Making a Commitment

Ghent Altarpiece Adoration of the Lamb

In our second reading at Sunday Mass, we will hear St. Paul giving advice about how to choose between getting married and consecrating your life to God in virginity or celibacy. This is what we call “vocational discernment.” [Spanish.]

We all have the same ultimate vocation, namely to unite ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ in His paschal sacrifice, to become one with the Crucified. In this sense, we all have the vocation of monks, namely to prepare ourselves well for death.

That said, we each have our own particular, unique path to tread towards heaven. To follow it, we make decisions—big ones, that determine the whole course of our lives, and small ones. One thing we all know for sure is: We’ll never get to heaven if we don’t make a decision to dedicate ourselves to loving others, in some stable, committed form of life.

People have spoken for over thirty years now of a “vocations crisis” in the Church—the fact that in many parts of the world we don’t have enough priests, and the nuns are dying out. You don’t have to tell me about it. I will have my fifteenth anniversary of ordination this spring. For ten precious months, back in 2009-2010, I was the pastor of just one parish. Since then, I’ve always had two parishes to worry about.

Fra Angelico ordinationSo we need more priests, and we desperately need more nuns. But that’s not really the heart of the ‘vocations crisis.’ The more profound problem is the widespread hesitation young people have about making any kind of lifetime commitment at all.

Now, let’s not immediately condemn this as weakness or cowardice on the part of Generation Smartphone. The kind of commitment we’re talking about here, be it in marriage or consecrated life in the Church—these commitments involve what we call ‘institutions.’ And the wisdom of experience teaches us that human institutions all have problems.

The Church has infallible perfection–when it comes to Her faith and the grace that Christ delivers through Her sacraments. But as a human institution, governed by fallible men, the Church makes many painful mistakes.

And of course we know that there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage. Year after year can go by, and the same misunderstandings, the same fights, the same problems with the in-laws. We know from the statistics that the largest percentage of homicides involve domestic disputes. But it’s actually a miracle that the percentage isn’t higher.

So let’s sympathize a little with the fear of commitment that young people seem to have these days. But let’s also probe a little deeper into what “fear of commitment” really means. Where, after all, will I learn to love in the Heart of Christ, if I never make a commitment in marriage or the consecrated life?

It’s not about the human institution involved being perfect—we can’t reasonably expect anything in this pilgrim life on earth to be perfect. The duty we have as Christians is to love until it hurts anyway, like Jesus loved until it hurt. The imperfection of the human institutions doesn’t make that duty any less urgent—it makes it more urgent. Just because the priesthood, or consecrated life, or marriage all involve painful difficulties, confusion, and profound contradictions of how I thought my beautiful life would go—that doesn’t mean that any Christian can legitimately go running away from these institutions.

wedding ringsTo the contrary, it means that anyone who knows how seriously God takes my every decision; who knows that I’m here on earth for a reason, namely to love as Christ loved, unto death—anyone who knows these things can and must stride forward confidently and make a commitment that focuses me on loving and serving others, to the point where I can learn to forget about myself.

Now, can we succeed in marriage or the consecrated life on our own power? Of course not. We rely totally on God. And not only does He give us what it takes to stick to our commitments, He actually manages to turn the whole hum-drum business into a great daily adventure. The adventure of Christian love.

After all, the Crucified is the one, true, everlasting Bridegroom. As a pilgrim man, he took no woman for His wife—not because He hated women or marriage; He hardly hates the very means by which He brings us all into the world in the first place. No, He took no individual wife because the whole human race makes a part of His wedding banquet. His Bride is us: His people, His earth, His cosmos—all of it destined for nuptial communion.

We priests and deacons often have to urge potential brides, and even grooms, to remember: “It’s not all about the wedding day; it’s about the rest of your lives.” True enough. Except that it is all about the wedding day—the wedding day of the Lamb. The Day when death and sin will be no more, and we’ll never get tired and cranky, or misunderstand each other, or fight–and the dancing will go on forever.

Loving at Home or Abroad

They tried to prevent Him from leaving them. But He said to them, “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.” (Luke 4:43)

The kingdom of God demands universal charity. In other words, to enter it, we love all our neighbors. We will what is good for them. We concern ourselves with their well-being more than our own.

The people liked having the Lord Jesus around Capernaum. But the time came from Him to move on. He came to save not just that city, but every city, every town and village. So he had to make a like a rolling stone and shove off.

Christ in Capernaum
This left the Lord’s beloved Capernauians with two choices. They could let Him go, say goodbye for now, and persevere in their faith in Him while remaining at home. They would believe in Him and love Him even though they couldn’t see Him all the time anymore.

