The Body, Soul, and Mind of Christ

ST III Q6 a1
ST III Q6 a2

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Sixty years ago today, the Second Vatican Council began.

We kept a “Year of Faith” back in 2012-2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary. That year turned into a real zinger when the pope abdicated.

I gave a number of talks that year, about Vatican II. If you want to read any of them, you can click HERE.

St. Paul and Vatican II

Caravaggio Conversion on the Way to Damascus Paul

Lord Jesus died, rose again, ascended into heaven bodily, and reigns over all things, at the right hand of the Father.

The original Apostles witnessed some of these events, from the point-of-view of Planet Earth. St. John saw Jesus die. They all saw Him after He rose. They watched Him ascend into the clouds.

The Apostles proceeded to testify orally and in writing. All except John suffered execution, rather than deny what they had seen, and what they believed about the One they had seen. Namely: that He is the Christ of God, the incarnate eternal Word, Who has made Himself the new Adam of the redeemed human race.

St. Paul did not witness the things that the original Apostles witnessed. But he did encounter some of those Apostles personally, as well as other original Christians.

At first Paul not only did not believe them, he despised them. He counted them blasphemers, criminal enemies of true religion.

But then, on this holy day, He, too, encountered Jesus. The Lord spoke to Paul from heaven. Why do you persecute Me? Why do you kick against the pricks? You love God and desire only to serve God. I, Jesus, am God—the true God of love and mercy, in Whom your father Abraham believed.

St. Paul had the faith and courage to embrace Jesus with every fiber of his being.

One thing that makes Christianity so believable is this: The New Testament depicts the human countenances of some absolutely believable people. Jesus Himself. His mother. St. Peter. St. John. And St. Paul.

John XXIII Vatican IIProbably St. Paul more than any other. After all, he wrote half the New Testament. Plus, almost half of St. Luke’s second book is about Paul.

Many passages of St. Paul’s letters pose extreme challenges to the reader. He had a mind of encyclopedic complexity, and he lived a pilgrim life ten times more adventuresome than Indiana Jones.

A lot of Paul’s writing requires careful study in order to understand–precisely because it is all so absolutely real. The whole thing is geographically coherent, religiously consistent–full of human love, human impatience, webs of relationships, and fatherliness.

Speaking of which: sixty years ago today, the new pope, John XXIII, visited the tomb of the Apostle Paul. The pope gave a little speech. He declared that he would soon summon all the world’s bishops to the Vatican, for an ecumenical council.

I think I may be one of the last of a dying breed: an incorrigibly conservative priest who loves Vatican II. Who loves it more, not less, with each passing year.

Conversion. Pope St. John XXIII had enough faith in Christ, and enough courage, to imagine that the indefectible Church could convert—in those aspects of Her life that can, and have, gone wrong. The pope believed that the true Church of Jesus—Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever—could adapt Herself better to what the Lord asks of Her now. Which differs somewhat from what He asked of Her yesterday.

St. Paul trusted totally and completely in Christ—enough to change. We can, too.

Elephants and Ireland

Brooklyn Bridge elephants

One hundred thirty-five years ago today, the Brooklyn Bridge opened. Twenty-one of P.T. Barnum’s elephants paraded across, to prove to the public how strong and safe the bridge is.

Exactly one hundred twenty years later, to the day, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, a native of New York, ordained your unworthy servant a priest.

Everyone will be salted with fire. But if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor?  (Mark 9:49-50) You can’t salt salt. Salt has to stay salty.

The Church of Christ must salt this earth, with the message of justice, truth, and selfless love. We do not merit such a mission. But God has summoned us to it anyway.

When Holy Mother Church met in solemn Council at the Vatican in the early 1960’s, She articulated a vision of universal solidarity among all the people of the earth. Our Church gave the human race hope for a worldwide civilization of love.

Vatican II did not base that vision on empty optimism or naïvete. The Church knows that She always faces a battle against evil. She spoke as She did at Vatican II because of the preaching of Her founder Jesus Christ, and because of Her hope in His unfailing grace.

Last week the Apostolic See published a moral study of the contemporary world financial system, which sounded an echo of James 5 and Psalm 49 (which we read at today’s Holy Mass).

The Catholic Church continues to have the guts to point out to the world that no one can adequately understand “the economy” without adequately understanding man—human nature, the meaning of life, of work, of social interactions and exchanges among people. And no one can understand the meaning of human life without Christ, the Son of God.

brooklyn bridge elephants coverEven with the supposedly wonderful internet, it seems obvious that we have not really progressed toward a more unified and peaceful world over the course of the past generation. The rich have gotten richer and the poor poorer. Greedy people have enriched themselves by taking irrational risks with other peoples’ money, including public money belonging to entire nations and peoples. Someone has to have the guts to say this isn’t right. The Catholic Church has the guts.

