Racial Harmony in Christ

Virginia State Capitol

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for your will laugh. (Luke 6:25, 21)

God made one human race. We all descend from one original mother and father, Adam and Eve. Because our First Parents fell from grace, we inherit human flesh in a state of sin. So we find ourselves estranged from each other, broken down into clans and tribes and races. [Spanish]

God united us again by sending His Son, the new Adam. Christ can and does overcome all the divisions that separate one people and nation from another, by reminding us of the true unity of all mankind, which we find inside ourselves. He died to reconcile every human soul with our Creator. By His light, we can see other people for who they truly are—brothers and sisters, children of the one heavenly Father, with whom we share the destiny of eternal life.

During the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, other ideas wrought havoc with our sense of human fraternity. A lot of people lost sight of the unity of the human race. People here on this very land of Virginia trafficked in human slavery, justifying themselves with the idea that having white skin made you superior to dark-skinned people.

This way of thinking extended well into the last century. Governors, judges, even U.S. presidents, took it for granted. And now, suddenly we Virginians have to face again an excruciatingly ugly and painful aspect of this history. A phenomenon that plagued our state, and much of the country, for over a century. White men masquerading as black men, in order to mock and demean the entire race.

To Kill a Mockingbird Jem Scout DillNow, I for one am not exactly shocked, when it comes to the governor himself. After all, he had just gotten through defending the idea of snuffing out the life of a child at the point of birth. We already knew that the governor hardly has a “moral compass.”

But I want to explain what stuns and hurts me so much. I imagine that it has stunned and hurt a lot of us, especially those among us who remember the 1970’s, those of us who remember what the Civil Rights Movement accomplished.

Everyone read To Kill a Mockingbird? Do you remember the scene in the courthouse, when the children had snuck in, to watch the conclusion of the trial? Little Dill begins to realize that the judge and jury will not give Tom justice, simply because Tom is black.

Dill is just an eight-year-old boy. He doesn’t understand any of it well enough to express his insight in words. He just starts crying. The reality of racism confronts his idealistic and innocent mind for the first time. All he can do is cry.

In the 1970’s, thanks to the heroic courage of many people who gave their lives for it, we found ourselves there, as a country. We looked at the crushing racism that ran through our whole history. We looked at it pretty squarely and honestly. And we wept.

Not just blacks. Not just whites. We wept together. Dr. King had said what we needed to hear, in order for us to regret it all, together.

He was a churchman. He was a preacher. He shone the light of Christ’s truth. We have a common destiny, the one human family. Racial injustice harms the souls of the privileged while it crushes the un-privileged. We have to chase the dream together: sons and daughters of former slaves, and sons and daughters of former slave owners, sitting down together at the table of brotherhood.

So many things about blackface offend. But maybe one thing, above all: the smallness of it. The petty mockery, from behind a mask.

We can be bigger than that. We can communicate as equals, without pretenses. We can live together with true mutual respect.

But I think that we face truly grave danger right now. Without the grace of Jesus Christ, the human race stands united in only one thing. Sin.

We’re not born knowing how to communicate, and build trust, and expand our own souls by sharing the experiences of others. We have to learn how to do that—learn how to do it, from Jesus Christ. We need His grace, His peace, His strength. His love. He loved His enemies. He prayed for the cruel, Jew-hating Roman racists who crucified Him.

Without the love of Jesus Christ, this state, and probably this whole country, will only descend further into the chaos of mutual recrimination.

But He is with us. We can learn from Him. We can have a table of brotherhood. We do have one. We gather around it every time we celebrate Holy Mass.

The Virginia state house may be in a meltdown. The federal government may be in a meltdown. The holy Roman Catholic Church may be in a meltdown.

But we have hope. With Jesus, and with each other. The dream of a unified human race lives, right under the roof of every parish church.

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Josephine Bakhita’s Master

In his letter on Christian hope, Pope Benedict XVI undertook to explain something that we tend to take for granted. That is, how we came to have a concept of God that gives us hope.

St Josephine BakhitaThe pope illustrated his point with the life story of St. Josephine Bakhita of Sudan. She had become a slave at age nine. Her multiple masters beat her mercilessly. One branded her by cutting ownership symbols into her skin and filling the wounds with salt. Then Josephine got caught up in the Sudanese civil war.

