John 8 + the Bard on Peace

The Quarrel Of Oberon and Titania
The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania by Joseph Patton

Lord Jesus said: Whoever keeps my word will never see death.

So they asked Him, “Who do you make yourself out to be?”

Lord Jesus sounded a little bit like He was calling Himself God. Actually, it sounded a lot like that. “Before Abraham came to be, I am.” Yahweh. God’s ancient name.

They convicted Him of blasphemy. That’s the central drama of the condemnation of the Christ. Who is He?

A true Israelite worships the one God. Same goes for any conscientious, intellectually consistent human being. Honest religion involves: worshiping the one, mysterious, all-powerful God, before Whom we human beings must humble ourselves. To equate ourselves with God? Monstrous.

shakespeareBut the Christ did not blaspheme. He is God. The Apostles preached it. And we worked it all out in the fourth century A.D. Jesus Christ: God from God. Light from Light. True God from true God. Never created by God. Rather, the Creator. Along with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

They convicted the Creator of blasphemy. But herein lies the peace we can find by holding the Christian faith. They condemned Him, because He spoke the truth about Who He is, namely the true God. But then He showed religion more pure, more humble, than any human being has ever shown. The son of the Virgin Mary offered Himself in sacrifice to the Father.

…Now, one thing we had before the virus, and still have during the virus, and will continue to have after the virus: William Shakespeare.

If you know the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you know that confusion and devilment disturb the relations of some loving couples. But then the fairy king Oberon resolves to put all to rights. He orders his assistant Robin Puck:

Thou see’st these lovers seek a place to fight.
Hie, therefore, Robin; overcast the night.
...And lead the testy rivals so astray
As one come not within another’s way…
Then crush this herb into Lysander's eye;
Whose liquor hath this virtuous property,
To take from thence all error with his might,
And make his eyeballs roll with wonted sight.
When they next wake, all this derision
Shall seem a dream and fruitless vision.
Then I will my queen’s charm’d eye release
From monster’s view, and all things shall be peace.

…May God give us the peace that surpasses all understanding. For Holy Week. Forever.

Wednesday Message (Bilingue)

Two years ago today, we had Easter Sunday on April Fool’s Day. If I told you: ‘We won’t be together for Easter Mass!’ you would have thought, ‘Nice April Fool, Father.’

A dear old friend of mine just died of a sudden illness. Not coronavirus. I think we all feel a little bit like death is holding us by the hand these days.

We are not alone, we human beings reeling our way through this frightening period of time. Our Creator also walked the path of death. This week at Holy Mass, we read from the eighth chapter of St. John’s gospel. In these readings, we see how the Lord Jesus knew how His mission of love and heavenly enlightenment would end. By His being lifted up—on a Roman cross.

palmEl domingo celebramos Los Ramos. Con los ramos, aclamamos nuestro Salvador, el crucificado. En estos días, con el virus, no sentimos como si la Muerte nos tenga por la mano. Pero andamos por esta valle con Dios, Quien sufrió la muerte Si Mismo.

Si pueden, que visiten el templo el domingo, a la hora usual de la misa, y les ofrezcamos su ramo para tener en casa por la semana santa. Hay que consagrar la semana que viene. En esta semana santa, Cristo consagró la muerte humana. Y la conquistó.

Dear religious education students: We miss you. Your teachers miss you. They are trying to get in touch with you, to help you complete the last few weeks of class over the phone or computer.

Padres de los alumnos de catecismo, por favor continuan trabajando con los niños en casa, practicando las oraciones y estudiando la fe.

When we turn a corner with the virus, and we can have Mass together again, two things will happen.

1. We will immediately order all the Easter flowers we would have ordered, and we will fill the church with them.

2. We will have our First Holy Communion Mass, for all the students preparing for First Holy Communion.

Don’t give up. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil. Even through these dark days, the Lord has lessons to teach us. Let’s learn them.

Homily to Start Passiontide

Ten Commandments Charlton Heston Red Sea

We have reached the holiest time of year, when we study the death of Jesus Christ. [Spanish]

For the ancient Israelites, these opening weeks of spring meant focusing on the death of the Passover Lamb, whose blood marked the homes of the chosen ones. The people marched across the bed of the Red Sea, to freedom. Then the water swallowed up their enemies, to the glory of God.

