Coming Out from Under the ‘Rona, Etc.

Yesterday we commemorated the immaculate conception of Our Lady in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.

The festivities began on the eve of the Solemnity, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, with the NFL upset of the year. Team-formerly-known-as-Redskins solidly defeated the league-leading, as-yet-unbeaten Pittsburgh team. 🙂

Then our Holy Father paid a quiet visit to the statue of the Immaculata at the base of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Pope Francis Immaculate Spanish steps

The pope gave us a letter about St. Joseph. The letter has a couple paragraphs about fathering…

Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Perhaps for this reason, Joseph is traditionally called a “most chaste” father. That title is not simply a sign of affection, but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness.

Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery.

God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the center of things…

When fathers refuse to live the lives of their children for them, new and unexpected vistas open up. Every child is the bearer of a unique mystery that can only be brought to light with the help of a father who respects that child’s freedom… When he sees that his child has become independent and can walk the paths of life unaccompanied, he becomes like Joseph, who always knew that his child was not his own but had merely been entrusted to his care.

In every exercise of our fatherhood, we should always keep in mind that it has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a “sign” pointing to a greater fatherhood. In a way, we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father.

dad3Today would have been my dear dad’s 83rd birthday. May he rest in peace.

Public service announcement. If you catch the coronavirus, how do you know when to end your isolation?

I have had to find an answer to this question, and I have learned something. I think the general public remains confused on this. (I know I was.)

Testing does not help, when it comes to determining when to end coronavirus isolation. I spent fourteen days in isolation. My symptoms had long since gone away. But I didn’t want to expose anyone to possible infection. I went to the CVS drive-thru and swabbed my own nostrils twice–and got two positive results. 😦 Finally, I got wise and talked to my doctor.

I should have talked to him three weeks ago. Turns out, in October the Center for Disease Control eliminated testing from their criteria for determining when to end coronavirus-patient isolation. The fact is, positive tests continue for months, even long after you’re no longer sick or infectious.

If you catch the virus and never experience severe symptoms, the CDC recommends discontinuing isolation ten days after the symptoms first appeared, provided you have at least 24 hours without a fever.

(Good Lord willing, dear reader, you will get immunized before you ever need to take this information into account.)

Happy Fathers’ Day

st-josephThe holy day of Lord Jesus’ foster father and our parish’s heavenly patron here in Martinsville, Va.

When St. Joseph breathed his last and died, with Jesus at his bedside, was that on March 19? Maybe not, since some ancient books say that Joseph died in July.

When St. Joseph heard the pleas of the starving people of Sicily a thousand years ago, and the saint’s intercession with God won a miraculous rainfall for the island—did the rains come on March 19? Maybe.

Regardless of how this particular day became St. Joseph’s Day, it is Fathers’ Day. In Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Bolivia, Honduras, Liechtenstein, and Andorra.

Baby Jesus did not spring from St. Joseph’s loins. But St. Joseph did save Jesus from Herod’s slaughter; did protect and care for Jesus’ mother; did teach Jesus how to speak, pray, work, and: how to follow the Law of Moses; how to ride a donkey and navigate the road of Palestine; how to show respect for others, how to live a steady life, how to walk uprightly before God.

Our dear Protestant brothers and sisters suspect us Catholics of some kind of funny business when we lavish our prayers and devotion on St. Joseph. After all, Holy Scripture does not record a single word that the man said. But let’s remember:

During the greater part of his life Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor. His religious life was that of a Jew obedient to the law of God… Jesus was obedient to his parents and he increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 531)

God Incarnate was famous for three years of His earthly pilgrimage. He was not famous for the other thirty. How could anyone claim to know Him, without rejoicing in the mystery of His “Hidden-ness” during all that time?

When Bl. Pope Paul VI visited Nazareth in 1964, he said:

The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus–the school of the Gospel. A lesson of silence.  A lesson on family life.  A lesson of work.

The End of Star-Wars History, and St. Joseph

 

The Millennium Falcon did the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs.

