Final Jeopardy! and a New Beginning

A liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which is the Sunday closest to the feast of this ‘first apostle.’

Final Jeopardy question yesterday evening. In the category of “Catholicism.”

None of the contestants got the correct answer. It was a hard question. For two years I served as pastor of St. Andrew’s parish in Roanoke, and I can confidently say: only about 10% of the parishioners of St. Andrew’s would have known that the correct answer is St. Andrew.

We call Andrew the ‘first’ because he recruited his brother… Right: St. Peter. We call them all ‘apostles’ because: St. Andrew, along with everyone else in the upper room on Easter Sunday, saw Jesus after He had risen from the dead.

We could say a lot more. Each of us baptized Christians exercises the ‘apostolic ministry’ in some way. So there is certainly a great deal to say about it.

But let’s start here: The original Apostles saw Jesus. Risen from the dead. They saw Him multiple times, over the course of forty days. The “New Testament:” the original Apostles testimony that they saw Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, with their own eyes. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church believes that testimony.

missale-romanum-white-bgNow, speaking of resurrection: Alex Trebek reminded me. St. Andrew Day means: it’s time to flip back to the beginning of the book. The Missal. The Lectionary. The Breviary.

We start again. We cannot overstate the spiritual significance of the liturgical year. It organizes the Sacred Scriptures for us. It unfolds the mysteries of the Savior’s life. It consecrates the months and seasons. It redeems time, draws daily earthly life up into eternal heavenly life.

It doesn’t get old, the business that begins anew every year on the First Sunday of Advent. We flip the ribbons back; we start fresh. The world outside gets older. But the Sacred Liturgy of the Church offers us, quite literally, a heavenly Fountain of Youth.

Was this past liturgical year the worst in the history of Jesus’ Church? From my limited vantage point on the unfolding of events, I would say: Absolutely.

Will the year to come actually bring even worse? No doubt. We’d be fools to imagine otherwise. Our ‘leaders’ have given us nothing upon which to base any optimism. To the contrary, their heartbreaking ineptitude has all but ground us down in to despair.

I still stand by the suggestion I floated in August. Namely, that the whole lot of them, from the pope on down, resign. And we fill their places in the hierarchy by a lottery that chooses parish priests from around the world at random. But, Father! That might result in an incompetent hierarchy! Well…

All that said: A new year of saving grace dawns for us Catholics anyway. The holy Church can still light the candles of Advent. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, still reigns in heaven. And He continues to sanctify His people through the annual celebration of the unfathomable mysteries of His pilgrim life.

The Trust of Christ


The hillside. The crowd. Time to eat. And time to trust in divine Providence. [Spanish]

St. Andrew knew about the boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But he also doubted the Lord’s miraculous bounty. “What good are these for so many?”

Let’s focus on St. Andrew. I visited St. Andrew’s tomb in Amalfi, Italy, two weeks ago. Let’s examine St. Andrew’s part in this particular situation–with the hungry crowd and the provident God.

God provides. To obey and follow Christ means acknowledging that God owns everything, and I own nothing–not even myself. Lord Jesus sent His Apostles into the world with nothing but a walking stick. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently put it, “the walking stick is the attribute of the pilgrim.”

The pilgrim announces the Kingdom of God simply by being a pilgrim. The pilgrim claims nothing for his or her own, but trusts in the heavenly Father. “Give us this day our daily bread.” God is God. God loves His children. He will always provide for His little ones. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

tabgha loaves fishes multiplication mosaicLord Jesus took this trust to the cross. He trusted His Father, unto death. “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” And Jesus trusted rightly. Not in vain, or blindly, or foolishly. Heaven vindicated the Christ’s trust. On the third day…

This whole mystery of the trust of the pilgrim Christ–the trust in heaven which we see in the Heart of the Son of God at every moment of His pilgrim life–this whole interior gift of trust in Providence emerged into full view on that hillside, with the hungry crowd. And St. Andrew got nervous.

They had come by the thousands, trusting in the miracle-working rabbi, abandoning themselves to Him. He ordered that they… recline. He did not say, “Have the people start picking the nearby crops. Or boiling their shoes to make stew.” No. He told them to relax. God provides.

