Man-Born-Blind Homily

Not as man sees does God see…The Lord looks into the heart. (I Samuel 16:7)

Pope-Francis-Lumen-FideiThe Lord sent the prophet Samuel to anoint the king of Israel, from among the sons of Jesse. Samuel saw Jesse’s elder son Eliab and thought, “Surely, the Lord’s anointed is here.” Eliab looked like Denzel Washington.

Then Samuel saw the other, older sons. And the prophet thought, ‘The Lord surely must have chosen one of these!’ Jesse’s other older sons looked like Pierce Brosnan, Lebron James, Eric Estrada, Tom Brady, Raul Julia, and Charleton Heston, respectively.

But the Lord had chosen none of them, because God Almighty does not judge by appearances. He perceives things by a deeper, more penetrating light.

In the gospel reading at Holy Mass this Sunday, we hear the Lord Jesus declare: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently marked the fourth anniversary of his pontificate. The first encyclical he gave us, back in 2013—anyone remember what it was about? Faith. The Holy Father commented on this-coming-Sunday’s gospel reading. The pope wrote, and I quote:

Those who believe, see. They see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the Morning Star that never sets.

Now, who knows where that phrase comes from? “The Morning Star that never sets?” Right! From the hymn at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. Which is coming in three weeks!

When Pope Francis claims that “those who believe, see,” he means, and I quote:

Our faith in the Son of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth enable us to grasp reality’s deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself.

Without faith, we can see movies. We can see our friends and neighbors. We can even see beautiful sunsets. But we can’t see the wisdom that guides it all, sustains it all, moves it all towards a goal. Without faith, we cannot see the fact that all the things we see are moving towards an as-yet-unseen fulfillment.

Pope Francis Easter candleJesus Christ—His whole pilgrimage, from the Virgin’s womb, through 33 years, to his final trip to Jerusalem; His death; His resurrection; His ascension—all of this, Jesus Christ’s life as a human being: the Good News about it reaches us as both a. a promise about the meaning of life and b. the fulfillment of the promise.

a. Christ offers us the promise of eternal bliss. He said, ‘In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places, and I have prepared one for you.’ His resurrection from the dead makes that promise shine like an as-yet-invisible light—and that promise–that light–becomes the interior light of our lives.

b. Christ fulfills the promise, too—because He Himself gives us all the divine gifts that make our life of faith possible; He pours out the Holy Spirit. Christ’s grace, Christ’s life flows into our souls through the sacraments. He is alive. He is at work. And He Himself awaits us at the end of time as the true, just, and loving conclusion of everything.

“Awake, o sleeper,” therefore, “rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Yes, it’s true: we don’t even know what He looks like. Does Jesus look like Ryan Gosling? John Legend? Does He look like Abraham Lincoln, only shorter? We don’t know what Christ’s Holy Face looks like, up there in heaven.

But, even though we cannot now see His face, and we don’t have any photographs or Facebook-Live videos—even though the whole thing is an experience of pure faith: the light that shines from Christ’s face in heaven enlightens our minds. Not so that we can see what He looks like, but so that we can see the world the way that He sees it.

He sees everything from one particular point-of-view. Namely: The point-of-view of the eternal Son of the eternal Father. He experiences everything as the chosen and beloved heir of the divine throne–the heir to whom God wills to give everything that God has to give. Christ receives it all, as the gift that it is. And He offers it back to the Father as a sacrifice of love, to give His Father glory.

By faith, dear brothers and sisters, we participate in this.

Holy Family

Everyone knows that our readings for Sundays and holy days follow a three-year cycle? The second reading always comes from the ____ Testament. Most of the time, the second reading at Mass comes from a letter written by St. ______. He wrote letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, Galatians, Thessalonians, Philippians, Ephesians, etc.

Paul himself was none of these; he was, in fact, a descendant of Abraham, a ______. Jews were also known as H_________. Sometimes we read from St. Paul’s letter to his own people.

Twice during the three-year cycle we read from chapter 11 of Hebrews. Once during the summer, in Year C. And once every three years on Holy Family Sunday.

