Advent Focus

Martyrdom of Pierre Dumoulin Borie
the martyrdom of St. Pierre Dumoulin-Borie

Last Saturday we marked the 180th anniversary of the martyrdom of Pierre Domoulin-Borie, one of the martyrs of Vietnam. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese Christians suffered torture and death for the faith. It was one of the most cruel persecutions the Church has ever seen. The authorities branded Christians on the face with the Chinese characters that mean “wrong religion.” [Spanish]

A week ago Friday, we marked the 91st anniversary of the martyrdom of Miguel Pro. They shot him to death in Mexico City for the crime of being a faithful Catholic priest. He died willingly, shouting… Viva Cristo Rey!

Remembering this kind of Christian heroism, it focuses us for Advent, the holy season before Christmas.

Advent does not mean maxing out the credit cards on American-Girl space suits or Aquaman merchandise. Keeping Advent means going back spiritually to the days before our Savior’s birth. It means sharing intimately in the thoughts, affections, hopes, and longings of a special group of people. The “heroes” of Advent, our brothers and sisters in the faith of Abraham, who longed for the Messiah’s coming.

The prophet Isaiah. Sts. Zechariah and Elizabeth. St. John the Baptist. The three Wise Men. St. Joseph. The Blessed Virgin Mary.

Instead of going shopping, they visited the Temple. Instead of watching tv, they memorized the Psalms. Instead of playing video games or fantasy football, they gazed at the stars in the night sky.

Events happen. Campaigns, elections, birthdays, sports seasons, Winter Sales Events, trials, tribulations, travels, transactions, treaties and treaty violations–they happen. Signs in the sun, moon, and stars. The anxieties of daily life. History constantly seethes with events.

Bl Miguel Pro
the martyrdom of Bl. Miguel Pro

But the heroes of Advent stayed vigilant while the world around them flimmed and flammed. It’s not as if the world just recently became crazy. The craziness of the world goes way back.

The prophet Isaiah witnessed events that would make our heads spin. Foreign armies conquering the Holy Land, the people dispersed in exile and degradation. St. John the Baptist saw the Romans take control, wrenching power from Herod the Great’s feckless progeny. Only the Lord knows all the things that the Wise Men saw, as they journeyed west across deserts and through huge ancient cities teeming with Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Greek-speaking self-help gurus.

But, through all this, one thing, and one thing only, touched the innermost hearts of the heroes of Advent. The world turned, unsteady and confused. But one single sentence made its way into the epicenter of the bosom of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Behold. You will bear a son who will sit on the throne of David.”

If we keep these four weeks of Advent holy, the liturgical season will train our hearts and our minds to remember that all of history has one decisive event. One. He has a name.

Stay awake, “lest that day catch you like a trap.” What could ‘that day’ mean, other than when earth and heaven meet? ‘That day,’ when God opens Himself up as a living temple for our souls, His light shining as a perpetual sun. ‘That day,’ when truth and justice kiss. ‘That day,’ when sick people heal, when blind people read the words of a book, when the human child and the bear cub frolic together. That day: when God and man are one.

The Incarnate Word of God was born in humble circumstances. He never wrote a book, got interviewed on “60 Minutes,” played professional football, or won a Nobel Prize. He never had a facebook or twitter, never ran for office, never made a lot of money. Never endorsed a product or conducted any kind of PR. We’re not even sure exactly what He looked like.

But: in the list of all the things that have ever happened or ever will happen, His coming to earth is The Big One.

They waited. The ancient prophets. The devout foreigners longing to know God. The aging carpenter, living in a chaste marriage and hoping for a future that only God could know. And his lovely young wife who had become pregnant through an act of faith. They kept quiet and waited patiently, calmly. Awaited the birth of the man, the child, the baby boy Who is God.

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Fire, Brimstone, and Swallows

At Holy Mass today, we read the fearful prophecy of Daniel about the Second Coming of Christ and the final judgment of the world. Lord Jesus referred to this very prophecy immediately before the verses of St. Luke’s gospel which we read today. “The four winds of heaven stir up the great sea… The Ancient One takes His throne, with wheels of burning fire. A surging stream of fire.” (Daniel 7:2,9) “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” (Luke 21:26)

They will die of fright. Then Jesus immediately segued into a fig tree budding. The gentle signs of summer coming. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano.

A stunning transition. From fire and brimstone to figs. “Know that the Kingdom of God is near.” The kingdom of God is fire, brimstone, and figs. Figs that bloom like little bundles of eiderdown, softer than a small bag of cotton balls.

Sodom and Gomorrah burned for depraved self-indulgence, for moral dissipation, for utter estrangement from the truth. Then the Great Judge came to world Himself, the Lord of Sinai, the King of all righteousness—He came and vindicated Himself; He exercised His unquenchable zeal by…

…dying, with a wounded Heart, on the holy cross.

