Archive for the ‘Last Things’ Category

A Wonderful Vacation

September 7, 2017

How was my vacation? It was a wonderful adventure! Missouri’s solar eclipse was beautiful; a black circle with white wisps extending over a surprisingly blue background. In the first seconds when the Sun began reemerging from the Moon there was a bright speck and then an expanding light so intense that it could not be looked at. It was like seeing the large stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb on Easter morning at the moment of the Resurrection.

We touched the St. Louis Arch, a structure whose geometric simplicity belies the amazing landmark that it is. Ask yourself, how would you build such a thing sixty-three stories in the air?

In Arizona, I was pleased to providentially cross paths with Clare Shakal from Cooks Valley. I was surprised to learn she happens to work at the parish where a friend from seminary I was visiting is now pastor.

In  Southern California I saw the last line of light from a red Sun be swallowed by the ocean. Pedestrians paused on the pier to watch the Earth eclipse of the Sun (what we call a sunset) but there was nothing like the numbers who gathered for the much rarer eclipse the week before.

One morning, I body-surfed in the Pacific Ocean, and went to bed in Wisconsin that night. While flying home (over a distance it would have taken me months to travel on foot) I gazed down upon the Grand Canyon for the first time. Our pilot never mentioned it.

My trip had many highlights but the part I enjoyed the most and what seasoned all the rest was the good friends I was blessed to share my adventure with.

What makes something wondrous? Things we encounter often feel less precious and usually go unnoticed. If solar eclipses happened daily at noon they would be no less beautiful but they never make the news. Our world is filled with wonders but even when we live in appreciative gratitude we still long for more. This is a sign to us that we were made to live forever; in a loving communion of persons with an infinitely interesting and beautiful God.

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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.

Questions & Answers About My Cat, Leo XIV

July 17, 2017


Why did you name your cat “Leo the Fourteenth?”

So he wouldn’t be confused with Pope Leo XIII—who had the fourth longest papal reign (from 1878 to 1903) and died at the age of 93 as history’s oldest pope. The name “Leo” is Latin for “Lion.”

Why did you want a black cat?

Cats are great, and have you ever noticed cat hair on my clothing? … Exactly.

How does Leo like living in the rectory?

Leo enjoys greeting visitors to the parish offices (he is very friendly) and exploring our house. The dust and cobwebs I sometimes find on him indicate he likes the basement. I predict that Leo will leave a “gift” for me on my bed or office floor someday.

Do you think Leo XIV will go to Heaven?

Even though Leo is a very good cat, I am not certain. St. Thomas Aquinas argued that animals, lacking a rational soul such as humans have, cannot experience the Beatific Vision of God. On the other hand, the Book of Revelation foretells of a New Heavens and a New Earth while the Prophet Isaiah speaks of wolves, lambs, leopards, goats, calves, lions, cows, bears, cobras, and children peacefully living together one day on God’s holy mountain. (Isaiah 11) As I consoled myself when my previous, dear cat, Dexter died; if there is anything eternal about Leo, I trust that Jesus will take care of him. If we reach Heaven and find our deceased pets are not there, upon understanding their loving purpose in the divine plan, we shall thank God for the gift they were and be at peace.

Catholic Teachings About The End Times

November 10, 2016

Catechism of the Catholic Church #668-679

I.  HE WILL COME AGAIN IN GLORY
Christ already reigns through the Church…

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca, 1450-1463.        “Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
Christ’s Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God’s power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,” for the Father “has put all things under his feet.” Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are “set forth” and transcendently fulfilled.

        As Lord, Christ is also head of the Church, which is his Body. Taken up to heaven and glorified after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth in his Church. The redemption is the source of the authority that Christ, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church. “The kingdom of Christ [is] already present in mystery,” “on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom.”

        Since the Ascension God’s plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at “the last hour.” “Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect.” Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church.

…until all things are subjected to him.

      Though already present in his Church, Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled “with power and great glory” by the king’s return to earth. This reign is still under attack by the evil powers, even though they have been defeated definitively by Christ’s Passover. Until everything is subject to him, “until there be realized new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church, in her sacraments and institutions, which belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God.” That is why Christians pray, above all in the Eucharist, to hasten Christ’s return by saying to him: Marana tha! “Our Lord, come!”

        Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom awaited by Israel which, according to the prophets, was to bring all men the definitive order of justice, love, & peace. According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by “distress” and the trial of evil which does not spare the Church and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching.

