Exaggerated Reports of Death

Apparently the latest sociological findings hold that “religion” has entered into a death-spiral in the Western world. The studies show that religion will inevitably end. There’s a Ted talk about this.

I tried to watch it, but I couldn’t quite grasp what sociologists mean by “religion.” Our first reading at Holy Mass today prescribes the yearly routine of the religion of the Old Covenant. But that seems more precise and specific than what a sociologist means by “religion.” To be honest, I got so bored watching this Ted talk that I almost doused myself in frying-pan grease, just to ease the tedium.

Anyway, plenty of people in and around Ars thought that religion had entered a death-spiral in their town. When their new priest, Monsieur John Vianney, arrived, few people ever darkened the door of the town’s church. They considered themselves too modern for such things. Only old ladies went to Mass.

But, by the time the Curé died, 158 years ago today, the train company had to run a special line from Lyons, to accommodate the crowds who came to the little parish church in Ars to go to confession to the living saint.

st-john-vianney-confessionIn other words, reports of religion’s death in Ars had been greatly exaggerated.

Now, granted: nothing could be more boring than a sociologist’s idea of “religion.” Nothing could be less attractive. That is, I guess, except for sociology itself.

But, on the other hand: For St. John Vianney, and for Saints Peter, James, and John, and all the Apostles; for the martyrs and all the heroic pastors of the Christian centuries—for all of them, nothing—no one—could be more interesting than: Jesus Christ. And His Blessed Mother. And His heavenly Father. And His Holy Spirit at work in His Church.

You can have “religion.” “Religion,” as understood by sociologists, is a thin nothingburger that I wouldn’t feed to any animal.

But give us: Christ—studied religiously, obeyed religiously, loved religiously.

“Religion,” understood as a phenomenon that doesn’t depend on the truth of particular facts; “religion” that could be Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, etc., etc.—chuck it. We don’t need it. We Catholics don’t like it any more than atheists do, or hippies, or Millennial “Nones.”

But give us the holiness of Jesus. Give us the fulfillment of all the prophets’ ancient promises. Give us the Body and Blood of the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Give us the joy and hope of the saints and the common bond that holds the great family of the Church together. Give us our holy Catholic religion, and we will gladly die for it, even if we and the pope were the last Catholics left on earth.

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Year of Jubilee: the Why

Lord Jesus said, “the Holy Spirit has anointed me to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” A year of jubilee. Like this year. Last month, Pope Francis inaugurated a Jubilee Year of…

christ-synagogue1Now, maybe you think: Father, that’s nice. But, when we read the Bible, we see that the jubilee of Divine Mercy began when Christ first came into the world. He said so, in the synagogue in Nazareth, as we will hear at Sunday Mass (assuming we can safely get to church).

Christ came to bring glad tidings: God’s love overcomes all evil. God loves the suffering and the poor. We human beings don’t need to mistreat each other over inconsequential trifles. We don’t have to fight over having the most stuff, or the most glamour, or the most fleeting pleasure.

God wills to give us His Kingdom, true happiness that does not die. God will give us something infinitely better than anything we could ever fight each other for in this world. The glory of God, better than ten Super-Bowl rings or 25 Oscars.

So: Live simply, humbly, and devoutly through this pilgrim life; love your neighbor; give to the poor. Avoid evil. Live for the Mass; live for the next Holy Communion; live by faith. Long for heaven. What’s the point of fighting over peanuts, doing injustices, and piling up a lot of junk that will only turn to dust in the end?

The Age of Grace and Mercy dawned like a perpetual Year of Jubilee, when the Christ came to the world. He atoned for our sins, conquered death for us, and gave us a hope worth living for.

So why would a Sovereign Pontiff of the Christian Church feel the need to proclaim a special jubilee year, since every year in which the grace of Christ flows is a year of jubilee already?

Good question.

In this case, I think our Holy Father has a double reason for proclaiming the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

1) Popes always have one basic reason for proclaiming years of jubilee: to help people get out of purgatory more easily.

Pope Francis fiatNow, how can our humble Pope Francis help souls complete purgatory and reach heaven? This pope’s very simple; he just rides around in a little Fiat.

But: Pope, simple as he may be, has full executive authority over a unique kind of bank. It’s the bank with the most valuable assets in the entire cosmos: the treasury of all the good works done by the saints of Christ throughout the Christian ages.

All these good works shine before the eyes of God, like jewels. And the pope has the authority to “disburse” these jewels, and give them to us, to show to God as if they were our own.

So the pope declares: For this year, my dear people, you can make withdrawals from the bank of saintly merits more easily! You can more easily apply the goodness of the saints to yourself, or to a deceased relative in purgatory. Make a pilgrimage, or do the works of mercy, and the goodness of the saints will count as your goodness, too–or as the goodness of your beloved dead.

That’s called an “indulgence.” Popes declare years of jubilee in order to grant indulgences liberally.

So: that’s reason enough for Pope Francis to have declared this Year of Jubilee! But he has another reason, also.

2) In his letter about the jubilee year, Pope Francis wrote about the very passage from the gospel which we hear on Sunday. The Pope wrote: “A ‘year of the Lord’s favor’ or ‘mercy’: this is what the Lord proclaimed and this is what we wish to live now.”

Christ came and proclaimed the perpetual jubilee of divine mercy, in the synagogue in Nazareth. By doing so, He fulfilled a commandment He had given long before, during the time of the Old Covenant.

In the laws of Leviticus, the Lord commanded Moses and the ancient Israelites to start fresh every fifty years. Start fresh, as in: forgive debts, liberate slaves, restore lost property. Everyone has the right to a decent, peaceful life–to food, shelter, health-care, etc. Start fresh with a fair shake for everyone, every fifty years. Equalize all the incomes. That was a law in the Old Covenant. You might laugh, but there really was a divine law that said basically what Bernie Sanders says.

The ancient Israelites, however, never followed that law. The rich got richer and the poor poorer, even among the Chosen People of God. The fact of the matter is: in this fallen world, a complete fresh start never comes. But there is a way for us to try to make things the way God would have them: those of us who possess stuff–corporal and spiritual goods–have to make sacrifices for the good of others.

So Pope Francis has given us this jubilee year as an occasion for us to: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

Also to: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.

By doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy this year, we obtain the Jubilee-Year indulgence. But not only that. By doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we help to bring about the unending jubilee the Christ came to declare.

Who’s the Mysterymonger?

Our first reading and gospel reading both refer to ceremonies performed by priests. Thank God, none of us suffer from leprosy. But, nonetheless, we go to church to participate in a ceremony performed by a priest, to take part in the “sacred mysteries” of the Mass.

Remember our friend the atheist debater, whom I mentioned last week? I said I have a list of words which the atheist used in order to score his rhetorical points in his college-campus debate with my priest friend. One more word the atheist used and abused: Mystery.

Ok. God gave us eyes. He gave us ears. He gave us minds. He wants us to use them. Healthy skepticism can keep a person out of trouble. “Uh, you want to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge? Are you sure you own it?”

Continue reading “Who’s the Mysterymonger?”

Laying on of Hands

laying on hands

Aaron shall bring forward the live goat. Laying both hands on its head…he shall then have it led into the desert by an attendant. (Leviticus 16:20-21)

…Also, allow me to point out that “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” (Hamlet, Act I, scene 5).

no happy faceWhen it comes to fathers, I will take stern over smiley anytime.

Any fathers who would like to spend their day scowling have my full support–especially if the children deserve to be scowled at.

No more Mr. Nice Guy. Tough love is true love.