That was the annual rite in the days of the Old Covenant. But at Holy Mass on Sunday we hear the prophet exhort us, in the name of God: Remember not these old exploits of mine. Don’t dwell on what I did for your ancient fathers. After all, I will do great things for you! I make a way through the desert for you to walk, and the very jackals and ostriches will chant like a choir as you pass down the highway to the Promised Land.

This highway opens before us. It invites us, beckons us. With beautifully obscure clarity. With shimmering darkness. With enticing terror. Because the highway to heaven is the cruel and agonizing death of Christ.

adam-eveWe read at Holy Mass on Sunday: They came to test Him, so that they could have some charge to bring against Him.

From the beginning, our Creator asked only for obedience. ‘See! I set you in a garden of happiness. Just acknowledge reality, bow before your Father Who made you, and I will provide for you.’

But we replied, ‘No, thank You! We’ll try our own luck with our own knowledge and pride. Thanks anyway.’

We began to sin at the beginning, we children who God made for Himself. But the true enormity of our original sin—the extent of its utterly foolish malice—only became evident when the Creator came to be with us, one of us, sharing in our human weakness.

The scribes and Pharisees looked, and trawled, and went fishing for something against Him. “Won’t you condemn the adulteress, rabbi?”

“Will you?”

They quailed at Christ’s serene, God-like silence. They knew that they, too, had broken faith.They slunk away.

But then the pride and malice of our original sin truly showed itself. Those who would trap the Christ slunk away, but not for good. Our loving Creator loved us, mercifully loved us. But we did not love Him. We did not see that He would, in fact, give us all good things, and heaven besides.

No, in return for His love, we crucified Him.

You figure this constitutes a pretty overwhelming condemnation of the human race: Guilty of killing our Maker. He walked among us as an innocent lamb, pouring out at every turn the infinite love with which He began the whole business of our existence in the first place. And we killed Him for it.

So we stand guilty not just of saying, ‘No, thanks,’ to the peaceful garden He offered us in the beginning, if only we would acknowledge Him—but guilty, also, of spitting in His face, pummeling His ribcage with blows, lacerating His flesh, and reviling Him unto death.

What is human sin? This.

Grunewald the Small Crucifixion

How bad sinners are we, really? Bad enough to scourge our Creator, crown His beautiful head with thorns, nail His hands and feet to wooden beams, and leave Him to die in bitter agony, with crows circling.

We stand condemned—condemned by these cold, hard facts of history. We crucified God.

Here we are, Lord, like the woman caught in the act of adultery. Our love for You has not been faithful, like Yours has been for us. The Law of Moses prescribes stoning. We deserve to die. What do You say?

We hear Him say it at Sunday’s Mass. ‘I do not condemn you.’

St. Paul puts it so well for us (in Sunday’s second reading):

Everything else is so much rubbish. I don’t care about it at all. If only I can be found in Christ. He is my justice, my righteousness, my holiness.  He is my wisdom. I gladly embrace my share in the mystery of His death. I gladly give myself over completely to the One Who died for me.

Let me just believe in Jesus, and press on down the holy highway. I hope, with the hope of a child, that in the end I will share His glorious resurrection.

May our church observances of the coming weeks draw us closer together as a people. And closer to Christ, the Savior of sinners.

Abraham and a March-on-Washington Partnership

us-capitolGod established His alliance with Abraham and promised a wonderful future. Abraham’s faith in that future makes him our father in faith. He willingly left behind everything that was familiar to him, in order to obey God.

Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ. The Messiah fulfilled the promises God had made so many centuries before.

So: On the one hand, Abraham’s all-consuming faith, which freed him to pursue the mysterious future God had prepared. On the other hand, the reward of that faith.

Now, what is it? The reward of faith? What can we call it, other than life? The day of Christ = the day of Life. Not toilsome life as we know it now—ephemeral, fleeting, dangerous, burdened by one anxious care after another. No. The life of Christ crucified and risen is life liberated from all these diminishments. Life primordial; life full of promise; endlessly youthful life.

