75th Anniversary of a Holocaust Death

Exactly seventy-five years and two weeks ago, the Catholic bishops of the Netherlands issued a statement condemning the Nazis for deporting all Jews from the country.

Seventy-five years ago today, the Nazis killed a German Jewish philosopher in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, as an act of retaliation against the bishops’statement.

St. Edith SteinNow, how’s that? Kill a German Jewish philosopher to retaliate against Dutch Catholic bishops? Well, this Jewish philosopher had become a Catholic nun. Edith Stein had become Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

The sisters of her convent had escaped Germany, and made it to the Netherlands. But the Nazis caught up with them. And when the Dutch Catholic bishops had the gall to call the Nazis the vicious racists they were, the Nazis proceeded to arrest and deport all Jewish converts to Catholicism. As we know, the Nazis were efficient. They only needed two weeks to get their revenge, in the gas chamber.

Pope St. John Paul II declared that we must remember the Holocaust on St. Teresa Benedicta’s feast day. Nazi racism justified the systematic killing of millions of innocent people—racist killing carried out with scientific coldness. My departed grandfather participated, as an American G.I., in rescuing people from one of the concentration camps. What he saw horrified him so much, he could never talk about it.

But we must. We must acknowledge the fact that man can, and does, inflict such evil upon man—and for no good reasons other than his own profound spiritual delusions.

On the other hand, man can, and does, also love his fellow man. St. Teresa Benedicta died for love. “Come, let us go for our people,” she said to her sister, who had also become a nun, as they walked to the gas chamber.

Pope St. John Paul II put it like this, when he canonized St. Teresa Benedicta, “We must stand together for human dignity. There is only one human family.”


Eleventh Anniversary, April 2

John Paul II funeral

Some memorable things occurred shortly after the vernal equinox in 2005. Good Friday fell on Annunciation Day, a very rare occurrence. (Many ancient Fathers held that Christ’s crucifixion took place on March 25.) And Easter Saturday fell on April 2. With sunset, the Feast of Divine Mercy began. And Pope John Paul II died.

For the first time since that day, the calendar date and the liturgical days align today.

Should we obey men, rather than God?” To be humble, submissive to legitimate authority, pleasing to one’s neighbors—these are all virtues, to be sure. It’s not as if Pope John Paul II wasn’t every bit as good a politician as Ronald Reagan was. They both had been actors, after all.

But for all his avuncular charm, Pope John Paul had a deeper compass. The whole world knew that his interior life and his intense studies guided him. Yes, he pleased us. But: a politician, fundamentally Pope John Paul II was not.

Go to all the world and proclaim the Good News!” To proclaim anything to anyone requires relating to them. For people to relate to each other, some common ground must be found.

I think it’s fair to say that Pope John Paul II was the greatest genius for finding common ground that any of us will ever share the earth with in this life. His skill at connecting with people arose, of course, from his total intimacy with the New Testament. When you furnish every room of your soul with pages from the gospels and epistles, then you expand towards others constantly, by the sheer power of the Holy Spirit.

Americans tend to think of America as the center of the world. And we have a myth of the Vatican as some kind of walled-in warren of creepy Italians in effeminate-looking cassocks.

John Paul II made the Vatican the crossroads of all peoples. My first visit there changed my life, in the spring of the Jubilee Year 2000. Americans—northern and southern—Africans, eastern Europeans, southeast Asians, coming and going, talking constantly, united in a common purpose. The best and wisest, most well-informed and most connected man in the world was our pope.

When we lose a parent, the first part of life ends, and a second part starts. My own dad and John Paul II died a year apart from each other. Eleven years ago, the first part of my life ended, and a second began.

But: why do we gather together at the holy altar to celebrate Mass every day, for God’s sake? Lord Jesus rose from the dead! Death does not separate us from each other. Life has a Part III, and it involves more intimacy, more love, more joy—and it never ends.


…involves taking an innocent and defenseless life.  Many women who have had abortions never did so with full awareness and deliberation.

God forgives, when we cry out to Him with sorrow. He pours out grace to heal us.

The Church loves her children. So she sternly warns us against doing things that will destroy us from within. One very effective form of warning: “You will be punished severely if you do this…”

Any priest in good standing can absolve any sincere penitent from any sin.

Committing the crime of abortion means excluding oneself from the life of the Church. But I daresay very few, in any, of the mothers who confess abortions have in fact committed the crime. Because to commit the crime you have to understand the full picture of the evil you do.