Now, obviously, the Bible contains many inspiring chapters. To claim that any particular chapter qualifies as The Most Inspiring Chapter of the Holy Bible! would involve a lot of hubris. But Hebrews 11 will give any chapter a run for the money. If you only intend to read one single chapter of the Bible between now and the end of 2014, and you decide to make it Hebrews 11, I congratulate you on a good choice.

illuminated-bibleWe hear in Sunday’s reading how the paragraphs of Hebrews 11 begin with the phrase “By faith, So-and-so did such-and-such.” By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to move to an unknown land. By faith, Abraham received the power to generate offspring, even though he had passed the normal age, and had a sterile wife. By faith, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up his son Isaac.

Now, Hebrews 11 recounts not just Abraham’s faith. The chapter chronicles the faith of the successive generations of Israelites who awaited the fulfillment of God’s promises. The chapter exhorts the Christian Church to unswerving faith.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, practically based his whole encyclical Lumen Fidei on Hebrews 11; he quotes the chapter thirteen times in the encyclical. Like when he writes:

If we remove faith in God from our cities, mutual trust would be weakened. We would remain united only by fear, and our stability would be threatened. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that ‘God is not ashamed to be called their God…’ (Heb 11:16)… The intention is to say that God, by his concrete actions, makes a public avowal that he is present in our midst and that he desires to solidify every human relationship. Could it be the case, instead, that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God? That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common which he makes possible? Faith possesses a creative light for each new moment of history, because it sets every event in relationship to the origin and destiny of all things, in the Father. (paragraph 55)

Anyway, one particular verse of Hebrews 11 struck me, and I will tell you why. In the section of the chapter after the part about Abraham and his sons, St. Paul considers the faith of Moses. We read:

Pope-Francis-Lumen-Fidei“By faith, Moses left Egypt, not fearing Pharaoh’s fury. For Moses persevered as if he could see the invisible God.”

Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, marching towards the sea, with chariots in hot pursuit. No earthly consideration could have made the situation hopeful. Didn’t look good at all. But Moses marched forward as if he could see the invisible God.

We see the baby Jesus, a baby, a boy. A human being, like us. But, by faith, we look at the infant in the manger as if we could see the invisible God. The Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the shepherds: gazing at the baby, adoring Him, as if they could see the invisible God.

Nothing will evangelize like this. The world needs the Good News of Christ. And nothing will convince like the witness of people who speak and live as if we could see the invisible.

Let me quote Pope Paul VI:

The world shows innumerable signs of denying God. But, nevertheless, she searches for him in unexpected ways. She painfully experiences the need for Him. The world is calling for evangelizers to speak of a God whom they know and are familiar with, as if they could see the invisible. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, paragraph 76)

For us, this requires discipline. It requires constant engagement with Christ, through Scripture and the sacraments. It requires renouncing the “concupiscence of our eyes,” which grasp like desperate babies for stimulation.

Moses did not lead the Israelites to the Promised Land by pulling out his smartphone all the time and checking his e-mail or facebook. Moses could see the invisible because he had conquered the concupiscence of his eyes, by denying them the immediate satisfaction that they crave.

Let’s think of the long, slow nights which Mary and Joseph spent with the baby. Hours of quiet breathing, little baby noises, in the pitch-black night. Totally unexciting. Except that they could see the invisible God.

That’s how we can learn to see the invisible, too. By embracing quiet, and solitude—and not running away. By becoming people who are not afraid to pray, to pray with reckless abandon to the unseen God–Who, in Jesus Christ, we can see and know.

Papa on Faith and Abba, Father

Pope-Francis-Lumen-Fidei“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35)

The Lord Jesus asked the man, who had been born blind, this question. Do you believe in the Son of Man?

Now, blindness of the eyes can sneak up on a person during life. The thickness of my own personal spectacles demonstrates how blindness has snuck up on me somewhat over the years.

But the Lord cured a man who had been born blind. The man had not grown blind by squinting at ancient Torah scrolls in dimly lit synagogues. He had not suffered an injury to his eyes in a battle or a fight or an accident. This man had been born blind.

