Mourning Last Year, Rejoicing Now

Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (Matthew 9:15)

Pope Francis waving

A year can make a great difference. A year ago this week, it rained and didn’t snow.

Also: Anybody remember what we mourned during the week of Ash Wednesday 2013? The fact that we had to face losing our pope. Pope Benedict announced his resignation during the week of Ash Wednesday last year.

This year we keep the beginning of Lent as a celebration of the first anniversary of the Lord giving us Pope Francis. Next Thursday: first anniversary of Francis on the loggia.

So, the gospel for the Friday after Ash Wednesday just keeps resonating for us: Last year, the Pope was taken away. The Vicar of Christ was taken away. This year, our beloved Holy Father keeps the season of Lent very much with us, alongside us.

Therefore: Yes, we fast. The Church fasts. The Pope fasts. We all fast. Because we still languish a long way away from the wedding banquet we seek to enter.

But we also rejoice, because the Lord has given us such a wonderful father as Pope Francis. Long may he continue to keep shepherding us toward the Lord.

Aristotle’s Attitude about the Pope

'Aristotle with a Bust of Homer' by Rembrandt
‘Aristotle with a Bust of Homer’ by Rembrandt

More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, the LORD, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds. (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

One of the essential tenets of our religion holds that God judges souls. We do not. We do not have what it takes to penetrate deeply enough into another person’s soul so as to know whether it be good or evil. After all, we can barely manage to penetrate into our own souls; we can hardly begin to sort them out.

Sometimes we have to exercise limited judgment over external matters pertaining to other people. People with great responsibilities have to do it a lot. But our prayer as Christians is always: Lord, be merciful. Father, forgive. May everyone get to heaven. Have mercy on me, and help me to be good like other people are, because I am really the worst sinner I know.

Pope Benedict Easter candleAlso, even in the realm of limited judgments about external matters: the wise philosopher of old, Aristotle, warned against anyone trying to exercise judgment of any kind over someone more experienced.

None of us have the right, really, either to blame or to praise anyone who knows more than we do. It goes for both praise and blame. Just as it requires superior wisdom and experience justly to blame another for his or her bad actions, it likewise requires superior wisdom to praise someone for actions we judge to be good.

The simple way of saying this is: Parents have the right and duty to praise and/or censure their children. Children have no standing either to criticize or to commend their parents. If a little boy says, “Daddy, you are such a good daddy!” the wise father would have to say to himself: “That’s nice. But it doesn’t mean that I am good. Only a father wiser than myself could really give me such a compliment.”

This is why I do not understand why anyone would think that he or she has the standing to make any judgment at all about Pope Benedict’s decision to resign. Is there any question that Pope Benedict is a wiser and more experienced man than I am? There is no question. Not a person on the earth can really say that he or she is wiser or more experienced than the Pope. So really it makes no sense to judge the decision at all. Bad or good, the Pope will answer to God for it. For our part: we pray for him; we love him.

For nearly eight years, we have been praying for “Benedict, our Pope” at every Mass. That’s well over 2500 times for me—praying for Pope Benedict at the altar. It has been a privilege to be able to do so, a privilege granted to me despite my unworthiness.

St. Peter's tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica
St. Peter’s tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica
And: Can any of us doubt that the Pope has been lovingly praying for us all this time, too? No, we cannot doubt it. He certainly has been. And we know that he will continue to pray for us, as he enters his hidden life inside the precincts of the tomb of St. Peter.

If you remember exactly one year ago, on this day of Lent last year, we talked about how the shortness of life, and the inevitability of death, makes the Creed of the Catholic Church a lot more interesting.

Our Holy Father resigns his office today. Indeed, that makes today an unusual day in the history of the world. But is it earth-shattering? I mean, after all: before we know it, Pope Benedict will be dead, just like the rest of us.

So let’s just focus on God, and pray that everything happen in such a way that everyone will be able to get to heaven. And let me do my little part, and leave the business of judging to the wiser and more experienced people, and to God.

