Like a Good Neighbor


Catholic speaker Jeff Cavins tells the story of a friend of his, a Dominican priest, who was on a trip to Calcutta to teach a short seminar. He returned to his room after teaching, and his window was open to the everyday street noise of the big, bustling city of Calcutta. Then suddenly, the Dominican priest smelled this terrible stench coming from outside. He looked out on the street, and laying below his window was a poor man who had a huge gaping wound in his side, and maggots had infested the infected wound. He was groaning in pain. The priest pushed the window closed, and sat down on his bed. He thought about the fact that he didn’t want to go out and do anything about it because, being honest with himself, he didn’t want his habit to smell. As he sat on his bed, he then heard two women outside his window, an elderly one and a younger one. He could hear the younger woman say, “Mother, I will do it myself. You are tired. Go inside.” And the older one, Mother Theresa, he heard say, “No, I must take care of this man.” The Dominican priest went to the window, and saw Mother Theresa bend down and pick this man up, with his wounds, and roll him into her habit. And that point, the Dominican priest broke. He went down his knees at his bed and cried. He asked God, “What is wrong with me? How come I’m not willing to touch those who are sick, those who are diseased, and yet you stooped down to touch me? And at that moment his life changed. Because he saw one person, Mother Theresa, acting as the Good Samaritan, the neighbor. Mother Theresa won the Nobel Prize for doing what Moses instructed us to do. It is not far away in the sky, or across the sea; it is very near to you, already in your hearts. You only have to carry it out.

It means going outside of your comfort zone. It means taking your religion into your life, into your heart, and into your actions. Not comfortably, but sacrificially. It’s your brother who is homeless and hungry, smelly, dirty, drug-addicted, alcoholic, hungry, sinful, and selfish. It is your sister. Your father. Your mother. Your son. Your daughter. No matter their race, their culture, their sexual orientation, their beliefs. Go to them, tend to them, love them. “For whatever you did for these, the least of My brothers and sisters, you did for Me.” As Jesus first loved you, go and do likewise.

But let’s look at something else about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It wasn’t the Israelites who treated their fellow Israelite with compassion, those who knew the Law, (both of charity toward the wounded, or burial for the dead) and for whatever reason, failed in their obligation of the Law. It was only the Samaritan who did what was righteous. The Samaritans were those descended from the Northern tribes who were left behind when the Assyrians dispersed them, and brought in pagans to take over the land. They considered themselves the faithful remnant, both after the Assyrian dispersion, and the Babylonian Exile. They had set up their own temple on Mt. Gerizim, and their sacred writings were the Torah, but not with the later writings. The Israelites considered them genetic and spiritual mongrels, part Israelite and part pagan, and so they were both impure and heretical. They didn’t live the right way, they didn’t worship the right way, and they worshiped in a false temple. And yet the Samaritan is the hero in the parable Jesus is telling to the scholar of the law. The Samaritan might not know the law, but he lives it, at least in this act of kindness.

This does not mean to say that right worship is unimportant. Worshiping God is the most important thing we do, and the second is like it: taking that worship of God out into serving God in love by our serving our neighbor in love. And God has given us, through the scriptures, through Tradition, through the magisterium, the way he desires to be worshiped: through weekly active participation in the Mass, and through the other sacraments of the Church.

But it is to say that, as the Second Vatican Council did, that we are to cooperate with others outside the Church who are responding to the call to relieve suffering, to promote justice and virtue, to serve the poor, and build up others in love. We can’t throw liturgy or the true faith under the bus for the sake of playing well with others, but we can seek to fulfill common goals and projects together that serve God and our neighbors.

On Friday, a parishioner and I accepted the invitation from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to join them in a breakfast to welcome their new bishop. Do they believe things that we don’t believe? Yes, of course. And we can have conversations that help us to really clarify what we believe, and help us to understand each other better, and work together better.


(Click on image for link to article)  Bishop Gainer, with the Rev. James S. Dunlop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod (ELCA) and the Rev. Robert L Driesen of the Upper Susquehanna Synod (ELCA), are together as they sign a pastoral letter calling on Roman Catholic and Lutheran Clergy and laity to explore the joint statement, Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist “in their preaching, teaching, and parish planning.” (Photo credit – Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness)

Last month, Bishop Gainer met with and signed joint statements with the local bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran communities to encourage a deeper mutual understanding and cooperation.

Can we work together? Yes, we can.