The glorious advent of Christ, Israel’s hope

        Since the Ascension Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent, even though “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.” This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are “delayed.”

        The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by “all Israel,” for “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” in their “unbelief” toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” St. Paul echoes him: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” The “full inclusion” of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of “the full number of the Gentiles,” will enable the People of God to achieve “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” in which “God may be all in all.” 

The Church’s ultimate trial

The Devil Tempting a Young Woman by André Jacques Victor Orsel, 1832.

        Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

      The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

        The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

II. TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD

The Resurrection by El Greco, Madrid, 1596-1600.      Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude about our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love. On the last day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

        Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He “acquired” this right by his cross. The Father has given “all judgment to the Son.” Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself. By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love.

A Litany for the Souls in Purgatory

November 2, 2016

O Jesus, Thou suffered and died that all mankind might be saved and brought to eternal happiness. Hear our pleas for further mercy on the souls of:

My dear parents & grandparents,

            [Response: “My Jesus, Have Mercy”]

My brothers & sisters & other near relatives,

My godparents & sponsors of Confirmation,

My spiritual & temporal benefactors,

My friends & neighbors,

All for whom love or duty bids me pray,

Those who have suffered disadvantage or harm through me,

Those who have offended me,

Those whose release is near at hand,

Those who desire most to be united to Thee,

Those who endure the greatest sufferings,

Those whose release is most remote,

Those who are least remembered.

Those who are most deserving on account of their services to the Church,

The rich, who are now the most destitute,

The mighty, who are now powerless,

The once spiritually blind, who now see their folly,

The frivolous, who spent their time in idleness,

The poor who did not seek the treasures of heaven,

The tepid who devoted little time to prayer,

The indolent who neglected to perform good works,

Those of little faith, who neglected the frequent reception of the Sacraments,

The habitual sinners, who owe their salvation to a miracle of grace,

Parents who failed to watch over their children,

Superiors who were not solicitous for the salvation of those entrusted to them,

Those who strove for worldly riches & pleasures,

The worldly minded, who failed to use their wealth & talent for the service of God,

Those who witnessed the death of others, but would not think of their own,

Those who did not provide for the life hereafter,

Those whose sentence is severe because of the great things entrusted to them,

The popes, kings, & rulers,

The bishops & their counselors,

My teachers & spiritual advisors,

The priests & religious of the Catholic Church,

The defenders of the Holy Faith,

Those who died on the battlefield,

Those who fought for their country,

Those who were buried in the sea,

Those who died of stokes,

Those who died of heart attacks,

Those who suffered & died of cancer,

Those who died suddenly in accidents,

Those who died without the last rites of the Church,

Those who shall die within the next twenty-four hours,

My own poor soul when I shall have to appear before Thy judgment seat,

        Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them: For evermore with Thy Saints, because Thou art gracious. May the prayer of Thy suppliant people, we beseech Thee, O Lord, benefit the souls of Thy departed servants and handmaids: that Thou mayest both deliver them from all their sins, and make them to be partakers of Thy redemption. Amen. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine on them. Amen. May their souls & the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

How Many Will Be Saved?

August 19, 2016

In this Sunday’s gospel, someone asks Jesus from the crowd, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus replies, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Luke 13:24) Instead of quoting some particular figure, like one million or ten billion souls, Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate…” We are left to wonder: in the end, will the number saved be numerous or few?

All-Saints by Fra Angelico, 1400's.In the Book of Revelation, St. John witnesses a vast number of saints worshiping God in heaven. He beholds “a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” (Revelation 7:9) Note that this ‘countless multitude’ is different and much larger than the “one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the Israelites” that St. John enumerates several verses before. Jesus came to save souls not only from the twelve tribes of Israel. As the Lord declares through the prophet in Sunday’s first reading, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.” (Isaiah 66:18) Based on this, we can confidently say that a great number will be saved.

On the other hand, in our gospel’s parallel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The ‘few’ who enter the narrow gate to life sounds smaller than the ‘many’ who do not. Based on this, it would seem that the number saved will be comparatively small.

However, “few” and “many” are relative terms which depend upon the context. For example, more than 18,000 Olympic medals have been awarded in the modern Summer and Winter Games and that is indeed many. But how many Olympic medalists have you personally ever met? Probably, at most, only a few. In a more tragic example, around 130,000 Americans die annually in accidents and that is awfully many. But at the same time, roughly 99.96% of Americans do not perish in accidents each year, making the 0.04% who do a relative few. The word “many” sometimes refers to a majority of people, but not always.

Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to redeem all mankind. Even if there were only one sinner on earth in all of human history, it seems that Jesus would have become man in order to offer himself for just him, or her, or you. Suppose that the number of human souls condemned on the last day turns out to be only a dozen. Knowing how much our Lord loves each and every person, will not those twelve feel like many in the heart of Jesus and those billions he saves seem too few? In any case, Jesus never reveals to us whether most human beings will be saved or lost. Either outcome is possible.

Why was Jesus not more clear about exactly how many people would be saved? Because he knew how such knowledge would be harmful for us. He knew that if we were told that most people would be saved in the end, it would lead us into dangerous presumption. If we were told that most people would be lost, he knew it would lead us into poisonous despair. Jesus “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” (John 2:25)

Instead of providing us with some number or percentage, Jesus gives us some much more valuable and beneficial advice: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate (for whether you are saved or not depends, in part, upon you.)” God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (1st Timothy 2:4) And to “as many as did accept him, [Jesus] gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12) Let us strive to cooperate with God, let us accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives, so that we may be numbered among “the few” who are saved and enter into life.

The Braod and Narrow Way, 1883.

Jesus as an Undercover Boss

April 7, 2016

During the seven week span from Easter to Pentecost, the apostles were firsthand witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, but they lacked their mission. In those days, Jesus was not always visibly with them and the Holy Spirit was not prompting them to preach the Good News. And so, the apostles had extra spare time on their hands. But even if you’re a person who has seen Jesus Christ risen from the dead you still need to eat. Therefore, Peter says, “I am going fishing,” and six others decide to go along with him. Fishing the Sea of Galilee was Peter’s line of work before Jesus called him to become a ‘fisher of men.’

Jesus Appears on the Shore in John 21In today’s Gospel, Peter goes back to his old job. And then, unexpectedly, Jesus shows up at Peter’s workplace. Like an “undercover boss” on TV, Jesus comes in disguise. Jesus’ glorified and resurrected body allows him to conceal or change his appearance. At first, amid the routine of their work, the disciples fail to recognize him. But after catching their huge catch of (153!) fish, they realize “it is the Lord” and begin acting differently. How would you respond if the Lord appeared at your workplace as a customer, co-worker, or boss?

Sometimes we Christians slip into mentally separating our life at church from our life in the world; for example, working in the world without thinking of our faith. But we must remember to honor and serve Jesus Christ always and everywhere. You have probably heard of the importance of ‘seeing Christ in others.’ Seeing Christ in others means treating them like you would treat Jesus Christ himself. Now, of course, a Christian should not worship anything or anyone other than God, but Jesus wants you to love other people through the love you have for him.

As Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, when he comes in his glory with all the holy angels with him, Jesus will sit upon the throne of his glory and all the nations shall be gathered before him. And Jesus, the king and judge, shall declare to them, “Amen, I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it to one of these least of brethren of mine, you did for me.” Therefore, recognize Jesus encountering you, unexpectedly and disguised, at the place where you work—in your customers, your coworkers, and your bosses—and love them with your love for Christ.

Rejecting Reincarnation

April 6, 2016

G.K. ChestertonA friend once told me his flirtations with belief in reincarnation ended by reading two good points by G.K. Chesterton. If all people were (re)born into the blessings or curses of their present lives on account of their good or bad actions in the past, then:

  1. We could expect nearly all well-born persons to be honest, given their long track records of virtue.
  2. Those who are born into bad circumstances would merit their own suffering and unhappiness.

Buddhist reincarnation beliefs may vary, but Hindus in India have traditionally believed that their top castes merit their nobility (and the untouchables their servitude) due to reincarnation’s Karmic justice.

However, as Hebrews 9:27 says, “it is appointed that men die once, and after this the judgment…”

Our Holy Conspiracy & the End of the World — 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year B

November 16, 2015

C.S. Lewis, 1898-1963A new liturgical Church year will begin in a couple of weeks with the first Sunday of Advent. As this Church year ends, our Mass readings (like today’s Sunday readings) focus on the Last Things and the end of the world as we know it. This weekend’s news reports, especially the terrible events in France, remind us that though the Kingdom of God is among us, we pray “thy Kingdom come” because it is not yet fully here in total, unveiled power. This weekend’s readings and news events remind me of passages from C.S. Lewis in excellent book Mere Christianity:

“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless [radio] from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.”