Missa Pro Pontifice Homily

Today (in our humble parish cluster) we celebrate Mass for Pope Benedict.

We love him. We wish him health and grace. We feel grateful for everything he has done to help us. He has served the Church with humble diligence for a very long time, quietly applying his capacious and disciplined mind to the problems at hand. We pray that God may reward him.

st peter medalionLet’s take note of the dates of a couple feast days. The Holy Father announced his resignation on February 11, which is the feast of…

Our Lady of Lourdes. Because so many sick and handicapped people have been healed at the shrine in Lourdes, February 11 has become the international Day of the Sick. So it’s hardly a co-incidence that the Pope chose to announce his resignation due to age and infirmity on that day.

Also, during the Pope’s final week in office, we will mark the 1,976th anniversary of the day St. Peter began to exercise his office as bishop of Antioch, Syria–the city that coined the term “Christian.” He took his “chair” there on February 22, AD 37. Later, Peter moved to Rome, and the Apostolic See moved with him. We can hardly think that Pope Benedict just co-incidentally decided to relinquish St. Peter’s chair a few days after the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair.

Now, as the Lord warned in the gospel, perhaps we should fear the Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah. We would rightly fear their rising up and condemning our generation–unless we try to understand the papacy from a genuinely spiritual point of view.

The big news from Rome has filled the airwaves with journalists rattling on about this or that aspect of the contemporary condition of the Church, all of which the new pope will inherit: Growing in the southern hemisphere. Reeling in Europe. Governed by an intransigent bureaucracy. Still confused by Vatican II. Stacked with reactionary Cardinals. Riddled with a liberal conspiracy. Afraid of new technology. Over-reliant on contemporary trends. Under-reliant on nuns. Patriarchal. Scandal-plagued. Too worldly. Too otherwordly. Etc. Etc.

Pope Benedict shoesNow, all of this informed commentary could be for the good, I am sure. But I think our faith demands that we look at this papal transition in a different light. Let’s not waste mental energy on what this or that new pope might or might not do, or should or should not do. Rather, let’s focus on the simple reality of there being a pope on earth at all.

Everything a pope does or doesn’t do pales by comparison with the simple fact that he is. That there is a father on earth for all the sons and daughters of God.

I may be one of the best Catholic priests with parishes in Franklin and in Henry County. Maybe the best—but certainly the worst. Bad or good doesn’t matter, though–compared to being. Maybe it’s not ideal when people have to complain to each other about how boring Father is. Sure: not ideal. But what if there were no Father? That would be indescribably worse.

Just so, the great miracle is that the whole world has a pope.

Maybe the pope says or does things I don’t understand. Maybe he’s the worst pope in business right now. At any rate, he is definitely the best.

But whether I understand him, or think he’s too professorial, or too liberal about Islam, or too German, or not tech-savvy enough, or smiles really sweetly, or has nice shoes, or writes amazingly thought-provoking books—that’s all fine and dandy. Maybe the new pope will be like that; maybe he won’t.

Does not really matter. The main thing is that he is. That he loves us and we love him. And that we rest secure in Christ’s one Catholic Church by being the people who have a Holy Father. Am I in the Church Christ founded? Well, let’s see…am I with Pope? Is he my Holy Father? If so, then Yes.

We thank you, Lord, for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict. And we thank you in advance for the next pope, too. We pray that, by Your grace, You will keep us united in faith, hope, and love.

Faith, Obedience PLUS Personal Cris-de-Cœur re: Pope

If you obey the commandments of the Lord, loving Him and walking in His ways…you will live, and the Lord will bless you. If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, you will certainly perish…Choose life then! (Deuteronomy 30:16-19)

Our beloved Holy Father has chosen to relinquish his pastoral office. He will not give us his promised encyclical on faith.

I will try to step unto the breach, dear friends. My Lenten-Vespers talks will attempt to convey the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas on the virtue of faith. Let’s make a little start now.