Which brings us to: the youthful spokespeople for this Saturday’s “March for Our Lives.” They paint an evocative picture in their speeches. Where would the lost friends and classmates be now, had they lived?

The students killed in Florida last month would be preparing for mid-term exams. The little children killed in Connecticut in 2012 would be in middle-school. The high-schoolers killed in Colorado back in 1999 would be parents themselves, with their own children in elementary or middle school.

unbornLife. A future. Doesn’t it seem utterly obvious that this March-for-Our-Lives rhetoric could also take into account the other young victims of unjust violence—the little ones who never lived to see the light of day at all?

I myself am just old enough not to have to number the classmates and confreres that I might have had. I was already 1½ by the time Roe v. Wade came down.

But everyone younger than me has to live with the Roe-v.-Wade ghosts. The victims of violence who might have been childhood friends, or co-workers in the first job, or the Mr. or Mrs. Right that you could never find.

Christ came to reward faith with life. Our Gospel is the Gospel of Life. Can’t we imagine a better day, if all the true advocates of life could unite? If we could stand up together for all the innocent victims of violence that could have–and should have–lived to see the sun rise this morning?

Catholic Altar Call by Dom Marmion

columba-marmionBefore Abraham came to be, I am. (John 8:58)

We Catholics don’t do “altar calls.” Or over-simplify the spiritual life with the phrase “being saved.” I can know if the changes to my Word document have been saved. But I won’t know that I am saved, until I get to purgatory, please God.

Nonetheless, we Catholics agree with every backwoods preacher on this: Eternal life starts with believing that Jesus is God and our Savior. Let’s listen to the Benedictine abbot, Blessed Columba Marmion:

The profound conviction that Christ is God, and that He has been given to us, contains all spiritual life.

Let us place ourselves at the feet of Christ and say to Him: Lord Jesus, Incarnate Word, I believe that Thou art God; true God begotten of true God. I do not see Thy divinity, but because the Father tells me, ‘This is my beloved Son,’ I believe it. And because I believe it, I submit myself entirely–body, soul, judgment, will, heart, sensibility, imagination, all my energies–I wish that all things may be subjected under Thy feet in homage.

‘I wish to follow Thee as my chief and that Thy Gospel may be my light and Thy will my guide; I wish neither to think otherwise than as Thou thinkest because Thou art infallible truth, nor to act without Thee, because Thou art the only way to go to the Father, nor to seek my joy outside Thy will, because Thou art the very foutain of life. Possess me wholly, through thy Spirit, for the glory of the Father!’

By this act of faith, we lay the foundation of our spiritual life, for other foundation no may can lay, but that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus.

Acts of faith in Christ’s divinity are extremely pleasing to the eternal Father, because all His exigencies–and they are infinite–are summed up in willing the glory of His Son.

And the more His Son veils His divinity, the more He abases Himself out of love for us, the more profoundly we ought to adore Him as Son of God…The more Christ humbles Himself in becoming a little Child, in choosng the hidden life of Nazareth, in submitting Himself to the gibbet like a malefactor, with the wicked; the more His divinity is attacked and denied by unbelievers–the more we ought to place Him high in the glory of the Father, and in our hearts yield ourselves to Him in a spirit of intense reverence and entire submission to His Person, and to labor for the extension of His reign in souls.

–Blessed Columba Marmion, Christ the Life of the Soul, II,1,5

John 8: When Christ Repeated Himself Repeatedly

Apse of San Martin in the Cloisters
Apse and Crucifix at the Cloisters

Let’s see who really knows their gospels…

In the gospel reading at Holy Mass today, from John 8, Lord Jesus says not one, but two things that He also said on other occasions.

  1. “Where I am going you cannot come.” As we hear at Mass today, He said that to the Pharisees.  And this was the second time he had said that to them, that they could not come where he was going.

He also said the same thing to the…  Apostles, at the Last Supper.  And then He said it a second time on Holy Thursday also, to St. Peter in particular.  Let’s come back to this…

  1. “When you lift up the Son of Man…” As we hear in John 8, Christ told the Pharisees, “When you lift up the Son of Man, you will realize that I AM.”  Earlier, He had said to Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”  Also, later on, Lord Jesus said to the crowd, “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to Myself.”

