God Smoothes the Rough Ways

tatooine c3p0 r2d2

From our first reading at Sunday Mass:

God has commanded that every lofty mountain shall be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground. [Spanish]

From the gospel reading:

Every valley shall be filled; every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth.

Why? Why all this leveling and straightening of the earth? So “that Israel may advance secure, for God is leading Israel by the light of His glory.” (Baruch 5:9)

God leads a people. Us. The people united in His Christ. St. Paul wrote to his beloved Philippians:  “I pray for all of you with joy in my heart, because of your partnership for the gospel.”

We are partners. For the gospel. With a pilgrimage to make. To Mt. Zion, to the Temple in heaven. To glorify God there, together.

For the ancient Israelites on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the terrain posed great challenges. Anyone ever visited the Dead Sea? St. John the Baptist lived nearby. He ate locusts, because that’s pretty much all there is to eat there.

Anyone ever heard the parable of the Good Samaritan? The traveler fell into the hands of brutal robbers while he made his way on the Jericho road. A rocky land of dangerous mountain passes—like the territory on Tattooine where the Sand People live, where old Ben Kenobi had his hermitage. (That’s Star Wars, if you didn’t know.)

Vatican II stallsIn other words: Getting to Jerusalem posed problems. Tough terrain. Physical struggles and dangers. But the prophets promised: Fear not. God Himself will level it all out. So that Israel can proceed together, singing, towards God’s glorious Temple.

We can ask ourselves: Why frequent the parish church on Sundays? Hasn’t the Catholic Church suffered the definitive disgrace this past year? With attorneys general raiding bishops’ offices? With confusion reigning among the successors of the apostles?

The first reading at Sunday Mass includes a reference to a ‘miter.’ Everyone know what that word means? The distinctive headdress of the bishop. It represents the Holy Spirit pouring into Moses’ head. The miter symbolizes divine wisdom. But, at this point in the Church’s history, it’s not easy to preach on the divine wisdom symbolized by the bishop’s miter.

Yet Sunday-morning Mass means: Israel, united.

Are we out-of-step with reality? After all, “Many of our contemporaries never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings, nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion.”

That’s actually a direct quote from Vatican II. Many of our contemporaries never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings, nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion. (Gaudium et Spes 19)

Why do we trouble ourselves about religion? And why do we do it in the Catholic Church?

Maybe we can say that we trouble ourselves with seeking God because: “each of us remains to him- or herself an unsolved puzzle.” Because: “We face the riddles of life and death, of guilt and grief.” (GS 21)

Again, a direct quote from Vatican II. And the fathers of that Church Council, held fifty years ago, went on to affirm: “Only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. Christ reveals the Father and His love, and so fully reveals man to himself and makes man’s supreme calling clear.” (GS 22)

In spite of this entire mess that we ourselves are, the prophets, amazingly, propose:  We can have genuinely coherent lives, instead of a tumult of zigs and zags. We can march together in a straight line towards heaven.  We can live according to the fundamental truth of who we are; we can greet every situation with calm self-assurance, ready to act as a saint would act.

How?  By raising questions about God.  By troubling ourselves to know Him.

The Lord has provided us with the means to know Him. And to know what His commandments are. He does smooth the way for His pilgrim people to reach Jerusalem. We go together, in partnership for the Gospel of Christ.

And the communion that we enjoy with each other has a depth that reaches back through time, and also towards the promised future of eternal life. We may have entered a very difficult period of Church history. But our communion with God and with each other does not rest on the current political situation of the Church’s hierarchy.

Our communion rests on stronger foundations than that. It rests on the basics. On the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. On His doctrine, contained in the New Testament; on His commandments. On the prayer that He taught us to say. Right now we have the bishops and the pope that we have, and may God help them to do their duty well. But our communion with God flows from something deeper. It flows from the mysteries of the life of Jesus.

He is Alive + Germans on the Synod + Blue Bloods Sexual Morality

SynodRoman procurator Porcius Festus recounted the facts with perfect simplicity. “A certain Jesus had died. Paul claims he is alive.”

In all honesty: What could possibly galvanize us more than this deadpan account of the situation in Acts 25?

Who are we? Are we not the people who claim that this certain Jesus, who had died, is alive?

