Archive for the ‘Salvation History’ Category

The Holy Family and Yours

January 1, 2018

Every year, Holy Mother Church presents the Holy Family for our contemplation and imitation. Some imagine life in the home of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the soft, pastel colors of a Christmas card; so holy, so flawless, so unobtainable. We wonder, “Can the Holy Family and my family really relate to one another?” At least two out of the three members of the Holy Family never sinned in their entire lives together. We, meanwhile, could jokingly refer to the Feast of the Holy Family as “Elbow-Nudge Sunday.” Throughout the world this day, wives and husbands, parents and children, take turns gently nudging one another as they listen to God’s words about marriage and family life. The Holy Family was holy, but that doesn’t mean their lives were easy or smooth.

I’ve previously written about the stresses and difficulties of the holy couple leading up to the first Christmas: about Mary’s crisis pregnancy, about Joseph grappling with his wife telling him the child within her is the Son of God and Joseph contemplating a divorce, about their giving birth to that holy child in an animal stable. And their trials together continued after Jesus’ birth.

Imagine being Mary and hearing Simeon prophesy, “Behold, this child is destined … to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce…” How would that make you feel about the future for you and your child? Picture being Mary as her husband awakes and says “our boy is being hunted, we need to leave tonight.” Consider Joseph, the servant-leader of his family, having to pack-up quickly and leave so much behind to take his family into hiding in Egypt. Later, an angel tells Joseph to bring his family back into Israel. So Joseph returns with Jesus and Mary, but he’s afraid to resettle in the south because the son of Herod the Great now rules Judea. With the help of another dream, Joseph decides to resettle in the north, in Nazareth of Galilee.

I mention all this because St. Joseph, the just and holy man, feared an earthly king even as he trusted God. St. Mary at the Annunciation did not know all the details of her future, but she trusted in God by saying, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Our Lord Jesus, sweating blood from stress the night before he died, trusted God to say, “Not my will but yours be done.” Their holy lives were often difficult, but God always rewarded their trust, bringing about good for them in the end.

In Genesis, Abram (whose name later got changed to Abraham) was promised a son by the Lord. But the childless Abraham looks at the old age of his wife and himself and asks, ‘Will my steward, Eliezer, be my heir?‘ God answers, ‘No, not him; your own flesh and blood son shall be your heir.’ Then the Lord took Abraham outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” And Abraham put his faith in the Lord.

When I first heard this story (and maybe when you heard it too) I assumed this event happened at night. But the message is even more powerful if God told him to “look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can,” during the daytime. Where do the stars go during the day? We know they’re still there, even though the Sun’s brightness the sky’s blueness prevent us from seeing them. Abraham trusted in the Lord’s unwavering goodwill towards him and beheld God’s word fulfilled in the birth of Isaac. Through that son, Abraham received glory and the whole world was blessed.

One of the things Jesus says in the Gospels more than anything else is, “Be not afraid.” Sacrifice your fears. Imagine taking those obsessive worrying thoughts from your mind, placing them upon the altar, and lighting them afire like a sacrifice of old to God. “Let the peace of Christ control your heart…” Trust that “God works all things for the good of those who love him” and then “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

God not only wants peace within us, but peace among us as well. In our homes there is always room for improvement. The household of the Holy Family may have been a sinless one, but mistakes and miscommunications surely happened. Joseph probably broke or misplaced tools. Mary probably burnt an occasional loaf of bread. From the Gospels we know they both thought they knew where their 12-year-old boy was as they left Jerusalem for home; several hours passed before they realized he was missing. Even when we deeply love one another, we must learn and practice how to love and serve each other better.

We love each other in many ways, and the best modes by which we experience love can vary from person to person. The book “The Five Love Languages” lays out five major ways that we give and receive love, namely:

Gift Giving
Acts of Service
Affectionate Touch
Words of Affirmation
Quality Time

What are your top-two love languages? Can you guess the preferred languages of your spouse and children? Sometimes we try to love others as ourselves by loving them exactly as ourselves and we unfortunately miss our mark. For example, imagine a spouse complaining, “Why don’t you let me know that you love me,” when they really mean “why don’t you get me surprises anymore” (gift giving) or “why don’t you tell me that I delight you and you’re pleased with me” (words of affirmation.) At this, their spouse might reply, “What do you mean? I’m loving you all the time,” when they’re really saying “I take care of the kids and do housework” (acts of service) and “We eat and sit in the living room together every evening” (quality time.) These two loving spouses are loving past each other.

