On the Loss of Faith as a Cause of Our Current Crisis

In the Liturgy of the Hours this week, we read a remarkable attributed to St. Macarius, a bishop of the early Church. I marvel at its vivid imagery, and yet at the same time, questions arise in my mind as to the general application of the text. In effect, the text states that if the soul does not have Christ living within, it falls into utter disrepair and a contemptible state.

Allow me to have Bishop Macarius speak for himself, after which I would like to pose a few questions.

When a house has no master living in it, it becomes dark, vile and contemptible, choked with filth and disgusting refuse. So too is a soul which has lost its master, who once rejoiced there with his angels. This soul is darkened with sin, its desires are degraded, and it knows nothing but shame.

 Woe to the path that is not walked on, or along which the voices of men are not heard, for then it becomes the haunt of wild animals. Woe to the soul if the Lord does not walk within it to banish with his voice the spiritual beasts of sin. Woe to the house where no master dwells, to the field where no farmer works, to the pilotless ship, storm-tossed and sinking. Woe to the soul without Christ as its true pilot; drifting in the darkness, buffeted by the waves of passion, storm-tossed at the mercy of evil spirits, its end is destruction. Woe to the soul that does not have Christ to cultivate it with care to produce the good fruit of the Holy Spirit. Left to itself, it is choked with thorns and thistles; instead of fruit it produces only what is fit for burning. Woe to the soul that does not have Christ dwelling in it; deserted and foul with the filth of the passions, it becomes a haven for all the vices (St. Macarius, bishop, Hom. 28: pp. 34, 710-711).

This is a remarkably vivid, creative description of the soul without Christ, of one who has turned aside from the faith. To be sure, St. Macarius speaks in a general way. Each person’s personal journey will be affected by many factors: how absolute his rejection of the faith is, how influenced he is for better or worse by the people and culture around him, how operative he has allowed their natural virtues to be, and so forth. Hence, we ought not to simplify the lives of unbelievers. They come in many forms and degrees.

If we apply St. Macarius’ teaching to the sexual scandal currently rocking the Church worldwide, we can note that one of the causes rightly assigned to it is a loss of faith. How is it possible for a man who once consecrated himself to God and who daily celebrates the sacred mysteries of the sacraments to so violate the Sixth Commandment and his promise of celibacy? In many cases this is not a one-time fall in weakness but a repeated action. How can a cleric live such a double life? Somewhere this man has lost the faith, either substantially or totally. As his sinful notions harden and his rationalizations grow, surely his soul darkens. As Macarius notes, the Holy Spirit cannot bring forth fruits in a soul in which mortal sin goes on unconfessed, and woe to the soul no longer indwelled by Christ. The filth of sin and the darkness of denial grow ever worse. This is why we must pray for the conversion of sinners: O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, especially those in most need of thy mercy.

We see this also in the wider culture, where many live openly in sin and irregularity. Abortion, fornication, cohabitation, homosexual acts, rampant divorce, and (assisted) suicide once shocked us and brought shame and sorrow. Today they are called rights and are often celebrated; it is those who remained shocked and saddened who are excoriated.

This sea change also illustrates St. Macarius’ words, for we see how our culture suffers gravely from a lack of faith as it has “kicked God to the curb.” It is not an exaggeration to describe the Western world as a house that has no master living in it … increasingly dark, vile, and contemptible, choked with filth and disgusting refuse … darkened with sin, its desires are degraded, and it knows nothing but shame. Increasingly, this is our lot in the West.

The #MeToo movement and the current anger about sexual abuse by clergy demonstrate that we as a culture do occasionally awaken to the increasing toll of the sexual and cultural revolution; we do occasionally engage in some degree of self-correction. Too often, however, our outrage is both selective and short-lived. Sexual abusers of every sort are rightly denounced, but there is little evidence that we are willing to consider the overall “pornification” of our culture as another contributing factor. It seems unlikely that the current celebration of sexual misconduct, confusion, and immodesty in movies, music, and popular culture is going to be included in our national examination of conscience.

Thus, our overall culture remains in great disrepair. As St. Macarius describes, we are adrift like a pilotless ship, foul with the filth of the passions, and a haven for all the vices. It is clear that our jettisoning of the faith and of biblical norms is having increasingly devastating effects on every level. We have become more coarse, base, and disrespectful of one another; we are exploitative, wasteful, and often ungrateful for what we have; we are increasingly impatient, resentful, and sullen at even the slightest inconvenience or problem.

By abandoning the first three commandments that refer to our relationship with God, we undermine the seven commandments that regulate our relationship with one another as well. This is central to St. Macarius’ point. When a house [or culture] has no master living in it [because we have collectively shown God the door], it becomes dark, vile and contemptible, choked with filth and disgusting refuse.

Help us, Lord, to rediscover the beauty of your truth. We have suffered by pushing you to the margins. Though even in more religious times we were not free of sin, we have only made things worse by departing from you. Bring us back as a nation, O Lord! Help us to be more faithful and to enjoy more than ever before the beauty of your truth and order. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

St Charles Borromeo – A Model for Clergy in Troubled Times

St. Charles Borromeo, by Orazio Borgianni
Sunday was the feast day of my patron saint, Charles Borromeo. The times in which he lived were not so different from the current ones, and leadership like his is sorely needed today. Although I am not a bishop as he was, I am a pastor. I pray that in some small way I may be like him.

