Big Anniversaries Coming Up in a Few Short Years

Mount Rushmore

Beautiful sunny day here in Roanoke, so let’s consider some significant sunny-day anniversaries.

Today at Holy Mass we mark the anniversary of the death of St. Athanasius, the hero of the Council of Nicaea. The bishops met in Nicaea on sunny May and June days. And they gave us our Symbol of faith, our creed.

On another sunny day, the Fourth of July, we mark the anniversary of…

Thomas Jefferson and Co. did the signing and declaring in the summer of 1776. In the year 2026, we will mark a significant milestone in the history of our beloved country, the 250th anniversary of Independence Day. For a nation to endure so long, a quarter of a millennium—an inspiring thing to contemplate.

But let’s focus on an anniversary that will come a year earlier, one year before the USA’s 250th birthday. In 2025.

athanasius
St. Athanasius

When Thomas Jefferson and Co. declared independence in the summer of 1776, they did it on a Thursday. On the preceding Sunday, every Roman Catholic priest on earth had recited the Nicene Creed. And every Catholic priest recited it the following Sunday, along with all the faithful who were following along with the Mass. In the summer of 1,776, the Nicene Creed was already 1,451 years old.

In 2025, the Nicene Creed will turn 1700 years old.

And yet it’s still as fresh as the day when St. Athanasius helped to write it. Jesus Christ: God from God; light from light; true God from true God; begotten—not made; consubstantial with the Father.

In these words we find the hope of the world, the foundation for a real spiritual life, the truth about God Almighty, the key to understanding the four gospels, the center of Christian joy.

When we think about the legacy that our Founding Fathers gave us Americans, nearly a quarter-millennium ago, it humbles us.

But, may it please God that our Founding Fathers made it to heaven, when they contemplate what St. Athanasius and the Fathers of Nicaea gave the world almost 1700 years ago, it humbles them.

April 1865. by Jay Winik

My dad married a Northerner. But he could hardly be accused of having been one himself. The year I turned twelve, our family spent the muggy summer evenings reading aloud to each other Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. Huck and Jim already had become close friends to the imaginations of my brother and me, not to mention Aunt Sally and Tom Sawyer.

Winik April 1865Yes, the Washington I grew up in had become the post-WWII ‘capital of the free world.’ But I never loved my hometown for that reason. I loved, and love her still, for the same reason that Robert E. Lee loved Virginia.

The land you come from deserves and demands your loyal affection, whether that particular land lies thick with trees and hedgerows or with streets and buildings. I never had any serious interest in the halls of national and international power near the places to which I delivered pizzas during high school.

Marion Barry meant more to me during the 1980’s than Ronald Reagan ever did. During the Grant administration, they debated moving the U.S. Capitol to Kansas. If they had, I wouldn’t love Washington, D.C., any differently than I do. My hometown, south of the Mason-Dixon, originally a swamp bordered by two slave states.

Just trying to explain why the month of April, 1865, fills me more with a sense of tragedy than triumph.*

Also, the end of the Civil-War Sesquicentennial, now upon us, fills me with guilt, because I haven’t paid more attention to it. And with sadness that it’s over.

Anyway: If you share any of these feelings, or if you simply seek a short, readable book with which to begin your acquaintance with Civil-War history, read April 1865 by Jay Winik.

Continue reading April 1865. by Jay Winik”

Happy Candlemas Day!

tjefferson

I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. –John F. Kennedy, White House dinner for Nobel laureates, 1962

From the First-Black-President (Clinton)/First-Catholic-President (George W. Bush)/First-Gay-President (Obama) File…

Tomorrow’s school homily, aimed at 21st-century Catholics, as opposed to old-fashioned doubters, like Thomas Jefferson:

Last week the second grade wowed me with their knowledge of our Lord’s miracles. In the gospel passage, we hear about Him working not one, but two miracles, including raising a young girl from the dead.

Why did Jesus work miracles? After all, He did not come to the earth to eradicate all illness and suffering. There is still plenty of illness and suffering. But He healed some people during His earthly pilgrimage in order to show us two crucial things:

1. That He is all-powerful. That He possesses the omnipotence of Almighty God. Jesus Christ is no mere man; He is the God-man.

2. But He showed not just raw power with the miracles He worked. Actually, He shrank from conspicuous displays. He didn’t want to wow people like a magician. He worked the particular miracles which He worked because He wants us to believe in Him, and He wants us to believe in something in particular about Him.

Russell Wilson lossTherefore, Christ only worked one particular kind of miracle. He never made huge boulders levitate, or turned people into toads, or made lightning strike His enemies. He only worked miracles that helped people–especially weak, poor, suffering people.

This is because He wanted to reveal that all the divine omnipotence, all the power that made the heavens and the earth—He wanted to reveal that it all has one goal: namely, our well-being. The infinite power of God is a special kind of power. It is love. The miracles of Christ are not just miracles of supernatural stunning-ness. They are miracles of pure, selfless love.

Which means, having read the gospels with open minds, we can settle a question which plagued one of our great forefathers here in our beloved state of Virginia.

In 1781, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Our numberless afflictions make it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath.”

In other words: Is our life a blessing or a curse?

The idea that life is easy, or 100% fun, or pleasant all the time, or a cake walk—all you have to do is ask Pete Carroll or Russell Wilson, and they will tell you that life involves some afflictions.

