Use Words!, Esther, Aquilina, and more quick hits

Today, I have a bunch of stuff I’d like to share. So, a few quick hits that are kind of all over the place.

TODAY’S FIRST READING

What’s in store for an apostle:

I am still more, with far greater labors,
far more imprisonments, far worse beatings,
and numerous brushes with death.
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.

2 Cor 11:23b-28

And we think we have it bad when we experience a little inconvenience for the Faith?

(Today’s St. Paul Center reflection does an excellent job of framing this passage and elaborating on it: https://youtu.be/UXfLjlrAxO4.)

FAIRFIELD (PA) CARMELITES

As I recall, I heard about the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, & Joseph on a Catholic radio show. I was so impressed with the mission of these good sisters that we have begun to support their monastery financially.

Today I received my first newsletter from them that informed me of their YouTube channel. This latest reflection (9 minutes) from one of the sisters is getting real.

AQUILINA ON “THE MOTHERS OF THE CHURCH”

By happenstance, I came across a video on my laptop of Mike Aquilina giving a talk to my parish in Chicago on “The Mothers of the Church” back in 2012 so I thought I would post it to YouTube (with permission) so everyone could benefit. Excellent, as usual, and particularly well received, as I recall. Watch Part I and Part II.

USE WORDS!

I heard another homily today in which St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as exclaiming: “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” I understand the sentiment, if the speaker means to say that a person should “practice what he preaches” or should not have the attitude of “do as I say, don’t do as I do.” Of course we should strive to live out the fullness of the Catholic Faith in our behavior, bringing the latter into closer and closer conformity with the former. Additionally, it is certainly the case that grave scandal can — and often does — occur when those who are known for their association with Christianity fail miserably and sometimes criminally (witness the sex abuse scandal as the most abhorrent in recent years).

But if this pithy little saying is used as an excuse to not evangelize, not catechize, not make one uncomfortable, not learn the faith, not lose friends and colleagues, then it is way off base. Beside, FRANCIS NEVER SAID IT! His reliquaries should be spinning practically constantly considering how often this phrase is tossed around. Francis was bold in speech, as well as action, and we should be as well.

Let’s retire this proposition once and for all and give St. Francis and all the faithful a break.

IN THE WAKE OF THE VIRUS

I just received notice that a free e-book from Word on Fire is now available:

Catholicism after Coronavirus: A Post-COVID Guide for Catholics

I have already recommend it to several friends in parish administration, including a pastor. You may wish to do the same.

ESTHER

I just finished (re-)reading the Book of Esther. What a fantastic story. It is debated whether it is actually historical or partially historical. No matter. It is an absolute page turner. I don’t know of another entire book in the Old Testament that matches Esther for interest and engagement, as a complete story, than this book (of course, there are many wonderful episodes in the Hebrew Scriptures — but an entire book with one cohesive tale?). Very little research brought to my attention this 1999 Hollywood film on the subject. I look forward to watching it (I hope it does the Bible justice).

MORE DESERT

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Is 40:3

Continuing my exploration of the “desert experience,” we have here one of Isaiah’s more famous lines (made so, in particular because of John the Baptist). For our purposes, though, the lesson I take away is that the desert experience is meant to be an opportunity to make straight our path, to get us back on the straight and narrow road that leads to life eternal.

Maybe the time of challenge is of our doing due to sin. Maybe it is given to us to help us to straighten out our priorities. Maybe it’s just a time to think and pray. No matter what the reason, the key for us is not to fall into the extremes of either deep resentment or abject resignation. Yes, we are to resign ourselves to God’s will; but we are to use the time and circumstances wisely: How can I give God the glory in these circumstances? What do I need to do to “straighten up” before the Lord? What virtues can I build up and what vices can I work on eliminating in these trying times?

NEW BOOKS

A nice little care package came from Ignatius Press today. Three books I looked forward to receiving:

I’m particularly excited about the last one. This completes the quartet of books on Matthew clocking in at around 2,700 pages in total. A phenomenal work. If you love Matthew and have the means to grab these four volumes, you will have many weeks of pleasurable and informative reading, as well as a great resource for Bible study.

ONE MORE BOOK

I was inspired by some other reading to purchase a book on early heavier than air flight. I am particularly interested in the first fifteen years (1903-1918) of such planes. I found what appears to be the perfect book for this subject.