So they did relax. Except poor St. Andrew, who fretted. ‘These five loaves and two fish are enough for one family, Lord. But, gosh–look at this crowd!’

Now, St. Andrew’s fretfulness on the hillside didn’t last forever. On Pentecost, he received the spiritual gifts that fill a soul with total trust. In the end, St. Andrew got crucified himself, a martyr, like his brother St. Peter and the other Apostles. St. Andrew died with serene trust that the kingdom of heaven awaited him. He hardly knew what the kingdom of heaven involves, but he trusted that it is good. After all, by then St. Andrew had seen His Lord feed 5,000 men and their families with five loaves and two fish. He had learned to fear nothing–other than sinning against Christ by mistrusting Him.

Outside the cathedral in Amalfi which houses St. Andrew’s tomb, there’s a fountain in the piazza. Water flows out of nymphs and mermaids–all under the feet of a statue of the Apostle. Holding his X-shaped cross in his arms, like a trophy. The trophy of: trust in Christ unto death.

Charles Bosseron Chambers Sacred Heart of JesusTrust in Divine Providence doesn’t mean comfort in this world. It doesn’t mean always getting what I want, or what I think is best. The trust of the miraculous hillside means walking through life with empty hands. I had empty hands when I came into this world. And I will have empty hands when I go forth from it.

Trust in divine Providence means accepting that I do not know exactly what God will provide and when. He knows best. Will He provide me with a meal today, or will He provide me with a moment to offer up my hunger? Will He give me another day of life tomorrow, or is today to be my last?

I don’t know. We don’t know. God does. He wills to give me His Kingdom. And only He knows exactly what that kingdom is. The Kingdom of God has one castle, one throne room, one banquet hall–and it’s all hidden in the invisible interior depths of the Heart of Jesus Christ.

At every moment of our pilgrim lives, God offers us a way into the hidden kingdom. We never have to live anywhere else. We just have to accept that we have nothing and know nothing. God has everything and knows everything. And what He has and knows and is: it’s pure good.

Beautiful Galilean Feet

St. Andrew was crucified on November 30

How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14)

Has everyone we know heard of the Lord Jesus Christ? Probably they have all heard His Name, and they know that He has something to do with righteousness and religion. But have we Christians done our part to preach the full truth about Him? To invite others into friendship with Him in His Church?

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

We can have feet as beautiful as the Galilean feet of St. Andrew, if we let the grace, goodness, and love of Christ permeate us so much that we bring His good news everywhere we go. The more we come to know the Lord, the more deeply we love Him, and the more ardently we extend the invitation to others to share in His life.

Christ alone has offered to mankind the one thing that we human beings are meant to have: an eternal life of true love. We Catholics aren’t zealous proselytizers; we try to stay humble enough to respect everyone—their backgrounds, their own choices. But we can’t be shy about the love of God in Christ. We can’t hide the Light of the Nations under a bushel basket.

St. Andrew had the courage give his life for the sake of sharing the love of Christ. St. Andrew took his own cross into his arms with loving devotion, because He loved His crucified Lord so much. May we have the grace to love Christ, and love our neighbors, like that.

St. Andrew, Pasternak’s Magdalene, Lara and Zhivago

St Andrew

Saint Andrew watches over many Christian institutions. These include: our beloved parish here in Roanoke, Virginia, and the nation of Russia, among many others. Today we keep the saint’s feast.

dr-zhivago-boris-pasternakAt the beginning of his letter closing the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invokes the memory of St. Mary Magdalene. Actually, the pope recalls two women: the woman caught in adultery, and the woman who bathed the feet of Christ with her hair. But, according to tradition, and according to the great 20th-century Russian poet and novelist Boris Pasternak, those women are one woman, namely Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalen by Boris Pasternak (translation by his sister Lydia Pasternak Slater)


As soon as night descends, we meet.
Remorse my memories releases.
The demons of the past compete,
And draw and tear my heart to pieces,
Sin, vice and madness and deceit,
When I was slave of men’s caprices
And when my dwelling was the street.