Why does Lewis say that our king has landed “in disguise?” Well, where would you expect a king to be born? The Magi sought the newborn king of the Jews in the palace at Jerusalem, but Jesus was born in a barn—a cave in Bethlehem—to a pair of poor parents. How would one expect the Jewish Messiah to enter into Jerusalem to claim his throne? Probably riding on a warhorse, but Jesus came meekly riding on a donkey, just as had been prophesied about him. Who would have thought that God would become a man, and then suffer and die as he did? After the vindication of the resurrection, one would have thought he would appear to the high priest and Governor Pilate, or to the Emperor Tiberius in Rome, to declare that he was indeed who he claimed to be. Instead, Jesus appeared discretely, to his disciples.

Lewis writes that God has landed in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and has started “a sort of secret society” to undermine the devil. This secret society he speaks of is the Church. But what is so secret about the Church? We have a sign in front with our Mass times. We don’t check ID’s at the door. And if anyone wants to know about what we do or what we believe, we will gladly inform them. But, in a sense, the Church is a secret society—for the world and even many Catholics do not recognize who and what we really are. We are a holy conspiracy. We are fighting the propaganda of the world and the devil with the truth of God. We are recruiting others to the side of the Lord. We are his special forces sabotaging evil with the weapons of love in preparation for the king’s arrival.

From where do we receive our power for this mission? The source of our power is the Holy Mass. Today’s second reading says that the Old Testament’s priests offered many sacrifices because those  could not truly achieve their purpose, but Jesus our High Priest offers his sacrifice once for all. At Mass we transcend space and time to personally encounter that sacrifice, and it’s power is applied to us here and now, providing all the graces we need to fulfill his will.

Lewis asks, “Why is [God] not [yet] landing in [total unveiled] force, invading [our world]? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; [but] we do not know when.”

Indeed, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “of that day or hour, no one knows… but only the Father.”

We do not know when the Lord is going to land in force. “But,” Lewis continues, “we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman [during World War II] who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade.”

Why has God not yet invaded our world with his full, unveiled force? Why does he allow the wicked to use their freedom for evil, like the terrorism we saw in Paris?

Lewis writes, “I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?”

I think “the whole natural universe melting away” is an excellent reflection on today’s gospel. Jesus tells us that at the end:

“the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken…”

In the ancient world, the sun and moon, stars and planets, were considered the most stable and eternal things in the cosmos (and you can understand why.) But when even these things are passing, you know the universe as we know it is melting away. After this, the Lord Jesus comes with judgment. “And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory… (and his angels, like St. Michael from our first reading, along with him…)”

Sprouting Fig Tree in SpringtimePerhaps we may find it surprising that Jesus describes these events as a good thing to his disciples. He says:

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that [the Son of Man] is near, at the gates.”

We usually associate the end of things with the fall. Youth is called the springtime of life, while old age is the fall. In the Northern Hemisphere, every Church year ends in the fall. Yet Jesus presents an analogy for the end of the world as one of spring becoming summer: ‘When the tender branch sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.’ A small thing, the branch, points to the arrival of a much greater reality, the summer. Why would we cling to the branch when the whole world is being renewed in glory? For friends of God, what is to come is better than what we see. The life we live now in this world is the winter. What is still to come for us is the spring and summer. Let us not hesitate to hope for it, envision it, and rejoice in it.

When the last day comes, “it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. … That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give [people] that chance. [But it] will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.”

How long will it be until the Lord comes again? Jesus says in today’s gospel that, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” But he said this a long time ago. Was Jesus wrong? No, for when you read these passages from Mark in full context, Jesus is responding to his disciples questions about two things side-by-side: the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world. The Romans destroyed the great city and its temple in 70 A.D., during the lifespan of some of Jesus’ hearers, and to many Jews it felt like the end of the world. This event prefigured the passing away of all things. Like other prophesies in the Bible, Jesus’ prophesy has a near and distant fulfillment, one after a forty-year opportunity for conversion, and another at the end of time.

So when will the Lord come again? The answer for every generation before us has been “not yet.” If this world endures to the year 10,000 A.D., the Christians of that time will probably regard us as the early Christians. I personally think it will still be awhile before he comes, for it is still legal to be a Christian in too many places on earth. Yet, in a sense, it doesn’t matter when Jesus is coming, for the end of our individual lives is equivalent to the end of the world for us. If you’re ready for one, you’re ready for the other. But if you, or people that you know, are not ready for either, then now is the time for conversion.

