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.

Advertisements

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”

Seven Years, Season of John

No French cuffs. But an unforgettable moment nonetheless. Ad multos annos, Holiness.

…Everyone knows that we read from the Bible according to a three-year cycle at Sunday Mass? Year A, Year B, Year C. And, for the most part, the gospel readings come from either Matthew, or Mark, or Luke—depending on which year of the cycle we are in.

Great system. We thoroughly read all three gospels. All three—Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Wait. What? Of course. The gospel of the eagle.

St. John’s gospel gets its props every year during Lent and Easter.

This is the week of John 3. We were here back on the fourth Sunday of Lent also. During Lent we had weeks for John 5 and John 8. Next week is John 6. Then we roll into John 14, 15, 16, 17—which recount all the amazing things the Lord Jesus said at the Last Supper.

…One way or another, everyone who has ever walked the face of the earth has known God. Everyone has had a relationship with God—a relationship of some kind. God gives existence to all existing things. So: to exist is to have a relationship with Him, and to know about existing is to know God.

So we all know God. Except we don’t. God gives existence. But the way that God Himself exists? His infinite being? Totally beyond us.

Totally beyond all of us. Except one. One man knows God from the inside, knows Him like a fish knows water. Jesus.

All the gospels present this fact to us—the fact that the mind of Jesus truly knows God, that Jesus’ knowledge of God is utterly unique among all those ever born of a woman. All the gospels teach us this fact.

But we have St. John to thank for recording all the intimate and sublime ways in which the Lord Himself explained it. And we have the Easter season to luxuriate in reading it all.

Old Made New

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

“Behold, I make all things new.” This is what the One who sat on the throne in heaven said, according to the vision of St. John.

Christ our King speaks to us from His throne of victory. He says to us:

My children, you have grown old.

The dreariness of sin and worldliness has exhausted you. You can barely lift up your eyes to see the sunlight.

But, behold! I make all things new!

Continue reading “Old Made New”

Special Easter Honor

A lot of people saw the Lord Jesus after He rose from the dead. St. Paul lists some of them:

He was raised on the third day and appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, he appeared to me. (First Corinthians 15)

All of the people who saw Christ after His resurrection were certainly overjoyed. All of them were filled with zeal for the kingdom of God and hope for eternal life.

We owe these eyewitnesses everything: Our faith is based on their testimony. Our goal is to follow in their footsteps.

We love our Holy Father!

Here is a question:

Of all the people who saw the Lord after He rose from the dead—who was it who deserved to be the first to see Him?

Of course, anyone who saw Him was not about to complain and say, ‘Gosh, this is great to see Christ risen from the dead, but why did I have to wait until now? Why did so-and-so get to see Him before me?’

No—no one complained about the order in which He appeared to people. It didn’t matter if you were the first or fifth or five-hundredth to see Him. All that mattered was being an eyewitness of the Lord’s triumph over sin and death.

Continue reading “Special Easter Honor”

Dedication of St. John Lateran

facade1Today’s feast is very important. It is so important that we even keep it on a Sunday. Last week we kept All Souls on Sunday, because it is such an important day. Usually, if a feast falls on a Sunday, we do not keep it that year. So the Dedication of St. John Lateran must be an important day. The problem is that a lot of people have no idea what this means.

Let’s go over the name of today’s feast word by word, so that we can be sure that we understand what we are celebrating.

naveFirst word: Dedication.
Generally speaking, we human beings do what we need to do IN BUILDINGS. Don’t get me wrong—it is nice to get outside, go for a walk, take a bikeride. But we are not like birds, or tigers, or wolverines. We cannot live outside. We need shelter from the elements.

As a general rule, we cannot have Holy Mass outside. Maybe occasionally, like Pope John Paul II’s funeral 2 ½ years ago in St. Peter’s Square. But, generally speaking, we need a church for Mass.

A church building is not like any other building. A church building is itself a symbol of invisible realities. Both the exterior and the interior of the church building express the reality of God, His angels, and His saints. For any prayerful Catholic, his church is a precious fixture in his interior life.

Because a church is a sacred building, set aside for divine worship, it must be solemnly dedicated after it is built. Then, every year on the anniversary of the dedication, we can thank God again for the gift of the church building, and for all the grace that He pours out in it.

Today, then, is the anniversary of the dedication of a church building. Which church? St. John Lateran. Ever heard of it?

St. John Lateran is a church in Rome.

The Pope's cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica
The Pope's cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica
Now, of all the churches in a particular city, there is one that is especially important, namely the cathedral. The “cathedral” is the church which has the cathedra in it. The cathedra is the bishop’s seat of office. The cathedra symbolizes the bishop’s authority to teach and govern his diocese.

Here in Washington, many people think that the cathedral of our diocese is the National Shrine. The Shrine is the grandest church in the city. But the Archbishop’s chair is not in the Shrine. The cathedra is in St. Matthew’s on Rhode Island Avenue, downtown. St. Matthew’s is the cathedral.

Washington is not the only city where people get confused about which church is the cathedral, as we shall see.

Of all the dioceses in the world, there is one that is uniquely important. All the bishops in all the cities of the world are successors of the Apostles of Christ. The Bishop of Rome is the Successor of St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles. Therefore, the Bishop of Rome is the Pope, the chief shepherd of the whole Church.

The Baldacino over the High Altar, containing the heads of Sts. Peter and Paul
The Baldacino over the High Altar, containing the heads of Sts Peter and Paul
The cathedral in Rome is the most important church building in the world. In the cathedral in Rome, the Pope sits in his cathedra and teaches and governs all the Catholic people on earth.

The National Shrine is the largest Catholic church building in the western hemisphere, but it is not the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Washington. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is the largest church on earth, but it is not the cathedral of Rome.

“Lateran.” What does this word mean? We have to go back seventeen centuries. Christianity was legalized by the Emperor Constantine in A.D. 313. For the first time, it became possible to build churches.

The Emperor’s family owned a large piece of property that had previously belonged to a prominent Roman family, the Lateran family. The Emperor gave it to the Pope, and the Pope built his cathedral church on that piece of property.

In 324, this cathedral church of Rome was solemnly dedicated and placed under the patronage of St. John. Because it was on land that had belonged to the Lateran family, it came to be known as St. John Lateran.

aerialSo today is the day that the Pope’s cathedral was dedicated, the day the most important church building in the world was dedicated.

Now, most people think of St. Peter’s Basilica as the Pope’s church, and of course it is his church. For the past 700 years, the Pope has lived at St. Peter’s instead of St. John Lateran. The truth is that the Pope has four Basilicas in Rome: His cathedral, St. John Lateran, the basilica at the tomb of St. Peter, the basilica at the tomb of St. Paul, and a basilica dedicated to our Lady.

May God be praised for giving us such splendid churches in which to worship Him!