Speaking of the poor and defenseless, and of entire nations and peoples, and of having some guts: Let’s pray hard for the voters of  mother Ireland. Tomorrow they vote on making abortion legal.

Someday, to be sure, they will look back with horror and shame that they ever thought it prudent or good to put the human rights of the innocent to a majority vote. But still we must pray hard for a pro-life outcome of tomorrow’s national referendum on their constitutional amendment that protects the unborn child.

Those agitating for a repeal of the pro-life amendment argue as if making abortion legal involves a step “forward.” They forget that killing infants was perfectly legal under the inhumane emperors of old, like Nero and Caligula.

In fact, Ireland has the kind of forward-looking abortion laws that every country ought to have, including ours. May the Civilization of Love gain an electoral victory tomorrow, so that Ireland can continue to show the world the right way.

John 6 Ecumenism

Pope Francis Jay Wright Villanova ball
Now the Pope owns the NCAA Championship ball!

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life. (John 6:27)

We kept the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council a few years ago, between 2012 and 2015. But maybe some of Pope Francis’ more-recent teachings lead us back to the Second Vatican Council again.*

Here’s one question: Was Vatican II overly optimistic in focusing on what Protestants and Catholics have in common?

One side would say: Yes, Vatican II was wrong there. It was a betrayal of sacred Catholic Tradition and the Council of Trent to affirm that Protestants and Catholics share the same faith in Christ.

–But isn’t that’s going too far? There’s only one Jesus. And we all personally know Protestants who truly and sincerely believe in Him. So Vatican II was not altogether wrong to emphasize what we have in common.

On the other hand, the other extreme would say: No, Vatican II had no misplaced optimism whatsoever. Christian re-unification is right around the corner, if only we could get over ourselves!

–But that’s going too far, too. No reasonable observer can deny that, in spite of a lot of common enterprises, and a lot of good intentions, the last fifty years have not seen a whole lot of real ecumenical headway. Quite the contrary.

Ross Douthat To Change the ChurchDuring the third week of Easter we read from John 6 at Holy Mass. Seems to me like we Catholics could lay down this marker, and live at peace with it:

We believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And we believe that He makes Himself present on the altar at Mass to be our food unto eternal life.

It seems to us that these two aspects of the faith—namely the Resurrection and the Real Presence—are really one aspect. It makes absolutely no sense to separate them. And why would anyone want to?


*I have been reading Ross Douthat’s To Change the Church. Douthat illuminates things enormously, I think, by outlining the two alternative understandings of the past 55 years of Catholic history, “liberal” and “conservative.” But there’s more to the story, I think. And I want to try to bring it to light, as the opportunity allows.

Our Lady, Vatican II, Mercy Old and New

Closing Mass of Vatican II
Closing Mass of Vatican II

Today, the Lord re-established the Garden of Eden, as it had been before the Fall.

The place where the human being, child of God, could receive the Creator’s love, and return it, without selfishness getting in the way. The place where human intelligence and freedom could exercise itself fully, without vice and dishonesty destroying things. The place of quiet, pure friendship between God and man.

That lovely garden returned to the earth on this day. Because the soul of the Virgin Mary is that garden. In her conversation with the Archangel Gabriel (which we read at Holy Mass today), we see into Our Lady’s soul: perfectly honest, humbly intelligent, living by faith, and ready to serve. An un-fallen Eve.

Now, that was well over 2,000 years ago, when our Lady was conceived immaculate in the womb of St. Anne. Who remembers what happened exactly 50 years ago today? Pope Paul VI solemnly concluded the Second Vatican Council.

The Pope made all the Council Fathers’ teachings his own. Four years of fervent prayer, study, and debate came to an end. Something much bigger began. In the teachings of the Council, the Lord gave us modern Christians a unique and profound insight into our identity and mission.

Fifty years ago. Hate to break it to you: If you can remember the Second Vatican Council, you old.

Or perhaps we should say, ‘mature.’ Because in fifty years, I think it’s fair to say, we have matured in two ways.

1) Fifty years on, we can understand that the Church of today, the Church of the new millennium, has not fundamentally changed from the Church of the two previous millennia.

