Personal with the Popes

Dear reader, perhaps you remember St. Polycarp Day, February 23.

Maybe you recall our little discussion about the difference between choosing death and embracing martyrdom.

Today is the Commemoration of the “troublesome priest” who did not seek death, but embraced martyrdom when it came.

We cannot recommend too highly LRS Hall-of-Famer T.S. Eliot’s play about St. Thomas Becket, “Murder in the Cathedral“…

…Speaking of embracing martyrdom: Pope Benedict is often contrasted with the Venerable Pope John Paul II. Their personalities are very different.

One common idea is that, while Pope John Paul spoke freely about himself, Pope Benedict is so intensely private that his personality is all but invisible.

I cannot agree with this.

Pope John Paul did indeed speak and write beautifully about his own personal experiences. A perfect example would be this section of his encyclical on the Holy Eucharist:

When I think of the Eucharist, and look at my life as a priest, as a Bishop, and as the Successor of Peter, I naturally recall the many times and places in which I was able to celebrate it.

I remember the parish church of Niegowić, where I had my first pastoral assignment, the collegiate church of Saint Florian in Krakow, Wawel Cathedral, Saint Peter’s Basilica and so many basilicas and churches in Rome and throughout the world.

I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares…

This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world.(paragraph 8).

Pope Benedict also writes about himself. But he is subtle. He writes about himself by writing about others. For example, this section from his encyclical on hope:

The connection between love of God and responsibility for others can be seen in a striking way in the life of Saint Augustine.

After his conversion to the Christian faith, he decided, together with some like-minded friends, to lead a life totally dedicated to the word of God and to things eternal. His intention was to practice…the contemplative life…

Things turned out differently, however. While attending the Sunday liturgy at the port city of Hippo, he was called out from the assembly by the Bishop and constrained to receive ordination for the exercise of the priestly ministry in that city.

Looking back on that moment, he writes in his Confessions: “Terrified by my sins and the weight of my misery, I had resolved in my heart, and meditated flight into the wilderness; but you forbade me and gave me strength, by saying: ‘Christ died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died.'” (paragraph 28)

Now, perhaps you are saying, ‘Father, this is not the Pope writing about himself. He is writing about St. Augustine. Can’t you read?’

But, dear friends, this is the way the Pope writes about himself. What happened to St. Augustine in 391 happened to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005.

He was going to retire, write his books, have a happy quiet life, and play the piano whenever he wanted. But He for Whom we live had other plans.

Wake Up Call

Expergiscere, homo! It’s time for Christmas!

…Did Chris Wright score a game-high, career-high 34 points yesterday afternoon? Yes, he did!

Rich Chvotkin had the line of the day: “Whatever your were going to give Chris Wright for Christmas, double it.”

…Pope Benedict’s encyclical on hope is really a meditation on the following dialogue, which occurs before every Baptism:

PRIEST: What do you ask of God’s Church?

CANDIDATE/PARENT: Faith.

PRIEST: What does faith offer you?

CANDIDATE/PARENT: Eternal life.

The Pope explains:

The human being needs unconditional love. He needs certainty…Man’s great true hope, which holds firm in spite of all disappointments, can only be God–God who has loved us and who continues to love us “to the end,” (John 13:1) until all “is accomplished” (John 19:30).

…Washington is unlike other American cities. One of the ways it is different is this:

Back in the 1960’s, the big thing was to build super-highways THROUGH cities. The plan was to build big highways through Washington, just like there are big highways through Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, etc.

But people rebelled. One of them was Peter Craig, who died last month. There was a nice editorial about him yesterday.

Because of the resistance of local Washingtonians, we DO NOT have the big highways running through town that we were slated to have. This is an ENORMOUS blessing.

I am not familiar with all the projects which the editorial mentions. Nothing interests me more than things like this, so I am going to have to do some heavy-duty research to get a firm grip on all the details of what was to have been built, but thankfully was not.

If the Lord allows me the leisure and resources, you will read a nice, long description of it all here someday.

I acknowledge that this will be interesting only to Washington-geography nerds like myself, but I make no apologies. We will see what I can come up with.

In the meantime, merry Christmas, dear readers!

Immaculately Quiet

The Church greets Mary, the Mother of God, as “Star of the Sea,” Ave Maris Stella.

Human life is a journey. Toward what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route.

The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope…Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us?

With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself.

–Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi 49

…I am a neat man. Neat and clean in my environs, I mean. Some people say I am kind of a Nazi about it.

On the rare occasions when I have guests in my private quarters, they invariably say, “Father, your room is immaculate!”

The immaculateness of my room can be perceived by the senses. You can see, smell, and feel that the room is clean and orderly. You could even try to taste the cleanliness, but that would be kind of gross.

