Archive for the ‘Christian Perfection’ Category

“Lord, Make Them Change!”

October 27, 2017

I recently noticed a pattern with Jesus Christ in the Gospels:

Martha once complained to him, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Jesus refused to dismiss Mary from his presence but instead urged Martha not to be anxious and pointed her to the superiority of holy intimacy over hard labors.

A man in a crowd once said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Jesus declined to declare a verdict in the matter but warned, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.

A pagan mother once begged Jesus to free her demon-tormented daughter. Christ’s annoyed followers said, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” Instead, Jesus engaged her in a challenging repartee, granted her wish, and showed his disciples that his mission extended beyond just the Jews.

On Palm Sunday, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, his disciples loudly acclaimed him. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd demanded, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” But Christ replied, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out,” insisting that his critics’ recognize his supreme worthiness.

And so it seems, where we have been asking Jesus to change another person in our world, we would do well to consider what our Lord may be wishing to see changed in ourselves.

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Defending our Vineyard from our Enemy’s Servants

October 12, 2017

Today’s parable has a straight-forward interpretation: God is the landowner. He establishes his people Israel like a man who sets up a vineyard. God entrusted the care of his vineyard to the chief priests and elders of the people. They are the tenants. Then God sent his servants – the prophets – to obtain the good harvest. But the Jewish leaders resisted and persecuted the prophets; sometimes beating them, sometimes killing them, sometimes stoning them. Finally, God, in the crazy twist to our story, sends his own Son to them. The chief priests and the elders will go on to seize Jesus, condemn him, and see to it that he is taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and killed on a cross. “Therefore,” Jesus says to them, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” The authority of the Jewish leaders will be handed over to the Apostles and priests of Jesus’ New Covenant Church; a Church that will baptize and embrace Jews and Gentiles alike, forming a new people in Christ who will produce much fruit.

That is the straight-forward meaning of Jesus’ tale, but I would like to turn your attention back to those wicked tenants in the parable, because they, in a certain way, can serve as an example for us. Now I would not dare to suggest such a thing – I would fear it being scandalous to use the wicked as a Christian example – if Jesus himself had not once used a dishonest steward as someone we could learn from.

As you may recall, the dishonest steward, knowing that he would soon be losing his job, wrote off the debts of his boss’ debtors so that, once he got fired, these new friends of his would welcome him into their homes. Jesus used the shrewdness of this bad man as an example to teach his disciples to ‘make friends for yourselves with the wealth of this world, so that, when these passing things fail one day, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’ Likewise, I believe we have something valuable to learn from the shrewdness of the vineyard’s wicked tenants in today’s parable.

What if, when the servants of the landowner had arrived at the vineyard, the tenants did not promptly beat them, kill them, or stone them? Imagine if the tenants, instead of turning them out, welcomed the servants’ arrival; giving them food to eat and somewhere to stay on the grounds. Now the wicked tenants’ prior plans to never deliver any of the harvest to the landowner would still be in place, but can you imagine what might happen to their resolve over time?

The good servants staying with the tenants would keep speaking with them so kindly and pleasantly and persuasively, encouraging them to do the right thing. The good servants would encourage the tenants to imagine their possible reward: “If you do what is just, our good master will be even more generous with you! If you will not give him the total amount, could you perhaps give him the least little bit? Surely that wouldn’t hurt and it wouldn’t cost you very much.” If allowed to stay, the servants may well convince the tenants to give up some or all of what they have. However, if the tenants wish to remain faithful to their original intentions, then when their enemy’s servants arrive they should be neither fed nor lodged, conversed with nor welcomed in any friendly manner, lest their persuasion change minds and hearts and plans.

There is a spiritual battle in our midst. You can hear about it on the news and see it in the headlines, hidden behind every divisive controversy and murderous atrocity. (For instance, if no demons played a role in the rise of ISIS, then the demons are not doing anything in our world these days.) But the spiritual battle in our midst is not only fought out there; it is fought within us.

How do temptations come into our minds? From our senses, what we see and hear; from our invisible spiritual enemies, the demons; from our own human brokenness; or any combination of these. However our temptations come, in whatever form they take, our response to them should be as unfriendly at their arrival as those wicked tenants were at the arrival of the landlord’s servants.

Do not welcome temptation when it arrives. Do not feed it. Do not give it a place to dwell and lodge within you. Do not converse with it. Do not fantasize at its suggestions. Do not compromise with it, not even a little. Do not allow it to change your mind, your heart, your plans. Do not befriend temptation, but violently turn it out as a servant of your enemy.

Now temptations may come in our direction even against will – sensations, sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, memories – these can seem to pop up out of nowhere. Remember that an unwilled temptation, in and of itself, is not a sin. A saint is not someone who never experiences temptation. A saint is someone who chooses what is right and good and loving even amid temptation.

What should you do when temptation comes? First, pray. Pray now, and then again when temptation arrives. Prayer opens the door to Christ and lets him take the lead in our daily lives because he respects our freewill. Pray every day and call on the Lord in times of temptation. He is stronger than all the demons put together and mightier than your weaknesses.

A second helpful thing to do regarding temptation is to change your environment. Sometimes people in confession lament to me about always confessing the same sins. I try to encourage them by pointing out, “Well, thank goodness it’s not something totally different every time: ‘Father, last month I committed arson and this week I robbed a bank! I have no clue what I might do next!‘” Human beings, for better or worse, are creatures of habit, so we can learn a lot from our repeated failures. By changing your environment can do much to avoid temptation. For example, if you’re always gossiping with the same gathering of people, then perhaps avoid that group. If you are always unchaste using the same media, then block, limit, or cut out that technology. If you always get drunk at the same establishment, then stop going there. When you have traveled the same road many times you know well where that road leads. When you find yourself walking on that road, then stop and turn around or take another path. Changing your environment can lead you away from near occasions of sin.