Taking Flight: Inventing the Aerial Age from Antiquity through the First World War by Richard P. Hallion

So many books, so little time.

queen esther bible story
Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther (1660) by Rembrandt

God bless.

Fellow workers, Jesus deserted, the praying sinner, and Flag Day

TODAY’S FIRST READING (2 Cor 6:1-10)

Paul tells his “fellow workers” in Corinth what to expect in Christian ministry:

afflictions, hardships, constraints,
beatings, imprisonments, riots,
labors, vigils, fasts

2 Cor 6:4b-5

How are these to be endured?

by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness,
in the Holy Spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech,
in the power of God;
with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left;
through glory and dishonor, insult and praise

2 Cor 6:6-8a

I have often quoted Jesus when writing of the challenges of proclaiming the Faith or even simply living it out day to day:

Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

Jn 13:16-17

f Jesus endured for us all that Paul lists as part and parcel of Christian ministry, we should not be surprised that we, too, will be asked to put up with some blow-back (likely not to the extent Jesus did — for now at least) for doing the same. Maybe the most difficult part of all this is not returning the vitriol in kind, but simply remaining pure, patient, and kind, steadfast in “truthful speech.” We can only do this in the Holy Spirit, in the power of God.

Fear is useless; what is needed is trust.

Luke 8:50; Mark 5:36

JESUS DESERTED

As I continue to ponder “desert experiences,” none in the New Testament stands out more prominently than the forty days our Lord spent in the wilderness preparing for His public ministry and ultimately His Passion and death (Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13). In attempting to be a bit clever with the section heading I actually stumbled upon something I had not considered before. Jesus began His public ministry alone and ended it, all but abandoned, on the Cross. (We could also add, as a midpoint, the nearly complete dispersal of His followers when proclaiming the truth of the Eucharist in John 6.)

There are many ways to approach the three temptations of the devil with which he sought to entice Jesus to sin (this explanation of the whole episode is very good; this analytical approach comes from a very helpful website). For our purposes, I would simply focus on how temptations to sin can become acute when a person is in a vulnerable place physically, mentally, psychologically, or spiritually. Jesus stayed strong by trusting the Father. Luke tells us that He went into the desert “[f]illed with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1). This is our recipe to combat the Evil One: Trust God and eliminate sin from our lives. Jesus, like His mother before Him, was filled with the Holy Spirit — there was no room for sin in their souls. This is what we must strive for through prayer, confession, penance, and mortification. The less of an opening we give to the Tempter, the greater the possibility of being steadfast and remaining so. We cannot let our guard down because, even with Jesus, the devil “departed from him until an opportune time” (Lk 4:13b). Satan is the great exploiter of our vulnerabilities; we must always be prepared for battle.

THE PRAYING SINNER

For quite some time now I have planned to read daily (and rarely miss doing so) something about St. Dominic, the Dominicans, or a spiritual work by a Dominican since I hope to become a Lay Dominican some day. I am currently working through Fr. Paul Hinnebusch’s, Prayer, the Search for Authenticity (long out of print). It is the first of a trilogy of works based on lectures on contemporary spirituality he gave in 1968 in the Graduate School of Theology, The University of Notre Dame. His goal: “to work towards an authentic spirituality for our time” (from the preface of the third volume, Secular Holiness: Spirituality for Contemporary Man). (The second volume is entitled, Dynamic Contemplation: Inner Life for Modern Man; I plan to work through all three books.)

Anyway, it has been a bit of a slog at times, but one of the last few chapters, that I read today, held my attention and struck a chord. It is entitled, “The Compatibility of Authentic Prayer and Human Sinfulness.” I have often heard from folks who don’t go to Mass or have even left the Church because of all the “hypocrites” there. That is an accusation from the outside. There are also folks who believe they have deceived themselves because their prayer seems to do them no good. This is an accusation from the inside. This short chapter works through both of these perspectives, giving hope. I have attached it here. But one paragraph to entice you to read more:

To conclude that the prayer of an imperfect man is self-deception, or to call a prayerful man a hypocrite just because in weakness he occasionally falls into sin, is to insult the Holy Spirit of grace and the God of love. For prayer is a gift of God’s grace, and it is God who takes the initiative in prayer, offering the grace of prayer even to sinners and to the imperfect. Prayer is one of the best remedies for sinfulness and imperfection, and it is not hypocrisy for a sinner to pray. The grace of prayer is a call to conversion, an invitation to turn more deeply to God in love and to turn away from the ways of sin. It is quite normal, then, that a person, though still very imperfect in love of neighbor.

