World Mission Sunday

So much to reflect on this Sunday, it’s almost too much. Bear with me here.

St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers
St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers

1. Sunday we mark 368 years since the martyrdom of St. Isaac Jogues, who died in upstate New York.

And he was by no means the only Jesuit who died for the faith on this continent. In 1571, eight Jesuits died as martyrs here in what is now Virginia.

We salute these greatest of American heroes. Before George Washington’s great-great-grandparents were conceived in their mothers’ wombs, the missionary martyrs of America gave their lives so that the people of this land could know the Good News.

2. In Rome on Sunday, our Holy Father will declare Pope Paul VI to be among the blessed in heaven.

Some of us, maybe, remember when Pope Paul governed the Church, which was from 1963 to 1978. The Beatification of Pope Paul concludes the Roman Synod that has studied marriage and family life these past two weeks, and which some of us may have heard something about in the newspaper or on tv. We had better discuss the Synod. But I think the Synod we had better discuss is actually the Synod on Evangelization, which took place in 1974. Let’s come back to that in a minute.

3. In the middle of all this, we hear our Lord say to us with His quiet wisdom: “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Maybe you remember us talking about this gospel passage three years ago. We considered the challenge of actually trying to give God His due. We start at the altar: praising Him; offering the perfect sacrifice given to us by His Son; offering ourselves, along with Christ, to the Father. It all starts with Mass, and our whole lives are directed to the glory we come into contact with in the Holy Mass.

PopePaulVI
Blessed Pope Paul VI
But we have to give God His due outside church, too. And we give Him His due by following His solemn command that we love our neighbor. We truly love our neighbor by thinking of him or her in the exact same way that Christ thought of us, when he spread out His arms on the cross for us.

Which brings us to “repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Our love for our fellowman means paying careful attention to our duties as citizens. Because we love God, we also seek, even in this fallen world, the great political goal known as “the common good.” And in a couple weeks, we who are of voting age have to figure out a way to cast a pro-life, pro-immigrant vote.

…But let’s go back to the memorable Synod of Bishops, which took place in Rome—in 1974, when Blessed Paul VI was pope. One topic on the table then was this:

Since we Catholics firmly believe that God is all-merciful and all-loving; since Jesus Christ, crucified for our salvation, has revealed the truth about God like nothing else ever could, we of course believe that God has a plan for absolutely everyone to be saved. This includes people who have never heard of Jesus or received the sacraments.

We ourselves know only one way to heaven—Holy Baptism, along with the other sacraments of the Church. But God knows more than we do, so we never despair about anyone’s salvation. The second Vatican Council re-echoed these truths, which can be found in the New Testament. God can find a way for anyone to get to heaven. How then do we understand our mission to evangelize?

Such was one of the pastoral problems posed by the Synod of Bishops which took place in the 1974. A good question. Allow me to quote what Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote:

It would be useful if every Christian were to pray about the following
thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them. But as for us, can we gain salvation if—through negligence, or fear, or shame –if we ‘blush for the Gospel’–or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?

For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this seed grows. [emphasis added]

Parkman Oregon Trail…Anyone ever heard of Francis Parkman, the writer? He wrote the definitive history books about the two centuries when Europeans and native tribes both lived in what is now the United States, with each living according to their own long-standing traditional way of life. That is, the 1600’s and 1700’s.

Parkman was an amazingly smart historian and gifted writer. That said, in his books, Parkman has a clear bias against some of the Indian tribes. One group, though, he held in even greater contempt. The Jesuits. Parkman’s phrase for the Jesuits in North America during colonial times is: “Romish zealots.”

Seems to me that this lays a challenge on us. When biased historians look back on the 21st century, will they find a record of what we have done, and conclude: What a bunch of Romish zealots!

May God give us the grace to water this land with our blood, sweat, and tears, because we Romish zealots won’t be satisfied until everyone has a chance to share in the grace that we have received in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

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Loving Prudently

alanis-morissette-27121Back in the 90’s, when I was young, I liked a particular female rock singer. She of course had a song bitterly excoriating her boyfriend who had left her for another woman. She sang, “And does she know how you told me you’d hold me until you died? But you’re still alive.”

The father in the parable we read at Sunday Mass might have his own version of this song, in which he would sing to his second son, “Son, don’t you know that you told me you’d work in my vineyard today? But you’re still in your room.”

Let your Yes mean yes—anything else is from the evil one, saith the Lord. Eager and well-meaning people can get themselves into a lot of trouble by making beautiful promises, and then not keeping them.

Next month our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will meet in Synod with bishops, theologians, and married people from all over the world. At this Sunday’s Mass we pray especially for the success of the Synod. The Synod will discuss marriage and family life in our times, the age of the New Evangelization.

Continue reading “Loving Prudently”

Our Friend Big Beard Speaks

October 12 will go down in baseball infamy, as far as I’m concerned.

But in Mother Roma, the Archbishop of Canterbury rocked the house with the Vatican-II talk of the century. I have no doubt that our Holy Father smiled his way through the whole thing.

Vatican II teaches, above all, the importance of contemplation.

Click HERE to read.

The best part:

…the possibility, quite simply, of living more humanly – living with less frantic acquisitiveness, living with space for stillness, living in the expectation of learning, and most of all, living with an awareness that there is a solid and durable joy to be discovered in the disciplines of self-forgetfulness that is quite different from the gratification of this or that impulse of the moment.

The good Archbishop strayed from his own advice and wasted a few sentences endorsing particular ecumenical institutions, which may or may not offer much, when you get right down to it.