As a girl, Josephine never heard anything about Jesus and the heavenly Father. Until she was thirteen or fourteen. But when she learned from some nuns about Christ, and His love—His love for the Father and for all the Father’s children—Josephine realized that this was the true God Whom she had always longed to know.

Pope Benedict put it like this:

Bakhita came to know a different kind of ‘master’—the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time, she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her. Now she heard there is a master above all masters, the Lord of all lords. And that Lord is good. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that He had created her, that He loved her… This master had Himself experienced being flogged and was now waiting for her at the Father’s right hand. Now she had hope.

Here’s how Josephine explained her awakening to God: “I am definitely loved, and no matter what happens to me, I am awaited by this Love. So my life is good.”

Josephine’s encounter with the nuns led to her liberation from slavery. She herself became a nun. She lived in Italy through World War II and died 72 years ago today.

Now, speaking of anniversaries: here in Virginia we commemorate the fourth centenary of African slavery in the Commonwealth. It began in 1619. It became one of the basic foundations of the state’s economy and culture.

I don’t think the meltdown at the Richmond state house is a tempest in a teapot. Speaking for myself, it has rocked my own sense of who we are in this state and how we can understand ourselves. We need to find a way to face reality that involves neither unsustainable self-righteousness nor a willingness to excuse the inexcusable.

Seems like the Lord is watching out for us. He has given us the anniversary of St. Josephine Bakhita’s holy death right when we need it. We can tackle the very long, and very difficult, sorting-out process with a sense of hope–by starting from St. Josephine’s love affair with Jesus Christ.

Dear Senator

Many of us Virginians took pride in our state hosting Tuesday evening’s debate.  And we take pride in you, dear Senator Kaine.

I’m a Jesuit-educated, social-justice Catholic, just like you.  Just like professor Stephen Schneck of the Catholic University of America, who wrote the following:

As a fellow Jesuit-educated, social justice Catholic, I was shocked by the performance of Senator Tim Kaine in the debate…Where was the imprint of his missionary work in Honduras? Where was the glow of Kaine’s purported inspiration from Pope Francis?…

At a minimum, I expected to see compassion… I wanted to hear his vision for raising up a renewed respect for human dignity in American public life. I yearned to hear him talk about how citizenship and public service must be oriented toward the common good, to talk in a positive way about how refugees and immigrants enrich the human condition, and about the values of family, the moral imperative of care for the earth, and the unceasing Gospel message to serve the poor.

Yes, politics is politics.  Yes, being pro-life means more than condemning partial-birth abortion, which is where Governor Pence left it. Yes, Donald Trump completely misstated the pro-life position in March.

It-Takes-a-Village-book-cover-by-Hillary-ClintonBut, Senator, how can you not see the total hypocrisy and emptiness of what you’re saying?

You asked, “Governor, why don’t you trust women to make this choice for themselves? We can encourage people to support life. Of course we can. But why don’t you trust women?”

Trust women?  Most abortionists are men.

How can any decent person trust anyone who would reach into a woman’s womb and kill a baby? That is what abortion is.  It’s not the mother choosing the best pre-K.  It’s the killing of a baby.

Trust women? Doesn’t every child have a mother and a father, grandparents, and maybe aunts and uncles and cousins–men, women, and children who make up the baby’s family? Aren’t we all in this together?  Doesn’t it take a village to raise a child? (Someone wrote a book with that title…) I thought your campaign was about being “stronger together,” about “empowering families and kids.” I thought being liberal meant caring about the little guy.

What kind of good liberal are you, Senator?

What Even Paul VI Couldn’t Prophesy

view from Blue Ridge Pkwy clothTuesday evening I was driving west at sunset, heading home after a Richmond meeting. The Blue Ridge came into view, and I thought to myself, “Sure do love Virginia!”

As any nine-year-old could tell you, the ensuing question is, “So do you want to marry it?”

Back in my early days in the seminary, the cool people regularly harped on how His Holiness, the late Pope Paul VI, correctly predicted what would happen in the latter part of the 20th century. He warned the world about the proliferation of artificial contraceptives, that it would lead to widespread abortion, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, increased objectification and disrespect of women.

Hearing this, my budding Thomistic mind said to itself, “These were not exactly ‘prophecies’ in the strict, supernatural sense of the term. But, indeed: Humanae Vitae has some remarkably prescient passages.”

Mark Herring

But even the great Pope could never have predicted this. Even he did not foresee that what would eventually land us in jail would be our refusal to allow two members of the same sex (!) to get married (!!!) in our churches. (Just a matter of time now till some of us go to jail over this.)