Now, we know perfectly well that neither the Kessel Run, nor the Millennium Falcon, actually exist. But when Harrison Ford expressed his surprise that Alec Guinness and Mark Hamill did not know about his ship’s twelve-parsec run, we breathed in some air from a believably unified galaxy, a place that felt like real human beings lived there—with funny droids to help them, and lots of other intelligent species to deal with, like jawas and wookies.

And: something was afoot. The history of the galaxy moved forward, towards something—either a dreadful, or a hopeful, outcome. The choices that the characters sitting at the table talking about the Kessel Run would make: those choices would affect the unfolding of history.

Not to spoil anything for anyone who still intends to try to enjoy the new movie. But the 2017 movie doesn’t have a single line that comes within a hundred miles of the believability of Han Solo’s 1977 Kessel-Run line. And at the end of “The Last Jedi,” we have no choice but to face the unhappy truth: Star Wars has become just another superhero-movie series. It will now go around in circles forever, and none of it will ever mean anything. The history of the Star-Wars galaxy has stopped moving forward at all.

Now, why do I bring this up on the day when, at Holy Mass, we read about St. Joseph learning about, and accepting, God’s plan for his beautiful fiancée? Because St. Joseph had a Christian sense of history, as opposed to a pagan sense of endless, meaningless repetition.

darth_vaderIt’s not just that the Holy Bible reads like 1,200 pages of Kessel-Run lines. No one ever claimed that the Sacred Scriptures make for easy readying. But they are utterly believable. Dilettante intellectuals who have never actually read a single full page of the Bible love to lump it among the pagan myths. But nothing could be further from the truth. The pagan myths are enchanting, mindless popcorn flicks like “The Last Jedi.” The Bible drags the reader through the tortured reality of 2,000 years of real human experience on this actual planet.

But my main point is this: When the angel visited St. Joseph, the humble carpenter already knew something very important about what the passing of time means. He knew the Scriptures of Israel and believed in God, so St. Joseph was fully aware that the history of the world is not going in a circle. Time moves forward. Everything that happens has consequences—meaningful consequences. Everything that is now—all of it has a history. And that history explains why it is the way it is now. Time will have a final resolution; it will come to an end—an end that will make perfect sense, when we reach it.

And that end will either be utterly dreadful or perfectly wonderful. It will either be a million times worse than if Luke never had the courage to leave Tatooine at all, and Darth Vader ruled the galaxy with a functioning Death Star. Or it will be like Han and Leia reigning as benign, humane monarchs over an everlasting Ewok party.

These are the two options for the history of the human beings in this world. And the difference between the one and the other is the Babe of Bethlehem.

St. Joseph and Bernie Sanders

st-josephA double blessing is a double grace.
Occasion smiles upon a second…

…feastday for the heavenly patron of our parish. On his first feastday this year, we blessed the new addition to our building (in Martinsville). Which of course could not have gotten built without carpenters and other workers.

God Himself was called ‘the carpenter’s son.’ God laid down ‘the law of work,’ as we pray in today’s Mass.

What does this mean, ‘the law of work?’ Catechism of the Catholic Church 2427-2428:

Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another. Hence work is a duty: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat.”

Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him…In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work.

A new candidate has entered the race for the presidency, and he calls himself a ‘democratic socialist.’

Before anyone calls the House Un-American Activities Committee, let’s recall the problem with socialism. Socialism isn’t wrong just because it isn’t capitalism. Socialism is wrong because it denies God, because it’s atheist.

Pure Marxism misses the most important aspect of the very thing that it tries to focus on, namely the nobility of honest labor. Honest labor is eminently noble. Because it proceeds from the power embedded in man by the divine Hand.

workers posterIMHO we have two scandalous blind-spots as a nation in AD 2015.

1. We continue to slaughter the innocent and defenseless unborn in an on-going holocaust that makes the Nazis look nice by comparison.