But the heart of his matter is, in my book, the heart of the the matter.

Synod of Bishops on the Word of God

Today the Twelfth Synod of Bishops began at the Vatican. What is a Synod of Bishops? Is it like another Vatican II? Vatican II was an ecumenical council, a meeting of all the world’s bishops together with the Pope. A Synod is a meeting of a smaller, representative group of bishops from around the world. They meet with the Pope to discuss a particular topic. The Synod helps the Pope to teach exactly what the world needs to learn. They are part of the reason why the Pope is probably the most well-informed person on earth.

Synods of Bishops do not tend to produce fireworks. They are church-wonk study sessions. This is the second Synod over which Pope Benedict has presided. The last one, on the Holy Eucharist, was actually called by Pope John Paul II, but then he died before the Synod met. A Synod usually submits some thoughts to the Pope, and then he publishes an Apostolic Exhortation to summarize the Synod’s discussions. Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Holy Eucharist was beautiful, profound–but not exactly earth-shattering.

This Synod, however, could wind up being a little more exciting. Pope Benedict himself chose the topic for this one: The Word of God. Twenty years ago, Cardinal Ratzinger gave a lecture in New York City on how to interpret the Bible. That lecture was earth-shattering.

The lecture is not the easiest thing to understand, and it is rather long. What it comes down to is more or less this:

There is no such thing as a “simple, literal” way to understand the Bible. The Bible must be interpreted according to reasonable principles. The Church relies on scholars who help us to understand the Word of God by undertaking solid, well-researched studies. The better a scholar understands the historical situation in which a book of the Bible was written, the more insight his study will provide. Many of the books of Scripture narrate history, and all of them are the product of history, so Scripture study is first of all the study of history.

Starting about 300 years ago, historians began to imagine themselves as scientists, capable of being rigorous and objective like chemists and physicists. The attempt to understand the Bible “scientifically,” however, has produced nothing but confusion. Scholars thought that modern developments would unlock the Bible’s “secrets.” Instead, they have produced a spiderweb of theories attempting to tell us what the Bible “really” says. They all disagree with each other. Modern historical-critical scholarship is enough to make any honest man a fundamentalist.

In his lecture, the Pope (then Cardinal) exposed some of the fundamental problems underlying the bad situation. Modern Bible scholars assume that miracles do not happen. This is an unreasonable presupposition. God is God; He can work miracles if He wants to. The Pope pointed out that modern scholars tend to assume that philosophy is more important than the events recorded in Scripture. This, too, is unreasonable; for the believer, philosophies come and go, but the deeds of God are what matter more than anything. The Pope’s lecture pointed out that the contemporary controversies about how to understand the Bible are not really about history at all. They are about the underlying philosophies of the scholars.

At the end of the lecture, Cardinal Ratzinger made his most important point. No one can claim to be objective and disinterested about the Sacred Scriptures. Or rather, to claim to be objective and disinterested does not qualify you as an interpreter of the Bible. To interpret historical writing, the most important thing is sympathy with the author. We are more likely to understand what is written if we can relate to the writer. The human authors of the Sacred Scriptures believed in God, and they believed that God acted in history in order to save the human race. Therefore, we are most likely to be able to understand the books of Scripture if we believe in God, the God Whose deeds are recounted in these books.

All-Star Week

This week is just about the best week of saints’ days in the whole year.

Today we keep the Feast of the Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Archangels. Tomorrow we keep the Memorial of St. Jerome. St. Jerome was a learned scholar and orator in Rome, but he went to the Holy Land to give his life to the task of translating the entire Bible. If St. Jerome had not done the work that he did 1600 years ago, we would not have the reliable Bible translations that we have now. When I was in Bethlehem in February, I was able to visit the cave where St. Jerome did his work; it is just a few steps from the place where the Lord Jesus was born.

This Sunday, Bishops from all over the world will meet in Rome for a Synod. For three weeks, they will discuss the Word of God. Our Archbishop Wuerl is one of four bishops from the United States who will attend. Let us pray to St. Jerome that the Synod will be fruitful.

On Wednesday, we will keep the Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus (a.k.a. St. Therese of Liseux, the Little Flower), Doctor of the Church. St. Therese’s Story of a Soul is one of the best spiritual reading books you can get. Her “Little Way” is the “elevator” to heaven. On Thursday, we keep the Memorial of the Guardian Angels. Of course each of us should thank our Guardian Angel ever day for all his help. But if we have let a few days slip, we can try to make it up by special expressions of gratitude on Thursday. Your Guardian Angel is the best friend you have. When we get to heaven–please God–we will finally see our Guardian Angels. We will of course effusively thank them for helping us to get there. They will say, “Don’t mention it. Just doing my job.”

Then on Saturday, we keep the Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, the second-most popular saint of all time (after the Blessed Mother). In addition to being friendly to animals, St. Francis was also intensely ascetic. He renounced every worldly pleasure for the love of God. He was unswervingly faithful to the Pope and the Church. And he was given the gift of sharing in the Lord’s own wounds, the stigmata.

More people have given up everything to follow the example of St. Francis than any other saint. It is safe to say that no one has ever been closer to Christ, more like Christ.

Assisi is one of the most beautiful and prayerful places on earth. Those of us who will go on pilgrimage together from St. Mary of the Assumption, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, U.S.A., to Italy in November will visit Assisi, walking the streets where St. Francis walked. We will pray at his tomb, and we will remember the rest of you there, for sure.

There you have it: Ecclesiastical All-Star Week. If ever there were a week to try to go to Mass everyday, this is it. Many graces will flow from heaven this week. Thank you, holy angels and saints!