The Lord our King has recruited us into his holy conspiracy, arming us with the weapons of truth and love. You and I are his advanced forces and, among other tasks, he is sending us on rescue missions to bring others to himself. Who do you know that is far from Christ? We are to draw on the power of this Mass for them. We are called to pray, fast, and sacrifice for them, and even to be so bold as to talk with them—inviting them to come to Jesus Christ and his Church. Seize this opportunity and do not let it pass away, for whether the Lord first comes to us or we go forth to him, each and all will encounter him soon, face-to-face, in his full, unveiled glory.

Preventable Tragedies

September 12, 2015

A Bolivian Family Riding a Bicycle, 1991

While studying for the priesthood, I spent a summer at our diocese’s mission in Bolivia. There I learned that South America’s poorest country has a death rate from tuberculosis 222-times higher than here. I was told the Bolivian government offers free TB medicine, but that many who take the pills start to feel better and quit before they’ve finished the prescription. Tragically, this allows the disease to resurge, and the patients are lost. Their half-measured approach to what would save them invites their death.

As our children soon return to CCD, I wish to emphasize the obvious truth that CCD alone is not enough to form a child into a mature Christian adult. Religious education must be paired with daily family prayer (beyond simply before meals) and family Mass attendance each week. Without these, children learn from their parents’ silent instruction that their Catholic faith may be carelessly discarded once their “last hoop” of Confirmation is cleared. This must not be so!

If you are already attending Mass and sharing family prayers, please keep it up. If not, please follow this powerful prescription of prayer and Sunday worship. Embrace it for your children’s sake and for your own. Our Catholic faith is not mere “fire insurance.” It is the path to abundant life for this life and the next. As Jesus says, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Five Seeming Liturgical Abuses That Are Actually Legit

August 27, 2015

These five liturgical practices may seem unorthodox, but the Roman Catholic Church officially allows for each of them:

1.  Receiving the Blessed Sacrament Twice in the Same Day

The Church limits the number of communions the faithful may receive in a day, lest people misguidedly pursue sanctity by filling their days with numerous communions, and to keep the reception of this most sacred gift from feeling common by receiving too-frequently. According to the Code of Canon Law (which governs Church practices) the faithful may receive Our Eucharistic Lord twice daily. And, unless someone is in danger of death, the second time must be while participating at Holy Mass. (Canons 917 & 921)

Ten Commandments - Sacred Heart Catholic Church - Wauzeka WI2.  A Priest Eating Between His Sunday Masses

Ordinarily, a person who is going to receive Our Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from all food and drink (besides water or medicine) for at least one hour before holy communion. This is done to prepare oneself to worthily receive this most precious food (though the elderly, the infirm, and those caring for them are exempted from the fast.) The Church, recognizing that a priest could have difficulty finding time for needed nourishment, allows priests who celebrate the Eucharist two or three times in the same day to take something between their Masses, even if there is less than one hour between them. (Canon 919)

3.  Offering Mass for the Soul of a Notorious Person

May a priest offer a Mass for the soul of Osama Bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, or Judas Iscariot? Pastoral prudence may advise him against doing so publicly but the Code of Canon law affirms, “A priest is entitled to offer Mass for anyone, living or dead.” (Canon 901) While the Church has declared many saints and blesseds to be now in Heaven, she has never declared any particular human being to be presently in Hell. Since Jesus warns us so strongly and frequently about damnation, and we know that the devil and ‘one third’ of the angels are eternally consigned to Hell, it seems very unlikely that all people will be saved. (Revelation 12:4 & 9, Matthew 25:41, Catechism of the Catholic Church #393) However, even if hoping against hope, we may still offer our prayers (capable of transcending space and time) for the salvation of any and all human souls.

4.  A Wedding Couple Processing into Church Behind the Priest

At weddings in the United States, the groom typically takes his place near the altar to await his bride’s walk down the aisle. But the Catholic Rite of Marriage, while allowing for local custom, presents a different entrance as the norm: “If there is a procession to the altar, the ministers go first, followed by the priest, and then the bride and the bridegroom.” (Rite of Marriage, no. 20) The ministers of the sacrament of marriage are actually the bride and groom themselves — the priest (or deacon) simply presides as the Church’s official witness. (Catechism #1623) Thus, it is fitting that the couple enter the church on their wedding day side-by-side in liturgical procession.

