World Cup and World Peace

If you come to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, go first and be reconciled with your brother. (Matthew 5:23-24)

“Come to the altar.” When we pray and seek a friendship with the Almighty, the altogether True and Good, we examine our consciences. We measure ourselves against the fidelity, kindness, and love of Christ. Then we realize: Yikes, I have offended my neighbors. I have wronged them in such-and-such way, at such-and-such times. I have not fulfilled God’s command to love my neighbor as much as I love myself. So I must “go and be reconciled.”

in attendance for WE Day California, The Forum, Los Angeles, CA April 7, 2016. Photo By: Elizabeth Goodenough/Everett CollectionEasy. When I’m honest, humble, and full of trust in God.

Not so easy, when I’m the normal kind of obtuse, anxious, self-centered mortal that most of us are. A fearful soul who sees things only as they affect me, and who would rather eat dirt than sincerely apologize for anything.

The Lord Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by declaring peacemakers blessed, along with the poor in spirit, the meek and merciful, the clean of heart, the zealous for justice, those mourn the sins of the world and do penance.

Like I said: Making peace is easy, when your heart harmonizes perfectly with the Heart of Jesus Christ. But reaching that kind of harmony with divine love requires the spiritual battle of a lifetime. The constant renunciation of self; daily meditation on the true meaning of life; constant practice in honest communication.

The World Cup tournament can help build international peace. And the highly televised Singapore summit earlier this week. Let’s hope for the best. The greatest force for international peace is, of course: intermarriage and child-bearing.

When Serbs marry Croats and have Serbo-Croat babies, and Bosnians marry Hungarians and have Bosno-Hungarian babies, and Tutsis marry Hutus and have Hutu-Tutsi babies, and Germans marry Slavs and have Germano-Slavic babies, and whites marry blacks and have tan babies, and Latinos marry Italian-Americans and have babies who look like Selena Gomez… we wind up in a good situation.

The grandparents simply cannot order the grandchildren into war against each other when those grandchildren are literally brothers and sisters.

Maybe we need to encourage our American children to marry Canadians at this point. To avoid a re-eruption of the French and Indian War…

But the most important world-peace-making work of all involves: getting my self reconciled with God and His truth. Getting myself reconciled with myself. If, by God’s grace, I can make a true, enduring peace with myself, then I can make peace with anyone.

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Solidarity

Gospel reading at today’s Holy Mass seems eerily familiar.  We just heard it a Sunday Mass 3 ½ weeks ago. Lord Jesus explaining the Ten Commandments.

Christian morality all begins with the fundamental truth: “I am the Lord, your God.”  That sentence is enough, really, to indicate all the demands of Christian morality.  The Sermon on the Mount just spells things out.

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Do not murder, do not despise, do not yell at people. Do not nurse so much as the smallest grudge.

Why?  Because God will judge justly. He is the Lord our God. He is everybody’s God.  Judging other people’s souls is above our pay-grade.  We are much better suited to kneeling down and begging God for mercy, for me personally and for the whole human race.

Also: the Lord, our God, will provide. He provides what we need.   So we don’t have to fight amongst ourselves.  We don’t have to contend for what we think we ought to have, to wrench it out of the hands of someone else.  God will give us our sufficient portion.  Our job is to be friends, as best we can.

The Catholic buzzword is “solidarity.” Might be a buzzword, but it’s also a real thing. Pope Pius XII put it like this:

The law of human solidarity and charity, dictated and imposed both by our common origin and by the equality in rational nature of all men, whatever nation they belong to. This law is sealed by the sacrifice of redemption offered by Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross to his heavenly Father, on behalf of sinful humanity.

We are in this together. We are sinners together. We need Christ together. And we can and do successfully work together and accomplish great things together! When we have the humility to listen respectfully to each other, think of each other’s well-being, and learn to love each other. All of us have this in common: we are perfectly lovable shambling messes.

May we never think of another person as if he or she were a member of a different species. May we never give up hope on communication and concord. May I never forget that one thing, and one thing only, keeps me from going to hell like I deserve: God’s mercy.

And God’s extends that same exquisite mercy to even the smelliest, shrillest, nastiest, most altogether insufferable people in the world. So I had better do the same thing. Since I am one of the smelly, shrill, nasty, insufferable people.

Ask and You Shall Receive the good Holy Spirit

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on my way down to kiss the ring of the fisherman, 3/9/00

Seventeen years ago today, I assisted at Mass with Pope St. John Paul II. He welcomed seminarians into his little chapel in the papal apartment every morning. Room enough for about 30 people, with half of them standing along the back wall. I’ll never forget how we got ushered in there at 7am, hushed, after passing through a chintzy metal detector and going up an old elevator—and there he was, kneeling in front of the altar, preparing to vest for Mass. Afterwards, we got to meet him in the library outside the chapel, and he encouraged us in our service to Christ.

