Sunday, March 31, 2013

On the Other Side of the Veil

When Christ died on the Cross, Mary lost a Son and John lost a friend. For them, the Passion of our Lord was more than a religious drama. They had to endure the loss of a Loved One. And it would seem that the same conditions of life and death would apply to them as it had applied to countless people before them; the main condition being that human flesh would serve as a barrier between the living and the dead. Because of this barrier, those in the flesh despaired of having any relationship with deceased loved ones after death.

 But on Good Friday, when Christ gave up his spirit, the Temple veil tore because of what would transpire on Easter morning. Indeed on that morning, the veil of human flesh, which was thought to separate the living and dead forever under the Satan’s dominion, was taken up and glorified by Christ. With this, the destiny of souls- the happiness of heaven and the misery of hell –would be revealed to mankind. The Apostles, Martyrs and Saints would bear witness to immortality of the soul.

However, before the time of Christ, life after death for the ancients was not a well established belief. In fact, the conventional wisdom was that when the body expired, that was the end of life. That’s all she wrote! As far as most were concerned, deceased loved ones were forever a thing of the past, never to be seen again. As such, death was the cause of considerable grief and despair. The Jews , on the other hand, believed in the immortality of the soul but the afterlife, nevertheless, was an enigma to them. They did not have a clear conception of heaven, purgatory and hell. Hades, often mentioned in the Old Testament, was a doctrine (similar to purgatory) that held that there existed an abode of the dead; a temporary holding place before the righteous and the wicked would inherit their reward and punishment.

Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, in his work, Discourse to the Greeks concerning Hades, represented the Jewish idea of the afterlife from Old Testament times when he wrote the following:

"...Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished; a subterraneous region, wherein the light of this world does not shine; from which circumstance, that in this region the light does not shine, it cannot be but there must be in it perpetual darkness. This region is allotted as a place of custody for souls, in which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who distribute to them temporary punishments, agreeable to every one's behavior and manners.”

This, no doubt, is a murky account of the afterlife. But the book of Wisdom, which the Catholic Church honors as the inspired Word, gives a more luminous account. It is estimated to have been written about two to three hundred years before Christ. In fact, the closer we get to the birth of Christ, the more developed the Jewish doctrine on the afterlife becomes. In any event, the book of Wisdom provided rays of hope that the soul outlives the body; that the friends of God continue to see another day- a happier day –after their death:

“But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality…In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble…”

Then, during the public ministry of Jesus, the immortality of the soul and the eternity was more clearly expressed in parables and teachings. In fact, it served, according to our Lord, as the main incentive for living a holy life and laying down one’s life for God, if necessary. And on the Cross, Jesus told the Good Thief that he would be with him in paradise. But the living proof that death is not the end of life was when our Lord had risen from the dead and appeared to his family and friends for the forty days that followed.

The resurrection of our Lord is a living reminder that our life and death has great meaning. It is a reminder that life itself is but a prelude to a more blessed life in heaven; one that is reserved for the friends of God. As such, it gives the average person a real, tangible hope that the veil of human flesh does not permanently separate us for those loved ones, who, through death, are no longer clothed in human flesh. Indeed, the Resurrection not only gave courage to Martyrs and strength to Saints, but it gave inspiration to soldiers who would be called to die for their country.

One such soldier was a man by the name of Sullivan Ballou. He was a major of the Rhode Island division during the Civil War. Through a kind of premonition, he felt as though he would die during the first battle of Bull Run. In fact, that is what happened. But a few days before the battle, on July 14, 1861, Sullivan, a husband and father two boys, took the opportunity to write to his wife Sarah. He knew that death would not forever deprive him of seeing his wife. He wanted to his wife to know that even though his lifeless body should lie on the battle field, his soul would never be far from her.

Sullivan Ballou’s faith inspired one of the most touching love letters in U.S. history. It reveals why he could lay down his life for, not only his country, but for his family. Towards the end of the letter, he writes:

“If I do not [return] my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness....

But, O Sarah! if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again....”

The hope of meeting again those who passed before us is the greatest of consolations- the greatest of gifts –that the Risen Lord comes to give us. He makes the veil of human flesh a little thinner, a little more transparent so that through faith we can almost see the friends of Christ, our loved ones, waiting for us and praying for us on the other side.

The Road to Emmaus: Meeting men where they are at!

Human beings have a strong tendency towards social conformity, that is, they are inclined to do what others are doing. This tendency is even stronger than our instinct to help others in need. An overwhelming temptation is to associate truth with what the greater number of people believe.

After centuries of oppression by empires and foreign nations, political liberation became increasingly important to the Jewish people. With that, the common hope for a political Messiah emerged; one who had the political and military power to ward off Israel's enemies. It just so happen that this hope colored the interpretation of Scripture by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Scribes. As more and more Jewish leaders bought into this politicized version of the Messiah, it naturally followed that the average Jew of the first century believed as they did. Therefore, during our Lord's public ministry, even with miraculous signs and wonders being performed, the Jewish people had a hard time accepting Jesus Christ as their Messiah.

Nevertheless, the preaching of the Gospel was to usher in, not an earthly kingdom, as was expected, but a spiritual kingdom. This spiritual kingdom- a new people of God -was the real source of liberation. Sin and Satan had to be taken down and done away with before Caesar could be dealt with. Or to say it another way, spiritual liberation is the condition upon which political liberation is rendered secure. Christ himself asked, “How can anyone enter a strong man's house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.” Christ would first have to tie up Satan and cast him out. After all, it was Satan who was the "ruler of the world," the one who patrolled the earth according to the prophet Job. Indeed, it was he who proved to be more of a nemesis to mankind than Caesar himself.

Enter Cleopas and "the other disciple." Cleopas was one of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who decided to call it quits and head home. Unfortunately for him, he was no exception to the conventional wisdom of his day. Feeling let down, he had come to the conclusion that the crucifixion of Christ marked the end of a good thing. The biblical idea that the Messiah would be the sacrificial Lamb of God "who takes away the sins of the world" could not be further away from Cleopas’ mind. Good Friday for Cleopas was the end, not the beginning of the work of Christ. Nevertheless, what he considered to be a failure on Calvary, God would use to save and bless mankind.

This pattern of the unexpected repeats itself over and over in God’s plan for his people. This is why we can never be sure that setbacks and detours are failures in the eyes of God. In fact, it could be just what Divine Providence required for his purpose.

I digress here, but according to St. Jerome, Cleopas was the brother of St. Joseph and one of the seventy disciples; the other disciple was thought be a man by the name of Simeon. Tradition has it that Cleopas was martyred for his Christian faith in a castle located in Emmaus, which was his hometown. What was originally a scandal to him, namely, the crucifixion of his Nephew, foretold the manner in which he would die. Indeed, it was in Emmaus where his death would glorify God.

At any rate, when the two disciples embarked upon the seven mile walk to Emmaus, they were also walking away from something. With a downtrodden spirit, they were walking away from Jerusalem, away from where Christ had risen from the dead and away from the place where the Apostles had begun to fellowship with their Risen Lord. To be sure, they were about to walk away from the most important events that were yet to unfold.

Cleopas and Simeon (if we accept St. Jerome's account) were conversing about their dashed hopes when Jesus entered the picture. Notice that Jesus, who was originally taken as a mysterious foreigner, did not initiate a new discussion with these gentlemen. That is, he did not ask them to talk about what they were not already talking about. Instead, he joined the conversation and took it to another level. From their discouraged stupor, Jesus transformed their misunderstanding of the Messiah into one which accorded with God's intent. Making reference to Scripture, he enlightened their minds and inflamed their hearts as to who and what the Messiah actually was. With that, the two disciples were filled with hope and new strength.

But first it is important to note that this approach- joining the conversation and taking it to a more enlightened level -serves as a good model for the New Evangelization. Catholic evangelists, both clergy and laity, need not take people off of their own turf. We too can enter into their conversations, interests and concerns. From there we can use the Light of Gospel to interpret and give meaning to their daily affairs, demonstrating that whatever good they possess or desire can be perfected and given its rightful context. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, grace does not replace nature, it perfects it!

