Treats and the Father

Sometimes the gospel reading at Holy Mass gives us a perfectly appropriate image.  “After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then you will stand outside knocking, and saying…Trick or treat!”

How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. (Mt. 7:14)

On the one hand, Lord Jesus submitted to His bitter Passion, and mounted the height of the cross, in order to draw all people to Himself.  Christ extends His Hand to everyone.  His loving Heart wills the salvation of all.

jackolantern

But on the other hand, the road to salvation stretches before us—long, dark, and treacherous.  (And that’s just getting through the rest of today.)

On this road of Christian faith, we can encounter this situation:  ‘Nice! I think I have finally settled into a nice little state of comfortable holiness!’  Then the Lord demands the renunciation of something that I didn’t even realize I cherish with a desperate familiarity.

Children don’t like having their Halloween candy taken away from them.  And we don’t like it when the Lord points out that we have no real right to certain comforts that we have come to take for granted.  But He’s allowed to pull the rug out from under us anytime.  After all, we came naked into this world, and naked we will leave it again.

It’s not because He’s cruel.  But He has a particular kind of zeal for our souls.  The ‘trick’ is that His zeal can appear ruthlessly cruel to our grasping and avaricious eyes.

Almighty God has no interest whatsoever in our being “vaguely associated” with Him.  As if we could get to heaven by keeping some Catholic-school sweatshirts in our dresser drawers.  Or drinking our coffee from a “Blessed 24:7” mug.  As if we could find salvation by thinking of God and loving Him 35-40% of the time, and watching tv or twirling the facebook feed slackjawed the rest.

No.  He loves us with a ruthlessly demanding Passion.  One thing He is not is “nice.”  Not a “nice” God.  He is the crucified God.  He walked the narrow way of pure, honest, fearless love.  And His Way, the Way of the Cross, is the only way to the Father.

But, oh, what a Father do we find! when we walk this narrow way.  There’s not a treat in this world that can hold a candle to His love.

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Mom, Colossians 1:24, Sunday Homily

What is lacking in Christ’s sufferings” gets filled up every day, on the terrible altar of the hospital bed.  Please pray for our dear mom, whose heart does not work quite right, because she has grown old.

Owing to this situation, I’m not sure that we will see each other this coming Sunday.  But here’s a homily for you to read at your leisure, if you like…

Lord, will only a few people be saved? (Luke 13:23)

Lord Jesus did not give a straight answer. Why not? Maybe because the question included an unspoken smugness. ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved? That is, a few people like us? Or will I have to share the glory with a lot of riffraff?’

So, instead of patting this man on the head, the Lord evoked an image which He repeatedly used. A banquet hall, full of people eating delicious hummus with warm pitas and drinking fine Lebanese wine, thoroughly enjoying themselves, with the master of the house providing everything for them freely—but the doors to the hall have been closed and locked.

hummus pitaRemember the first verse of Foreigner’s big hit “Jukebox Hero?” Standing in the rain, with his head hung low. Couldn’t get a ticket. It was a sold-out show.

Outside, they knock franticly. They want some hummus and warm pita. “Lord, open the door! We have all kinds of facebook friends in common with you.”

From inside, He says: “I don’t know where you’re from.”

“But we’re from the same place! We’re your homeboys! We went to the same high school. We ate the same foods. We went shopping at the same car dealerships and the same malls. We got stuck in the same traffic jams. We just assumed that we were your friends!”

He cuts through it all. “Depart, evildoers.”

By now the man who originally asked the question must have started thinking to himself, ‘Now, I consider myself above-average virtuous. But the rabbi seems, in his roundabout way, to call me an evildoer…’

Does Jesus call us evildoers also?

Let’s focus on the details of His image. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets in the kingdom of God, with people from all four points of the compass—people who presumably share in the holiness of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets.

At Holy Mass last Sunday, we heard about one of the prophets, namely Jeremiah. They had thrown him into an empty cistern. He sank into the mud at the bottom. Why did they do that to the prophet? Because he tried to warn them: God will judge you. He will judge you according to the truth. You cannot fudge with God. He knows all. You cannot pretend to obey Him, by just going through the motions. And if you don’t trust Him above all things; if you don’t trust Him more than yourselves, you will wind up ruined.