A third and final thing to do amid temptation is to change your focus. The human mind is made to process ideas, to chew on thoughts; we cannot think about nothing. (If I were to tell you not to think about flying alligators, I bet you couldn’t do it for sixty seconds—you’d either be thinking about flying alligators or checking to see whether you’re thinking about them.) What should you think about instead when tempted? Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, praiseworthy, think about those things, and you will persevere in doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in Jesus Christ.

Some people only think of temptation as enticements to pleasurable things. But temptation can also be towards unpleasant things, like shame, despair, fear, and anxiety. The devil not only wants you to fall, but to stay down and not get back up. And if he cannot make you fall into sin, he wants you to be neutralized and paralyzed by fear and confusion. What is the antidote for such negative temptations? St. Paul offers this prescription for anxiety: “Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Let’s break that down.

Have no anxiety at all.” Concern is of good use. If you were not concerned about going to church you wouldn’t come. I were not concerned about my homily then I would have nothing to say. Concern is useful, but worry is worthless. Have no anxiety at all, “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” In everything, whether you are anxious or not, make your requests known to God; not because he doesn’t know, but because it opens you up to him and invites him to work. Pray prayers of praise for who he is, voice your petitions for what you need or want, and do so with thanksgiving – without which you feel impoverished and embittered despite your innumerable blessings. ‘Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding

will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.’ We do not have the big picture, long-term perspective of God to see how God will work all things for the good of those who love him, but by prayer comes a peace that surpasses our limited understanding. This peace will guard your mind and heart in Jesus Christ amid temptation.

God entrusted the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve to tend and to protect. By the devil’s temptation, they lost their great treasure. Among the many treasures Jesus has given, he has entrusted to you the vineyard of your mind. Tend it and protect it. Do not fall to temptations but drive them out as your enemy’s servants. May your vineyard remain at peace and bear much fruit in Jesus Christ.

An American Martyr

September 13, 2017

Saturday, September 23rd, a U.S. priest-martyr will be beatified in Oklahoma City, OK, the first so honored by the Church in our country. Fr. Stanley Rother was born in 1935 and grew up on an Oklahoma farm. He served in several Oklahoma parishes after his 1963 priestly ordination before volunteering for mission service in Guatemala in June of 1968. While there he helped build a small hospital, a school, and a Catholic radio station. He also translated the New Testament into Tz’utujil, a local language of that region.

Political turmoil and violence escalated Guatemala during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The government aimed to suppress Marxist revolution by targeting rebels and hundreds of their alleged sympathizers for death. In early 1981, Fr. Rother learned that his name was on a death list. It was determined that he should leave Guatemala and he reluctantly returned to Oklahoma in January 1981. However, he soon asked his archbishop for permission to go back: “My people need me. I can’t stay away from them any longer.” Fr. Rother’s brother Tom questioned him, “Why do you want to go back? They’re waiting on you and they’re gonna kill you.” He replied: “Well, a shepherd cannot run from his flock.” The pastor returned to his people that April.

On July 28, 1981, just after midnight, Fr. Rother was shot and killed in his rectory. His remains were flown back to Oklahoma and buried in his hometown. At the request of his Guatemalan parishioners, his heart was removed and buried under the altar of the church where he had served. He was one of ten Catholic priests murdered in Guatemala that year.

Last December, Pope Francis issued a decree affirming that Fr. Stanley Rother was indeed martyred in odium fidei (“in hatred of the faith,”) permitting him to be beatified without the usual confirming miracle. As St. Augustine once preached, “At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.” Let us ask the prayers of this new American blessed that we may be courageously faithful and loving like himself in Christ.

Satanic Bicycling, Pagan Meats, and Yoga

August 10, 2017

Imagine if Satanists began ritually riding bicycles while chanting out to spirits other than God. (For them, this might symbolize rebellion against the three axles of the Godhead over whom they blasphemously enthrone themselves; stomping Christ underfoot while profaning the Trinity through the streets — or something like that.) Though silly to conceive, if Satanists actually began to do this, how would bicycling be affected?

First it should be noted that traditional cycling would remain what it is; its goodness as a healthy exercise and leisure activity would be unaffected. However, biking combined with false worship (whether done sincerely or ironically) would be harmful. If one of these satanic bicycling groups existed in our town, I would not ride with them. A Christian who silently biked along with the Satanists (to simply enjoy the ride) could be affected by the malevolent spirits invoked or cause scandal for others. I could still bike alone or with my friends, but we certainly would not voice unchristian chants while doing so. If I had formerly parked my bike by the church or rectory, I might begin placing it in a more private place, lest people be misled by misinterpreting my innocent behavior. This scenario is simply a thought experiment, but real Christians faced a comparable situation in the first century AD.

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, meats sold in marketplaces or served at restaurants had commonly been sacrificed to pagan gods. This gave rise to a debate within the church at Corinth, Greece about whether Christians could blamelessly eat such food or if this should be forbidden as second-hand idolatry.

St. Paul addressed this question in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, first observing “there is no God but one… even though there are so-called gods” worshiped by the pagans. St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warned that “what [the pagans] sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons.” Christians were never to offer pagan worship, but this did not mean pagan meat itself could not be eaten by well-formed Christians: “Eat anything sold in the market, without raising questions on grounds of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’” But at the same time, a meat-eating Christian was to be careful not to cause scandal to others, leading them into actual idolatry. St. Paul wrote, “Make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. … If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you, without raising questions on grounds of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This was offered in sacrifice,’ do not eat it on account of the one who called attention to it and on account of conscience; I mean not your own conscience, but the other’s.” That is how early Christianity handled the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. Today, we have a similar issue of live and local concern (which brings us to the ultimate purpose of this article.)