On that day–March 9, 2000–the sun shone through the crisp Roman air. Spring was springing–just like it is here, in what I like to think of as the second-most-beautiful city in the world, Roanoke, Va.

This weather reminds us of the ancient origins of our English word for the 40 days before Easter. The word comes from “lengthen,” because the days get longer. “Lent” literally means “springtime.”

Which is why, when the Lord tells us, “Ask, and you shall receive,” we immediately blurt out: “Please! No snow this weekend!” He promised that He would lavish “good things” on those who pray. Snow ain’t no good thing.

st john paul iiBut, speaking of those “good things:” again we must briefly contend with a slight discrepancy in what our Lord said on two different occasions.

As we read at today’s Holy Mass, St. Matthew recorded the Lord, during the Sermon on the Mount, promising “good things” to those who pray. But when St. Luke recorded Christ’s teachings on prayer, He quoted Him as promising the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

So is it “good things” or “the Holy Spirit?”

Come on, people. This apparent discrepancy hardly poses the kind of tricky challenge we faced yesterday, when we had to clear up what the “sign of Jonah” was. This one is easy by comparison. After all, what thing could be as good as the Holy Spirit? The original Goodness from which all things flow?

So, if it be His will that snow fall this weekend, on the very night when we lose an hour’s sleep, then so be it. We can take it. God’s will be done.

By the day seventeen years ago when I had the privilege of kissing the fisherman’s ring on his finger, St. John Paul II had grown old and thoroughly enfeebled. His vigorous youth–when he hiked, and camped out, and said Mass on the back of a kayak for his college students–had vanished.

But he rejoiced in the Lord nonetheless. He rejoiced in the divine will. He rejoiced in the great mystery of Christ crucified, in the springtime–the mystery by which a spring will come that will never fade.

 

Giving and Getting It All

The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise. That they are vain. (I Corinthians 3:20)

The wise of the world. Like Oprah Winfrey or Mark Twain. Like Socrates. Like the framers of the US Constitution–Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Co. Like the entrepreneurial geniuses–Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk. Or the gray eminences of Hollywood–Samuel Jackson, Shirley MacLaine, Denzel Washington, or Meryl Streep. Even the the sage of the ultimate mystery, NCAA bracketologist John Lunardi.

joe-lunardi[Click HERE to read in Spanish.]

All their thoughts–about who will get into the tournament, or about how to make money, or write a book, or please an audience, or govern a country–all of those human brainwaves: completely vain, saith the Scriptures.

Let’s go a step farther. Who’s the wisest Christian who ever lived? Gotta be St. Thomas Aquinas, right?

Near the end of his life, someone asked him about all his voluminous writings of wisdom. He said, “It’s all straw.”

Something transcends it all. By comparison with its wisdom, the deepest thoughts of men mean nothing. And that something is Christ crucified.

St. Paul went on to write: “So let no one boast of human beings, for everything belongs to you…the world, or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.”

Wow. But how to understand this? How do we understand St. Paul telling us that everything–as in: the whole cosmos–belongs to us? To try to understand, let’s work our way down, in order to work our way up. We have to let the commands of Christ humble us utterly, so that His sacrifice can utterly exalt us.

In the gospel at Sunday Mass we hear Jesus tell us: “Offer your left cheeck to the one who strkes your right. Love your enemy. Pray for the one who persecutes you. Do all of this to live as children of your heavenly Father, Who makes His sun rise on everyone, and Who loves everyone perfectly.”

Mark TwainNow, Who must this man be, Jesus, to issue such commands? No human being ever made the sun rise, or prevented its rising. No human being has ever known better than God when it should rain, or when it should stop raining.

When Jesus speaks, we hear the voice of the One Who owns and operates everything. He knows every human mind, and He knows that not one of them contains enough knowledge to judge a human soul. If I think so-and-so is my enemy, I may have my human reasons for thinking that. But it could be that God gave me so-and-so as a friend. What I know for sure is that God made so-and-so to be His, God’s, friend.

The doctrine of Christ utterly humbles us. Because Christ’s wisdom is not human wisdom. It is divine wisdom. Jesus is something other than a wise sage, something completely different from an “expert.” Jesus is a man with God’s Mind in His Head. God owns and operates the cosmos, whole and entire. And everything that God owns and operates, Christ owns and operates. And everyone that God loves, Jesus loves. And that’s everyone.

