Ready to Let Go

Depart from me Lord

Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man. (Luke 5:8)

Christ worked His miracle in the deep water of the Sea of Galilee, and St. Peter recognized the awesome holiness. [Spanish]

Peter was afraid. He knew he was not worthy to be in the presence of God. Peter thought to himself: The incredible gift God just gave me means that He will inevitably ask something of me. Something that will require me to let go of everything.

If our First Parents had not fallen in the garden, we would have a different point-of-view. We would focus on God always. We would have complete confidence in His Providence. We would know that our deepest desire is for God. We would know that He alone can make us truly happy. Serving God frees us from anxiety about things like comfort and reputation.

As it is, though, we are a fallen race, living in a fallen world, and we each have to struggle to survive. This inclines us toward avarice and pride. We hold on tight to what we have. We fear life without our “stuff.”

None of it is really ours—everything we have is God’s gift. Given for the short term, to help us get to heaven. But we cling to our stuff, instead of holding it loosely, ready to let go and reach out for the only real treasure worth having, namely God Himself.

When St. Peter realized that God had come to him, he was paralyzed. Peter could not believe that the Christ of God intended to be his friend. Personal friendship with the Messiah? That’s too good for me! And too challenging. Or so Peter thought.

sistine isaiahBut Jesus said to the fisherman: No, My friendship is not too good for you. I have plans for you. I will make you worthy. Just let go of everything else.

The Lord Jesus extends the same invitation to each of us. He has a plan for us all. This plan involves our co-operating with Him, growing closer and closer to Him, and doing great things for Him. Helping draw other souls to Him, by the evidence of our own faith. While we meanwhile hold on loosely to everything currently within our grasp, ready to let go if need be.

We tend to shrink back from the adventure that the Lord invites us to make. Our faith falters. We think: How close could God really want to be to me, anyway? I have so many spiritual warts. And unclean lips, as Isaiah put it. We tend to think, ‘Surely the Lord would prefer a holier person to be a soldier for the kingdom and a fisher of men.’

But it’s not true. Our excuses are not true. Right here and now, the Lord is saying to each of us: ‘Do not be afraid. I know how poorly qualified you are. I do not care. I am not looking for hot-shots. I am looking for friends with generous hearts.’

St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians teaches us the single qualification we need to serve as an apostle of Christ.

I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day. (I Corinthians 15:3-4)

Only one thing is necessary, for us to follow the Lord into the adventure of a holy life. We have to believe that He rose from the dead.

We believe it! We have faith in the triumph of Christ. He has conquered all evil.

That faith is all we need. Then we let go of everything else.

Pope Francis Holy-Year Indulgence

Pope Francis at Holy Door St Peters

Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?
(Luke 5:34)

We know that the heavenly Bridegroom is always with us. Problem is that we are not always with Him.

He always loves–loves us with an earnest, peaceful, all-encompassing zeal. His constant, unflinching love is, after all, the only thing that can really make us happy. We, for our part, pay attention to Jesus loving us approximately 3% of the time.

On the one hand: time passing—weeks passing; months, years—on the one hand, all this time passing can very much work to our advantage. Because good things grow with time, even when we don’t realize it. If we keep some kind of wholesome routine and stay on the right track, the power of God can foster our growth in virtue and intimacy with Him. He accomplishes great things in us when we aren’t even paying attention.

But, on the other hand: the passage of time can lead us to sink into a rut, and our spiritual lives corrode gradually. We can find ourselves all but completely enveloped in the tedious monotony of the world–it’s short horizons and petty agitations. Over time, human beings can grow accustomed to a life that is all but spiritually dead.

cuaSo we need opportunities to break out of the small, uninspiring confines that our routines can lead us into. That’s called a jubilee: when the normal rut, which everyone got used to, without realizing it, and forgot that there is more to life—a jubilee is when that rut gets broken to bits by the hugeness of God.

The coming of a year of jubilee reminds us that everything is God’s. His mercy trumps all our antagonisms and lists of grievances. We remember that there was a beautiful beginning to this world, and it can be beautiful like that again.

In less than three weeks, our Holy Father will arrive here for a visit with us in the US. Can’t wait to concelebrate Mass with Him, at my alma mater and the site of my ordination, for the canonization of one of my most-beloved saints, using the Pope’s, and the saint’s, mother tongue.

In three months, we will begin the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The other day, as we discussed, the media focused on one passage of a letter the Holy Father recently wrote about the Jubilee Year. I think we should focus on a different passage:

It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy. Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: 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. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: 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. (Misericordiae Vultus 15)

Popes designate jubilee years for one main reason: to grant indulgences. When we repent of our sins, God forgives us and liberates us from the eternal punishment that we have deserved for offending Him. Nonetheless, our debt to justice remains, and purifying ourselves completely takes time.

