Gaudium Magnum Out the Window

Something greater than Solomon here. Something greater than Jonah here. The Christ.

We come to Him to find salvation, to find God. Jesus saves the human race; we know no other way. The human race comes to Jesus, gathers around Him, follows Him, unites herself with Him—and thereby finds peace, true religion, and eternal happiness.

That’s the Church. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of the Christ of God.


Six years ago today, the white smoke floated on the Roman evening air, the bells rang out, the eyes of the world gazed at the loggia. Our local tv station came here to St. Joseph’s in Martinsville for comment. Bob Humkey happily talked to the camera.

The joy of the election of a new pope. Six years ago today, it filled the Catholic world. The sense of promise. The comforting continuity. Holy Church renewing Herself again. Habemus papam. Gaudium magnum. Great joy.

I don’t think any of us could have imagined how profoundly compromised that joy would become, six years later. The innocent exhuberance—I remember feeling it even when I was a boy, in October 1978. Then again, as a new priest, in April 2005. Then again six years ago today. Simple, happy confidence in this institution.

Not naivete; we know popes aren’t perfect. We know they are flawed men, like everyone else. The institution isn’t perfect. But when we heard ‘habemus papam’—the vitality, the capacity to start fresh, the fundamental soundness and permanence of the Church: we rightly reveled in it, as our new father in God stepped out to greet us and bless us.

Now? All that seems a million miles away, like a sweet dream that we had. And we have woken up to attorneys general, Royal Commissions of inquiry, and Saturday Night Live legitimately suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church is a crime syndicate.

Luther Theses by Ferdinand Pauwels

The familiar loggia on the front of St. Peter’s Basilica: four centuries old. In the century before it was built, many earnest Christians lost confidence altogether in the papacy. They had their reasons. The beginning of… Protestantism.

We have our reasons, too. Martin Luther’s nemesis Pope Leo X reveled in processions with elephants through the streets of Rome. And the doctrine of indulgences was an utter mess. But, as far as we know, Pope Leo did not have two Cardinals publicly convicted of sexually abusing minors.

In other words, we Christians of the early 21st century hardly have less reason to lose faith in the Roman Catholic hierarchy than the Christians of the early sixteenth century did. We would seem to have a great deal more reason.

But it also seems to me that we have to dig deeper. There is something greater here, something greater than the current incumbents of the episcopal thrones. This is the Church of Jesus Christ.

I have a little plan to steal away for a few days in September and make a personal pilgrimage to the cathedral in Trent, Italy–to pray for myself, and all of you, and Pope Francis, and the whole Church.

Everyone know what happened there, five centuries ago? A miracle of doctrinal precision and clarity, to answer Protestant objections. And a miracle of new resolve and spiritual discipline in the Catholic clergy.

The Council of Trent

On our pope’s sixth anniversary, the gaudium magnum of the St. Peter’s loggia eludes us altogether. But the Lord will not fail us. He will not fail His Church, built on Peter.


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!

Our Syrian Father

St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine holding aloft the Chair of Peter in Roma
St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine holding aloft the Chair of Peter in Roma

St. Paul became a Christian in Syria. St. Peter exercised his authority in Syria before he traveled to Rome. The word “Christian” entered the vocabulary of the human race in Syria.

St. Luke? Syrian.

Know anybody named Damien, Dorothy, Felix, Iggy, Rufus, or Sergio? Then you know someone named after a Syrian saint.

SyriaAnd, 1,606 years ago tomorrow, another Syrian saint entered his eternal reward. The Holy Doctor whose relics and statue adorn St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and whose relics also receive devout visits at Christ our Savior Cathedral in Moscow.

St. John Chrysostom.

Here’s what he said on Easter Sunday morning, around the year AD 400:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

Continue reading “Our Syrian Father”

St. Ambrose on Our Lady

1,637 years ago tomorrow, St. Ambrose was ordained a priest and bishop and consecrated the Patriarch of Milan.

St. Ambrose’s preaching and holiness moved St. Augustine to seek baptism.

These two are the pre-eminent Latin-speaking Fathers of the Church. In the Vatican Basilica, the Bernini statue which holds the relic of St. Peter’s chair depicts St. Ambrose as one of the four saints who hold the throne aloft.

St. Ambrose was ordained the day before the anniversary of the Blessed Mother’s conception. Probably not a co-incidence.

Here is how St. Ambrose explained to his people why it is so important to honor the Mother of God.

What is greater than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? …She was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse.

She wanted to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to honor her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue.

…When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbors? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy? There was nothing gloomy in her eyes, nothing forward in her words, nothing unseemly in her acts, there was not a silly movement, nor unrestrained step, nor was her voice petulant.

The very appearance of her outward being was the image of her soul. For a well-ordered house ought to be recognized on the threshold, and should show at the very first entrance that no darkness is hidden within, as our soul hindered by no restraints of the body may shine abroad like a lamp placed within.

The first duty we have in our service to Christ is to honor His immaculate mother.

When Sts. Joachim and Anne embraced each other on December 8 and conceived their daughter, the Creator–always full of surprises–brought the Garden of Eden back to the earth.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary enfolds us like an undying garden of innocence, purity, and truth. May we live in this garden always.

The Pope, Oberon, Titania, etc.

…A limerick that may or not have been written by Cardinal McIntyre in St. Peter’s, during one of the sessions of the Second Vatican Council:

We are two thousand Patres in Session
Who feel a great weight of oppression
What with Cardinals talking
And lesser lights squawking,
Thank goodness, the bar’s so refreshing.