5.  A Priest Dipping Hosts Into the Precious Blood at the Distribution of Communion

Host and Chalice - Sacred Heart Catholic Church - Wauzeka WIA minister of the Holy Eucharist who steeps the Host into the Precious Blood before placing it upon a communicant’s tongue is distributing by “intinction.” The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (or GIRM, which governs liturgical practices for Holy Mass) states, “The Blood of the Lord may be consumed either by drinking from the chalice directly, or by intinction, or by means of a tube or a spoon.” (GIRM, no. 245) While noting that “distribution of the Precious Blood by a spoon or through a straw is not customary in the Latin dioceses of the United States of America,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reiterates that a bishop may allow distribution by intinction in his diocese. (Norms, no. 48 & 24, citing GIRM no. 283)

As the GIRM describes it, “If Communion from the chalice is carried out by intinction, each communicant, holding a Communion-plate under the mouth, approaches the Priest who holds a vessel with the sacred particles, with a minister standing at his side and holding the chalice. The Priest takes a host, intincts it partly in the chalice and, showing it, says, The Body and Blood of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the Priest, and then withdraws.” (GIRM, no. 287) The U.S. Bishops further emphasize that the faithful, including extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, are never to self-communicate by intinction. (Norms, no. 50) May an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist distribute by intinction? The GIRM passage above speaks of “the Priest,” but I would refer people to their local bishop’s norms on the distribution of Communion for a judgment on this question.

Our Glorified Bodies Shall Be Like His

April 18, 2015

In inspired Scripture, St. Paul tells us:

“[The Lord Jesus Christ] will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.” 1

This means that we can glimpse what our own resurrected bodies will be like someday by studying the resurrected body of Jesus Christ.

The Resurrection by El Greco, Madrid, 1596-1600.•  Jesus’ Resurrected Body is the Same Body He Died In

        The tomb is empty on Easter morning because Jesus’ body is raised.2 On Easter evening, Jesus shows his disciples the wounds of his hands, feet, and side, which he received on the cross.3 His body retains its “flesh and bones” and can be touched and held.4 Our own dead bodies will similarly be reclaimed and resurrected, from the tomb, the sea, or the dust of the earth.5 St. Paul is so insistent on our own future resurrection he says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised.” 6

•  Jesus Resurrected can do the Ordinary Things He did Before

        On Easter Sunday, Jesus walks and talks.7 He can breathe and eat.8 He knows who he is and he remembers his friends.9 (There is no reason to think that the dead will forget the lives they lived or their loved ones.)

•  Jesus’ Resurrected Body can also do Extraordinary Things

        Though he is no ghost, Jesus can appear suddenly within a locked room or vanish from another.10 He can make himself unrecognizable to those who know him.11 His body can ascend into heaven.12 And now, resurrected to life, he dies no more, for “death no longer has power over him.” 13

        The spiritual gifts granted to some saints on earth (such as bi-location, levitation, incorruptibility, etc.) suggest powers belonging to our future glorified bodies. For her various apparitions, the Blessed Virgin Mary may be modifying her glorified body’s physical appearance (for example, to be as a dark-haired native at Guadalupe in Mexico, but fair and blond-haired at Champion, Wisconsin.)

•  Our Conclusion

        The bodies in which we live and die will be same ones in which we rise. Our glorified bodies will be able to do the familiar things we know, yet we shall also possess new abilities which seem extraordinary to us now. St. Paul describes our future glorified bodies in this way:

“Someone may say, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?’

It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

That which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality.” 14

Endnotes:

  1. Philippians 3:21
  2. Matthew 28:6
  3. Luke 24:40, John 20:20
  4. Luke 24:39, John 20:17, Matthew 28:9
  5. John 5:28-29, Revelation 20:13
  6. 1 Corinthians 15:13
  7. Luke 24:15
  8. John 20:22, Luke 24:42-43
  9. Luke 24:39, John 20:16-17
  10. John 20:19 & 26, Luke 24:31
  11. Luke 24:16, John 21:12
  12. Acts 1:9, Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51
  13. Romans 6:9
  14. 1 Corinthians 15:35, 42-44 & 53

The Dying Words of Jesus & His Saints

November 14, 2014

Each November, when the dark nights lengthen and trees become bare skeletons, we especially pray for the souls of those who have gone before us in death. This is also a fitting time of year to remember and consider the certainty of our own mortality. How did Jesus and his holy ones face the end of their lives? Their dying words can both instruct and inspire us:

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

—Our Lord Jesus Christ, c. 33 AD

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

—St. Stephen, martyr, c. 34 AD

“Glory to God for all things!”