St. Charles Borromeo was born in 1538, a time when the Church was in the midst of perhaps her greatest crisis. Martin Luther had begun his revolt in 1522 with the publication of his 95 Theses. In the aftermath of the Protestant revolt, some 12 million Europeans (a very large number for those days) left the Church; more would follow in successive waves.

The medieval Church was breaking up and suffering schism. Indeed, the whole medieval synthesis of Christendom was in turmoil, hopelessly intertwined with politics and intrigue both within the Church and outside.

The clergy especially were in crisis and in tremendous need of reform. It was an era of absentee bishops and clergy. Wealthy European families collected parishes, monasteries, and other benefices more as a kind of stock portfolio than out of any spiritual love or interest. It was common that benefices were given to the sons in these families. Although ordained as priests, they seldom served as such, instead farming out the pastoral duties of their many parishes (and even dioceses) to other priests (often poorly trained ones). Knowledge of Latin, Scripture, and indeed the Lord Himself, was notably absent in many of these “clergy for hire.” Preaching was poor, the moral life of the clergy was degraded, and the faithful had little leadership. In this climate it is no wonder that Luther and other so-called reformers were so easily able to attract large numbers of the laity, who were not only poorly served but poorly catechized.

The Council of TrentRecognizing the criticality of the revolts (by Luther and others) and her own need for internal reform, the Church summoned the Council of Trent, which met sporadically between 1545 and 1563.

Into this period of crisis for both Europe and the Church, St. Charles Borromeo was born. He was the third of six children in a noble family in Milan. His parents were pious and well known for their care of the poor. Their sober and religious demeanor goes a long way toward explaining the piety and appetite for reform that St. Charles would later develop.

Reform starts at home. The wealthy and prominent Borromeo family was well woven into the difficulties and problems of the late medieval Church, owning many ecclesiastical benefices. At a very young age Charles Borromeo was given a large and wealthy Benedictine abbey by his uncle, Julius Caesar Borromeo. So, at the tender age of 12, Charles Borromeo found himself the abbot of a large monastery. His age and the fact that he was not even an ordained priest are representative of the serious abuses that were common at the time.

Despite these impediments, St. Charles showed an inclination toward reform. He specified that the income he received from the abbey should be only enough to support his education, with the sizeable remainder given to the poor. Further, he promoted reform at the monastery by insisting on a return to a purer monastic environment.

At the age of 16, he was sent to Pavia to study Canon Law. Although he found his studies difficult, he was noted for his piety, his refusal to indulge in the frivolities of university life, and his devotion to the rosary and private prayer. He even dismissed two of his tutors (both of them priests) because he considered them too secular, found them lax in saying their Office, and objected to the fact that they did not wear clerical attire.

Papal Secretary of State at the age of 22! Just after Charles completed his studies, Pope Pius IV was elected. The new pope was Charles’ uncle, and as a gift to his nephew, he summoned him to Rome to become his Secretary of State. So, at the age of 22, although only a sub-deacon not a priest, Charles Borromeo became the Secretary of State at the Vatican and personal assistant to the pope and was named a cardinal deacon. It is a bit ironic that all this was technically a result of nepotism because Charles would become one of the leading proponents of Church reform.

Perhaps his chief work (under the direction of Pope Pius IV) was to reconvene the Council of Trent, which had been suspended due to war. After many months of difficult negotiation and political intrigue, the Council reconvened in 1561. Charles Borromeo not only coordinated the activities of the Council sessions but also engaged in many delicate negotiations as the Pope’s personal representative. He had to work carefully to overcome the differences among certain delegates. The Council of Trent finally concluded in December of 1563, just prior to the death of Pope Pius IV.

The importance of the Council of Trent cannot be overstated. Its decrees rejuvenated the huge and complex medieval Church and would serve as a guiding light for the next four centuries. Then, as now, the decrees of a council are not always welcomed, understood, or well applied. The work of Charles Borromeo was just beginning.

St. Charles lost no time in applying the decrees of the Council wherever his authority extended.

The next step for Cardinal Borromeo was to have a catechism written and published. He appointed three Dominican theologians to work under his supervision and the Catechism of the Council of Trent was completed within a year. He then ordered it translated into the vernacular in order that it be taught to the faithful by all pastors. Charles also set to work founding seminaries and colleges for the clergy, who were woefully undertrained.

St. Charles was also involved in implementing liturgical norms and even took a hand at reforming the music, encouraging the development of sacred polyphony. It needed a guiding hand to ensure that it did not become too florid and that the sacred text did not become buried in musical flourish and performance. In this matter he worked closely with Palestrina.

Time to get personal – Having used his position of influence in Rome to help implement the Council, he now petitioned Pope Pius V that he might implement it in his own life, for although the Pope had named him Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, he had been an absentee bishop, remaining in Rome as papal Secretary of State. Such absenteeism was common at the time, as already noted. In fact, it was rare in the larger cosmopolitan dioceses that the bishop would be present at all. These larger dioceses were usually benefices for rich families whose sons merely collected the income and did not actually serve in any pastoral capacity. Dioceses were usually administered by underlings.