We do not, however, face the prospect of this painful purification all by ourselves. We face it as members of the one Church. And the Church has had many saints. So the supreme authority of the Church, moved to imitate the indulgent heavenly Father, indulgently grants us a share in the goodness of the saints, thereby reducing our own personal debt to justice. That’s an indulgence.

In his letter of Tuesday, Holy Father expressed something very profound, I think, when he focused on our obtaining the Holy-Year indulgence by practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Practicing the works of mercy obtains for us the grace of total forgiveness from the Father. The Pope writes that this would be the Jubilee-Year Indulgence in full—to experience living a year of jubilee in total harmony with the merciful Father.


And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same; but yours eat and drink.” (Luke 5:33)

Ancient Jewish weddings went on for a week. Even venerable rabbis drank and danced at them. The Books of Moses enjoined one solemn day of fasting per year, the Day of Atonement. If this day fell during a wedding celebration, the wedding took precedence and the guests did not fast.

On the other hand: During the second-temple period after the Babylonian exile, the pious Jew fasted on nothing—no food or water until sundown—twice a week. John the Baptist apparently taught his disciples to do the same. And, at the very moment recounted in today’s gospel reading at Mass, as the Lord feasted with reformed tax collectors and prostitutes in Matthew’s home, John languished in Herod’s dungeons.

So the question they asked Jesus about fasting was an honest one, not a trick or an attack. In replying to the question, the Lord did John the honor of quoting him. John had introduced the image of the wedding, and had identified himself as the best man who rejoices when the groom, Christ, arrives.

Hilaire Belloc
Hilaire Beloc

Seems to me like the whole business gives us three good principles.

1. The Kingdom of God involves all the joy, all the festivity, all the dancing and merriment of a wedding. When Hilaire Belloc wrote, “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there’s music and laughter and good red wine,” he grasped the most fundamental of all truths.

2. That said, the Bridegroom no longer dwells on earth, and the Paschal Mystery by which He fulfilled His mission involved the cruel agony of His Passion and crucifixion. Here on earth now, we long for the heavenly kingdom. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst; blessed are those who mourn. A Christian must fast.

3. The Church Herself is the Bride. Her laws, her rules regarding fasting allow us to fast as one, as the united Body of Christ, so that all danger of pharisaism among us is removed.

To some, the Church’s laws seem onerous, since most people don’t even know what fasting is. To others, Her laws seem lax, since we generally only have to go hungry two days a year. And even on Fridays, we have the option of substituting another act of penance for abstaining from meat, outside of Lent.

Some have proposed that fasting according to law destroys the true spirit of fasting, since our fast rather should come from personal devotion and be altogether invisible on the outside. Others insist that it is too easy to slip up, when we try to keep private fast days.

Given all this, it seems to me that we simple Christians living in the world do best to keep the fasts and days of abstinence enjoined by Church law, according to the rules laid down.

Faith and Owning Everything

Everything belongs to you…the world, life, death, present, future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God. I Corinthians 3:21-23

Wow. The world belongs to us. The present and the future. Unheard-of wealth. Everything ours, because we have nothing but God, and to have God means having everything.

Now, this ownership we have does not present itself immediately to the senses. I was just thinking this morning, ‘Wish I had me a Kirk Cousins jersey.’ But I don’t own one, and I am not about to own one between now and my death.

bassanoTo experience our ownership of things, we need total abandonment to faith.

Like St. Peter, who said: ‘Rabbi, all evidence points to our not catching any fish right now. We fished all night, and caught nothing. Your demand that we lower the nets now strikes me and all logical people as absurd. Must be some kind of joke.

‘But, you know what? I trust you, O Nazarene, more than I trust myself. After all, what do I know? I am not God. So here goes.’

Plenty of fish, bursting nets—Bring an extra boat, or we’ll sink! Yes, a miracle. But an even bigger miracle is: Faith. When a human mind gazes into the impenetrable darkness of God’s infinite greater-ness, and humbly concludes:

‘Yes, we human beings got some smarts. We got even more smarts than African fish-eagles, and they know all about thousands of miles of geography, rivers, air currents, other birds, etc.’

But the miracle of faith takes all human intelligence in, with sober respect, and then says, ‘Compared to the Word of God, the thoughts of the wise are vain. The only thing I really know is that the smart money is on God knowing better than me.’

Things are Looking Bad and Good

The Gospel of Jesus Christ always comes as something fresh and new.

