Natural Evil

Jeremy Hazell

The “Intelligent Design Debate” has been going on a long time:

If the movement of the universe were irrational, and the world rolled on in a random fashion, one would be justified in disbelieving what we say.

But if the world is founded on reason, wisdom, and science, and is filled with orderly beauty, then it must owe its origin and order to none other than the Word of God.

–St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, died A.D. 373.

…We are praying hard for everyone in Haiti. May all who are unaccounted-for be found safe.

Port-au-Prince Cathedral, January 14
We pray for the repose of Archbishop Serge Miot and all the dead.

Many souls certainly went to their deaths without proper preparation; may God be merciful.

We pledge ourselves to help everyone in need.

But before we panic and go reeling off into uncharted spiritual territory–losing perspective on ultimate reality because of the incessant buzzing of the television–let’s remind ourselves of the words of the expert demon to the junior tempter in Screwtape Letter #28:

I sometimes wonder if you young fiends are not kept out on temptation duty too long at a time–if you are not in some danger of becoming infected by the sentiments and values of the humans among whom you work.

They, or course, do tend to regard death as the prime evil, and survival as the greatest good. But that is because we have taught them to do so.

Do not let us be infected by our own propaganda…Whatever you do, keep your patient as safe as you possibly can…

Capuchin Crypt in Rome
The long, dull years of middle-aged prosperity are excellent campaigning weather for us.

…My dear mom regards my desire to live among skeletons as “extreme.”

If you want extreme, check out the crypt-level chapels of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Rome.

…Big Hoya game against Seton Hall this evening.

Chvotkin has the call at 7:00 on AM 980. Jeremy Hazell is a dangerous sharp-shooter. Root hard!

Ciao! (for now) –Plus Pilgrimage Homily Drafts

lufthansaShortly we pilgrims will be off. May it please our Lord and our Lady to give us a safe trans-Altantic voyage.

Alas, we are going to miss the Dallas game at FedEx Field on Sunday night. Some things cannot be helped. We have to have our priorities straight here.

Hopefully, you will hear from me again when we reach Assisi. There is always the chance that technical difficulties will beset the Preacher and Big Daddy team on the road, however. To allow you to follow along with us no matter what happens, I present you with drafts of my homilies for the pilgrimage…

First, the Sacred Scripture “theme” for the pilgrimage:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its savor, what can make it salty again? … Have salt in yourselves.” (Matthew 5:10, Mark 9:50)

Homily for Sunday, November 16: 33rd Sunday of the Year. Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, site of the Portiuncula, the chapel used by St. Francis and his first followers

Assisi, with the Basilica in the foreground
Assisi, with the Basilica in the foreground
“You yourselves know that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Last night, the thief came and stole the whole night’s sleep from us. We got on a plane, did what little we could to get comfortable, and all of a sudden it was morning.

This thief has stolen more than just a night’s sleep from us. He has stolen our familiar environment. He has stolen our daily companions and routine. He has taken away our familiar food and the creature-comforts of home. We are in a strange place, surrounded by not a few strangers, fatigued, probably a bit bewildered.

Welcome, dear brothers and sisters, to the pilgrimage. The special grace of going on pilgrimage is precisely this: to be removed from the familiar and the comfortable. The Lord has called us to travel to Italy to discover what He has in store for us, and we have come. He has led us far from home, to teach us how to put ourselves completely in His hands. Into His hands and also Elizabeth’s hands (our tour escort, Elizabeth Flanagan).

The small chapel of the first Franciscans within the larger Basilica
The small chapel of the first Franciscans within the larger Basilica
St. Paul tells us: “You are children of the light and children of the day.”

You can say that again, brother. We have not visited a bed for nearly thirty hours. This day feels like the never-ending day. We want to “stay alert and sober,” like St. Paul tells us to, but it would be easier to stay alert if we could get a good night’s sleep.

We have come to Assisi to rest a little. Rome is of course our ultimate goal—the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul are our ultimate destination. But Rome does not offer much peace and quiet. Assisi is the perfect place to regain our traveling strength.

So let us throw ourselves into the loving arms of St. Francis here in his peaceful town. When St. Francis lived in Assisi, this area at the bottom of the hill was a secluded wood. When St. Francis brought his first followers down here to rebuild this little chapel, he was seeking a place of quiet contemplation.