The deathly silence is not far;
A few more moments only matter,
Which the Inevitable bar.
But at the edge, before they scatter,
In front of Thee my life I shatter,
As though an alabaster jar.

O what might not have been my fate
By now, my Teacher and my Savior,
Did not eternity await
Me at the table, as a late
New victim of my past behavior!

But what can sin now mean to me,
And death, and hell, and sulphur burning,
When, like a graft onto a tree,
I have-for everyone to see-
Grown into being part of Thee
In my immeasurable yearning?

When pressed against my knees I place
Thy precious feet, and weep, despairing,
Perhaps I’m learning to embrace
The cross’s rough four-sided face;
And, fainting, all my being sways
Towards Thee, Thy burial preparing.


People clean their homes before the feast.
Stepping from the bustle of the street
I go down before Thee on my knees
And anoint with myrrh Thy holy feet.

Groping round, I cannot find the shoes
For the tears that well up with my sighs.
My impatient tresses, breaking loose,
Like a pall hang thick before my eyes.

I take up Thy feet onto my lap,
Wash them clean with hot tears from my eyes,
In my hair Thy precious feet I wrap,
And my string of pearls around them tie.

I now see the future in detail,
As if it were stopped in flight by Thee.
Like a raving sibyl, I could tell
What will happen, how it will all be.

In the temple, veils will fall tomorrow,
We shall form a frightened group apart,
And the earth will shake-perhaps from sorrow
And from pity for my tortured heart.

Troops will then reform and march away
To the thud of hoofs and heavy tread,
And the cross will reach towards the sky
Like a water-spout above our heads.

By the cross, I’ll fall down on the ground,
I shall bite my lips till I draw blood.
On the cross, your arms will be spread out–
Wide enough to hug the whole wide world.

Who’s this for, this glory and this strife?
Who’s this for, this torment and this might?
Are there enough souls on earth, and lives?
Are there enough cities, dales and heights?

But three days–such days and nights will pass–
They will fill me with such crushing dread
That I’ll see the joyous truth, at last:
I shall know Christ will rise from the dead.

Mary Magdalene is one of Pasternak’s “Zhivago Poems,” that is, the poem is included in the novel as the work of the fictional hero.

I read Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago because Thomas Merton thoroughly recommends it in his book Disputed Questions. Many people love the picturesque movie version of Dr. Zhivago, with Omar Sharif. If you want to continue to love the movie, don’t read the novel. The movie becomes laughable once you’ve read the six hundred pages of prose-poetry that Hollywood managed to turn into a lugubrious comic book.

Prose poetry like Lara’s description of the love she shared with her Yura (the doctor of the title), as she reflects after his death:

They loved each other because everything around them willed it, the trees and the clouds and the sky over their heads and the earth under their feet. Perhaps their surrounding world, the strangers they met in the street, the wide expanses they saw on their walks, the rooms in which they lived or met, took more delight in their love than they themselves did.

Ah, that was just what had united them and had made them so akin! Never, never, even in their moments of richest and wildest happiness, were they unaware of a sublime joy in the total design of the universe, a feeling that they themselves were a part of that whole, an element in the beauty of the cosmos.

This unity with the whole was the breath of life to them. And the elevation of man above the rest of nature, the modern coddling and worshiping of man, never appealed to them. A social system based on such a false premise, as well as its political application, struck them as pathetically amateurish and made no sense to them.

Much more to come re: Pasternak and Zhivago, dear reader. In fact, I want to offer you a different translation of Mary Magdalene, which I can’t dig up just now, but which I think is actually better than his sister’s translation–which, to my mind, sacrifices too much for the sake of retaining the rhyme scheme. Just wanted to share this much with you in honor of our parish’s patron today.

St. Peter’s and the St. Peter’s of Roanoke

Vatican Piazza

My house shall be a house of prayer. (Luke 19:46)

Some people say that New York City serves as the capital of the world.  But everyone who has ever visited the real capital of the world knows that ain’t true.  All roads lead to…

What does the grand edifice built over the tomb of Simon Peter represent? To see a picture of it—or, even more, to lay eyes on it in person—summons many feelings and associations.