2. We continue to believe blindly in an ‘invisible hand’ that supposedly makes selfishness into justice somehow.

I don’t mean to get all political. But it’s hard not to, on the 129th anniversary of the Haymarket Riot and the feastday of our patron, the Worker.

We need to be pro-life God-fearing socialists. To me, the abortionist and the one-percenter look like mirror images of each other. Both are blind, cannot perceive the work of God.

A pro-life, God-fearing socialist insists that all human beings have the rights to: life, from conception to natural death; just compensation, with a minimum established by an authority more rational than ‘the market;’ eight-hour workday, with leisure time and the opportunity to go to church; health care, education, and full citizenship for all law-abiding residents of our land.

Hillary people and Fox-News people, have at me as you will! The one thing you have in common is selective reading of the Catechism.

100% Catechism adherence = pro-life, God-fearing socialism.

St. Joseph and “Catholic Identity”

On the Solemnity of our heavenly patron, we Catholics of Martinsville, Virginia, bless and dedicate the new addition to our church!

St Joseph shrine immaculate conception

I. St. Joseph grew up holding fast to the faith of his ancestor Joseph: Almighty God loves His people, and He has grand plans for them. St. Joseph drank in this ancient faith with his mother’s milk, and he lived in the fear and love of the God of Israel, from his youngest days.

But, during the course of his earthly pilgrimage, Joseph learned more. When his foster son was born, Joseph heard from angels and other witnesses that something absolutely new and wonderful had come to pass. And, as he watched the Lord Jesus grow up and come into His own as a man, St. Joseph learned the most decisive fact of life:

Being in communion with this Person, with Jesus Christ: it’s the most important thing there is.

I guess we can’t know for sure that today is the day St. Joseph died. But we do know this: The foster-father of Christ had the happiest death possible. Because he had the Son of God, in the flesh, by his side. He died in communion with Jesus.

We share this with St. Joseph: we know that facing death without Christ would be unimaginably bleak and terrifying. Which means that facing life without Christ—if we want to live anywhere deeper than on the shallowest surface of existence—facing life without Christ would be unimaginably bleak and terrifying, too. Communion with Jesus Christ is the foundation of a truly livable life.

II. For the past couple of decades, the Catholic world has faced the question of the “Catholic identity” of the Church’s institutions. I find myself at a point in life where I myself have to think about such things and take appropriate action. What we have learned, I think, over the past 20 years is: the humblest of all the Church’s institutions, namely the parish, teaches us most clearly what ‘Catholic identity’ is.

Solemn Vespers and Dedication of the new confessional and church addition at 6:30pm today!
Solemn Vespers and Dedication of the new confessional and church addition at 6:30pm today!
A parish exists for one reason, and the reason is pretty obvious. A Catholic would have to get pretty tied-up in nonsense to lose sight of the clear reason why a parish church exists.

These buildings stand so that everyone in the area can have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. The parish church offers everyone in the town—or neighborhood, or county—communion with the foster-son of St. Joseph.

Communion with Christ: The most important thing at the moment of St. Joseph’s death. The most important thing through the course of his life. The most important thing in any life that proposes to have genuine depth and vitality.

The desperate need that we have for Christ is what makes us ‘militant.’ To say exactly what keeps a Catholic institution from becoming aimless and ‘identity’-less—that’s a hard thing to formulate. Church leaders have been trying to formulate the definition of ‘Catholic identity’ for some time now.

But the militance, the urgency, the genuine identity of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, alive in the world: it springs from our awareness of the same fact that St. Joseph learned during his days on earth. Jesus Christ makes life worth living.

So: We thank you, holy father Joseph, for learning that fact. And for helping us, by your heavenly intercession for us, to learn it, too. Thank you, St. Joseph, for sharing with us your gentle strength, so that we can march forward toward heaven, clear as a bell about who we are as Catholics. We are the people who know that communion with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in life.

Rumour vs. Our Heavenly Patron

televisionFrom heaven the Lord looks down on the earth. (Psalm 102:20)

And what does He see? Does He see sober, quiet labor? Does He see us working for His glory, focused on Him, with love in our hearts for all our neighbors?

