Choosing Friends

Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More in "A Man for All Seasons"

Tomorrow we venerate the memory of one of the great heroes of our age! Here is a homily…

Continue reading “Choosing Friends”

No Sweaters

The Caps had a great season. Let’s not dwell on the playoff curse…

…Five years ago this month, the Lord gave us Pope Benedict XVI.

Habemus Papam!

I remember the moment with enormous fondness. When the new pope stepped out onto the St. Peter’s loggia, I wept with delight.

I was deliriously happy. I kissed the then-80-year-old parish secretary on the lips (may she rest in peace).

But my joy was not completely unalloyed.

There was a fly in the ointment. There was a sticky wicket. There was something just plain wrong.

One word: cuffs.

Compare the papal cuffs of April 19, 2005, with the same scene in 1978.

Moral of the story: Cardinals absolutely, positively must bring at least one pair of decent cufflinks to a conclave.

Commonsense Papism

opportunity

Ego … Archiepiscopus … beato Petro apostolo, Sanctæ, Apostolicæ, Romanæ Ecclesiæ, ac tibi, Summo Pontifici, tuisque legitimis Successoribus semper fidelis ero et oboediens. Ita me Deus omnipotens adiuvet.

“I …, Archbishop of …, swear to be faithful and obedient to St. Peter the Apostle, to the Holy Roman Church, and to you, the Supreme Pontiff, and your lawful successors, so help me God Almighty.”

The new Archbishops who celebrated Mass with the Holy Father today swore their allegiance with these words.

StPeterThe Archbishops’ oath of allegiance is not something strange. It is not something foreign to American sensibilities. It is the most commonsensical statement a person could ever make.

Christians believe things–and we live according to principles–which we could never figure out by ourselves.

Therefore we rely on some source of information that possesses infallible authority. Our faith and morals are based on the testimony of God Himself, delivered to us in writing and by word of mouth.

Now, the authority to give this testimony either resides in me myself, or it resides in someone else.

Some people actually do regard themselves as their own infallible religious authority. But it takes just a little humility and maturity to realize that being your own infallible teacher is a prescription for disaster.

Therefore my infallible teacher must be someone else.

readdumWho is it? Could it be a politician? Could it be the pastor of a megachurch? Shirley MacLaine?

Of all the candidates for infallible teacher, the only really viable one is the Pope. The Pope can claim to hold such an office–the office of infallible teacher and shepherd established by the Son of God when He was on earth.

The Lord Jesus never promised that every Pope would be a saint. Rather, He guaranteed that there would be a spiritual fortress which the enemies of God could never conquer. Within this fortress, the true faith will always survive. The fortress is the Apostolic See of Rome.

Someone might say: Back off! My infallible teacher is the Bible!

Two questions, dear friend:

1. How do you know that the Bible is the Bible (i.e. the compendium of divine teachings committed to writing)? How do you know that the Koran is NOT the Bible? Or Football for Dummies? What authority certifies that your Bible is, in fact, God’s Word?

2. If there is a dispute about what the Bible means, who has the authority to settle the question?

Answer:

FILES-VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE

and his successors.

Happy Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, founders of the Church of Rome!

A Day in Vatican City

Painting of St. Peter's by George Cook
Painting of St. Peter

Today was a gift which the good Lord, St. Peter, the saints of Rome throughout the ages, and Michelangelo gave to us.

st-peters-sunrise

So that the loving fantasy
which made of art an idol and a king for me,
I now will know with how much sin was laden,
with that which all men desire against their will

Nor painting, nor sculpture, now can calm
The soul that turns to that divine love
That in the cross opens its arms to receive us.

On our busride from Orvieto to Rome, we were treated to a brief talk by an expert on Michelangelo. The expert is Dr. Ann White, my mom. She quoted these lines from a sonnet which the great artist of Renaissance Rome wrote near the end of his life.

Pieta
Pieta

Michelangelo is: the sculptor of the Pieta, the painter of the Sistine Chapel, and the architect of the St. Peter’s Basilica, among other things.

We were walking across St. Peter’s Square as the sun was rising. Our Mass was in the crypt of the Basilica, just a few yards from the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.

There is nothing like being in St. Peter’s Basilica between 7:00 and 9:00 in the morning, when the only thing going on is quiet prayer at all the altars. (There are dozens of altars in the largest church in the world.)