St. Peter’s basilica represents Tradition.  For 1,952 years, Christians have prayed at Vatican Hill.  Lord Jesus promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church, built on the rock of Peter.  The basilica represents that permanence with a unique divine guarantee.

Pope Francis occupies the oldest office in the world.  We think of the U.S. Presidency as a tradition-hallowed office.  Next year we will inaugurate our 45th.  Pope Francis is the 266th pope.

But St. Peter’s represents more than just ancient, unbroken tradition.  Because the place hums with the visits of our contemporaries, from the four corners of the earth.  The basilica represents the universality of the Catholic Church.

That’s what has struck me during my visits to St. Peter’s.  In front of that church, the paths of all the peoples of the world meet.  People from all continents, all colors, speaking all languages, meet–in one common expression of faith in Christ.

St Andrew

There’s more.  St. Peter’s basilica represents the magnificent beauty of God.  God, Who, through the Incarnation, has united Himself with our humble, human capacity to express ourselves through the arts. Michelangelo and Bernini are not themselves gods.  But they knew how to give God glory.

The huge artfulness of the building and all its many adornments represents this fact: the Lord walks with us through our earthly pilgrimage.  He does not despise our love for beauty, even though our art can never fully capture His Image.  Rather, He uses our human capacity to make beautiful things to lift us up to Him.

Now, some of us get to celebrate the Mass commemorating the dedication of the Roman basilicas in another very meaningful building.  I think we can call our church on the hill “the St. Peter’s of Roanoke.”  After all, his brother is our parish’s patron.

Everything I’ve said about St. Peter’s in Rome could be said about St. Andrew’s in Roanoke, too—if the Roanoke Valley constituted the whole world.  St. Andrew’s represents all the Catholic tradition of our valley, and it is the crossroads of the Christian faithful here, where the beauty of God shines.

St. Peter, St. Andrew:  Pray for us!  Help us to stay faithful, and to rejoice in the priceless gift of being Catholic!

New Assignment

Rev. Nick Mammi
Rev. Nick Mammi
Rev. Matt Kiehl
Rev. Matt Kiehl









…as ’twere with a defeated joy,
With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole (Hamlet I.ii)

Thus do we priests greet a change of pastoral assignment.

On August 1, soon-to-be-Father Nick Mammi will become the pastor of the Rocky Mount and Martinsville, Virginia. A great blessing for the people.

Maybe a co-incidence that my tenure ends just as David Letterman’s does. “The four-year parochial nightmare for St. Francis of Assisi and St. Joseph is now over.”

…I will become the pastor of St. Andrew parish in Roanoke. Also Administrator of St. Gerard parish.

Bishop has assigned me an excellent curate, soon-to-be Father Matt Kiehl. Father will assume the role of chaplain at Roanoke Catholic School.

…Can’t believe I have to leave my beloved home of Franklin/Henry County. Can’t wait to serve God in Roanoke…

May God be praised and blessed and adored for His goodness!
And may He console us sorrowful ones.

Church of St. Andrew, Roanoke, Va.
Church of St. Andrew, Roanoke, Va.
St. Gerard, Roanoke
St. Gerard, Roanoke

Advent + St. Andrew

stjoeparishpicYour unworthy servant customarily delivers little talks during the seasons of Advent and Lent.

The talks for Advent this year will attempt to communicate the teachings of Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

All are welcome at St. Joseph church in Martinsville, Va., at 4:00 p.m. on the next four Sundays. We will also celebrate Vespers together, with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction.

In the event that you might be interested in perusing the notes for the talks, I thought I would publish them here, one at a time. Click away for Gaudium et Spes Notes 1.

…Here’s a homily for St. Andrew Day:

The Apostles received the commission to preach to everyone about Jesus and to baptize all who believed.

Sounds simple, and it is.