We make a mistake when we expect unbelievers to join our conversation without making any effort to join theirs; or when we answer- not the questions people are asking –but our own questions. It seems to me that through the Emmaus story the Holy Spirit is biding the twenty-first century Catholic to enter into the talks around the kitchen table at home, the water cooler at work and even in the public square itself. But if this is to bear fruit we cannot leave the discussion where we find it. We, like Christ on the road to Emmaus, have to take the conversation to higher level. We cannot be afraid to introduce the reality of the supernatural or the hope of heaven or even speak the name of Christ. By doing this, we too can turn people around and get them walking back to where the Rise Christ is.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

An Ancient Homily

The Lord's descent into the underworld:

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you. Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Ecce Homo: Behold the Man

“Ecce Homo!” Pilate said to the crowd. That is, “Behold the man!” Behold the man, the Christ, who stands alone and rejected by his people.

To be an outsider and misunderstood is the lot of God’s closest friends. As far as I know, there is not a single canonized Saint who was not rejected by their own in some way and hence felt alone at some critical juncture in their life. Jesus warned as much when he said he came to bring not peace but the sword.

The Lord’s chosen instrument of pruning and purification is quite often being excluded by those closest to us. By far, the worst pain is to be endured during spiritual desolation; that is, when the soul feels totally abandoned by God himself. In this instance, the soul can be so deprived of the “sense” of grace that she deems itself to be denied of God’s mercy. Not a few Saints were tempted with despair; the feeling of being totally left behind by their Best Friend.

Consider the patriarch Joseph, one of Jacob’s twelve sons. Although God guaranteed that he would be blessed in several dreams he had, he was sold into slavery by his own brothers. For twenty long years it seemed as if God abandoned him. But he was later elevated to prime minister of Egypt. As such, he was in a position to save his family from starvation.

Moses, the great legislator of God’s law, was driven out of Egypt by Ramesses II for forty years. But he too would rise up and lead hundreds of thousands of Hebrews out of slavery.

Before his anointing as king of Israel, David did not fit in with the rest of brothers. This is why he would shepherd the sheep by himself. Again, it was not his brothers that Samuel anointed the second king of Israel, but David, who was overlooked by his own father and siblings. "Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart." (I Sam. 16:7)

The prophet Elijah, for his part, was not welcomed in the so-called band of prophets. The only real companion he had was his disciple Elisha.

As for the minor prophet Hosea, he was instructed by God to marry a prostitute named Gomer (she was to symbolize the infidelity of Israel), this, only to be rejected by her later on.

Indeed, the character and greatness of these patriarchs, kings and prophets of the Old Testament came about through the rejection of their own.  Rejection and banishment was no less the chosen instrument used by Christ in fashioning his Saints. Just to name only a few, there was his own family- the Holy Family –who had to flee Israel in order to take refuge in Egypt so as to escape the wrath of King Herod.

And centuries later there was St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, and St. John Fisher who were rejected and martyred by their English countrymen. And we cannot forget Pope St. Gregory VII, a champion of Church reform. He managed to get the State off of the Church’s back, but was eventually driven out of Rome by King Henry IV only to die in exile. About seven hundred years later, St. Alphonsus Liguori was kicked out of the Redemptorist order; the religious order he himself founded.

In more recent times, the Lord continued to set men and women apart for his work through the very same means: that of trials and rejection. St. Edith Stein, for instance, was a convert from Judaism to Catholicism. As such, she was estranged from her own people- most notably her own family -because of her faith in Christ. St. Padre Pio was forbidden by the Vatican to publicly exercise his ministry for ten years. Unable to minister to his people, he became a prisoner of his friary. And there is Bishop Fulton Sheen, arguably the most gifted evangelist of the twentieth century. According to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Bishop Sheen was an outsider with regard to his brother bishops. He never quite belonged.

After becoming familiar with God’s friends in Scripture and the Saints to follow, this recurring phenomenon of being excluded by our own should not surprise us. Our Lord himself said that no servant is above his master. And what did the Master say as he was dying on the Cross? He uttered the memorable words of Psalm 22: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Quite often the friends of God feel estranged, not only by their own people, but by God Himself. A wonderful book that captures this feeling of being alone in the desert is The Spirituality of the Old Testament. We discover that by no means are we singled out as if something unusual was happening to us. Instead, we are reminded that following in the footsteps of our Savior- at times a lonely walk -is the path many prophets and saints have traveled. The author, Paul Marie de la Croix, writes as about this holy abandonment:

“[S]ouls cease to understand the reason for the trials that afflict them and believe they are separated from God forever...divine conduct seems utterly incomprehensible, even extremely arbitrary and unjust. Everything bewilders them, causing uneasiness, anguish, obscurity. They more they seek God, the more deeply hidden He remains; the more they desire Him, the more he rejects them...they experience a reversal of God’s relationship to them. They seem to be permanently abandoned or even rejected, though divine favor and friendship had been theirs before.”

But as St. Francis de Sales once said, "An ounce of desolation is worth more than a pound of desolation." Through rejection and humiliations, we are given the opportunity to possess God for his own sake; to love the God of gifts over the gifts of God. To be sure, through the wine-press of suffering, we come to better understand our own sinfulness and unworthiness to have our prayers answered. The feeling of being entitled to his gifts and favors- the most common of faults–gives way to humility and gratitude.

This is why we must never wince, never draw back when faced with the possibility of offending people by speaking the truth and doing God's work. Indeed, we may be rejected and excluded; we may have to eat lunch by ourselves in the cafeteria; we may risk losing a job; we may lose friendships and disappoint colleagues; and though it pains us very much, we may be ostracized from our family. Our Lord did not say that we should merely tolerate these trying circumstances, but to rejoice in them! As hard as it may seem, we have to ask Jesus- the Man that stood condemned before the crowd -for the grace to rejoice and see through short-term sacrifces to lay hold of long-term gains. It is only then we can stand with our Lord through thick and thin.

On Good Friday our Lord stood alone before his people as a rejected king. From the Thursday night to three o’clock Friday afternoon, God the Father- as if to side with the angry crowd -had appeared to reject his only begotten Son. Alone our Lord Jesus stood before Pilate and his people. A true outsider!

He was born outside of Bethlehem in a cave and he died a condemned man outside of the walls of Jerusalem. Can there be any doubt, then, that in the Sacred Heart of Jesus there is a special place for the ostracized and the rejected. They have not been forgotten by Him who knows what it feels to be forgotten.

Have you been forgotten or excluded from those closest to you? Please know you have a friend in Christ! There is a special place in His heart for such friends.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Acts of Pilate

Some gospels didn’t make it into the New Testament canon. One such gospel was the Gospel according to Nicodemus. Contained within the gospel account is a section called the Acts of Pilate. Although there is no basis upon which we can consider this early Christian literature to be inspired, it is maintained by some that it is historically accurate. St. Justin Martyr, for one (a second century Father of the Church writing around 165 A.D.), made reference to the “Acts of Pontius Pilate” in his book, The Apology. He seems to have given it credibility when he wrote, “And that these things happened you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.”

In the Gospel according to Nicodemus it is evident that Pilate is convinced that Jesus is not only wrongly accused but he is divine. Jesus seemed to have pitied Pilate because he was weak. Pilate pitied Christ because he was innocent. And during their conversation, Jesus said he came to fulfill the Messianic prophecies of Moses and the prophets; that his death had been preordained from the beginning (note: this is not in the Gospels). But there was something else that led Pilate to believe that Jesus was special. As stated in the Gospel of Matthew, Pilate’s wife had a disturbing dream of Jesus. She warned her husband not to have anything to do with the indictment against Christ. This is interesting because according to the Gospel of Nicodemus, Pontius Pilate’s wife was a gentile (non-Jew) but one who converted to Judaism and faithfully observed its precepts. As such, Pilate was alarmed by her warning because he took it seriously.

In addition, according to the same gospel account, there were some in the crowd- the same crowd clamoring for the crucifixion of our Lord –who had been healed by him. Unlike their peers, they made their voices heard in support of the Savior. One such person was the woman who, by touching the cloak of Jesus, was healed of a twelve year hemorrhage. And another supporter was a man who was afflicted with paralysis for thirty-eight years but was healed by Jesus at the pool of Bethesda. After being healed, he was able to pick up his mat and walk. He too was said to be in the crowd vouching for the innocence of the Accused One. Pilate was not only aware of these miracles, but some of his soldiers spoke affectionately of Jesus. Their lives had been changed during the public ministry of our Lord.