St. Peter's tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica
St. Peter

We had reached the final goal of our pilgrimage. Deacon Walker preached about St. Peter, about his remarkable transformation from humble fisherman to shepherd of souls.

The tomb of our dearly beloved late Pope John Paul II was just a few feet from our chapel. We were surrounded by saints and popes.

After Mass, we made our way to the Vatican Museums, the Papal Palace of former days. It is the most extensive art collection on earth. We saw sculptures, wall paintings, tapestries–not to mention the splendid architecture of the buildings themselves.

Vatican Museums.  Sistine Chapel in lower right.  This picture is from the roof of St. Peter's Basilica.
Vatican Museums. Sistine Chapel in lower right. This picture is from the roof of St. Peter

The tour of the Museums concludes with a visit to the Sistine Chapel, site of the Papal Conclaves.

Then we toured the Basilica, stopping to visit Bl. Pope John XXIII, Pope St. Leo the Great, Pope St. Pius X, and the Chair of St. Peter. We saw countless magnificent works of art, including the Pieta, Bernini’s bronze altar canopy, and his famous sculpture on Pope Urban VIII’s tomb.

Some of us braved the climb to the lantern at the top of the Basilica’s dome. From there we could see the entire city of Rome, bathed in mid-day sunlight.

After lunch, a group of us took a tour of the Vatican “Scavi,” the excavations of the cemetery in which St. Peter was buried. Scientific archaeology has determined that there is no reason to doubt that the altar on which the Pope says Mass is directly above the tomb of the Holy Apostle. We were able to lay our eyes on the original grave of St. Peter, and to see his bones, which are now kept in a plexiglass box. We recited the Creed and the Our Father.

The sun was setting when we emerged from the Basilica. We had spent the entire day in the world’s smallest sovereign state, governed by the Successor of the fisherman we had come to visit.

Bronze statue of St. Peter, close to his tomb
Bronze statue of St. Peter, close to his tomb

St. Peter saw to it that many, many graces were poured out on us humble pilgrims. Surely there are some graces in it for you, too.

Hopefully one of them will be a renewed sense of communion with the universal Church of Christ, founded two millenia ago. The Roman Catholic Church confesses the faith of the Apostles. She is given life by the power of the Holy Spirit. She embraces the entire earth.

In other words, She is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. She is shepherded by the Pope.

November Pilgrimage of St. Therese

st__therese_of_lisieuxSt. Therese of Lisieux is a Doctor of the Church, which means she is a pre-eminent teacher of Christian wisdom. When her death was imminent, her superior ordered her to write an autobiography. Story of A Soul contains her sublime doctrine, applied to herself.

The book recounts that, shortly before Therese entered the convent, she went on pilgrimage to Rome. She went with the Bishop of her diocese, her father, her sister, and other Catholics from her part of France. She was not quite fifteen years old. On November 4, 1887, they departed by train from Paris. They visited Assisi and other towns in Italy. On November 20, they went to the Vatican to see the Pope.

Is this, dear friends, an uncanny coincidence? Your humble servant and his 35 fellow pilgrims will be going to see the Pope on almost the exact same day! (God willing, we will see Pope Benedict next Wednesday, November 19.)

colorfrancis
We do not believe in coincidences. St. Therese is watching over us. This is part of a Plan.

Can we hope that the Holy Doctor Therese has special graces for us pilgrims when we follow in her footsteps AT THE EXACT SAME TIME OF YEAR?

We can hope for this. And you, dear reader, can hope for a share of these graces, no matter where you may be next week. The Preacher and Big Daddy team intends–with the help of Almighty God–to bring the pilgrimage to your computer screen.

If all goes as planned (which is, as we know, a very big IF), we will be blogging from Assisi and Rome. We have brought a trusty photographer on-board for this ambitious project.

Our first stop on pilgrimage will be the ancient hamlet of the Troubadour of Christ, in the heart of the province of Umbria. Did you know that there is a Litany of St. Francis? We will pray it as we make our way to Assisi to visit the tomb of the most beloved saint of all time, after our Lady. May he intercede for us, along with St. Therese. May heaven smile upon all of us!

Dedication of St. John Lateran

facade1Today’s feast is very important. It is so important that we even keep it on a Sunday. Last week we kept All Souls on Sunday, because it is such an important day. Usually, if a feast falls on a Sunday, we do not keep it that year. So the Dedication of St. John Lateran must be an important day. The problem is that a lot of people have no idea what this means.