But, of course, the Apostles received their commission as Jews; their Lord, the Son of God, had lived the life of a faithful Jew; the Jewish people had a long history of direct dealings with God; and the salvation of the human race had been worked by none other than Yahweh of the Jews—Whose people, everyone knew, had highly unusual customs, not all of which could just be lightly thrown aside, since they had been the customs of the Son of God, customs which He had infused with full meaning by celebrating them Himself.

standrewHence the need to focus, and re-focus, and focus again on precisely what Jesus had commissioned the Apostles to do. With what exact task did He commission the patriarchs of His New Covenant? To distribute the graces of His work–all of which graces are based on faith in Him, in Jesus.

And to have faith in Jesus Christ means believing completely in the Old Testament, as well as the New. It means understanding the Old Testament for what it is, namely the account of the preparations for the coming of the fullness of time.

And it means understanding the New Testament for exactly what it is, namely the written documents left by the Apostles during the first generation of the life of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, governed by St. Peter and his successors in office.

Salvation by faith? Yes, of course. But not faith in anything vague, not faith in anything that my own imagination has produced, or that the imagination of any other mortal has produced. Faith in the actual, true God—triune, attested-to infallibly by the Sacred Scriptures in their entirety, fully revealed in the Person of the man from Nazareth, Whose grace we receive in the Church governed by the Pope.

Hoyas’ Season Clickin’ + New Evangelization

This past week, the Georgetown Hoyas got some nice wins over Memphis and Ooey Pooey. Next up: Crimson Tide! (Tomorrow 9:30 p.m. EST) Plus, the Redskins actually won a football game!

How can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14)

Catholics tend to have an ingrained aversion to proselytizing people. We do not practice the hard sell with our religion.

For good reason. The hard sell doesn’t work. Conversion to the truth does not happen in a moment of high-pressure enthusiasm. It takes a lifetime. We work out our own salvation in fear and trembling. God forbid that we would presume to have it all figured out.


Anybody ever heard of the “New Evanglization?”

Evangelization began when the Lord said to Peter and Andrew, “I will make you fishers of men.”

At that particular moment, most of the sons and daughters of the earth had never heard of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior of the world.

Someone had to tell them about Him.

Christ beckoned, and an enterprise ensued, the likes of which the world has never seen. The Apostles fanned-out, traversed seas, offered their lives in sacrifice for the mission.

Now a 130-foot statue of the carpenter of Nazareth towers over a bay 6,000 miles away from the Sea of Galilee. The Peoples Republic of China publishes a postage stamp with a picture of a Jesuit priest on it. The good news of Christ has reached the ends of the earth.

But still we must fish for men.

People do not come into this world knowing what we know about Jesus Christ. Many of us learned about the Lord by coming to church with our parents week after week when we were young. But what about the people who grew up without anyone to “church” them?

What about all the people who got somewhat “churched”—but then un-churched themselves out of laziness and/or confusion? Doesn’t this number include plenty of people near and dear to us?

Aren’t we supposed to fish for all these people’s souls? After all, we read in Holy Writ: the Lord wills that all be saved.

In every case, to every person, the Lord longs to declare His love. He operates like a relentless suitor. His plan for getting down on His knees and proposing to every human soul involves us in some mysterious way.

We believe that God took our human nature to Himself and willingly died so that we could live forever with Him. He rose again and conquered every evil. All He asks for in return is humble love and fidelity.

We can deliver this message, the gospel of Jesus. We can help people believe by giving them the word of truth.

Every case of evangelization is unique. Our job is to maintain constant vigilance for good opportunities to lift high the cross of Christ and say to someone, ‘I love you,’ on Almighty God’s behalf.

St. Andrew Day

St. Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross
St. Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross
November 30 is St. Peter’s brother’s feast day.

It appears to have been the saint’s will to make us Redskins fans share a little bit in his suffering on his feast day.

What I really feel bad about is this, though… Today was a double-header for me: Redskins at 1:00, then a storied match-up between the Hoyas and the Maryland Terrapins for the Old Spice Classic consolation prize (third place).

I figure that of all the Redskins fans in Prince George’s County, probably MORE of them are Terps fans than Hoyas fans. I was hoping that somehow we could all have a little consolation after the agony of the early afternoon.

Continue reading “St. Andrew Day”