Good out of Tenants’ Evil

The crown of thorns Pope Pius sent to Jefferson DavisOur Sunday gospel readings work out very conveniently for us. Just a fortnight ago, we meditated on a fruitful vineyard at harvest time. We imagined the workers, and how they got hired, and how much they got paid at sundown.

Our parable this Sunday has one very significant difference. A difference involving the owner. Last time, we saw the vineyard owner jog up and down the road to the town square, and back to the vineyard–not once, not twice, but six times. In the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, on the other hand, the owner decided to go on…a journey. Where? Far away.

Continue reading “Good out of Tenants’ Evil”

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Numbers, Hosea, and the Non-Contradictory Contradiction of Sabbath Sacrifice

The Pharisees accused Christ’s disciples of breaking the Sabbath by “reaping” grain on the day of rest.

The Lord’s rebuttal makes two points. The second point follows what might at first seem like an odd, if not self-contradictory, line of reasoning. The conclusion exonerates the disciples completely. They are innocent men.

The Lord first establishes their innocence on the basis of their being hungry. According to the precedent of King David himself, hunger trumped legal considerations.

Christ could have left it at that. St. Mark, in fact, only recorded this first point which the Lord made. But Matthew gives us the second point, the one that seems so mystifying.

The Law of Moses not only allows, but in fact requires priests in the Temple to double their labor on the day of rest, since an extra sacrifice is ordered for the Sabbath.

Then Jesus cites the words of the prophet Hosea. The Lord declares that He does not desire the sacrifice of burnt offerings.

Okay.

But we can resolve this apparent contradiction by the other assertion that Christ made: “There is something greater than the Temple here.”

In the Temple, priests offered sacrifices to please God. Jews who loved God made pilgrimages to the Temple and offered animals to the priests to sacrifice. To say you are greater than the Temple is to say that you yourself constitute a pleasing offering to God.

A presumptuous thing to say? Certainly would be presumptuous for any humble sinner to say this. Would that I could claim to be a Temple where a pleasing sacrifice is offered to God! But, alas, I am selfish and disobedient, so my soul does not emit a pleasing aroma to heaven.

But the innocent Lamb, Who was never anything other than a Temple of perfect love and obedience, Who offered at every moment of His pilgrim life the sacrifice of undivided devotion: He could claim to be greater than the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Lord did not, in fact, contradict Himself in this second point. God desires mercy. Whose mercy? Well, first and foremost, His own. Mercy begins with God. He was the first to be aggrieved, so He must be the first to forgive. In fact, even before the first act of injustice, the Creator had already shown His infinite mercy by making us out of nothing for no benefit of His, but only for our benefit.

This infinite mercy of God is the perfect sacrifice of His Son. The Son offered Himself on the cross, in an odor of infinite sweetness, not for His sake, but for ours.

We sinners have no worthy sacrifice of our own to offer. We do much better to worry about begging pardon of those we have aggrieved and forgiving and forgetting the offenses we have suffered.

But that doesn’t mean that there is no more Temple, no more priests, no more holy bread, and no more Lord’s Day. No. The Temple is in heaven–and here on earth, wherever people believe in Jesus. The priests offer Christ’s Body and Blood, which is the bread by which we live forever. And the Lord’s Day is the eternal Sabbath that will never end.

Remembering All the Martyrs of Nero

We call Abraham our father in faith. For one thing, Abraham imitated our heavenly Father in this way: He was prepared to offer his only son in sacrifice. The similarity stuns us when we read, “Abraham took the wood for the offering, and laid it on his son’s shoulders.”

The human race has always known that we make peace with God by offering sacrifice. But, by the same token, we have also never been able, by ourselves, to come up with a truly worthy victim.

Again, in this matter, Abraham acted with pure faith. Isaac asked him, “Father, where is the sheep for the offering?” Our father in faith replied, “God Himself will provide the lamb.”

God provides the peace-making lamb, the victim worthy of sacrifice to the almighty, infinitely good Father.

And in His consummate love for us, God provides this worthy victim from among our own kind. We can boast now, like proud children: ‘Look, Father, we were worthless. But then a worthy man offered Himself to You on our behalf!’

Saints Peter and Paul, and the other Apostles, explained all this to us nearly 2,000 years ago, right when it all happened. Since then, the Lord, acting with the same consummate loving kindness towards us, has provided countless lambs for worthy sacrifice from among the Christian people. Namely, the martyrs.

The Burning of Rome by Robert Hubert
The martyrs did not choose themselves; a self-chosen martyr, in fact, betrays the Gospel.

But God ripened the time, at certain moments, giving certain Christians the consummate opportunity to bear witness. And they went to their deaths singing with joy.

God ripened the time like this in Rome at the dawn of the Christian age. His choice of location was no accident. The Lord, for His own reasons, chose the city of the emperors to be the perennial capital of His Church on earth. So He moistened the earth there with the blood of His chosen witnesses at the very beginning.