All of this gave Pontius Pilate considerable anxiety. Perhaps this is why, according to the Gospels of the New Testament, he presumed Jesus to be the King of the Jews. In one instance, he asked the crowd: “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?" On another occasion, he proclaimed to them: "Behold, your king!" And when all was said and done, Pilate wrote a sign on the Cross that read: "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews." Can there be any doubt that he took it from granted that Christ was indeed a king. However, like many politicians- despite his convictions -he gave into the demands of the majority.

Still, there are sources outside of the New Testament that lend credence to the belief that Pilate was convinced of our Lord’s kingship. In J. Quasten’s book, Patrology, he writes: “Tertullian [an early Church Father around 180 A.D.] refers twice to a report made by Pilate to Tiberius. According to him, Pontius Pilate informed the Emperor of the unjust sentence of death which he had pronounced against an innocent and divine person; the Emperor was so moved by his report of the miracles of Christ and his resurrection, that he proposed the reception of Christ among the gods of Rome. But the Senate refused. In another place Tertullian says that the 'whole story of Christ was reported to Caesar—at that time it was Tiberius—by Pilate, himself in his secret heart already a Christian.’”

Pilate, a Christian? Perhaps! In fact, there were very early Syrian and Coptic Christians who celebrated him as Saint. However, the Catholic Church never developed an official position as it regards to Pilate’s sanctity. But at the very least, we can say that Pilate was a good but weak man. Good, because he attempted to have Jesus Christ released on several occasions. Weak, because in the end he condemned the Innocent One to death. Indeed, he gave into the strongest instinct known to humanity: social conformity!

Letter of Pontius Pilate to the Roman Emperor

For more reading click: Ecco Homo: Behold the Man

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Making them better and making more of them

Tertullian, an early Christian, once said that Christians are made, not born. One might ask: If they are made, what are they made with or made of? The question is an important because chances are you know someone who is no longer a Catholic. In fact, there are about 30 million ex-Catholics in the United States. And to complicate matters, fewer Catholics are being made in the Church to replace those who are being unmade by the world.

It would seem that active members of the Church are at a loss as to the reasons why we are not making Catholics the way we use to. Church leaders, teachers, and parents often wonder why Mass attendance is on the decline; why we are losing the younger generations on same-sex marriage and cohabitation; and why the Christian religion is losing its appeal. In fact, if we were to take a look at the brutal facts, we can anticipate other disturbing societal trends such as an aggressive push for euthanasia and the censorship of any opposition to the gay-rights agenda. Challenges for Christians loom to be sure, but so do the opportunities. If the world is going from bad to worse, it is because there are more battles than prayers; more conflicts than spiritual sacrifices.

Blessed Mother Theresa used to tell the Sisters of Charity that if souls are to be saved, a price is to be paid on their behalf. In other words, spiritual sacrifices and good old fashion penance are to be offered on their behalf. As for paying the price herself, a friend of Mother Theresa told me a story about an unusual sacrifice she had to make. In an AIDS hospital, the Sisters of Charity were ministering to AIDS patients. But as Blessed Mother had attempted to care for one angry patient, a container of urine was thrown at her face by him. She stood there with his urine dripping down her face. But instead of kicking the bed and saying, “The hell with you,” she calmly asked him why he was so unhappy. It took considerable restraint on her part not to react in a hostile or angry manner. But her graceful poise won the AIDS patient over. His rage and bitterness seemed to have melted, almost immediately. And soon thereafter he received the Sacraments and peacefully passed away.

Perhaps, the slowness to recognize the value of spiritual sacrifices, doing penance and drawing close to the Eucharistic Sacrifice at the altar is the reason why we have gotten stuck. Can this be the reason why over 70 percent of all the popes in the first Christian millennium were canonized as Saints but in the second millennium just over 5 percent of popes made it to Sainthood? The Fathers of the Church and early Christians believed that their love for God and neighbor, their acts of sacrifice and even the ultimate sacrifice of dying for their faith, if necessary, were indispensible- that is, absolutely necessary –in winning souls for Christ. But in order to win souls for Christ- in order to make Christians –the spirit of sacrifice, which is the essence of love, needs to be mystically united to Christ. St. Paul, the great Apostle of Christ, saw it this way. He asked the Christians in Rome, as if to remind them, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3)

 I once told a former colleague of mine in Catholic media that if you want better results, that is, if you want to attract more people to your apostolate, then you have to pay the price. In other words, you have to offer sacrifices for souls. But he responded, “Well…that sucks!” I think that sums up the attitude of a lot of Christians in 2013. We have convinced ourselves that we can win souls to Christ with just speaking the truth with eloquence, with just lectures, and with well managed programs. It is as if we believe that conversion is merely an intellectual exercise; a communication of right ideas instead of a transfusion of grace. Compelling, orthodox teachings are necessary, no doubt. But if we are to the mission of the Church is to move beyond mediocrity and into the realm of greatness, her members will have to take seriously certain insights and practices that Christ and Apostles gave us.

For instance, when two of the apostles gave voice to their aspiration for greatness by asking Jesus if they could sit next to him when he would enter into his glory, the answer given them was a surprising one. This lofty goal (one might say presumptuous goal) would not be denied them but there would be a price to pay. The Gospel of Mark reads as follows:

St. James and St. John, sons of Zebedee, asked Jesus, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." (Mark 10: 37-40)

One might asked why Our Lord chose to use liturgical terms in making reference to his suffering and death. It is because “baptism” and the Eucharistic “cup” are channels of grace. His death on the Cross would be the channel through which grace would be poured out into the world. But notice that he did not claim that suffering and sacrifice was for him alone. On the contrary, he reassured his two ambitious apostles that the cup he was to drink, they were to drink as well. In other words, Jesus Christ did not suffer and die so that we wouldn’t suffer and die, but rather, so that, in union with his Passion through baptism, our suffering and death would be channels of grace for others too.

Christ empowered our suffering and sacrifices to atone for sin. But we must use that power. The New Testament is clear on this point:
  • “Whoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin.” (I Peter 4:1)
  • “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (II Cor. 4:12)
  • “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…” (Col. 1:24)
  • “For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (II Cor. 4:17)
As stated, sacrifice is the essence of love. Without sacrifice, love is but an empty ideal. We know this to be true in everyday life. Spouses and parents know that love costs them something. As with suffering and sacrifice, Christ empowers our love to atone for and cover a multitude of sins:
  • “Let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (I Pt 4:8)
  • “Whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20)
  • “By kindness and piety guilt is expiated, and by the fear of the LORD man avoids evil.” (Proverbs 16:6)
The revolutionary force of the Christianity in ancient times is that it gave dignity to suffering. And in giving dignity to suffering, it gave dignity to the human person. Personal sacrifice for God and for others and enduring the trials of life was raised to the level of worship by likening them to sacrificial rituals in the Old Testament:
  • St. Paul: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
  • “But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.” (Phil. 2:17)
  • “For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.” (II Tim. 4:6)
Raising the status of voluntary sacrifices and suffering gave love a whole new dimension for the early Christians. Charities, orphanages, hospitals and hospices sprung up to serve the bodily needs of the poor. But more importantly, churches, monasteries and Christians institutions multiplied to serve the soul. Suffering, for them, was never wasted. Through the daily acceptance of all that God sent them- adversity or prosperity -through penitential practices (i.e. exercise in self-denial) and through the voluntary offering of spiritual sacrifices for the salvation of souls, the early Church was able make many Christians. And this is how she can do it again.

Thursday's Sacrifice

The Last Supper was both the celebration and fulfillment of the Passover, a solemn ritual inaugurated by Moses in Egypt the night before the Exodus. And yet it was the First Mass which anticipated and was indivisibly connected to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. In fact, our Lord offered his resurrected flesh- in Eucharistic form -to the Apostles before the Resurrection. To say it another way, the fruit from the tree was given and consumed three days before the tree existed in time. Indeed, the Last Supper in the Upper Room on Holy Thursday, Our Lord’s death on the Cross and the Resurrection was the New Passover whole and entire.

