Mercy Toward the Enemy

Whoever lives the truth comes to the light. (John 3:21) The light of calm, sober truth—which we can only reach by a patient search. A calm, patient search for truth. For instance, when an accused criminal faces a trial in a court of law, governed by fair rules.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote us a letter Monday, exhorting us to seek holiness by practicing mercy. Mercy not just towards the people we like, but towards everyone who needs help. After all, the Lord taught us to love our enemies.

osama-bin-ladenSo: Get ready for a doozy of a homiletic application. After all, this week marks the anniversary of two deaths.

The first one is the martyrdom of the Polish saint, Stanislaus. He died at the hands of a lawless monarch, who had kidnapped and plundered, and abused his power up and down the land. St. Stanislaus, as the bishop of Krakow, condemned King Boleslaw for this. So the king killed the bishop with his own hands, during Mass.

Now, St. Stanislaus recently had a very-famous successor as Bishop of Krakow. When Pope John Paul II visited his former cathedral to venerate the relics of St. Stanislaus, he referred to his holy predecessor as the “patron of moral order for the Polish people.”

Moral order. A sober society of law, justice, and peace, governed by the calm light of truth. That’s the ideal of Poland, and it’s our ideal, too. Truth, justice, the American Way. Terrorists have attacked that ideal by killing innocent people, especially on September 11, 2001. Decent people rightly condemn the terrorists for having done that.


The other anniversary this week is what some people regarded as President Obama’s finest hour. Zero dark thirty happened seven years ago, during the second week of Easter. I remember reading John 3:16-21 at Holy Mass right after learning that we had killed Osama bin Laden.

VATICAN-US-OBAMA-POPEBut I cannot call that President Obama’s finest hour. Because he should have expressed one regret about what happened, and he never did.

Perhaps we never could have captured bin Laden alive and tried him for his crimes in a court of law. But it would have been better if we could have. If bin Laden had been tried, according to the rule of law, he might rightly have received the death penalty. But applying the death penalty without a trial—that is not what we stand for. That’s not the American Way. That’s not moral order.

I said this would be a doozy of an application of our Holy Father’s exhortation for us to practice mercy. But can we doubt that—even at the very moment when he breathed his last, after suffering a mortal blow—can we doubt that Saint Stanislaus prayed for king Boleslaw, the very man who had just killed him? Can we doubt it? After all, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them.” King Boleslaw and St. Stanislaus might be friends in heaven now.

Maybe, when Osama bin Laden died seven years ago, he went straight to hell. But we should not think that he did. We should assume that he is in purgatory, having been redeemed somehow by the omnipotent power of the blood of Christ. And we should pray and offer sacrifices for the repose of our enemy’s soul. It’s not easy to say, but we have to find a way to say: “May Osama bin Laden rest in peace.”

If we can’t bring ourselves to do that, then we’re not as holy as we should be.

Advent Scripture-Study Notes

aquinasWe tackled the third chapter of St. John’s gospel. We used the commentary of St. Thomas Aquinas. We started a week early, because we have to end a week early (since, this year, the afternoon of the fourth Sunday of Advent=Christmas Eve).

The handouts below overlap, because we got sidetracked with discussion and never completed page 2. So page 2 always became page 1 for the following week. And we only made it as far as verse 16 (the most world-famous verse of the Bible.)

All that said, you might enjoy clicking through the links and reading St. Thomas’ reflections…

Week 1: verses 1-5

Week 2: verses 4-8

Week 3: verses 6-13

Week 4: verses 13-16

The Kingdom of God


The Kingdom of God is among you. (Luke 17:21)

The Pharisees asked: When will the kingdom of God come? St. Cyril of Alexandria, in his commentary on this passage, presumes that the Pharisees were taunting Christ. They mocked the crowds who believed that Jesus would sweep into Jerusalem and take over the government. The Pharisees knew that, in fact, a cross awaited the Galilean rabbi. So they spoke of the “kingdom of God” with sarcasm.

Lord Jesus had already declared: “No one can see the kingdom of God—without being born from above.” He had said that during His conversation with… Nicodemus, recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 3. I think that John 3 contains keys that can unlock many mysteries for us, so we will study that chapter in detail during Advent, at our talks before Sunday Vespers at St. Joseph’s, beginning on Christ the King Sunday, a week from this Sunday (4:30pm).