Or they could let go of everything they had and go with Him, making His love for others their love, too. He had no house to call his own, no particular hometown, so they wouldn’t either.

This choice the Christians of Capernaum faced has continued throughout the age of the Church. We enter the Kingdom of God either by making the Sacred Heart the king of my home, or by leaving everything and making the Sacred Heart my only home.

According to the first way, if the Sacred Heart is the king of my home, then my home actually belongs to everyone, and everyone under its roof deserves my love and kindness.

If, on the other hand, I leave my hometown, and my only home is in the Heart of Christ, then I let Him lead me to whomever He wants me to love.

Both ways lead to heaven. In heaven, there’s no difference between staying in Capernaum to believe in the one I met there, or leaving Capernaum to follow the Christ I believe in. In heaven, Christ is the king of every home, and the only home is Christ’s Heart.

While we still labor here on earth, the choice we make about staying or going might be the choice of a lifetime, in the case of young people. Or it might just be a choice I make today. Do I go on an adventure to serve Christ today? Or do I stay in familiar quarters and love the people close to me with the love of Christ?

May the Lord guide us all, and may our choices get us to heaven. Until we get there, please God, whether we stay home to love the Lord or go out to follow Him, we all have in common that we believe in Him and love Him, and by our love we build the Kingdom of God.

Christ’s Calling Location: the new Me

Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio

On Sunday we read about the Lord Jesus calling the first fishers of men—Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Today we read about Christ calling the Apostle Paul.

Something has changed between these two calling episodes. The Lord’s location has changed. When He called the first Apostles, Christ was still on earth. By the time He called St. Paul, the Lord had ascended to heaven.

Same act of calling, different location. The Lord will not stop summoning His champions, His co-workers, His friends—He will not stop calling until time ends.

St. Paul’s experience teaches us to stand ready for the invitation as it comes now, in the age of the Church.

Christ reigns above, invisible–for now–to our eyes. His Church on earth represents Him; Her works, Her teachings, and Her rules keep us close enough to Christ so that we can hear His voice. He speaks. Usually He speaks in such a way that only our quiet, deeply interior ears can hear.

He spoke to St. Paul in the very center of that pious, zealous Jew’s soul. The voice moved Saul to a new kind of religious obedience: the obedience of love.

God loves me. He loves me, myself, the person that I am—forgiving me all my evils. And He wills to use me as a means of communicating that love.

Yes. Of course I will co-operate. Yes, of course I will respond to love with love. What else could I do? The interior voice of Christ from heaven has awoken within me a me that I never even knew I had.

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.

Interesting Weekend

Ralph McInerny, 1929-2010

Ralph McInerny was a bright light.

He patiently shone the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas into the darkness of post-Vatican-II American Catholic life.

I had the privilege of taking Dr. McInerny to dinner when he visited Catholic University at my invitation in 2001.

His death is a great loss.  May he rest in peace.

…Federer won his Australian Open semifinal in straight sets. He did not face a single break point.

Can Andy Murray beat him in the Final–at 3:30 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow on ESPN2?

Does the full moon sometimes appear twice in a month? Yes, but…(Next blue moon: August 31, 2012.)

Speaking of Blue: Do I want the Hoyas to beat Duke real bad? Do I want it never to snow again in the history of the world?

Do bees buzz? Does Spock beam up?

…If you are young, and want to learn how to find God’s will for you, check out this website and this Facebook group.

N.T. Diasporabrief #2

Depart from me Lord

St. Peter is often depicted as a simple-minded man who acted out of pure emotion.

But the fisherman’s first statement to Christ reveals something else.

After the Lord Jesus brought in a miraculous catch of fish, St. Peter fell to his knees and cried, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

These are not the words of a shallow individual. Peter could have said, “Yippee! We are going to make a lot of money today. I like your style, teacher.”

asia minorInstead, he reacted to a miracle the way a pious, prayerful man would. He reacted like someone who knew his religion well, like someone who prayed regularly.

…It is not surprising, then, that St. Peter also wrote a Christian Diasporabrief, like St. James the Less.

Unlike St. James, St. Peter specified his audience somewhat, addressing the dispersed tribes in Asia Minor.

And, unlike St. James, St. Peter did not write from Jerusalem.

Instead, he wrote from “Babylon,” which is how the Apostle referred to Rome. Babylon, of course, was the site of the exile of the Jews in the sixth-century B.C. It was the perfect metaphor to use in a letter to exiles, written by an exile.

May all of us exiles find our way home to the heavenly Jerusalem when everything is said and done.

…Everyone is raving about this new priestly vocations video:

Forgive me for being a curmudgeon. This video doesn’t do much for me. The music is too melodramatic.

Thoughts on the video? Are the Redskins going to be any good this year?