Our Lord began the New Passover as the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek by using bread and wine in order to sacrificially offer himself in ritual (so that others could share in it throughout the ages). He then consummated it and confirmed it by personally laying down his life as act of love to the Father for the salvation of mankind; this, he did as the Passover Lamb whose blood would be applied to the doorpost of every soul who approached the altar of God. And like the smoke of incense ascending upward, he animated his deceased body in the tomb in order to raise it up, eventually taking it to heaven. Truly, he was a priest, victim and a holocaust.

As man, Jesus Christ could offer his body and blood as a victim in time and in the space of the Upper Room. But as God, he was both in heaven and on earth. Perhaps we seldom consider that the Holy Sacrifice of the First Mass occurred both on Holy Thursday and in eternity. As such, it could be united to every single Mass that was ever to be celebrated until the end of time. This includes, of course, every Mass that we assist at.

The Holy Mass for us, then, not only makes present Our Lord’s One Holy Sacrifice in Upper Room and on Calvary, but it also makes present, in a mystical way, every Mass that has ever been celebrated and will ever be celebrated. The past, the present and the future- through his Eternal Sacrifice -are rolled into one. We are thus untied to our brothers and sisters, not only throughout the world in 2012, but also with those in ages past and those who are yet to be born.

In addition to mystically uniting the children of God above space and time, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in its very essence, is God worshipping God. Through the Holy Spirit, this most perfect prayer of the Church is God the Son eternally loving and offering himself to God the Father. In the sanctuary we are invited to join Christ in his loving adoration of the Father through His Spirit. By entering into this inner life of the Holy Trinity we can repay God for our debts and for his generosity. As one priest put it, participating in and offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice is how we can repay God in “his own coin.” That’s right! By giving back to the Father his only begotten Son is the only gift worthy of his greatness. Anything else is marred by our human finiteness and imperfection. To be sure, it falls infinitely short of what he truly deserves.

The work of our human hands, that is, ordinary bread and wine, through the consecration at the altar, becomes Christ whole and entire. His Eucharistic Sacrifice and Sacramental presence not only embodies the Last Supper and the Crucifixion; it also embodies his Incarnation, his Nativity, his Private Life at home, his Public Life, his Death, his Resurrection, his Ascension, his Second Coming and as he existed throughout all eternity. The Church tells that the totality of Christ is presented to the Father. And it is through this communion with Christ we become clothed with him and hidden in him, as St. Paul would put it. We do not stand alone nor are we “naked,” as it were. Rather, the Father, looking down from heaven, sees us in Christ. And if we are faithful to the Gift we receive and offer before the altar, we will begin to see ourselves as we really are in Christ.

And finally, if we are not yet conformed to Christ’s image as we ought, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and its fruit, the Holy Eucharist, will help to bring this conformity about. As Pope Leo XIII said, “For there is this difference between the food of the body and that of the soul, that whereas the former is changed into our substance, the latter changes us into its own; so that St. Augustine makes Christ Himself say: ‘You shall not change Me into yourself as you do the food of your body, but you shall be changed into Me.’”

The Eternal Sacrifice of Altar, therefore, is at the very heart of who we are in time and who are to become in eternity. It is Christ whole and entire; he who is the pioneer and goal of our salvation. This is why St. Padre Pio said that it is better than the sun cease shining than for this world to be without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Click: Pope Leo XIII encyclical on the Holy Eucharist

Monday, March 25, 2013

Nature's Triduum

For one week he shall make a firm compact with the many; half the week he shall abolish sacrifice and oblation…” (Daniel 9:27)

The traditional interpretation of “one week” in the prophet Daniel's writing points to Holy Week. And the “half the week” is an allusion to the Triduum of the Lord. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is when Jesus established his New Covenant the people of God. The last three days of Holy Week- considered to be the holiest three days of the liturgical calendar -is when the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of our Lord are celebrated by the Catholic Church.

After Jesus Christ passed through the Gates of Death, God raised up the body of Jesus so that He could give testimony that the fullness of life is ours for the taking after we pass through those same gates. In fact, Christians who meditate on that life of promise beyond the grave gradually, by the grace of God, lose their natural fear of death. The New Testament says as much: “Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” (Hebrews 2: 14-15) To be a slave to this fear of death involves the despair of never seeing deceased loved one again and the belief that all good things comes to an end upon our death.  As one priest said, “To avoid the confrontation with death is a refusal to live life to the full.” Indeed our view of death determines how we live life. If we are burdened with the handicap of unbelief then this life and all of its goods will be slavishly sought after and clung to.

Bishop Sheen once said that if you tell a boy that he is to be given one ball and one ball only, then he will be afraid to play with it. But if the little boy knows he is getting another ball, he will play with the ball with a carefree spirit and get the most out of it. And if he is feeling generous, he might even be inspired to give it to another boy or girl knowing that he will soon get a better one. To use the words of our Lord: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” But if this is the only life we have, such generosity and love is unintelligible.

If truth be told, worldly people constantly give witness to their anxiety when they hurry to accumulate as many pleasures and as many material goods as possible. They are always in a against time. Furthermore, the anxiety over the possibility of losing their life or material belongings magnifies their misfortune. When the hazards of life presses up against them, they overcompensate by invoking the State for protection. As such, elected officials then create layers of laws and regulations to give their constituents the illusion of security. Perhaps, in part, this is what the Letter to the Hebrews was referring to when it stated that "those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.”

But death is not the end of life. Christ revealed to us in the Holy Triduum that not only does death follow life, but that life- a higher and fuller life -follows death. However, for centuries since the beginning of time, God has been tutoring us about the mysteries of the Triduum through analogies of his creation. “The great truth,” Pope Leo XIII said, “which we learn from nature herself is also the grand Christian dogma on which religion rests as on its foundation - that, when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live.”

Perhaps this is why the sun sets only to rise again; or why a person sleeps at night taking on the semblance of death only to wake up the next morning; or why a preborn baby knows only darkness until it is born to a world of light and color. Father Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, gave a wonderful sermon to Pope Benedict XVI a few years back called, The Christian Response to Secularism. In it he said, “Between the life of faith in time and eternal life there is a relationship similar to that which exists between the life of the embryo in the maternal womb and that of the baby, once he has come to the light.”

The pontifical preacher goes on to elaborate on this illustration with a story. In fact, he related the following story to Pope Benedict XVI and the faithful gathered at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome:

"There were two twins, a boy and a girl, so intelligent and precocious that, still in the mother's womb, already spoke to one another. The girl asked her brother: 'According to you, will there be a life after birth?' He answered: 'Don't be ridiculous. What makes you think that there is something outside of this narrow and dark space in which we find ourselves?' The girl, gaining courage, insisted: 'Perhaps a mother exists, someone who has put us here, and who will take care of us.' And he answered: 'Do you, perhaps, see a mother anywhere? What you see is all that is.' She replied: 'But don't you feel at times a pressure on the chest that increases day by day and pushes us forward?' 'To tell the truth,' he answered, 'it's true: I feel it all the time.' 'See,' concluded his sister triumphantly, 'this pain cannot be for nothing. I think it is preparing us for something greater than this small space.'"

In 1917, when Our Lady appeared to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, she brought heaven to this “small space” of ours; that is, to a world that was growing darker by the decade. After each of the Blessed Virgin's appearances, the children were supremely happy and could not wait to see her again! Even little Lucia caught a glimpse of heaven while gazing upon the beautiful Lady from Heaven. She told her parents, “Heaven was so pretty…there were many wild ponies.” Lucia would later say that “before the Divine Presence we felt exaltation and joy.” To be sure, one lasting effect of the Blessed Virgin's visitations was that the three children lost their natural fear of death. It could be said of them that they eagerly looked forward to heaven. For them- as with the twins in the mother's womb -death was no longer deemed to be the end of life but the labor pains through which they attain eternal happiness.

Such supernatural interventions are rare for most people. And during the Catholic liturgical calendar the Church only celebrates the Triduum once a year. However, the Lord, in his goodness, gives us many reminders of death and resurrection through his creation. As St. Paul said, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” (Romans 1:20) Not only is God's existence understood and perceived in what he has made, but his creation is also a harbinger that there is life beyond the grave! We are daily reminded of this every time the sun shines its light on us after the dark of night.

Conservatives and same-sex marriage

The following post was published on The Edmund Burke Institute website in the May of 2011 edition of the Reflections column.

Relaxing the Standard:

There is a disturbing trend among conservatives both in politics and in the media. Not an insignificant number of them are softening up on same-sex marriage. Some deny the importance altogether like Fox News commentator Glenn Beck and others affirm the importance of it but do not believe it to be a higher priority than the economy like 2008 presidential candidate Michael Huckabee. Gretchen Carlson, host of Fox and Friends, has said that homosexuality is not immoral. Sean Hannity insists that he doesn’t care what couples- heterosexual or homosexual –do in the privacy of their bedrooms. There is, of course, Bill O’Reilly who wavers on the subject but nevertheless maintains that it is permissible that same-sex couples have the right to adopt. And in recent years, Rush Limbaugh has been more subdued on the subject.

A Shift in Attitude:

A Fox News article, confirmed that there is a cultural shift in favor of same-sex marriage. The article cited a Pew Research Center Poll which found that “Americans were opposed to gay marriage by nearly 2-1 a decade ago, while the latest poll showed 45 percent in support of it, with 46 percent in opposition.” The point is that Americans are not the only ones relaxing their moral standards on this issue. Conservatives are also being influenced by socially liberal values. I’m afraid that fewer of them see the close relationship between the Christian meaning of marriage and the freedoms they seek to defend.

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century most Westerners instinctively understood that the sanctity of marriage and the nuclear family were the bedrock of civilization. Pope Leo XIII gave voice to this fundamental truth when he said the following:

“The family may be regarded as the cradle of civil society, and it is in great measure within the circle of family life that the destiny of the States is fostered…If in their early years they find within the walls of their homes the rule of an upright life and the discipline of Christian virtues, the future welfare of society will in great measure be guaranteed.” (On Christians as Citizens, 1890)

This truth of civil society is not apparent as it once was. In the political world where not only the commitment to a party’s agenda is expected but loyalty to fellow party members is a sacred duty, it is a predictable occurrence that religious and moral principles get compromised for the sake of fellowship. This is especially the case when so many politicians have family members, friends or colleagues who are practicing homosexuals. Under these circumstances promoting Gospel values as it pertains to the dignity of life and the sanctity of marriage comes across to many as being judgmental. As such, many conservatives take what they imagine to be the high road by being “non-judgmental.” Indeed, if some fellow party members are practicing homosexuals then there is a temptation to withhold judgment on the lifestyle itself. Nevertheless, any position or strategy based on whether a minority or majority of colleagues favors the same-sex lifestyle makes for a poor moral foundation. As St. Paul said, “[W]hen they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (II Corinthians 10:12)

Freedom, Religion and Morality:

Conservatives put a high premium on free enterprise, liberty, progress and national security as I do. But they undermine their attempt to save these things by compromising on social values; most especially with regard to marriage between a man and a woman. In centuries past, the relationship between the institution of marriage as defined between a man and a woman and the welfare of the State was a self-evident truth. This is not the case anymore; even among those conservatives who want to safeguard the founding principles of this nation. However, the Constitutional principles which have occasioned free enterprise, liberty and progress in America rest upon Christian morality. The famous passage from George Washington’s farewell address in 1796 makes an indirect but unmistakable reference to Christian morality’s ties to political prosperity. He said, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.”

Approximately forty years later Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, said that the surest pledge of liberty is morality. There should be no doubt that the sanctity of marriage was understood by the Christian churches in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as being between a man and a woman. Furthermore, its relationship with the welfare of the State was taken for granted by the people of this time period. Due to their Christian education, they more easily perceived the big picture of life; that is, the unity of religion, morality and politics. Twenty-first century conservatives, however, are compartmentalizing Christian morality apart from political prosperity; that is, fewer of them appreciate that “Religion and Morality are indispensible supports” for civil liberties, balanced budgets and national security.

Divine, Parental and Civil Authority

Suffice it to say that a wise and loving governance of children by two parents in the home is but the precursor for a wise and just governance of citizens by the State. Those who rule and those who are ruled come from one kind of family or another. Children who become citizens, who then become politicians, learn their philosophy of governance primarily at home and secondarily at school. In many respects, the family is the laboratory for government. Under the parental authority of a mother and father, love and justice work together for the welfare of the child. As a rule, the parental power to rule is never divorced from the love and the best interests of the child. Although the right of civil authority to rule comes from God and is delegated by the people, it is true nevertheless that civil authority borrows its force and character from parental authority. To be sure, parental authority is the tutor of civil authority. A child who knows not the affection of a mother and the discipline of a father will struggle to find the right balance in governing as a representative of the State.

All this presupposes one fact: same-sex couples cannot provide the balance of mercy and justice, love and authority, stability and longevity that a heterosexual couple can provide. If you doubt this presupposition there is not short supply of studies which have demonstrated the inherent instability of same-sex unions. There is overwhelming evidence that promiscuity, violence and short-lived relationships are common traits in this demographic.

We need not content ourselves with mere studies and statistics; Scripture is today, as any time in the past, a reliable source of truth. Man and woman were created in the image of God to complement each other; to become as one. The union of male and female not only benefits the two spouses but the child as well. The child comes to know him or herself, the world and God himself through this image. It is the lens through which reality is grasped. If this image is distorted then the child’s perception of reality will be distorted. Every person should know that the clarity or distortion of this image has political implications. When parental governance is unnatural or inherently dysfunctional as is often the case with same-sex unions, then this translates into an unnatural or oppressive governance by the State

If conservatives want political prosperity, as I know they do, then they must begin by safeguarding the sanctity of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Political endeavors to retain and advance Constitutional principles in our country will prove futile if parental authority, second only to divine authority, is not publicly acknowledged in its biblical context.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The pilgrim-king

Leaders like Alexander the Great, Mohammad and Napoleon rode their horses with armed men to triumph their enemies. But Our Lord, on Palm Sunday, rode a cult into Jerusalem in order to be conquered. This was to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah: "See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, Meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass." (Zechariah 9:9) The same animal Mary and Joseph used to escape to Egypt from the wrath of King Herod when Jesus was an infant, is now used to transport Him right into the hands of his executioners. But it was the so-called execution of Jesus that was used to conquer the world. As Fulton Sheen said, "[I]f He Who took the worst the world had to offer and conquered it, then evil shall never be victorious again."

Cults are used for pilgrims, not for worldly conquerors. Christ was declaring Himself to be a king and a pilgrim not of this world. His throne was not to be established in Jerusalem or Rome, rather, His throne had already existed in heaven. And as a pilgrim-king He had no interest in worldly power. The appearances of his cult would suggest that he came not to conquer using swords and military might, instead, His weapon is His Own Word: "Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account." (Hebrews 4:12-13)

The pilgrims who traveled to Jerusalem were from all over the world. In fact, the majority of Jews lived outside of Palestine (Israel) in the first century. On Palm Sunday, many came from Egypt, Syria and Persia. To attend the Passover feast every year was an religious obligation imposed upon every Jew; no matter how many miles they had to travel. And it was the foreigners, this crowd of mixed foreigners and natives, that heard about the resurrection of Lazarus and all the wonderful things the Lord Jesus had done. Arguably, it was they- the pilgrims and visitors -who proclaimed Christ to be the "Son of David" as He, like King Solomon (son of David), rode a cult into the City of David.

Earlier in His public ministry Jesus said that a prophet is not accepted in hometown. In fact, many of the his opponents i.e. the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes, were Jews from Judea; not too far from Nazareth. However, many of these visitors in Jerusalem were not from His hometown or even from his country. They did not share the same prejudices that His countrymen harbored against Christ. The throngs of people- who seemed to represent the Gentile world that would eventually welcome a Jewish Messiah -cried out:

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
Hosanna in the highest!"

It was almost as if the City of God and the City of Man were being represented in Jerusalem. There were people who wanted to make Jesus their king and there were others who wanted to kill Him. At any rate, the "hosannas" that were shouted on Palm Sunday would be squelched by louder voices who would shout "crucify him!" on Good Friday.

No doubt, Our Lord made an impression on the Apostles that Holy Week. For years to come the Apostles, that is, the first Bishops of the Church, would have to remember that they could not afford to get too comfortable with their authority and the perks that attend it; this is especially the case with human applause and popularity. Indeed, the Apostles saw within just a few short days that praises can turn into condemnations. Our Lord would say at the Last Supper that a disciple is not above his Master. What happened to Him would also happen to them.