St. Augustine interprets this in a mystical way: “The blind man here is the human race. Blindness came upon the first man by reason of sin, and from him all derive it.”

Whom can we not see? The most important Being of them all, our origin and the goal of all our striving. Can’t see Him. Can’t see the One upon Whom all the angels gaze, and it is all the food they need. We are blind from birth.

Continue reading Papa on Faith and Abba, Father”


The Body of Christ Dead in the Tomb Hans Holbein

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” –the Shema.

We might generally associate the word ‘reliability’ with a well-built car or washing machine. But the Holy Father, Pope Francis, uses the word ‘reliability’ repeatedly in the decisive passages of his encyclical on Christian faith. The ‘reliability’ of God’s love emerges as the theme of paragraphs 15-17.

Having summarized the history of Israel, the Pope writes:

The history of Jesus is the complete manifestation of God’s reliability…God can give us no greater guarantee of His love…In the love of God revealed in Jesus, faith perceives the foundation on which all reality and its final destiny rest…

The clearest proof of the reliability of Christ’s love is to be found in his dying for our sake…In Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, Prince Myshkin sees a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger depicting Christ dead in the tomb and says: “Looking at that painting might cause one to lose his faith.” …Yet it is precisely in contemplating Jesus’ death that faith grows stronger and receives a dazzling light…

Christ’s death discloses the utter reliability of God’s love above all in the light of his resurrection. As the risen one, Christ is the trustworthy witness, deserving of faith, and a solid support for our faith…Had the Father’s love not caused Jesus to rise from the dead, had it not been able to restore his body to life, then it would not be a completely reliable love, capable of illuminating also the gloom of death…Precisely because Jesus is the Son, because he is absolutely grounded in the Father, he was able to conquer death and make the fullness of life shine forth.

Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true…It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not.

Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.

Real Science

In honor of the 733rd anniversary of the death of the great scientist, Bishop Albert, let’s recall paragraph 34 of Holy Father’s encyclical on our faith in divine love:

The light of love proper to faith can illumine the questions of our own time… One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all.

…The light of faith is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus. It illumines the material world, trusts its inherent order and knows that it calls us to an ever widening path of harmony and understanding. The gaze of science thus benefits from faith: faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. Faith awakens the critical sense by preventing research from being satisfied with its own formulae and helps it to realize that nature is always greater. By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation.

One thought to take from this paragraph: When we believe in God, we recognize that the material world is something He made according to His infinitely intelligent plan. We, too, possess intelligence. So we can harmonize ourselves with the intelligent order of the material world.

Albert the Great Septicentennial StampThis is what science really is: Not controlling the world, but harmonizing ourselves with it, in a reasonable way. This is what medicine really is: Not controlling our bodies, but harmonizing our minds with them, in a reasonable way. We can read in nature and in our own bodies the plan of the higher intelligence that made all of it, provided we are humble enough to admit that we need to learn in this way.

As St. Albert knew and taught, true science flows from this first step: Our humble acknowledgement that our intelligence is not the highest. Science = seeking to learn something about the much-higher intelligence with which the Creator ordered His creation.

Perfectly Consistent St. Francis

Holy Father visiting Assisi today, for the saint’s feastday.

Five years ago, your humble servant also paid a visit (which was my third). My dear mommy appears here, on the far left. Two of the fellow pilgrims pictured have gone on to meet Sister Death in the meantime. May God be merciful…

In front of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi
In front of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi

“Lord, increase our faith.” Increase our faith. Increase our faith today. And for the rest of this Year of Faith. For the rest of the Redskins season. For the rest of our earthly pilgrimage. Increase our faith, Lord.

St. Francis of Assisi had some faith. To quite G.K. Chesterton’s biography: “To this mystic his religion was not a thing like a theory but a thing like a love affair.” Religion that is not a theory but a love affair.

To believe in God so much that my life is nothing other than my love affair with Him. I think maybe that explains St. Francis better than anything else I have ever read about him.

colorfrancisTo us smaller, worldly souls, St. Francis can appear inconsistent. He caressed the wolf and sang to his friends the sun and moon, as if he were living in the Age of Aquarius. But Francis also fasted and did penance to the point that his body never recovered. He died when he was my age.

