The poor widow. She attracted no attention. But the Lord Jesus did not consider her a non-person. He measured her not by her wealth, nor by the extent of her entourage, nor by her influence over the affairs of this world. He measured her by the only criterion that ultimately matters: by the sincerity of her love for God and neighbor. [Spanish]

Every human being is a person: someone who can love and do good and become a heroic saint. A Christian has to see all people this way, penetrating beyond the outer veil of worldly considerations and finding the truth that will last beyond the grave.

What makes abortion so scandalously evil? It treats the unborn child as a non-person. What makes racism and xenophobia so scandalously evil? The immigrant, the non-English-speaker, the desperate refugee: non-person. What’s so horribly scandalous about an angry menace going into a synagogue, or a church, or a mall, or a dancehall–and shooting indiscriminately? The shooter thinks of these people as non-persons.

Tonight we mark the eightieth anniversary of Kristallnacht in Germany, the beginning of the Holocaust. Why is the Holocaust such a shameful stain on the history of humanity? Because the Nazis regarded the Jews as non-persons.

Now, this next step will prove painful and difficult for us to get through. But we have to. What is the unending Catholic Clergy Sex-Abuse Scandal about? Isn’t it fundamentally about the systematic treatment of particular vulnerable human beings as non-persons?

Last February a brave man in Buffalo, New York, publicly denounced a priest who had abused him decades earlier, but who had never faced public justice. And just last week, we learned that a man in New York City had summoned the clarity and courage to accuse a bishop of the same.

In both these cases–as in so, so, so many others–the abusing priests treated these teenage boys as non-persons. Instead of respecting the child of God–with a conscience, with ambitions and dreams for the future; instead of seeing this person, the abusing clergyman saw only a prop for use in his own desperate, twisted escapade; he saw an implement for satisfying his own evil appetites.

Now, this kind of abuse would scandalize us plenty, in and of itself. But the abusers were not the only ones who treated these young men (and, in about 20% of the cases, young women) as non-persons. So did the entire authority structure of the Church. For decades.

Over the past nine months, many secret Church records have finally come to light. What do they show? –The records that will continue to come out, as investigations all over the country run their course: What will they show?

That the Church as an institution has not respected sex-abuse victims as persons. The abusers saw them only as props for pleasure. And way too often, the bishops saw them only as public nuisances and legal liabilities.

Now, in this fallen world of ours, we have to face the sad fact: people treat each other as non-persons all the time. We disrespect each other, use each other. That’s what sinning against your neighbor usually involves.

But when we sinners realize that we have done this, we’re sorry. We apologize. We try to heal the harm done. We heal disrespect, de-humanization, non-personhood. With respect, humane treatment, personal attention.

And as common as it may be for us sinners to treat each other as non-persons, that doesn’t change this fact: Whenever a Christian clergyman treats a fellow human being as a non-person, it does deep damage. It compromises the integrity of the one institution that Jesus Christ founded to propagate His Gospel. The Gospel of the personal dignity of every human being. The Gospel of Almighty God’s fatherly love.

The soul-crushing fact of the Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal is this: whistleblowers and Attorneys General have pulled back the curtain to reveal the “wizard.” And we see that the whole authority structure of the Church has treated sex-abuse victims as non-persons. Consistently, for decades, despite numerous promises to the contrary.

Bishops here and there have actually done heroically beautiful things to try to deal with this problem. But the hierarchy of the Church, considered as a whole, has shown no real interest in truly redressing the wrong done. Instead, over and over again, the same question has dominated the minds of bishops, Cardinals, popes: Quick! What rug can we sweep this under?

Now, that begs the question. What would real redress for sexual abuse involve? Tough question to answer. Except: There is always one expert who knows. Namely, the person who suffered the abuse.

What will make things right for you? What could restore your faith in God, and His Church? What can heal your soul? What will make it possible for you to turn a corner?

The person who has suffered has the one right answer. No ‘policy’ will ever solve this scandal, because every case involves specific human beings. The Scandal will end when the pope and the bishops ask the victims these questions personally–in each and every case–and actually listen to the answers.