Can we worship together? In a limited way, yes. Catholics have the requirement to participate in Mass weekly, and the divine liturgy of the Catholic Mass is a very different thing in its essence than other Christian Sunday services (even though there are many common elements). So going to another church’s Sunday Service does not suffice as attending the Mass. Catholics can attend another church’s service, but they must also go to Mass, perhaps on Saturday evening.

And since in the Catholic faith, sharing in the celebration of communion (the real presence of Jesus, sacramentally and really present, body, blood, soul, and divinity) is reserved to those who are in full communion with the Catholic faith, and living that life faithfully, communion cannot be shared between our faith and others. Catholics should not take communion in non-Catholic churches, and non-Catholics (and Catholics in mortal sin, and those in a living arrangement inconsistent with Catholic teaching) cannot take communion in a Catholic Church. Again, those with whom we do not share full communion, we can still cooperate with them, we can still serve with them, we must certainly love them, and we can certainly show hospitality to them, but we must also acknowledge the tragic divisions within Christianity, and cannot sweep them under the rug in a false gesture of peace and tolerance. Because it is only in acknowledging our differences that we can truly make progress in reconciling them. But those differences do not need to dominate our relationship with them to the point that we cannot appreciate, love, and serve with them in some common ministries, activities and celebrations.

Finally, as one of my friends said on Friday, “The world needs Jesus. We need peace – Jesus is peace. We need love – Jesus is love. We need unity – Jesus is unity. We need strength – Jesus is strength. We need forgiveness – Jesus is forgiveness. We need justice – Jesus is justice. We need Jesus.”  (Thank you, Annie Celotto)

The fullness of all that God is—power, perfection, forgiveness, healing, hope—united himself with all that humanity is—need, sinfulness, woundedness, distrust, fear—and the two meet in Jesus. In him, all of our need meets all of his gift. All of our woundedness meets all of his healing. All of our division meets all of his forgiveness. Jesus is where, or in whom, it all comes together. “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

He came to us, he ministered to us, he laid down his life for us, though we were sick and infected in our wounds. Because he loves us each intimately, as members of his own body. We have an example. It is not far away in the sky, or across the sea; it is very near to you, already in your hearts. You only have to carry it out.



Be Radically Christian



What are we as Christians to do in the face of the problems of our society? That’s a burning question most of us have, or should have. How does God want us to respond to the rising frequency of difficulties for us to live as faithful Christians?

We already have the answer, we’ve known it in the past, and we’ve applied it in the past, and it’s always time to apply it again.

babylonian exileWhen the Israelites were conquered by the Babylonians and deported in the Exile, they spent a lot of time reflecting on why God allowed that to happen—how God, who promised always to be faithful, and always be with his people, could allow his people to be led away captive to a foreign land, far from God’s presence in his Holy Temple, in his Holy city of Jerusalem, which was left abandoned and burned.

The conclusion they came to was that they, not God, had been unfaithful. They may have been God’s chosen people, but they were not living by the precepts that set them apart, they who had enjoyed the unique favor of being given, by God himself, the law of how to live. They had become corrupt, they had gotten too involved in international affairs, and had neglected the precepts of purity and worship that God required of them. So while they were in Exile, they added to their sacred writings to make clear that God’s blessings were contingent on their faithful response, and that righteousness and purity needed to be kept at the center of their cultural identity. It so happened that as they did this, the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, and the Israelites were permitted to return to their land—an event that the Israelites had no doubt was by the hand of God, particularly in response to their having learned their lesson.

Our first reading, from near the end of the book of Isaiah, looks lovingly toward the restoration of Jerusalem, the mother of the people of God, the daughter of Zion. The reading recounts the blessings that God will shower upon Jerusalem, and the people, and inspires them to prepare themselves for the journey home, and once again to feel the comfort of their mother’s embrace.

The Church is the new Jerusalem, the place where God came to be with his people. The titles applied to Jerusalem–“Mother of the people of God”, “Daughter of Zion”–are also titles for Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus, and so by adoption, mother of all who are brothers and sisters of Jesus, his body, the Church. On feast days honoring the Blessed Mother, we often have readings that praise the holy city Jerusalem.

They probably also should have noticed that central in God’s instructions were not just requirements for purity, but also for protection for the widows, the orphans, and the poor, who are close to God’s heart. Perhaps then they wouldn’t have had the terrible friction between the two at the time of Jesus: the pharisaic legalism focused on purity, but neglecting their duty of charity and generosity toward the vulnerable and suffering.