In John 8, Christ tells the Pharisees that they will die in their sins, since they do not believe that He and God are one.

The ultimate proof of Jesus’ divinity comes through what we call “the Paschal Mystery.”  The Romans lifted Him up on the cross to die in agony and humiliation.  Then the Father lifted Him up from the grave, and after forty days, into heaven.  The “lifting up” of which Jesus spoke three times means both:  lifting up on the cross, and lifting up from death to heavenly life.  That’s the Paschal Mystery: through death, to eternal life.

Christ told the Pharisees that they could not come where he was going.  Ditto to the Apostles.  But, with the Apostles, he added:  “but you shall follow afterward.”  Why?  Because the Apostles, feckless as they were, believed.

May the Lord give us the grace to believe—to believe in His Paschal Mystery–so we can follow after Him, too.

Christus Marcius Coriolanus

“Now we see that you are possessed.” (John 8:52)

Leave it to our Passiontide readings from St. John’s gospel to bring us face-to-face with this particular fact every year: No reasonable person can regard Jesus of Nazareth as an unremarkable, nice guy.

What possessed Him?

He was, after all, a kind, attractive, intelligent, skillful man. He had a pleasant enough future ahead of Him, had He chosen to embrace it. Instead of provoking all the authorities in Jerusalem, He could have lived out His life as a respectable teacher in the relatively quiet precincts of the north; He could have found a sweet Galilean lass; eventually, He could have died in His bed, remembered fondly and with honor.

jerusalem-sunriseBut something possessed Him. So He stepped into the seething cesspool of petty jealousies and vicious antagonisms that was Jerusalem. Something possessed Him to say just enough about Himself, and at just the right times, to lead to His being mercilessly scourged and crucified during Passover, while He was still in His early thirties.

We can have no real doubt that He neither had a perverse death-wish nor was He so obtuse that He didn’t know what His words would lead to. He was neither suicidal nor naïve.

So what possessed Him?

Something in Him raged against falsehood, smallness, and death with such serene indomitability—a fire burned in Him that the close air of the fallen world simply could not contain, but only fanned. A zeal for conquest overtook Him. He became literally hell-bent on pulverizing every ounce of life-choking b.s. that the arrogant and hypocritical human race has managed to pile up on the surface of this earth, over the course of the groaning millennia that we have lived here.

Jesus would not back down. He came like a flaming battering ram at the twisted face of faithless deceit and selfishness. He cracked a hole in the fortress of Satan. And then He ran in by Himself, like Gaius Marcius Coriolanus charging the Volscian city of Corioli alone. The only weapon Christ held in His hands was His absolutely fearless willingness to open them up for the nails.

He was a man possessed. Possessed by the one power that actually can wash away all the evil in the world with one cleansing stroke. He was Personally possessed by divine Creator.

Freedom Inside

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

James Dean New York

I think there is something about today’s gospel passage that might stun our American minds.

The Lord Jesus speaks of liberation. “Come to Me. Learn from Me. You will know the truth then. And the truth will make you free.”

Now, I think we Americans naturally imagine liberation as an escape from being inside to being outside, in the open. That’s what I spontaneously imagine, anyway. Free = outside. Maybe in the car. But definitely not inside.

Both the Lord Jesus and His interlocutors, however, clearly imagined ‘freedom’ in a completely different way, which makes the passage more difficult for us to understand. They did not think that free = being outside. To the contrary, everyone involved in the conversation imagined that ‘free’ meant: being safely inside the house, with no danger whatsoever of being thrown out. A slave must fear being expelled from bed and board, because he has no standing, no real foothold that binds him irrevocably to his home. A free person, on the other hand = someone who dwells securely in his house.

Now, I think this difference actually might be pretty important, when it comes to understanding a lot of the things that the Lord Jesus said. Our American idea of the autonomous individual is simply something that didn’t cross His mind. Christ has revealed to us that the cosmos, taken as a whole, is a household, governed by a loving Father.