So the $10,000 question is: Taking all the difficulties of life into account, does God have a plan for it all? A plan which, in the end, involves a good outcome? Is God mean, or is He kind?

Left to ourselves, we wouldn’t know the answer. We would be stuck like Thomas Jefferson was stuck. But Jesus has shown us the truth. Jesus endured the most cruel afflictions Himself in order to show us that: God is love.

Monticello Monastery

Sometimes, the world-famous internet maddens you with its lacunae. One cannot read St. Augustine’s second sermon on the Apostles’ Creed in its entirety on-line. That said, it is well worth reading the parts of the sermon that Google Books offers, to prepare spiritually for Trinity Sunday…

…Upon entering the reception hall in Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home, the visitor espies a familiar map on the wall. Perhaps, gentle reader, you will recall the joy with which we considered the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia a few months ago.

What made Thomas Jefferson? Can we say that, above all, he was the son of the man who had made Virginia colony’s most excellent map?

…My peregrinations have taken me to Monticello, to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and to the Cistercian Abbey of New Melleray in Peosta, Iowa, among other places.

Monticello reminds me more of New Melleray than it does of Mount Vernon. Jefferson conceived and built a hilltop cloister to house his quiet life of study and meditation.

Everything about the clever, simple, orderly way in which the necessaries of Monticello are arranged recalls the refreshing straightforwardness of the architecture of a monastery.

And, of course, the quadrangle of the University of Virginia, which Jefferson designed, feels like a brick neoclassical cloister.

Perhaps Sally Hemmings could report that Jefferson did not live his 43 widower years as a perfect monk. But there is no question that he built an edifice designed for reading, working the land, hospitality, and contemplation. This is precisely what St. Benedict directed.

It is ironic, since Jefferson despised monks. Like repels like.

Someday, perhaps, the Lord will afford me the leisure to write the book I have always wanted to write: The Untold History of the Contemplative Life in the United States.

Chapter 1 will consider Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

Bow or Kiss?

I do not mean to stereotype. But we can take note of clear cultural differences sometimes. For instance, when you meet a Japanese person, you will likely receive a friendly bow. On the other hand, when you meet an Italian, you might wind up with wet kisses all over both sides of your neck.

As we read in Sacred Scripture, on the first Pentecost, pilgrims from all over had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Weeks.

People traveled to the Holy City seven weeks after Passover both to commemorate the giving of the Ten Commandments fifty days after the Exodus and to celebrate the reaping of the first fruits of the wheat harvest.

On this feast, the Apostles preached the Gospel in all the languages of the world, and thousands believed.

…Right before He went into the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night, the Lord Jesus had prayed aloud, and He said:

Father, this is eternal life: to know you, the one true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.

Now, speaking of manners, perhaps it strikes us as a bit odd that the Lord Jesus would refer to Himself in the third person, using His first and last names. But before we accuse Him of pomposity, let us recall that Jesus’ ‘last’ name actually designates the mystery of His identity. Jesus Christ means Jesus the anointed.

Eternal life is to know the only true God and the ambassador upon Whose head the oil of heavenly gladness has been poured.

Continue reading “Bow or Kiss?”

Wagon Train


(Click here to go to the full 3,752 × 2,380 pixels map.)

Not to be indelicate, but the air today was balmy enough for tromping through places where frog couples are busy making more little frogs.

I found myself skirting the Pigg River and made a captivating discovery.

The Iroquois made a warpath here in their endless seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century battles with the Catawba. In 1744, at the Treaty of Lancaster, Pa., the Iroquois ceded the use of their Great Warrior Path to the white man.

Countless Scotch-Irish and Germans, having made landfall in the New World at Philadelphia, travelled to homesteads in “the backcountry”—Virginny, the Carolinas, and Georgia—along this path.

The 1751 map of the “Carolina Road” (above) fascinates me for a number of reasons.

1. The wagon road that passed along the Pigg River, down the hill from my rectory, also passed through Lancaster, Pa.–my dear mom’s hometown, 350 miles away.

2. The road passed into the piedmont at Big Lick, later to be known as Roanoke, through the pass formed by the Staunton River, also called the Roanoke River.

3. Heading upriver from Jamestown, the river named for King James forks near the land of Thomas Jefferson. The larger fork, which drains acreage from the westernmost reaches of the eastern seaboard, used to be called the Fluvanna, for Queen Anne. (These days, the whole thing is called the James.)

4. The town of Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County, Md., where I lived three very happy years, appears on the map. But the city of Washington does not. (Washington did not, as yet, exist.)

5. Fry and Jefferson made an exquisite map. It depicts all the rights-of-way in use at the time with enough precision to aid in making practical travel decisions. I especially love the way they depicted the mountain ridges–no pretense of topographical accuracy but thoroughly helpful in travel planning.

One more fascinating geographic fact:

As everyone knows, the capital city of our nation is divided into four quadrants. And everyone knows that the U.S. Capitol serves as the axis-forming point. From the Capitol, the Mall divides northwest Washington from southwest Washington, North Capitol Street divides northwest from northeast, and East Capitol and South Capitol Streets likewise divide the quadrants.

Roanoke, Va., also has four quadrants. In Roanoke, the axis is formed by Jefferson Street, and the old Norfolk and Western railroad bed!

(If you hate geography geeks, you are visiting the wrong website.)