The Islamic world figured it out, too. Discontent with the mediocrity of cultural Islam, fundamentalists looked back at their history to see what was different about the golden ages when Islam was a powerful force in the world. And they, too, saw that it was radical fidelity to the principles of Islam. A fundamentalist and literal application of the ancient texts of Islam takes as given the notions of war and fighting as a political and cultural clash between those who are faithfully living Islam by this strict, fundamentalist interpretation, and everyone else. That is the difference between Islam and Muslims, and Islamism and Islamists, who corrupt the teachings of Islam to spout anti-Western condemnation and strap bombs to themselves in the name of Islam and God.

For more information, read this.Muslim vs Islamist

It’s tempting to buy into some of the sweeping-generalizations that Muslims, in general, are a threat, but we must also keep in mind that it is a misrepresentative group of Muslims who espouse this aggressive interpretation. The majority of Muslims do not. And just as there are Christians who are wrong people who do wrong things, we must treat Muslims as we want to be treated: to be judged on our own merit, our kindness, our charity, and our faithfulness, and not those who misrepresent our faith with violence and hatred.

That isn’t to say that even moderate Islam is not without some genuine concerns in terms of its relationship with Christianity and Western culture; and also how “anti-Western” non-Islamist Muslims might be. But we can respond to this with fear, or with dialogue and interaction. Those who are here legally have as much right to be here and celebrate their faith, and enjoy their legal protections and rights (and obligations) as any of us. We would be charitable to give the benefit of the doubt to particular Muslims and their communities, and show them gracious hospitality. In the words of Lincoln, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

And so how do we respond to the challenges of the world? By being radically Christian. I don’t mean Christian radicals or Christian fundamentalists–those who take some aspect of Christian teaching, and then violently and hatefully spreading that bit of the message apart from the whole (such as the KKK, Westboro Baptist Church, or those who violently attack mosques, synagogues, abortion clinics, or do any violence in the name of any Christian belief). Not radical Christian, but radically Christian. Blessed Mother Theresa, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Dorothy Day, Pope Saint John Paul II, were radically Christian. How so? By living by the message and life of Christ: to live by the cross, as a living sacrifice; taking up our cross daily, denying ourselves, and following him; by a simple life of prayer and service in love of God and all his children.

Our second reading is the end of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. St. Paul proclaims his abandonment of himself and all things for the way of the cross. He says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Is that difficult? It’s darn near impossible, but for the grace of God. He gives us this grace through our relationship with him—the most important relationship in your whole life. We strengthen that relationship by our worthy reception of the sacraments, by time spent in learning the Word of God, and by practicing the virtues and the works of mercy.

Jesus said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” We often use these words of Jesus to promote vocations to the priesthood. It is right and just, for we do need to encourage that, especially in a culture which so pervasively promotes the opposite (namely, self-centeredness and sexual indulgence). But in itself, the reading is not a call for more priests, it is a call for radically engaged Christians. Those who love Christ—such that their love overflows into sharing the treasure they have found with all they meet, with generosity and love. And that doesn’t just mean evangelizing to non-Christians or even non-Catholics. We are also engaged in what the Church calls “The New Evangelization,” which is to replant the seed of the love of Christ and his Church in areas and people who already received the Gospel, but where it has not (or has stopped) bearing fruit.

So what are we as Christians to do in the face of the problems of our society?

  1. We are to live the gospel—which is to live and love the cross, which is to embrace the persecution we encounter, and return a blessing; to pray for our enemies. It is to live the teachings of the Church, and oppose secular errors such as abortion, artificial contraception, artificial conception, non-marital sex, pornography, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage.
  2. We are to share the gospel, to spread far and wide—starting with those closest to us—the closeness and mercy of God as he has drawn near to us, and the divine truth of human nature, that supports why so much of what is being promoted by society is contrary to healthy human fulfillment.
  3. We are to love the gospel. We are to put God first in our lives, and all other priorities in terms of our worship of him, and our love of him. Which includes our active participation in the Mass and the sacraments, arriving early and staying until the end of Mass, every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, being dressed modestly and nicely, and refraining from receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin. It means taking unpopular stances, saying unpopular things, in love, because they are right. It means prudently choosing what battles to fight and how; to avoid formal cooperation in sinful behavior; and providing faithful Catholic formation for our children.