Now, that doesn’t mean evil of the gravest kind hasn’t been done; it has. And the remorse she feels means that the mother bears some guilt. But the crime has been committed by the abortionist. Only the one who commits the crime incurs the excommunication

That said, it’s a moot distinction in most of the dioceses of the United States, anyway. Almost all American priests have been granted the authority to lift this excommunication. I have–and all the priests I know who have been ordained anytime these past 20 years–all of us have always had the authority that the Pope granted to all priests in the world for the upcoming Holy Year.

Which is not to say that we don’t love the Holy Father for opening the door of mercy even wider–I guess in countries where the bishops have not generally granted priests the faculty to lift censures for the crime of abortion.

The report that I heard by Sylvia Poggioli on NPR lacked the following:

1. A sober recognition of what abortion involves.

2. Any sympathy–even remote sympathy–for what going to confession is actually like.

3. Any background knowledge regarding the discipline of this matter in the dioceses of the United States (on National Public Radio, when the nation in question is the United States).

Ms. Poggioli states: “Until now it’s been a difficult and complicated process for a woman who repents to get absolution…”

This is utterly and totally false in the United States (or, I think it’s fair to say, anywhere else.)

All the sympathy which our Holy Father has expressed towards women who have had abortions was originally expressed by Pope St. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae, twenty years ago. During the Holy Year in honor of the Redemption in 1983, Pope St. John Paul II extended the authority to lift the excommunication for the crime of abortion to all priests. I am not a historian, but I think it is highly likely that his having done that over thirty years ago is what led to the perpetual concession of that faculty to so many confessors.

Poem for Pope St. John Paul II

The Thin Black Line

Early dusk. A little flock of daws
cuts the crisp air, heading south.
Advent has arrived, and the nights
for the Immaculate-Conception Novena.

The year has grown old, as have I.
(Or middle-aged, at least, and a little tired.)

The Church in America: a brown-paper parcel,
wrapped-up with thin black twine.
Do not open until Christmas.
Christmas 2018, or -19, or -20, or -25.

But I won’t let go—not yet—of the moon-lit dusk
when I said totus tuus to the Virgin, on younger knees.

You had carried us there, Holy Father,
on those ski-sculpted shoulders,
spinning the twine with your hands.

You chugged like a rail engine
through the passes of the Dolomites.
Another country opened up before our eyes.

So, if I am a strand of the black twine,
or a billow of the smoke flowing from the stack
into Christ’s third millennium:
it’s because I knelt under your wings.

John Paul II Immac  St Peters

Civilization of Love

Garofalo Ascension of Christ

Lord Jesus ascended into heaven.

We might well wish that He had not. We might prefer that He had remained on earth, with us, so that we could see Him. We might think that God being visible on earth would make the Christian faith considerably easier to sustain.

But St. Thomas Aquinas explains in the Summa Theologica why we should, in fact, rejoice that Christ ascended into heaven–even though, for now, it is beyond our sight. St. Thomas gives a number of reasons. One of them is this: We rejoice in Christ’s Ascension because it directs our fervor toward the invisible Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, which Christ gives us from heaven, is, to quote St. Thomas, “love drawing us up to heavenly things.” The Holy Spirit is nothing other than “love drawing us up to heavenly things.”

In other words: God is; our religion revolves around; the meaning of life is: love drawing us up to heavenly things. I would say that this may be the key concept for our spiritual lives in AD 2014, fifty years after Vatican II.

Continue reading “Civilization of Love”

Popes from the Same Cloth

divine-mercyThree years ago, we heard the same readings, and celebrated the same Feast of Divine Mercy, after a late-April Easter.

Three years ago, my mind turned to St. Peter’s Square in Rome, because my hero was being beatified. And my mind turns to Rome again, of course, because he is being canonized.

Actually, can we go back to the year 2000? Continue reading “Popes from the Same Cloth”

Omniscience Forgetting; Omnipotence Kneeling

Christ mandatum footwashing Holy Thursday“Fully aware that the Father had put everything into His power, …He began to wash the disciples’ feet.” (John 13:3,5)

The Father had put everything into His power, and He knew it. Jesus knew the extent of His divine power.

He holds all things in His hands. All things: Tonight. Our lives. Our pasts and our future. All fall under the sway of what Christ knew at that moment, when He rose from the table to perform the work of a slave.

Pope John Paul II used to remind the priests of the world every year: Remember that Jesus thought of you that night, when he gave the sacrament to the Apostles. He chose you, at that moment, to be His priest. The plan according to which you would one day have the privilege of celebrating Mass—He held that plan in His mind at that moment.

Same thing goes for all of us Christians. How is it that we find ourselves at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, sharing in the gift of communion in the Redeemer’s holy Body and Blood? How did it come to pass that we would come together tonight, to rest our souls on the bedrock of holy truth, the fundamental mysteries of our faith? It has come to pass because He conceived it all–conceived us in our places at church–in His beautiful Messianic mind, when He first said, “Take this, all of you…”

The Father had put everything into His power. Awesome: the omniscience, the omnipotence of the God-man.