Anyway, the Lord repeated the same idea here in Luke 17. No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above, without being born anew of the Holy Spirit. You cannot see the reign of God here or there, in this town or that country, as if God were a politician or a petty potentate. You cannot tell that God reigns by a flag flying in front of the post office or the police station.

God reigns always and everywhere, according to His transcendent, omnipotent power, which leaves everyone perfectly free. He doesn’t give parking tickets or impose taxes or draft people into military service. He simply demands total obedience and love, and leaves us free to respond.

“The Kingdom of God is among you.” “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

In the Sacred Heart of Christ, God reigns perfectly, as God wills to reign. The reign of God is the peace of Christ, the perfect obedience of Christ to the will of the Father, the all-consuming love of the Son for the Father–and for all the Father’s children.

The reign of God in the Heart of Christ is among us—in the Blessed Sacrament, and in all the works of Christ’s love which happen through the mystery of the Church. And the reign of God in the Heart of Christ is within us, too: When we believe in Him, the Holy Spirit loves with Christ’s love in our own hearts, because we are members of His one body.

Resurrection of Jesus: Knowledge and Faith

El Greco Christ in PrayerTwo quick points on today’s readings at Holy Mass

1.  How do we know that Jesus rose from the dead? We do not take it on blind faith. The key question is: How do we explain what the Apostles did in the ensuing months and years? First, two certain facts.

i. Christ certainly died.

Nonetheless, shortly thereafter, the Apostles themselves stared down death with supernatural courage; they testified in Jerusalem, and all over the world; they acted with utter conviction that the Lord Jesus had risen, had ascended into heaven, and had poured out the Holy Spirit upon His nascent Church. So, fact ii.:The Apostles certainly did all these heroic apostolic feats.

How do we explain it? Mass self-destructive, semi-suicidal psychosis among Galileans on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the spring of 33AD? No. The simplest, most straightforward, and creditable explanation is: Jesus rose from the dead.

But that brings us to point 2. We do have a kind of “blind” faith in: the mystery of the Trinity. Jesus declared that He is the One from heaven, to Whom the Father has handed over everything. Our eternal life depends not just on our reasoned conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead. Our eternal life rests on our faith that He Who rose from the dead is the God-man, the eternal Son, the One Who has united His divine life with our mortal human nature by His Incarnation.

We cannot conceive of the triunity of Almighty God. But we can believe in it with a practical faith; we can obey Jesus, the Son Whom the Father consecrated and sent. When we submit ourselves completely to Christ, regarding Him as the Absolute Truth of life, in every respect, then the Trinity becomes not just something we cannot fully understand. It becomes the reality in which we actually live.

Fact and Mystery, Con’d

The second week of Easter means readings from John, chapter 3, at daily Mass. An extremely fascinating chapter for many reasons. But one of the reasons has to do with punctuation marks.

mark gospel manuscript fragmentSt. John wrote his gospel in what language? Don’t know for absolute sure, but probably Greek. The oldest copies that we possess are in Greek. And the oldest copies we possess have no punctuation marks whatsoever.

So the question arises: Who said the world-famous John 3:16?

Did Jesus say those words to Nicodemus, as part of the conversation narrated at the beginning of the chapter? Or did St. John himself reflect on the conversation, and write “for God so loved the world…” himself?

And who said the words we hear at Holy Mass today? Did John the Baptist say them, as part of his testimony to his cousin? Or did John the Evangelist write them, reflecting on John the Baptist’s speech?

Can anybody help me here? Scholars?

Fact is, the scholars don’t know. John 3, as a chapter, certainly gets the prize for “Chapter When We Most Wish that Koine-Greek Manuscripts Had Punctuation Marks.”

Now, “the one whom God sent speaks the words of God.” (John 3:34)

‘The Bible’ can be an idol, like any other idol. If we think that the Bible is anything other than a collection of ancient manuscripts, written at particular places and times, by particular men; if we think that “the Bible” is some kind of golden token we can easily grasp, magically making us righteous—if we think that, or anything like that, we are idolaters.

Christ blessing Savior World el GrecoThe fact is: the Bible is an unwieldy collection of ancient manuscripts, translated by human beings into many languages. We can never really understand the Bible without recognizing this.

That said, when we read one of these handy translations, or if we just listen carefully at Mass over an extended period of time, we also clearly see: This unwieldy collection bears witness to the One Whom God has sent. The One Whom God has sent is a man, the man who knows God, because He is God.