Or does He hear nothing but the babble of gossips? Does He hear us talking about people behind their backs, judging them on hearsay?

At the beginning of one of his plays, Shakespeare has ‘Rumour’ speak, as a character:

Open your ears; for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commenced on this ball of earth.
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
…Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures,
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wav’ring multitude,
Can play upon it. But what need I thus
My well-known body to anatomize
Among my household?

St Joseph shrine immaculate conceptionWe need to focus on one very important fact: The way people talk about each other on t.v. is not Christian. On the internet? God forbid–even more un-Christian still. And on talk radio.

I guarantee that when I turn on the t.v, within fifteen minutes I will hear people talking about each other in a way that is un-Christian, no matter what channel it is. It will either be fictional gossip or real-live gossip. But it will be un-Christian speech.

(And if you think I mean, ‘except EWTN,’ I do not. EWTN has self-righteous gossips, too.)

If my mind has grown accustomed to the way people talk on t.v., I will talk that way myself. And I will speak when I should not about things that I should not.

Let’s let good St. Joseph guide us. Let’s count up the number of speeches he gave, as recorded by the Holy Scriptures. O, wait. He didn’t give any speeches. Okay. Let’s count up the number of sentences he uttered, according to Holy Scripture. Oh. Zero. Okay, how about the number of words he spoke, according to the Scriptures.

[Birds chirping. Summer breeze blowing.]

Thank you, sweet St. Joseph. Please pray for us. May we share in your gift of holy silence.

Pastor’s Petitions to Father Joseph

[If you don’t mind, for St. Joseph the Worker’s day, the e-homily will simply consist of some of my personal petitions to the heavenly patron and protector of the southern sister-parish of our precious little Virginia-Piedmont cluster…]

young-carpenterPlease help us, St. Joseph, to serve the Lord faithfully in the New Evangelization. Help us to embrace the Gospel more deeply and propose it to all our neighbors fearlessly.

Please help all those entrusted with great responsibilities in the life of our parish, and of all parishes, to fulfill them courageously, creatively, humbly, selflessly.

Please help us all to befriend each other ever more deeply in Christ, with patience and gentleness, building each other up. Help us to steer clear of all gossip, detraction, slander, and back-biting. Help those of us who do not speak each other’s languages to love each other with kind gestures and mutual support.

Please help us to reach our parish’s capital-campaign goal by the end of the month! (If such be for the greater glory of God, which we humbly submit that we believe it to be.)

Please help the sick and the dying. Come to the aid of all those preparing to pass over to the next life. Help us all to make good, holy deaths, when the time comes. Help us to repent heartily of our sins now and reform our lives for the better.

Please help us to grow in chastity, to hate and despise anything immodest or faithless. Help all those who struggle with self-destructive inclinations to conquer them by the grace of your omnipotent foster Son.

St. Joseph, smile on us–your clients, your servants, your children! Bring us to work with you! May every day of our earthly pilgrimage be a heavenly Take-Your-Child-to-Work Day, and bring us with you to the workbench of honest labor for the construction of the Kingdom of God!

Father Abraham and St. Joseph

St Joseph shrine immaculate conceptionHe is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed. (Romans 4:17)

In my book, it is wonderful to contemplate the deep brotherhood shared by Abraham and St. Joseph, the two ends of the long chain of lineage that gave the world the Christ.

The brotherhood they share: Both Abraham and Joseph sought the Lord–with upright, religious hearts. Both longed, above all, to do God’s will.

Both received visits from angels. And in both cases, the angel demanded faith in a highly improbable promise, a promise that most of us certainly would have doubted.

To Abraham: “Yes, you are old. And you’re wife is barren. But you will have offspring more numerous than the sands of the seashore and the stars of the sky, and all the nations will be blessed in your progeny. And even if I ask you to sacrifice your only son, don’t doubt Me then, either. Lead him to top of the mountain, teaching him that God provides the lamb.”