I think we can say what all the people sitting and eating the warm pitas and drinking the wine have in common. Abraham, his son and grandson, the prophets, and the righteous from the four corners of the earth—what they have in common is: the humility, and the honesty, of real faith.

Evildoers? Only very infrequently do we act out of pure malice. Usually, people do evil because our minds fall prey to the illusion of an apparently satisfying theory that takes the place of reality. Comfortable self-delusion. A broad road leads there. But the path to reality is narrow, because it is so humbling.

Without God, without His generosity and His mercy, I am nothing. Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moriah, and prepared to sacrifice his beloved son, because he knew: Without God, Who has ordered me to do this, I am nothing. Jeremiah declared to the people of Jerusalem, “Without God, you are nothing!”

How do we reconcile these two particular sayings of Christ? On the one hand, we just heard Him say, “Strive to enter by the narrow gate, for many will attempt to enter, but will not be strong enough.” Strive with strength. As St. Paul put it, ‘Strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.’ But on the other hand, Christ said, “Come to Me all you who strive strenuously and weary yourselves, because My yoke is easy and light.”

How can the One with the supposedly easy burden command us to strive with all our strength? And how can the demanding one tell us to relax?

The narrow path to the banquet involves total trust and dependence. God reigns. God provides. When we face reality humbly, we recognize that we lie prostrate here on the earth, powerless and desperate—unless we give ourselves over completely to the Blessed Trinity.

Nothing is harder, though, for us. Nothing is harder than doing the easiest thing, becoming like carefree children in the Father’s hands. Because we human beings congenitally presume to greatness that we don’t have. We think that we are God. That’s original sin. It extends almost to the very bottom of our souls. So nothing proves more humblingly difficult for us to achieve than: the humility of Christian faith.

But: No one has more patience than God. He knows that, with time, even we stubborn self-deluded headcases can bring forth the peaceful fruit of righteousness. He does not tire of training His beloved children. When we forget Him, and put ourselves in His place, He gently corrects us and tries to bring us back to reality.

The door to the banquet stands open now. As long as we draw breath, hope for our holiness remains. He will shut the door and lock it eventually. But, may it please Him, we will have taken our seats inside by then.

We don’t even have to see the narrow path in order to follow it. In fact, following the narrow path involves our acknowledging that we do not see it clearly. But we show up at Mass to humble ourselves before God’s almighty and merciful goodness. So there’s hope for us yet.

“Apostolic,” Leaven, Synod Aftermath

We keep the feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude Thaddeus. Saints Simon and Jude ventured into what is now Iran. They taught the Zoroastrians about Christ. And about the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

One, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. “Apostolic” means three things at once:

El Greco St. Jude
El Greco St. Jude

1. We believe that Jesus Himself founded our Church by choosing the Twelve Apostles.

2. We believe that the Holy Spirit infallibly guides the Church to keep and hand on the original teaching that Jesus gave the Apostles.

We have a New Testament, the 27 documents we read over and over, precisely because of this work of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles, and men the apostles knew, wrote the New Testament.

That is, God wrote the New Testament, through the authorship of some of the original members of our Church.

3. We believe that the ministry of the apostles continues to this day, and will continue until the end of time, because the apostles’ successors in office continue to exercise the same ministry. The Pope and bishops, assisted by priests and deacons, continue the work of the original Apostles.

In other words: Baptism into Christ, Confirmation, the ministry of Jesus’ Body and Blood at the holy altar, the power to forgive confessed sins: none of these are abstract things. They involve particular people—divine gifts being bestowed on particular people. The Apostles and their successors form the trunk and branches of our Catholic family tree. As Pope Francis put it: “a Christian without the Church is incomprehensible.”

Thank you, Lord, for making us a part of this family that hopes for eternal life!

Here’s a word about the parable of the leaven, which we read at Holy Mass yesterday:

The Kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened. (Luke 13:21)

The mustard seed growing into a big tree: visible. But the leaven that gets worked through the dough, starting a hidden chemical process: invisible—at least until the end of the process, when the bread comes out of the oven.

Unleavened bread can be good, no doubt. Who doesn’t like Middle-Eastern food? But when you’re really hungry… When the house gets filled with the aroma of bread baking in the oven… I mean, yeah.

But the yeast of the kingdom lies hidden until the end of the process. Inside us: the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the mildness, mercifulness, and zeal of the Beatitudes, the endurance of faith, the sweetness of hope for the fulfillment of all things—helping other souls by our trying to give good example: That will make the whole house of God smell good.