When we offer our peace-making sacrifice to the Father, we sometimes refer to Abraham and also to Abel. After Cain killed him out of jealousy, Abel’s blood cried out from the ground to God as an urgent prayer.

So, even though today we recall acts of great violence and the shedding of innocent blood, we rejoice. God has taken the malice and selfishness that led to this bloodshed and turned it to our advantage. God is greater than Pontius Pilate; He is greater than the emperor Nero; He is greater than all the evil and discord that rends the history of mankind. At the holy altar of Christ and His martyrs, we find peace.

In Through, and Out From, the Sheep’s Gate

Here is a little homily, with some remarks of purely local interest…

Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (John 10:7-9)

Kidron Valley, without a knucklehead in the photo

“The Lord is my shepherd.”

Maybe these are the most famous words in the Bible. With these words, we, the Church, respond to Christ, Who declared Himself to be the divine Shepherd of souls.

Christ gave His Good Shepherd discourse in the Temple precincts of Jerusalem.

In other words, Jesus spoke about being the sheep’s gate very near the Sheep’s Gate in the Jerusalem city wall, where they led the animals for sacrifice into the Temple area.

The sheep that entered through this gate had walked through a dark valley–the Kidron Valley between Jerusalem and Mt. Olivet. For these lambs, the Kidron Valley was a valley of death in more ways than one.

Continue reading “In Through, and Out From, the Sheep’s Gate”

Holy Co-operation!

God is holy. By definition.

The apse wall of Otranto Cathedral holds the skulls of 800 martyrs
What is holy?

God.

What is God?

Holy.

He is holy.

He is infinitely, terrifyingly holy.

He is won-derfully, magni-ficently holy.

We Christians aspire to holiness. We desire the holiness of God. We want to share in His glory. We want to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy.

Are we presumptuous? After all, how can we be holy—we who subsist on the flesh of dead animals, and sometimes produce bad smells and bad words, and spend a lot of time thinking about ice cream and professional sports and a lot of other things that don’t exactly pertain to holiness? How can we hope to be holy?

Continue reading “Holy Co-operation!”

Altars, Pagan and Christian

First of all, let me say this: To see LeBron get sat-down was…SWEET!

…At Holy Mass, after Communion, when the deacon or priest cleanses the chalice, he says this prayer quietly to himself:

Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine, pura mente capiamus: et de munera temporali fiat nobis remedium sempiternum.

The translation of this Latin sentence which appears in the current English Sacramentary is an utter mush.

But soon we will have a new English-language Missal! This is how the prayer will be translated:

What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.

Beautifully put. Speaking of well-written sentences: I have seen Hamlet many times. I have seen all the movies, and I have seen it on stage probably a half-dozen times.

The other night I saw the best Hamlet I have ever seen. At the Folger Shakespeare Library. (Not the Folger Shakespeare Theatre Company downtown, which is to be avoided like a noxious cesspool.)

The Hamlet at the Library was great. Seeing it restored my faith in the art of Thespis. Ophelia stole the show. The play made sense to me in a new way–as the story of ruined love. Do whatever you can to get a ticket.

…Here is a short Ascension Day homily:

Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by hands, but heaven itself, that He might now appear before God on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:24)

St. Paul traveled the world to teach the Good News. When he went to the pagan city of Athens, he observed the many shrines to the many pagan gods. This moved him to explain the difference between pagan worship and Christian worship.

Continue reading “Altars, Pagan and Christian”

Incomprehensible

Incomprehension at Verizon Center
How could the Hoyas beat up on Duke on Saturday and lose to South Florida on Wednesday?

Incomprehensible.

But if you want really incomprehensible, try: Almighty God.

You are quite unable to think of such a thing [as God]. Such ignorance is more religious and devout than any presumption of knowledge…

We are talking about God, so why be surprised if you cannot grasp it? I mean, if you can grasp it, it isn’t God.

Let us rather make a devout confession of ignorance, instead of a brash profession of knowledge. (St. Augustine)

…Perhaps you have been wondering two things:

1. Why haven’t we heard anything from Fr. White since Saturday?

2. Why doesn’t Fr. White ever write anything about the world-famous “Year of the Priest?”

I have been basking in the mystery of what happened 40 days after Christmas, when the most pure Virgin went to the Temple to be purified, and she and St. Joseph redeemed the Redeemer with the sacrifice of a some birds.

Why was the Temple built? Only at this moment did the reason become fully clear. The Temple was built for the Son of God to enter it, and then offer Himself to the Father.

The Blessed Mother carried Him in, so that He could make this offering from His little Sacred Heart.

So we see that there are two priesthoods.

1. Some of us men perform the ministerial priesthood. It is a sublime mystery. The Lord uses us to make Himself present, so that He can be the Church’s offering to the Father.

2. All of us Christians perform the baptismal priesthood. We offer the Son to the Father, and ourselves along with Him.

The ministerial priesthood is God giving Himself to us. The baptismal priesthood is us giving God back to Himself, and giving ourselves to Him at the same time.