PS. This: To the Bishops Before Their General Assembly

The Call of God

Alaska on the lower 48

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30)

Anyone ever read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer? A true story. Sean Penn made a move out of it. [Spanish]

In 1990 a young northern-Virginia man wandered west, into the wilderness, trying to unravel the mystery of life. He had nothing, lived on what came his way, experienced the enchantment of the earth’s beauty—as if every day could be the last. He shared a little bit of the total freedom of St. Francis.

This young man also thoughtlessly left his family behind—his parents, his beloved sister; his friends. He underwent a complete separation from all the ties that bound him. In order to find…? The truth. God.

The story utterly captivates me because Chris McCandless and I have so much in common. Born around the same time; grew up within twenty miles of each other; got good grades and ran cross-country in high-school.

And both of us did our share of hitchhiking around America in the years 1988-1992. In those days, not a lot of people thumbed it, like they had back in the 50’s and 60’s. So it was a little risky. That said, I suppose it’s a lot harder to get rides now than it was thirty years ago.

God. He’s everywhere. All the time. Silently omnipotent. Inscrutably immediate. What else could possibly matter, besides God? He calls. How could any of us truly be himself or herself without trying to listen, to follow, to find Him? Without abandoning everything for Him?

Everything comes from Him, and everything tends toward Him. He fashioned everything and governs all. Some fatalistic pagans think the whole cosmos and our lives are just a meaningless game that God plays. But that’s not fair—to us. We have a serious purpose. Vocational discernment is no meaningless farce. Each of us exists for a reason, and each of us must find that reason—or risk losing our very selves.

Into the Wild movie

Anyone have a wall map of the US? With a separate map of Alaska tucked into one corner? (Hawaii in the other corner.) Anyone ever bothered to compare the scales of the continental US map versus the Alaska map? You know: one inch = a hundred miles, or two hundred.

Anyway, on my wall map, the scale for Alaska is double the scale for the lower forty-eight. Alaska ain’t no chicken-scratch Canadian backyard. Texas, California, and Montana, spread out next to each other, could all fit inside Alaska. Alaska is 9/10th the size of Mexico.

At age 22, Chris McCandless hitchhiked, worked odd jobs, got to know people from all different walks of life—then wound up in solitude in the northern reaches of the Denali Nature Preserve in the Alaska interior.

Certainly a lot of us can relate to some of that. The business of coming of age, exploring the world, figuring out who you are. At age 22, I, too hitch-hiked, worked odd jobs, got to know people from all walks of life. But I didn’t wind up in Alaska. I’ve never been to Alaska. I wound up in RCIA.

The crucifix was my Alaska. A crucifix doesn’t encompass the size of California, Texas, and Montana combined. Rather, it’s the size of a single human being. Same size as all of us.

Yet the crucifix unites heaven and earth, eternity and time. It unites solitude and solidarity. Alaska is a lonely place—seems like one, anyway. But the Christian Church? No, not lonely. The crucifix unites God and man. Jesus Christ has united all of this—the whole cosmos He made—in love.

Finding God’s will. You have to follow the rules. Pray, go to Mass, obey the Commandments. But then your calling comes as a pure gift. At 22, by the pure grace of God, I knew He was calling me to become a priest. I knew that without any doubt. Though to this day I still can’t say that I fully know what a priest even is.

I know a priest lives from Jesus and for Jesus. Like everyone. Every human being who has ever lived and died, or who will ever live and die—all live from Jesus and for Jesus.

Jesus had a vocation: to live from the Father and for the Father. Jesus of Nazareth consummated human life as religion. When I was 22 my friends told me I was ‘strangely religious.’ By the time I joined the Church and then went to the seminary, they gave up on me as a fanatic, a madman.

But what else is there? Jesus wasn’t “too religious.” He lived a pilgrim life in which every single breath communicated eternal love. He lived His whole life on earth as one big crucifix of union with the Father.

Chris McCandless didn’t make it. He neglected to consider that Alaskan rivers swell a lot in the summer, as some of the snowpack melts off. He couldn’t make it back the way he had come; he ran out of provisions. He breathed his last six months before his 25th birthday. May he rest in peace. There’s a little, kind-of shrine to him, in Healy, Alaska. A few hundred people visit every summer.

At the exact same time—when McCandless was running out of food and strength—I met with a Catholic priest for the first time in my life and started to learn the Catholic faith and get ready to enter the Church. To God be the glory.

Giving God His Due + the Impracticality of Generation X

The passage in the holy gospel about giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God establishes the distinction between the sacred and the secular.

la-riots-rodney-king-beating-cant-we-all-get-alongWe owe God our religion. We owe Him worship and honor, our acknowledgement of how immeasurably greater He is than we are. God transcends all time and space; His wisdom excels the intelligence of any human mind. We use our little minds to try to govern as wisely as we can the things that we can control. Meanwhile, we recognize with faith that God alone governs all things.

Some people distinguish sacred and secular as idealistic vs. practical. But, actually, religion involves the utmost practicality. The sphere of the sacred is the most immediate and real sphere. God is always closer to us even than we are to ourselves.

But religion isn’t everything. We also have to serve God by exercising practicality in the short-term matters of day-to-day life. Developing and exercising skills, communicating honestly, confronting the practical problems that we human beings have, living together here on earth.

Time Person of the Year computerLater this week I will head north to attend my 25th college reunion. They call us Generation X.

How have we done, we Gen-Xers, when it comes to solving secular problems practically?

Well: During the 1980’s, the US worked on solving the problem of black-white racism. And we find ourselves working on it now. In the 1980’s we debated abortion, and we debate it now. In the 1980’s we debated immigration and naturalization policy. And we debate it now.

The 1992 election involved the question of North-American free trade. So did the 2016 election. In the 1980’s, scientists developed a solution to the problems posed by greenhouse-gas emissions. And it remains a highly disputed point. Our national health-care system needed fixing in 1993. And in 2017.

We had riots because of police brutality in 1992. And in 2014. Muslim terrorists left the world speechless in 1972. And in 2001. And in 2015.

My point is: we have gone in circles, like Frodo and Sam lost in the rocky wilderness. The verdict on Generation X, after a quarter century of influencing the course of world events: impractical.

We lose our practicality in secular matters when we get confused about the sacred sphere. Mankind will worship someone or something. If it’s someone or something other than God, then we expect something secular to have divine power. That leads to consummate impracticality.

In my opinion, my generation has gone in circles because we have worshiped…computers. We have imagined that the internet, good programming, and laptops for everyone could solve the problems of the world, by some mystical power which Steve Jobs wielded as high priest.

But computers do not have the power to bless the earth. Only God has the power to bless the earth.

Resurrection, not Cynicism

St. Paul wrote:  “Christ Jesus destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”

He wrote from prison—suffering, but not ashamed.  He went on to write:  “I am confident that Christ is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.”  That day?  The day of the resurrection.

Not hard to detect the cynicism in the Sadducees’ line of questions, that we read in the gospel at Holy Mass today.  Resurrection of the body?!  Sure!  Who will be married to whom, among the seven brothers who married the same widow?  And, if I lost two teeth when I was in my fifties, will I have them back at the resurrection?  How old will I be anyway?  And so-and-so, who was lost at sea—will he rise with all the fishes still in his innards?

deep seaCynical.  But, listen: You don’t have to be old to think that the resurrection is important, and no laughing matter.  The toils and ordeals of this pilgrimage will make anyone cynical—unless we keep ourselves focused on our eternal destiny.

Lord Jesus cut right through the Sadducees’ tittering cynicism.  Aren’t we talking about God here?  Didn’t He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs?  Didn’t He make the universe, and every kind of fish and manta ray and baling whale, every kind of tweeting bird, and the lightning and thunder of summer storms—didn’t He form it all, with the stars and constellations and planets and galaxies—didn’t He make it all, with infinite power and intelligence, out of nothing?

And yet you doubt that He can and will raise our mortal bodies at the appropriate time, and in the appropriate way?  The more fools you.

Let’s recall what St. Justin Martyr said, when the Roman prefect, who was preparing to scourge and then behead Justin, for refusing to offer pagan sacrifices–the prefect asked:  “So you have the idea that Jesus will give you some suitable rewards for believing in him?”  Justin answered, without batting an eyelash, without the slightest trace of irony:  “It is not an idea I have.  It is something I know well and hold to be most certain.”