Neither Pope St. John XXIII, nor any of the Council Fathers, saw themselves as founding a ‘new’ Church. At Vatican II, the same Church of our holy ancestors greeted the 20th century—greeted the ‘modern’ world. Holy Mother recognized the urgent need for us to share the Gospel of Christ faithfully in this age. So, at Vatican II, the Church strove to understand Herself in that light.

2) We have also matured in this way: We thoroughly recognize the teachings of the Council as the pure, rich, and beautiful gift that they are. We needed new guidance in order to stay true to the faith of the saints of old.

Even old-fashioned Catholics like myself take all the important teachings of Vatican II for granted: full participation in the liturgy by everyone; the apostolate of the laity; the importance of Scripture study; our shared baptism; our common humanity; the good that modern means of communication can do; the good that the modern dream of a unified world can do. Vatican II reminded us that we believe in a fruitful future just as much as we revere the holy Tradition.

Today we begin a Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Jubilee Year offers a path to the Garden of Eden, to the soul of our Lady. Holy Father has sketched out the path for us. (I think it’s a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit that the following could also serve as a basic summary of the teachings of Vatican II.)

Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Heal the sick. Visit the imprisoned. Bury the dead.

Counsel the doubtful. Instruct the ignorant. Comfort the sorrowful. Admonish sinners. Forgive those who have wronged you. Bear patiently with those who do you ill. Pray for the living and the dead.

Pope Francis enters St Peters through Holy Door

Better Future

Gandalf Frodo Moria

As the earth brings forth its plants and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:11)

Hard to imagine a more hopeful book than the prophecies of Isaiah. The most beautiful passages accompany us during Advent.

sistine isaiahThe Lord God can and will give us a good future, by His power, according to His wisdom. The future will be brighter, because the Almighty holds it in His hands. His promises, wonderful as they may be, will certainly be fulfilled. Justice will spring up. The earth herself will sing to God a canticle of praise. Creation will reflect and magnify the splendor of the majestic Creator.

When the grace of Christ fills our souls, three theological virtues operate, namely: _____, ______, and ________.

Third Sunday of Advent, we seem to be talking about things, as yet unseen, that will give us joy in the future. In other words, because we believe that God will make good on His promises, we live in ________.

For the past two years, we have from time to time recalled the fiftieth anniversary of the great gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church in the 20th century, namely… When we look back at the days of Vatican II, we might get filled with nostalgia, nostalgia for the optimism of those times. Back then, in the 1960’s, the future appeared to open up like a fabulous suitcase, full of style and new possibilities. Hope practically grew on trees then. A better future seemed to lunge into the room like an eager hippopotamus.

Fifty years later, the atmosphere of the world has certainly changed. The hopefulness of the Sixties has all but vanished. The age of international peace that everyone dreamed of has been disturbed by terrorism and widespread political instability. The economy can’t snap out of the doldrums. I think it’s fair to say that we live in cynical, dispirited times.

Vatican II stallsWill our children have a better life than we do? Most Americans think not. It’s one of Tim Allen’s jokes: looking forward to having just enough to live on, in a small apartment—that’s the ‘Canadian dream.’ The measure of our short-term hope these days. Our grandparents nurtured the ‘American dream.’ But not us.

What about a year of favor? What about a jubilee? When captives held unjustly get liberated, and broken hearts heal, and debts racked-up in desperation get wiped away? What about a day of vindication—a day when everyone who has suffered wrongly gets compensated and made whole? Can we hope for better times? Better jobs, better government, and better Redskins’ seasons?

Not to imply any nastiness toward anyone in particular, but: I think people have cast ballots for candidates who talk about better things. Saying that an era of political compromise will come doesn’t make it come. Saying that America has a great future doesn’t make America have a great future. Saying that races and cultures and people need to get along better doesn’t make them actually get along better.

What, then, do we hope for? Well, if I might put it like Gandalf put it to Frodo, when the little hobbit started to realize how hard it would be to get the ring to Mordor:

We are going to hope, by God’s grace, that we ourselves, when everything is said and done, will stand before God without shame, because we did our little part to try to build a better world. It’s not for us to choose the times we live in. It’s for us to choose good over evil, no matter what happens.

THE GREAT GATSBYAfter all, even though all long-term economic indicators for the middle-class suggest that we are living through one of the worst decades ever, and the movies they come out with these days seem more and more boring—even though these are pretty cruddy times, as times go—they don’t totally suck. Because we have each other. And we have opportunities every day to act with kindness and honesty and courage. Even though the world has grown cynical and dark, we can greet each single day for what it really is: an opportunity from Almighty God for us to practice the teachings of Christ.