Now, does everything that Christ owns and operates belong also to us? Including His universal love?

Lord Jesus stretched out His arms on the cross not just for those who love Him, but also for those who hate Him. They took His cloak, His tunic, and His sandals. They beat and battered Him. They scourged Him and spat on Him, and yet He peacefully offered more. He opened His Hands and relaxed His Feet for the nails. And, as the hammer fell, He loved the very men who pounded the spikes into His flesh. He gave everything and held nothing back for Himself. He gave His very life’s breath to His enemies.

An utter fool, the Uncreated Divine Wisdom. An utter fool for love, His Blood dripping to the ground below, as He said, “Father, forgive them,” about the men who at that moment mocked Him and spat with contempt on His wounded ankles.

But the Fool for Love reigns. Even hanging on His Cross, Christ our God owned and operated everything, with His infinite divine power and knowledge. And at that moment, He handed it all to us. The cosmos. And His infinite Love.

For free. For nothing. As a gift.

He made this gift to both those who love Him and those who hate Him. God gave to sinners the gift of His loving friendship. All things work to the benefit of the friends of God, by His power and grace. Not because we are good, or wise, or cute–but because He is generous: We have it all.

Light in R-Rated

I hesitate to get into this. But it’s time to acknowledge a true leader. I know these debates can get quite emotional. I for one have seen a lot of hate spewed in recent days–about a man who is a constant winner and overachiever. He’s out there proving his haters wrong time after time. Some people get jealous of such a consistent winner. Throw in a beautiful foreign model for a wife, and people hate him even more. Maybe you didn’t want him in the role he has today, but there’s nothing anyone can do about it now.

Like it or not, Tom Brady is in the Superbowl again.*

Stations of the CrossBefore the game, though, let’s turn inward. Who calls him- or herself a disciple of Christ?

Therefore we must listen carefully.

Last week He taught us where we can find true blessedness. Christ’s Beatitudes describe a kind of happiness that lies hidden from the world’s eyes. Poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure-hearted, longing for justice and truth–there we find the invisible happiness of inner communion with God.

Today at Holy Mass we hear the Lord command us to let a light shine that will move people to glorify God. “You are the light of the world,” He tells us.

In a month, Lent will arrive, and we will celebrate the Stations of the Cross on Fridays, as we customarily do. We have lovely, evocative stations at St. Andrew’s in Roanoke. We can use them outside of Lent, too, of course. A unique light shone from Christ throughout His pilgrim life. But when we imagine His bitter Passion and crucifixion, we see that light at its purest.

Theologians debate the question of whether Jesus had the virtue of faith during His earthly life. St. Thomas Aquinas says No, because Christ had the beatific vision from the moment of His conception in the Virgin’s womb. In His mind, Lord Jesus always beheld the glory of God. What we believe, and hope to see, Jesus always saw interiorly and knew.

In the end, I think the debate on the the question of Jesus’ faith doesn’t serve much of a purpose, because the essential fact for us is: The strength and serenity that Jesus possessed during His Passion. We have faith–we have faith precisely in that inner source, the life of the soul of Christ, which gave Him the love by which He offered Himself to the Father, for us, on the cross. We believe that the inner source of Christ’s perfect life is God. The source of Jesus’ strength and serenity during the Passion is the God in which we Christians believe. Feel me?

As we gaze at the fourteen Stations, we see light. An intense paradox draws us into the true meaning of our lives: These bas-relief sculptures depict a hideously dark sequence of events. If we didn’t hold the Christian faith, we wouldn’t want our children exposed to these images. When Mel Gibson made his Passion movie, people complained about the violence. But Good Friday–the real, original day–it was an R-rated movie. If they gave a rating to our Stations of the Cross, it would have to be R.

Tom BradyBut we see light. At Mass at St. Andrew’s, we find ourselves in a shiny, sparkling, gaudy building–and right in the center, with every architectural line converging on it–is the rendition of a crucified man. And to us, this is the brightest light of all, the shiniest part of the beautiful building. This is our God. His light, altogether invisible to every eye but the eye of faith–His light shines brighter than any other light. The Passion, darker than any Hollywood horror movie–and yet we see the Light of the World shining.

And that makes us the light of the world. It’s good to be nice, but being nice doesn’t make anyone the light of the world. It’s good to be smart, but being smart doesn’t make anyone the light of the world. When does our light shine before others and make them glorify our heavenly Father? When they see within us the same light that shone within Jesus on Good Friday.

The world needs our Christian interior life. We need a Christian interior life. How did Jesus give heaven to the human race? By living from the deep secret within Himself, His secret divine union with the Father.