The Widow and Elijah

elijah widow

She has contributed all she had, all she had to live on. (Mark 12:44)

If you are like me, Christ’s words here make you think of the first section of Pope-Emeritus Benedict’s encyclical on Christian hope. The poor woman at the Temple treasury gave all her “substance,” her whole livelihood, her material means.

In the first reading at Holy Mass this Sunday, we hear about the widow who had been reduced to poverty by a long drought. As she explained to the prophet Elijah, she was a woman of very little substance.

When the prophet asked for food, she said, “How can I provide for you, and my son, and myself, when all I have is a handful of flour, and no hope of getting any more?”

Pope Benedict XVI Castel Gandolfo good nightBut Elijah said: Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Faith is a “substance.”

Actually, Elijah did not say that exactly. He said, Just give me something to eat. I am a hungry prophet. Give me a cake. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Have some faith, woman. God makes the sun shine and the rain fall.

Who wrote, ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for?’ Right. St. Paul. The same apostle who also wrote: “Christ will appear a second time to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him.”

In his encyclical, Pope Benedict posed the question: On what, exactly, does man live? What is the substance of human life?

Before we shout Faith! Love! Jesus! let’s pause. Hungry Elijah asked for bread before he got into matters of piety. As the Fathers of Vatican II put it:

A man can scarcely [attain a spiritual life] unless his living conditions allow him to be conscious of his dignity and to rise to his destiny…Human freedom is often crippled when a man encounters extreme poverty. (Gaudium et Spes 31)

So Elijah asked for food. At that point, he could not simply live on the words coming forth from the mouth of God. But the woman said: I don’t have any bread, man. No bread, as in money. And no bread, as in bread.

Elijah said: Woman, I feel you. I know you’ve got problems. So do I. But give me something to eat. I have been fasting for days, months, years. I have walked all over kingdom come–east, west, north, south. Just trying to serve the hardnosed God of Israel. He is enormously demanding.

Why do think we have this endless drought in the first place? Because the king and the people of our nation have abandoned the faith. Listen, just give me some bread. Then we’ll talk.

Elijah map ZarephathElijah did not start with a sermon; he demanded a cake. The woman was also practical and no-nonsense. But did she respond to Elijah’s purely practical request with pure pragmatism of her own?

Did she say, “Look, Israelite. I don’t know what kind of math you Jews practice, but here in Phoenicia 1 + 1 does not = 3. I do not have three cakes worth of substance in my flour jar?”

No, she did not say that. She did not refuse him. His request made no sense; it didn’t add up. But she faithfully obeyed anyway. Her faith became the substance of the cakes she proceeded to make. She had enough faith to bake cakes for a year.

Do miracles happen? Or can science explain everything? Is our substance made merely of molecules? Or do we need another science, other than “science,” to explain what we are really made of? As in: the science of the saints.

What if the woman had spiritualized everything and said to Elijah, “I wish you peace, my brother! In the name of the Lord! Go your way. Stay warm and well fed!” What if she never handed over the cake? Would her praises be sung in the Scriptures then? Hardly.

On the other hand, down-to-earth as she was, her life had more substance that just the flour in the jar. Her faith reached out to something real, to a supernatural substance. She believed in God. She wanted, above all, to obey God. And she hoped in His providence.

God took care of her, and her son, and Elijah, bodily and spiritually.

What’s the greatest miracle? I think it is two-fold. One: The greatest miracle is that anything even exists at all—and that things, as they exist, do fundamentally make sense.

Why does 1 + 1 even = 2? Because God makes sense, and makes everything He has made make sense. That is the most awesome of all miracles, and that’s why we can even have math, or science, or modern medicine, or economics.

But ultimately God makes more sense than we ourselves can grasp right now. After all, He has a fundamental divine reason for making the universe. The second part of the great miracle is that God has taught us through Christ His fundamental reason—the reason why He has made everything that He has made. He made it all for us: for our salvation, for our perfect fulfillment. His whole plan has one goal: that we would live.

Holy Spirit of Love + Exercise

Daren Wendell Times Square run
Daren Wendell in Times Square


Love with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love God. Love neighbor. (Mark 12:29-31)

The Holy Spirit, infinite Love, moves us to fulfill the two-fold commandment of the new and eternal covenant. Our fulfillment of the commandment, such as it is, relies totally on the divine gift, grace.

