted godless world parties like it’s 1999—but your grief will become joy.

“It is better for you that I go. Another divine Advocate will come to you. The Spirit of utter, complete, and total, better-than-Cats awesomeness will come to you. After a Novena or Septena or whatever you can manage. And then your grief will become joy.”

God Exists

Osprey flounder

The Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth, says the Lord. (John 16:13)

Truth elicits trust. When someone’s account of something, or someone’s message, or someone’s testimony proves itself to be true, then we trust. Our minds open up. Here is someone I can believe. Here I can learn.

We can all think back, I hope, on the teachers we truly respected and liked. They understood and loved what they taught. They had thoroughly investigated their subject matter. We could listen and learn with confidence.

The Lord calls us all to become good teachers like that. Good teachers of the Gospel of Christ. Good teachers of the hope that is in us. Good teachers of prayer, of morals, of life.

But, of course: No one can become a teacher without first learning. And we learn when we trust.

Continue reading “God Exists”

More Questions

Last year, when we heard the reading from St. John’s gospel about the “woman in anguish because her hour has arrived” (16:21), we discussed the agony and ecstasy of childbirth.

Benedict Jesus of Nazareth InfancyWe talked about how each of us gave one poor woman a great deal of strife when we started our life on earth. And we discussed how we try to make it up every year, by sending flowers on the second Sunday of May.

In the end, when the birth pangs of this pilgrim life give way to the repose of our true life with God, we will see the unveiled face of Christ. And, as He tells us, we will have no more questions.

But this very statement of the Lord’s—that in heaven we won’t have any more questions—this very statement teaches us something crucially important. Until we get to heaven, we have to keep asking questions.

Here’s one example. In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Emeritus Benedict tries to explain the Beatitude, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Benedict considers the prevailing contemporary view regarding salvation, namely, as he puts it:

Everyone should live by the religion—or perhaps the atheism—in which he happens to find himself already. This, it is said, is the path of salvation for him.

We have all heard this, more or less, I think.

But Benedict responds to this prevailing view with this question: “Does someone achieve blessedness and justification in God’s eyes because he has declared his own opinions and wishes to be the rules of his conscience?”

In other words, did Jesus say, “Blessed are they who decide for themselves what rules they ought to follow?”

No, He did not say this. The Pope Emeritus points out in his book that the only way to find blessedness is to arouse one’s conscience by seeking God, by striving to learn God’s rules.

Learning the Catholic faith in its entirety may very well demand even more struggle and effort than giving birth. Not to take anything away from the ladies. But I think giving birth is a cakewalk compared to learning the Catholic faith in full.

If we have stopped asking questions about what God wants from us, if we have stopped seeking to learn more—if our minds are standing still while we are still here on earth, then we have not learned the Catholic faith in its entirety.

Little While

How many days since Easter?

What happened forty days after the Lord Jesus rose from the dead?

But do we have to wait until Sunday for Him to go to heaven? No. He is already in heaven. He has been for 1,980 years.

As we read today at Mass in this ecclesiastical province, according to Him, that counts as ‘a little while.’

A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later, and you will see me. (John 16:17)

Lord, it’s been 1,980 years!

Which counts as a little while when viewed from either of two points-of-view.

1. From the point-of-view of Almighty God, for Whom a thousand years are like one day. He began it all; He keeps it all going; He will conclude it at the perfect moment—the best-possible moment. Then, we will see exactly why history lasted as long as it did and not one second longer or shorter than it should.

2. Now, I said that there was another point-of-view from which 1,980 years looks like ‘a little while.’

cuaYou know, a week from Saturday, our dear seminarian for this coming summer, Mr. Kyle O’Connor, will receive his Bachelor’s Degree from the Catholic University of America.

It will be a Saturday in May, the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington will be sitting with all the other assembled dignitaries on the east steps of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the graduates will line up in their caps and gowns in front of beautiful McMahon Hall, and the brass pipes and strings will begin to play pomp and circumstance…

It’s all as vivid in my mind as if it were today, because I was there myself. The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences handed me a Bachelor’s diploma, too, on a Saturday in May, beneath the inscription on the transept of the basilica, where it reads, “faith is the substance of things hoped for…”

The thing is: When that happened to me—like just yesterday, like I can still taste the cold Yuengling I drank that evening with my mom and dad and brother and aunt… On my graduation day, Kyle was three years old.

Nineteen years ago. It could have been this morning.

Which means that 1,980 years ago could have been three and a-half months ago, according to that calculus.

Lord, come back when You are good and ready! Make it today! Or tomorrow. We can wait a little while longer.

Gospel of Pain

When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. –Jesus Christ (John 16:21)

“The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains, even until now.” (Rom 8:22)

From what I understand, giving birth is no picnic. No co-incidence that we call it “labor.”

No labor—again, they tell me—no labor is more back-breaking. An old friend of mine actually managed to break her coccyx while delivering her first child.

We all caused some poor woman some distress, back when we first started this pilgrim life. We try to make it right by sending flowers one Sunday a year.

The whole creation groans. The whole creation strains the tailbone. The whole creation writhes with a sore back. The labor continues. We press through the birth canal, groping our way toward the light.

The light is Christ, risen from the dead. The birth for which all creation groans is this: the end of futility, the end of strife, the fulfillment of everything we hope for and dream about.

The child coos. The body rests. The future opens. The pain fades.

Life. Life gets born. The pain is not the end. Death is not the end.

Creation groans because she is giving birth to eternal life.

Original Novena (or Sextena)

“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now,” said the Lord, to the Apostles.

St. Augustine made the best comment on this verse, in my opinion. We should not worry too much about knowing the ‘much more’ that the Lord intends eventually to reveal. If even the holy Apostles couldn’t bear it, we can be damn sure that we can’t, either.

The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. Someday we will know it all. Someday we will know things like: Why some people get cancer and other people don’t. Or why some people get born poor and hardly have half a chance, while some people are set-up so easy that they really have to work hard at squandering their advantages in order to wind up somewhere other than Easy Street. And we will learn why some people we know and love go ahead and do just that: work hard for pretty much their whole lives at squandering all their advantages.

In the meantime, though, even when we don’t understand something, we can always pray.

The time has come to make the original Novena. When He ascended into heaven, the Lord said, “You stay in Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.” They prayed for nine days. Then the Holy Spirit came.

If you are like me, you can hardly get used to celebrating Ascension Day three days late. Especially since it turns the novena instituted by God into a sextena.

But the most important thing is to pray.

Lord, fill us with Your wisdom. Our own folly has become intolerably boring to us. Fill us with Your knowledge, because we are tired of our own ignorance. Fill us with Your prudence. We have made enough of our own mistakes.

We will gladly take on faith for now what You would have us take on faith. We know that when the time is right, Your Holy Spirit will make everything perfectly clear.