Fifty years ago, pope convened the Second Vatican Council to help us get back to this utter simplicity. Lots of smart Germans came to Rome. And the newspapers and magazines buzzed with Vatican-II gossip.

Some of us might get the feeling that we’re right back in the early 1960’s again, when it comes to Catholic-Church gossip. Because of all the smart Germans and the Synod on the Family.

There is a somewhat-famous letter to the Synod Fathers, signed by a few hundred American priests. I signed it. We signatories urge the Synod to re-iterate the fundamental teachings that—at least to me—seem obviously to go hand-in-hand with saying that Jesus is alive. Namely, that God gave us marriage the way He gave it to us, that everyone should go to Confession, resolve to sin no more, and strive to live chastely according to one’s state in life.

…I give the German Bishops Conference credit for publishing thoughtful responses to the Holy See’s Synod-preparation questions. I, for one, thank the Germans for publishing an English translation.

The Catholic press has highlighted some of what the German Bishops have written. To my mind, though, these two following passages most require meditation and a response:

1. The significance and orientating power of the Church’s teaching may not be drawn into the relative and arbitrary here, nor may the significance of the individual conscience be weakened or indeed circumvented as the final subjective decision-making instance of the individual. In this tension, it is necessary to make the doctrine of the Church, in the sense of a responsible formation of conscience, repeatedly newly known but also comprehensible. The Magisterium is faced here by the challenge of repeatedly verifying, honestly and self-critically, whether the teaching really can be imparted to people in all aspects and differentiations. As was already the case with the questionnaire in the run-up to the Extraordinary Synod of 2014, the feedback from the dioceses once more points clearly here to the fact that, in particular, a number of sexual ethical aspects of the Church’s teaching are neither understood nor any longer accepted…

Somewhere in the middle of this argle bargle we find what I believe constitutes the all-important turning-point of morals: Am I humble enough to admit that I need moral teaching? If I am not, then what is the point of the Church trying to speak in a way that I will accept?

The inescapable fact for Mother Church, when it comes to teaching on sexual morals, is: Christ chaste. How can anyone or anything other than the chaste Christ serve as the foundation of our moral teaching?

Nothing else can. If I am willing to learn from Christ how to live, then what the Church says–what She has always said–about chastity will feel like cool water in a desert when it enters my mind. If I am not willing to learn from the chaste Christ how to live, then why would the Church bother trying to make sense to me? She never will anyway.

2. …Most couples live together for several years prior to a civil and church marriage, and regard marriage as a further, and certainly significant, stage in their lives together…Pastoral care that regards such unions as sinful pure and simple and accordingly calls for conversion is not helpful as it contradicts the positive experience that couples have in such living arrangements. Values such as love, faithfulness, responsibility for one another and for the children, reliability and willingness to reconcile are also practiced when people live together and in civil marriages, and these deserve recognition in a Christian context. Pastoral care should be provided to young people in particular, and this must appreciatively support and accompany their various attempts to enter into and practice relationships.

Again, a lot of argle bargle. The clearer version of this approach appeared in the next-to-last scene of “Open Secrets,” Blue Bloods, season 4.

Blue Bloods Erin and Nicky

Nicky: Just ask me, Mom.

Mom: What?

Nicky: Ask me if I’m having sex with Ben.

Mom: Are you?

No. But we have talked about it.


Come on, Mom, you can’t really be surprised. Most of my friends have already done it.

That is not a good enough reason to have sex for the first time. Do you love him?

I don’t know. I mean, he’s a really great guy, and I really care about him. And I feel like I’m ready. Go ahead, let me have it. (sighs)

Okay. Well, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am not going to yell and scream. Do I wish that you would wait until you were sure if you were in love? Yes. But we both know that’s not up to me. You are a beautiful, smart young woman with good judgment. When the time is right, you will… make the right decision. And if you need to talk about anything, I am here.


…Dear reader, can I say it? Will you mind? This is BS.

Parents, grandparents, young people, all you dear people of God. I ask you, I beg you: If you ever hear me suggest that anything other than chastity before marriage can make you happy, punch me in the face.

Young people, do not have sex before marriage!

I would give my left kidney, my left lung, eye, and hand, if it would help all the young people I know and love to believe in themselves enough to follow Christ chaste to a truly happy life.