Learn the preferred love languages of your family members, and don’t expect others read your mind, sabotaging our own happiness. Tell them how to delight you. They love you and they want to make you happy. Don’t attack and criticize (“You always this” or “You never that”) but invite them to bless you. And pray together, as a couple and a family. The Holy Family surely did and its one of the most valuable things I can recommend. Some married couples, who have shared a bed for years, have never revealed their personal prayer requests to each other. Pray together, and then even whenever frictions arise, you will remember that you are on the same team, together on the same side with God.

Your home will never be perfect – not even the Holy Family’s was perfect. Life’s circumstances will go awry, and there will be sins we have to apologize for and forgive one another. But with trust in God and a daily commitment to loving and serving each other better, you too can live in the peace and joy of the Holy Family.


What if Jerusalem were in Western Wisconsin?

December 29, 2017

(Not all will personally resonate with the reference city
chosen for this reflection, but I share this article because
its device and style may be fruitfully employed by others.)

One thing I brought back with me from my first trip to Israel was a better grasp of its geography. A visit to the Holy Land yields a previously unknown sense a scale, offering new insights to the Gospel. In lieu of flying everyone abroad, perhaps I can bring its holy places closer to home. Let’s allow Bloomer, Wisconsin to represent the location of ancient Jerusalem and examine where other sites in the region would be situated relative to it.

The town of Bethlehem is about five and a half miles (in a straight line, as the crow flies) south-southwest (SSW) from Jerusalem. So, allowing Bloomer to be Jerusalem, Jesus was born not far from St. John the Baptist’s Catholic Church in Cooks Valley, Wisconsin. If the Holy Family, retracing the steps of their Hebrew ancestors during their flight into Egypt, passed by the Great Pyramids of Giza (273 miles WSW from Jerusalem) they fled almost as far as Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After King Herod the Great’s death, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to their hometown of Nazareth, 64 miles north of Jerusalem. Each year, Jesus’ parents would pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem, as from Hayward, Wisconsin to Bloomer and back, for the Jewish festival of Passover.

One of the things that struck me about seeing the Old City of Jerusalem in person is how very small it is. There is just 0.35 square miles – only twice the area of Vatican City – within its high stone walls. The locales of Jesus’ Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension are all reasonably short walks from each other.  If we take St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Bloomer as the location of the Jewish Temple, the Cenacle (or “Upper Room” where the Last Supper was celebrated) is located to the southwest at the intersection of Riggs Street & 19th Avenue. The site of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher) is almost due west of the church, in the middle of Bloomer’s Lake Como behind the A.J. Manufacturing building. And the traditional site of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven from the Mount of Olives would be almost due east from the church, in the first field south of the Bloomer Public Elementary School.

As the young Church spread, a Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus obtained authority from the Jewish High Priest to arrest any Christians he might find in Damascus, 134 miles NNE from Jerusalem in Syria. However, the Lord Jesus enlightened him on his journey as to (quite fittingly) the Apostle Islands off of Wisconsin’s northern shore. This Saul, who became St. Paul, would go on to preach and win converts as in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba & Saskatchewan (i.e., Turkey & Greece.) Just like St. Peter, St. Paul was martyred for Christ far from home, 1,432 miles from Jerusalem in Rome, a distance like that of Seattle, Washington from Bloomer.

Following the Apostles, Jesus’ Church continued to grow through the centuries and around the world, winning new souls in new lands, including our own. Our Christian Faith has come to us today from ancient Jerusalem to St. Paul’s Catholic Church, wondrously spanning a distance equaling that of Bloomer, Wisconsin to Kyoto, Japan.

The two gray domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher appear behind the Islamic Dome of the Rock shrine atop the Temple Mount
in this photo I took in November 2016 from the western slope
of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Jesus Christ, the Center of History

December 25, 2017

If you had walked through the streets Bethlehem or Rome asking people on the first Christmas Eve, “What year is this,” the answers you’d hear might vary. The Sun numbers our days, the Moon tracks our months, and the seasons indicate the passage of years, but answering what year it is requires people to make reference to some shared historical event.