The Truth, that vanquishes all evil with irrevocable thunder—He comes in sweet mercy, like a gentle fig bud, to anyone who humbly strives to live in His love.

 

The Mercy of God and the Election

american-flag

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

We rightly fear the omnipotent One.  He made everything out of nothing.  His power dwarfs our capacity to conceive it.  Everything exists solely by His pleasure.  Without His will sustaining us–and sustaining the sky, and the earth, and the air–without His constant gift of existence, everything would crumble, collapse, disintegrate, vanish.

Jesus said, “All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone…Awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” (Luke 21:6)

The one thing that separates us from chaos and ultimate nothingness is: the divine good pleasure.  True wisdom involves acknowledging this fact.  If we find ourselves enjoying good things in life, it’s because God has made them and keeps them in existence, to give as gifts to us.

The wise person fears the awesomeness of the great Giver of all, Who is truly, wonderfully, magnificently good.  His power dwarfs us, and so does His goodness.  We do not measure up to it.  Rather, we receive from His largesse as unworthy beneficiaries.  He blesses us so abundantly because His love flows so freely.  Not because we have any claim on Him or any “rights” before Him.

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priestWe fear Him. But, in spite of all this, He makes amazingly friendly and intimate promises to us.  “Fear nothing,” He says, “because I myself will give you wisdom.”

The God we rightly fear does not choose to tower above us.  Rather, in the midst of all the great flux of events over which He exercises sovereign control, He moves toward us and embraces us.  By uniting Himself with us in Christ, God Almighty has Personally entered into His own creation, fragile as it all is.  He meets us right here, and clasps us to His bosom.  He makes us His friends, the friends of the King.

By the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, we participate in His sovereignty over all things. We share His permanent solidity, His serene transcendence.  Created things pass.  We human beings, too, are created things that naturally pass.  But, by His grace, God has joined us to His permanent Self. So we do not pass, but rather we endure forever, with Him.

Divine Mercy.  Pope Francis gave a book-length interview, published under the title The Name of God is Mercy. The Holy Father puts it like this: “Mercy is the divine attitude which embraces; it is God giving Himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive.”

Next Sunday, the Jubilee Year of Mercy will come to an end. But of course the end of the Year of Mercy doesn’t mean that, starting a week from Monday, a Year of Strict and Severe Judgment will begin.  No. God’s mercy endures forever.

Logo for Holy Year of MercyNow, we Americans have elected as our president a man who, by any reasonable estimation, is simply not a good person.  I don’t mean that, had the outcome on Tuesday been different, we would then have elected a good person. I’m not saying that.  But that’s all moot now anyway.

The man who will assume our presidency in January has lived the life of a sybarite, a liar, and a braggart. That’s not all.  There’s another two-syllable word that begins with ‘b’ which suits him perfectly.  But I won’t use that word in pulpit oratory.  I guess we have had unsteady, lying braggarts for presidents before.  And we somehow survived.

But the whole business of government involves co-operation.  And the whole business of co-operation requires trust.  And we have a president who I, for one, wouldn’t trust with five dollars of my own money for even fifteen minutes.

Christ is king.  Prayer works.  It just doesn’t always work in the way that we, with our small minds, expect.  We have, as a country, gotten ourselves into a very serious mess.  Getting out of it will cost us a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

Let’s have the humility to admit that we got the president we deserve.  We elected a man of no character; therefore, we must have serious character flaws ourselves.

Let’s close the Year of Mercy by humbly acknowledging this.  Taking collective responsibility for the great act of irresponsibility that America as a whole has induldged in, with the year-and-a-half-long mess of a presidential election that landed us in the uncharted territory where we are now.

If we put our foreheads to the ground before God and admit, Yes, Lord, this is our fault!  We find ourselves lost in the woods, and we got lost by our own nonsense!  –If we do that, then we can hope for divine mercy and gracious assistance from heaven.  Gracious assistance to help this body politic through the entire weird, unpredictable ordeal that we now face.

The Big Event

Frank Beamer retirement announcement

This time of year, people begin to look back and consider all the ‘big things’ that have happened in the past eleven months.

Like a change of pastor at St. Andrew’s in Roanoke–doesn’t happen every year.

Big events on the world stage: Terrorist attacks in Paris. New Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Pope Francis visited the U.S. Iran nuclear deal. Migrants flooding Europe, fleeing ISIS. USA won the women’s World Cup.

A little closer to home: The shooting at Smith Mountain Lake. Frank Beamer’s retirement. Cavaliers got knocked-out early from the NCAA tournament in March…

We keep the season of Advent for many reasons. One of them is to put all these events into perspective, to put history itself into perspective. Advent does not mean maxing out the credit cards on “The Force Awakens” merchandise. Or getting into cookie-baking battles with your mother-in-law.