This is a great lesson for anyone who is called to be a leader. In order to lead we have to resemble the Pilgrim-King. If we seek God's approval first and set our eyes on heaven, then we can take the worst the world has to offer and conquer it! St. Paul conquered the world. His conquest resembled that of Our Lord's. Do you want to know how he did it? By pain, dangers and weaknesses! It is by far the most unusual methods that souls and the world can be conquered. But he, like the Pilgrim-King, did it nevertheless. In his own words:

“Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.

Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (II Corinthians 11:24-30)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tension before the Passion

The days leading up to Passion Sunday the Catholic Church proclaims the Word of God according to the Gospel of John. Chapters 6 thru 13 address the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees. Every miracle our Lord performed, every act of kindness, and every teaching he gave was just one more thing that added to this tension. To be sure, any exercise in his public ministry was just another reason to put him to death.

It would seem that the Apostle John, also known as John the Evangelist, wanted to stress that our Lord’s road to Calvary was paved with mini-crosses of opposition and conflict from his own people. The thing is that our Lord, in order to heal and liberate souls, had to be willing to make some people unhappy. He did not set out to offend people for its own sake but he had to be at least willing to endure the anger of those whom he offended. Take, for instance, the following instances where Our Lord was forced, out of love for souls, to clash with religious authorities:

• His teaching on the Eucharist
• Thwarting the attempt to stone a woman caught in adultery
• Making the infirmed whole again on the Sabbath
• Healing a man who was blind from birth
• His teaching on the Good Shepherd, the hireling and the thief
• Raising Lazarus from the dead
• Defending Mary of Bethany when she poured oil on Jesus' feet
• And of course his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Passion Sunday

With every good word and every good deed on the above mentioned episodes, Jesus endured opposition from very important people. Elsewhere in the Gospels you will notice that he approached people differently. For instance, the Pharisee Nicodemus was a man of good will but he was ignorant on certain spiritual matters. When he inquired about being born again in John 3, our Lord patiently and diplomatically corrected him. However, when he came across obstinate sinners, those who cared little about the truth, he took a different approach. In fact, it is true to say that he offended these obstinate sinners by speaking the truth, he became even more explicit in what he said.

The Gospel of John chapter 6 is a good case and point. In this chapter our Lord gives a sermon on the Eucharist. With each reference to it, Jesus becomes a little more explicit. But when the critics among his audience show their displeasure, he does what few Catholic men do nowdays: he repeats himself with unmistakable clarity.

The following progression is in reference to the Eucharist (in John 6). Notice that he begins with the least offensive description of this doctrine but then pushes the envelope; to the point where he loses prospective followers. He begins by saying,

• “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
• “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven…”
• “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
• “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

At this point the Jews begin to murmur. But what does Jesus do when he notices his critics are getting offended? We would probably stop here so as not to offend; to keep the peace, if you will. Nevertheless, instead of backing off or apologizing, our good and loving Lord gets even more explicit about what Communion with him really entails. He says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Here, Jesus is no longer using nice and amorphous terminology like “food” or “bread.” He steps it up. He clarifies that the "bread" he speaks of is his flesh. And what is the reaction from his listening audience? More murmuring! Even more people are getting offended and are on the cusp of walking away. One can only imagine how nervous the Apostles were getting. They were losing friends by the second. Now, for the sake of peace and for the sake of not being “divisive” or “polarizing” the good Lord should have tone it down! Right? Wrong! Although that is what we are taught to do in the twenty-first century, Jesus doesn’t tone it down. He goes beyond being explicit. If you were to read the original Greek you would think he has become deliberately graphic.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat [i.e. gnaw] the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh [i.e. gnaw] and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”  That was the last straw. Many walked away and Christ’s Church just diminished in size as a result. So much for accommodation! And so much for keeping the peace!

The point is this: In order to do people good, our Lord had to be willing to make some people mad. If he wasn't willing to do this there would be no St. Mary Magdalene, no Zachaeus, and no St. Matthew. All three were outcasts and despised. And by reaching out to these souls, our Lord angered many. But thankfully, he did not relent. He reached down and lifted up these souls to the heights of sanctity. Again, we can safely assume he did not set out to offend anyone. Nevertheless, he knew that the manifestation of his love to the broken and infirmed meant taking upon himself many crosses. In each case, he either merited one more enemy or caused another disciple to walk away from his company. But as Mother Theresa used to say, he “did it anyway.”

When Christ reenacted King Solomon’s entry into Jerusalem by riding a donkey on Palm Sunday, he demonstrated that he was a man of royalty (read I Kings 1:33-38). However, there was something greater than Solomon in their midst. Indeed, it was a preview of what the Archangel Gabriel promised to Mary: “The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33) But the hosannas and the human applause on that day were short-lived. He knew that a similar crowd (many of whom might have been the same people) would be chanting something quite different on Good Friday. And that something was: “Crucify him!”

The juxtaposition of human praise on Palm Sunday and a vociferous condemnation on Good Friday is invaluable lesson that our Lord sets out to teach his followers; especially those in positions of authority and those having influence. And the lesson is that we must be indifferent to both human respect and derision when doing the will of the Father. This means that the perks of human praise should not be made synonymous with God’s favor; nor should it become a standard by which we measure success in doing the Lord’s work. On the other hand, opposition or condemnation from people just may be an indication that God has anointed our work and wants us to persevere.

Be mindful that there is a widespread belief out there that if speaking the truth or doing a good deed will "ruffle feathers" or "rock the boat" then such an approach should be aborted. But as we have seen, our Lord teaches us otherwise.

Perhaps we should revisit the counsel of our spiritual ancestors. We don’t have to go that far back to find a manly, Christ-like approach to “controversial” issues. For instance, in the nineteenth century Cardinal James Gibbons wrote a book for his seminarians called The Ambassador of Christ. In it he equips the future leaders of the Church with a pastoral attitude that will enable him to persevere in doing God’s will no matter what kind of reactions they will get from onlookers. Indeed, the good Cardinal maintains that human applause and criticism should be a matter of indifference to the disciple of Christ:

"The vice opposed to self respect is human respect. Human respect is a base condescension by which, from the fear of offending others, or from the desire of acquiring their esteem, a man says or does what his conscience conceives to be unlawful. It is not easy to exaggerate the baneful influence which this moral cowardice exerts on mankind, especially on impressionable youth, under the alluring guise of friendship and love of applause...

God has established in your breast the sacred tribunal of conscience by whose dictates you are bound to decide. But in yielding to human respect, you act the part of a temporizing judge like Pilate, who pronounced sentence, not in accordance with the evidence before Him, but in obedience to the clamors of the multitude. You sacrifice principle to expediency, you subordinate the voice of God to the voice of man, you surrender your Christian liberty and manly independence, and you become the slave of a fellow creature.”

It cannot be better said than this: “The vice opposed to self respect is human respect.” The Gospel of John tells us, quite eloquently, that Jesus did not allow human respect or disfavor to get in the way of building-up the lowly and glorifying his Father. There is a high demand for this virtue in today’s Church. We need it in a bad way! Let’s pray that our Lord will be generous with the virtue that he, himself, exercised throughout his public ministry. May this grace be poured out upon the Church today!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Without the Cross

An excerpt of a homily Pope Francis gave the morning of March 14th at Mass with the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. He spoke in Italian without a text.

"...We can journey as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, the thing does not work. We will become a welfare NGO but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When we do not journey, we stop. When we do not build upon the stones, what happens? Everything collapses, loses its consistency, like the sandcastles that children build on the beach.

When we do not confess Jesus Christ, I am reminded of the words of Léon Bloy: 'Whoever does not pray to the Lord, prays to the devil.' When we do not confess Jesus Christ, we confess the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon.

Journeying, building-constructing, confessing. But it is not that easy, because in journeying, in constructing, in confessing, there are problems, there are movements antithetical to the journey: they are movements that take us backward.

This Gospel continues with an important moment. The same Peter who had confessed Jesus Christ said to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let’s not talk about the cross. This is not a part of it. I will follow you in other directions, but not to the cross. When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

I would like for us all, after these days of grace, to have courage, precisely the courage, to walk in the Lord’s presence, with the cross of the Lord; to build the Church upon the blood of the Lord, which was poured out on the cross; and to confess the only glory there is: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will go forward. It is my wish for all of us that the Holy Spirit – through the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother – bestow upon us the grace of journeying, building, confessing Jesus Christ crucified. Amen.

