Aloysius Hidden in God

Your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matthew 6:6)

The big-time college basketball team named after him seems always to knock on the door of the Final Four. But they never win it all.

St. Aloysius GonzagaThat, however, cannot be blamed on St. Aloysius Gonzaga’s lack of holiness.

Because he gave a lot of alms. He gave his inheritance and his title of nobility to his younger brother. Then he gave his very life to the sick. Four hundred twenty-six years ago today, St. Aloysius died of a fever he contracted while working in a hospital.

The heavenly Father sees things that lay hidden to our eyes. The true treasure of life lays hidden.

St. Aloysius was an extraordinarily well-educated, cultured young man. He could have had many prosperous years as a prince of the realm. Having foregone all that, he could have had many profitable years as a Jesuit priest. Instead, God took him at age 23.

It makes no earthly sense, seems like a huge waste of talent and potential. But God sees things that we don’t see right now.

St. Aloysius died a few days after the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. He knew his death was coming with the great feast of the Holy Liturgy, so he kept repeating the line from the psalm, “We go rejoicing to the house of the Lord!”

The Father, Who sees what is secret, repays all our acts of generosity with the richest treasure of all, which is hidden now in the Host.

Ash-Wednesday Homily

These days everyone demands “transparency.” Transparency in decision-making; transparency in government; “transparent” accounting. And why not? Honest people tend not to have something to hide.

But in the gospel at Holy Mass, the Lord tells us to keep secrets—namely, our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent. “Transparency” makes a nice buzzword. But we have to face the facts about the obscurity in which we find ourselves.

Pope Francis ashesAfter all, we frequent church precisely to acknowledge that what we cannot see exceeds in greatness what we can see. We walk by faith–faith in divine mysteries.

At the font, when each of us received the sacrament of Baptism, everyone there saw the ritual. But only from heaven could they see the whole thing: the cleansing of the soul by Christ’s Precious Blood and the supernatural unification with His Body.

And what could be less “transparent” than the Mass? The angels see Jesus, risen from the dead, in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. But we do not see Him with our eyes. This Catholicism thing is a pretty daggone obscure business.

Even more: Can I claim to be transparent to myself? Sure, I want the government to operate in a transparent manner. But do I operate in a transparent manner? I hardly understand the inner workings of my own appetites and desires. It takes a lot of work even to achieve enough clarity with myself to see how big a sinner I am.

But it’s not hopeless. All this obscurity is not meant to last forever.

The mysteries of our faith promise resurrection. Lord Jesus rose from the dead. In His risen Body, He possesses utter human transparency: Himself, body and soul, irradiated with divine light.

We believe in this. And we hope that we, too, will rise and share in that brilliant human transparency.

In the meantime, we struggle in obscurity. We pray in secret, fast in secret, and give alms in secret. Our Father above sees what is hidden. And He will repay our obscure sacrifices with the glory of His perfectly clear light.

Worrying, Conscience, Obedience

dont-worry-be-happy-bobby-mcferrin-cd-cover-artYour heavenly Father feeds the birds of the air and clothes the flowers of the field, even though they neither sow nor reap nor toil nor spin. Are you not more important than they? So do not worry. Your heavenly Father knows what you need. (see Matthew 6:26-32)

Comforting. Almost enough to make you sing ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy,’ by Bobby McFerrin. But the Lord had a little more to say.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Do not worry about tomorrow. Today has plenty of evil.

So maybe our song should be: “Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh. Landlord said your rent is late; he might have to litigate. Don’t worry. But avoid evil.”

Anyone know the phrase contemptus mundi? Anyone know Latin? I think we could translate it: contempt for the world’s business.

Let’s start with this: Human beings seek happiness. That’s what we do. Squirrels seek nuts; dogs seek squirrels; human beings seek happiness. We would be just fine if we knew clearly what will make us happy. But we don’t.

Some people seek happiness in a full belly or a heady buzz. Some seek happiness in the esteem and honor of men. Some try to get happy by piling up money. Some want to become little Mr. or Mrs. Perfect.

crispy_bacon_1But none of it really satisfies. No one ever gets anywhere near real wisdom without realizing: This world and its business cannot, in and of itself, make me happy. I won’t truly find happiness–peaceful happiness–until I get to heaven. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”

Now, there’s a bit of a debate swirling around the upper echelons of the Church these days. The subject is: how the Church should interact with someone’s conscience.

I guess we could paint two cariciatures, depicting the extremes. On the one end, mindless Catholic lemmings who obey their priests like robots. I get up and say, “No meat on Fridays during Lent!” Then everyone marches home mechanically, takes the bacon out of the fridge, and drops it into the garbage, like a factory machine with a robotic arm.

On the other end of the spectrum: Priests never challenging anyone about anything. They just talk like Obi Wan Kenobi, saying, “Well, sure the sixth commandment officially says, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ But what does your heart tell you? Stretch out with your feelings, Luke! Put on the blast helmet, and do whatever you want!”

Lord Jesus started by saying: “Repent, and believe the Good News.” God is God. Righteous and holy and wonderful. He will provide. Today you will confront plenty of evil. Recognize and renounce your own evil, and your heavenly Father will guide you through, and He will lead you to the higher goal.

I guess the easy thing to say would be: When it comes to exercising our consciences, we need to come down right smack in the middle of the spectrum between blind obedience and unchecked license. But I don’t believe that.

Luke on approachYes, of course, the Lord communicates directly with every individual soul, in the inner sanctuary called the conscience. Yes, He has put each of us into our own hands by giving us the power to think and act freely. Yes, only the particular individual knows enough about his or her own situation to make a prudent judgment about how to act.

But what kind of priest would start with anything other than what Jesus started with? Repent! We sinful human beings must first question ourselves, doubt ourselves. We must give the benefit of the doubt not to our own opinions, but to the Word of God. In order truly to attain freedom, we have to renounce our own self-justifying opinions and obey the Ten Commandments and the laws of the Church.

It’s not that God doesn’t love us with fatherly kindness. He wants nothing more than to share His friendship with us. He wants us to flower and flourish like the freeborn children of heaven He made us to be. He wants us to be a holy rule unto ourselves, with Him guiding us sweetly, by His interior promptings, toward heavenly bliss.

But if we imagine that this friendship of ours with God can begin with anything other than us repenting of our sins and going to confession, then we live in a dream world. If I think I’m smarter than Holy Mother Church and her ancient teachings, I’m kidding myself. If I feel that being God’s friend is easy, I’m friends with a god other than the real God.

Contemptus mundi. And contemptus sui. Contempt of myself. Not that I hate myself and want to destroy myself. But that I recognize: I have a very profound problem. I desperately want happiness. And I’m desperately ignorant regarding how.

Our heavenly Father knows how to guide us to real happiness and freedom. And He does it by giving us clear commandments to obey.

Church Burned in Holy Land, Medieval Encyclical

Your unworthy servant at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves on the Sea of Galilee

Happier days for the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, in 2008.

The snapshot above shows how the church rises behind an atrium building, which leads to a beautiful courtyard, from which the pilgrim enters the church proper.

Thank God, the arsonists did not destroy the church itself. But the right arm of the building immediately behind the mophead in the photo above now stands as only a smoldering shell:

smoke at tabgha

No place on earth could be more peaceful than Tabgha, of a cool evening, the Sea of Galiliee lapping at its banks. Disturb this peace? Why?

Guns and fires blazing in churches on either side of the world, on the same day. Lord, help us. May the dead in SC rest in peace.

“The lamp of the body is the eye,” said the God-man Who fed the 5,000 in Tabgha.

Mysterious words, since, when the power goes out after a storm, it can be hard to see, without a flashlight or a candle. The eye would seem to need a lamp, not be a lamp.

Perhaps what He means is: What we choose to gaze upon is what makes us who we are.

Let’s choose wisely and meditate on this beautiful paragraph at the beginning of Holy Father Francis’ encyclical:

Our sister, Mother Earth, cries out to us… We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life… We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Anyone who thinks that they have a more traditional and conservative outlook than this: you’re living in a dreamworld, dear friend.

T.S. ELIOTThe thesis: Our moral failures wound the earth herself; she is our partner, our friend, the womb of our birth, the bride of our labors, our legacy for our children–this thesis is utterly ancient.

Off the top of my head, I can think of references to this idea in the Old Testament, in Shakespeare’s Richard II, and in the poems of T.S. Eliot–who had more bona fides as a ‘conservative’ than every man, woman, or child who has run for the Republican nomination for President (since Lincoln), all rolled into one.

And, of course, the magnum opus of all Mother-Earth poetry: The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Laudato Si’ arrives as Vol. 4 of The Lord of the Rings.

Yes, the encylical urges international agreements, UN discussion, etc. Some might regard this as ‘liberal.’

But, more than that, the encyclical urges reverent submission to God and contemplative wonder at His handiwork. Many would regard this as ‘medieval.’

Let’s forget liberal vs. conservative and stick to pure medieval. St. Francis (medieval), pray for us!