22 + 22 and the Kneeling Church

St Matthews Cathedral
St. Matthews Cathedral, Washington DC


Kinda cool for me to think about how exactly 22 years ago, I began the Lent that prepared me for the Sacraments of Initiation in the Catholic Church.

At that time, I was 22 years of age.

On the afternoon of the first Sunday of Lent, 1993, we sat in St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue. We waited for our little group to be called for acknowledgement by the archbishop. It seemed like we waited forever, and then we were called, and it all happened in a second.

Looking back: There were so, so many things about the Church that I didn’t understand then. I actually had a very hard time keeping my eyes open during that particular ceremony. I worked all-night shifts on Saturday nights then.

I just believed with everything I had that This is My Body, This is My Blood is true. And that Christ Crucified is the one thing that truly makes life worth living.

I guess maybe I have come to understand a thing or two about the Church in these ensuing twenty-two years. But it still feels like a good idea to start Lent acknowledging that I don’t understand much.

Deny yourself. Take up your cross daily. And follow Me.

Twenty-two years ago, I was dying to belong to a church where people knelt. Knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. Knelt before the Crucified. Knelt befort the Awesome Majesty that we do not understand. The Majesty Who loves us unto death.

May He give us the grace to be that kneeling Church together, during Holy Lent 2015.

Pope Francis Ash Wednesday procession
Pope Francis Ash-Wednesday Procession yesterday


Lenten Purification and Enlightenment

$10000 QuestionAt some point in time, a momentous change in each of our lives occurred. We were baptized into Christ. Each of us; just about all of us; each individually–baptized into the life of the Savior. Every Christian can say: My future changed completely at that moment of baptism.

Changed how? I went from being a slave of mortality, facing inevitable oblivion, into being an adopted child of a loving and almighty Father, hopeful for goodness and eternal life. I went from the prospect of aimlessly wandering the earth to beginning the march to Mt. Zion. I became a member of a consecrated nation, a family. I became a captive redeemed, restored to the sublime birthright that was mine before the world began, when the good Lord above conceived of me in the infinite genius of His creative mind.

No event in our lives could ever rival the significance of our baptism. As Blessed Pope John Paul II answered the question: What was the greatest day of your life, Holy Father? When the Berlin Wall fell? When you were named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year? Chosen Pope? Ordained a priest? Born? No, he said. It all pales by comparison with the day I was baptized and made a child of God and a member of His Church.

Now, some people will live this Lent as the final stage of preparation for Holy Baptism. For these beloved brothers and sisters, the next forty days will be a period of purification and enlightenment. In fact, that is the official title of this stage of preparation for the sacraments: the Period of Purification and Enlightenment.

Continue reading “Lenten Purification and Enlightenment”

Wait, Storm Surge!

Let’s consider our first reading for All Saints Day, from our favorite book of the Bible, Revelation…

Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God. (Revelation 7:3)

Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees. Yet. Wait to destroy it all. Wait to level the pillars of the earth. Wait to cast the stars down from the sky. Wait until the chosen people have been marked on the forehead with the seal of God.

“Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” With these words, and with the sign of the cross on our foreheads, we were confirmed as Christians. We cannot see the seal on each others’ foreheads now. But it is perfectly real and absolutely permanent.

The mark of fully initiated Christians cannot be seen by human eyes yet, but the angels see it. They see the cross of chrism that the bishop traced. The angels will see it there when our skulls lay in the grave. And we, too, finally will see it on our brothers’ and sisters’ foreheads—at the general resurrection.

So saith the angel sent by the Lamb of God: Wait, destroyers of the heavens and the earth! Wait. Wait until all the springtime confirmation Masses have taken place. Wait until everyone gets through RCIA. Wait until the last baby gets baptized. Then you can consume the earth in the great and terrible fire.

Scripture gives us our insight into this dramatic divine order: Wait.

We hardly need the Scriptures to teach us that destruction will indeed overcome the material cosmos. We see the force of destruction at work every day. Sometimes the force looms large, like a huge hurricane storm surge. On the other hand, more often we see the force at work in little ways. Things get old, fall apart, fail. Fan belts crack. Screws rust. Duct tape loses its adhesive power. Chaos sets in. Beautiful and complete wholes dissolve into piles of dust.

But the forces of destruction do not have infinite power. That is what we learn from God’s Word. The ultimate power allows destruction to do its work, but under this order: Wait until the people have been sealed.

The world will be purified by fire. Then the dead will rise again. The seal of the cross will mark the saints.