Pope Francis: The Validity of the Gospel and the Beauty of Old Age

An excerpt from Pope Francis' address to his brother Cardinals:

"...Let us never give in to that pessimism, that bitterness which the devil offers us every day. Let us not give in to pessimism and discouragement; we have that firm confidence which the Holy Spirit gives the Church, with his mighty breath, the courage to persevere and to seek new ways to evangelize, to bring the Gospel to the ends of the Earth (cf. Acts 1:8). The Christian truth is appealing and persuasive because it responds to the profound needs of human existence, announcing convincingly that Christ is the only Savior of the whole man and of all men. This announcement is still valid today, as it was at the beginning of Christianity, when the first great missionary expansion of the Gospel was carried out.

Dear Brothers, courage! Half of us are elderly: old age is – as I love to say — the seat of the wisdom of life. The old have the wisdom of having walked in life, like the elderly Simeon, the aged Anna in the temple. And it was precisely that wisdom that made them recognize Jesus. We offer this wisdom to the young: like good wine, which over the years becomes better, we give to young people the wisdom of life. I am reminded of what a German poet said of old age: “Es ist ruhig, das Alter, und fromm”: it is the time of tranquility and of prayer. And also of giving young people this wisdom. You will now go back to your sees to continue your ministry, enriched by the experience of these days, so full of faith and ecclesial communion. This unique and incomparable experience has enabled us to grasp deeply the whole beauty of the ecclesial reality, which is a reflection of the splendor of the risen Christ: one day we will look upon that beautiful face of the Risen Christ!

To the powerful intercession of Mary, our Mother, Mother of the Church, I entrust my ministry and your ministry. Under her motherly gaze, may each of us walk joyfully, obedient to the voice of her divine Son, strengthening unity, persevering together in prayer and witnessing to genuine faith in the continuous presence of the Lord. With these sentiments – they are real! – with these sentiments, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to your collaborators and to the persons entrusted to your pastoral care."

Monday, March 11, 2013

Peter and Paul: Founders of the New Rome

Reposting for the papal conclave:

June 29th marks the great feast day of St. Peter and St. Paul. Some early Christian witnesses claim that these two illustrious Apostles were martyred under the Roman emperor Nero on the same day: St. Peter being crucified upside down and St. Paul being beheaded. Interestingly, their calling to martyrdom seemed to have been traced out by the crucifixion of our Lord and the beheading of St. John the Baptist. Also noteworthy is the pagan legend that two twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, founded the city of Rome between 758 and 728 B.C. And it would seem providential that two brothers in Christ, Peter and Paul, would help bring about a new Rome through the shedding of their blood.

One early Christian account, Liberianus (354 A.D.), records that St. Peter had presided in Rome as bishop for 25 years, 1 month and 9 days. As for St. Paul, he eventually made his way to Rome after having preached the Gospel to the Mediterranean world. These two pillars of the Church, the former an icon of authority and the latter representing the prophetic voice of Christ, would serve as the epicenter of Christianity. St. Ireneaus (180 A.D.), bishop and Father of the Church, attested to this “by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops.”

Yet the sacred authority of St. Peter and St. Paul would not go uncontested. In fact, it was the Roman emperor Nero, a mad man to be sure, who inaugurated the era of Christian martyrdom by using Christians as a scapegoat for setting fire to a district of Rome. Having sensed a political backlash to his arson, he immediately blamed the Christians. Tacitus, a non-Christian historian in the first century, had this to say about one of the first great persecutions of the Church: "Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…” Indeed, the tortures consisted of wrapping the Christians in animal skins and setting them on fire for all to see.

It was during this wave of persecutions that St. Peter and St. Paul were put to death in 64 A.D. About forty years earlier, Christ foretold the kind of death St. Peter would “glorify God.” He said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." This wouldn’t be the last time a Roman emperor would see the pope as a rival to his throne and seek to have him eliminated. Out of the first 30 popes, 29 died a martyr’s death. As you can see, the first several popes had to be willing to suffer a martyr’s death in order to sit on Peter’s chair. Indeed, for a successor of St. Peter, dying a natural death wasn’t likely in those early years.

During the first centuries, being a Christian in Rome was a health hazard. As such, it begs the question: Why did the Spirit of the Lord lead St. Peter and St. Paul to Rome, the very center of moral and spiritual darkness? Gladiator games, infanticide, and slavery were just a few vices on display there. In fact, St. Peter concluded his first epistle by saying, “Babylon sends you greetings…” First century Jews and Christians referred to Rome as Babylon for two reasons: First, Babylon was a place of exile for the Old Testament Jews when Temple and Jerusalem was destroyed (586 B.C.). Rome was a dwelling place for Jews and Christians away from Jerusalem. Second, as with the construction of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, Rome was an epicenter of godlessness. Yet, St. Peter and St. Paul threw themselves right in the middle of this darkness so as to emit the Light of Christ. They were set apart from the world but ministered in the world. The Catholic Church took it for granted that if Rome could be transformed through the preaching of the Gospel, the light of Christ would be diffused throughout the world.

Retreating from ungodly cities, therefore, was not on the early Christian agenda. In fact, the Apostles and the Church Fathers- most of whom were bishops -took to the streets, exposing themselves to ridicule and persecution. This is a missionary tactic that ought to be revived in our cities. As Fulton Sheen said (and here I am paraphrasing), “Christ did not get crucified between two candles in a cathedral. Rather, died out there in the jungle; that’s where we need to take our message.”

The strength to carry this daunting task out was none other than the grace that came from Christ-crucified. Having the Passion of our Lord burned in their hearts, these two great Apostles saw that God was glorified through setbacks, humiliations, persecutions and martyrdom itself. As such, they did not wince from bearing witness in those places most hostile to the Gospel of Christ. From Rome, St. Peter encouraged those Christians undergoing trials to adopt the same attitude: “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 1:6-7) For St. Peter, suffering was an opportunity to break with sin. He said, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same attitude (for whoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin), so as not to spend what remains of one's life in the flesh on human desires, but on the will of God.” (I Peter 4:1-2)

The foundation these two Apostles laid bore much fruit. In the year 313 A.D. Christianity was legalized. Nearly 80 years later, in 392 A.D., it was made the official religion of the Roman Empire. When the Church’s mission was allowed to flourish, gladiator games were banned, infanticide and abortion were declared illegal and the institution of slavery collapsed. Indeed, the world was introduced to the Culture of Life all because the Gospel of Life was preached on enemy territory by men who were willing to endure its hazzards.

St. Peter and St. Paul, founders of the New Rome, pray for us.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

God's Chisel

Reposting for Lent and for new Sky View readers:

Excerpts from the book, “Spirituality of the Old Testament,” by Paul Marie de la Croix

How does God purify his servants? How does he chisel away our imperfections? Answer: Much like a sculptor chisels away the irregularities of his sculpture. Sometimes he uses the hard medal of a chisel so as to deliver the hard blows of adversity; sometimes he employs delicate measures with the soft brush of inconvenience. Whatever the instrument, whatever method, the Father’s purpose is always to conform his servants into the image of his Son.

Spirituality of the Old Testament:
God uses “the life imposed upon his servants to bring about their profound purification. The Bible proves this very clearly.”

“The usual instrument of purification that God holds in His hand is life itself. Life, that is, the whole combination of situations that must be faced day by day, with all the consequent obligations. Nothing purifies men as well as life itself, if they are able to accept it and live it as it occurs. By nature it is unforeseeable and cannot be covered by any formula. It is real and must really be lived. It is all-inclusive and takes the whole man, shaping him on every plane. No one can ever view it as a mere spectator, for sooner or later it involves even those who have refused to commit themselves.