To Joseph: “Yes, the love of your life appears to have gotten pregnant by another man. But do not despair of her single-hearted love for you. Her child comes from the Holy Spirit. Marry her as you planned, and raise the eternally-begotten Savior into manhood as any human father would raise a son.”

If you and I didn’t doubt the first promise, then we most certainly would have doubted the second. At least we would have doubted our own ability to carry it out.

But Abraham did not doubt, and neither did Joseph. They believed what they could not themselves envision; they trusted the heavenly Father they could not see. They stepped forward, abandoning all self-interest, and gave their lives over completely to the God of outlandish promises.

So: Who is our “father in faith,” our patriarch, the father of the faith of the Catholic Church? That’s what we call Abraham, and it is also what we call Joseph.

No contradiction in it, really—calling both Abraham and St. Joseph our patriarch, father. There would be competition between them for exclusive claim to that title, if the two men were anything less than incandescently selfless. But as they are both consummate vessels of the one divine will—since they both offered their lives as obedient sons of the heavenly Father–then we rightly identify both ends of the genealogical line—Abraham and Joseph—as the “father” of the Body of Christ, our father.

After all, the most important lesson a father can teach is the one they both taught the Christ, and us: How to live as children of God.

(Winter Storm) Pax Nobiscum

StJ sign snow

If you had a mind to come to Confession in Martinsville this evening, hopefully you have long since made a good Act of Contrition and resolved to wait until the next time you see me.

I rarely concede anything to the weather. But this situation, I believe, calls for the prudent man to say to himself: “Time to say Vespers, pour a finger of whiskey, and start a Lord of the Rings DVD marathon.”

StJ snow

Good Work

St. Joseph gets two feast days. We do not wonder, Why does he get two? We wonder, Is two really enough?

On March 19, we focused on the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster-father of the Nazarene they called “the carpenter’s son.” Today we focus on St. Joseph the steady working man.

st-josephWork gets us out of the house, engages us with others, challenges us, and brings out our powers and our talents. Work gives us a worthy venue for spending our strength and our time.

We can make our work into a sacrifice for God: We offer our own personal labors—a small contribution to the great human undertaking of making the earth hospitable and fruitful—we do our little part as our act of submission to the great plan of the provident God Who gave us our time, our energy, and our talents in the first place.

In one of Jane Austen’s novels, the heroine lives with her kindly old invalid father. A minor character asks her, “Don’t you long for a husband or a change of some kind?” Emma replies: “Why should I be unhappy as I am? I do not lack employment.”

Emma didn’t have a “job,” as we would define it. But she had interests and dedication to the common good; she had energy; she had enterprise and style. She got up every day with things to do; she spent her days doing them; and she could while away the evenings comforting her father and then sleep the sleep of the just. She was living the rule of life which St. Benedict made the keystone of holiness for the Western world: “Pray and work.”

Ora et LaboraNow, many workers suffer unjust abuse of their energies and skills, working under inhuman conditions for inadequate compensation. Others languish in a miserable state of idleness because someone somewhere acted selfishly or meanly—and broke the great chain of relationships that is supposed to keep all able-bodied people working. Other workers have no joy whatsoever in their daily labor, either because they neglected their own education, or because they never had the chance to obtain one.

Emma Jane AustenThe good Lord gave us two things in the Garden of Eden, both of which were designed to lead simply to our fulfillment and happiness. As a race, we human beings have managed to make a big mess out of both of them. We have subjected both of them to our self-centeredness and the worst excesses of our capacity to be ignorant and cruel. Sex and work.

May God forgive us for our own personal contributions to this mess.

When the Lord consecrated St. Joseph to participate in the great work of welcoming the Christ into the world, He gave the human race a fresh start in the area of honest daily labor. With our eyes fixed on St. Joseph, then, we have the hope of living our days in the service of God. We have the hope of doing our part to redeem the world from the twin agonies of slavery and unemployment.

May St. Joseph always be our guiding light and keep us employed in the work which does us, and our neighbors, the most genuine good.