Paul Hinnebusch, O.P., Prayer, the Search for Authenticity (New York, Sheed & Ward, 1969), 238-239.

ReverentCatholicMass.com

Just heard about this today. Might be worth bookmarking this one, especially on your phone.

FLAG DAY

There is much controversy surrounding certain flags in vogue these days and their appropriateness to be flown at certain buildings or of being displayed in certain places. One I would hope that no person living in our great land would object to (even though I realize that some do) is Old Glory. The story of Flag Day can be found here. One excerpt:

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress took a break from writing the Articles of Confederation and passed a resolution stating that “the flag of the United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white,” and that “the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

Over 100 years later, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson marked the anniversary of that decree by officially establishing June 14 as Flag Day.

Survival while black in America depends in part on the successful retention of a curricula of traveling-based truths, writes Damon Young.

It is good to give thanks, pride, Speaker Series videos, and books, books, books, books

TODAY’S READINGS

For an excellent, informative dive into today’s first reading (Ez 17:22-24), and its importance for truly appreciating the subsequent Gospel (Mk 4:26-34), one would be hard pressed to do better than “The Last King Standing” — Bp. Barron’s Sunday Sermon that was posted today. One of St. Augustine’s most famous quotes is, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New” (read more here). Few are better at employing this principle than the good bishop.

I will make some short comments on the psalm (Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16) and second reading (2 Cor 5:6-10), though. Yes, it is good to give thanks to the Lord, as the psalmist exclaims. I will be the first to admit that it is something I often forget to do. Asking for stuff? I’m good at that. Complaining about everything? Ditto. But just showing simple appreciation? Too often, this does not even come to mind. Of course, it is “right and just,” as we say at Mass, to praise God — it is due Him in justice. But note the list of benefits to us described by the psalmist: flourishing, growth, bearing fruit, vigor, and sturdiness. See, whatever we give to God we get back a hundred-fold. Praise God!

The last verse of the second reading makes me shudder:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each may receive recompense,
according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Cor 5:10

The Lord is a God of mercy, and we don’t underestimate that (just read St. Faustina). But he is also a God of justice. He perfectly blends the two. So, we don’t presume heaven or hell for ourselves or for anyone else (unless the Church canonizes someone). This is one of many instances when Jesus speaks of the importance of our behavior in this life in determining are eternal fate in the next life. We must pay heed. Confession, penance, and reform are needed. But it all begins with prayer since we do not have the means to go it alone. All is grace.

PRIDE

We’ve been hearing a lot about “pride” the last two weeks. I thought it worthwhile to see what Scripture says about this matter. I again use my favorite search engine to find references to this word. I encourage you to take a deeper dive, but here I list a few stand out verses:

Prov.8

[13] The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.

Prov.11

[2] When pride comes, then comes disgrace;
but with the humble is wisdom.

Prov.16

[18] Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Prov.29

[23] A man’s pride will bring him low,
but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

Jer.13

[17] But if you will not listen,
my soul will weep in secret for your pride;
my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears,
because the LORD’s flock has been taken captive.

Zeph.2

[9] Therefore, as I live,” says the LORD of hosts,
the God of Israel,
“Moab shall become like Sodom,
and the Ammonites like Gomor’rah,
a land possessed by nettles and salt pits,
and a waste for ever.
The remnant of my people shall plunder them,
and the survivors of my nation shall possess them.”

[10] This shall be their lot in return for their pride,
because they scoffed and boasted
against the people of the LORD of hosts.

Sir.10

[12] The beginning of man’s pride is to depart from the Lord;
his heart has forsaken his Maker.

[13] For the beginning of pride is sin,
and the man who clings to it pours out abominations.
Therefore the Lord brought upon them extraordinary afflictions,
and destroyed them utterly.

The overwhelming number of references to pride in Scripture are its problematic nature. Pride in man is always a problem, though. Humility counters this vice. Just click here for overwhelming proof.