No: keeping Advent means something rather radical. It means an intimate sharing in the thoughts, affections, hopes, and longings of one particular group of people. The “heroes” of Advent. The prophet Isaiah. Sts. Zechariah and Elizabeth. St. John the Baptist. The three Wise Men. St. Joseph. And the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Pope Francis UgandaInstead of going shopping, they visited the Temple. Instead of watching tv, they memorized the Psalms. Instead of playing video games or fantasy football, they gazed at the stars in the night sky. Instead of driving hither and yon in a frenzy, the heroes and heroines of Advent patiently waited, calmly waited.

Events happen. Campaigns, elections, birthdays, basketball seasons, Winter Sales Events, trials, tribulations, travels, transactions, treaties and treaty violations–they happen. Signs in the sun, moon, and stars. The anxieties of daily life. History constantly seethes with events.

But the heroes of Advent stayed vigilant while the world around them flimmed and flammed. The prophet Isaiah witnessed events that would make our heads spin–foreign armies over-running the land, the people dispersed in exile and degradation. St. John the Baptist saw the Romans take control, wrenching power from Herod the Great’s feckless progeny. Only the Lord knows all the things that the Wise Men saw, as they journeyed west across deserts and through huge ancient cities teeming with Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Greek-speaking self-help gurus.

But, through all this, one thing, and one thing only, touched their innermost hearts. The world turned, unsteady and confused–but one single sentence made its way into the epicenter of the bosom of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Behold. You will bear a son who will sit on the throne of David.”

The four weeks of Advent train our hearts and our minds to remember that all of history has one decisive event. One.

And He has a name.

Stay awake, “lest that day catch you like a trap.” What could ‘that day’ mean, other than when earth and heaven meet? ‘That day,’ when God opens Himself up as the temple of the city, His light shining as a perpetual sun. ‘That day,’ when truth and justice kiss, and all stolen goods get returned to their proper owners. ‘That day,’ when sick people heal, when blind people read the words of a book, and when the child and the bear cub frolic together. That day: when God and man are one.

El Greco AnnunciationAnybody know what continent Pope Francis is on right now? Africa. He traveled to Africa to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Martyrs of Namugongo, in Uganda. The African martyrs were tortured and burned alive because they refused to renounce Christ. They refused to give in to unchastity and corruption. “That day” came for them, and they were ready, because they had trained their hearts to focus on what Isaiah and the Baptist and St. Joseph and Mary focused on.

Yes, He was born in humble circumstances. He never wrote a book, got interviewed on “60 Minutes,” played professional football, or won a Nobel Prize. He never had a facebook or twitter, never ran for office, never made a lot of money. Never endorsed a product, did a tv spot, or conducted any kind of PR. We’re not even sure exactly what He looked like.

But: in the list of all the things that have ever happened or ever will happen, this is The Big One.

They waited. The ancient prophets. The devout foreigners longing to know God. The just man, living for love and a future that only God could know. And the lovely young woman who had become pregnant through an act of faith. They kept quiet and waited patiently, calmly. Awaited the birth of the man, the child, the baby boy Who is God.

Parrhesia, Part Two

The Lord Jesus’ discourse about the apocalypse ends with this consoling sentence: “When the signs begin to happen—” that is: tumult, terror, people dying of fright—when this happens, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”

No panicking. No violence. God is greater. Christ has conquered; what is there to fear?

thanksgiving-BeverlyHillbilliesThe promises of Christ can offer us the serenity required to give faithful testimony. “I myself will give you wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

Not sure if he means conversational adversaries across a Thanksgiving-dinner table. But He might mean that.

Our Holy Father put it to us like this, one of the times when he used the word parrhesia—plain-spoken boldness:

The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you offer it.

The witness to Christ possesses the richest heritage of all, the heritage of God’s Incarnation. This produces a serenity which is more truly militant than any kind of aggression. Humility conquers. Humility means: I stand on a truth that even World War III could not disturb: Christ.

Luke 21: Crises are for Parrhesia

Holy Father at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, Sept. 23
Holy Father at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, Sept. 23

Christ has given us more spiritual benefits than we can reckon. One of them, certainly, is: That He has spoken calmly and reasonably with us about the end of our lives and the end of the world.

He foresaw that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed, and it was. He foresaw that there will be wars and insurrections, nation against nation—there have been, and there continue to be. He foresaw that there will be earthquakes, famines, plagues, frightening portents in the sky—there have been, and there will continue to be.

But He insists: Remain calm through all of this. None of these events will prove ultimately decisive for you. “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed.” Crises will arrive, but they come for a reason. So that you may testify.