If you had bumped into one of the ancient world’s many sports fans on the first Christmas Eve, they might have told you that it was 3rd year of the 194th Olympiad. Once every four years, famous athletic competitions were held in Olympia, Greece. Freeborn Greek men would compete in footraces, chariot races, wrestling matches, javelin tosses, discus throws, and other events; for the honor of the Greek god Zeus, for the pride of their home city-states, and for their own personal glory. The winners received crowns or wreaths made of green olive leaves that would fade. All that remains of some of those ancient sports superstars today are their names in texts read less often today than last month’s newspapers.

If you had run into a merchant on the first Christmas Eve who used the Roman coins and roads to trade goods, he might have said that it was 752nd year since the founding of the City of Rome. Considering the wealth and influence of Rome at that time, it might have seemed like that empire would live and reign in the world without end. However, from decay within and barbarian attacks from without, much of what that empire built remains today, if at all, only as ruins for tourists.

If you had encountered someone enamored with power and celebrity on the first Christmas Eve, they might have answered that it was 42nd year of the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus. It was a census he decreed that sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Early in his reign, Caesar Augustus claimed that the passage of Halley’s Comet over Rome was the spirit of his predecessor, Julius Caesar, rising into heaven. And so, since Julius Caesar had been a god, Caesar Augustus, as his heir, presumed to call himself “the son of a god.” Caesar Augustus would go on to die at age seventy-five and never be heard from again.

If you had spoken on the first Christmas Eve to someone focused on the politics and current events of the land of Israel, they might have replied that it was 38th year of the reign King Herod the Great, the King of Judea under the Romans. Herod the Great was a very controversial figure, with some Jews praising him and still more despising him: he expanded and gloriously refurbished the Temple in Jerusalem but was also a murderous tyrant, like when he ordered the deaths of the innocent baby boys in Bethlehem. Because the Roman Senate had appointed him as “the King of the Jews,” and since he was not descended from King David, nobody mistook Herod for being the Christ.

On the first Christmas Eve, some two thousand and eighteen years ago, only a handful of people on earth had any clue of the world-changing significance of what was about to occur. The baby born that night was the source of the universe and the center of human history.

In the year we call 525, a new way of numbering years was introduced by a monk named Dionysius the Humble. Dionysius numbered years using this baby’s birth as the starting point, naming it “1 A.D.” A.D. stands for the Latin phrase “anno Domini / in the year of our Lord.” 1 A.D. was dubbed the first year of our Lord on earth, and this is currently the 2,017th year of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I should mention that Dionysius has reason to be humble here as well. He estimated the time of Jesus’ birth as best as he could, but he seems to have been a little bit off. The best evidence today points to Jesus being born in 2 or 3 B.C. But regardless, it is most fitting that we mark and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as the center of human history and the most important person who has ever lived.

  • Christ is the undefeated champion whose glory does not fade. Even when he seems to be down, he triumphs in overtime. (And, unlike Aaron Rodgers, “not one of his bones shall be broken.”)
  • Christ’s holy kingdom has outlasted the Romans. In fact, he conquered them peacefully by converting their hearts. And today, his kingdom extends to all lands and people through his Holy Catholic Church.
  • Christ is greater than Caesar, he is stronger than death. When Jesus died, he rose again. And now he reigns, because he is truly the Son of God.
  • Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is our leader untainted by sin, who is truly wise, and cares about me and you.

Even those without any Christian faith must acknowledge Jesus’ positive influence on the world: in children treasured; in women respected; in slaves freed; in strangers welcomed; in millions and millions fed, clothed, treated, or taught, around the world and across centuries, all because of the baby born on Christmas.

A.D. does not stand for an “Arbitrary Date.” Anno Domini is no accidental demarcation of before and after. Jesus Christ merits more than our apathetic dismissal. Jesus deserves to be at the center of our years and the center of our lives. As he, this Christmas night, so humbly gives himself to you, please give yourself to him anew. He is the Christ, yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him and all the ages; to him be glory and power, through every age and forever, in you and in me. Amen.

The Ox, the Ass, & the First Manger Scene

December 20, 2017

In the year 1223 A.D., about two weeks before Christmas and three years before his death, St. Francis of Assisi shared an innovative idea with a beloved friend: “I want to do something that will recall the memory of that child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.” With Pope Honorius III’s approval and his generous friend’s help everything was ready for Christmas Eve.