Immaculate ConceptionIf we want to make America great, then we do so by being great American citizens, and we do that by being faithful Catholic citizens: hard-working patriotic servants, by being God’s good servants first. We remain faithful to the law of God, and then to the extent possible, to the law of the land. We stand up for the poor and vulnerable, and for truth and virtue. We pray for our families, our neighbors and our leaders.

Through the intercession and protection of the Immaculate Conception, the patron saint of our country, may we be, and always remain, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice, for all.


Being Christian and Staying the Course


Our readings for this weekend have the clear and common theme of being firmly committed to God, and prioritizing the other aspects of our life in proper respect to this first priority.

Our readings for this weekend:

In our first reading, we see Elijah following God’s instructions to anoint Elisha as his successor as the chosen and anointed prophet of God. We can glean some important things about Elisha’s life from this reading: He was handling a team of twelve yoke of oxen. So this was no small guy. He was big and strong. And we see that he fed “his people”, those depending on him, and so he was a man who was a provider to others in and near his home. But in his action, we see what’s most important: he slaughters the twelve yoke of oxen, and uses the yoke to fuel the fire of a great meal for his people. He essentially burned the bridge behind him to his previous life as he went to follow Elijah.

Throughout the Old Testament books of First and Second Kings, we see the story of these two prophets, Elijah, and Elisha, the embodiment of God’s promise through Moses that God will continue to be with and guide his people. And it is through these two great prophets that we see a kind of parallel to St. John the Baptist and Jesus, whose narratives are interwoven in the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Luke. Elijah was a prophet of warning, of vengeance, of calling down thunder and lightning. Elisha was a prophet of mercy, of healing, of resurrection and restoration, and forgiveness. Although the contrast is not exact, for we heard a few weeks ago of Elijah restoring the son of the widow of Zarephath, and we know that Jesus at times played the part of giving stern warnings and displaying divine anger.

Indeed, in today’s Gospel, which can be divided into two parts, in the first part, we have Jesus showing a gentle response to being rejected by the Samaritans, while his disciples James and John earn their nickname, “the Sons of Thunder” for wanting to punish the Samaritans for their faithlessness.

Then in the second part of the Gospel, which shows three potential disciples, Jesus is stern with them, demonstrating that once a person makes a commitment to be Christian, nothing must get in the way, nothing must take a higher priority, and nothing must be chosen which is inconsistent with that primary priority. It’s not going to be easy, Jesus tells us. We’re not going to have some of the comforts that others enjoy. But what are those comforts worth, compared with eternity in the highest ranks of heaven? St. Francis de Sales teaches us that it is not enough to simply avoid sin, but we must let go even of our affection for sin. We can’t want what is sinful, even if it were permitted. We must purify our desires, our hearts, if we want to see God.

One of the stories I read recently is about a guard in charge of a lighthouse along a dangerous coast who was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day a woman asked for some oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came because his son needed oil for a lamp so he could study. Another needed some for an engine. The guard saw each as a worthy request and gave some oil to satisfy all. By the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse was dry. That night the beacon was dark and a ship crashed on the rocks. More than one hundred lives were lost. The lighthouse guard explained what he had done and why. But the prosecutor replied, “You were given only one and very important task: to keep the light burning. Every other thing was secondary. Deviation from your responsibility has caused loss of many lives and much property. You have no excuse.”

Temptation is not necessarily a choice between good and evil. Perhaps more confusing and tempting is the conflict when one must choose between something good and a greater good. The lighthouse keeper in our story found himself in such a conflict situation. And that is what happened to the would-be disciples in today’s Gospel story. In such cases the good becomes the enemy of the best. One must say NO to a good thing in order to say YES to the one thing necessary.

Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.

Pope Benedict is often quoted as saying, “The world promises you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” That’s the choice between saying “no” to the good of comfort, to be able to say “yes” to the greater good of greatness. Another great quote, by Augusta Kantra, isDiscipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” It’s the same principle: saying “no” to what you want now (like a big juicy steak and baked potato) so that you can say “yes” to what you want most (lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol so you can lose weight and live healthier).

If it’s true about your physical life, in this case, it’s more true for your spiritual life. We are called to make sacrifices (fasting, praying, almsgiving). We are called to do things (help the poor and vulnerable, go to Mass weekly and Confession regularly, follow the moral law). We are called to avoid things (practice chastity, refrain from gossip, don’t be judgmental). Sure, some of these are for everybody, but some of them are especially directed at Christians. Our lives should not be lived the same way as others, because we are pursuing different goals. And if the ends are different, so should the path be different. We are not seeking popularity, wealth, power, or pleasure. We are seeking holiness, humility, mercy, faith, hope, and charity. We’re seeking heaven, and the steep, narrow road to get there. And to make that journey, we have to let go of a lot of unnecessary baggage.