May we all exercise our priestly office every day, with fidelity and generosity.

…Please say a prayer for the repose of Fr. Levester Jones.

We have lost an excellent priest at a young age. May he rest in peace. May the Lord console all of us who love him.

Perfect Offering

Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord.
–Malachi 3:4

Today is a great day to say Holy Mass. One of the prayers the priest prays today includes:

“You have given us this memorial [the Mass] as the perfect form of worship.”

He gave us the Mass on Holy Thursday, of course–so why do we say this prayer right before Christmas?

It is true that the Mass was instituted in the springtime of our Lord’s 33rd year on earth.

But the preparations for the Holy Sacrifice began long before that…

It started in the Garden of Eden, when God made us with a desire for Himself. He made us want to offer something to please Him. He made us religious.

He called Abraham to offer a sacrifice. He gave the Israelites the Passover and all the sacrifices of the Temple.

The holy Victim of the Mass is the Incarnate Word of God. The Word became incarnate on Annunciation Day, when the Blessed Virgin said yes to the Archangel. There would be no Mass without that day.

And Christmas is a special day for priests to reflect on our role in the Mass. We priests get to cradle Christ in our hands at the altar, like the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph did on Christmas.

So Christmas is the perfect day for priests to give thanks to God for the Holy Mass…

Jeremy Lin
…Unusual Wednesday noon game today for the Hoyas.

Harvard is by no means an easy opponent.

They have a Chinese-American phenom. They beat Boston College and almost beat Connecticut.

Hoyas need to bounce back from Saturday’s bone-cruncher with a solid win. Root hard, people! Chvotkin has the call on AM 980…

…I was thinking about ‘favorite Bible verses.’ Here is an encore presentation of one of the funniest comedy routines ever:

Old Time Catholic Religion

When I first started out in training for the priesthood, I worked in a parish helping to take care of the elderly people in the neighborhood. There was an old car for me to use to take the ladies to their doctors’ appointments.

One of these ladies became a good friend to me, and we stayed close for years–until her holy death in 2003. She was not particularly friendly, however, when we first met. In fact, when I told her I was from the local parish, and I offered my services to her, she pronounced the following in no uncertain terms: “Listen, I am glad that you are here to help me. But I do not hold with new-fangled Church. I believe in the old-time Catholic religion.”

Perhaps you, dear reader, are aware that the Sovereign Pontiff Benedict XVI has restored to all Catholic priests the option of keeping the old-time Catholic religion alive. I.e.: Mass in Latin. The priest facing east, the same direction as everyone else. The priest praying the ancient prayers and making the gestures of supplication to God that were faithfully done for centuries–until things were simplified, updated, and revised around 1970.

(thanks for taking pictures, Fr. Cusick)
(thanks for taking pictures, Fr. Cusick)

This week the Archdiocese of Washington had an optional training session for us priests who never learned how to say Mass the old way (that is, anyone under sixty). You can read all about the training sessions here, if you are interested. The priest who taught us is a member of a religious order called the Norbertines. They get to wear a white cassock like the pope, but they wear black shoes instead of the papal red. (Here is an interesting fact: The Pope wears red shoes because St. Peter’s feet would have been covered with fish blood when he hauled in the nets on the Sea of Galilee.)

Anyway, I am definitely not one of those priests who thinks that the new Mass—with English readings and prayers—is a bad idea. Most priests–even us rigid young ones–think that having the readings in English is a good idea. I very much like to say Mass the way I originally learned it six years ago from my beloved teacher, Fr. Stephen Nash (who is now a monk called Daniel at a monastery in Austria).

I will say this, though: There are some things about the Old Mass which make it more prayerful. To me, it makes more sense for the priest to face God when he is praying and not face the people. Praying to God and looking at the people at the time is one of the most ridiculous things I can imagine. There are moments during Mass when the priest speaks to the people; he should look at them then. But when the priest is praying, it makes sense for him to face the same way as the people–that is, toward the Lord.

The old Mass also makes it much clearer that the Mass is a sacrifice. In the Mass, the priest and the people together offer the Son of God to the Almighty Father for the salvation of the whole world. It is the only sacrifice that actually works. The human race has tried just about everything else: chickens, heifers, people…none have done any good. But the Precious Blood of Christ offered to the Almighty Father on the altar actually does bring about the forgiveness of sins and fills the world with grace.

If it is not a sacrifice, it is not the Holy Mass. The new way of saying Mass sometimes seems like an occasion for teaching and singing, but not a sacrifice (even though it is one). A priest should try to be a good teacher and leader, but first and foremost he is a man who offers sacrifice to God. The old way of saying Mass makes this much clearer to everyone, especially the priest himself.

I must admit that I have found it rather difficult to learn how to say Mass the old way–but I am getting there. I had better be getting there, since I am celebrating the Solemn High Tridentine Mass at 5:00 p.m. this Sunday (at St. Mary Mother of God parish on 5th St., N.W.) May it be for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls!