Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

On Our Side

Feast of the Holy Archangels (29 Sept)

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.

Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,

And do thou, o Prince of the Heavenly Host,

By the power of God cast into hell

Satan and all the evil spirits prowling about the world seeking the ruin of souls.


Holy Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel, pray for us.

Two Ways to Be Close to God

At my parish worker's Mass this morning, Msgr. Brennan, our pastor, had a very brief but worthwhile homily about today's readings (Tues after XXV Sun in Ord: Ez 6:7-8, 12b, 14-20; Ps 122; Lk 8:19-21).

He briefly noted that Ezra and the Jews were set free from Babylon by the Persian king in order to go rebuild the Temple of God. For them, this was the ultimate blessing because God's Temple was literally where He resided, where He was at home, where they could be close to Him.

In the New Covenant, because of the Eucharist, we have the presence of God, physically and really, in every Catholic parish in the world. If we cannot feel His presence out in the world, surely we will be aided by going into our neighborhood parish.

Luke recounts our Lord saying that they are close to Him who do His will. By moral conformity to God's will, by allowing Him to change our hearts to be like His, we can be close to Him at all times - so close as even to be kin, his brother or his mother.

Of course, in receiving holy communion we receive the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, into our bodies. If we do so in a state of grace, the grace (the shared life of Christ) we already have inside us will be multiplied in proportion to our willingness to follow him, our conformity to the moral law. We thus become living tabernacles, living temples of God, and then bring Him with us wherever we go, so far as we don't go far from Him.

A Patron for Crooks and Converts

St. Matthew, Apostle, Evangelist, and Martyr (21 Sept)

One wonders what Matthew was thinking about sitting at his tax collecting post (Mt 9:9-13). A Jew, he was alienated from other Jews by his collaboration with the Roman government in taxing his own people. He was worse than a traitor - he committed treason only for profit. Surely, his only friends would have been other outcasts: tax collectors of course, and other people who treated sacred things as chattel - perhaps prostitutes, loan sharks, and the sort.

Matthew must have been looking for a change. Life had to have more meaning than money, but what? When the man whom men were calling Messiah walked by, maybe Matthew's heart began to stir, or even to leap. When the Man called to him, "Follow me," he did. He simply got up and left everything behind: tax post, tax money, tax receipts - his whole life. The man who had traded his nation for a buck now traded his wealth for a man. Matthew must have recognized how much that Man called the Messiah cared for him, loved him. How could Matthew respond but to give his life to Him, to change from Matthew into St. Matthew? The amazing thing about St. Matthew's story is the immediacy with which he converted from a crook into a friend of the Christ.

Lord Jesus Christ, you know how our hearts ache for we-know-not-what. Show us more deeply how you are the answer to everything we have every dreamed. Convert us, Lord Jesus, as you converted St. Matthew.

St. Matthew, pray for us.

God Picks the Tune

In today's readings at Mass (Wed after XXIV Sun in Ord: 1 Tim 3:14-16; Ps 111; Lk 7:31-35) Jesus criticizes His audience (us!) for their (our!) fickleness and pride. They were agitated at John the Baptist's insistence on strict observation of the Law and incessant demands for rigorous prayer and fasting, to the point that they claimed he had been possessed. After all, what sort of lunatic lives on grasshoppers?! Jesus, on the other hand, they criticized as a drunkard and glutton, and a Law-breaker: turning water into wine to keep a party going, great dinners (at the house of traitors and among prostitutes, no less!), and allowing his disciples to break Sabbath regulations against working (he let them snack on ears of wheat that they picked as they walked amidst the fields). What kind of so-called messiah does such things!?

The Pharisees and the people were fickle because they couldn't decide what kind of messiah they wanted: a harsh one who insisted on the Law, or a gentle one who was more intent on mercy. They were prideful because they thought they got to decide what sort of messiah they should have. If the messiah was to be sent by God, then wasn't God better to decide what the messiah should be like?

We do the same thing. "My God doesn't discriminate against..." many a statement starts. Really? My God? In Make-Believe Land we might each get to make up our own god or goddess, to suit our own specifications, what we think good and bad. But in Reality (God being a real thing, like a house or a dog or a person or a tree - if He's just an opinion of mine, what's the point?) God is the way He is - what if He happens to discriminate against such people? What if He happens to care about such-and-such a thing, or not about that other thing? If God is real, wouldn't we be better off coming to know Him as He is, so that we can relate to Him in real terms?
Then we can decide, without pretense, whether we submit to Him or rebel against Him.
But this talk of "My God is like such-and-such..." is the most hypocritical farse - who are we to determine what God is like? Only the language makes such a lie imaginable. We haven't each got our own God, as the language implies. There is one God, and He is what He is. The question isn't "Does my god care what I do in my bedroom?" Rather, it is "Does the one God care about what I do in my bedroom?" And in light of the Christian revelation of God's immense love for us, the question becomes, "Does the one God care about me even when I am in my bedroom?" If we want to sin, we will be tempted to answer no - but doing so is a direct denial of Jesus Christ, who showed and taught us dramatically how much God cares about us always and everywhere.

Grace Squeezes Us Through

Trying to become holy is a bit like trying to fit through a hole, or into a space, that is not quite large enough. Not surprising that our Lord said it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man into paradise (Mt 19:24; Mk 10:25; Lk 18:25). All three synoptic Evangelists make a note of the saying in their respective gospels. They must all have thought it a very important thing to make note of. It was shocking to Jews of their day because they had fallen into the same trap into which we Americans have fallen: the worship of money, or really more accurately, the admiration of the rich. Wealth was a sign of God's blessing, so if even the rich would have a hard time getting into heaven, how could poor fishermen hope for as much!?

But our Lord turned it around by saying that especially the rich will have a hard time getting in. Whether the "Eye of the Needle" was a gate into Jerusalem, or a rock formation, or just a metaphor is immaterial. What is clear is that under normal conditions camels cannot fit through eyes of needles of whatever sort. The camel must be unloaded, kneel down, shrunk to a miniature size, squeezed through, or something - something that it cannot do without the help of its master.

That's how we are. Jesus always knows exactly what lesson we must learn to move a step closer to his Sacred Heart, to loving Him just for who He is, as He loves us just for who we are. He doesn't rush the lesson by giving us more than we can handle, but he does always pick the next smaller door for us to squeeze through. Squeezing through too-small spaces hurts a bit. We feel pressure and a push. We'll be tempted to asked, "Oh, where I am is just fine. Jesus, let me stay here with you," as Peter, James, and John requested atop Mt. Tabor when they were dazzled by the glory revealed to them (Mt 17:1; Mk 9:1; Lk 9:28). But because of the spiritual downward slope that original sin has put us on, we can never stay just where we are. We must be making headway or else be sliding away. Our gentle Lord knows this. So gently he pulls and pushes us forward, squeezing us through smaller and smaller doors, until at last our great swollen heads are reduced to the Manufacturer's initial specifications and we will fit into the place where he has assigned us, the place from which we will have the best view, the place at which we are closest to His Heart.

The good news is that all we have to do is let Him. We just say with the Blessed Virgin, "Be it done unto me according to your word," (Lk 1:38). Jesus has already done the really hard work, the total death to self on a Cross. All he asks of us is a little death to self here and there: forego this distorted pleasure while he heals our twisted desires, or perhaps love this little hard-to-love person while he stretches our hearts to make them more loving.

We have two options at each turn: tell Him to back off and get out of our lives, thence to the long, downward slope into oblivion; or else we can brace ourselves, let Him see the spots that need squeezing, and let Him go to work on us - occasionally asking for a little extra grace to ease the pain. Because of His great love for us, we can be sure that whatever awaits us on the other side of the door will be well worth the work.

Right now, God is squeezing me through the next door. Let's pray for each other.

Life High the Cross

Triumph of the Holy Cross (14 Sept)

It has been trendy in many quarters to downplay the difficult things that Christ taught, and that the Church has always taught: the unicity of the Christ's Church as the means of salvation, the need for regular confession and the duty to avoid sin, the nature of sin, the need to sacrifice. The tragedy is that the Church hasn't got anything else, really. People can go elsewhere to find easy comraderie. Any nightclub is more exciting. One doesn't have to go to Mass to get "coffee and doughnuts downstairs." Even eternal life (or at least a cheap substitutionary illusion) is available through forever-young magazines and facelifts.

A central project of the Enlightenment is to achieve communion without sacrifice, love without suffering. We have to shake that notion. We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived any longer: the Cross of Jesus Christ is the sole glory of the Church that provides the spiritual drive for everything else, starting with the Resurrection. If we hide the Cross for fear of repelling people, we will find that we have nothing left with which to draw them. Moreover, in recent years more and more leaders in the Church are awaking, as if from a pleasant dream, to find the reality that even those who have stayed in the Church through her watering-down of unpleasantries are not in fact much more than lukewarm in their Catholic Faith.

Our Lord himself said, "And I, when I be lifted up, will draw all men to myself." The Church is not an association of vaguely religious people. It is the Body of Christ extended through time and space, men and women gathered by Him to participate in His Cross and Resurrection, and called to extend that invitation until all be gathered in. Unveiling the Cross unleashes the power of Christ Resurrected. But we must pass through suffering and death to reach the Resurrection. The road to the Heavenly Jerusalem passes by way of Calvary, just as the road to the earthly Jerusalem does.

The difficult things of Christ (e.g., self-sacrifice, love of poverty, mortification of inordinate desires, spiritual homelessness on this earth, to name a few) must be preached and lived if we are to convert and inspire conversion.

Jesus, Help Me

I want a nice car with a bumper that isn't falling off.

I want a to live in a house with good insulation.

I want to know what the future holds for me.

All these things I want in spite of myself.

But the only thing I want to want
is Jesus.

Jesus, help me want you more and more.
I love you. I love you. Jesus, help me love you.