Blessed Thomas of Celano (writing just six years after) recounts the unveiling of that first manger scene, or crèche:

“With glad hearts, the men and women of that place prepared, according to their means, candles, and torches to light up that night which has illuminated all the days and years with its glittering star. Finally the holy man of God arrived and, finding everything prepared, saw it and rejoiced. … The manger is ready, hay is brought, the (live) ox and ass are led in. The brothers sing, discharging their debt of praise to the Lord, and the whole night echoes with jubilation. The holy man of God stands before the manger full of sighs, consumed by devotion, and filled with a marvelous joy. The holy man of God wears a deacon’s vestments, for he was indeed a deacon, and he sings the holy gospel with a sonorous voice. Then he preaches sweetly to the people standing about, telling them about the birth of the poor king and the little city of Bethlehem.”

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth make no mention of an ox or donkey, but St. Francis included them in his scene because the duo had so commonly appeared in Christian imagery and writings since the Early Church.

Like the crucified thieves beside Jesus’ cross, this pair of creatures beside Jesus’ crib can represent two types of people in our world. Some respond to the birth of God among us like a donkey, with a foolish, stubborn resistance. But others, like an ox, humbly take the yoke of Christ upon their shoulders, learn from him, and produce a great harvest. Some attend Christmas Mass eager to leave early and without plans to soon return, like Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper. Yet Jesus calls us to attend to him week in and week out as his faithful oxen so that we may have peace in this world: “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.”

A Solar Eclipse Q & A

August 15, 2017

What is it like to experience a total eclipse?

For places within the 70-mile-wide “path of totality” of this Monday’s eclipse it will be like sunset suddenly arriving in the middle of the day. The air temperature will drop, stars may appear, and animals could become confused.

Is this eclipse a sign of the end of the world?

Quite likely not. On average, total eclipses occur on earth more than sixty times every century. This particular eclipse simply happens to span across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. However, it is always a good time to “repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Will we be able to see the solar eclipse in Wisconsin?

The Moon will not completely block out the Sun’s light in Wisconsin, but about 80% of the Sun will be obscured here on Monday at 1:10 PM local time. (Click here to check for your own zip-code, and review this important eye-safety info on viewing the eclipse.)

How do we know this eclipse is coming?

The Sun, Earth, and Moon move through the heavens according to God’s physical laws like clockwork. This makes it possible to accurately predict when eclipses will happen in the future or to calculate when they have occurred in the distant past.

Has our part of Wisconsin ever been in the direct path of a total eclipse?

This has happened here several times since Jesus Christ was born: on April 2, 610[*]: the year Mohammad began preaching Islam; on September 21, 1205: the year after the Crusaders sacked Constantinople; on April 6, 1503: the year Leonardo da Vinci began the Mona Lisa; and most recently on June 30, 1954: the month “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Did Jesus ever see a solar eclipse during his lifetime in Israel?

One solar eclipse’s “path of totality” went through nearby Syria on November 22, 29 AD and perhaps Jesus saw the Sun become more than 90% obscured that day. Luke’s Gospel records that “the sun was darkened,” or eclipsed, the afternoon of Jesus’ crucifixion. Since solar eclipses are not naturally possible when there is a full moon (as at the time of the Jewish Passover) this failing of the Sun’s light must be due to some other natural or supernatural phenomena.

[*] – All Julian calendar dates (October 15, 1582 and earlier) have been converted to Gregorian calendar dates.

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.

God Raises Up the Lowly

June 1, 2017

She was a teenage virgin when she received a word from Heaven — she was to be God’s instrument in an incredible way. She asked how this could be, since she was merely an uneducated peasant girl. The messenger answered that God would deliver his people through her and she consented to her part in God’s plan. Despite her utter lack of military training, St. Joan of Arc (1412—1431 AD) would go on to lead French troops to swift victories against the English armies occupying her  homeland, paving the way for her people’s liberation.

Every year, St. Joan’s of Arc’s feast (May 30th) comes the day before the Feast of the Visitation, which celebrates the meeting of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth when they were pregnant with St. John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ. I think it is fitting and providential that these two celebrations are paired together on the liturgical calendar. These three, wondrous women display God’s preferred means of intervening and triumphing throughout human history: by manifesting his mighty power through the weak and the lowly.