We can live as children of God! Our sins against our heavenly Father can be forgiven by Christ, and we can have a fresh start! We can learn to pray and live holy lives. We can hope for everything good, and the Lord will give us the strength to endure everything evil. In the great battle between death and love, love wins.

wineskinThe Good News comes fresh and invigorating in every age, in every time and place. It brings us together and makes us a family.

And with every day that passes, during which we strive by faith and love to follow Christ—with every day that passes in the life of a Christian and in the life of the Christian family, the Church—with every day that passes in which the Gospel lives in us—with every passing day, the fresh new wine in us matures and gains flavor.

We build up discipline. We develop good customs and good manners. We produce beautiful things that help lift our hearts up to God. And we pray, pray, pray more and more.

The maturation process of the wine involves purification. In our first fervor, we retain misconceptions that come from our unconverted minds. Not everything that we think is of God actually is. Not everything which we think is against God actually is. With every passing day, which we live in faith, the Lord helps us to pacify ourselves. We develop an outlook that grows simpler and simpler—because we see things more and more as the Lord Jesus Himself sees them.

His Heart holds the abyss of infinite love. And Christ had a Heart to hold the infinite divine love because our Lady, out of the perfect purity, the perfect faithfulness of her heart, said Yes to the angel.

st petersThe Yes of our Lady, the love of Jesus: these are real, and they can give our lives meaning now, as much as they ever could.

Yesterday the upcoming fall looked to me like one of the most painful falls the United States will ever have had. It still looks that way to me.

But I think I said last spring, during the papal interregnum, that this year looked to me like the second year of Vatican II, a year of indescribable hopefulness, when a new pope got the world’s bishops together again. He kept the Council going, trusting that the Church will always move forward, like our Lady saying Yes to the angel. Because Christ lives, and His Heart will always animate our hearts.

And this year still looks that way to me, too. The rest of 2013 looks awful and wonderful at the same time. Fifty years ago today, the new pope, Paul VI, knelt praying for the Council Fathers coming to Rome, and for the world. Today, the new pope, Francis, kneels praying for all the pilgrims of peace coming to Rome, and for the world.

The Gospel sounds out, as fresh and new as always. The Lord will make it mature in us, exactly as He would have it mature. What He asks of us is faith.

Hard Fall, Hard Praying

The Lord has called us to be His disciples, to put out into the deep waters of this world, and fish for men.

Terrifying and bewildering as it may be for us to be summoned for duty by the good God Himself, we cannot say, ‘depart from me, Lord.’ Or, rather, we can say it—but He won’t do it.

So we must engage everything that comes our way as Christians, as servants of Christ. He guides our ship; He’s the captain. He will not take us out any further from shore than we can handle—even if, to us, it may seem like He has guided us out into the remote and uncharted expanses of the ocean.

mccarrickThis Sunday is our Lady’s birthday, which is when the wild ride of the fall flurry of activity usually begins. From all appearances, our nation, the United States, is in for a difficult, a taxing—potentially a very painful fall.

The fax machines and the internet connections at the US Bishops’ Conference have been running hot. We priests have orders to preach on immigration reform this Sunday. We are for immigration reform. The bishop who ordained me, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, published an inspiring short essay on Sunday in the Washington Post, outlining our Catholic vision for immigration reform. (More to come on that, in this Sunday’s sermon.)

But on Sunday we will also read the parable about the king preparing for war, and how he must prudently study the situation before marching to arms.

The Pope and the American Bishops have asked all of us faithful Catholics to pray for peace in Syria. We are against a US military strike. We pray that it will not occur. I will lead a rosary for peace on Saturday. Maybe all of us could recite the rosary at 5:30 pm, no matter where we are-—and we will all be united spiritually—and with our Holy Father, too, who will pray in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday evening for peace in Syria.

Like I said, I think this weekend is just the beginning of the hard praying we will need to do this fall–for our nation, for our leaders. From where I am sitting, I see a perfect storm brewing over Washington.

(May it please God that my spiritual meteorology is wrong here. May it please Him that the fall of 2013 doesn’t wind up feeling like the fall of 2001 and the fall of 1963, all rolled into one. But I am afraid that this fall will wind up feeling like that.)

Let’s pray: May the Holy Spirit of wisdom and truth enlighten and guide all those who hold reins of power.

…The good news is: The Beast is back in town! (Kinda.)

Michael Morse Orioles 2

Michael Morse Orioles

It’s not Just a Religion, It’s an Adventure

…Let me say this, my blizzard-jockey friends: When the Washington springtime comes this year, it will be the sweetest ever…

Simon Peter fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him.

Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:8-11)

“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

These were St. Peter’s words when he recognized the awesome holiness of Christ. Peter was afraid. He knew he was not worthy to be in the presence of God. After all, he was a rough and humble working man.

Continue reading “It’s not Just a Religion, It’s an Adventure”