But that doesn’t mean that any exercise on our part is futile. We can, and we must, exert ourselves in love. Practice love. Train ourselves in love. By exhausting reps.

Fifty pushups? How about a hundred quiet little acts of kindness? Run five miles? How about patiently bearing with a difficult situation, out of love, for ten hours, ten days, ten months, ten years?

People can get themselves into pretty amazing shape. Homeboy ran from the Santa Monica pier in Los Angeles to Times Square in New York City. Took him 100 days. That’s 29 miles per day. A marathon + a 5K, every day, for 100 days in a row. He wore out thirty pairs of shoes. He arrived in New York on Easter Saturday.

That’s the kind of shape we want our hearts, souls, and minds to be in, for loving God and neighbor.

The love comes from the Holy Spirit. And we co-operate, by pushing ourselves, so that our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths get bigger and more and more capable of love.

Which? Yes.

Not sure if you pay a whole lot of attention to Vatican news.

For a couple of decades now, the popes have been insisting that we need to undertake the “New Evangelization.”

Pope Benedict New EvangelizationAnd, of course, these days Rome is abuzz with talk about how the next pope, whoever he will be, must be prepared to execute this New Evangelization.

But we face a little problem: No one seems altogether certain what the phrase “New Evangelization” means.

Now, in today’s gospel reading, we hear our Lord respond to a question: Which is the first of all the commandments? Turns out that there are two first commandments.

If He were walking around down here on earth to answer the question, What is the ‘New’ evangelization? the Lord might give the exact same answer.

Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.

But since Jesus Christ is not holding a press conference at the moment, we have to try to answer the question, What is the New Evangelization? ourselves.

Does it mean: Proclaiming the Gospel on Twitter, having weblogs, websites, and Youtube channels galore, biannual World Youth Days in exotic locations, trying to Catholicize Hollywood and/or trying to Hollywoodize Catholicism, and—in general—keeping it simple, stupid?

OR does ‘New Evangelization’ mean: same thing as the Apostles did, same thing that the holy missionaries of the Church have done pretty much nonstop ever since?

Following in the style of the Lord, who answered that there are two first commandments, I think we can say to this either/or question—about whether the New Evangelization is, in fact, altogether new, or, rather, that it is actually 2,000 years old, we can say: Yes.

Is the New Evangelization completely new and different, or is it the Church being the same Church She has always been? Yes.

Jesus: “Hear, O Israel”

When we hear the Lord Jesus quote the Shema in order to express the greatest commandment, He draws us back into the beautiful drama of the book of Deuteronomy.

Hear, O Israel. You shall not have strange gods.

Now, the “strangeness” of any god other than God—this strangeness runs deeper than just ancient Jewish national identity.

Serving any god other than the real God estranges any human being from himself, not just a Jew.

The ancient Israelites received gestures of love and friendship from the Almighty Creator of heaven, earth, and every nation. Therefore, when we Gentiles read about God’s dealings with the Israelites—that is, when we read the Bible—the storyline does not come off as “strange” at all.

To the contrary, a harmony sounds in the depths of our souls: This God of the ancient Israelites is no stranger to us. He is our Maker and our Lord. We have known Him since the first moment we looked with wonder upon His world. The Bible is not the book of a foreign people. It is our book, because this is our God. The one God.

In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people: Do not degrade yourselves by serving anyone or anything other than God.

Do not degrade yourselves. In other words: We do not serve God for God’s sake; we serve Him for our sake. Unlike the strange pagan gods who manipulate, mistreat, and play vicious games with their adherents, the true God deals with us with strong, serene, and generous love.

Of course, God is nonetheless breathtakingly demanding. While serving Him does not in any way demean us, it does, however, require of us something more than any strange god could ever demand.

A person could spend his whole life as a slave of avarice or lust, exhausting himself while piling up money or chasing pleasure. But the innermost depths of such a man would never be touched. All his other faculties get strained to the breaking point with futile exertion, but his heart of hearts atrophies within him, like an un-used muscle.

Serving God, on the other hand, demands constant exercise of the center-point of my very being. We cannot serve the true God any other way than by loving Him with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength.