Rightly Righting the Wrongness of Death

speed bump reaperThis Sunday’s gospel reading from Matthew 16 comes as Part Two of last week’s reading. Hopefully everyone remembers: St. Peter boldly declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. And when Peter said that, he did not speak merely on his own behalf. Peter, chief shepherd of the flock, made that declaration in the name of the whole Church. He professed our faith, the faith that brings about reconciliation between God and man: Jesus is the Christ. [Haga CLICK por español.]

St. Peter had the clarity and courage to profess that faith, not by his own cleverness or diligence, but by the pure grace of God. Same goes for us: we believe in Christ because the good Lord has given us the grace to believe. A gift from heaven allows us to perceive that Jesus of Nazareth, one of the countless human beings who has walked this earth, and lived, and died–a divine gift allows us to grasp that He is the only-begotten Son of the one, true, eternal, and omnipotent God.

So St. Peter professed the Christian faith on behalf of the whole Christian Church, at that moment at Caesarea Philipi. That moment involved a turning point in the history of the world, the first explicit profession of the holy Catholic faith.  But there’s a big But. At that moment, momentous as it was, St. Peter still had not yet grasped the mission of his Savior. At least Peter had not grasped Christ’s mission fully.

Peter envisioned the Christ on His throne, but he didn’t know that the throne would be a cross. Peter envisioned the Messiah conquering the power of evil; he didn’t know that Jesus would conquer evil precisely by suffering evil. Peter imagined great glory for himself, as the pre-eminent right-hand man of the King of Israel. But at that moment at Caesarea-Philipi, Peter didn’t realize that being the first pope meant that he would die upside down on his own cross, at the foot of Vatican Hill, 1500 miles away from home.

feed cat lio

Peter didn’t understand. So, as we hear at Sunday Mass, he at first bitterly resisted his Master’s plan to die at the hands of evil men. But: Then, when it all actually came to pass; when Christ went to His execution without any clamoring, without any crying out in the street; when the innocent Lamb silently offered Himself to the Father with sovereign self-abandonment, and taught mankind the entire mystery of life with seven sentences uttered from His cross; when it all happened, just as the prophets had foretold, that the Messiah would suffer–something about it did resound in Peter’s heart as indeed the utterly inevitable and only way. The only divinely-appointed way to bring the mission of the Christ to fulfillment.

In other words, Christ’s Passion and death was the utterly inevitable and only way to reconcile earth and heaven. If I might, I would like to expand a moment on one thing I said last week. I pointed out a startling fact. On the one hand, honest pagans throughout the ages have seen immediately that the sacrifice of Christ makes this wrong world right. African Bantus and Huron chiefs in Canada have seen a crucifix, understood that this is the Son of God, Who offered Himself for the whole human race, and have said: “This is my King!” And yet the luminous beauty of Christ crucified has gotten lost in the mind of the Western world. It’s like we Western peoples can’t see the beautiful rose that we hold in our own hands.

tombstone crossWhy? I think it’s because we won’t face the wrongness of the world–the wrongness which needs to be made right by the one and only Christ.

Now, what exactly is “wrong” with the world? Well, how long do we have? But seriously: God made this world, and we love it for His sake. Nonetheless we could easily list some serious issues. And the inescapable one, for all of us is: We will all wind up as a set of rattling bones. The Western world seems to have fallen into a trance in which we pretend we’re not going to die.

–Gosh, how morbid, Father! Why don’t you look at some cat pictures, and lighten up, man!

But the honest pagan faces it. Our situation, on its face, is hopeless. No matter how many cat videos we watch to cheer ourselves up after an exhausting day, we will nonetheless die relatively soon.

And that ain’t right! It ain’t. We don’t want to die. Something is profoundly wrong. We can’t escape it. We can successfully paper-over all kinds of incongruities in life, like when in-laws can’t get along with each other at the wedding, etc. But we can’t escape the fact that this particular thing is deeply, deeply wrong; we can’t paper it over: Death is 100% certain.

Christ makes it right. The Christ Who dutifully went to Jerusalem, and suffered greatly, and was killed. The Christ Who lost His life for the sake of love and truth. This has reconciled heaven and earth. This has made human life right again, made it worth living. Hope springs up for mankind because this champion has won His battle. And He won it in order to share his victory with us.

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The Father of Mercies

StPeter

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself.