Our Lady’s soul is immaculate. Its immaculateness cannot be perceived by the senses. Its cleanliness and orderliness are invisible. In the things that she said and did while she was on earth, we see signs of the invisible immaculateness of the Blessed Virgin’s soul.

What about hearing? How do you hear immaculateness?

Wouldn’t it be the absence of all noise? Wouldn’t it be the perfectly clean sound of silence?

Our Lady was preserved from sin on December 8. On March 25, fourteen or fifteen years later, her silent soul was listening attentively.

We can be sure that when the Archangel Gabriel came to our Lady, he spoke very quietly.

She heard every word, contemplated every word, and said yes.

…Some people call Butler the “Cinderella” of the NCAA.

Call me an evil stepmother, but here’s hoping that midnight comes early tonight.

E Pluribus Unum (Easter Exegesis III)

pluribusIn Psalm 22, we sing: “I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.” “I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.”

This is our hymn. We sing it together. God made us to be together—to praise Him together, and to work together for His Kingdom.

The Lord Jesus told us: “I am the vine. You are the branches. You cannot bear fruit unless you remain on the vine.” (John 15:5) A vine has many branches, and the branches live and bear fruit together. Left alone, a branch detached from the vine withers and dies.

Continue reading E Pluribus Unum (Easter Exegesis III)”

Our Lady’s Magnificat

mary-mMary said:
The Lord has shown strength with His arm:
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent empty away.
(Luke 1:51-53)

Annie Dillard: “Many times in Christian churches I have heard the pastor say to God, ‘All your actions show your wisdom and love.’ Each time, I reach in vain for the courage to rise and shout, ‘that’s a lie!’ – just to put things on a solid footing.

Annie Dillard
Annie Dillard
“‘He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty!’ . . . (Yes, but) I have seen the rich sit secure on their thrones and send the hungry away empty.

“If God’s escape clause is that he gives only spiritual things, then we might hope that the poor and suffering are rich in spiritual gifts, as some certainly are, but as some of the comfortable are too. In a soup kitchen, I see suffering. Deus otiosus: do-nothing God, who, if he has power, abuses it” (For the Time Being, pp. 85-86).

Are our Lady’s words in the Magnificat true?

Let’s give Annie Dillard her due: She is a smart, earnest, good essayist. She is a better person than I am. Her question is an honest one.

Can the words of the gospel be true if the poor and innocent still groan under injustice and cruelty, if bad things happen to good people, if the evil prosper? The Magnificat is about the triumph of justice and goodness, about the almighty power of God, Who loves the weak. Mary sings: With the coming of Christ, the weak and downtrodden have triumphed. Is it true?

51767896Last year at the beginning of Advent, our Holy Father wrote us a letter on Christian hope.

One of the Pope’s chief concerns in the letter is the “privatization” of Christian hope for salvation. Each of us hopes to get to heaven, certainly. But a Christian hopes for more than just his own individual bliss. A Christian hopes for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Pope Benedict identifies the fundamental problem: The modern idea that religion is subjective. If religion is not about objective realities, but just about my own “relationship with God” or “experience” of God, then all I can hope for is my own personal peace.

Religion is not fundamentally subjective. Religion puts us in touch with the most objective reality of them all: the all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful God.

Christ has revealed this: Justice will be done. Truth will win. All that is hidden will be revealed.

We fear the Final Judgment, because we know we will have to rely on God’s mercy. At the same time, we hope for the Second Coming. The Magnificat WILL be completely fulfilled. In the meantime, our best bet is to try to do our little part to make the world better, and to bear the injustices of the world with patient perseverance.

Here is how the Pope puts it:

Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. There is an “undoing” of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright. For this reason, faith in the Last Judgement is first and foremost hope—the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries. I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfilment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ’s return and for new life become fully convincing. (Spe Salvi, 43)

The Substance of Life

square-mealWe need our daily substance. Square meals, a roof over our heads. We need our daily bread to survive.

But is this stuff the true substance of life?

The New Testament defines faith as: “the substance of things hoped for.” (Hebrews 11:1)

In the books of the gospels, we read many sayings of Christ. He teaches many things, gives commands and advice. But above all, He makes promises. The Beatitudes are often called Christ’s Law, the Law of the New Covenant. They are promises, promises of blessedness for those who follow Him. We believe His promises. We live for the fulfillment of His promises.

illuminated-bibleIn his encyclical letter on hope which he gave us a year ago, Pope Benedict considered the question of the true substance of life. In paragraphs 8-9, he explains how what we really live by is not food. We need food; we need stuff–but not as much as we need God. The martyrs gave up the material substance of life, because they knew they could not live without faith in the promises of Christ.

The substance of life is not food. It is faith.

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