Portrait of Unity

fray hortensio portrait el greco

At Sunday Mass, we find ourselves in the middle of a three week tour of St. Paul’s treatise on love and unity. Next Sunday, Mass will be like a wedding. The second reading will be I Corinthians, chapter thirteen.

This Sunday, we hear the second part of the twelfth chapter, which contains one of the most entertaining passages in the entire Bible: Body parts begin talking to each other, like members of a self-pity support group.

The goofy-looking foot miserably laments, “I am not a hand, so I really don’t feel included!” The hand just sits there quietly, looking graceful and debonair.

Then the ugly, lumpy ear jumps in: “Look at me! I am not luminous and iridescent like the eye over here. So I just get shut off to the side and used as a kind of doorstop for people’s glasses!”

earLet’s focus on this: In writing this section of his letter, St. Paul focused his imagination on the human body with the meticulous eye of a portrait painter.

The portrait painter wants to capture the details of all the various parts of a person’s human form, in order thereby to present the unique and distinctive whole: the personality of this particular human being.

If you don’t mind, let’s take an example. My favorite portrait painter is El Greco (as you can tell, because he is in the Hall of Fame to the right). He painted a portrait of a friend of his, a priest and Trinitarian friar, whom the king of Spain had appointed preacher to the royal court.

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Heaven vs. Cheesecake, Etc.

When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart. (Jeremiah 15:16)

The words of God filled the prophet with happiness. Why? The prophet answers: “Because I bore the name of the Lord God of hosts.”

The treasure buried in the field, the pearl of great price: the thing worth giving everything else up for… What excels the worth of every other conceivable thing? A person can take the long way or the short way to find the answer.

People get themselves in trouble when they say things like, “I would sell my soul for that piece of double-chocolate sinful decadence truffle cheesecake a la mode.” Or when they say something like, “If this is wrong, baby, I don’t want to be right.”

Trouble. Physical pleasure cannot justify total self-abandonment. Sensual delight is not the pearl of great price.

What about worldly glory? “I don’t want to be a mean guy. But I might have to tread on a few people’s heads to get to the top.” Or: “Gosh. I have built up such a great reputation for myself. Yeah, I made a little mistake here, but no one needs to know. They wouldn’t know the difference anyway. I’ll cut a corner here with the truth.”

Sounds a lot like what the former president of Penn State might have said to himself. Glory and power cannot quite justify total self-abandonment, either. How about money?

If I sell my soul for money, how much will I get? Will I get enough to put Robert Griffin III under contract to play quarterback for my pick-up touch-football team? And that will be fun for..what? an hour?

So: By the long way or the short way, we realize: God trumps. The eternal vocation of my immortal soul trumps. Nothing can really compete with the prospect of eternal happiness in heaven.

Four hours on an ATV, with unlimited gas, vs. heaven? Free Big Macs, every day for a month, vs. heaven? Two weeks in Monte Carlo, with fourteen different Gucci suits to wear while I’m there, vs. heaven? Heaven wins every time. It’s not even a fair fight. You could even throw something involving the young Sophia Lauren into the mix, and it still wouldn’t really be a contest. Heaven is better.

So: getting to heaven… The prophet: “How can I be healed?” The Lord: “If you repent—if you bring forth the precious without the vile, I will make you a wall of polished brass.”

If we find ourselves seeking God, it is because He has already found us. If we make good use of the sacraments, it is because the Lord gave them to us so that we could get to heaven. If our consciences accuse us of sin, it is because the Lord wants only to forgive and give us grace to sin no more.

His words, which, when we devour them, give happiness to our hearts…what are they exactly? Aren’t they as simple as this? “I made you in my own image and likeness for eternal life. My Son took your sins upon Himself, so that you can shine forever with perfect justice. Just let me love you.”

Abandon ourselves completely to that? Yes.

…PS. Click here to read one of the more inspiring exercises of pastoral leadership I have ever seen.

Click here to read another one.


As no darkness can be seen by anyone surrounded by light, so no trivialities can capture the attention of anyone who has his eyes on Christ.
–St. Gregory of Nyssa

…Therefore, we do not dwell on the dismal whimper with which the Georgetown Hoyas ended a once-promising season. Maybe we can dwell on the prospect of the injury-hobbled Hokies making an NIT run.

…Every year St. Joseph gets two days, today (March 19) and May 1. On May 1, our Holy Father Pope Benedict will declare his predecessor to be among the blessed in heaven. That will be the day when we can stop praying for the happy repose of John Paul II and start praying to him…

…Here is a homily for the Second Sunday of Lent:

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. (Matthew 17:1-2)

On the second Sunday of every Lent, we read about the ascent of the Lord Jesus, Peter, James, and John up Mount Tabor. The second Sunday of Lent brings precious memories to my mind, because three years ago today, I began a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I got to see Galilee, to climb Mount Tabor, and then make my way to Jerusalem.

When the Lord and his closest apostles went up the mountain, they, too, were beginning a pilgrimage. It was the pilgrimage that faithful Jews made to Jerusalem for the Passover feast.

Continue reading “Transfiguration”