Henry V Once more unto the breachWe Catholics propose that Almighty God has personally commanded us to do certain things and avoid certain things. Sacred Scripture contains many explicit commandments. Pre-eminent among all of these commandments are, of course, the world-famous Ten. The wise man emblazons the Ten Commandments on his soul, like an interior tattoo, by frequent meditation on them.

But: Where in the Scriptures do we find the explicit commandment to believe in God? He says, “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no others.” But this is a commandment against false religion, rather than a commandment to believe.

St. Thomas points out: Anyone who makes laws makes them for those who fall under his or her authority.

Now, God knows perfectly well that everyone and everything falls under His authority. But that was not really His point when He made laws for us. He had no need to remind Himself that He is in charge. More to the point: The matter of those who are obliged to obey Him…

We strive to obey the commandments because we believe in the One Who made them. He does not explicitly command us to believe, because we would hardly be listening to Him anyway, if we didn’t believe.

steering wheelLong and short of it: Man stands free before God. He has the authority; we do not. But His authority does not impose itself on us, like the authority of a driver imposes itself on a car.

To the contrary, we remain free either to embrace reality as it is—namely that God is God, and everything else He made for the purposes which He spells out in His commandments—or we may retreat into foolish fantasies of our own, in which we trick ourselves into thinking that we retain control.

Seems like it makes more sense to believe. And, when we believe, the only thing that makes sense is to obey.

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SIDEBAR/PERSONAL NOTE/NOT OFFICIAL CHURCH TEACHING:

Continue reading “Faith, Obedience PLUS Personal Cris-de-Cœur re: Pope”

A little

FILES-VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCEconfused, shaken.

I met Pope Benedict, while he was still Card. Ratzinger, just a few weeks before the conclave that elected him to the See of Peter. Twice, fellow pilgrims and I saw and heard him at the Vatican. And I had the privilege of serving his Mass in Washington.

In fact, I hung on his every word when he came to the United States. I still think about some of the things he said then. I loved his encyclicals on charity and hope. I was eagerly awaiting the promised encyclical on faith… Instead, he invites us to an act of faith.

We know that Papa Benedetto is as gentle and as thoughtful a man as the world can boast, so he must have made such a big decision for good reasons.

Let’s pray. The Lord will of course provide. May God be good to our Holy Father, the Cardinals, and us.

“Ooh. Excuse Me.”

John Catoe and Jim Graham

Now the naked emporer of Metro has quit the throne.

Catoe declared–with apparently no sense of irony whatsoever–that his last day in office will be April 2. That is, Good Friday…

…Eighty-one years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born. Stay tuned for more on this–we will publish an earth-shattering homily tomorrow…

…Solid Hoya victory last night.

But there is no rest for the weary: ‘Nova at high noon on Sunday! Let’s throw down the holy gauntlet and fight for Catholic-school dominance!!

…Now, dear reader: I know that sometimes you say to yourself (while malingering here on this website), “What in the world is this blog really all about? I mean, really! It is just a little too strange.”

Well, I finally found the perfect explanation for all these insufferable posts that I put up here. It explains why they stink.

The explanation comes, of course, from the preaching of our hero and premier hall-of-famer, St. Augustine.

In his sermon explaining the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, he explains how the banquet of Christ is a banquet of faith. Our bodily senses do not perceive it.

As he explains this, he gives the best possible analogy for the preaching ministry, as practiced by your unworthy servant:

We for our part have perceived nothing about the Lord through the outer senses of taste, smell, touch, and sight. We have heard with our hearing and believed with our hearts.

And what we heard did not come from Christ’s own mouth, but from the mouths of His preachers–from the mouths of those who were already dining with Him at His banquet, and invited us to join them by belching their appreciation for the feast. (Sermon 112)

I dine at the banquet of Christ. I eat my fill. I belch. And the rest is weblog history.