Of course, God can work through the high-ranking and the powerful to accomplish his purposes as well. For example, in 312 AD the pagan emperor Constantine, on the eve of a great battle in a civil war for control of the Western Roman Empire, reportedly had a vision of the Chi-Rho (☧), a Greek symbol for “Christ.” He then heard these words:  “In this sign you will conquer.” Constantine had this symbol painted on his soldiers’ shields and  prevailed in that decisive Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine became the first Christian emperor and promptly legalized the previously persecuted Christian religion throughout the empire in 313 AD.

And yet, the Virgin Mother Mary rejoices that God prefers to show the strength of his arm by lifting up the lowly and casting down the mighty from their thrones. St. Paul once redirected the attention of self-inflated Christians in Corinth, Greece to this truth:

Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. … “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”

In the Old Testament, God chose sheepherders, like Moses the Prophet and later King David, to lead and deliver his oppressed people. He chose working-class fishermen as some of the Church’s first bishops. At the Visitation, the four most important people in the entire world met together in one place: two women and their unborn babies. And through one condemned man, whose three-year rabbinical career seemed to end in failure and death, God redeemed the world. Such is the divine approach, lest we look to merely our own human plans and efforts as the source for our salvation.

Why Did Jesus Go Incognito?

April 30, 2017

There are three episodes in the Gospels where the resurrected Christ appears to his disciples but initially goes unrecognized: at the tomb, to Mary Magdalene; in the appearance we hear about today, to a pair of travelers on the road to Emmaus; and lastly, to seven of his disciples fishing the Sea of Galilee.

Let us briefly review each encounter:

First, on Easter morning, Mary is weeping outside the tomb. She turns around and sees Jesus there, but she does not know it’s Jesus. He says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thinks he’s the gardener and says to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus says to her, “Mary!” She turns, and says to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Perhaps Mary Magdalene’s tear-filled eyes and anguished mind simply could not make out Jesus’ face in morning’s early light, but after one more word she recognizes him. (John 20)

Today, Jesus draws near to Cleopas and another unnamed disciple as they walk to Emmaus, but their eyes are prevented from recognizing him, for he appears to them in another form. Later, when all three of them are dining together, Jesus takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives it to them. With that their eyes are opened and they recognize him. He is revealed to them in the breaking of the bread, but then vanishes from their sight. (Luke 24, Mark 16:12)

Third and finally, after a night of completely unsuccessful fishing, Jesus appears to the Apostles Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, and John, and two other unnamed disciples. They’re in a boat and he’s on the shore, but they do not immediately realize it’s Jesus. He says to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answer, “No.” So he says, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” And they proceed to miraculously catch 153 large fish without tearing their nets. (The Biny fish, which is common to the Sea of Galilee today, has a weight at maturity of 13 to 15 pounds. A catch of 153 of these fish would weigh more than a ton.) Jesus then invites them, “Come, have breakfast.” And, St. John’s Gospel notes, none of the disciples dares to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realize it is the Lord. (John 21)

One might argue that Jesus’ looks were not in any way disguised on the shore, that the disciples simply failed to recognize him at first because he was about a hundred yards away and the light of dawn was still dim. But if that were the case, there would be no thought of asking him “Who are you” over breakfast around that charcoal fire; this question only arises if his identity remains somewhat concealed. Some have suggested that Jesus appeared elderly to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, for he says, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” On the other hand, Jesus had previously referred to the Apostles as his children at the Last Supper, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”

Jesus has no difficulty being immediately recognizable when he wants to be. On Divine Mercy Sunday, when Jesus appears before St. Thomas for the first time, we perceive no hesitation in the former doubter’s declaration, “My Lord and my God!” So why then did Jesus allow himself to go unrecognized, at times even becoming physically unrecognizable to his disciples? Perhaps Jesus had thousands of good reasons for this, but I would offer these four:

Reason #1: To add proof that these resurrection accounts are true

Imagine if Jesus’ bodily resurrection were a lie and you were making up stories to bolster others’ belief in it. Would you invent and insert the odd detail that Jesus’ closest disciples couldn’t always recognize him when they saw him? What reason would there be to weave such a confounding wrinkle into your resurrection accounts — unless it were the truth?