…Two other fundamental flaws with the German bishops’ responses:

1. They claim that the church in Germany is pro-life. But how obtuse in the area of embryology does a person have to be–to claim to be both pro-life and indifferent to the use of artificial contraception at the same time? It is impossible. Artificial contraception involves early abortion as a matter of course.

2. Jesus Christ does not openly appear anywhere in the document.

…Now, some Catholics seem to imagine that 2015 is 1963 all over again, when it comes to ‘ferment’ and ‘change’ in the Catholic Church. But this imagination ignores one very significant thing. A book that weighs approximately 1 ½ pounds. Compiled by the smartest German of them all.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

If we want to be the people who claim that Jesus is alive, the Catechism is our lifeblood. What the German bishops say? 85% bilge-water.

Coupla Quotes from Evangelii Gaudium


Papa writes:

“Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, we are distressed by the troubles of our age and far from naive optimism; yet the fact that we are more realistic must not mean that we are any less trusting in the Spirit or less generous…

“…mystical fraternity, a contemplative fraternity. It is a fraternal love capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbor, of finding God in every human being, of tolerating the nuisances of life in common by clinging to the love of God, of opening the heart to divine love and seeking the happiness of others just as their heavenly Father does.”

Springtime 2013


Rejoice, Jerusalem. Rejoice because the Lord lives, and He loves His children. We rejoice even in the hardest times, even in the most uncertain moments, because God has made one thing absolutely clear: He wills to deliver us from evil. He wills to bring us home to Him.

Did the prodigal son have pure, spiritual motives when he decided to return to his father’s house? Doesn’t seem like he did. He wanted to eat the pig-slop, but no one gave him any. Hunger, not noble contrition, drove him back home.

Rembrandt Prodigal SonDoesn’t mean that he did not love his father. He simply had not yet learned everything that love involves. He came back home looking for food, and he found food and love. He came looking for a tiny exception to the rigor that justice required, since by right he had no claim whatsoever. He found boundless mercy and a completely fresh start.

We find ourselves, dear brothers and sisters, living at a time when the relationship between the Church and the world will be refreshed. A new start will be made. I don’t think we go too far if we say that this springtime of 2013 opens before us as pregnant with possibilities as the springtime of 1963, the first spring of the Second Vatican Council. That spring saw a papal transition, too. Blessed Pope John XXIII finally succumbed to his illness, and Paul VI became the new pope.

Continue reading “Springtime 2013”

The Wise and Intelligent Obedient Ones

Barque of Peter

The Lord has made laws for His people. He gave the Commandments on Mt. Sinai. He sent His Son to found the Church and endow Her with the Holy Spirit. By the ordinances He has laid down, the Lord guides His People through every twist and turn of history. His Law teaches us how to believe, how to pray, how to live, how to organize ourselves.

As a people, we show ourselves to be intelligent and wise by obeying the divine laws. When the world sees the People of God—an enormous communion with members in every nation on earth—when the world sees us humbly and peaceably submitting to the divine rule, heeding the commandments, following solemn and sacred procedures in order to deliberate about how to move through history—when the confused, distressed, and fuss-bothering citizens of this fallen world see the serene obedience of God’s People—well, it astonishes them.

Apostolicae Sede Vacante insigniaCan it really be this way? they wonder. Can such an invisible authority govern a people so well? An authority who can instill such confidence, who makes obedience such a sweet burden on his subjects? And is it really possible for us human beings to find such an honest and forthright authority in which we can believe, so that we can join something bigger than our petty little selves, and be a part of something grand?

Yes. We say yes. It is possible. Because the One Who made the rules we follow is God. God sent His Son to the world—the most fascinating, the most generous, the most true, the most sublime man who has ever walked the earth. And this Son of God forms the Church, like a shipwright constructs a solid vessel out of gnarled tree trunks.

We people on board this Barque of Peter—we are sinners. We make mistakes. The stewards, boatswains, and petty officers all make mistakes; sometimes big ones. But that doesn’t challenge our faith in the Captain and His rules. Our sins only make us trust His rules all the more. We know that, unlike our intentions, the intentions of the captain of this ship are perfectly pure, and the course upon which He has set us—it is true.