We live, therefore, in the gracious interval. We are living during time specifically ordained by God, ordained for one reason: our salvation. The love of Christ has given us the very days in which we live.

Why does this sacred time have light and sunrises and sunsets and autumns and springtimes? To build up the eternal city, to build up the kingdom of God for the day that will last forever, for the undying springtime that will never give way to a hurricane season. Every moment of time in our lives comes like a pregnant woman, ready to give birth to the eternity to come.

What does a saint do now, then? I protest that I myself don’t rightly know. But: Seems to me that a saint is simply a fully initiated Christian who greets every moment of time for what it is. Every second comes as a gift that God has preserved from annihilation. He has preserved it so that we could do something beautiful with it.

Seventeen Proud Years

The Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall on their right and their left.

Where your unworthy servant was baptized

We Christians are marching to the holy mountain, where it is always springtime.

To outfit us to march forward, the Lord initiates us through the sacraments. We must be washed, anointed, and fed.

Easter is a good time for us to recall and thank God for the sacraments that have made us Christians.

On October 18, 1970, I was baptized by a well-meaning non-Catholic, non-priest at New York Avenue Presbyterian church. My parents were kind enough to carry me to the font, and they saw to it that I was in church every Sunday for the next 17 ½ years. I am grateful.

But there was still some unfinished business. On Holy Saturday night, 1993, I was confirmed and given Holy Communion for the first time by Father Ed Ingebretsen in Dahlgren Chapel at Georgetown University.

Seventeen years ago this morning, I woke up washed, anointed, and fed for the first time in my life.

It is good to be Catholic.

No one—not the Washington Post or the New York Times, not CBS News or CNN, not Geraldo Rivera or Sinead O’Connor—no one is going to tell me that it is not good to be Catholic on Easter Sunday.

We Catholics hate it when people do evil. We hate it that priests have done great evil and hurt innocent young people. We hate it that some bishops have failed to discipline their clergy like they should have.

But we know this, too: The world needs the mercy of God that comes to us through His Church.

As Norman MacLean put it in “A River Runs through It,”

When you pick up a fly rod, you will soon find it factually and theologically true that man by nature is a damn mess.

We need God. We need Christ. We need the Church. We need the sacraments. We need to be washed, anointed, and fed, so that we can march toward the goal.

Where your unworthy servant was Confirmed a Catholic

…How badly do I want Butler to beat Duke?

I wanted the Giants to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. But not this much. I wanted N.C. State to beat Houston in 1983. But not this much. I wanted Delpo to beat Federer, but not this much.

Rooting against Providence and Joining God’s Club

Georgetown beat Providence by ten last February
Georgetown beat Providence by ten last February
Earlier this week I was scolded for pulling against Our Lady (Notre Dame).

So I can only imagine what grief I wll get for rooting against Providence tomorrow!

May God’s will be done, according to His provident plan.

Pray for us, notre Dame in heaven!

Get the Hoyas out of their slump, please!!

Just to prove that I am not (consciously) trying to foil divine Providence, here is a little homily I gave to our school-children this morning in honor of our Lord’s Baptism by John at the Jordan River…

baptismWho knows what it means to be “initiated” into something?

You can be initiated into a club or a society. You might have to pay an initiation fee. Someone who is already initiated helps to initiate you.

We want to be initiated into groups that we like, or groups that do things we like, or that help us to do what we want to do. For instance, a couple years ago I joined a runners’ club to make it easier for me to sign up for road races on-line.

Continue reading “Rooting against Providence and Joining God’s Club”

The victory that conquers the world is our faith

earth1 John 5:4

In the New Testament and in the prayers of the Church, the word “world” can mean different things.

In this verse of St. John’s first letter, the word “world” refers to the fallen state of humanity, to the web of sin, deception, corruption, and evil into which we are all born.

Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit. He is the Messiah, the One who conquers evil and liberates mankind. He has come from outside of the world and entered the world—not to destroy it, but to heal it and make it into what it is meant to be.

christ-synagogue1By virtue of the sacraments of Christian initiation, we are united with Christ’s grace. By being baptized, confirmed, and nourished with the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, we become members of the Body of the Anointed One, and we share in His work.

The sacraments of faith change our relationship with the world. Christ has conquered sin, evil, the Devil. United with Him, we spend our lives on earth helping to make the world what it is meant to be.

The Lord gives us the grace to see the world in truth–to see it from the point-of-view of the Creator. God loves His world, and He works constantly for its fulfillment. Each of us has a small task to do every day, a small part to play in the work of the Savior. The job of every Christian is: To do my particular part to make the world good.

…And then: Maybe enjoy a cold one without having to get up.