Catechism Section for Passiontide

Allow me to recommend a few paragraphs of the Catechism. Part One, Section Two, Chapter Two. Paragraph 1 on Article 4 of the Creed. (#’s 574-594)

These paragraphs shed light on the final conflict between Lord Jesus and the Jewish authority that condemned Him. The Catechism offers reflections on what the Lord Jesus had to say about the Law, the Temple, and the one, true God.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchThe Christ came to fulfill the Law—because the human race, the whole race and every individual, had not done so. The Christ revered the Jerusalem Temple and participated faithfully in the Temple feasts. But He knew it would be destroyed, because the true Temple is His Body. Above all, as the Catechism puts it: “Jesus gave scandal to the Pharisees when he identified his merciful conduct towards sinners with God’s own attitude toward them.”

Jesus identified Himself as God, the God Who can forgive sins. Thus, the Christ confronted the Jewish leaders with a very stark either/or. Again, quoting the Catechism: “By forgiving sins, Jesus either is blaspheming as a man, or is the person who truly does make present and reveal God’s name.”

The Sanhedrin had to confront that choice in all its utter starkness. Either condemn Him to death, or undergo a total conversion, which would require death to self and a new birth from above.

Confronted with such a choice, they convicted Him of blasphemy and condemned Him to death, as the Law required. The starkness of the choice they faced—again quoting the Catechism—“allows one to understand the Sanhedrin’s tragic misunderstanding of Jesus: they judged that He deserved the death sentence as a blasphemer.” They acted out of both ignorance and hard-hearted unbelief.

Let’s search our own consciences for the same emptinesses—and let’s let Christ fill them with His grace.

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No Legions of Angels, But Some Vultures

Last Days of Jesus PBS

Do you think I cannot call upon my Father, and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must come to pass this way? (Matthew 26:53)

We thank God for bringing the Christian people together in church to commemorate all the details of Lord Jesus’ Passion. We praise the Lord for giving us the time and the opportunity to take part in the solemnities of Holy Week, the anniversary of the salvation of the world. And let’s thank each of our guardian angels, too, and all the glorious choirs of angels above, for making our sacred liturgy, here on earth, possible and fruitful.

Now, maybe you found yourself bored one evening this past week, and you did some channel flipping, and wound up watching “The Last Days of Jesus,” on PBS.

We know that weird vultures circle at this time of year, trying to convince us churchgoers that “intelligent people” don’t believe in things like Jesus rising from the dead and ascending into heaven. On PBS, a ‘Bible scholar,’ trying to give us ‘the historical Jesus,’ explained the Passion as a failure. He said, “Jesus expected for God to vindicate him with his legions of angels, and it didn’t happen.”

Now, I like Bible scholars perfectly well. But you have to start by knowing what the Bible says. And we read from St. Matthew’s gospel that Jesus explicitly did not expect legions of angels to save Him from death. Instead, He willingly accepted His Passion, in order to fulfill the Scriptures. What He expected was: to die in agony as the innocent Lamb, offered in sacrifice for all His sinful brother- and sister-human beings.

What the vultures don’t get is: this has nothing to do with naïve vs. critical. We Christians are not some tribe of knuckleheads who don’t know how to read. Faith in the divinity of Christ is the one thing that makes the Scriptures make rational sense. The books make perfect sense to us, because we believe in Him, in Christ, true man and true God. We believe that God died a human death, and rose again. Believing all this doesn’t make us naïve; it makes us consistent; it actually makes us much more reasonable than anyone who proposes to accept one part of the gospels, but not another.

More importantly: our faith in Christ’s divinity hopefully also makes us apostles of God’s love. God, the God we serve, is: Christ crucified, the true God of love.

 

Christ’s Passion Focus

giotto palm sunday entry

(Click AQUI para leer en esp.)

In St. Luke’s account of the Passion of Christ, people fuss and bother a great deal about who exactly Jesus is.

Is He a Galilean revolutionary?  A prophet?  A wonder-worker?  The King of the Jews?  An innocent man?

Meanwhile, the Lord appears altogether uninterested in this question.  He knows perfectly well Who He is.  He doesn’t focus on Himself at all; He focuses on others.

He gives the Apostles the Holy Eucharist. He settles their dispute among themselves about who is the greatest.  He tells Peter how he will betray his Master, then forgives him ahead of time.  Christ tells the Apostles to stay awake—again, for their sakes—then wakes them up when they fall asleep.

To the authorities, Christ tries to point out the dishonesty into which they have fallen. He comforts the wailing women.  And He pardons the repentant thief and promises him eternal life.

So: short summary of the Passion of Christ:  His accusers focus on who He is; He focuses on everyone else.

Jesus knows Who He is, and so do we.  Every time we come to Mass, we proclaim His true identity, namely: awesome beyond awesome, divine and glorious.

But, of course, we are not here to testify to Him for His sake.  We are here for our sakes.  It does us good to focus on Him.