It does not take much to understand why abuses flourished under this system. With no actual resident bishop, no true shepherd in place, errors went unaddressed and corruption abounded.

After some months of negotiation with the new pope, Pius V (who was resistant to the idea), St. Charles was finally permitted to take up residence in his diocese of Milan. He went with great eagerness to implement the reforms of the Council of Trent. He called several local councils of the Church there and set up seminaries for the training of clergy. Charles insisted that priests be present in, and minister to, their own parishes. He also established the Confraternity for Christian Doctrine (CCD) for the training of children in the faith, enrolling some 40,000 children in the first few years. He set about visiting every parish in his archdiocese, even the small ones up in the remote alpine regions.

Not everyone appreciated the reforms Charles sought to institute. Some of the greatest resistance came from his own clergy and monks, one of whom pulled out a gun and shot him at Vespers (luckily, the bullet only grazed him)! Despite the resistance, St. Charles began many successful reforms in the Church at Milan. These reforms centered on the liturgy; the life, training, and discipline of the clergy; and the training of the laity in the ways of faith.

St. Charles Borromeo died at the age of 46, in the early hours of November 4, 1584. He had been on his way to visit a parish in the Alps and was stricken with a high fever. I have written more about him here: St Charles Borromeo.

As can be seen, St. Charles lived during difficult times for the Church. Millions had left and corruption abounded in what remained. Many people would have despaired in the face of so many deep problems. Indeed, many would have wondered how the Church could ever recover from such losses in numbers and regain her capacity to preach the Gospel and reach the faithful.

It goes without saying that the Church is crisis today. Millions have left the Church. Confusion among the faithful and the clergy abounds. Many of the faithful are poorly catechized. There have been grave moral, spiritual, and leadership issues among the clergy.

Yet as the example of St. Charles shows, reformers can and do make a lasting difference. Changes for the better may come slowly, but they eventually do come. Pray for zealous pastors and reformers like St. Charles Borromeo.

God still has His saints, His reformers, His St. Charles Borromeos. Many of them are already known to us and many more are yet to come. But come they will, for God will reform, establish, and cause to flourish the Church He so loves.

St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us.

A Warning from St. Gregory the Great for the Priest to Guard His Heart

102014For spiritual reading, I am currently reading The Book of the Pastoral Rule by St. Gregory the Great.   Pope Saint Gregory was a master at taking details from the Old Testament priesthood and applying them to the priests of the New Covenant. In one reflection, he remarks on the details of the breastplate of the high priest and what they signify.

In effect, Pope Gregory instructs the priest to guard his heart, keeping it safe from the poison of false doctrine and misplaced affections, wherein he fears man more than God and desires affection and approval more than speaking the truth.

And while his words apply especially to priests, surely they apply as well to any who would preach, teach, parent, or witness in the world today. I’d like to consider a few excerpts from his reflection on the breastplate that was worn by the high priest. As is often the case, I will present the original quote in bold black italics, and my own, inferior remarks in plain red text. The quotes come from the Pastoral Rule Part II article 2.

Thus, it was assigned by the divine Voice that on the breast of Aaron, the vestment of judgment should be closely bound by bands (Exodus 28:15, 28). This was so that the heart of the priest would not possess fluctuating thoughts, but be bound by reason alone. Nor should he consider indiscreet or unnecessary thoughts.

First note the use of the word “bands.” At the root of the meaning of the word “religion” is the same concept. The Latin root of the word religion speaks of being bound closely to or embraced by God (re = again + ligare = to bind). Thus the virtue of religion binds one’s heart, mind, and soul. One’s whole self is bound fast to God, held tightly by Him in an embrace of love and truth. Many people denigrate the word religion today as sounding too institutional. Many say they are “spiritual but not religious.”  But as can be seen from its root, religion is a beautiful word describing an embrace with God.

Therefore the bands of the high priest’s breastplate remind all of us of our need to be bound and held fast to God and by God. They remind us to not allow ourselves to waiver, wander, or be carried off from the love and truth of God. We are not to be enamored of the world or its lies; neither should we embrace or cling to them.

The bands of the breastplate of the high priest, drawn tightly and snugly, remind us to cling to God and be held closely by Him. And indeed, as Pope Gregory goes on to say, being thus held close to God and His truth, the priest will not easily fluctuate from the truth; he will not wander off in all sorts of different directions. Being held close by God, his own beating heart begins to synchronize with the heart of God. Cor ad cor loquitur (Heart speaks to heart). Gradually the priest’s heart will become much like the heart of God, loving the things of God and the people of God with proper and ordered affection, wanting only what God wants.

Further, being held fast by God will also preserve the priest from what Gregory calls indiscreet or unnecessary thoughts. Indiscreet matters are those matters into which we ought not delve or pry. All of us know that there are things we ought not seek to know, things that are none of our business. The priest should properly seek to know only those things he needs to know. He should also remember that there are many things he cannot fully know, many of the deep mysteries of God about which he must humbly admit he knows little.