A related video worth checking out.

SPEAKER SERIES VIDEOS

I have been remiss in not providing a link to the channel that contains all of the Zoom talks from the Spring Speaker Series my high school hosted. Find here excellent presentations by Rachel Bulman, Katrenia Reeves-Jackman, Daniel Boyd, Michael Dauphinais, and Mike Aquilina. Enjoy!

NEW BOOKS

As often as I say I need to stop buying books, I run across another I “must” have. It is true that I have substantially reduced my personal library in recent years, and I am better about continuing the weening process, but I do still pick up certain works I can’t resist.

  • What Is Redemption? How Christ’s Suffering Saves Us by Philippe de la Trinité. Scott Hahn says this is “the book that made me start thinking like a Catholic.” The podcast in which Dr. Hahn reads his Foreword to this new edition is worth a listen and may well compel you to pick up this work yourself. In it he refers to the 150 volume 20th Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism. I have that! And this gem has been in there all along.

(By the way, I want to encourage you again to download the St. Paul Center app (at the very bottom right of the home page) to your phone if you have not already. Free and chock full of outstanding resources.)

I’m looking forward to diving into all of them.

So many books, so little time.

AND ONE MORE BOOK

Victor Davis Hanson is an amazing mind and a brilliant military historian. Having come across a talk promoting his book, titled: The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won, I was compelled to purchase it. I’m not quite a third of the way through it, but I can already recommend it highly to anyone interested in military history, especially WWII. If nothing else, at least check out the talk (there are many others by him on the same topic on YouTube).

prayer thank you God jesus

God bless.

The Immaculata and her wilderness refuge; Eucharistic consistency

TODAY’S GOSPEL

It is fitting that the day after commemorating and contemplating the wonders of Jesus’ Sacred Heart that we glory in the heart that kept the God-Man alive in the womb and that He must have often leaned on in His formative years. Thus we have the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

…and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

Lk 2:51b

The Gospel for today (Lk 2:41-51) appropriately mentions the Virgin Mary’s heart. The passage gives us the only glimpse of Jesus “hidden life” (that is, the time between His infancy and the beginning of His public ministry). In it we have the whole range of emotions for a parent: sorrow in losing a child, anxiety in searching for him, joy in finally finding him, and perplexity in the explanation as to why the whole thing happened in the first place. Jesus’ response, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?,” gives her another of many moments throughout her life, undoubtedly, to contemplate her Son and His mission.

Mary and Joseph realized that his reply contained a deeper meaning which they did not grasp. They grew to understand it as the life of their Child unfolded. Mary’s and Joseph’s faith and their reverence towards the Child led them not to ask any further questions but to reflect on Jesus’ words and behaviour…

Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, The Navarre Bible: St. Luke (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1988), 62-63.

Consider how many opportunities Mary had for reflection. She is prominent in Scripture in all the key moments of Jesus’ life: His conception, birth, presentation, beginning of His public ministry (at Cana), and passion and death. We know also that she was involved in His public ministry (see here). And I am thoroughly convinced that she was the first person to whom Jesus appeared at the Resurrection, although the Gospels do not record such an event. Her heart must have been full to overflowing at the wonders God wrought through His Son and hers.

This is why we are wise to take refuge in Mary’s immaculate heart — immaculate because it was never touched by sin from the moment of her conception until she was taken up to heaven body and soul. Overflowing with love for God and man and a sanctuary of all that Jesus said and did, many of which no other person would have been party to, the deepest core of her being is a welcome home for our hearts as well. Nothing compares to the tender heart of a mother, especially one who experienced uniquely the full gamut of emotions that the Mother of God did. In a time of great confusion, when even the word “mother” is incomprehensibly trying to be eliminated by the misguided (in the most charitable explanation), we need the guidance and safety of this mother’s heart more than ever.

Fr. Peter Stravinskas on the Immaculate Heart of Mary. (I once again strongly suggest subscribing to The Catholic Thing to get a short free email article every day throughout the year — a must read for me.)