God the Father of mercies. God begets mercies. From the womb before the dawn; from the eternal, uncreated fountainhead of all existence; from the unknown origin of the stars, He births mercies. He births, from within Himself, tender understanding and compassion. [Haga click por Spanish.]

We did not exist. Mount Everest did not exist. The seas and rivers did not exist. And He took pity on us in our non-existence, because existing outshines not existing. He took pity on our unimaginable poverty—the poverty of not even being anything at all—and, out of mercy, He made us.

The Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself.

Reconciled. Accountants? Any here with us? Familiar with reconciliations. Bank reconciliations, etc. How about marriage counselors? Familiar with reconciliations? Let’s hope so.

New York Times 1932 on 2017 eclipseAnyway, the Father of mercies: He’s all good. No shadow of falsity in Him, no selfish shenanigans behind closed doors, no short-sighted impetuosities late at night.

He simply gives, gives life unto peace and blessedness. He stabilizes and fortifies. He makes solar eclipses occur at predictable times. A historian I know put on his Twitter feed a New York Times article from 1932, which told everyone they would have to wait until 2017 for the next great eclipse in the US.

Anyway, the Father of mercies sustains everything He has made with His immovable-rock-like steadiness, never lapsing or failing in any way.

We fall short of this. We are like financial records that have not been attentively kept. Or like a marriage that has been neglected. Something—someone—must reconcile us with the Good, with truth and reality and the plan that God has. We’re like old, desiccated brick walls that need pointing, liable to leak and then crack and crumble—unless a stronger and more loving power fills the cracks in us with some solid bond.

The stronger and move loving power? Christ, the Son of God. His sacrifice on the cross effects the reconciliation between God’s pure goodness and us. The Western world has fallen into a weird spiritual malaise and can’t see the thing that has been obvious to every honest pagan who has ever heard the Gospel: the world, without Christ, languishes in hopeless estrangement from the Creator. But: The world with Christ, with Christ crucified and risen? Reconciled with God.

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.

The Reconciler, having reconciled the world and God by shedding His innocent blood, pours forth reconciliation from His own Heart. The Holy Spirit of mercy, at work in the world…pointing the desiccated mortar. Finding a miraculous way to balance the ill-kept books.

This is not a zero-sum cosmos, people. That’s the glory of the Gospel. God always has more to give. Christ pours out His Spirit of mercy and reconciliation into the humblest and most apparently innocuous moments.

Pope Francis hears confession during penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at VaticanOkay…time for the quiz. Which text have we studied here so far? “God the Father of mercies…Spirit for the forgiveness of sins…” Correct! The prayer of absolution in the sacrament of Penance.

We hear all about it in our gospel passage at Sunday Mass: Lord Jesus gave St. Peter and the Apostles, and their successors in office, the power to bind and to loose. This power abides in the world. We unworthy priests possess this authority, in our own little hands.

…Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace.

The ministry doesn’t belong to the priest, as if it were his own power as a man to loosen the sins of his people. Left to my own devices, I often fumble in the binding and loosing of my own shoelaces. No—Holy Mother Church possesses this ministry, because the Lord endowed Her with it. We priests exercise this ministry merely as instruments of a power greater than our own. He chooses to use us in this way, in spite of our own personal unworthiness to do so.

Why? Why did the Lord give the power of the keys to St. Peter? So that wherever a priest can hear someone unburden his or her conscience, impose a penance, and then raise his hand in loving pardon, reconciliation with God can occur.

All of us have this comfort in common: there’s a priest out there who will hear my confession, and God will forgive my sins.

 

Priests’ Patron

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  By the power of His Passion, death, and Resurrection, He will raise our lowly bodies after the pattern of His glorious body, which has ascended to the right hand of the Father.

Christ, crucified and risen, is our gospel.  He unites us in His mystical body, presided over by St. Peter’s successor.  Jesus sustains us by His heavenly grace, through the ministry of His Church.  Christ conquers evil with good.  He gives us real hope:  eternal life, life with God, the fruition of every good thing.

st-john-vianney-confessionChrist is our gospel.  Christ was St. John Vianney’s gospel.  The Cure of Ars died 157 years ago today.  Who knows what Cure of Ars means?  Parish priest of a little French town, near Lyon, called Ars.

In heaven, St. John Vianney especially helps which group of people, as their patron?  Remember, we went over this on All Saints Day last year

The parishes of a given geographic region make up a…diocese, presided over by one of the pope’s brother…bishops.  Most priests serve a particular bishop, ministering at one of his parishes, like St. John Vianney did.  That’s called a ________ priest…diocesan.

It’s a little hard getting used to the fact that we have a pope who is not a diocesan priest, for whom August 4 is not the feast day of his patron.  For most of my years as a priest, we diocesan priests always shared August 4 with the pope, as our feastday.  Anyone know the last pope before our sitting Holy Father who wasn’t a diocesan priest?  Pope Gregory XVI, who died in 1846.  He was a Benedictine, a Camaldolese hermit. And 1846 was a long time ago.

And what about Pope Francis?  Who is his heavenly patron, the founder of his religious order?  St. Ignatius Loyola, the first Jesuit.  Who died exactly 303 years and 4 days before St. John Vianney.  So St. Ignatius’ feast day was just this past…Sunday.

But:  these days all priests look to St. John Vianney for help and inspiration, including Pope Francis.  Because the Cure of Ars consecrated himself completely to the mystery of Christ crucified and risen.  St. John Vianney spent forty years hearing confessions for twenty hours a day. Talk about a Jubilee of Mercy!

Pray for us, o holy patron in heaven!  May we faithfully follow you as ministers of Divine Mercy in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church!

Starting from Caesarea-Philippi

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Christ took the disciples to a remote place in the north, and they discussed an interesting question. Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

Who do we say that He is?

catechismNow, few people pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church looking for drama. But the transition from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2 offers some drama. Chapter 1 had ended with the fall of Adam and Eve. The Catechism quotes Vatican II, “the whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil.”

Then, drama. Paragraphs 422 and 423:

But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. …We believe and confess that Jesus of Nazareth, born a Jew of a daughter of Israel at Bethlehem at the time of King Herod the Great and the emperor Caesar Augustus, a carpenter by trade, who died crucified in Jerusalem under the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of the emperor Tiberius, is the eternal Son of God made man. He ‘came from God,’ ‘descended from heaven,’ and ‘came in the flesh.’ For ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. . . And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.’

The exchange between Christ and Peter, which we hear recounted in this Sunday’s gospel reading–this exchange serves as a kind of spiritual fountainhead for the Church of Christ.

Continue reading “Starting from Caesarea-Philippi”

Ha-Mashiach, Ben Elohim Chayim

Mount Hermon
Mount Hermon

Delightful co-incidence to read on the same day (at Holy Mass) from Numbers about the waters of Meribah and from Matthew about Caesarea-Philippi. Because water flows in great abundance at Caesarea-Philippi. The snows of Mount Hermon melt in the sun, fresh water rushes down, and forms the headwaters of the Jordan River.

Moses struck the rock twice. In other words, after the first strike, he doubted.

the_passion_of_the_christBut the Lord Jesus did not have to ask St. Peter twice. Who do you say that I am?

Ha-Mashiach, Ben Elohim Chayim.

The water burbled. The mountain rose above them majestically. They stood at the northernmost point of the Holy Land. In every way, they found themselves at the source, the fountainhead, the wellspring. From here, life and vigor flow. At this point, everything begins, with youth and promise and undying potential for growth.

The Water of Life does not cease to flow. Jesus: Ha-Mashiach, Ben Elohim Chayim. The fountain of divine grace has opened up in the world. It will flow forever.

You don’t have to ask us twice, Lord! We believe with St. Peter. We believe with the Church founded on Peter the Rock. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!

Dramatic Thomas and Keys in My Pocket

If you’re like me, whenever you walk out the door of the house to go somewhere, you touch the pocket where the keys need to be, to make sure they are there. Ok. Leaving the house. Keys? Check.

caravaggio_incredulity_st_thomas1Now, the Lord Jesus had some pretty splendid and dramatic conversations with people, while He dwelt here on the earth.

Like His colloquy with Pontius Pilate. In that conversation, Christ’s humble and honest statements about His mission exposed Pilate’s utterly craven cynicism.

Or the Lord’s multiple dramatic conversations with St. Peter. In one, Peter expressed the true faith of the believing Church, by saying “You are the Christ.” In another, Peter betrayed the perpetual self-delusion of the members of the Church, by saying, “I will die before I see you suffer.”

Or how about the Lord’s endlessly fascinating conversation with Nicodemus? In that one, Jesus revealed the true origin of enduring life. “You must be born from above.”