Meanwhile, He is focused on us.

Not a Trophy but a Dagger

For a week now, a great number of people all over the world have gotten themselves obsessed with the troubled interior life of a German pilot.

king kong biplaneLast week, Holy Father condoled the families of the dead. He prayed for the repose of their souls. May they rest in peace. May the grieving find comfort.

Meanwhile, the television-viewing public wants to know: How could he do such a thing? How could the good-looking, athletic young pilot do it?

Also, the inveterate technocratic impulse of our age sounds-off in frantic sparks of pseudo-scientific desperation. How can we fix this? He can we prevent people from doing evil?

Change the cockpit door-lock system? Change the cockpit personnel requirements? Change the mental-health privacy rules? Change laws? Change policies? Lawsuits? Corporate cultures? Expert consultants? Fix it! Fix it! Fix it!

And there, standing right in the middle of the whole disaster, looming over the Alps like a giant gorilla, like King Kong, but a thousand times taller, standing with a truculent and boastful grin on his mangy face: Mysterium iniquitatis. The mystery of evil. Also known as: the unfathomably crafty Old Scratch.

The malice of Satan defies our humble human capacity for reason. Satan’s intelligence dwarfs ours by so many orders of magnitude, plenty of pagan people have believed that the evil power is equally omnipotent, right alongside the good power. Evil is a mystery of equal transcendence.

Actually, that’s closer to the truth than our contemporary delusion that we can somehow “solve” the problem of evil by using our human ingenuity. Evil actually is a lot more like a god than it is like a scientific problem for man to solve.

Yin and YangThe Passion of Christ teaches us with perfect clarity that malice is a force capable of crushing human intelligence, like the tire of a tractor-trailer crushing an acorn on the macadam. Is there anything even remotely reasonable, sensible, or intelligent about the human actions involved in the spectacle that we hear recounted in the gospel?

“Here’s the gentlest person who ever walked the face of the earth. Let’s kill him! What good will it do us to kill him? Will it make our city more livable, our religion more practicable, or our political situation more secure? Hardly. But who cares! Will we feel good about this tomorrow? Shush! Who cares! Crucify him! Crucify him!”

That said, the Passion of Christ teaches us a second thing, too. Satan is neither as intelligent, nor as powerful, nor as crafty as God is.

Satan thought he had had a good day that Friday. Injustice, irresponsibility, craven dishonesty, and abject cruelty—all rolled into one spring morning. Satan was buffing his demonic fingernails.

But then God took it all—every malicious deformation of the human will that Jerusalem saw in its streets that day—God took it all, and, like an artist working with brush, palette, oils, and canvas, He took Satan’s best moves and produced the most beautiful moment of all time. God took every ugly aspect of the spectacle of Golgatha and painted a picture.

A picture of divine love. A picture of heavenly love. Of the triumph of love. Not mayhem, not destruction, not life-crushing cynicism. No.

Love.

Satan thought he had a trophy in his mangy hands. But the crucified Galilean rabbi is not Satan’s trophy. Gargantuan as Satan’s craftiness is, skillful as he is in leading people, and communities, and whole nations down the path to the smoldering fires of hell on earth…

God turned what Satan thought was his trophy into a dagger. Then He ripped Satan’s guts out with it. Because the crucified Galilean rabbi is not the ugliest, but in fact the most beautiful spectacle in the history of the world.

We human beings can do acts of unfathomable malice. But love wins. Love stands taller than the Alpine peaks. Love is inexhaustible.

From our humble vantage point, we do well to acknowledge that Satan has some serious game. Probably best for us to stop trying to outsmart him and focus instead on praying.

Praying to the King of Love, Who reigns on high. Christ has every human soul in His loving Hand. And Satan is not smarter than the Crucified.

Holy Week: Go to Church!

Pope Francis Palm Sunday

The Lord brings us together this week to share in His Paschal Mystery.

He went up to the holy city of Jerusalem to worship with His people, the Israelites whom God had spared from death and liberated from slavery. Jesus kept the Passover with His friends. He changed the ancient ceremony into the mysteries of His Body and Blood.

The original Holy Week of Christ’s Passion took place nearly 2,000 years ago, to be sure. But it is as real now as it was then. We are caught up in it. Our lives, our hopes, our faith in God–all of this is caught up in the events we hear recounted in church on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday–and which we live out whenever we celebrate the Holy Mass together.

The Lord has given us the privilege of taking our part in all this. We thank Him that He has given us this Holy Week 2014 together to draw closer to Him.

How We Know that God is Love

We say that God is love, that love pours out infinitely from the bosom of the Creator and Father of all.

We say that God’s love moves us to love, to think first of our neighbor and only secondly of ourselves. To let ourselves get lost, really, in the rough and tumble of paying attention to other people and how we can help them. We forget ourselves, lose our egos like a set of keys—and then we wind up finding ourselves again at the end of the day, when we’re ready for an honest night’s sleep after spending our strength doing our duty to others.

last-supperWe disciples of Christ say that a bottomless spring flows with love. We drink from this fountain, and the invisible, spiritual water is holy and divine and makes us capable of doing things that the world deems impossible, like not being selfish all the time.

