Martyrdom and Encyclical Anniversary


In Italy I visited the tombs of Saints Peter, Andrew, and Matthew. But not St. James. Because…

He’s the patron of Spain. All able-bodied Catholics in Spain have to go to Mass today.

Among the Apostles, St. James suffered martyrdom first. He drank Christ’s chalice: Offering your mortal life for the glory of God, with total trust in heaven. We will consider this in more detail on Sunday–the trust of the holy Apostle, submitting to death, like the Lord Jesus did.

Speaking of trust. Fifty years ago today… Pope Paul VI gave us the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Soon-to-be-saint Pope Paul preserved the true meaning of marriage. He saved human sexuality from the clutches of modern technocratic mistrust of God and His Providence.

As the Catechism puts it:

Spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God. They co-operate with the love of God the Creator. Parents are, in a certain sense, that love’s interpreters. (para 2367)

Trusting God, trusting the spouse, trusting your own body. Fifty years ago today, on St. James’ feastday, Pope Paul affirmed the wisdom and beauty of that kind of trust. He was a hero then, and everyone who trusts like that is a hero now.

Death and Magpies

Lord Jesus told His beloved disciples exactly what would happen.

Christ had come to the world to give us the love of God, to teach true religion, to restore the friendship between man and the Creator. And the tinpot dictators of Jerusalem hated every minute of it.

silver-bill-finchJesus told the disciples: The petty, worldling rulers of Jerusalem would kill Him. Cruelly, unjustly. Mocking Him and spitting in His face. He told the disciples that He would die like a low-life criminal, right in front of the their eyes, in a sudden hailstorm of human brutality.

And yet, when it all came to pass just as He had said, the disciples freaked out. Like a twittering finches and magpies in a tree.

Did the Son of God ever promise us an easy life? Did He ever say: “Take it light. You will face no difficulties. Everything will be cushy till you retire. Then, I will make death optional?”

Like I said a couple weeks ago, Lent can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. But another thing it definitely means, in and of itself: Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you will return. God Himself faced squarely that fact that He was to die in the flesh. Not prettily; death never comes wrapped in a doily. He faced it, and so must we. We will die, and all the worldly things we grasp at now will seem like just so much straw at that moment.

Praised be the Lord, Christ has endless patience with us. The episode from the gospel we read at Holy Mass today–which is a fixture of our Lents together, since we always read the account of the ambition of the sons of Zebedee exactly two weeks after Ash Wednesday–this passage shows us the indefatigable, loving, fatherly patience of Christ.

memento-moriFirst, the sons let their mother do the talking for them. Christ patiently let that pass. Then, they wanted grandeur in exchange for their allegiance to Him. But Christ saw through that, and He knew that they did, in fact, love Him. So He promised them a share in His Passover, while quietly side-stepping the question of who takes precedence among the Apostles.

Then the others got all hot and bothered about James’ and John’s secret ambition. But the Lord smoothed that all over. He explained what they all had in common. Namely, not being power-hungry like the Gentiles.

The whole lot of them had altogether missed the cold and purifiying dose of truth that Christ had tried to give them when He told them that ignominious death awaited him, just as it awaited them. They missed that altogether, even though He stated it clearly, in plain Aramaic.

The disciples dithered in utter obtuseness. But Christ did not get angry. He just continued trying to get through to them by gentle and patient instruction.

In their own way, the disciples were really just as obtuse as the chief priests and scibes. Like us. In our own way, we, too, are just as obtuse as the chief priests and scribes, who handed the Prince of Peace over to Pontius Pilate for summary crucifixion.

But the good Lord exercises the same patience with us that He did with His original disciples. We can twitter like magpies and finches, and flit hither and yon, while reality is trying to stare us in the face. The reality of death, which is our passover to a kingdom we can hardly imagine, in which our ideas now about status and precedence will seem utterly laughable.

We flit and twitter. But Christ does not give up on us. He keeps trying to teach us, and wrap us up in His love, all the way to our dying breath.

Yes, He is the Messiah. So I am Sorry for Doubting

Ok. How many Apostles did the Lord Jesus choose? Twelve.

How many of the Twelve had the name James? Two.

The first James had a brother named… James and… John!

The second James had a cousin named…

Jesus. Right. Jesus, the only son of Mary, the only-begotten Son of God. The second Apostle James shared Jesus’ bloodline. James was Jesus’ relative.