In our beginning, God created the human body, endowing it with sensation, flexibility, and strength. He designed every natural posture and movement and gave breathing and exercising their healthy and pleasurable effects. A long, long time after that, some of these bodily positions and exercises were appropriated by Hindus in India for the worship of their (so-called) gods and goddesses. In our time, this aspect of Eastern religion has entered into our culture as yoga. So, is it OK for Christians to practice yoga?

As with bike riding and meat eating, the unchristian use of good things does not taint them for everyone else forever after. Breathing and stretching are good gifts from God and, for some, yoga is simply exercise. Yet spiritual danger exists wherever and whenever these exercises are being joined to false spirituality or idolatrous worship.

I myself have participated in secular yoga workouts in the past. My exercise instructor was a faithful Christian and I enjoyed them. However, together with Catholic exorcists, I would never recommend attending a yoga group with non-Christian spirituality because of the real potential for spiritual harm and scandal. If a yoga class, for instance, chants mantras (like “om,” or the names of Hindu gods); envisions becoming one with the cosmos, Brahman, or the Earth Mother; channels energies; or has participants breathe in the pulsating universe while exhaling all bad and evil from within, then that yoga class is certainly of the second sort and to be avoided. If my instructor or peers were using yoga in a non-Christian spiritual way, I would avoid that gathering for the same reasons that I would not attend a pagan sacrifice or bike with Satanists: the prospect of causing scandal and the danger from evil spirits.

St. Paul once said we are to “retain what is good” but “refrain from every kind of evil.” That timeless wisdom applies to us in all things; to bicycling, to eating meat, and also to doing yoga.

Transfiguring Our Perception of Others

August 6, 2017

Today, Jesus hikes with his three closest apostles, Peter, James, and John, to the top of Mount Tabor in Israel. And there, Jesus is transfigured before them. His face shines and his clothes become intensely white. Then they hear God the Father speaking from a bright cloud that envelops them, declaring: “This is my beloved Son.”

In the Incarnation, some two thousand and seventeen years ago, the Eternal Word became Flesh, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity became Man, and the divinity of the Son of God became veiled within a human nature. It has long been my sense that Jesus is not changed or transformed at the Transfiguration so much as his apostles are allowed to glimpse him more deeply as he really, truly is: God from God, Light from Light. This light shines from his face as radiantly as the sun and from his body such that the fabric of his clothing is brightly illuminated like a thin lampshade.

When the disciples become frightened after hearing the Father’s voice and fall prostrate on the ground, burying their faces, Jesus comes over and touches them: “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raise their eyes, they see Jesus once more the same way as they had always seen him, and yet they see him differently now.

If we saw Jesus tomorrow while buying bread and milk at the store, or if Jesus visited our place of work, or came to our front door, do you think we would recognize him? I tend to doubt it. Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day noticed nothing extra special about him. “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” The Prophet Isaiah foretold of the Messiah that ‘there would be in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.’ Even Jesus’ close friends sometimes had a hard time recognizing him after his Resurrection. The most famous example of this was on the Road to Emmaus. But by the gift of God’s grace, with the Breaking of the Bread, the eyes of Jesus’ disciples were opened and they recognized him in their midst. The reason I doubt that many would recognize Jesus amid their everyday lives tomorrow is because so few of us recognize him among us today.

In the very early Church, a man named Saul had a murderous hatred for the first Christians. One day, was traveling to Damascus, Syria to arrest any Christians he might find there and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. As he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?” And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This man went on to be converted to a Christian. We know him today as St. Paul.

Note how Jesus does not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my Church,” nor “Why are you persecuting my people.” He says, “Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus identifies himself with his people and his Church because he is personally present within them. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me… You will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Jesus speaks of his mystical presence within us our and neighbors at other times in the Gospels as well.

At the Last Judgment, Jesus tells us he will say to his saved sheep: ‘Whatever you did for one of the hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or imprisoned little brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’ And then Jesus will turn and declare to the condemned goats: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” These goats, Jesus tells us, will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous sheep to eternal life.

And so you see, recognizing, loving, and serving Jesus in other people must be a top and serious priority for us. Yet how many people do we interact with each day with so much thoughtless indifference? We speed past other people like so many unnoticed trees and cars as we drive along our way of life. Sometimes we even take the people living in our own home for granted, treating our family members worse than our mere acquaintances. Many failed to recognize Jesus’ importance in his day; while we overlook the importance of people in our midst today. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

So how can we begin to behold and relate to other people in the manner we ought, as Christ would have us do? Jesus himself was open and loving towards everyone. I would suggest two steps: First, ask for the gift of God’s grace at this Breaking of the Bread on the Feast of the Transfiguration, that your eyes may be opened to truly see others. And second, begin a habit of praying for, say, five or ten people every day whom you’ve never thought to pray for before. For example, the cashier who gave you change yesterday, that politician whom you dislike, the suffering people of North Korea, your child’s best friend, your quiet co-worker, and the person whom you heard just died. And then, the next day, chose another new collection of people to pray for. This practice will reveal to you your inter-personal, spiritual blinders, and help you to begin tearing them down. Let us ask Jesus to transfigure our perception of others so that we may see them more in the way that he beholds them, with love.