Reason #2: To demonstrate how people can believe in Jesus without directly seeing him 

The disciples in Emmaus said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” They came to faith in the resurrection by recognizing the fulfillment of prophesy, even before Jesus had opened their eyes to see himself. At the Sea of Galilee, when the Beloved Disciple saw the incredible catch of fish, he said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” The miraculous sign revealed to them the truth about a person they could not see. We today may not see Jesus’ unveiled presence among us, but he provides sufficient evidence to point to himself in every generation.

Reason #3: To show how Jesus would continue to be with us

In the forty days between Easter and his Ascension, Jesus was not visibly present to his Apostles twenty-four hours a day. Yet at the Great Commission, Jesus reassures, “[B]ehold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” What he’s saying is, ‘Even when you are alone, I will always be at your side.’ By revealing his resurrected self to his disciples “in a different form,” Jesus prepares them for how they will regularly encounter him through the Sacraments until he comes again; truly present, but veiled.

Reason #4: To reveal how Jesus is presented to us through others

Who is the manual laborer we bump into, like Mary Magdalene saw on Easter morning and addressed respectfully as “Sir” (even though she was having a horrible day and thought he might be a body snatcher)? Who is the traveler we pass on the road, like the Emmaus duo met, dialogued with, and invited to stay with them? Who is the older person that greets us, like the Galilean fishermen encountered and with whom they shared their food? Jesus would have us see himself in all of them and everyone. At the Last Judgment, Jesus will declare to both the saved sheep and the guilty goats, “Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”

Jesus once asked St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th century Italian mystic, “My beloved, do you know why I love you?” In response to Catherine’s negative reply, Jesus said, “I will tell you. If I cease to love you, you will be nothing; you will be incapable of anything good. Now you see why I have to love you.” Catherine replied, “It is true,” and suddenly added, “I would like to love you like that.” But as soon as she had spoken, she realized what she had said was misplaced. Jesus smiled. Then, she complained, “But this is not fair. You can love me with great love, and I can only love you with small love.” At that moment, Jesus interrupted and said, “I have made it possible for you to love me with great love.” Surprised, she immediately asked him how. “I have placed your neighbor at your side. Whatever you do to him, I will consider it as being done to me.” St. Catherine went running to care for the sick in the hospital, rejoicing: “Now I can love Jesus with great love!”

After the resurrection, Jesus was sometimes unrecognized by his disciples, but he allowed this so that we might better recognize him; as the Savior truly risen, as the Christ evidenced by signs, as the Lord truly present in the Sacraments, and as the one concealed in our neighbor.

The Case of the Prophet Caiaphas

April 29, 2017

Once word got around how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead,

[T]he chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to kill him. (John 11:47-53)

Caiaphas speaks the wisdom of this world, recommending evil means in hopes of a desired social end. Yet St. John notes that this earthly-minded high priest prophetically reveals the plan of heaven without knowing it — Jesus has come “to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Like Balaam in the Book of Numbers, Caiaphas prophesies despite himself.

After Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection, the Sanhedrin convenes anew — this time to address the issue of the Apostles’ continued ministry in His name:

When the court officers had brought the Apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders did we not, to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

Caiaphas is threatened by the vitality of this Messianic movement that won’t die and stay dead. He fears the social rebellion and personal vengeance that its followers may seek out. Once again, the high priest’s misplaced concerns unknowingly speak spiritual truths.

The Apostles indeed wish to bring the Savior’s blood upon the Jewish leaders and everyone. When the Old Covenant was inaugurated, “[Moses] took the blood and splashed it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.’” (Exodus 24:8) Likewise, in instituting his New Covenant, Jesus “took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:27-28)

And the Apostles’ teaching is not merely filling the ancient Jerusalem found in the earthly Promised Land. In his visions, St. John beholds “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” and he notes that God’s people “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:2 & 7:14)

Recall what Joseph told to his brothers who had sold him away as a slave: “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people.” (Genesis 50:20) Remember what St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome: “We know that God works all things for good for those who love Him…” (Romans 8:28) The case of Caiaphas reminds us that even those who make themselves the enemies of God will be used as instruments to accomplish His ultimate will. At times this truth can be painfully inscrutable to us, but we trust that every evil, even the murdering of God, shall be turned to the good of those who love Him.