It is actually impossible to leave this house. The image of gaining freedom by getting outside, out of the reach of any authority over me—this image of freedom is such a fantasy that it didn’t even occur to anyone in the conversation in the gospel reading.

The heavenly Father runs the cosmos as a bed and board for us, and we all have the absolute right of the freeborn child to our place in it. None of us are slaves who need fear expulsion. So teaches the Christ. ‘The flowers of the field neither toil nor spin, so why would you worry?’

The only way out of the household of God is not a real way, but a fantastical lie. Namely, being seduced by Satan into thinking that we are trash, and that by all rights we will be cast out to the curb sooner or later. Satan tricks us into thinking that the Father is not kind, but is actually a tyrant, so we’re probably better off at the curb. Such are Satan’s lies.

Christ does not set us free, then, for some errant adventure in the windswept, dusty wilds–no matter what our American imaginations might conjure up. To the contrary. Freedom = dwelling securely in this great household operated by God, where we live together, under His ineffably benign authority.

“Where I am Going…”

Passion of the Christ Today you will be with me

“…you cannot come.” (John 7:34, 8:21, 13:33, 13:36)

Lord Jesus said this multiple times, to different audiences.

At Holy Mass today, we hear Him say it to the Pharisees. He went on to tell them that they would die in their sins, because they did not believe in Him, did not believe in God incarnate, the only-begotten eternal Word made man.

The Lord also said the exact same sentence to another group of people, and then to one of them in particular. Anyone remember? “Where I am going, you cannot come.”

To the Apostles at the Last Supper. And then particularly to St. Peter. “Where I am going you cannot come.”

But Jesus did not tell St. Peter and the Apostles that they would die in their sins. Instead, He gave them a commandment, and then made them a promise.

Who remembers the commandment?

“Love one another.”

Who remembers the promise? ‘Where I am going, you cannot come now, but…’

“You shall follow afterward.”

En otras palabras: When we look upon Christ lifted up, skewered to the cross in agony, dereliction, and death–when we look upon Him with His arms outstretched between heaven and earth–when we gaze upon the crucifix and see not defeat and meaninglessness, but rather the burning light of God’s eternal love–when we see Jesus with faith, we do not die in our sins. No. We live for glory eternal.

John 8:51-49

The words and deeds of Jesus Christ: too outrageous to allow for any compromise. And too beautiful to be blasphemy.

Everyone—Pharisees, Sadducees, Apostles, disciples, God-fearers, olive-pressers, shepherds, Jerusalem street-sweepers, everyone—agreed on one thing: Abraham held the true faith. Abraham believed in God, and the God in Whom Abraham believed is real.

Passion Caviezel teachingCan we search the Scriptures and find the episode that most reveals the content of Abraham’s faith? …certainly, when he was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, out of obedience to God, yes.

But what about when he pleaded for the city of Sodom?

“Lord, if there are fifty innocent men in the city? Or forty-five, or forty, or thirty, or twenty, or ten? Spare the city for their sakes!”

So it seems that Abraham believed in an infinitely powerful, all-knowing God of mercy, who would forget His justified and righteous anger against the human race for the sake of one truly innocent man. Our father in faith believed correctly, because a. he was ready to obey, and b. he knew that God had compassion, love, and pity for us in our human misery.

Indeed, Abraham was right. Even though fire and brimstone fell on ancient Sodom in the end, because the Lord couldn’t find any innocent people left there, Abraham was nonetheless absolutely right that God is Mercy.

God Himself knew, of course, that Abraham was right. It’s just that the day of mercy was yet to come. Abraham looked forward to it. Abraham fell asleep looking forward to his descendants receiving the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Then the day came. The merciful God came to earth and spoke, a man among men. He said things that would have been blasphemies worthy of stoning, except that this man saying them is God.

Abraham rejoiced to see my day.

Yes, Lord, because this Sodom in which we live has been spared because of You!

Before Abraham came to be, I am.

Amen, Jesus. All glory to You, O uncreated, crucified Mercy and Love, as in the beginning, now, and unto the ages of ages forever.

Pope Francis bracket