“The 4 Types of Soil & How to Improve Our Own” — 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year A

July 17, 2017

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Despite all the changes and developments over these past two thousand years, the parables of Jesus Christ still hold up. Not only is the imagery in his parables still relatable today, but the lessons of his parables remain true. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a sower who sows across four different types of ground. The Gospel’s authors, namely St. Matthew and the Holy Spirit, go on to make the interpretation of this parable easy by including Jesus’ own explanation.

Jesus says, “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the Word of the Kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the Word and receives it at once with joy.  But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the Word, he immediately falls away.  The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the Word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the Word and it bears no fruit.  But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the Word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

And so, what is sown by the sower, so generously and so far and wide, is “the Word of the Kingdom.” And the four kinds of ground it touches denote four types of would-be disciples. What is this “Word of the Kingdom?” Jesus gives no precise definition for it in these passages, but I think it can be taken in various senses, all of them true: It is the Good News about the Kingdom of God Jesus was preaching. It is God’s Word revealed in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition through Christ’s Catholic Church. And the Word of the Kingdom is the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ himself, the fullest revelation of God the Father. When people encounter God’s word in these forms, they have four kinds of reactions:

The first (the path) are those who hear without understanding. They, like the footpath, are hardened against the message. Perhaps they do not want to understand it. Some people ask hard questions about our Faith in order to understand—and that is very good, for whoever asks, receives and whoever seeks, finds. However, many people ask religious questions only in order to criticize, mock, and comfortably continue in their unbelief. If you are ever in a religious conversation with a friend, relative, or co-worker and you sense that they are this latter sort, I recommend calling them on this attitude. “Are you asking so that can understand, or so that you can have an excuse not to listen?” This is important, because until their hardened will opens there is no crack for the seed to enter in, and they are easy pickings for the evil one.

The second (the rocky ground) are those who hear the Word and initially receive it with joy. But since they have no deep root they last only for a time and wither away. Some of this rocky ground are those who were raised Catholic but never developed a mature relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church. Those who attempt to weather this adult world of ours with only, say, a grade-schooler’s knowledge and practice of the Faith, will likely fail in the heat of temptation and trial. If you and your family are going to remain Catholic Christians these days we cannot stay shallow.

The third (the thorny soil) are those who hear the Word, and it begins to grow in them, but it does not grow alone: worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the Word and it bears no fruit. As Jesus said, ‘no one can serve to masters at the same time.’ You cannot say “Yes” to Jesus and “Yes” to your fears or “Yes” to your selfishness A “Yes” to Jesus demands a liberating “No” to many lesser things. Until we do that, we will not be truly fruitful as Christ wills us to be.

Finally, the fourth (the rich soil) hears the Word and understands it, says “Yes” to it and indeed bears fruit, yielding a many-fold return. It is a blessing to itself and others and a great joy to the Sower.

Jesus’ four varieties of ground describe four types of people. I suspect that in the end one of these will describe the prevailing theme of our lives. And yet, we know that soil types can change. You you grew up on a farm, you probably remember your father sending you out into the field to pick stones. This wasn’t just make-work; your father did this to make the rocky soil more fruitful. If you’re a gardener, you know what happens if good soil is left untended—you’ll soon be pulling weeds. Soil can change; sinners can convert into saints, and the righteous can fall.

We can change the sort of soil we are over our lifetime, but to a lesser extent we can also change throughout the hours of our day. In the same day, I can be hardened against God’s will, superficial towards God and other people, or dominated by fear or selfishness, and then turn to bear fruit in Christ. But how can I change the kind of soil we are throughout our lives and throughout our days? You can’t do it alone, but God won’t do it without you. God is all-powerful, but he respects our human freedom. Not even the most important event in God’s plan since Creation, the incarnation of his Son within the Virgin, was to occur without her consent. But once Mary said, “Let it be done to me according to your will,” God began working great new things within her. Despite his omnipotence, God cannot force anyone to freely give him their “Yes.”

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” You may have seen paintings of this, with Jesus knocking at a cottage door. Oftentimes, the door is depicted as having no outside door-handle. This is because the cottage represents your soul, and the door to your soul can only be opened from the inside. Daily prayer opens the door to Christ.

One of the best ways to prayerfully invite Jesus into your day is through the “Morning Offering.” There are various forms of this prayer, but they usually begin like this: “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart…” The exact words you use are not so important as the intention, the decision, the act of the will to offer yourself to Christ. If you don’t think that you’ll remember to do this first thing in the morning, then you can put your guardian angel on the job. Then, as soon as you open your eyes and see your bedroom ceiling, the thought of offering this prayer will occur to your mind. Daily prayer is key for growing in a life of holiness. You can do it anywhere, but visiting Our Lord at church, before his Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacle, is particularly powerful and precious to him.

Remember last week, when Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart“? Yokes are braces that go on an animals’ shoulders for pulling plows or wagons, and there are single-animal yokes, but I think Jesus has a double-yoke in mind. When there is an older, more experienced animal, it can be paired beside a younger, inexperienced one in order to train it and to bear the load together. And, when you look at a double-yoke from above, it forms a cross. What Jesus calls you to, you can’t do alone. He does not expect you to do it alone, but he’s waiting for your “Yes.” Give him your “Yes,” become good soil, and then watch him grow great things in you.

Visiting Our Eucharistic Lord

July 11, 2017

In every Catholic church around the world, Jesus sits within the tabernacle like a king upon his throne, waiting to receive anyone who would approach him with their praises, thanksgivings, and requests. Whether they stop inside for a just few minutes or spend a full “holy hour” in his presence, our Lord delights in the companionship of those who lovingly seek his audience.

St. Josemaria Escriva said, “When you approach the tabernacle, remember that He has been waiting for you for twenty centuries.” Escriva’s contemporary, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, remarked, “People ask me: ‘What will convert America and save the world?’ My answer is prayer. What we need is for every parish to come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in holy hours of prayer.