But It Was Not Enough For Him

April 16, 2017

At Passover, in Jesus’ day and in our own, the Jewish people remember and celebrate the great Exodus, how God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt and led them into the freedom of the Promised Land. Through Moses, God commanded his people to keep the Passover feast as an everlasting memorial. Jesus’ Last Supper was something of a transformed Passover meal, and his Passion, Death, and Resurrection are the mystery that the Passover foreshadowed and prefigured.

Jews today observe their annual Passover meal with an assortment of ancient traditions. Among these is singing or reciting an up-beat Hebrew song named “Dayenu” (Da-yea-nu.) Dayenu means “it would have been enough for us!” Here is an English translation of this more than one thousand year old song:

If [the Lord] had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had destroyed their idols, and had not struck their first-born
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had struck their first-born, and had not given us their wealth
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had given us their wealth, and had not split the sea for us
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had taken us through the sea on dry land, and had not drowned our oppressors in it
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had drowned our oppressors in it, and had not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, and had not fed us the Manna
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had fed us the Manna, and had not given us the Sabbath
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had given us the Sabbath, and had not brought us before Mount Sinai
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had brought us before Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Law
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had given us the Law, and had not brought us into the land of Israel
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

If He had brought us into the land of Israel, and not built for us the Holy Temple
Dayenu, it would have been enough!

It would have been enough for us,” for how could we demand more than what God had given? He created the universe out of nothing and every good thing is his gift. Apart from God’s promises (freely-imposed upon himself by His covenants) we could not rightfully insist upon anything more. As Job said at the onset of his trials, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” We could not demand more—but we would still desire more.

We would continue to desire life without end. We would still want deliverance from evils, outside us and within us. We would still desire unending delights, for as King Solomon observed, “The eye is not satisfied by seeing nor has the ear enough of hearing.” And would long for divine intimacy with the Holy Source of all good. All these desires are fulfilled for us through Jesus Christ.

We could not demand more, but we would still desire more, for the Lord has placed these desires within us. He did this that He might fulfill our desires and they reflected his own desires for us.

The Lord did all the great things that came before
— But this was not enough for Him!

He did all these great things, and then He became man for us
— But this was not enough for Him!

He became man for us, and then He taught us the New Law of Love
— But this was not enough for Him!

He taught us the New Law, and then He suffered and died to forgive us
— But this was not enough for Him!

He suffered and died to forgive us, and then He rose from the dead to save us from death
— But this was not enough for Him!

He rose from the dead to save us from death, and then He left us the Church
— But this was not enough for Him!

He left us the Church, and then He wedded and united himself to us through the Holy Sacraments

What God has given us, what Jesus has done for us, what we are given, what we are promised — this is enough for us. Let us rejoice in Him this day!

The Cross of the Passion

March 15, 2017

A local parishioner has drawn upon the best available evidence to create this realistic sculpture of Jesus Christ on his Cross. Come to St. Wenceslaus in Eastman on Friday, March 24th at 7 PM to encounter this impressive, life-sized crucifix. Father Victor Feltes will speak about the historical sources on which this crucifix is based and lead some short devotions.

A 50-50 Christmas Quiz

December 22, 2016

Christmas Card  Highlight to Reveal the Answers

  1. Which archangel visited Mary?

       (((A: Gabriel)))   B: Michael

  1. In which Gospel does the archangel visit Mary?

       (((A: Luke)))    B: Matthew

  1. Who is the “Immaculate Conception?”

            A: Jesus    (((B: Mary)))

  1. Where was Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit?

           A: Bethlehem    (((B: Nazareth)))

  1. What is grown in wombs?

           A: Christmas Trees    (((B: Babies)))

  1. Who was born first?

           A: Jesus Christ    (((B: John the Baptist)))

  1. Which Gospel has John the Baptist’s birth?

       (((A: Luke)))    B: Matthew

  1. About many years ago was Jesus born?

       (((A: 2,017 Years)))    B: 3,300 Years

  1. What is a manger?

       (((A: Feed Box)))    B: Stable

  1. Who invented crèches (or manger scenes)?

           A: St. Augustine    (((B: St. Francis of Assisi)))

  1. Which Gospel has the “Wise Men” or Magi?

            A: Luke    (((B: Matthew)))

  1. From which direction did the Magi come?

       (((A: The East)))    B: The West

  1. Who was St. Nicholas in the 4th century?

       (((A: Bishop in Turkey)))    B: Norwegian Martyr

  1. When does the Roman Catholic Church’s Christmas Season end?

       (((A: Baptism of the Lord)))    B: Epiphany

So how did you do?