Let us pray that the good Lord will give us a good night’s sleep and plenty of vim and vigor to continue our pilgrimage, so that we can be alert to all that He has in store for us.

Homily for Monday, November 17—Basilica of St. Francis

The Lord Jesus tells us that we Christians are the salt of the earth. It is for us to season the world, to cure it, like salt cures meat and keeps it from spoiling. It is for us to keep the world from going bad, to keep it from getting rancid. Not only that—it is for us to make the world savory, to make life in this world pleasant to the discerning palate.

basilicastfrancisHow can we hope to be salt for the earth? This is our God-given mission—how can we accomplish it? What is it exactly that can keep the world from going bad? What will make life on earth flavorful with vigor, with virtue?

We have just heard the answer to this question. The Beatitudes are seasoning for the earth. A single life lived according to the Beatitudes is like a pinch of salt dropped into a pot: It will fill the whole stew with good flavor.

The earthly life of St. Francis was one such pinch of salt thrown into the pot of this world, a holy life according to the Beatitudes.

Yesterday we concluded our Litany of St. Francis by praying: “O Lord, when the world was waxing cold, to the inflaming of our hearts thou didst renew in the flesh of St. Francis the sacred marks of Thy Passion.”

The Beatitudes are more than a moral code. They are a portrait of Christ crucified: Poor in spirit, meek, mourning the sins of the world, hungering and thirsting, suffering insult and persecution, merciful, making peace by His sacrifice.

The Beatitudes are a portrait of Christ on the Cross, and St. Francis, too, is such a portrait. In the Litany, we called St. Francis a “living crucifix.” St. Francis was so profoundly united with Christ that He bore the Lord’s wounds in His own flesh.

St Francis Receiving the Stigmata by El Greco
St Francis Receiving the Stigmata by El Greco
The Lord has brought us here to the tomb of this beloved holy man in order to season us anew. We cannot hope to retain our saltiness by ourselves. Left to our own devices, we become insipid and bland to the taste, if not downright unpalatable. Buried under the weight of daily routine, we can become completely un-salty. We can become indistinguishable from everyone else–run down, oppressed by worldliness, distracted and unfocused.

In the Litany yesterday, we said an amazing thing about St. Francis. We addressed him as the one whose soul has taken Lucifer’s place in the heavenly choir. The Devil was a glorious angel, made to sing the praises of the divine Majesty. But in bitter pride, he fell. God in His Providence raised St. Francis’ soul to the place which Satan vacated. This is truly an awesome thing to contemplate. And here we are, next to the body that will one day be re-united with that seraphic soul.

St. Francis, pray for us, that we might be salty enough to flavor this world of ours with holiness!

Homily for Tuesday, November 18—Orvieto. Memorial of the Dedication of Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul

peter-crucifixionThe hand of God guided the steps of both St. Peter and St. Paul to Rome. It was the Lord’s will that both of these Apostles would give their lives for the Gospel in the capital city of the Empire. By shedding their blood in Rome, the Apostles consecrated the city as the Holy and Apostolic See, the capital city of the Church.

The first Christians of Rome buried both Apostles near the sites of their martyrdoms. Both were killed outside the ancient city, in the suburbs. St. Peter was crucified on the far side of the Tiber River, in the Circus of Nero, at the foot of Vatican Hill. St. Paul was beheaded on the road to Ostia, a few miles south of the ancient city.

Nine days ago, we kept the feast of the dedication of the Pope’s cathedral, St. John Lateran. The Lateran Basilica was built shortly after Emperor Constantine declared Christianity legal. As we recall, the Lateran Basilica was built on property that had belonged to a prominent Roman family. It was a central location in the city, ideal for the cathedral.

The Beheading of St. Paul
The Beheading of St. Paul
At the same time, though, two other great churches had to be built. For centuries, Christians had been coming on pilgrimage to visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, even risking their lives to do so. Now the time had come when the Church could finally build worthy basilicas to house the tombs and give the pilgrims a proper place to pray. Today we commemorate the solemn dedication of those two churches. We will be visiting them tomorrow and the next day.

Today we find ourselves in a remarkable situation. We are on our pilgrim way to Rome. We have stopped at Orvieto to refresh ourselves.

The exact same thing happened in 1363. A priest was on his way to Rome on pilgrimage. He stopped on this hill to say Mass.

He was a pious priest, but his faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament was weak. Because he could not understand it, he did not think he could believe it.