When Pope Francis came to visit us here in the US, he used a Greek word: parrhesia. He had used it before, and he will likely use it again. The word appears in the New Testament quite a few times (41 times, if you include verbs and adverbial phrases).

Parrhesia means bold speech declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostles faced crises, wars, persecutions, certain death. They gave their testimony: God is greater. Jesus Christ has conquered.

More on this tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving/End of the World

thanksgiving-BeverlyHillbillies

The annual cycle of the Catholic Church’s Sacred Liturgy goes way back. Back before even the Mayflower, or Plymouth-Rock pilgrims, or the untimely death of the first American turkey at the hands of a white man.

According to the ancient Liturgy of our Church, this is the week of the year to contemplate the end of times, the final tribulations, and the great apocalypse that will purify the earth.

According to our long-standing American custom, on the other hand, this is the week of the year to gather at the family hearth and give thanks to God for the copious fruits of the earth, and for all His many benefits to us.

So, on the one hand, in church: the book of Revelation, the wrath of God, the angels scourging the evil Babylons of the earth, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the arduous trial of faith by which the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our souls will truly shine forth and confound the devil’s minions.

On the other hand, at home: apple cider, pumpkin pie, and plenty of late-afternoon football, with each quarter punctuated by a nap.

Seems like two altogether different emphases. But, in fact, one common theme unites both observances. The gathering of the harvest.

We sit at table and eat and drink with each other to rejoice in the great gathering-in of the what the earth–with the labor of human hands, and fertilizer, and rain–has produced.

We will eat our turkeys. And a quiet and a joy will descend upon us with the early sunset and the fire burning. Because this harvesting and gathering that we human beings do touches the final harvesting and gathering that God will do.

Indeed, there is some glory in the Thanksgiving table even for the turkey. (Especially if it’s maybe baked in buttercloth, or basted with beer.) The turkey reaches a kind of goal, so to speak. Its little turkey life takes on meaning, as it sits beautifully on the table while the family members argue about Obama.

We, too, will find a place, in the end. The heavenly Father will gather us into His barns, as Jesus put it. The striving and straining and fussing of the pilgrim life will end. And, please God, the great peace of the divine kingdom will enfold us like a blanket.

Time to Belive and to Evangelize

ihs

The sun of justice will rise, with its healing rays. (Malachi 3:20)

The liturgical year draws to a close. A week from Sunday we will keep the Feast of Christ the King. Then Turkey Day. Then Advent begins.

Time marches on. Time heals all wounds. The Lord patiently delays the final judgment, so that we can repent of our sins and turn to Him. He makes time our friend: Every day He gives us 24 more hours to learn to love Him better.

And 24 more hours to testify to His goodness. Lord Jesus said that He would give us words. To those who believe; to those ready and willing to die for Him, He says: Don’t worry about what you will say. Just say it. You have more than your own limited mind to work with. You also have the Spirit of my Father within you. Speak in faith. Harmonize your tongue with the grace in your soul, and the right testimony will sound forth.

Continue reading “Time to Belive and to Evangelize”

Assaulted?

Touching the rock of Calvary. Photo credit Nicky Morrison.

“That day will assault everyone,” says the Lord (Luke 21:35).

The Lord Jesus is saying that the day of judgment will assault everyone.

But let’s ask ourselves this question: Do the days already assault us now?

Does the alarm clock make an unwelcome sound? Does the morning news assault me? Is pulling out into traffic like being assaulted? Am I thoroughly pummeled by mid-morning?

An assault leaves the victim stunned, paralyzed, dazed, passive. An assault knocks the wind out of you, sucks the energy out of you, bewilders you. An assault can make a person lose his way, lose track of where he was headed. Immediately after an assault, it is impossible to focus on one’s goals; it is impossible to focus on the future. There is just pain and confusion.

The roughest part of everyday life can be boredom. The assault can be the oppression of deadening routine. Life comes at you slow—so slow that it hurts with a dull pain, like after a body blow.

What happens when even the special, fun things feel old? Like when you don’t feel like doing any daggone Christmas shopping?

“That day will assault everyone.”

Continue reading “Assaulted?”

St. Basil Quote of the Day

For our dear mother Church, today is the last day of the year.

It is the ideal day to meditate on the Day–the last day, the end of time.

As we have noted before, St. Basil explained Christ’s words as well as anyone ever has.

The Lord said, “Take heed of yourselves, lest…the day come upon you unawares” (Luke 21:34).

St. Basil explained:

Every animal has within itself certain instincts which it has received from God, for the preservation of its own being.

Wherefore Christ has also given us this warning, that what comes to animals by nature may be ours by the aid of reason and prudence: that we may flee from sin as the brute creatures shun deadly food; that we may seek after righteousness, as they wholesome herbs.

Take heed of yourselves. Eat your Wheaties. Do good; avoid evil.

Hoyas 4-0, baby!