In order to facilitate more of these beautiful and powerful encounters with Christ, St. Paul’s Church has begun keeping its church doors open until 7:00 PM daily. Come by to visit the Lord after work or school, or amidst your errands around town. (Please contact Father if you are willing to keylessly lock the church during the seven o’clock hour on particular evenings each week.)

St. Faustina Kowalska records Jesus telling her, “Behold, for you I have established a throne of mercy on earth — the tabernacle — and from this throne I desire to enter into your heart. I am not surrounded by a retinue of guards. You can come to me at any moment, at any time; I want to speak to you and I desire to grant you grace.” He waits for you. So come, let us adore him.

“Being Childlike Towards Jesus and Our Mother” — 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year A

July 9, 2017

In the 1944 Best Picture Winning film, “Going My Way,” Bing Crosby’s character, Fr. Chuck O’Malley, shares this quip: “You know, when I was 18, I thought my father was pretty dumb. After a while, when I got to be 21, I was amazed to find out how much he’d learned in three years.” Of course, the joke is that the dad didn’t get much wiser in three years. The son’s lived experience revealed to him, “You know, my dad actually does know what he’s talking about.” What if your mother were about thirty lifespans old, alive with the same beauty, liveliness, and fruitfulness that she possessed in her youth? Would you listen to her, learn from her, and heed your wise mother’s words? God our Father has given us such a mother in the Holy Catholic Church.

In our first reading from the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah writes: “Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you;a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass.” This is a prophesy about the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. It was fulfilled about five centuries later with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus does not enter in as a conqueror, upon a warhorse with sword; but meekly, humbly, on a donkey. All the people are free to welcome him and follow him, and everyone is also free to ignore him and reject him. Jesus is not forcing them to do anything in response to him, much like his Church, which for a quite long time now hasn’t forced anyone anywhere to do anything. In this life, our personal response to Jesus Christ and his Church is completely voluntary, but that decision is not at all trivial.

In our second reading from the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul says: “Brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Now when St. Paul opposes “the Flesh” and “the Spirit” he is not saying that the material world and our bodies are evil or bad. At Creation, God saw that these were good, and as Christians we profess that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” St. Paul is using “the Flesh” as shorthand for those aspects of ourselves that are not properly ordered to “the Spirit” of God. Jesus has raised up a fallen world but aspects of our brokenness still remain. This brokenness is seen in both our bodies and minds: in our appetites desiring what is bad for us, and in our intellects rationalizing our wrong ideas. Imagine how much better this world would be if everyone knew and practiced what the Catholic Church teaches. To echo G.K. Chesterton: “The Catholic Faith has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found challenging and left untried.

Someone might raise the objection: “What about all the bad things Catholic clergy have done? How can sinners be guardians of God’s truth?” There have certainly been bad priests, bad bishops, and even bad popes whose personal sins have done great harm to many. They are a scandal and a sacrilege. But amazingly, even when the most unworthy men have been pope, none of them formally promulgated heresies over the Church. Jesus told his apostles: “Whoever hears you hears me,” knowing fully that Judas Iscariot, his betrayer, was among their number. None of the apostles were sinless men, but Jesus chose them and their successors to preach his message, cast out demons, cure the sick, and administer his sacraments. How tragic it would be if an innocent harmed or scandalized by Judas the Betrayer wanted nothing more to do with Jesus Christ’s Church. Jesus loves his little ones and does not want any to be hurt or estranged from his Church.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus praises his Father saying “you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned but revealed them to little ones,”  In saying this, Jesus is not rejecting higher education or those who possess it. However, even if you have some degrees on your wall and initials after your name, these are not enough in themselves to receive the teaching of Christ and his Church. We all must be childlike. Childlike, not childish. A childish person is selfish, immature, willful, rebellious, and you can’t teach them anything.  But a childlike person is open, humble, loyal, devoted, and teachable. As Jesus declares on another occasion: “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

Pope Paul VI observed, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” With than in mind I’d like to witness to a time when, despite my initial hesitancy, responding to Jesus’ teaching blessed me in surprising ways.

When I was in college, my schoolwork was a grind. I always looked forward to our vacations, but they were always weeks or months away, on the other side of my papers’ due dates and final exams. At that time, I realized that although I had always gone to Mass I had never kept Sunday as a special day of rest. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, (that hinder) the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, (that hinder) the performance of the works of mercy, (or that hinder) the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.” It then adds, “Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. (However,) the faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.

I didn’t want to reach the end of my days wondering what would have happened if I had been faithful to Christ in this area, so decided to stop doing my homework or studies on Sundays. There were some very late Saturday nights, but I kept faithfully to this rule. And, after a while, I noticed two surprising things. First, my Sunday rest never burned me. I don’t recall ever bombing a test, failing to meet a deadline, or doing worse on any of my assignments because of not having worked on Sunday. The second surprise was that I began to look forward to every Sunday as a one-day vacation. In addition to going to church, it was a day for taking a map, going out to eat, watching a movie, or just hanging out with my friends. I gave a gift of myself to the Lord and he gave me an even greater gift in return.

Perhaps you are afraid to let the teachings of Jesus Christ in his Church to impact your time or your money, your sexuality or your marriage, your politics or your addictions, but I urge you to be brave and wise. Just last week, we heard Jesus tell his apostles: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Jesus was not merely referring to receiving the apostles in their persons but the message that they preached.