As for unnecessary thoughts, this surely refers to the thousands of trifling things that often occupy many people throughout the day: discussions about sports, or Hollywood celebrities, or the minutia of popular culture. Some small diversions in life have their place, but most of these accumulate excessively in our mind. We think too much of frivolous things and not enough about eternal, glorious, edifying, and lasting things. Almost any silly thought can enter our mind and we are carried off in one of a thousand different directions. But to be held fast by God is to occupy our minds especially with His glorious truths, to begin to adopt His priorities, to think about the things that are most important, helpful, and edifying.

… It was strictly added that the names of the twelve patriarchs should also be depicted (Exodus 28:29).  For to carry always the inscribed fathers on the breast is to meditate on the life of the ancients without interruption … To consider unceasingly the footsteps of the Saints.

Yes, every priest, preacher, teacher, parent, and leader in the Church should be deeply rooted in the wisdom of the saints and in the ancient and lasting truth revealed by God in Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. To be a true Christian is to be deeply rooted in these things, always going back to that which is ancient and proposing it ever anew.  The truths of God are non nova sed nove (not new things, but understood newly).

 [The breastplate] is fittingly called a “vestment of judgment” because the spiritual director should always discern between good and evil … Concerning this it is written: “But you shall put on the breastplate of judgment, the doctrine and truth, which will be on Aaron’s breast … and [the priest shall] not add an element of human reasoning as he dispenses his judgments on behalf of God … Otherwise, personal affections might get in the way of zealous correction …

And here Pope Gregory warns against the human tendency to compromise the truth or to engage in rationalization. We can either add to the Word of God or subtract from it, but in so doing we render harm to the purity it should always have in our heart, in our mind, and on our lips.

Too easily, many priests, preachers, and teachers get carried away with trendy notions or theological speculations that can begin to substitute for the true word of God. Instead of preaching the Word directly from Sacred Scripture and from Sacred Tradition, too often he ends up preaching speculation or theories that serve more to raise doubts about or deflect from the true meaning of the Word of God.

St. Paul said to Timothy, Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching (2 Tim 4:2). He did not say preach lots of theories and speculations. Speculative theology has its place, but the priest must be careful not to be carried off by so much speculation that the actual Word of God is neglected. All of his judgments about what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil, should be deeply rooted in the wisdom and the truth of God and not be tainted by dubious opinions, trends, fashions, popular opinions, or unbalanced notions.

The priest must also be aware of personal affections and preferences. Too often in human affairs, who said something becomes more important than what he said. Affection and admiration have their place, but everything must be judged by and squared with the truth of God, no matter who says it. No one should be so quick to esteem the opinions of so-called experts without first considering how and if what was said squares with the revealed truth of Scripture and Sacred Tradition. St. Paul says, Test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:21-22).

If one fearfully considers the One who presides over all things then he will not direct his subjects without fear.

Here is a very deep human problem: fear. Too many priests, parents, teachers, and others in the Church fear human beings rather than God. God would have us simplify things in our life by fearing Him alone and then not having to fear thousands of others.

Yes, too many priests and other leaders cower before congregations and preach so vaguely and blandly that almost no one can remember what was said, and their obfuscations disguise the Word of God more than reveal it.

The first question every preacher and teacher should ask is “What would God think of what I have said today?” But too many of us who preach are more concerned with the opinions of men. The fear that a preacher should have is not whether his congregation is pleased, but rather whether God, who will judge him one day, is pleased. If he fears God, then he will direct his people with holy fear, not out of fear of man. He will have a proper and holy reverence for God, to whom we must one day be accountable for our office. May neither our silence nor our rash speech condemn us!

25 Years a Priest. And a Wondrous Answer to a Question Both Ancient and Modern.

062314Today is the Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist. And twenty-five years ago today, on a blazing hot summer morning in Washington D.C. at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, I was ordained a priest.

May I tell you a strange truth? I remember nothing of it. I  have seen footage of it, but have no personal memory of the event. I don’t know why my memory is dead in this matter. Perhaps it is the implausibility of the former agnostic in me saying that I would obey the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington and all his successors. Perhaps it is the hippie of a teenager who listened only to The Who and Arrowsmith accepting the laying on of hands as the Gregorian Veni Creator was sung. Perhaps it is the cynical, stubborn, stiff-necked college student with the brass forehead saying that he accepted the mysteries of the faith and would base his life on them.

But of course there have been more dramatic moments in history. Surely the strange event of John the Baptist pointing to Jesus, a full grown man, and calling him the “Lamb of God” must rank up there with the stranger moments in history.

Yes, even more, on this Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist we celebrate the birth of the final prophet of the Old Testament. He stood at the culmination of the Old Covenant and emphatically pointed to the new. He drew back the curtain on all that the ancient prophets longed to see. His birth is a great harbinger of a new epoch, the final age of Man. When he points to Christ and then steps back, we see the Old Covenant yield to the new. One era is ending; another is beginning. This birthday bespeaks a coming sea change: something is ending, but something greater is beginning. Types, symbols, and shadows are about to give way to the true reality they signified.

A great and dramatic moment in this “old giving way to the new” occurs when the two meet by the riverside. (It is true, they had already met in utero, as Mary and Elizabeth shared company. John prefigured this riverside meeting by dancing for joy in his mother’s womb at the nearness of Christ). But the drama of this moment at the riverside cannot be overstated, for John supplies a strange and wonderful answer to a question asked 2,000 years before. And the answer he supplies to this question signals that the new has arrived.