Meanwhile, things have gotten genuinely fun in the world of Synod-of-Bishops aftermath.

My man Ross Douthat publicly scolded. The bar scene from “Good Will Hunting” invoked.*

Meanwhile, just came across a letter to the Synod Fathers (other than the one I signed), which I sure wish I had had the chance to sign!

*Warning: A couple bad words.

Fig Trees Today

figSome people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.

He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? …Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?…”

And he told them this parable:

“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’

He said to him in reply,

‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:1-9)

Us: Fig trees that don’t bear fruit like we should. The gardener digs around the roots, fertilizes the soil—-to help us come into our own.

Ginevra de Benci by Leonardo da VWe have great potential, after all. Maybe not necessarily great potential to write novels or paint Mona Lisas. But great potential to love, great potential to worship the Creator, great potential to behold the Creator’s beautiful image in myself and in my neighbor.

–Is it just me, or are the two parts of the gospel reading (for tomorrow’s Holy Mass) really striking in the different pace in the images?

In the first part: swift, sudden death. Bam, bam, bam. Pilate kills Galileans. A tower collapses and kills everyone there.

Then the second part of the reading. The fig tree has no fruit. Okay, but let’s wait another year. Already waited three. An old, experienced gardener, who thinks of years as if they were passing days.

St. Paul tells us that our lives are: faith working through love. We believe. We hope for divine fulfillment. We patiently love.

Today might mean swift, sudden death for any of us. It might.

After all, today is all we really have. It has a sudden immediacy to it, of it’s very nature, it’s very today-ness. Yesterday has passed forever, and tomorrow…doesn’t exist.

But let’s try to look at it from the Lord’s point-of-view. He actually has all eternity, completely in His possession. All the yesterdays, all the tomorrows—He has them all, possesses all of that, and has infinitely more to boot. Yet He patiently doles out today for us, gives us a chance to take a step closer to the goal of bearing figs of love like we should. Every day He fertilizes, nutrifies our roots.

So let’s open up our leaves, take in the sun, and get a day closer to the fruit-bearing stage.

Godly Bravado

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

I think we hear this kind of calm bravado in the words of Christ, when He responded to the threat of Herod’s plan to kill Him.

jackolanternChrist did not fear. He declared His divine mission. He had come to Jerusalem in the name of the Lord.

He said that His mission would occupy today and tomorrow, and on the following day, it would be complete.

Today: trick or treating–with zombies and monster that we do not fear. The ancient pagans of the northern latitudes went so far as to offer human sacrifices on this dark night, when the gloom of winter arrived, so deep was their fear of death. But we Christians just eat candy and laugh with the children.

Tomorrow: All Saints Day.

The following day, maybe we can rest up and get over our colds.

The day after tomorrow, actually, is way too far in the future to worry about now. We trust our Lord Jesus. The day after tomorrow lies altogether in His hands. He will make it wonderful. The day after tomorrow might as well be the eternal day of resurrection. It lies in the great unknown future.

We believe in the day when everything will be complete, the holy Third Day. We hope for it. The day of resurrection and life, of health and peace and sunshine and a springtime that never ends.

The third day. In God’s hands.

Meantime, our business lies with today. Today we march on with faith. With the bravado of faith. Goblins, ghosts, skeletons, witches, creepy night-frighting things: we fear you not! Death and hell: We mock you. Our city lies above.

———

P.S. Now that the baseball season has ended, we can move on to the really important business of life. Big East basketball.

Providence Georgetown BasketballI know I whined like a spoiled child when the conference re-alignments began a couple years ago. But: Providence remains in the Big East. In more ways than one. In truth, I believe that the Lord has arranged for the best Big East ever. (Teams named for colors or for wolf-like dogs never added much anyway.)

Creighton may not be in the East. But they have a fun team. And what could be more exciting than having Butler in our conference? (Even if they don’t really have a good team this year.)

You know what I think the big story of Big East 2013-14 will be? St. John’s. The St. John glory days are coming back. And if someone other than the Hoyas have to win in Madison Square Garden, if it’s the Red Storm, I will not complain. I promise.

The one question I have is: Why do the Hoyas have to go back to Asia for another basketball game? Don’t they remember what happened the last time?