When this priest elevated the Host after the consecration at his Mass here, the Host began to bleed, and blood flowed down his fingers. Some of the blood fell on the square cloth which the priest unfolds on the altar. The cloth is called a corporal.

Chapel of the Corporal in Orvieto
Chapel of the Corporal in Orvieto
The priest took the corporal to the Pope, who was living at Orvieto that year. Rejoicing over the miracle, the Pope instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the hymns for the feast, Pange Lingue, O Salutaris, Tantum Ergo. The rest is history.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” With these words, St. Peter inaugurated the great age of Christian faith. This final age of the world will last until the Lord Jesus comes again in glory. Then everyone will see Him and know that He is God, and faith will no longer be necessary.

In the meantime, we know the Christ, the Son of the living God, by faith. We believe Him when He says, “This is my Body,” and “This is my Blood.” When He comes to us in the Holy Mass, let us greet him like St. Peter did. We believe, Lord.

[The story of the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena/Orvieto is recounted on this interesting-looking weblog.]

Deacon William Walker, a fellow pilgrim, will preach the homilies at our Holy Masses at the Basilicas of Ss. Peter and Paul on Wednesday and Thursday, November 19 and 20.

Homily for Friday, November 21—Feast of the Presentation of Mary, in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

Today we celebrate our final Mass of the pilgrimage at the Pope’s Basilica of our Lady. Today we keep the feast of her Presentation in the temple, when her parents Joachim and Ann offered her to God, and the Blessed Virgin’s service to the Lord began.

St. Mary Major High Altar
St. Mary Major High Altar
Our Lord’s grandparents presented their daughter to the priests in the Temple so that she could learn to do the will of God. Preserved from original sin, she was the perfect pupil. Her entire life was an act of obedience to the divine will.

The Virgin’s vocation eventually led her to Bethlehem, where she gave birth to the Christ and then laid her newborn Son in a manger. Some of the wood of that manger is in the chapel beneath the high altar in this basilica.

Being a saint is always doing the will of the Father. This church houses saints who have done the Father’s will at different times in history. St. Jerome, who collected and translated the books of the Bible, is here. Pope St. Pius V, whose prayers protected the Christian people from an invasion from Turkey and who guided the Church after the Council of Trent—he is here. Both St. Ignatius Loyola and Pope Pius XII said their first Masses here in St. Mary Major.

Ceiling of the Sforza Chapel
Ceiling of the Sforza Chapel
Our heavenly Father will call each of us to do particular things for Him. We do His will by being faithful to the duties that He has given us in our particular states of life. We become more and more the salt of the earth the more we are open to the Lord’s summons to do more for Him, to take risks for the sake of the Gospel.

Being faithful means making sacrifices. We will all have to make a sacrifice for the Lord tonight by setting our alarms for 3:00 in the morning, so that we can make it to the airport on time. Trust me, I did not schedule this flight. But we might as well make the most of it by offering it up.

May our Lady watch over us as we make our way home. May her prayers, and the prayers of all the saints we have visited, help to keep us salty and ready to do the Father’s will.


79990584MT001_RADIOSHACK_POMy grand design to publish while on pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome required a trip to Radio Shack. I was nervous but hopeful as I strode through the door.

The scene that awaited me was not promising. Every person present wore a look of impatient, sullen dissatisfaction. Everyone looked that way. There was no telling the unhappy employees from the annoyed customers.

Electronic machines were making repetitive noises, giving the store the ambience of a Chinese torture chamber.

I was not armed with clear knowledge about what I needed to buy. I was looking for a consultation–I needed an expert. And I needed a kind, patient expert.

revengeofthenerdsIt wasn’t always this way. I used to be able to geek it up with the best of ’em. I programmed. In 1984, I waited with eager longing for an Apple Macintosh with 512 kilobytes of Random Access Memory, which would make my world a new and exciting place. (I just purchased a memory stick with 8,000 times that amount of memory, and it is the size of two pieces of chewing gum.)

Back in my day, geekdom was a straightforward thing. Your glasses were taped together; you had an overbite; you were kindly but impossible to talk to. You knew things that other people did not. But they did not think that the things you knew were important. So they had utter contempt for you.

Now, though, the nerds hold the cards. Nerds rule the world. We have to wait around for nerds to give us the time of day.

Also, these days geeks have to specialize. No one can know it all. Back in the day, there were geeks with COMPREHENSIVE knowledge. No longer.