—St. John Chrysostom, 407 AD

“Your will be done. Come, Lord Jesus!”

—St. Augustine, 430 AD

“May God forgive you, brother.”

—St. Wenceslaus, martyr, 935 AD

“I have loved justice and hated iniquity. Therefore I die in exile.”

—Pope St. Gregory VII, 1085 AD

“If all the swords in England were pointed against my head, your threats would not move me. I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace.”

—St. Thomas Becket, martyr, 1170 AD

“When you see that I am brought to my last moments, place me naked upon the ground just as you saw me the day before yesterday; and let me lie there after I am dead for the length of time it takes one to walk a mile unhurriedly.”

—St. Francis of Assisi, 1226 AD

“Be assured that he who shall always walk faithfully in God’s presence, always ready to give him an account of all his actions, shall never be separated from him by consenting to sin.”

—St. Thomas Aquinas, 1274 AD

“Leave the doors open, so that everyone may enter and see how a pope dies.”

—Bl. Pope Urban V, 1370 AD

“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

—St. Bridget of Sweden, 1373 AD

“Blood! Blood! Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

—St. Catherine of Siena, 1380 AD

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”

—St. Joan of Arc, martyr, 1431 AD

“I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

—St. Thomas More, martyr, 1535 AD

“O, my God!”

—St. Ignatius of Loyola, 1556 AD

“After all I die as a child of the Church. My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time for us to meet one another.”

—St. Teresa of Avila, 1582 AD

“Jesus, I love you.”

—St. Kateri Tekakwitha, 1680 AD

“In all things I adore the will of God in my regard.”

—St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle, 1719 AD

“Be children of the Church.”

—St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, 1821 AD

“My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.”

—St. Andrew Kim Taegon, martyr, 1846 AD

“Holy Mary, pray for me, a poor sinner.”

—St. Bernadette Soubirous, 1879 AD

“I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me. My God, I love you.”

—St. Therese of Lisieux, 1897 AD

“To restore all things in Christ.”

—Pope St. Pius X, 1914 AD

“Long live Christ the King!”

—Bl. Miguel Pro, S.J., martyr, 1927 AD

“Jesus. Maria.”

—St. Pio of Pietrelcina, 1968 AD

“Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you.”

—Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 1997 AD

“Let me go to the house of the Father.”

—St. John Paul the Great, 2005 AD

What do you want to be your dying words?

Ghost Stories From Sts. Augustine & Gregory

October 31, 2014

In 398 AD, St. Augustine shared the following story about a probable visitor from beyond the veil in a letter to his friend, Evodius:

“Our brother, Gennadius … told us that he doubted once … whether there was any life after death. As God would not abandon a man of his disposition and works of mercy, there appeared to him in sleep a handsome youth of dignified appearance, who said to him: ‘Follow me.’ He followed and came to a certain city, where he began to hear, on his right, singing of such exquisite sweetness that it surpassed all known and ordinary sweetness. Then, as he listened, he asked what it was and his guide said it was the hymns of the blessed and the saints. I do not clearly remember what he said he saw on his left. When he awoke, the dream vanished and he thought of it only as one does of a dream.

But, on another night, behold, the same youth appeared to him again and asked whether he recognized him; he answered that he did so fully and perfectly. Then the youth asked where he had known him. He remembered what to reply to that, too, and described the whole vision and the hymns of the saints which the other had led him there to hear, recalling them with ease as a recent experience. Thereupon, the youth asked whether he had been asleep or awake when he saw what he had described. He answered: ‘It was in a dream.’ The other said: ‘You remember well, it is true, that you saw all that in a dream, but you must know that even now you see, although you are asleep.’ When he heard that, he believed it was so and expressed it by his answer.

Then the one who was teaching him continued and said: ‘Where is your body now?’ He answered: ‘In my bedroom.’ ‘And do you know,’ said the other, ‘that in that same helpless body, your eyes are fast shut and useless, and that you see nothing with those eyes?’ Gennadius answered: ‘I know it.’ His guide went on: ‘Then, with what kind of eyes do you see me?’ He fell silent at this, finding no reply, and, as he remained in doubt, the youth made known what he was trying to teach by these questions.