Which means that we need to wall-off a sancutary in our souls. We need an inner tabernacle that no e-mail, no facebook, no Superbowl, no President, no news media can touch. We need to cultivate the interior life. The world needs us to cultivate the Christian interior life.

How? How about at least fifteen minutes of absolute silence per day? If we wonder, What do we need to survive life in the USA in 2017? let’s listen to this. St. Francis de Sales said, “I pray an hour a day, except when I’m really busy. Then I pray two hours a day.” Or Martin Luther: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours praying.”

What’s Christian meditation? It’s as easy as walking quietly from one Station of the Cross to the next. Or just trying to pay attention at Mass. Or opening up the New Testament and starting to read from Matthew 1:1.

Our light will shine. When we let the light of Christ crucified shine inside us. Through daily silent prayer.

————

* Thank you, David “Dutch” Massingham, for this joke.

Difficult Rock on which to Build

scale-of-1-to-10

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

These words of mine. Here the Lord refers specifically to His… Sermon… on…

On a scale of 1 to 10—ten being the most difficult—where would we put acting on the words of the Sermon on the Mount?

Right. Maybe about 70?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Ten points right there.

Stop judging. Remove the wooden beam from your own eye. Another ten.

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear… Do not worry about tomorrow. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth; store up treasure in heaven. Ten more points. Now we’re up to thirty, and we have hardly gotten started.

If your right eye causes you to lust after your neighbor, then pluck it out and throw it away. Plucking out your own lustful eye is definitely ten difficulty points.

Fast in secret; pray in secret; give alms in secret. That’s another thirty points.

Forgive others their transgressions. At least ten.

Love your enemies. Pray for your persecutors. Settle with your opponent on your way to the judge. Twenty-five right there.

Give to the one who asks of you. Offer no resistance to evil. When someone strikes your right cheek, offer him your other cheek as well. We have reached the point where we will need to use calculus.

Your light must shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father, Who blesses the poor in spirit, the mournful and meek, the merciful, the pure-hearted peacemakers, and all those who suffer persecution because they hunger and thirst for God’s holiness.

Sweet saints above! Pray for us that we might build our houses on this particular rock! We cannot manage a task that requires a 105105 level of difficulty, on a scale of 1 to 10. But with the grace of God we can do anything!

Treats and the Father

Sometimes the gospel reading at Holy Mass gives us a perfectly appropriate image.  “After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then you will stand outside knocking, and saying…Trick or treat!”

How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. (Mt. 7:14)

On the one hand, Lord Jesus submitted to His bitter Passion, and mounted the height of the cross, in order to draw all people to Himself.  Christ extends His Hand to everyone.  His loving Heart wills the salvation of all.

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But on the other hand, the road to salvation stretches before us—long, dark, and treacherous.  (And that’s just getting through the rest of today.)

On this road of Christian faith, we can encounter this situation:  ‘Nice! I think I have finally settled into a nice little state of comfortable holiness!’  Then the Lord demands the renunciation of something that I didn’t even realize I cherish with a desperate familiarity.

Children don’t like having their Halloween candy taken away from them.  And we don’t like it when the Lord points out that we have no real right to certain comforts that we have come to take for granted.  But He’s allowed to pull the rug out from under us anytime.  After all, we came naked into this world, and naked we will leave it again.

It’s not because He’s cruel.  But He has a particular kind of zeal for our souls.  The ‘trick’ is that His zeal can appear ruthlessly cruel to our grasping and avaricious eyes.

Almighty God has no interest whatsoever in our being “vaguely associated” with Him.  As if we could get to heaven by keeping some Catholic-school sweatshirts in our dresser drawers.  Or drinking our coffee from a “Blessed 24:7” mug.  As if we could find salvation by thinking of God and loving Him 35-40% of the time, and watching tv or twirling the facebook feed slackjawed the rest.

No.  He loves us with a ruthlessly demanding Passion.  One thing He is not is “nice.”  Not a “nice” God.  He is the crucified God.  He walked the narrow way of pure, honest, fearless love.  And His Way, the Way of the Cross, is the only way to the Father.

But, oh, what a Father do we find! when we walk this narrow way.  There’s not a treat in this world that can hold a candle to His love.

Like Toasting America with Belgian Beer

Budweiser America can
Here’s to America, schwestern!

Lord Jesus tells us to:

Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.