We have to ditch what we want now, for what we want most. We have to keep our hand to the plow, and not look back.

It’s Alive! (almost…)


With the recent move from St. Joseph Church in Lancaster, and maintaining their webpage and Facebook posts, to Holy Trinity Church in Columbia, with dedicated volunteers generously sharing their own talents and gifts for the glory of God and the online presence of the parish, I’ve decided that perhaps it’s time to resurrect the old blog that was attempted many moons ago, and never quite got off the ground. Plus, WordPress has improved dramatically since then.

It’s going to stay simple for a while, only presenting what I had been posting as my weekend homilies, with some minor alterations, and some other commentary of events as they might prompt a blog post. Obviously, I’ve got a steep learning curve ahead in my “day job” and I play with the internet as a diversion. But I have some thoughts percolating about how this site might develop. We’ll see.

But I thank  you in advance for your support and encouragement, your friendship, and of course, your dialogue and ideas. Stay tuned, and God bless you.


Christian Wisdom from a Yoga Post


I happened across this image on Facebook, shared by a friend from a Yoga (Hindu–yes, yoga is a religious exercise, not just stretching, and a somewhat surprising religious exercise at that, if you read here) source of similar images. I’ve written before that, (as attested to by long-standing Catholic Church writing, especially Fides et Ratio) true knowledge is not only to be found in the Catholic Church, but (by way of natural revelation and our creation in the divine image) in all cultures, philosophies, and religions of the world. But often the full truth is missed, and only a partial truth is seen, because natural revelation is a precursor and preparation for the full revelation available only through the Incarnation of God in Christ. Lacking this fullness of divine truth, natural wisdom can only get us so far, and often problems between contemporary wisdom and Christian wisdom are borne of the limited light of natural reason, in contrast to the harmonic symphony of interwoven truths revealed for us by divine truth. Even in our society’s “enlightened” discourse, since “religion” is denied in favor of “nature,” you can see the same “mistaking the part for the whole” in popular secular perceptions and statements of truth.

So I looked at the above image, aware of its Yoga/Hindu origin, and asked myself what fuller truth this might be representing partially. And I realized (with such astonishment that I felt compelled to write a post on the experience) that it was not only a very good statement of the truth, but is a profound statement of the Christian life.

In Christian anthropology (“the study of what it is to be human in light of Christian revelation”) we know by faith that even before we were made, God has a dream for us, and that God’s dream for us is that we ultimately end up in heaven with Him for an eternity of happiness, peace, and fulfillment. He knows all our days before the first one comes into existence (Ps 139:16). We are created in His image and likeness, and so we are created as good. However, it quickly goes wrong because of human sinfulness. We rebel against our parents, we fall to sins of pride and the other capital vices, we distort our character by patterns of sinful choices, and in short we become something much different (and much less) than what God created us to be.

However, because of God’s never-failing love for us, he continues to call to us in the depths of our hearts. Gaudium et Spes, 16:

In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

Our loving Father–our Good Shepherd–seeks us no matter how far we wander away from Him, as there is nowhere we might go that He cannot reach us. No matter what sins we might have committed, nothing we can do is beyond his forgiveness. The only thing He cannot forgive is the sin that prevents us for asking for his forgiveness–the pride that foolishly believes that we can commit a sin that is greater than his ability and eagerness to forgive us (Our Lord tells St. Faustina that our sins are like a drop falling into an ocean of mercy).

Yet we are prideful, and ambitious, and narcissistic, and lustful, and all the other vices and weaknesses of sinful humanity. With each sinful choice we make, we change our moral character. We become the choices we make. If we repeatedly make lustful choices, we develop a lustful habit, and a lustful character. We darken the acuity of our conscience, and surround ourselves with distracting noise. We dull the light that ought to shine in us and out from us. We weaken our Christian character, and more tragically, we injure our relationship with God, our source of life, light, and joy. We lose our freedom (from the captivity of sin) by throwing ourselves into sin (by thinking that freely choosing sin is actually the meaning of freedom).

And so, as our yoga friend so beautifully reminds us, our journey is un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.