Francis embraced the leper and found Christ in every poor man. But, at the same time, no one has ever revered the hierarchical structure of the Church, the sacredness of the male, celibate priesthood, the office of the papacy—no one has ever revered these things more than Francis of Assisi revered them.

In our mind’s eye, we can see Francis dancing with joy through the trees and wildflowers of the Umbrian hills, a man as free as Jesus Christ Himself. But, like Christ’s freedom, Francis’ came from unstinting, self-sacrificing obedience to divine law. The perfectly free Francis never swerved from the path of perfect obedience.

Inconsistent? St. Francis? Again, Chesterton: “What seems inconsistency to you, modern man, did not seem inconsistency to him.”

…In Assisi today, venerating his namesake, our Holy Father quoted St. Francis’ prayer for his own hometown. The Pope used this prayer for Assisi, and for the nation of Italy (which has St. Francis for her patron). The prayer is like an echo of the prayer of the exiles of Jerusalm (first reading at Holy Mass today), a penitent acclamation of Christ’s dominion:

I pray to you, Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies: Do not look upon our ingratitude, but always keep in mind the surpassing goodness which you have shown to this City. Grant that it may always be the home of men and women who know you in truth and who glorify your most holy and glorious name, now and for all ages. Amen.

St. Francis prayed that his city would be a city of faith and service to the triune God. Pope Francis prays the same. This prayer reminds us of our Holy Father’s words in his encyclical on faith:

If we remove faith in God from our cities, mutual trust would be weakened, we would remain united only by fear, and our stability would be threatened. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that “God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them” (Heb 11:16)… The intention is to say that God, by his concrete actions, makes a public avowal that he is present in our midst and that he desires to solidify every human relationship. Could it be the case, instead, that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God? That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common, which he makes possible?*

The doctrine of St. Francis mesmerizes us with its simplicity: We all have one Father. We are all brothers. Simple.

And his doctrine convinces us by the intensity of his own experience of its truth. How do we know that we all have one Father and that we are all brothers? We know it because Christ taught us. How did Christ teach us? By His wounds, which He suffered for us. How do we learn it? By bearing His wounds in our bodies.

* This same paragraph of Lumen Fidei quotes one of our Hall-of-Famers, T.S. Eliot. In particular, his lyrics for “The Rock.” The long poem packs a punch, especially during these days of widespread federal furloughs.

Abundant Harvest and Lumen Fidei

The harvest is abundant. (Luke 10:2)

One of the themes Pope Francis highlights in his encyclical on faith is this: Faith involves hearing a promise made by God, remembering it constantly, and looking forward to its fulfillment.

The promise of an abundant harvest goes all the way back to our father Abraham. God, the true God, the personal God—the God who makes a beautiful promise to us, speaking to us in our words—He established an alliance with Abraham. He made Abraham His partner in the unfolding of His Providence.

Pope-Francis-Lumen-FideiYou! Old man, aging shepherd: Do as I tell you. Wander into a new land. You will have many, many, many descendants. You consider yourself half-dead with old age. But your and Sarah’s fruitfulness will surpass even your wildest imaginings. Just do as I say, my friend. I’m not forcing you. You are free. But just do as I say, and the harvest will be wonderfully abundant.

A promise. Abraham believed it. Abraham’s life became a friendship with the Almighty One Who can and does fulfill such incomprehensible promises. Abraham never grasped what it was all about. Abraham waited to his dying day for it all to make sense. Then he waited almost two thousand years in the limbo of the fathers, until he saw the Christ of God in the womb of the Virgin. He believed all along: The harvest is abundant.

But: The laborers are few. Because the first and decisive task is to believe. When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?

We human beings like to know stuff. No harm there; we were made to know stuff.

But isn’t this the first thing we know, namely that the God Who made us and governs all things—that He is immeasurably greater than anything we can know? We know for sure that we do not know Him.

The only way to enter into this great alliance with the Master of the abundant harvest is to believe. Not blindly, like an ignorant person, but wisely, like a sage: I have studied this. I know that I cannot know the power, the mind, the love of the Creator. So I simply take Him at His word.