So the Lord had some pretty dramatic conversations with people. But I think, on his feastday (tomorrow), we should give St. Thomas the Apostle this kudo: The most dramatic conversations the Lord Jesus had were with him, with Thomas.

In the gospel reading for Thomas’ feastday, we hear the conversation from the eighth day of Easter. Pretty dramatic. “My Lord and my God.” But, in my opinion, Thomas’ conversation with Jesus on Holy Thursday evening was even more dramatic.

‘Do not be troubled. Do not be afraid. Have faith. I am going to the Father’s house. I will prepare a place for you. You know the destination and the way there.’

Thomas: ‘Master! What do you mean? Don’t you know what a bunch of numbskulls we are? You carry on as if we had spiritual insight, as if we had understanding. But you know this ragtag band of blundering pikers too well for that. We know neither your destination nor the way there.’

‘Thomas, please. You do know. You know Me. I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’

car-keysSo: in honor of St. Thomas, our brother bumbler, let’s check our pockets.

Have we got the key to life in our pockets? Am I sure that when I walked out of the house this morning, when I stepped out into this gorgeous world—am I sure that I took my first step at the right-hand side of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Lord and Master of the Church?

Do I have that particular key in my pocket?

God forbid that I would take a single step—that I would say one thing, that I would turn right or left at the stop sign at the end of my street—God forbid that I would walk out the door—without pausing to ask myself this: Am I as sure as I can be that I am following the way, and the truth, and the life? Am I walking towards the destination that He has prepared for me?

If I am not as sure as I can be of that uniquely essential thing, then I need to go back inside the house and find that key. I need to kneel down before my crucifix or my little Madonna. I need to crack open the Scriptures. I need to cut the cord to my t.v. and turn off my smartphone. I need to recite the rosary with my head bowed. I need to focus on Jesus Christ, Who is real and alive, and Who, of all human beings who have ever lived, is the only one who ever really knew what He was doing.

I need the key of life in my pocket. Christ. Walking out of my house without the way, the truth, and the life, is a great deal more dangerous than forgetting my other keys.

The Rock

peterjesus

You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. (Matthew 16:18)

We have a pope! We have a humble, good man for our pope. An intellectual man with years of experience as a pastor. A holy priest who prays and prays.

The Lord Jesus Himself elected the first pope and made him the rock of the Church, the center and foundation that keeps the Church united and alive. Christ promised to pour out His Spirit, so that the faith of Peter would not fail, so that Peter could be the rock who would make all the brothers and sisters firm.

Lester HoltChrist left to Peter the task of devising how to choose his own successor. Ever since then, the pope himself has had the authority to establish the process. Strong, perennial traditions have developed. As Lester Holt of NBC so famously put it yesterday afternoon.

This is the age of total communication. Texts, tweets, satellite, you name it. But at the end of the day, we’re all staring at a pipe, watching smoke.

We don’t say that God Himself devised the process. But we do say that God has directed it. And, even more important, we know that Christ brings to fulfillment all the good works that He begins.

We want to be firm in the faith. So we stand on the rock that Christ Himself has put in place. With Christ, with Peter, with Pope Francis. Papa Francesco.

Viva il papa!

Viva!

Peter’s Faith in the Living God

You are the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)

St. Peter confessed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that God lives. He exists; He lives.

The Lord Jesus Himself certainly taught that God lives. God sees in secret. He cares for every sparrow and every flower of the field. He counts the hairs on our heads. He makes the sun shine and the rain fall on the just and the unjust. He knows the human heart and demands honesty. He is the God of the living, not the dead. His kingdom comes. He seeks the lost. He forgives sins. His Word is truth. He wills the salvation of man. He begets children by the Holy Spirit. God is alive.

Moses burning bushJesus teaches this. St. Peter confessed it. The Church believes it. God lives. God is infinitely more alive than we are. Our life comes from His life. Sure: our parents gave each of us life. But who gave it to them? Okay, well, who gave it to our grandparents? Who gave it to our great-grandparents? Etc., etc. Who gave it to Adam and Eve? And who sustains us in existence? Who gives us hope and the prospect of life without end?
God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that’s Who. The Lord Jesus testified that all of the life He Himself has comes from the Father. And Jesus promised to share that undying life with everyone who believes.

With St. Peter and all his successors, we believe this. We believe that God lives, and that Jesus lives, and that all the saints live. The Church stands on this faith, and our faith is true. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church, because the gates of hell cannot prevail against the truth. They cannot prevail against the vigor of God.