You are unique in all of time and space. God will have made you only once. In the history and expanse of the universe, you are the only one with your combination of gifts, experiences, thoughts, desires, dreams, loved ones, and opportunities. You are the only one ever to have the opportunity to have the relationship with God that he desired to have with you when he joyfully imagined you then brought you into being, with the hope that you and He would have all eternity to spend falling more deeply in love with each other. No one can take your place. No one is insignificant, unimportant, expendable, or unwanted.

We spend a great deal of time mucking ourselves up. We seek wealth, independence, status, accomplishment, and most of all, pleasure. But if we pursue these more than we pursue our identity of who God made us to be, we’ve made ourselves our god, and things and pleasure our gods. We want to make the rules. But we don’t make the rules. We can make some rules, but not ones that conflict with His rules. He gave us His rules to help us to be the person He made us to be…in His love for us…for His dream for us.

We can turn from ourselves and our things to Him, and we can ask Him for forgiveness. We can ask Him to restore us in our relationship with Him, to direct us to Himself in all that we seek and in all that we do. We can ask God to help us purge ourselves of our silly distractions and the darkness we have invited into our characters, our personalities, and our lives, and teach us to replace them with His light, His love, His glory.

This is His dream for you. This is the meaning of your life: un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.



My Friend (A Better Response)


I had a conversation with a friend who wanted to get married to the person she had had a long-term relationship with. I told her, “I’m very happy that you’re happy. I’m very happy for you that you’ve found someone who knows you well, who makes you feel secure and loved, and that it looks like you can make it in the long-run. But you know deep down that this isn’t going to work. You’re not really right for each other. Yes, the flame is burning high now, the passion is burning, the joy is constant, but these things die down, and I and your family and so many of your friends are telling you this one is not the one. It feels special, two lovers against the world and against all the odds, But when the deed is done, you don’t go riding off into the sunset, you don’t go live in the castle for happily ever after. You have to make a life.There has to be something more than the right now. I’m sorry that this is so painful, but I say it because I love you, and I really want you to be happy not just now and a little while from now, but forever. And if you do this now, it’s going to hurt you in the long run, and because I love you, I want to spare you that.”

You can draw what conclusions you want as to whether my friend was talking about a boyfriend or girlfriend–it was a bad match, and a hard lesson (learned too late). I do love my friend, and I do love you, too, and just like I told her: you know I love you and want you to know all the joy you were meant to experience. If this experience blows up in your face, and you get hurt, wounded, scarred, scared, lost, and lonely, here I am. I’ll pick you up, dust you off, give you a big hug, we’ll share a hot meal and a tall beer, and we’ll see how to manage from there.

And if all the bad stuff that can happen doesn’t happen, I still want the best for you, and so no matter what, you’re always safely in my prayers. God bless you, hold you, protect you, guide you, and draw you to Himself in his infinite love for you.

No One Comes to the FATHER Except Through Me (Jn 14:6)

images81I would like to engage in a bit of speculative theology. That is, to look at what might be consonant with our faith, but isn’t necessarily thought of in that way.

Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” I would like to propose (based on something I read a while ago, source unknown; if you know it, please let me know!) that this is a potential positive point for inter-religious dialogue. Jesus does not say that no one can go to God except through him. Of course, we equate the two, since God is the Father. But let us see if there isn’t a little bit of wiggle room in that distinction.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in his 2005 book Truth and Tolerance pointed out that when Christianity sought to dialogue with the surrounding Greek culture, it did not do so through the Greek religious system of Zeus & Co., but through Greek philosophy: the search for truth and the relationship of “the one and the many.” Human reason had reached the conclusion that there could only be one ultimate source of existence and truth (“the One”), and that this ultimate source mediated itself to us through human reason and the discernible reasonableness and order of existence (“the Logos”). There were some important differences, which led to some important clarifications (the early ecumenical councils, and the errors they rejected, many of which have come up again and again, and are out and about again today).

But the god of philosophy was an entity, somewhat like the Force (that was one of the differences, and it’s popular today). Christianity lended to this god his personhood–His will, His love, His desire that all would know truth, and relate in the proper way with each other and with the One, so that there would not be strife, but harmony. This totally made sense to the Greeks: if the philosophical god was indeed the source of creation, of course it would have personhood, and will, and love (they wouldn’t be in existence if they weren’t first in the source). And so the love affair between faith and reason (Fides et Ratio) began.