To understand the moment we must go back in time to approximately 1900 BC. The place is a hillside called Moriah where Jerusalem would later be built. Abraham has been commanded there by God and has been told to prepare to kill his son, Isaac, in sacrifice. The text says that, upon arriving at the foot of Moriah,

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”  “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb?” (Gen 22:6-8)

Do not miss the great foreshadowing here: a long-promised son, about to die, carrying wood upon his shoulders, ascending the very hillside where Jerusalem and Golgotha will one day be located. Yes this is a wondrous foreshadowing.

And then comes the great question to his father: “But where is the Lamb?” Yes indeed, where is the Lamb who will die so that I don’t have to? Where is the Lamb whose blood will save my life? Where is the Lamb?

Now you know the rest of that story: an angel stopped Abraham and then pointed to a ram with its horns caught in a thicket. And you may be excused for saying, “Aha, God did provide the lamb—end of story.” But truth be told, this ram, this lamb cannot really save Isaac “Because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:4). Isaac’s death is merely postponed and then it is off to Sheol with him where he will lie and wait for the True Lamb who alone can give eternal life.

And so that question got wafted up onto the breeze and echoed down through the centuries that followed: “But where is the Lamb … where is the Lamb?”

And now we are standing by the banks of the Jordan River 19 centuries later. John the Baptist sees a full grown man coming toward him and says a very strange thing: “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29). Yes, there is the  true Lamb who alone can take away our sins. John the Baptist supplies a strange and wonderful, though long-delayed, answer to a question Isaac asked 1,900 years before: “Where is the Lamb?”  “THERE is the Lamb!”

Happy birthday of John the Baptist. His birth is the culmination of an age, an era, a Covenant. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets. His birth signals an end and a beginning. The Book of Hebrews says, By calling this covenant “new,” [God] has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear (Hebrews 8:13). Hence John would later say, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must increase; I must decrease (John 3:29-30).

And happy anniversary for me, a strange stand-in for Jesus, but somehow chosen by Him and ordained by Him 25 years ago today.  I do not answer the question “Where is the Lamb?” but rather, “What is He doing here?” At the end of the day, the answer can only be rooted in the mercy of God, who takes away the sins of the world, and of Charles Pope of whom He says, “You’ll do, though it will take a lot of grace.” I know only this: I am unfit to untie His sandal.

May God be praised for the mystery of His plan and the surprise of how He fulfills ancient promises: even me Lord, a strange stand-in for the Lamb of God, but here I am. I’m not sure I signal the beginning or end of anything, just a continuation of the ministry of the Lamb of God, who answered an age-old question and fulfilled an ancient dispensation. And just like John, who pointed to Jesus, here I am doing the same. Thank you, Jesus. The bride is all yours; I am but a worthless groomsman. But do have pity on me and help me to rejoice with you in your bride.

Go to the 3 minute mark to begin the footage of my ordination.

Facets of a Faithful Father – A meditation on the role of a priest at the Feast of Corpus Christi.

062214Sunday’s Feast of Corpus Christi brought the first Masses of seven new priests ordained here in Washington. I was privileged to preach the first Mass of one of them: Fr. Aaron Qureshi. Since the readings suggest a kind of threefold office for the priest (related to teaching, governing, and sanctifying), I thought it might be good to present some of the notes from that homily on the blog today. Here then, from yesterday’s feast, are three facets of a faithful Father—of a faithful priest.

I. He Announces the Truth – Throughout the readings today we see Moses, St. Paul, and Jesus announcing fundamental truths for God’s people. Scripture says, For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts (Malachi 2:7). In today’s readings, four truths stand out that the priest should announce.

A. REMEMBER – Moses says to the people, Do not forget the Lord your God (Deut 8:14).  He also adds, Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert (Deut 8:2).  And hence, every priest must stand  before his people and say to them always (whether explicitly or implicitly), “Never forget the works of God. Do not forget what He has done for you.  Remember Him and what He has done for you!”

To remember means to have so present in my mind and heart what God has done for me, that I’m grateful and different.  Indeed, gratitude is a form of joy. And when we are grateful, an awful lot of poison goes out of our heart.  When you’re joyfully grateful, it’s pretty hard to despise your neighbor, or to be stingy and greedy, or to be vengeful and envious.  Yes, a lot of poison goes out of our system when we remember what the Lord has done for us; we are grateful, joyful, different.  At every Mass, the priest, as a Father, should remind his people never to forget the works of the Lord.

B. REJOICE – Here too, the readings today portray the priestly call for his people to rejoice in the Lord. And thus the Psalm says, Glorify the Lord O Jerusalem; praise your God oh Zion! (Psalm 147:12). And the beautiful Sequence Hymn says, Laud O Zion your salvation, Laud with hymns of exultation, Christ your king and Shepherd true.

And thus every priest, as a faithful Father, must summon his people to rejoice in the Lord. For the Lord only permits difficulty in order for some greater glory to be ushered in. Every priest  should say, as in the words of Scripture, “Do not be sad, do not weep, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” (Neh 8:10). Joy is the natural state of every Christian, and every faithful priest should summon his people to joy by being a man of joy, hope, and confidence himself.