But there is something even more indescribably awesome, something even more awesomely powerful, than Christ’s divine foreknowledge or His divine Providence. The most breathtakingly powerful thing of all is that He proceeded to minister unto them as if He were their slave.

Continue reading “Omniscience Forgetting; Omnipotence Kneeling”

20 C + M + B 14

In the malls and on tv, they immediately move on from Christmas–in order to exploit the next event for profit. But in church, we linger with Christmas for 2 ½ weeks. We meditate on the great mystery. And we try to get a grip on the year to come, for what it really is: a holy year of grace. The 2,014th year of Christ’s unfathomable grace.

In May, Pope Francis will visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem. He begins his trip on the 11th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood! In the fall, we will mark the 50th anniversary of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, and Holy Father will preside over the first part of the Synod on the Family! Too wonderful just to be a conincidence: This year in the cluster we already have four weddings scheduled, and there could be three or four more, on top of that!

john paul superstar time magazineBefore all this, on this coming Friday evening, our Francis-of-Assisi youth will co-sponsor a coffeehouse in Roanoke to help people get married! Get married at the proper time and in the proper way, that is.

Two weeks from today, we will go to Washington to stand up for the innocent and defenseless unborn babies!

Then, on the following day, our Francis-of-Assisi delegation will travel to Haiti to visit Father Serdieu and our twin parish in Trianon.

It is never too cold to do the will of God.

If you paid attention to the Epiphany proclamation on Sunday, you know that Lent doesn’t start until March 5 this year. So we get to go up the whole way through the Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time between now and then!

On April 27, Pope Francis will canonize John Paul II on the ninth liturgical anniversary of his holy death!

We read about the Lord marvellously walking on water. When someone does marvelous things, sometimes we say, “He walks on water!” Well, it appears as though 2014 will “walk on water”–that’s how amazing a year it will be. Jesus will walk on the water of time through AD 2014.

So we pray. We stay close to the Lord through the Mass and all the sacraments. We pray that the human race won’t destroy the environment, that global warming will be prevented. But we also pray that it will get a little warmer during 2014 than it is right now.

PS. Not to mention: Immigration-Reform information session at St. Joseph, Martinsville, this very evening at 6:00pm, with a screening of “The Dream is Now.”

John Paul II’s Martyr-Predecessors

Bishop Karol Wojtyla entering cathedral in Krakow
Bishop Karol Wojtyla entering cathedral in Krakow

One of Bl. Pope John Paul II’s greatest sources of pride and joy was the fact that he had the unusual privilege of serving as the successor of not one, but two bishop-martyr-saints.

Of course, he served as the successor of St. Peter as the Bishop of Rome. Peter, the leader of the Apostles, suffered martyrdom under Emperor Nero, and thereby consecrated the Church of Rome with his blood. Since ancient times, the Pope has celebrated the Sacred Liturgy at the tomb of St. Peter, on the Vatican hill.

Before being chosen to succeed St. Peter, John Paul had already served for a decade and a half as the successor of St. Stanislaus. Cardinal Wojtyla had celebrated the Sacred Liturgy at Stanislaus’ tomb, which is in the cathedral church of Krakow, Poland.

Like St. Peter, St. Stanislaus suffered death at the hands of a wicked monarch. It happened 934 years ago today. The Bishop had excommunicated the king for kidnapping another man’s wife. The king accused Stanislaus of treason and killed him.

Time Magazine John Paul II Poland 1979John Paul II returned to Poland during his first year as Pope in order to visit St. Stanislaus’ relics for the ninth centenary of the saint’s martyrdom. This was the famous visit credited with beginning the demise of communism in Europe.

Preaching at the cathedral in Krakow, the Pope referred to St. Stanislaus as the “patron of moral order” for the Polish people. The Pope recalled how Stanislaus had faced a great test of faith and character, and, by God’s grace, passed it. Stanislaus emerged victorious as a faithful Christian, even in the face of death. Bl. John Paul went on to say:

In the final analysis the moral order is built up by means of human beings. This order consists of a large number of tests, each one a test of faith and of character. From every victorious test the moral order is built up. From every failed test, moral disorder grows.

We know very well from our entire history that we must not permit, absolutely and at whatever cost, this disorder. For this we have already paid a bitter price many times.

This is therefore our meditation on…St. Stanislaus’ pastoral ministry in the See of Krakow, on the new examination of his relics, that is to say his skull, which still shows the marks of his mortal wounds—all of this leads us today to a great and ardent prayer for the victory of the moral order in this difficult epoch of our history.