We resist change because we fear the limitation of our freedom. We fear what the change might cost us. We fear a heavy yoke being locked around our neck and weighing upon our shoulders. But do not be afraid. Jesus offers you a better way. He says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Please trust in Jesus, learn from him, and sacrifice your will to his. And do not be afraid, for God will not be outdone in generosity.

America’s Greatness

July 5, 2017

In 1956, Peter W. Schramm’s family fled communist oppression in Hungary. The 10-year-old Peter asked his father, “But where are we going?” His father said, “We are going to America.” “Why America,” Peter prodded. His father replied, “Because, Son, we were born Americans, but in the wrong place.”

Other nations have been self-defined by their ancestral blood, but America has united people from all around the world. Other nations have self-identified by their ancient soil, but our country could fully incorporate other lands that desired to join our states. America is unique because America is founded upon an idea: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These providential words echo the great Christian doctrine of universal human dignity.

Where America has failed to embody these words, those are our greatest shames; such as our past crimes against Native and African Americans, and against unborn Americans today. Yet wherever we have honored and defended human dignity, those represent our proudest accomplishments; including our abolition of slavery, our liberty and legal equality at home, and our defense and liberation of peoples abroad.

When some people are asked what makes America great they cite our wealth and military power. But if these alone were our criteria for greatness, then the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate would be a great man and Jesus the Nazarene would not. The true measure of our greatness, like all true greatness, comes from our likeness to the Lord. May God bless America to be a greater, fuller blessing to all, until Jesus Christ returns and his kingdom is perfectly established on earth.

Giving Our Idols the Axe

June 9, 2017

St. Boniface (675–754 A.D.) is called “the Apostle of the Germans” and spread Christianity amongst the pagans of that land. After 36 years of fruitful missionary efforts, as he prepared for a large, open-air confirmation liturgy on a Pentecost eve, a pagan band of robbers martyred the aged archbishop and his companions. The most famous story about St. Boniface (as recorded by his first biographer, Willibald, within thirteen years of the saint’s death) reflects the tensions between the old and new religions:

“At Geismar, surrounded by his companions, the saint decided to fell a gigantic oak, revered by the pagans as Jupiter’s Oak. A big crowd of pagans watched him cut the lower notch, cursing him in their hearts as an enemy of the gods. But when Boniface had scarcely chipped the front of the sacred tree, a divine blast from above crashed it to the ground with its crown of branches shivering as it fell. And as if by the gracious dispensation of the Most High, the oak also burst into four equal parts.

The bystanders could see four huge trunks, uniform in length, that had not been cut by Boniface or his associates. At this sight the pagans who had been cursing the saint, now, on the contrary, believed. They blessed the Lord and stopped their reviling. Then after consulting his companions, the holy bishop used the timber of the tree to construct an oratory there, which he dedicated to St. Peter, the apostle.”

This reminds me of a minor wonder that occurred during our Confirmations last month at St. Wenceslaus. During the Mass, driving winds blew down a large branch into our parking lot. Ron “Butch” Colson, who was monitoring the storm for us, was amazed that this heavy limb had fallen between two adjacently parked vehicles without harming either one. You can still see the blackened spot on the tree from where it fell. Though this branch had appeared sound and strong at the time of our tree-trimming project this spring, it was actually rotten and hollow inside. I would not be surprised if Jupiter’s Oak had likewise become dead and weakened within, allowing a providentially-timed wind gust to take down the whole tree after a few swings of St. Boniface’s axe.

Today we do not worship pagan idols—gods of metal, wood, or stone—yet whenever we let created things have priority before God we turn them into our idols. Our worship of idols—be they people, possessions, or pleasures—is sin. At first glance, sins can appear harmless or even healthy, but God would cut down and convert us away from them. And the Lord, who works all things for the good of those who love him, can build great things from our sins’ wreckage and rubble.

In C.S. Lewis’ 1945 novel, The Great Divorce, a ghost considers journeying to join God and the saints in Heaven, but he is prevented by a little red lizard on his shoulder who whispers lustful ideas into his ear. A mighty angel of God offers to kill the ghost’s loved-yet-hated tempter and, after a great struggle of will, he consents. Once the lizard is slain, the ghost transforms into a man of glory while the lizard becomes a great white stallion with mane and tail of gold. Then, like a shooting star, the man rides his horse up the slopes of God’s holy mountain in a flash.

St. Boniface boldly felled Jupiter’s oak and built a place of worship from its timbers. This day, let us turn away from our sins, handing over our idols to God, that he may remake us more perfectly into his awesome, holy, and glorious likeness.

“I Thirst for You”

March 19, 2017

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta offered this beautiful meditation on the thirst of Jesus Christ, writing these words in His voice:

I know you through and through; I know everything about you. The very hairs of your head I have numbered. Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me. I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you, even in your wanderings. I know every one of your problems. I know your needs and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you, not for what you have or haven’t done. I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity My Father gave you by creating you in His own image. It is a dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin. But I love you as you are, and I have shed My blood to win you back. If you only ask Me with faith, My grace will touch all that needs changing in your life; and I will give you the strength to free yourself from sin and all its destructive power.

I know what is in your heart; I know your loneliness and all your hurts: the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations. I carried it all before you. And I carried it all for you, so you might share My strength and victory. I know especially your need for love– how you are thirsting to be loved and cherished. But how often you have thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures–with the even greater emptiness of sin. Do you thirst for love? “Come to Me all you who thirst…” (John 7:37) I will satisfy you and fill you. Do you thirst to be cherished? I cherish you more than you can imagine–to the point of dying on a cross for you.

I thirst for you. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you: I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you; that is how precious you are to Me. I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation and give you peace, even in all your trials. I THIRST FOR YOU. You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU. If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give Me your life, and I will prove to you how important you are to My Heart.