Every word of the unwieldy collection of strange manuscripts, every letter of every word, with or without punctuation—every single jot and tittle is more precious than all the Crown Jewels. Because all these markings on paper, taken together, give us the unique testimony which the triune God has made about Himself.

God has not left us to endure unending silence from heaven. He has spoken. Christ is His Word. And if we want to hear and know Christ, we have to let the unwieldy collection of ancient manuscripts become a food for which we hunger more than for breakfast, lunch, and dinner combined.

Beheading of the Baptist

Hardly want to celebrate the Memorial of John the Baptist’s martyrdom today, since we have already heard about one beheading too many lately.

May St. John the Baptist intercede for Mr. Foley, that he may rest in peace. And may the Lord’s cousin pray for all who suffer, as he did, at the hands of depraved and violent Middle-Eastern despots.

head-platterSt. John the Baptist said many wise things. The wisest of them all, perhaps, came when one of his disciples asked him about the Lord Jesus’ growing popularity. Anyone remember how John responded? “He must…”

He must increase; I must decrease.

Speaking for myself, I often grow impatient with what I see as other people getting in the way of my accomplishing good things. I could achieve such-and-such glorious success—if only so-and-so didn’t get in the way!

Then it struck me that the most-guilty so-and-so in this scenario is…me. No one gets in my way more, when it comes to doing good, than me myself. My preening ego, my desperate grasping for petty prominence.

He must increase; I must decrease. St. John knew—because it constituted the entire prophetic message that he had been consecrated to deliver—the Baptist knew that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Savior, the Redeemer. The Lamb of God has been slain, has conquered the evil over which all of the rest of us are utterly powerless, and now reigns on high, the one true Lord.

Which means that John the Baptist knew during his pilgrim life, better than anyone, that he himself is not the Messiah and one true Lord. I myself stand like a will-o’-the-wisp, armed with nothing but dust and wind, a pathetic tinker-toy of a workman, without Jesus working in me. I can do nothing without Him.

So let me get out of His way! May I count myself nothing, a pencil in someone’s hand, desperately in need of sharpening—that is what I am.

But what the Lord Jesus can do! That’s another thing; that’s an awesome prospect. May I be small enough so that He can use me to big advantage.

Hidden and Revealed

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. (John 3:20-21)

These words we hear the Lord Jesus say to Nicodemus at Mass today echo what He said about “nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” (Luke 12:2-3)

I.e. No one keeps secrets from God.

While I was trying to nurse my poor back I had the chance to watch the recent movie version of Anna Karenina. When Anna and the Count are beginning their affair, they picnic together in a secluded spot. But Anna nonetheless worries about being overheard. The Count says, “There’s no one around.” Then she looks up through the trees to the sky.

Anna Karenina picnicThere is always Someone around.

Does that mean that the Lord Jesus invented the idea of “transparency?”

Well, not exactly… He also counseled—and practiced—discretion. He spoke openly in parables, but only explained them in private to His chosen ones. He ordered His disciples never to cast pearls before swine. He knew all along Who He was and what the Father willed for Him, but He was mighty cagey about spelling it all out. He told the people He cured to keep quiet about it. When demons recognized Him as the Messiah, He commanded them to be silent. He ordered us, when we pray, to go to our inner rooms to do so.

We certainly want “transparent” organizations, as opposed to shady, corrupt ones. The Lord Himself declared, more or less, something that we all know: Honest people welcome investigators. Honest people have nothing to hide. In fact, honesty gives us the luxury to forget the things that we tell people today. If all the things we say today are true, then they’ll be true tomorrow, too, whether or not we remember. Liars have to lay awake nights remembering all their lies.

The light of truth will reveal all in the end. The truth will vindicate the honest and will condemn the dishonest.

Zubaran agnus deiBut, until then, not every moment calls for “full disclosure.” I had a girlfriend in college, and we agreed that our relationship had to be based on “100% honesty, all the time.” You can see how that worked out.

Being genuinely trustworthy has two sides: 1. Always speaking truth. 2. Keeping silent a lot of the time. We just heard the consummate example of this two weeks ago: During His Passion, the Lord—Who did not shy away from speaking the truth at the proper time—went from quiet to absolutely silent. People asked Him questions, to which He certainly knew the answers. But He opened not His mouth. It was not the time. Speaking would have served no purpose.

The truth is always bigger than what we mortals can know or express. May we seek it always, live in it always, testify to it when we should, and spend the rest of the time listening for it.