Sadly, joy is not the first thing that many people see upon walking into a typical Catholic congregation. Too often the scene looks more like a funeral than the wedding that the Mass is supposed to be. While it is true that people express joy in different ways, joyous is not the first way most outsiders would describe a typical Catholic congregation. 

Every faithful priest, every Father should stand before his people and say “Rejoice,” not only with his words, but also by his demeanor, hope, and manifest confidence.

C. RE-CENTER – In the first reading, Moses says to his people, Not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3). Here too every priest, as a faithful Father, must exhort his people to center their lives on things that really matter. Too many of God’s people focus on lesser things such as sports and politics, or are overly concerned with money and how they stack up against other people, etc. But every faithful priest, every faithful Father must stand before his people and remind them, in the words of Isaiah,

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live (Isaiah 55:1-3).

Yes, Sunday after Sunday, the holy priest must remind the faithful of that which really matters and call them to focus their lives on heavenly and lasting things, rather than on earthly, passing things.

D. RECEIVE – Jesus warns in the Gospel today,  Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have a life in you (Jn 6:53). And thus every priest will celebrate the Eucharist for his people faithfully and will exhort them never to miss a Sunday.   His chief desire is to feed the people entrusted to his care and to warn them that if they neglect to feed on the Holy Eucharist of the Lord, they will have no life in them.

They will be like the children of Israel in the wilderness who would never have made it to the Promised Land if they had not faithfully eat the manna that God gave them to preserve them in the desert for over forty years. And neither will we make it to the heavenly Promised Land if we do not receive frequently our manna—the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Every priest, every faithful Father must stand before his people and say, “Come, eat His Body which was broken for you and His Blood which was shed for you. Every priest will seek the lost sheep to restore them to the nourishment they desperately need, and without which they will die.

II. He Admonishes the Timid and Temperamental – In today’s Gospel, as the Lord Jesus announced the essential truth of the Holy Eucharist, He encountered many who were quarrelsome and murmured against Him.

And how does He deal with them? Upon hearing their protests, He does not compromise; He does not water down His teaching. Rather, He intensifies His teaching and warns them clearly.

When He tells them that they must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, and they object, He warns them with the well-known Jewish expression: “Amen, amen I say to you!”  And then He goes on to say that unless (which is a very strong and exclusive word) “you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you will not have a life in you.” And He even intensifies His teaching by substituting an impolite word for eating: τρώγων (trogon), which means to gnaw on or devour.

So when it comes to an essential truth, Jesus does not water down or “cave.”  Rather, He solemnly reasserts the truth even more forcefully. He does this not to be argumentative, but because He loves them and does not want them to be lost forever.

And so too for the priest of God today. We live in quarrelsome times in which many murmur and protest: about the Eucharist to be sure, but also about many moral teachings. The priest of God, as a faithful Father for his people, must not water down the truth or compromise. Rather, he must speak the truth even more clearly. He must explain it with love in order to save his people from the error that can and will destroy them. Yes, like Jesus, every priest must speak the truth clearly and in love.

St. Paul admonished Timothy, Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but will surround themselves with teachers who will tickle their ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Tim 4:2-3).

All the more reason then that the priest of God must stand before his people, not counting the personal cost and the murmuring he may experience, and must speak the truth to them in love, the truth without which they will perish.

III. He Advances the Transformation of God’s People – It will be noted that in this brief passage the Lord Jesus presents the same truth four times:

i. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever;
ii. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life
iii. The one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
iv. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Obviously, since repetition is the mother of studies, Jesus wants us to lay hold of this truth: if we receive his Body and Blood and follow him in faith, we will have eternal life!

And yet many misunderstand the concept of “eternal.” The Greek word  αἰῶνα (aiona) refers not merely to the length of life, but also to its fullness. Therefore, in offering us eternal life, Jesus is not simply saying that we will live forever in the sense of a very long time. Rather, He is saying that we will become more and more fully alive with Him, even now, and that one day we will enter into the glory of Heaven forever where we will be so alive that our life here will seem to have been a mere coma. St. Ireneus says that the glory of God is the human person fully alive.

Therefore every priest must stand before his people and announce to them a fuller life, a richer life, a more wonderful life—and not in some distant Heaven, but even now!  And he cannot be content merely to point to the possibility of such a thing. Rather, he must stand before them as a living witness, as one who has committed himself to prayer, to the Sacraments, to the Word of God, and to walking in holy fellowship with the Church, and must show that he is, even now, experiencing a life richer and fuller by the grace of the Sacraments working in his life.  He is not merely to announce to his people the richer and fuller life, he is to stand before them as a witness of it.

Of this, I myself can testify. At age 53, my body is heading south, but my soul is more alive than ever before.  I am more joyful and more confident. I love God more. My prayer life is coming alive; my mind and heart are being renewed. I’ve seen sins put to death and new graces come alive.  

Yes, every priest must be able to stand before his people as a living witness of how the Lord can transform our lives and bring us into the fullness of eternal life, even now. In this way, he helps to advance his people in the transformation that is the normal, the expected life of God’s people.