Now, how do we know all this? How do we know that the river of love never runs dry, because God Himself loves, and loves infinitely?

After all, someone might ask us: If God is love, why do people die, and when I don’t want them to? Why do good people get diseases? Why do liars and cheaters prosper, while the honest man can’t even afford to pay his taxes?

Continue reading “How We Know that God is Love”

Palm Sunday

PARMURELI

In the Passion narrative, people fuss and bother a great deal about who exactly Jesus is.

Is He a Galilean revolutionary?

A prophet?

A wonder-worker?

The King of the Jews?

An innocent man?

Meanwhile, the Lord appears singularly uninterested in this question.

To the contrary, He focuses on others.

He gives the Apostles the Holy Eucharist.

He settles their dispute among themselves about who is the greatest.

He tells Peter how he will betray his Master, then forgives him ahead of time.

Christ tells the Apostles to stay awake—again, for their sakes—then wakes them up when they fall asleep.

To the authorities and interrogators who will listen, He tries to point out the dishonesty into which they have fallen.

He comforts the wailing women.

And He pardons the repentant thief and promises him eternal life.

Short summary of the Passion of Christ:

His accusers focus on who He is; He focuses on everyone else.

Every Sunday, we proclaim Jesus’ true identity, namely: awesome beyond awesome, divine and glorious.

But, of course, we do not testify to Him for His sake. He does not need us to settle the question of Who He is.

He has always known perfectly well.

No, we testify to Him for our sakes. It does us good to focus on Christ; we lose ourselves if we don’t.

But He is focused on us. By dying on the Cross for us, the Creator of all things has revealed in-full His fundamental rationale.

His rationale for everything–

for making everything, governing everything, guiding everything to its conclusion:

It’s all for us.

Guilty but not Condemned

the_passion_of_the_christ

We have reached the time of year when we study with singular focus the holy death of Jesus Christ.

Of old, these opening weeks of spring meant focusing on the death of the Passover Lamb, whose blood marked the homes of the chosen ones. The people of the Passover marched across the bed of the sea, to freedom. Then, the water swallowed up their enemies, to the glory of God.

That was the annual rite in the days of the Old Covenant. But we hear the prophet exhort us, in the name of God: Remember not these old exploits of mine. Don’t dwell on what I did for your ancient fathers. After all, I will do great things for you! I make a way through the desert for you to walk, and the very jackals and ostriches will chant like a choir as you pass down the highway I have laid down, to the Promised Land.

The highway opens before us. It invites us, beckons us, with beautifully obscure clarity, with shimmering darkness, with enticing terror. Because the highway to heaven is the cruel and agonizing death of Christ.

Continue reading “Guilty but not Condemned”

The Way the Messiah Messiahs

Today we read the famous gospel passage about the ambitious Apostles. We have previously reflected on the fact that we can hardly condemn James and John for their ambition, nor their mother for hers. What James and John wanted, and what their mother wanted for them, is what we all want: to be close to Christ and to reign with Him forever.

christ-weepingBoth of the Zebedee brothers were, after all, preferred by Christ. He chose them to ascend Mt. Tabor with Him and to enter the Garden of Gethsemane, too. And their mother, to her credit, presumed in her request that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah and the king of heaven.

Where everybody fell short—mother, sons, and the other disciples, as well—was in this: They did not like to listen to Jesus when He explained the hard truth, the inevitable facts of the divine plan, the actual way of salvation.

You believe that I am the Messiah? Good—because I am. Know this: the Messiah does His Messiahing by sorrow and suffering. The Messiah walks the earth as a pilgrim of death. Yes, I eat and drink; I befriend all; I reject nothing wholesome and human as I trod this path of death. But all of it, I will let go. All of this folderol which preoccupies you is really just straw that will be burned in an oven.

If you are at-home in this world, you are not with Me. Only one path leads to the place prepared for Me by My Father; there is only one road the Christ of God can take: rejection, mockery, scourges and spittle, my Body treated like a wooden warning sign and nailed to a tree. Then: the silent tomb.

You want to reign with me? Good. Your faith is true. There is no eternal kingdom but Mine. You will sit at my right and left. My throne is the cross. To get to my kingdom you have to hang on it and die.

No King but Caesar?

Pontius Pilate appears to have been genuinely confused by how much the High Priests and the crowd hated Christ.

At first, Pilate did not want to judge Christ at all. Then Pilate tried to appease the people by having Jesus scourged, instead of crucified. But only death would satisfy the angry mob.

Then Pilate asked them a question, full of contemptuous irony: “Shall I crucify your king?”

He received the answer: “We have no king but Caesar!”

We have no king but Caesar.

Continue reading “No King but Caesar?”