No matter how far you may wander, no matter how often you forget Me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life, there is one thing I want you to always remember, one thing that will never change: I thirst for you-just as you are. You don’t need to change to believe in My love, for it will be your belief in My love that will change you. You forget Me, and yet I am seeking you at every moment of the day standing at the door of your heart, and knocking. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at My Heart that was pierced for you. Have you not understood my cross? Then listen again to the words I spoke there, for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you: “I THIRST…” (John 19:28) Yes, I thirst for you. … All your life I have been looking for your love — I have never stopped seeking to love you and to be loved by you. You have tried many other things in your search for happiness; why not try opening your heart to Me, right now, more than you ever have before.

I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to Me, for I THIRST FOR YOU.

[Source – with her full meditation]

Jesus’ Questions

February 3, 2017

Jesus Christ    By one count, Jesus asks 307 questions in the Gospels. Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical (asked to demonstrate a point) but other questions insist on a personal response. Below are some of his shorter questions. As you read this list, sense which questions Jesus is asking you today. What is your reply to him?

Why are you anxious about clothes?  — Matthew 6:28

Why are you terrified?  — Matthew 8:26

Do you believe I can do this?  — Matthew 9:28

Why did you doubt?  — Matthew 14:31

But who do you say that I am?  — Matthew 16:15

What do you want me to do for you?  — Matthew 20:32

Why are you testing me?  — Matthew 22:18

Could you not watch for me one brief hour?   — Matthew 26:40

Why this commotion and weeping?  — Mark 5:39

Why does this generation seek a sign?  — Mark 8:12

What were you arguing about on the way?   — Mark 9:33

Where is your faith?  — Luke 8:25

What is your name?  — Luke 8:30

Who touched me?  — Luke 8:45

Will you be exalted to heaven?  — Luke 10:15

Why are you sleeping?  — Luke 22:46

Have you anything here to eat?  — Luke 24:41

What are you looking for?  — John 1:38

Do you want to be well?  — John 5:6

Does this teaching shock you?  — John 6:61

Do you also want to leave me?  — John 6:67

Why do you not understand what I am saying?  — John 8:43

Do you believe this?  — John 11:26

Do you realize what I have done for you?  — John 13:12

Whom are you looking for?  — John 18:4

Shall I not drink the cup the Father gave me?  — John 18:11

Do you love me?  — John 21:16


For more of Jesus’ questions, check out this list.

St. Ignatius’ 14 Rules for Spiritual Discernment & The Lord of the Rings

January 26, 2017

Please enjoy, and freely Like and Share this video.
My special thanks goes to Mary Walker for lending her voice to this project.

Loving Mercy Overcomes Error

January 10, 2017

Reflections on John 1:43-51

philip-and-nathanael     In the early days of his public ministry, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. There he found his future apostle Philip and says to him, “Follow me.” Philip, from the same town along the northern coast of Galilee as Peter and Andrew, was so awed at encountering Jesus that he tracked down his friend Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew.) Philip told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth!” (Philip is sharing happy news, “We’ve found the promised Messiah, the Christ, and he’s not too far from here!”) But Nathanael is unimpressed and unconvinced, saying, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip winsomely replies, “Come and see.

When Jesus sees Nathanael coming toward him he says of him, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” Jesus replies to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” Jesus tells him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Why did Nathanael’s opinion about Jesus, that man from Nazareth, change so suddenly? Perhaps Nathanael was sitting under a particular fig tree when Philip found him and Nathanael, believing that there was no natural way Jesus could have known or guessed this, was instantly persuaded. Another explanation is that Jesus is referring to a memorable dream Nathanael has recently had. It’s strange that Jesus would describe an honest man as a son of Israel—that is, as a son of Jacob—whose duplicitous deeds are detailed in Genesis. But recall how Jacob once had a dream in which he saw the angels of God ascending and descending a stairway to Heaven while the Lord God stood beside him. (Genesis 28:10-19) Jesus alludes to that event in this encounter. Now if a stranger were to tell me about a conversation I thought no one else had witnessed, I’d be intrigued; but if someone were to accurately describe my dream from the night before, that person would have my full attention. Whatever the reason behind Nathanael’s change of heart it was the style of Philip and Jesus’ approaches that made it possible.

The Gospels show us through numerous episodes how the apostles started off as far from perfect. When told that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael replies, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” This story presents Nathanael’s prejudice and how that bias nearly made him reject the Christ out of hand. What did Nathanael hold against those Nazarenes living some thirty miles away? Did he think them unfriendly, lazy, unrefined, impious, unscrupulous? Whatever the reason, he looked down on them and it showed.

Nathanael’s rash dismissal of the Nazarene maligns someone Philip regards as a great and holy man. Yet Philip does respond in anger. Instead, he urges Nathanael to learn more. “Come and see.” Nathanael is persuaded by his friend to give this Jesus guy a chance—a fair hearing—and this modest openness eventually leads to him being won over. Still today, one of the best means for dissolving prejudices of every sort is through experiencing “the Other” firsthand.

As Jesus sees Nathanael approaching he demonstrates a penetrating supernatural knowledge of him. Jesus probably knew what Nathanael had previously remarked in secret but Jesus does not reproach or condemn him for it. Instead, Jesus compliments what is good in Nathanael: “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Though they do not yet see eye-to-eye, Jesus affirms his sincerity. This opens a door to dialogue that not only changes Nathanael’s mind but his entire life, as he goes on to become an apostle for Christ.