Humanae Vitae gave us what we needed to hear, in so many ways more than one. The whole business of how we come into the world makes such perfect and beautiful sense by the light of the encyclical’s teaching. Orwell’s 1984 has certainly arrived, when we read in all the papers about the “children” of two men or two women.

May it please the Lord to choose us to die in jail for the truth. The madness that artificial contraception has unleashed in the Western world can only last so long. Because masturbation–which all sex becomes, in the contraceptive culture–really is just pathetic. People who like to see the sun rise and breathe the crisp air don’t have time for it.

So the nonsense can’t last forever. But some of us are going to have to go to jail in the meantime, so let’s be ready.

39th Day of Easter:

Not a moment too soon to begin to plan your Corpus-Christi pilgrimage to Rocky Mount, Virginia.

MonstranceSunday, June 2

8:00am Holy Mass

9:00am – 3:00pm
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

3:00pm
Solemn Procession with Benediction

4:00pm Picnic!

All living, breathing human beings are invited!

Francis of Assisi
15 Glennwood Drive
Rocky Mount VA 24151

Cluster Sonnet + Poem Compendium

News from Brooklyn: Hoyas beat top-20 UCLA Bruins, advancing to the championship game of the non-tournament Legends Classic tournament. Which means we play currently-AP #1 Indiana Hoosiers tonight at 10:00 pm!

…Rooting through a few old things, I found a sonnet from last year’s parish-clustering negotiations. I think the loopy pastor may have written it:

How do I love the cluster? Let me count
the ways, like Will Shakespeare of old would do.
The first: a five-speed, four-wheel steed to mount
and burn the road between the parishes two.

The second? These two fine towns to explore:
Both Piedmont villes, of character diverse.
In one, lake and farm folk both shop the stores.
The other is the NASCAR hero’s nurse.

Throughout the rolling counties, I descry
fertile fields for the sewing of the seed,
and a band of eager discipulae,
attentive to our Church’s every need.

O Lord, how great You are in every act!
May we, like You, great many souls attract.

Which reminds me that a few ridiculous poems have appeared here. I herewith collect links for your possible amusement.

G’town Hoyas 08-09-season Sonnet

Woes, Rues, Lamentations

Summertime 42

Assumption Day on the beach

Jennifer Ehle’s Voice

Behind McAfee’s Knob (scroll down)*

Eggs

On the Silver Surf

For St. John Vianney

For Pope St. John Paul II

Dog Decembers (for a warm Christmas)

Three Silences (Holy Saturday)

___________________________
*I defy anyone to come up with a location on earth where a person can take in a more magnificent vista than can be taken in on McAfee Knob, in Roanoke County, Va. Perhaps other prospects equal it. Perhaps. P.S. FYI: More miles of the Appalachian Trail in the state of Virginia than in any other state! More than 500. No other state comes close.

If You’re In Irene’s Path…

…Come on out to southwest Virginny for the weekend!

They are calling for just a little rain out here, if that.

Everything costs less in Franklin and Henry counties–gas, hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts.

Hop in the car right now!

Can’t wait to see you.

Click HERE for Mass times in Franklin County, Va.

Click HERE for Mass times in Henry County, Va.

…Southwest Virginia residents: How about getting on the phone and inviting your Irene-endangered friends and family out for the weekend? Hurricane Irene slumber party! Can’t wait to see everyone at Mass!

Please Pray for Priests, Holy Father, and Me

On June 29, 1951, Joseph Ratzinger was ordained a priest.

George and Joseph Ratzinger ordination day
I had a chance to meet then-Cardinal Ratzinger in February of 2005, about ten weeks before he had to change his plans for retirement.

I was visiting Rome with a friend from Raleigh, N.C. In our brief conversation with him, Card. Ratzinger expressed interest in the region between North Carolina and Washington, D.C. He admitted to knowing little about the “upper South,” and wanted to learn.

Anyway…On June 29, we solemnize the memory of the twin patrons of the church of Rome, Saints Peter and Paul. This year, the Holy Father will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his ordination. He has asked the entire Catholic world to pray for vocations to the priesthood as a way of wishing him a happy anniversary.

It also happens that June 29 will be the day when your unworthy servant will begin my ministry as the pastor of both Franklin and Henry counties, Virginia.