The wise man acknowledges to himself: My own lights do not always serve me so well. I’m full of changeable moods. I get tired. I make mistakes. Often, I can’t think straight.

But the Lord says that the harvest is abundant. It’s not just a bargaining stratagem; it’s not just a partisan perspective; it’s not just a story. It’s the Word of God Himself. The harvest is abundant. The poor and meek and merciful will be blessed. The kingdom of heaven is coming.

Ok. I believe. I believe the Word of God. We believe. To believe is our first labor.

The rest of the job gets easy–once we let go of knowing the big picture and simply believe that God does. Let me just do my little job, right here and now. The harvest will be abundant.


Some things do indeed transcend our ability to understand. Like how representative democracy can look so good on paper. And yet, in practice…

So we cannot grasp some things. Also, we cannot grasp our fellow creatures, the purely spiritual angels. Like us, they exercise intelligence and decision-making. But, altogether unlike us, they do not have matter. They do not have bodies.

julius-ervingTheir lives unfold through time like ours do. But they do not face the mortality of the body. And they do not face moral danger now, like we do. The angels all chose for or against God at the very beginning of time. The evil angels became…demons.

Among the good angels of God, a sizable army received the particular assignment of guarding individual human beings.

“Guarding.” How? Against accident, sickness, ill fortune, bad hair days? Not really. The guardian angel guards each of us against sin. Against moral choices that lead towards hell.

My guardian angel may not prevent my getting sick or facing a very difficult situation. But when I get sick or face a very difficult situation, my guardian angel will do everything in his power to inspire me and strengthen me, so I do not sin, but rather follow the Lord through the dark valley toward the Promised Land.

Many consolations await us in heaven, that we can look forward to. Like being able to talk at length with George Eliot, or listen to Bach play his own music, or watch Dr. J. go to the hoop in an eternal arc of gracefulness.

But one of the most pleasant consolations will be seeing my guardian angel and learning much more about his point-of-view on the whole drama of my pilgrim life. At this moment, he knows much more than I do about what is going on.

As Pope Francis put it in his encyclical on faith: “The believer is never alone.” The triune God watches over me. And He sends His angel to guard my steps, lest I cast my foot against a stone.

Midnight Conversation

Importunate Neighbor

In the Near East, the heat of the day can grow extremely intense. Therefore, back when people rode camels, they often traveled at night, by moonlight. These days, people with young children often travel at night in order to avoid ‘Are we there yet?’ a thousand times, because the kids are sound asleep.

Either way, a true friend welcomes travelers, even in the middle of the night. With cellphones and 7-11s, and other modern conveniences like breadmakers and refrigerators, rarely these days does a night-traveling friend arrive at your home without warning and find you altogether unprepared to hook him up with food and a beverage.

Continue reading “Midnight Conversation”

Exodus and Lumen Fidei

Reading the books of Moses for the first reading at Holy Mass these days… Reading our Holy Father’s encyclical…

Pope-Francis-Lumen-FideiIt all comes together in paragraph 12:

The history of the people of Israel in the Book of Exodus follows in the wake of Abraham’s faith.

Faith once again is born of a primordial gift: Israel trusts in God, who promises to set his people free from their misery. Faith becomes a summons to a lengthy journey leading to worship of the Lord on Sinai and the inheritance of a promised land.

God’s love is seen to be like that of a father who carries his child along the way. Israel’s confession of faith takes shape as an account of God’s deeds in setting his people free and acting as their guide, an account passed down from one generation to the next.

stained-glassGod’s light shines for Israel through the remembrance of the Lord’s mighty deeds, recalled and celebrated in worship, and passed down from parents to children.

Here we see how the light of faith is linked to concrete life-stories, to the grateful remembrance of God’s mighty deeds and the progressive fulfillment of his promises.

Gothic architecture gave clear expression to this: in the great cathedrals light comes down from heaven by passing through windows depicting the history of salvation. God’s light comes to us through the account of his self-revelation, and thus becomes capable of illuminating our passage through time by recalling his gifts and demonstrating how he fulfills his promises.