Here then are some facets of a faithful Father, gleaned from yesterday’s reading on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.

A Brief Meditation on”Other Duties as Assigned.”

121813-PopeI think all of us who embark on a certain career path, or status or vocation have a certain file in our life called “other duties as assigned.” Priests, and especially pastors are no exception. Since most of us live on site, there are many custodial duties that often find their way into our “other duties as assigned” file.

Often for example since we do live on site, (I affectionately refer to it as “living above the store”) we are the failsafe when keys are forgotten and doors must be opened. So it’s 6:00 AM, and the youth group is off to an early morning bus trip. But three of the kids and two adults must get into the school to use the bathroom.  “Well just call Father, and have him come down and unlock the building!”  So that goes into the “other duties as assigned file” and is  subfiled under “keeper the keys,” “opener of the doors,” and “the failsafe.”

The Picture at the upper right is me in 2005 in the parish play, “Purlie Victorius” where I played the part of “Old Captain Cotchipee”  Filed under “other duties as assigned.”

This weekend, I realized how much I miss our maintenance man, who recently had a stroke. And though we have some part-time help, recent snows meant that the leaves went unraked out front.   So there I was, before the next snow comes raking the leaves cassock  and all. Neighbors walking by wistfully asked,  “Msgr., don’t you have anyone else to help you with that?” “Ah!,” said I, “A little exercise is good for the soul and the body!” And I filed it under “other duties as assigned.”

But perhaps one of the wildest examples of other duties as assigned happened this weekend also, in the middle of our main Mass. Just at the end of the homily, terrible sounds began coming out of the basement boiler room. I knew it once what was happening. The bearings on the flywheel of the blower have come loose recently, and parts for the old mechanism have been ordered. But meantime, the friction burns up the grease,and the screeching sound signals that the flange is eating itself up, send sparks out and all. Not good, I thought.

It may or may not surprise you to know that pastors, especially those with older churches are skilled  boiler mechanics! Usually it results from living above the store and being the one on-site when the boiler does bad stuff. For some reason, boilers like to act up at 2:00 AM in the morning. And so we learn a lot the hard way, on the phone to the HVAC people: “OK Father, it sounds like the pneumatic system, so reset the compressor and tell me if that helps….Alright Father, try bleeding down the boiler to blow the sludge…its the valve on the right….etc” Along the way, we just learn a lot by osmosis and probably know just enough to be dangerous.

So there I was, at mid Mass, and the prayers of the faithful have just concluded. The Church is already growing cold and the grinding sounds are worse.  A quick word to the nearest choir member: “Sing some extra verses!”  and off I dash down the back stairs to the basement, vestments and all, grabbing the grease gun from the tool room as I go!

The blower housing and coil are the size of a truck trailer and it took a moment for the vacuum seal to let loose. But then, in I went. Now that’s a sight! Inside the blower housing, greasing the flywheel and motor, in full vestments, which are swaying in the wind from the fan still slowly turning at the back of the unit.

Back out, seal the door, fire up the unit! She ought to be good now, at least for the next few hours, “Hang in there baby!” Up the steps, tripping as I go, into the sanctuary, the cross and candles are just now leading the bearers of bread and wine up the aisle. “Thank you Jesus!…right on time!” The MC whispered, “Msgr. we were worried, thought we’d lost you.” “No concerns,” I said, “Just, other duties as assigned.”

Ah yes, we all have them, those things never appeared in the job description and will never go on our resumé or curriculum vitae, but there they are, other duties as assigned.

The Lord says, He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much (Lk 16:11). Please Lord, keep faithful in the lesser things, the unexpected things, so that one day I may be found worthy of the greater things too.  Help me never to begrudge “other duties as assigned.”

Somehow I am mindful that the Lord also had “other duties as assigned.” One of the most touching and moving scenes in the Gospels is on a certain resurrection morning, at the lakeside in Galilee. Peter is eagerly swimming ashore to see the Risen Lord. And there is Jesus, the very Son of God and Lord of all, cooking breakfast for them (Jn 21:7). Yes, Jesus Christ, Eternal Son of the Father, Divine Logos, Universal King, Savior of the Nations, and breakfast chef….”Other duties as assigned.”

A Brief Explanation of the Nuptial Meaning of the Body.

120513Some of you know that I write the Question and Answer Column for Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly. I like doing that as it imposes a kind of disciplined writing on me, where I must answer questions very briefly, in about 400 words or less.

A question recently came in about a topic that I have not written much about here on the Blog. I’d like to reproduce the question and answer here in order to include the concept in my blog compendium and also to encourage you, if you do not read my column in the Sunday Visitor to know about it and read it.

Thus here is the question and answer which will appear in the paper in an even more abbreviated form:

Q: I have heard that women cannot be priests because Jesus chose only twelve men to be apostles. I understand this. The priest recently said that another reason is because of the “nuptial meaning” of the body. What does this mean?

A: To speak of the nuptial meaning of the body, means that the very design of our body orients us toward a marital (nuptial) relationship. The man is obviously meant for the woman, and the woman for the man. And in this complementary relationship that we call marriage, there is the fruitfulness of children.

In effect, our body says to us, “You were made for another who will complement and complete you, and make your love fruitful.”

