May 13, 2012
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4; 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17
Happy Mother’s Day. As I’m sure y’all know, Mother’s Day is not an official holiday on the liturgical calendar. Hence, the Scripture readings don’t exactly reflect the occasion; there are no direct references to the dignity of Christian motherhood. There is, however, a theme that I consider indirectly related to Christian motherhood: baptism. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles presents baptism as the culmination of the Holy Spirit’s among in Cornelius and his household. Since Christians have always considered baptism a birth to new life, and the Church the womb where that new life gestates, they have always also considered the Church a true mother.
But what does the Church’s motherhood have to do with the flesh-and-blood motherhood that we celebrate today? I think, actually, quite a lot. Experience suggests that esteem for the Church’s supernatural motherhood is closely tied to esteem for natural motherhood. Even the historical origin of Mother’s Day in certain countries suggests this. Read the rest of this entry »
May 5, 2012
Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8
There’s a verse in today’s second reading that hints at the depth of healing that Christ makes possible: “[I]n whatever our hearts condemn … God is greater than our hearts and knows everything” (1 Jn 3:19b-20a). Sometimes we get so used to cadences of biblical language, that it’s easy to overlook the depth of the mystery being expressed.
The first remarkable feature of this verse is surely this: it speaks of the heart as the origin of a certain kind of condemnation. What could this mean? Nowadays we use the heart to refer strictly to our emotions—and usually to out positive emotions. We often oppose the “heart” to the “head,” and we describe compassionate and generous people as having “big hearts.” In Scripture, though, the word is broader and deeper: it is the source of bad emotions as well as good; it is the seat of our cravings, the organ of our private thoughts, the storehouse of our memories.
The condemnation of the heart, understood biblically, can consequently refer to “accusations” that originate from a place deeper than our own thinking and willing. Read the rest of this entry »
April 29, 2012
Acts 4:8-12; Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18
We’ve perhaps become so familiar with the tender image of the Good Shepherd carrying a lost lamb on his shoulders, that we might easily overlook the urgency of its message. The Shepherd and the sheep, if you recall, are not the only actors in the fable. Christ also mentions the presence of the wolf. And though he doesn’t describe the wolf in any detail, its background presence points to an unsettling truth: humanity has an enemy whom he cannot match in strength and cunning; we stand before the power of evil as a sheep stands before a wolf. Apart from the Shepherd and His flock, our prospects are not good.
As Christ presents it, in other words, the world is not a safe place. It is the theater of a “high-stakes” drama. If we take Christ at his word, then He and His Church are not simply optional extras for those who need the “crutch” of religion. They are our hope of salvation. Peter makes this teaching the center of his preaching, insisting, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” He also describes Christ as a “cornerstone,” implying the existence of a building—i.e., the “Church”—in which Christians seek refuge from the wolf.
Important questions arise. How exactly does the wolf go about seeking to destroy us? And how exactly does the Shepherd go about defending us? Read the rest of this entry »
April 22, 2012
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; 1 Jn 2:1-5a; Lk 24:35-48
It’s funny how the presence of certain people can shift our perspective on our fears and our problems. I once heard a story about a meeting between the former Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Kolvenbach, and Pope John Paul II. According to the story (which at least has the ring of truth), John Paul was by this point already quite diminished by Parkinson’s Disease. Fr. Kolvenbach, then more than 80 years old, had come to ask for permission to step down as General. John Paul declined his resignation and Fr. Kolvenbach accepted his decision tranquilly. When he returned to Jesuit headquarters, his fellow Jesuits inquired about the meeting, and Fr. Kolvenbach observed rather matter-of-factly, “It’s very difficult for me to stand before this Pope and argue that I am too old and too frail to do my job.” In light of John Paul’s own heroic perseverance, in other words, even substantial concerns and frailties came to seem rather manageable by comparison.
The presence of the Risen Christ seems to have had a similar effect on his first disciples—only more so. Read the rest of this entry »
April 8, 2012
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; 1 Cor 5:6b-8; Jn 20:1-9
There’s an experience that the liturgy so often links to Easter that we almost take the connection for granted. Our Psalm antiphon declares, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.” The second reading from 1 Corinthians reads, “Our Paschal Lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast …” The Gospel Acclamation echoes the theme, “Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed; let us then feast with joy in the Lord.” The experience so often connected to Easter, in case you haven’t guessed yet, is nothing other than festivity, rejoicing together. The connection, of course, isn’t accidental. Christians have always understood the Resurrection not just as a feast, but as the feast, as the source all genuine festivity in this world. In the 4th Century, St. Athanasius observed that those without a share in the Resurrection “forever … remain without a feast” (Paschal Letters, VI).
Why is this? I think the claim is easier to understand if we distinguish genuine “festivity” and simply “partying.” Why is the atmosphere surrounding great festivals—Christmas, Thanksgiving, a wedding—distinct from the atmosphere surrounding night clubs, frat parties, or even greeting-card holidays like “Secretary’s Day”? One of the great Catholic philosophers of the 20th Century ventured this answer: to keep a genuine festival is
to live out, for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole (Pieper, In Tune with the World 30). Read the rest of this entry »
April 5, 2012
There is a famous episode (often cited by the Holy Father) illustrating the devotion to the Eucharist in the early Church. In the year 304, a group of Christians from the town of Abitinia in North Africa gathered on Sunday, in defiance of orders from Emperor Diocletian, for the celebration of Mass. They were “caught” and promptly hauled into court. When asked why they disobeyed, one of the worshippers, Emeritus, gave this simple and profound answer: “Sine Dominico non possumus” (“Without the Lord’s thing, we cannot …”). Emeritus and 48 others eventually died martyrs’ deaths because they simply could not live without the “Lord’s thing,” that is, without the Eucharist.
A question naturally emerges: How did the Abitene martyrs come to regard the Eucharist as something they could not live without? How did it become for them, not just an external duty, but an inner necessity? The answer, briefly stated, is that they came to view the Eucharist much as the liturgy presents it to us tonight. They came to see the Eucharist as 1) freedom to worship, and 2) as power to serve. Read the rest of this entry »
March 25, 2012
Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33
At first glance, it seems that Jesus is using the politician’s campaign-season playbook. Philip and Andrew (two apostles with Greek names) bring Jesus a simple request from some Greek proselytes (honorary Jews): “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Rather than answer the question straightforwardly, however, Jesus opts to stick close to his talking points. He goes on to speak of the seed that must die if it is to bear much fruit, the need to surrender one’s life in this world, the cost of discipleship, his spiritual distress, his trust in the Father, and the manner in which he was about to die. By this point, Philip and Andrew are probably looking at their watches, thinking, “He could have just said no…”
But of course, Jesus is answering the question. He is simply answering it a deeper level than either the Greeks or his disciples understand at that moment. Read the rest of this entry »