PopePaulVIOn Sunday I will try to speak a little more about what our situation as a Church looks like to me—the Catholic Church, undergoing a transition in the Apostolic See, springtime 2013. As you may recall, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, I have been trying to study the history a little bit. It strikes me really as altogether uncanny that, just as the papacy underwent a transition of occupant during the first half of 1963, after the Council had only just gotten underway the preceding fall, so we will have a new pope in the first half of 2013, just as the commemoration of the fiftieth of Vatican II, and the Year of Faith, has only just gotten underway, starting last fall.

Anyway, the main thing, I think, is: The Church finds Herself at a wonderful moment when Her rules, Her procedures—Her tried-and-true way of doing things: they will impress the world anew this spring. Many of our brothers and sisters who have wandered away from Christ, or who have never known Him—they will marvel at how wise and intelligent the People of God really is. Because we know how to obey the Lord with patience and follow His rules.

The Purpose: Our Relationship

“For this purpose have I come,” said the Lord, referring to His mission to preach.

To preach what? The good news that God loves each and all of us with infinite intensity. That our sins can be forgiven and washed away forever. That the heavenly Father cares about us and has a plan to get us to heaven.

Why does the Church exist? Here is how Vatican II answers that question, in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity:

For this the Church was founded: that, by spreading the Kingdom of Christ everywhere for the glory of God the Father, She might lead all men to share in Christ’s saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might in actual fact be brought into relationship with Him. (paragraph 2)

To spread the Kingdom of Christ everywhere. Which is what glorifies God, Who receives glory when people acknowledge His only begotten Son. Which is how we come to be redeemed, since He is our only Redeemer. Redeemed, so that we—and the world in its entirety—might have a bona fide relationship with our Maker and Final Goal.

Church roofs stands over our heads; church furnaces churn; parking lots got paved; the coffee brews in our church pots—all for one reason: so that we—and everyone—can have a relationship with the One Who was sent to preach good news to the poor.

samsung m400 flip phoneSince our God came to the earth on a mission of mercy and redemption, having a relationship with Him is completely different from having a relationship with anyone else. Unlike everyone else, Christ our God relentlessly loves us with an intensity that has no limit and with a patience that never runs out.

There may be other people who know us even better than we know ourselves, but Christ knows us infinitely better even than they do.

So this all-important relationship with Him differs completely from all our other relationships. And yet it’s actually not that different at all. In that it takes work, steadiness, humility, and rigorous honesty. As long as we walk this earth, we are not done working on it.

No work, no honesty: no relationship. Christ loves us infinitely and has infinite patience. But no other relationship requires such searching honesty on our parts.

He came to reveal the Divine Mercy, to declare the forgiveness of sins, and to bring about the only justification we could ever have for ourselves–by dying with infinite love for us on the cross.

I marched into my local cellphone retail location to claim the free phone upgrade that my diligent perseverance in my plan had merited. By a kind of miracle, I managed to walk out with a phone that works exactly like my old phone worked. All the buttons, everything—exactly the same. Praise God.

But does this accomplishment make me a worthwhile individual? By no means. Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross makes me a worthwhile individual.

I could personally invent a way in which no one would ever have to endure a learning curve on any technological “device;” I could devise technology that rendered every 1-800 technical support number absolutely obsolete, and no one’s mother or grandmother would ever call them, asking how to upload onto her iPad music that she has on her iPhone. But even if I did that, that still would not make me a worthwhile human being. I would still be a craven sinner with no hope, if it weren’t for Jesus Christ and His sacrifice.

You know what I think will make us more evangelical? More of a leaven for justice and peace in our community?

If we all went to Confession more often. If I start with myself and my relationship with the One Who died because of my sins. Especially the sins which I have heretofore been too obtuse or too lazy to acknowledge.

Starting the Year with An Invisible Mother?

We thank the good Lord for the year gone by. We invoke His blessing on 2013.

immac-concepWe greet the passing of time not with hopeless dissipation, like the pagans, but with sober joy. Whatever it will please the Lord to send our way in the year to come, we know that all of it will serve to build up the eternal city of love—if only we have the grace to receive it all with faith, like humble children looking for good things from our Father.

Not that I intend to be polyannish about AD 2013. The year to come does not lie before us like a bed of roses; no new year ever does. 2013 could start bad, and go downhill from there. To be perfectly honest with you, I have very serious doubts about the Washington Redskins’ ability to beat the Seattle Seahawks—among other looming problems.