Now this image of marriage, is also an image for the spiritual life wherein God speaks of his relationship to his people in marital, that is “nuptial” imagery. In the Old Testament Israel was frequently described as God’s bride, and his relationship to her is marital. In the New Testament, Jesus is the Groom and his Church, is his bride. The Church, with all her members, is called to relate to the Lord, to be completed by Him and complemented by him; such that relationship of love bears fruit.

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, therefore, is also a sacrament and sign of God’s relationship to His people; He the Groom, we the bride.

Even celibate men and women, priests and religious, manifest by their lives the nuptial meaning of the human person in relation to God. As a priest, I am not a bachelor, I am not single. I have a bride, and she is the Church. Religious Sisters also manifest a marital relationship, where Jesus is the groom and they manifest a relationship to him as spouse, as bride.

To speak, therefore, of the “nuptial meaning” of the body, is to insist that our sexual distinctions of male and female are not merely arbitrary physical aspects. Rather, they bespeak deeper, spiritual realities, that we must learn to appreciate, and respect. Men and women are different, and manifest different aspects of God’s relationship to these people. Women, manifest the glory of the Church Bride. Men manifest the glory of Christ as Groom.

In terms of the priesthood, this is important because Christ, in his humanity, is not simply male, he is Groom. And the Sacred Liturgy of the Church is not just a celebration, it is a wedding feast: Christ the Groom, intimately with his Bride the Church.

Thus, your pastor is invoking a rich theological teaching, which helps to explain one reason why Christ chose only men for the priesthood.

We do well to recover this understanding of the nuptial meaning of the body, especially in times like these where the meaning of the body, of sexuality, and marriage are so deeply confused.

Here is the great Wedding Song of Advent:

Here is footage of my parents Nuptial Mass in 1959. They were 46 years married. My mother died in 2005, and my Father died in 2007. My they rest in peace!

Seeing an image of the Priesthood in Wego the Bud Light Dog

"Priesterweihe in Schwyz 2" by Matthias Ulrich.  Licensed under  CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons
“Priesterweihe in Schwyz 2” by Matthias Ulrich. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons

I spent the evening blessing animals on this, the Feast of St. Francis. There were a number of cats, for which I have an affinity, being a cat owner. But most were dogs. And dogs are magnificent animals, full of zest and loyal to a fault.

I figured I had to blog on dogs this eve of the St. Francis feast. Fridays are usually also when I blog on a video or commercial of some sort. And thus tonight’s offering.

Somehow I thought of being a priest when I saw the commercial below.

In this commercial there is a little dog named “Wego” who, when his name is called, runs and fetches a spirited drink (aka Bud Light) for those who call his name. Yes, you might see Wego as a kind of “Domini canis” (a dog of the Lord), who fetches something of the “spirit” for those who ask. While some say this Latin expression is where Dominicans get their name, that is not so, they are named after St. Dominic. Yet many priests, Dominican and other, proudly wear the title Domini canis as well!

Yes, I’d just like to say that “Wego” represents every priest who is called to be a Domini canis (a dog of the Lord).

Now Wego is also called a “rescue dog” which is another good title for a priest. For, rescuing souls from darkness and drawing them to the life of the Spirit, by God’s grace, is surely a central role of the priest. And we should be willing to work like dogs to do it.

In fact, I have it on the best of authority (my own imagination) that the dog’s name WEGO is short for Willing Energetic God Offerer. Which is also what every priest should be.

Now Wego the Dog brings a “spiritual” beverage to to each person in need. I pray you will allow for the humor of considering beer a symbol of thing spiritual. I beg your patience on two counts.

  1. First Scripture also plays on “spirited” drinks and the Holy Spirit. For when the Holy Spirit descended on them in the upper room and the crowds marveled at their joy we read: Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine” (Acts 2:13). Yes, some in the crowd confused the effects of the Holy Spirit with an ordinary spirited drink! But joy is hard to hide. They are indeed filled with the Holy Spirit.
  2. In second defense I offer the oft disputed quote of Ben Franklin who (may have) said, Beer is a sign that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Whoever said it, I largely believe it’s true, if the beer is consumed in moderation. 🙂

With these two witnesses in my favor please allow the spirited beverage (aka the Beer) to represent the Holy Spirit and things spiritual.

And one final thing to note about Wego the “dog of the Lord” is that he adapts himself to the needs of each person or group. As St. Paul says,

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Cor 9:19-23)

Thus note how Wego the dog assesses each situation differently and responds. But note too, he always brings the same spirited beverage. Thus, though his approach is different, the “truth” of what he offers remains unchanged. Many priests have to do this as well, adapting themselves to many different situations while never compromising the Gospel, the Word of God or the teachings of the Church.

In this short video you’ll see a number of aspects of priestly ministry that Wego exhibits analogously:

  1. There is Men’s Ministry
  2. There is Women’s Ministry
  3. There are pre-Cana instructions
  4. There is a baptism
  5. There is Theology on Tap

See if you can find them all in the video. At the end is a call to prayer, for rescue dogs. But perhaps you might also see Wego asking you to pray for priests, the rescue dogs in your own life.

Wego, Dog of the Lord!