Thy Kingdom Come — Tuesday, 1st Week of Advent

December 1, 2016

Readings: Isaiah 11, Luke 10

While recently visiting the Sea of Galilee in Israel I saw something in the skies I had never seen before. There were miles-wide concentric cloud rings with the occasional sound of long, rolling, man-made thunder. Though these things were interesting to behold, I hated the reason behind why they needed to be there. Northwestern Israel borders Syria and these high-altitude contrails and jet-engine sounds were from the Israeli Air Force’s U.S.-made F-15’s or F-16’s on defensive air patrols to ensure their neighbor’s civil war did not spill over into their own country.

The coastline of the Sea of Galilee is beautiful, peaceful, and prosperous. We were able to celebrate a Mass in an outside chapel near the site where Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection and had breakfast with his disciples (as recorded in John 21.) But while we were free to tour and worship without threat or fear, the people of Aleppo, Syria were under siege just 250 miles north. There the Russian bear and the Syrian wolf are allied against the ISIS serpent in a battle for the right to rule over the suffering lambs and little children caught in the middle. The prophet Isaiah’s poetic vision of the radical peace the Messiah (or Christ) would someday establish has not yet fully come:

       “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
       The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
       The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
       The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
       There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.”  (Isaiah 11:4-9)

The Infant Child of PragueOn one occasion, turning to the disciples in private, Jesus said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (Luke 10:23-24) Many great Old Testament figures longed for the promised Messiah but died before his coming. We are blessed to live in an age which has seen his arrival and blessed to have heard his message. Yet further blessed are we if we pray and prepare the path for the New Creation Christ promises to bring.

Along the sea of Galilee, it is possible to give no thought to the suffering and death happening not so far away. Likewise, in our beautiful, peaceful, prosperous country it is possible to ignore that there are grave evils in our midst, happening just out of sight. But blessed are we if we choose to long and labor for the life of the New Heavens and New Earth.

        “Blessed are they who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
        …Blessed are they who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
        …Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
        …Blessed are they who are persecuted for
    the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the
    kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5)

What Remains of Capernaum Today — Monday, 1st Week of Advent

December 1, 2016

Readings: Isaiah 4, Matthew 8

galilean-sunrise-at-tiberius-november-2016Capernaum was a home base for Jesus Christ during his ministry in Galilee. Josephus, the 1st century A.D. Roman-Jewish historian, wrote that 30,000 people lived in Capernaum. Josephus has a bad reputation for exaggerating his figures but even if the true number were one-third that, Capernaum would still be a major city on the ancient trade route. But today, if you visit Capernaum (or Kfar Nahum “Nahum’s village” in Hebrew), you will find very little standing there. There are the ancient ruins St. Peter the Apostle’s home and of  a fourth-century synagogue, a couple of Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries, but not much else. The nearby surroundings are dry orchard fields and rocky barrenness. Capernaum is no longer a great, impressive city. Jesus had once foretold of its desolation:

        “And as for you, Capernaum:
‘Will you be exalted to heaven?
       You will go down to the netherworld.’
       For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”  (Matthew 11:23)

One thing remaining from Capernaum are the Gospel accounts of this encounter between Jesus and a centurion. Once, when Jesus entered the city, the centurion approached and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” Jesus told him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith….” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed. (Matthew 8)

The centurion does not do very much in this episode. According to Luke 7’s telling, he actually communicated with Jesus through intermediaries. So what about him impressed Jesus so much? The centurion’s few words reveal his reverent humility and confident trust before Jesus, and his loving concern for his suffering servant. Jesus is not impressed by world wealth and power, by great cities or empires, but by acts of faith and love, which remain before him always.

Catholic Teachings About The End Times

November 10, 2016

Catechism of the Catholic Church #668-679

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.


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.