But: We begin the new year as Christians. We begin it in church, with our Lord. And with His Mother.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council declared:

The Virgin in her own life lived an example of that maternal love [which] should animate all who cooperate in the apostolic mission of the Church…Placed by the grace of God, as God’s Mother, next to her Son, and exalted above all angels and men, Mary intervened in the mysteries of Christ and is justly honored by special [devotion] in the Church. From the earliest times, [Christians have] honored the Blessed Virgin under the title of Mother of God, under whose protection the faithful take refuge in all dangers and necessities. (Lumen Gentium 65-66)

Pope Paul VI, following up on this, decreed:

The Christmas season is a prolonged commemoration of the divine, virginal, and salvific motherhood of her whose inviolate virginity brought the Savior into the world…The Solemnity of Mary the holy Mother of God…is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation…It is likewise a fitting occasion for…imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace. (Marialis Cultus)

Now, sometimes people wonder about our Catholic love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. After all—they try to maintain—the New Testament does not contain much information about her. Only about ten direct mentions, and most of those very brief. You Catholics have all these solemnities in her honor. But don’t we have to conclude from the Bible that she has only minor importance, since she is practically invisible?

mlk marchingWell, let’s see. Let’s try to think about other examples of people with “invisible mothers.”

Can any of us even name the mother of William Shakespeare, or George Washington, or Blessed Mother Teresa, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Probably not.

But are these women really so completely unknown to us? Don’t we know something about them all–simply by virtue of the fact that we know the children that they raised?

When we see Mother Teresa sweetly and lovingly wiping the brow of a sick poor man, don’t we have to think that she learned this tenderness somewhere? When we see Martin Luther King standing his ground peacefully in Birmingham, don’t we have to think that he learned this Christian courage somewhere?

The truth is that, if we know Christ intimately, then we know Our Lady intimately, too. The apple does not fall far from the tree, even when He is the Son of God. The gospels paint the picture of Christ. By doing that, they also paint a picture of the mother who bore Him and raised Him.

But, actually, we don’t even really need to worry so much about how well we know the Blessed Virgin Mary. We may know Our Lady well; we may not. But, either way, we can be sure that she knows us. We can be sure that she loves us with a mother’s love, and that she will spend 2013—as she spends every year—interceding on our behalf, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ her Son.

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”

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.

Pope, Vice President, Faith, Kites

The faith of Abraham, the faith of the Church, the saving grace of life, the definitive gift of God: believing in Christ. Believing that God is good, loving, that He hears our prayers, that He forgives our sins, that He is our friend, that He wills our good, our ultimate success—our definitive, permanent success.

On Wednesday, Pope Benedict said:

I believe, then, that we must learn the simplest and most fundamental lessons of the Council, and that is that Christianity in its essence consists in faith in God, who is Trinitarian Love, and in a personal and communal encounter with Christ who orients and guides our lives. Everything else follows from this.

The important thing today, as was the desire of the Council Fathers, is that we see clearly and anew that God is present, that he is watching over us, that he responds to us, and that by contrast, when faith in God is found wanting, all that is essential crumbles, because man loses his profound dignity and what makes his humanity great… The Council reminds us that the Church, in all her members, has the task, the mandate, of transmitting the word of God’s saving love, so that the divine call that holds within itself our eternal beatitude may be heard and welcomed.

Yesterday, he continued:

If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honor an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago!…

Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual ‘desertification.’ In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing.

Yesterday evening, the Vice President said on television that we Catholics hold de fide, that is by faith, that human life begins at conception. “But I would never impose my faith on anyone else.”

The first statement is untrue. The Church has never taught us when human life begins. We conclude by scientific reasoning that human life begins at conception. Believer and unbeliever alike agree that doing violence to innocent human beings is wrong.

What we Catholics believe lies at a much deeper level of truth. What we Catholics believe, what we Christians believe, is that every human being has the chance to get to heaven. We believe that doing good and avoiding evil is our way of being friends with Almighty God. We believe that God has a plan for every human being, that He loves every human being, that He made every human being for a reason

He knows the reason in His infinite wisdom, and He gradually reveals the glorious reason to us, with the beauty of every day that He gives, the air in our lungs–and the transcendent wisdom that grows in our own souls when we pray pray pray our way through life.

Pope says the world has become a spiritual desert. The water that the desert needs is our Catholic faith. We do not impose. We propose. And the truth of what we believe wins souls–like the wind makes kites fly.