If you bring your gift to the altar [that is, yourself, to offer along with Christ to the Father],and there recall that your brother [or sister in Christ, that is, your wife] has anything against you, …first be reconciled. (Matthew 5:25,24)

To whom must we apologize most often, for calling him/her “You Fool” (see Matthew 5:22)? The spouse.  The part of the Sermon on the Mount about the fifth commandment applies to husbands and wives, more often than not.

Hillary Clinton wins nomination“Sexual complementarity” has become a buzzword these days in Catholic circles.  But the word touches on the most-profound mystery.

God–Who transcends sex and created men and women in His image–God became a man.  In order to betroth a bride to Himself.  And the Bride has both men and women for members (us).

We men must beg pardon for under-estimating the gifts that women possess.  #1 guilty male chauvinist: right here.  May the Lord forgive me.

But do we raise a toast today, because a “glass ceiling” has been broken, and Mrs. Hillary Clinton will head a major-party ticket for President of the USA?

Budweiser has emblazoned their beer cans with “America” for the summer.  To raise a Bud for a patriotic toast on Independence Day…  A pretty daggone empty and ironic thing to do, since Anheuser-Busch has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of a Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate.

Seems to me that feminist rejoicing over the nomination of a former “First Lady” ranks in the same category of ironic shallowness.  Cronyism has become a game for men and women alike! Yea!  Rode her husband’s coattails into the limelight!  What a victory for women!

Especially when we consider: What an abortion actually entails.  Freedom?  How about: an act of violence against a mother and child.  Usually performed by a man.  At the behest of a man.

Makes Hillary Clinton’s cronies at Planned Parenthood look like the biggest male chauvinist pigs in America.

This is not the feminism that America needs.  We need to go back to the drawing board, and start with:

God, Who transcends male/female, and Who made man and woman in His image, became a man.  To betroth to Himself a Bride, made up of men and women.

Heading to High School as the Light of the World

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_Angelico

[homily for our students finishing seventh grade]

You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)

Lord Jesus says this to us.  Clear as day, He said it.  He said this during His famous Sermon on the…

We are the light of the world.

But, wait a minute, Lord.  Didn’t You say that You are the light of the world?

Didn’t the Lord Jesus say that He is the light of the world?  Clear as day, He did.  “I am the light of the world.”  John 8:12.  Also John 9:5.

Who is the light of the world, then?  The Son of God?  Or us?

Yes.

Christ, the High Priest of creation.  Christ, Who makes existing mean something.  Who spread out His arms on the Holy Cross as a declaration:  Truth and love will conquer.  This earth is not just a mess of atoms, or a tragic chaos arcing toward smelly putrescence.  No. This earth will have an eternal springtime.  And the dew on the grass will be the light of God.

Christ’s High Priesthood means that His light shines through us, since we are His ministers, priests of the cosmos with Him.

Soon you dear young people will enter high school.  But you are already priests of the most-high God.  Because you can offer yourselves, everything you are, everything you experience, everything you hope for from the future—you can offer it all to God as a pure sacrifice.  And when we offer ourselves in union with the Son of God, the Father receives the sacrifice with infinite pleasure.

After all, what does the divine Son offer to the Father?  Everything—everything, suffused with death-conquering hope.  We can offer that, too.

When we live, and move, and have our being in God, we offer everything to Him, just like Jesus. And this holy sacrifice of ours—Jesus’, and ours—it lights the world with a brilliance greater than a thousand suns.

House on Rock

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

I think the crucial historical facts that we need for understanding the Parable of the House Built on Rock would be:

1. In ancient Palestine, the vast majority of newly married men served a surveyor, architect, engineer, general contractor, zoning lawyer, and brick layer for the modest dwelling of the new family.

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_Angelico2. If you lived on a rocky hillside, your choice of building site would pretty much make itself. But if you lived in a valley or on the open plain, you had to consider what might happen during October and November.

During the rainy season, storms burst forth with great suddenness. Sandy areas immediately found themselves coursing with little rivers of run-off.

So the prudent homebuilder would excavate the sand to find the rocky stratum below. He would never lay his first course of bricks on anything other than a large, solid rock. Because he knew that the day would come when a stream of fast-running water would break against whatever his first course of bricks sat on. If those bricks sat on sand: see ya! Collapse.

Once the parable’s image crystallizes in our imaginations, the meaning comes clear to us as easily as any of the parables of Christ.

Storms will come. Our relationship with God will be subjected to pressures, extreme pressures. If we flimflam our way through our prayers, we will wind up naked and exposed to every gust of wind and squall of rain.

But if Christ comes first; if He comes first on the balmy, temperate days; if He comes first on the cozy, crisp winter days; if He comes first even on the days when life is easy, then, when the storms rage, we will have a warm and cozy house in which to shelter ourselves.