Trevi Fountain, Rome
Trevi Fountain, Rome
One thing that has changed for the better is this: Back when I was a card-carrying, computer-programming fifteen-year-old geek, you could have every necessary component, you could do everything just like you were supposed to do it, and STILL it wouldn’t work. These days, if you connect one thing to another, they will usually “interface” like they are supposed to. The devices have more native intelligence. The machines have gotten smarter, and the geeks have gotten more limited.

The Lord is kind and merciful, though. Everything worked out okay at Radio Shack.

I hope.

I have a bag full of adaptors and cables. May it please God that they are the right ones. I found the expert I needed, and he was kind and patient. He was helpful–above and beyond the call of duty. The sulleness was just a front. The Radio Shack was not a Chinese torture chamber. We can still hope in the goodness of our fellow man.

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.)

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!

Ad Limina Apostolorum

Interior of St. Peters by Giovanni Paolo Pannini
Interior of St. Peters by Giovanni Paolo Pannini. This church--the largest on earth--was built to house to tomb of St. Peter.
The Holy Apostles Peter and Paul shed their blood for Christ in Rome. St. Peter died by the cross and St. Paul by the sword under the Emporer Nero in A.D. 67. Ever since then, Christians have come from all over the world to visit their tombs.

Among his other duties, the Pope is the custodian of these holy places. The pilgrimage ad limina apostolorum usually affords an opportunity to see the Successor of St. Peter and receive his blessing.

A group of pilgrims from St. Mary’s parish in Upper Marlboro, Md., will–God willing–reach the Eternal City on the feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul, November 18.

St. Paul Outside the Walls
St. Paul Outside the Walls, built to house the tomb of St. Paul
May it please the Lord to pour out many graces upon us when we kiss the earth made holy by the martyr’s blood!

Perhaps November 18 will actually be St. Paul’s 2,000th birthday. It could be, after all.

We are likely within one year of his 2,000th birthday. We do not know the exact date. Perhaps we pilgrims should just assume that his birthday is November 18, and have a canoli or some gelato when we arrive in Rome to celebrate.

May the Holy Apostle pray for us, that we will have a safe journey and will profit from our pilgrimage as God wills.

Everybody else, please pray for us! We leave the U.S. on Saturday. We will be stopping in Assisi and Orvieto on the way to Rome.

Speaking of the way to Rome, Hillaire Belloc wrote a thoroughly enjoyable book about his pilgrimage on foot from France to Rome.

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!

The Records of Aeneas and St. Paul

…I promise I won’t bore you with any more palavering about ancient epic poetry for a while after this little essay… But this struck me as interesting: Both Aeneas and St. Paul left for Europe for the first time from the western coast of Turkey, and both of them wound up in Rome.

I am not about to consider the question of whether or not Aeneas was a real person. What I think is interesting is this:

The memorial of Aeneas’ sea-voyage to the west, across the Mediterranean to Italy, is one of the most beautiful artistic works of all time. It is a perfectly organized whole. It is an absolute literary masterpiece. It paints the picture of the ideal Roman warrior. Vergil set out to capture the spirit of ancient Rome in flawless dactylic hexameter, and he succeeded.

Map of Aeneas' journey
Map of Aeneas' journey
On the other hand, the memorial of St. Paul’s sea-voyages, which eventually brought him to the west and to Italy, is a scattershot literary patchwork. The Acts of the Apostles tells us a fair amount about what happened. But the Acts of the Apostles is NOT a literary masterpiece. And the book does not focus exclusively on St. Paul, nor does it include the climax of the Apostle’s earthly life, his martyrdom outside Rome.

St. Paul's Apostolic journeys
St. Paul's Apostolic journeys
We also have St. Paul’s letters to fill out the picture of his grand life. But these letters obviously were not written to be memorials of the Apostle’s heroism. They are at times poetic, but in no way are they literary masterpieces. They were never meant to be. They were written to deal with particular pastoral problems. St. Paul did not think of his “legacy” while writing them; he thought only of the salvation of the souls to whom he was writing.

So Aeneas (fictional or real) has the literary equivalent of a Michelangelo or Da Vinci portrait to keep his memory alive. St. Paul has the literary equivalent of an office-building blueprint that has been torn into a thousand pieces, and about 500 of them have been found and taped back together; the other 500 are lost forever.

God’s ways are not our ways.