“Life uses and intermingles every rhythm; often a sudden event transforms it in an instant. This forces men to adopt a new pace and to overcome difficulties which show them their inner most selves and purify them to their very core. No man, however prudent and wise, can ever arrange his life just as he pleases. On the contrary, it is life which, day by day traversing strange regions, must ‘lead you where you would not go.’ And always, mysteriously, invisibly, God is the weaver of life’s fabric, the artist who places each tiny item in accord with His infinitely wise pattern. How then, can men venture to judge what is best for them or decide what they require? Only life brings the answer, moment by moment. How can we fail to see that it is a royal road, a safe road? It is the chief means God uses to purify His servants…

“Life was likewise the chisel that sculptured the prophets’ souls, as it exposed them to scorn, hostility, hatred and vengeance. It led them to persecution and to martyrdom. Thus, we have seen that God uses life as the supreme instrument of purification…

“May God help us never to belittle the often intolerable burden of suffering and illnesses, or the still heavier burden of trials that touch souls in their dearest affections, in their reputation or their honor. We should not be deaf to their cries, which are recorded in the bible and often show desperate anguish.”

In short, life is God's chisel which reveals our inner-self in times of crisis and, at the same time, is the very instrument he uses to bring about a better version of that is fully conformed to the image of Christ!

Prayer, fasting and mercy

A Repost for Lent:

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.

Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God's ear to yourself.

- Saint Peter Chrysologus

By adding works of mercy and fasting (i.e. penance) to the list of teaching, evangelizing and communicating the Catholic Faith- those mininstries which serve the spiritual needs of people -we cannot but expect that the Culture of Life will take greater hold in our nation.

As it stands, however, those who have a monopoly on serving the needy (i.e. the State and secularists) have little use for the Gospel or saving souls. Perhaps socialistic programs advanced by political demagogues and by misguided Catholics within the Church will have less credibility in the eyes of the people if more orthodox Catholics would not only share their fortunes with charitable organizations (which they do) but their time as well.

Everyone now and then we have to ask ourselves: "When is the last time I visited a nursing home, a soup kitchen, an organization that serves the mentally disabled or even an orphanage?" For the early Christians, these kind of services were so intertwined with preaching the Word, that when the Word was spoken, pagans listened. Indeed, because their love of Christ appealed to the whole person- body and soul -Christianity was well on its way to becoming the greatest civilization to have ever existed.

And as for fasting and doing penance for others, this ancient spiritual exercise is a means of detaching ourselves from the illusion that the world is our permanent home. It helps us to fix our eyes on heaven; something to really and truly look forward to. Furthermore, through these acts of self-denial, we can make up what is lacking in others; namely, a willingness to accept everything from God's hands, including the adversity he may send us for our own good. As St. Paul said to the Corinthians, "So death is at work in us, but life in you...If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation." (II Corinthians 4:12, 1:6)

A priest once marveled that St. John Vianney, a simple parish priest himself, was attracting so many souls to the confessional the booth each week. St. John asked this priest if he had done any penance for sinners. The priest answered in the negative. St. John Vianney then said, "Don't expect much then."

And as St. Chrysologus said, prayer, fasting and mercy cannot be separated. This combination is the key to saving souls.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Samaritan Woman: A soul in search of rest

Reposted for today's Gospel reading:

Living the sensual life, or as some say- “living in the fast lane,” is, no doubt, exciting. I had a taste of it myself in college. Thankfully for me it was a temporary phase. But for a lot of people, the lifestyle of partying and sleeping around begins in college but never ends. Perhaps, this is why there are so many restless souls; never quite content with the spouse they married, the partner they are with or the job they have. Having been disillusioned so many times with the choices they made, they are continually led to believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Like a bird in flight without a nest these souls live for the next exciting night or a pleasurable moment. But in the interim, that is, between episodes of fun and frolicking, life becomes monotonous and wearisome. Indeed, living the wildlife, even if it is only on Friday and Saturday nights, does not lend itself to a happy and well-ordered life during the week. This brings us to the Samaritan woman at the well.

For context, here is some background to the Woman at the Well story: In the first century, Palestine was divided up into the northern region of Galilee, where Nazareth was located, and the southern region of Judea, where the city of Jerusalem was situated. However, in between the northern and southern region of Palestine was Samaria. Approximately one thousand years before Christ, the Assyrians conquered ten out of the twelve tribes of Israel. These ten northern tribes (also known as the 10 lost tribes) became intermingled with the Assyrians later to be known as the Samaritans: half Jewish and half Syrian. Now, these Samaritans worshipped Yahweh, the true God, but they also worshipped other gods as well. With that, they fell into the errors and superstitions of paganism. The Jews and the Samaritans, as can be garnered from the Gospel of John chapter 4, were rivals. Needless to say, they didn’t like each other very much. For that reason they stayed cleared from one another. During their travels from Judea and Galilee, the Jews would go around Samaria but the Lord refused to play that game.

One day, passing through Samaria, Jesus sat down at Jacob’s well where he would eventually introduce himself to the Samaritan woman. As Bishop Fulton Sheen would say in his television program, Life is Worth Living, one would think that our Lord and this sinful woman had little in common. But they did share two loves: A love for water and a love for their common father, Jacob the Patriarch. As the story goes, a woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." After an incredulous and somewhat condescending response from the Samaritan, the Lord appealed to her thirst for water only to lead her to a more important topic: the salvation of her soul. Jesus claimed to have another kind of water to offer- heavenly water which quenches the thirst of the human spirit. He said, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Before he could offer this water to her (the water he referred to was undoubtedly an allusion to the Holy Spirit), he had to provoke a confession out of her. To be sure, before the remedy could be applied and take effect, her sin had to be laid bare. After the Samaritan woman asked for the above mentioned water, Jesus instructed her to first go and bring back her husband. Of course, she didn’t have a husband; the man she was with at the time was only a "lover." In fact, our Lord knew that she had five husbands in the past.

Like many today, the Samaritan woman had gone from one lover to another; sacrificing a lifetime of peace and joy for periodic moments of pleasure. Of course, one thing that gets in the way of such a lifestyle is children. Since abortion and infanticide were common in ancient times, it is not unreasonable to think that she might have resorted to such measures. In any case, our Lord came to relieve this soul from "looking for love in all wrong places." Indeed, the Samaritan woman had grown weary and confused. Having been the object of men’s lust and used for all of the wrong reasons, the burden of her sins kept her from knowing the truth about God, morality and her own dignity. In her spiritual darkness, she simply gravitated towards men who would manipulate her. St. Paul would later give an apt description of this kind of servility:

“But understand this: there will be terrifying times in the last days. People will be self-centered…irreligious…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power. Reject them. For some of these slip into homes and make captives of women weighed down by sins, led by various desires, always trying to learn but never able to reach a knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 3:1-7)

Can it not be said that the Samaritan woman was “weighed down by sins, led by various desires, always trying to learn but never able to reach a knowledge of the truth?” Religious confusion begets sexual turmoil and a life of restlessness. After she discussed the religious differences between the Jews and the Samaritans and where they worshipped, Jesus responded by getting straight to the point: “You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews.” But worshipping what the Jews understood would cease to be confined to a place or a race. Our Lord then said, “True worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”

This theological truth is the answer to her plight; her plight of restless wandering from lover to lover. The Messiah, in just a few short years, would transform her body from an object of men's lust to the temple of the Holy Spirit. Illumined with his grace, she would come to know her own dignity as a woman of God and also learn what real sacrificial love is; the kind that last forever. Indeed, before she could discover the truth of romantic love, she had to first encounter divine love.

As the Samaritan woman walked away from the well, and in reminiscing of her encounter with Christ in the years to come, I cannot help but think she experienced similar sentiments to that of St. Augustine. Upon his conversion, he prayed the following: "Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you...You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you...You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more."

Jesus came to Jacob’s well in Samaria in order to give a woman rest. What he did for her he also does for men and women in our day. Following in the foot steps of our Lord, we cannot apply the remedy without turning from the sin. Only by turning from sin and turning towards the face of Christ can the soul be free.


Postscript: One of the few laymen given the title, "Father of the Church" was St. Justin Martyr, a Christian philosopher and native of Samaria. Martyred in 165 A.D. in Rome and likely born before the turn of the century, St. Justin, no doubt, benefited from the faith and the evangelization of the Samaritan woman. It was from Samaria that the title "Savior of the World" was given to Jesus. And it was in this region that St. Justin- a restless wanderer in search for truth -was inspired by the witness of those Christians who greeted their execution (meted out by the Roman government) with courage and a smile. He would later say that this is why he became a Christian.