He went on: ‘As those eyes of flesh are now inactive and perform no function while your body lies asleep in bed, yet you have eyes with which you behold me and a sight of which you make use, so, when you die and the eyes of your flesh see nothing, there will be in you another life by which you will live and sense by which you will perceive. See to it that henceforth you do not doubt of the life which remains after death.’ Thus this faithful man says that his doubt on this matter was removed, and what was his teacher but the providence and mercy of God?”

In 593 AD, Pope St. Gregory the Great related this story in his Dialogues:

“Bishop Felix…said that he had been told of such a case by a saintly priest who was still living two years ago in the [Italian] diocese of Centum Cellae as pastor of the Church of St. John in Tauriana [on the toe of Italy.] This priest used to bathe in the hot springs of Tauriana whenever his health required. One day, as he entered the baths, he found a stranger there who showed himself most helpful in every way possible, by unlatching his shoes, taking care of his clothes, and furnishing him towels after the hot bath.

After several experiences of this kind, the priest said the himself: ‘It would not do for me to appear ungrateful to this man who is so devoted in his kind services to me. I must reward him in some way.’ So one day he took along two crown-shaped loaves of bread to give him.

When he arrived at the place, the man was already waiting for him and rendered the same services he had before. After the bath, when the priest was again fully dressed and ready to leave, he offered the man the present of bread, asking him kindly to accept it as a blessing, for it was offered a token of charity.

But the man sighed mournfully and said, ‘Why do you give it to me, Father? That bread is holy and I cannot eat it. I who stand before you was once the owner of this place. It is because of my sins that I was sent back here as a servant. If you wish to do something for me, then offer this bread to almighty God, and so make intercession for me, a sinner. When you come back and do not find me here, you will know that your prayers have been heard.

With these words he disappeared, thus showing that he was a spirit disguised as a man. The priest spent the entire week in prayer and tearful supplications, offering Mass for him daily. When he returned to the bath, the man was no longer to be found. This incident points out the great benefits souls derive from the Sacrifice of the Mass. Because of these benefits the dead ask us, the living, to have Masses offered for them, and even show us by signs that it was through the Mass that they were pardoned.”

Our Lady’s Wisconsin Message: The Meaning of the Two Trees

September 25, 2014

In the Garden of Eden, there were many fruit-bearing trees, but Genesis mentions only two by name: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By partaking of the Tree of Life the human race could keep living forever, but the Lord warned that to eat from the other tree would mean our certain death. On October 9th, 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared near Green Bay to a 28 year-old Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise while she was walking eleven miles home from Sunday Mass. Interestingly, Our Lady chose to appear to Adele not in a church, or a thousand other places, but between two trees: a Maple and a Hemlock.

Maple LeavesYou’re familiar with the beauty and goodness of the Maple. In the fall, its leaves turn the most striking colors, and in the spring its sap yields sweet syrup. But do you know about the Hemlock tree? The poison that the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to drink came from this plant. Ingesting just six or eight fresh Hemlock leaves can kill a healthy adult. The Maple is a tree of life while the Hemlock is a tree of death. Mary, the New Eve, stood between the two.

Three Conium Maculatum (or Poison Hemlock), Cedar Bog, Champaign CoMary told Adele, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” Our Lady’s message between the two trees is akin the words of Moses, who told the Israelites: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land….

Peshtigo Fire MapApparently, Our Lady’s warnings were not sufficiently heeded. In October of 1871, exactly twelve years later, disaster came. Both in terms of size and number of lives lost, the Peshtigo Fire remains the worst recorded forest fire in U.S. history. Between 1,200 and 2,400 lives ended in that firestorm which saw, according to an eyewitness, “large wooden houses torn from their foundations and caught up like straws by two opposing currents of air which raised them till they came in contact with the stream of fire.” This seems to be the punishment due to sin that Mary spoke of, yet this does not mean that everyone who perished in that fire was condemned. We should remember that at harvest time, the wheat and the weeds are pulled up together in a moment, but their future fates are not the same. Once uprooted, the good are gathered and kept in the barn, while the bad are thrown away forever.

The firestorm came and surrounded the shrine of Our Lady, where hundreds had come for refuge with their families and herds, beseeching her intercession before God. As many as fled to her there were saved. The shrine’s consecrated earth was an emerald-green island in an ocean of smoldering ashes as far as eyes could see.

Mary, the Queen of Heaven, prays for the conversion of sinners and she wishes you to do the same. You receive Holy Communion, and that is well. But you must do more. Begin by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation regularly, because it is powerful for growing in holiness. The sinner whose conversion you are most responsible for is your own.