So Christianity–Jesus in particular–came to show that the Greek “True God” was not just creator, but Father. He was (is) God of Light, God of Truth, God of Majesty, but He was (is) also God of Love, God of Consolation, God of Hope. And Jesus, his Son, came to reveal the Father to all people, that they might have life and have it abundantly. Because living in the Truth is the best way to live. To strive to grow in relationship with God, in imitation of His Son is to “have eyes to see” the “really real” (super-natural) beyond and partially manifested in the sensible world.

Jesus also fulfilled a multitude of biblical images, even if only after they had been properly understood in hindsight. But the understanding by those who knew Jesus to be the fulfillment of the Messianic expectations knew that he had done his job, even if the humble Suffering Servant was not the way they had expected. Still–he had reopened the locked gates of paradise, he had undone the sin of Adam, and through the Sacraments, especially baptism, he had given humanity participation in his life in intimate union with the Father. He not only did all that, but also continues to do that, through the Holy Spirit, continually pouring divinity into creation (and humanity), opening our eyes to see with faith what is beyond the visible, and opening our hearts to share in his grace, and to live as He would have us live (playing well with others).

The Church, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) of the Second Vatican Council, in paragraph 14 starts drawing concentric circles of the “catholic unity of the people of God… indeed the whole of mankind, for all men are called by the grace of God to salvation.” It begins with those in full communion with the catholic Church, then our Christian brethren, then our Jewish “parents in the faith,” our Muslim “fellow children of Abraham,” outward to globally encompass “those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life” (LG 16). 

Those in the fullness of unity with the Catholic Church, into which Jesus infused all the means of salvation in its founding, have the most responsibility to spread the truth through word and example (Lk 12:48). Those who are further from the Church–those of eastern religions, pagans, agnostics, atheists–are not necessarily closed from salvation. It’s bizarre to say that God willed to create India, or China, fill them with billions of people (over hundreds of generations), culturally isolate them from Christianity, then send them all to hell for not being Christian. We don’t believe that. We believe that whatever good is in their religion and in that culture is salvific–capable of leading to salvation. Heaven is not closed off to them.

The closer one is to Christ and the fullness of His revelation of God as Our Father, the easier it is for him or her to seek God’s grace and attain salvation. The further we are from Christ, the more difficult it is for us. The one, holy, catholic, apostolic church is not just the surest way to God–but through Christ it fully reveals who God is: Father. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

“There is no salvation outside the Church” doesn’t mean only Catholics go to heaven. It means that it was Jesus alone who has opened the gates to paradise, nirvana, fulfillment, wholeness. So if anyone is capable of getting to heaven, it is only by virtue of Jesus Christ. But does one need to explicitly know that to be “saved?” All people can know God as his or her religion (or lack thereof) communicates some limited truth of what and who God is. The extent to which they are true (convey elements of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church) is the extent to which they are good. Christianity is thought to be bad because bad Christian witness points to a god who is far inferior to the True God as revealed by Jesus. And God even as partially revealed by pagan religions is more true than a false understanding of God obliterated by a bad Christian witness. There are pagans and atheists who have a firmer grasp on God (in rejecting the false God of a bad Christian witness) than some Christians (who have in their own minds or “tradition” so distorted God that it hardly resembles the revealed God). For example,it is reasonable to reject the hateful god of the Westboro Baptist Church.

God, the lover of His creation, is calling all his children, scattered throughout the world, to Himself. He perfects our vision and thought. He speaks into our heart. Yet, unfortunately, one cannot deny the reality that people sometimes do not know God as he fully reveals Himself…because they do not want to. A true knowledge of God makes demands on us–especially the admission that we ourselves are not God, and we cannot simply choose however we want to. Even the Ancient Greeks knew this; yet somehow, we don’t. This blindness has led many to abandon their Christian upbringing, often under the motto, “I’m a free, independent thinker,” but translates to its source, “Non serviam.”

Those in religions and cultures further away from Christ have less means of salvation and more problematic hurdles to overcome. Even though salvation is still possible, we are called to evangelism because God wants to remove all the obstacles from our path, so as to purify error from the religions and philosophies of all human cultures (as Christianity did from the beginning with the limitations of the pagan Greek world). Even though salvation should be relatively easy in long-standing Christianized societies, many have fallen away because of bad Christian witness and the increased influence of secularism and sin, and so we are called to the New Evangelization. Evangelization is to attempt to remove the splinter in our brother’s eye; the New Evangelization is to first remove the plank from our own eye.