We could imagine a pricklier Philip or a different Jesus rejecting and condemning Nathanael for his initial disrespect toward the Christ of God; however, we see both practice tolerance toward him. Christians are commonly caricatured as easily offended but I have found that the more faithful variety show extensive mercy—which is very different than indifference. We are called to loathe error, but to love everyone. True tolerance does not hate others for holding wrong beliefs but loves them while trying to lead them to the truth.

It would be an oversimplification to say that forceful confrontation is never called for. Jesus occasionally denounced others, like “that fox” King Herod, the hypocritical Pharisees, and the evil spirits. Sometimes Jesus manifested his displeasure through bold prophetic acts, like flipping money-tables at the Temple or cursing the fig tree. Yet Jesus possessed perfect wisdom and a clear vision into others’ hearts. “Jesus knew their thoughts” and “did not need anyone to testify about human nature.” (Luke 5:22, John 2:25) We, however, must guard ourselves to be “slow to wrath,” for apart from the Holy Spirit’s prompting, “the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

In this era of division, let us promote unity in advocating for the truth. In our disagreements with friends or strangers, online or face to face, let us shun anger, sarcasm, and revilement and presume the other’s good faith and sincerity. This manner of winsome mercy won Nathanael’s mind and heart for Christ and it can be just as powerful today.

Reflections on Martyrdom

December 29, 2016

I have not seen and cannot recommend the recently-released Martin Scorsese film Silence, but reviewers describe it as haunting and unsettling for believers and non-believers alike. It is set in Japan during a fierce persecution of Roman Catholics in the mid-1600’s. In one scene, a Jesuit missionary is forced to watch arrested Japanese Christians be cruelly tortured before him. The young priest is told that these men and women’s sufferings will cease if he would only step on an image of Christ and renounce his faith. What does Jesus want his followers to do if faced with such a choice?

A person might think there is little harm done in trampling the crude likeness of someone, or by insincerely mouthing a few words, but Jesus told his disciples, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (1) At the very start of his ministry it seems that Jesus himself was confronted with the film’s test; the temptation to deny God so that human suffering would end.

After his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” (2) But Jesus firmly refused. Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness by James Tissot 1886-1894.What was so wicked about the devil’s suggestion? What could be wrong with alleviating hunger? Imagine if Jesus had relented, waving his hand over a nearby brown stone and then biting through its soft crust. Then the devil could accuse him, “So, you have provided food for yourself—how can you now refuse to wield your power to feed the whole world!?” Satan also pressured Jesus to insist that the Father spare him from death: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from this great height]…” But Jesus again refused. The tempter preferred Jesus to be a messiah who would give people an abundance of material wealth and safety while leaving them in their sins, separated from God forever.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” Jesus accepted suffering with and alongside us as a crucified savior-king and never surrendered to the temptation of becoming an earthly ruler who had denied God and bowed to Satan. Jesus Christ understood that he would be Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” as St. John the Baptist proclaimed him. (3) Even as his desert tempter invited him to end all earthly hardship, Jesus in some sense foresaw the multitude of suffering martyrs who would follow his path after him. Jesus did not waiver. Jesus refused to capitulate to evil for this world’s fleeting, lesser goods because was not the will of God, his Father.

These reflections came to mind last week on the December 28th Feast of the Holy Innocents, those little ones who died in place of Jesus Christ. When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. (4) Modern biblical scholars estimate Bethlehem’s population was around 1,000 at that time, which means that up to about twenty infants were slain. (5)

These babies and toddlers have been venerated in the Church since the first century.  Early Church Fathers, including St. Irenaeus of Lyon and St. Augustine, and the liturgical tradition of the Church have celebrated them as saints and martyrs. (6) This pair of titles is remarkable for those “who, though still unable to profess [Jesus] in speech, were crowned with heavenly grace on account of his birth.” (7) None of these young Jewish boys were baptized or made a conscious decision to die for Jesus, but they were all saved through Christ.

Jesus spoke of the importance of baptism for salvation, for instance saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (8) Yet he also said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (9) The Church, lacking an explicit teaching from Christ about children who die unbaptized, “can only entrust them to the [great] mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.” (10) Perhaps the Lord, knowing his own provisions for their salvation, has kept us in our uncertainty lest we employ the twisted logic of Herod, Pharaoh, or Pilate to rationalize the intentional killing of little ones. In any case, it has been the firm conviction and long tradition of Christ’s Catholic Church that the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem now dwell with him in Heaven.

Jesus Christ and his martyrs, from Bethlehem to Japan, reveal and witness to strengthening truths: That this life, however long or short, is not all that there is. That God can bring salvation out of evil, even from crimes and disasters that break our hearts and surpass our understanding. And the martyrs affirm that, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Suffering is better than sinning. There is more evil in a drop of sin than in an ocean of affliction. Better [to] burn for Christ, than [to] turn from Christ.” Whatever terrible crosses may afflict us or those we love we can remember that our crucified Lord has suffered likewise and is always with us. Jesus tells us, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (11)

26-martyrs-of-japan

A memorial to “The Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan,” a group of Roman Catholics executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki. Their feast day (i.e., St. Paul Miki and companions) is February 6th.

Footnotes:
(1) –  Matthew 10:32.
(2) –  Matthew 4:1-11.
(3) –  Isaiah 52:13-53:12, John 1:29 & 1:36.
(4) –  Matthew 2:16.
(5) – Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp.104–121.
Donald A. Hagner, World Biblical Commentary, Matthew 1–13, pg.37.
“Holy Innocents” entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia. 
(6) – Hugo H. Hoever, Lives of the Saints, pg.525.
(7) –  Opening Mass Prayer for The Feast of the Holy Innocents.
(8) –  Mark 16:16.
(9) –  Matthew 19:14.
(10) – Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1261.
(11) – John 16:33.