Hoping for satisfaction and pleasure from what this world has to offer has always been a vain business, whether the times be good or bad. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s hero Jay Gatsby lived the high life, in a decade when money seemed to grow on trees. He had it all. But he did not have happiness. He longed in his heart for the kind of communion that this world cannot give.

So if the American Dream seems practically out of reach, we hope for a better future anyway. Because the work of God, and the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, comes down to little daily acts of honesty and kindness.

Little acts of Christian heroism plant hidden seeds. Here a seed of patience. Here a seed of chastity. Here a seed of self-sacrifice.

On a day that only God knows, all these seeds will bear fruit, glorious fruit. It won’t matter then what the Dow Jones industrial average is that day, or the gross domestic product, or the national debt, or even the air temperature. It won’t matter. Because God will be all in all.

answers: Faith HOPE Love

Updating Vatican II

My theme for a while is going to be: “Keeping the spirit of Vatican II alive by recognizing that the world is totally different now.”

It is only in the Christian message that modern man can find the answer to his questions and the energy for his commitment to human solidarity. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, paragraph 3)

These are the words of Blessed Pope Paul VI, from forty years ago. They are beautiful, and also painful to read.

PopePaulVIPope Paul had the idea that modern man was committed to human solidarity. And he had good reason to think so.

Yes, the 20th century saw the most brutal wars of all time, with more casualties than all the other centuries combined. But also, during the 20th century: mankind officially recognized that everyone has fundamental human rights; that racism is a bad thing, and colonial exploitation bad; that we as the human race should work together, for the common good of all, communicating with each other honestly and thoughtfully, giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

Above all: That we should care about each other’s welfare and have the courage to make sacrifices for the sake of my neighbor’s human rights.

“Modern man,” Pope Paul believed, had a commitment to this vision of the world, a vision that could hardly be expressed any more beautifully than Isaiah 29:17-24 (which we read today at Holy Mass). A human race that understands itself to be united and intimately concerned in the health and spiritual peace of all.

“Modern man,” however, has become a thing of the past. To understand Vatican II, fifty years later, we need to keep that in mind.

The idea of human solidarity, I think we can say, has faded from the public consciousness. The idea of the dignity of the human person has faded. These two go hand-in-hand, of course: We each have a unique dignity, and we all bear the burden of standing up for that dignity in every instance.

So I think we have to update and re-phrase what Blessed Pope Paul said. I think, in 2014, we have to put it like this: “It is only in the Christian message that post-modern man can find the idea of human dignity and the image of a united world, a world of human solidarity.”

Some of us can remember how the Church of the 1960’s and 70’s saw Herself as a partner with the better angels of our human nature, with a human spirit which was working for a better future for everyone.

But we need to recognize that now, a generation later, we have to propose Christ as the reason to believe that mankind can have a better future. Because post-modern man does not believe that. We have to propose Christ as the bond that can unite us as a human family. Because post-modern man has never experienced the desire to buy the whole world a Coke.

If you missed our first Evangelii-Nuntiandi study-session this past Sunday, here’s a highlight:

Even in the face of natural religious expressions most worthy of esteem, the Church finds support in the fact that the religion of Jesus, which she proclaims through evangelization, objectively places man in relation with the plan of God, with His living presence and with His action… [Evangelization] thus causes an encounter with the mystery of divine paternity that bends over towards humanity. In other words, our religion effectively establishes with God an authentic and living relationship which the other religions do not succeed in doing, even though they have, as it were, their arms stretched out towards heaven.

This is why the Church keeps her missionary spirit alive, and even wishes to intensify it in the moment of history in which we are living. She feels responsible before entire peoples. She has no rest so long as she has not done her best to proclaim the Good News of Jesus the Savior. She is always preparing new generations of apostles. Let us state this fact with joy at a time when there are not lacking those who think and even say that ardor and the apostolic spirit are exhausted, and that the time of the missions is now past…The missionary proclamation never ceases, and the Church will always be striving for the fulfillment of this proclamation. (EN 53)

…As you can gather, we started with Chapter 5. This Sunday afternoon, we will go back and cover chapters 2 and 3.

Things are Looking Bad and Good

The Gospel of Jesus Christ always comes as something fresh and new.

We can live as children of God! Our sins against our heavenly Father can be forgiven by Christ, and we can have a fresh start! We can learn to pray and live holy lives. We can hope for everything good, and the Lord will give us the strength to endure everything evil. In the great battle between death and love, love wins.

wineskinThe Good News comes fresh and invigorating in every age, in every time and place. It brings us together and makes us a family.