We know that most of the Lord Jesus’ cousins did not believe in Him. At least not during His earthly ministry. As we discussed last week, the Lord raised a young man from the dead in a town near Nazareth. But this did not cause all of Christ’s cousins to rejoice. A lot of them thought He was out of His mind.

resurrectionMaybe we can sympathize with them. Imagine having a cousin, a little scrub you used to run around with, play hide-and-seek with, dig holes in the back yard with–imagine that your cousin turns out to be the Messiah, the Savior, the divine King. Hard to accept.

Later on, however, as we can gather from the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul’s letters, the Lord Jesus’ relatives did come to believe in Him. They worked with the Apostles to spread the Gospel.

What changed? What happened in the meantime to open their minds to the truth? A pretty obvious thing. Pretty solid proof that, Yes, Jesus of Nazareth, carpenter, is the Messiah.

The Lord Jesus appeared to some of His relatives after He rose from the dead. That was pretty convincing. We can imagine that the relatives felt bad for doubting Him before, and apologized. And He forgave them.

Let’s put ourselves in those relatives’ shoes again. We, too, have doubted. We have doubted a Savior Who always has the best possible plan. We just didn’t see it. And now I realize that I said or did something I shouldn’t have said or done, solely because I did not trust Jesus Christ. I find myself feeling like the priest Ezra, i.e., penitent.

What do I do? Apologize. How?

Priests go to Confession just like everyone else does. I have to find another priest to hear my confession. Much easier for you all. Just find your local parish priest. A completely fresh start to the spiritual life is one good confession away.

Feast of St. James, Sex, and My Life

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to give His life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)

St. James and all the other Holy Apostles learned this lesson from the Lord Jesus. The apostles lived out true unity with Christ, offering their lives in sacrifice for the spread of the His Kingdom.

St James Greater El GrecoThey lived with their eyes on the crucifix. They had one decisive priority: Remain united with Christ crucified. Whatever comes my way; whatever opportunities open before me; whatever the choices I have to make—I will have one decisive criterion: Christ crucified.

Maybe we could even go so far as to put it like this: An apostle of Christ is someone with a crucifix tattooed on his mind. This is my Lord; this is my Savior; this is my guide and my life. The sweetest sweetness and the richest richness, the happiest happiness and the most-peaceful peace: to be united with Christ crucified.

I put it this way because we also cannot let today pass without marking the sapphire anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. The Church teaches that artificial contraception is wrong, that irrational sex is wrong, that sex is about a lot more than pleasure. July 25, 1968: a day of contradiction and decision for the Church and the world. Forty-five years later, the contradiction and the decision still face us.

PopePaulVIThe Pope reminded the world of something immensely powerful, which lives deep in the heart of every man and woman. Namely, that we have been made, male and female, to give life. You don’t need to be a Christian; you needn’t even have heard of Jesus Christ, to discover within yourself that what the Pope taught is true. A lot of people did not see it at the time; they had honest disagreements; people of good faith dissented; there’s no sense in judging anyone over that. The real question is, where do we stand now?

Speaking personally, as a man whose lifetime has basically paralleled the lifetime of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, I can testify that from my teenage years—when every well-meaning guidance counselor I encountered basically shoved condoms in my face—I can testify that the whole artificial contraception business always struck me as highly fishy, to say the least. I never bought it. I wasn’t even Catholic then, and I didn’t buy it.

But as the years have passed, and I have been given the privilege of giving my manhood entirely to God and His Church as a celibate priest, the whole thing strikes me more and more as a matter of maintaining unity with Christ crucified.

brunelleschi_crucifixIf Christ crucified is the criterion; if Christ crucified is the tattoo that emblazons my mind; if I want above all to be an apostle of His Kingdom, then how could I ever act in the way that the culture of sexual self-satisfaction proposes? How could I traffic in those implements that they peddle? Or wink at it when others do?

No. The way of Christ crucified is a harder way–and the more genuinely vigorous way. It embraces the sexual power of man and woman for what it can rationally be recognized to be: a sacred communion in giving life.

Christ on His cross shows us the truth: there is more to life than fleeting pleasure. Forty-five years ago today, the Pope lit a beacon to help us see the way to true interior union with Christ crucified. The beacon burns brighter now for me than it ever has, as the years in which I could become a father by the flesh pass away, and I let them go–for love of the Christ crucified. To have had sex, to have had children—could have been beautiful. But there is no happier life for me than this, the one I have. And I can testify to anyone who cares to listen that chastity—making decisions about sex based on reason, and with Christ crucified in your mind—that is the way to true happiness.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you, St. James. Thank you, Pope Paul.

Christ’s Baptism and Ours

Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? (Mark 10:38)

The Lord Jesus asked the ambitious Apostles this question. When the Lord referred to “the baptism with which I am baptized,” what exactly did He mean?

Continue reading “Christ’s Baptism and Ours”