My predecessor in Martinsville will be on the way to sunny Florida. My adventures up and down US 220 will begin.

Perhaps, then, dear ones, while you are praying for our Holy Father’s health, and for vocations to the priesthood throughout the world, you could also say a little prayer for this gangly numbskull.

…By the by, we have come around the three-year cycle to another “summer of Romans” (St. Paul’s letter, that is). This summer I intend to preach on Matthew 13 instead, but if you have any interest in the prattlings I made three summers ago, you can click HERE.

The Holy Nation

The Virginia State Capitol, near VCU

Moses asked the people of Israel a question: “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

When Moses asked this question, it was rhetorical. The Israelites knew the answer: “There is no such nation! The Lord has chosen us and made us a light to the Gentiles!”

Moses asked this rhetorical question some three and a half millennia ago. What would we say, if he posed the same question to us now?

What would we say if Moses asked us Catholics of Franklin County, Virginia, or the Catholics of whatever city or county: “What nation has so just a law as the Sacred Tradition entrusted to the Catholic Church?”

I guess we would say, “Well, we Catholics are proud, patriotic Americans. We thank God for the American rule of law, and we wouldn’t have things any other way.”

Fair answer. But: Is it enough for us Catholics just to blend in peacefully? Hasn’t the Lord given us something that no one else has–and aren’t we supposed to do something with it?

I don’t mean that we should be presumptuous. In many places, we are surrounded by good and gracious non-Catholic Christians who deserve our admiration. At Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount, we are no holier a motley crew of sinners than any other church community in these hills.

But, at the same time, we cannot deny our spiritual birthright. Our church is not one ‘denomination’ among many. Our parishes form tiny little branches of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, founded by Christ, governed by the successor of St. Peter, and endowed with a unique inheritance.

Our Catholic inheritance of spiritual, moral, intellectual, and artistic riches outstrips the patrimony of any other group of people on the face of the earth.

Franklin County has its proud heritage. Virginia has its proud heritage. Our Protestant brethren have their proud heritages. But: You could put Ben Franklin himself, with Jubal Early and Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Billy Graham—you could put them all together in the Virginia State House, or the front steps of Monticello, or in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, or in Westminster Abbey in London or Geneva or wherever—you could sit all those luminaries down in one grand room, and it would be a thoroughly impressive group.

But if St. Francis himself walked in, or St. Therese, or St. Thomas Aquinas, or Michelangelo, the whole group would be eclipsed. If St. Augustine walked in, or St. Paul, or St. Peter or John, or our Lady, all these luminaries would bow their heads in respect.

And then there is the Blessed Sacrament. Franklin County, Va., abounds with wonderful and beautiful things. But there is only one place between Roanoke and Martinsville where you can be in the same room as Jesus Christ Himself. There is only one tabernacle with a sanctuary lamp burning. Our non-Catholic neighbors, good as they are, would be better off if only they knew that Jesus is here with them in the Blessed Sacrament.

So…Are we Catholics humble sinners who presume to be no better than anyone else? Yes. But: If we take stock of all that the Lord has given to us, we have no choice but to shout out like the Israelites: “There is no nation on earth like ours!”

God is Great, Beer is

…good, people are crazy.

It turns out that the world-famous Martinsville Chair is too big even for me. (But I appreciate the gesture.)

…Will I root against the Hoyas tomorrow night, even though they face-off against the school which sits directly across the street from the cathedra of Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo?

No comment.

…Has someone ever rubbed you the wrong way?

Did you find yourself casting about for a fitting imprecation? At a loss for words?

I think I may have discovered the most eloquent string of insults ever spewed.

In William Shakespeare’s Richard III, the deposed queen Margaret excoriates the evil Duke who murdered her son with these words:

…stay, dog, for thou shalt hear me.
If heaven have any grievous plague in store
Exceeding those that I can wish upon thee,
O, let them keep it till thy sins be ripe,
And then hurl down their indignation
On thee, the troubler of the poor world’s peace!
The worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul!
Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou livest,
And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends!
No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
Unless it be whilst some tormenting dream
Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils!
Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!
Thou that wast seal’d in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell!
Thou slander of thy mother’s heavy womb!
Thou loathed issue of thy father’s loins!
Thou rag of honour! (Act I, scene 3)

N.B. Just providing this as a public service. Use with discretion.

Not convinced that this is the most blistering string of insults the language has ever produced? Please submit other nominations.