And with every day that passes, during which we strive by faith and love to follow Christ—with every day that passes in the life of a Christian and in the life of the Christian family, the Church—with every day that passes in which the Gospel lives in us—with every passing day, the fresh new wine in us matures and gains flavor.

We build up discipline. We develop good customs and good manners. We produce beautiful things that help lift our hearts up to God. And we pray, pray, pray more and more.

The maturation process of the wine involves purification. In our first fervor, we retain misconceptions that come from our unconverted minds. Not everything that we think is of God actually is. Not everything which we think is against God actually is. With every passing day, which we live in faith, the Lord helps us to pacify ourselves. We develop an outlook that grows simpler and simpler—because we see things more and more as the Lord Jesus Himself sees them.

His Heart holds the abyss of infinite love. And Christ had a Heart to hold the infinite divine love because our Lady, out of the perfect purity, the perfect faithfulness of her heart, said Yes to the angel.

st petersThe Yes of our Lady, the love of Jesus: these are real, and they can give our lives meaning now, as much as they ever could.

Yesterday the upcoming fall looked to me like one of the most painful falls the United States will ever have had. It still looks that way to me.

But I think I said last spring, during the papal interregnum, that this year looked to me like the second year of Vatican II, a year of indescribable hopefulness, when a new pope got the world’s bishops together again. He kept the Council going, trusting that the Church will always move forward, like our Lady saying Yes to the angel. Because Christ lives, and His Heart will always animate our hearts.

And this year still looks that way to me, too. The rest of 2013 looks awful and wonderful at the same time. Fifty years ago today, the new pope, Paul VI, knelt praying for the Council Fathers coming to Rome, and for the world. Today, the new pope, Francis, kneels praying for all the pilgrims of peace coming to Rome, and for the world.

The Gospel sounds out, as fresh and new as always. The Lord will make it mature in us, exactly as He would have it mature. What He asks of us is faith.

Wickedness vs. Patience

John XXIII Vatican IIWhat did the wicked tenants do? (Click the link to read the parable.)

They rebelled. The owner had planted and equipped an orderly vineyard, a beautiful farm where it was delightful to work. Justly, the owner expected to receive his produce from the land he himself had developed. He had provisioned his tenants, we can be sure, with more than enough to live on. When the owner sent his messengers, and then patiently even sent his son, he asked for no more than his rightful due.

But the grasping, impatient tenants rebelled. Blinded by selfishness, they could not see that they owed their entire livelihood to the good management and foresight of the owner. The tenants did not want to co-operate. They wanted to rule. But their blind lust for power gave them only chaos and death.

Now—if you are like me, you woke up this morning wanting news about:

1) when we would have a new pope and

2) when the federal-budget sequester would end.

I can make no comment whatsoever on the second subject. And I know I said a couple weeks ago that I thought we could look forward to having a new pope by Holy Week.

But, you know what? Maybe we won’t. Maybe the Cardinals will not decide things quickly. Maybe they will argue, and disagree with each other, and take a long time.

st-peters-sunriseLet’s remember what happened in the fall of 1962, over fifty years ago now. The Second Vatican Council convened for its first session. Over 2,400 bishops met together in St. Peter’s Basilica. They sang together and prayed together. It was beautiful. Then they proceeded to argue and disagree with each other for two months. They did not reach the required 2/3 majority on anything. Anything. The first session closed in early December with no official teachings whatsoever.

Pope John declared with glee: The Council will have to have a second session! Praised be God for allowing us to show the world that the shepherds of the God’s Church love each other–and God, and the truth–enough to argue about it ad nauseum. All will be well. Good things take time. As they say, Rome was not built in a day.

A young priest, at the Council as a theological advisor, agreed. Heading home for Christmas, and looking forward to more intense debate in 1963, the priest said:

The fact that no text has gained approval is evidence of the great, astonishing, genuinely positive, truly epoch-making result of the first session.

Continue reading “Wickedness vs. Patience”

Our Longing Lady

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council proposed for us the Catholic doctrine regarding the Church. Christ, the light of the nations, gathers His flock into a single People of God.

Vatican II bas reliefIf we want to understand this perfectly visible, and yet profoundly mysterious, Church of Christ, we must focus our gaze on one human individual. We must contemplate the…

pre-eminent and singular member of the Church…its excellent exemplar…whom the whole People of God honors with child-like love. (Lumen Gentium 53)

Namely: _________________________________

Continue reading “Our Longing Lady”