Let’s go over the name of today’s feast word by word, so that we can be sure that we understand what we are celebrating.

naveFirst word: Dedication.
Generally speaking, we human beings do what we need to do IN BUILDINGS. Don’t get me wrong—it is nice to get outside, go for a walk, take a bikeride. But we are not like birds, or tigers, or wolverines. We cannot live outside. We need shelter from the elements.

As a general rule, we cannot have Holy Mass outside. Maybe occasionally, like Pope John Paul II’s funeral 2 ½ years ago in St. Peter’s Square. But, generally speaking, we need a church for Mass.

A church building is not like any other building. A church building is itself a symbol of invisible realities. Both the exterior and the interior of the church building express the reality of God, His angels, and His saints. For any prayerful Catholic, his church is a precious fixture in his interior life.

Because a church is a sacred building, set aside for divine worship, it must be solemnly dedicated after it is built. Then, every year on the anniversary of the dedication, we can thank God again for the gift of the church building, and for all the grace that He pours out in it.

Today, then, is the anniversary of the dedication of a church building. Which church? St. John Lateran. Ever heard of it?

St. John Lateran is a church in Rome.

The Pope's cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica
The Pope's cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica
Now, of all the churches in a particular city, there is one that is especially important, namely the cathedral. The “cathedral” is the church which has the cathedra in it. The cathedra is the bishop’s seat of office. The cathedra symbolizes the bishop’s authority to teach and govern his diocese.

Here in Washington, many people think that the cathedral of our diocese is the National Shrine. The Shrine is the grandest church in the city. But the Archbishop’s chair is not in the Shrine. The cathedra is in St. Matthew’s on Rhode Island Avenue, downtown. St. Matthew’s is the cathedral.

Washington is not the only city where people get confused about which church is the cathedral, as we shall see.

Of all the dioceses in the world, there is one that is uniquely important. All the bishops in all the cities of the world are successors of the Apostles of Christ. The Bishop of Rome is the Successor of St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles. Therefore, the Bishop of Rome is the Pope, the chief shepherd of the whole Church.

The Baldacino over the High Altar, containing the heads of Sts. Peter and Paul
The Baldacino over the High Altar, containing the heads of Sts Peter and Paul
The cathedral in Rome is the most important church building in the world. In the cathedral in Rome, the Pope sits in his cathedra and teaches and governs all the Catholic people on earth.

The National Shrine is the largest Catholic church building in the western hemisphere, but it is not the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Washington. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is the largest church on earth, but it is not the cathedral of Rome.

“Lateran.” What does this word mean? We have to go back seventeen centuries. Christianity was legalized by the Emperor Constantine in A.D. 313. For the first time, it became possible to build churches.

The Emperor’s family owned a large piece of property that had previously belonged to a prominent Roman family, the Lateran family. The Emperor gave it to the Pope, and the Pope built his cathedral church on that piece of property.

In 324, this cathedral church of Rome was solemnly dedicated and placed under the patronage of St. John. Because it was on land that had belonged to the Lateran family, it came to be known as St. John Lateran.

aerialSo today is the day that the Pope’s cathedral was dedicated, the day the most important church building in the world was dedicated.

Now, most people think of St. Peter’s Basilica as the Pope’s church, and of course it is his church. For the past 700 years, the Pope has lived at St. Peter’s instead of St. John Lateran. The truth is that the Pope has four Basilicas in Rome: His cathedral, St. John Lateran, the basilica at the tomb of St. Peter, the basilica at the tomb of St. Paul, and a basilica dedicated to our Lady.

May God be praised for giving us such splendid churches in which to worship Him!

Retiring These…New Bests Above

Best Movie Villain Ever: Darth Vader

Best Chewing Gum:
Wrigley Doublemint

Best Single-Malt Scotch: Lagavulin

Best Plate of Pasta: Spagetti Carbonara

Best Skyscraper: Chrysler Building

Best Pet: None

Best Neil Diamond Song: Sweet Caroline

Best Comic Relief in the History of Theater: When Constable Elbow and Froth enter Angelo’s court in Act II, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

Best John Paul II Encyclical:
Fides et Ratio

second best: Evangelium Vitae

third best: Veritatis Splendor

fourth best: Redemptor Hominis