This is not to say that all religions are just as good as another, or as long as someone is a good person, that’s good enough. The meaning of life is to get to the top of the mountain–unity with God, our source (Alpha) and goal (Omega). There’s only one path up the mountain–to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Each person’s religion and philosophy serves them as a map to the path to the top of the mountain. The better your map, the more direct your path and the more likely your success (if you follow the map!). If your map is very different than the reality of the path, it might be some pretty flowers, but you’re not as surely going to be where you need to be. There are different places from which to get your map, but the surest source is from the person who first came down the mountain and made the path.

My attempt is to offer a potential understanding of Jn 14:6 that helps us reconcile the truth that Jesus is the only way to the Father, with the reality that there have always been and are vast numbers of people who have no idea of Jesus (who came to reveal to us the Father–the full revelation of who God is, and the relationship He seeks with each of us, His children) yet they show the fruits of a faith in God partially revealed (perhaps worshiped through another name, or as multiple gods, or a supernatural force present in nature, etc.), through human culture, tradition, and religion, which  virtues of one seeking God and living in harmony with the wisdom and love of “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This is certainly not to fall into the errors of indifferentism, syncretism, or relativism, but it is to offer an aid by which we can show–like St. Paul in the Aeropagus–that we have the name of the unknown God of their faith, and he wishes us to seek Him among the voices clamoring for your attention; to seek his love, especially in your suffering; to seek His call, especially in your despair, and that while He is Our Creator, he offers to us the intimacy by which we dare to say, “Our Father…”

In the Beginning…

It has often been said that the bible is the greatest love story ever written.

This is the beginning of my attempt at the blog thing. Since it is likely that many of the posts here will gaze on divine love and truth, I suppose it is good and fitting that it begins with the same words with which He began His writing on divine love and truth: “In the beginning…”

My intent here in the beginning this is to post longer reflections, longer articles, longer explanations, longer thoughts, than my typical medium, which is Facebook. That doesn’t necessarily mean my Facebook posting will diminish, but chances are this will be easier to read, easier to reference sources, and easier to edit than Facebook for most of the more complex situations.

This post serves the double duty of being the guinea pig for exploring the WordPress interface, and to introduce the blog to the world (Hello, world!). This is actually my second post, since I accidentally deleted the first one (oops). See, learning already in progress.

Hopefully this endeavor proves (at some point) to be mutually enriching for everyone involved (or at least sanctifyingly penitential). My hope is that comments and likes come, both to bolster my belief that this is actually beneficial to anyone, and possibly even the exchange of ideas. In that vein, I hope that all (or anyone at all…hello out there? anyone? hello..o…o….o) engage in a spirit of integrity, maturity,  patience, and what my statistics teacher called “the principle of charity,” whereby we don’t take straw-man shots at others’ contributions, but charitably interpreting statements as they likely intended them. 

One last thought. Ok, two last thoughts. Second-to-last thought for the first post: While I may be snarky (my new favorite word), I am also a parochial vicar–and a reasonably busy one–in a great parish, and so I don’t intend to post on any established schedule. I intend to post when a situation, opportunity, and desire intersect (like the Bermuda Triangle). That may change as time marches on, but for now, we’ll start small. Last thought for the first post: I am a happy Catholic priest, and “I take this stuff seriously” when I offered the Oath of Fidelity and the ordination promise of obedience. So while some posts may be on the very speculative edges of orthodoxy, any fraternal or ecclesiastical corrections offered may result in this blog and/or any posts therein to be affected as required. How that will happen will depend on the circumstances.

Ok, that was the last thought. But then this thought happened, too. It would be good and fitting to begin this venture with a prayer…

Almighty FATHER,
you are the source of all truth and love.
Let this and all things work for your glory.
May our words be words of love;
may our thoughts be thoughts of truth;
may we strive to be holy as You are holy.

Loving SON of the Father,
you took flesh, offered yourself, and rose again
so that you might open the gates of Paradise
and that we might know the extent of God’s love.
Help us by your grace
to follow your teachings, example, and life.

you are the power of divine love
loosed upon the earth for our sanctification.
Inspire us with the fire of love,
with the waters of peace,
and the outpouring of the divine gifts.

Blessed Virgin Mary,
you are Our Lady of Good Counsel,
the Seat of Wisdom, the Help of Christians.
Intercede for us,
that we might humbly and joyfully
seek and submit to the Will of God.

May this prayer be in the Holy Name of Jesus, Our Lord.