…The idea that ill deeds can wreak havoc with ‘the environment’ has been around awhile:

Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion* flock; [killed by disease]
The nine men’s morris* is fill’d up with mud, [a board game]
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’* thin and icy crown [winter]
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1)

Last week our Holy Father spoke to the German parliament.

He gave the “green movement” credit for re-discovering the natural law:

Positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, being no longer willing to obtain light and air from God’s wide world…The windows must be flung open again; we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this…The ecological movement realized that something is wrong in our relationship with nature, that matter is not just raw material for us to shape at will, but that the earth has a dignity of it own and that we must follow its directives.

The Pope went on to add:

The importance of ecology is no longer disputed…Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will…Man does not create himself.

At this point in the Pope’s speech, the Parliament burst into applause.

…Pass the Rebel Yell, please.

This evening, I intend to suspend my ferocious contempt of ACC football and root like mad for the HOKIES!!!

Mosaics, etc.

The splendors of the city of Antioch on the Orontes River amazed the ancient world. Owing to the vagaries of history, very few relics of the city remain.

The Baltimore Museum of Art participated in an achaeological dig in Antioch in the 1930’s. They unearthed some mosaics. A few of them are displayed on the walls of the BMA courtyard, including the striding lion above.

Another heirloom of the lost city has been handed down to us in a different way, namely, by succession.

Some 1,974 years ago today, St. Peter assumed the oversight of the church where the name “Christian” was first uttered, and was seated on his ‘chair.’ After seven years in Antioch, Peter went to Rome, where he assumed the presidency of the church on January 18.

There is some dispute about these particular dates. Also, some of our separated Christian brethren in the East claim that their patriarchs are the true successors of St. Peter, occupying his Antiochene cathedra.

The “chair” of Peter is a magnificent synecdoche referring to the supreme pastoral office in the Church. May God grant its occupant, Pope Benedict XVI, health and long years. And may his many saintly predecessors intercede for us.

…Ten years ago today, I venerated St. Peter’s tomb alongside the newly created Cardinal, Theodore McCarrick! I served his Mass at the Altar off the Chair!

No Sweaters

The Caps had a great season. Let’s not dwell on the playoff curse…

…Five years ago this month, the Lord gave us Pope Benedict XVI.

Habemus Papam!

I remember the moment with enormous fondness. When the new pope stepped out onto the St. Peter’s loggia, I wept with delight.

I was deliriously happy. I kissed the then-80-year-old parish secretary on the lips (may she rest in peace).

But my joy was not completely unalloyed.

There was a fly in the ointment. There was a sticky wicket. There was something just plain wrong.

One word: cuffs.

Compare the papal cuffs of April 19, 2005, with the same scene in 1978.

Moral of the story: Cardinals absolutely, positively must bring at least one pair of decent cufflinks to a conclave.

Broadcasts and Interviews

npr-logoHere is a heartbreaking testimony: Reuben Jackson on Football Withdrawal

(Here is another link, if the link you just clicked didn’t work. Scroll down to the bottom.)

A year ago today, we pilgrims celebrated Holy Mass in a chapel at the place where the Lord Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-42).

Continue reading “Broadcasts and Interviews”

Pilgrims Slideshow

The computer gremlins have been conquered (for the time being). Here are a few snapshots from our trip…

In front of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi (Fr. White mommy on the far left)
In front of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi (Fr. White mommy on the far left)
With Archbishop Burke
With Archbishop Burke
In front of St. Peter's Basilica
In front of St. Peter's Basilica
In St. Peter's Basilica
In St. Peter's
On the roof of St. Peter's
On the roof of St. Peter's
Piazza Navona in Rome
Piazza Navona in Rome
At the Trevi Fountain
At the Trevi Fountain
The Intrepid Photographer
The Intrepid Photographer

Nov. 4, Feast of St. Charles Borromeo

chairofpeterAt St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the chair of St. Peter is kept in a large reliquary in the apse of the church. The reliquary is part of a colossal bronze statue by Bernini. In this statue, the reliquary of St. Peter’s chair is held aloft by four Fathers of the Church. The four Fathers depicted are St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Athanasius, and St. John Chrysostom.

It has been part of the plan of God to see to the preservation of the religion of His Son by raising up zealous teachers in every age. The Fathers of the Church handed down the holy faith to us, preserving it from errors and confusion. They were men of great learning AND holiness. Christianity could not have survived without them.

St. Charles Borromeo
St. Charles Borromeo
In the sixteenth century, the Lord raised up four great saints to be the “Fathers” of the Church in the Modern Age. The four latter-day Fathers are Pope St. Pius V, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Philip Neri, and St. Charles Borromeo.

St. Charles’ feast day is Election Day. We can say that St. Charles voted.

He voted at the Council of Trent. This meeting of bishops clarified Catholic doctrine at a time of great confusion. The Council never would have happened if it weren’t for St. Charles. His clarity of mind and diplomatic skill fostered the successful completion of the Council’s work.

After the Council, St. Charles saw to the composition of the Roman Catechism.

baltimage1The Baltimore Catechism is based on the Roman Catechism. So–for those of us who swear by the St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism #2–today is a day of joy and profound gratitude.

You can read the entire Baltimore Catechism #3 online.

baltimage2If you are among the unfortunate who do not have at least three copies of the St. Joseph Baltimre Catechism #2–one for upstairs, one for downstairs, one for the car–you can order copies from Amazon.

St. Charles was the baptismal patron of our dearly departed Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla.

St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us!