WILDERNESS REFUGE

As I continue to consider the desert (or wilderness) experience, I came across this reference to Our Lady famously found in Revelation 12:

…and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

Rev 12:6

Most of the time when we come across references in the Bible to the desert or the wilderness, it is a time of trial. For John writing his final book, Revelation, it is a place of refuge Again, let us turn to the Navarre Bible:

The figure of the woman reminds us of the Church, the people of God. Israel took refuge in the wilderness to escape from Pharaoh, and the Church does the same after the victory of Christ. The wilderness stands for solitude and intimate union with God. In the wilderness God took personal care of his people….The Church is given similar protection…and Christ nourishes it with his body and his word…as the Second Vatican Council teaches, “in the meantime [while the Church makes its pilgrim way on earth], the Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (cf. 2 Pet 3:10), a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim people of God” (Lumen gentium, 68).

Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, The Navarre Bible: Revelation (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1992), 99.

So, the experience of dryness or trial does not only have to be approached or endured as something to fight through, but it can also be seen (through the eyes of faith) as a place of “intimate union with God.” May the good Lord give us the graces we need to take full advantage of the blessings available in our journey through the wilderness, this valley of tears.

Mary, Mother of the Church, ora pro nobis!

EUCHARISTIC CONSISTENCY

I have been following with great interest the Church’s renewed concern regarding pro-abortion politicians presenting themselves to receive Holy Communion. Opinions and suggested approaches vary. The U.S. bishops will be meeting beginning Wednesday with this matter the most prominent agenda item. This short piece from the Register is worth a read; the crux of it:

Building up Catholics with a greater belief in the Real Presence and with personal appreciation of how the Eucharist can inform our every action has to happen for there to be any understanding of why the conduct of some Catholic political leaders like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi is so egregious.

Three recent pieces from The Catholic Thing on the same subject:

Saturdays are dedicated in a special way to the Virgin Mary. Let us beg for her intercession that offenses against the Eucharistic Heart of her Son will cease through the conversion of our stony hearts.

Large Miraculous Medal

The Miraculous Medal. My mom, who was a promoter of this devotion, always pinned one on my t-shirt before sending me off to school. I continue to have one with me to this day, right next to my rosary and scapular. To learn more about St. Catherine Labouré and the medal’s history, click here.

God bless.

Heart to Heart, more desert, and ethical vaccines

TODAY’S READINGS

For today’s Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus we get to relive the final indignity of the Passion (Jn 19:31-37): Jesus’ being run through with a sword.

But when [the soldiers] came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead,
they did not break his legs,
but one soldier thrust his lance into his side,
and immediately blood and water flowed out.

Jn 19:33-34

Even after death, Jesus gives us life: With His Blood, signifying the Eucharist for spiritual sustenance; with water, signifying Baptism with which we become children of God with the promise of Heaven.

This same heart, God’s heart, was entirely given to the Chosen People of the Old Testament, even when they sinned grievously, as we hear in the first reading (Hos 11:1, 3-4, 8c-9):

My heart is overwhelmed,
my pity is stirred.

Hos 11:8c

This same heart desires to transform our hearts — all hearts — as we hear in the second reading (Eph 3:8-12, 14-19), so that

Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith

Eph 3:17a

One can’t help to think of these words from one of the prophets:

And I will give them another heart and a new spirit I will put within them. From their bodies I will remove the hearts of stone, and give them hearts of flesh, so that they walk according to my statutes, taking care to keep my ordinances. Thus they will be my people, and I will be their God.

Ez 11:19-20

If Christ dwells in our hearts we will adhere to the Lord’s will and truly be His people, His children in faith. And how do we grow in faith? St. Paul has the answer:

But not everyone has heeded the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what was heard from us? Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

Rom 10:16-17

Read the Bible! How can we say we know Jesus when we don’t know what He said? Jesus is the Word and all of Scripture is God-breathed, the Word of God.

Last here, but first in my mind as I heard the Gospel proclaimed at Mass today, is Mary the mother of Jesus and the words of Simeon to her at Jesus’ presentation in the temple:

Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

Lk 2:34-35

We are told by mystics that, interiorly, Mary felt every bit of Jesus’ Passion. Maybe we’ll learn about this in the next life. But one thing I’m absolutely convinced of is that she felt that Roman lance just as Simeon predicted — she felt the pain that Jesus mercifully no longer could. The first person to “fill[] up what is lacking* in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24).

No recorded words of Mary’s are provided by the evangelists at the Cross. I believe this is not because they were not inspired to do so, but because there were no words spoken. What could she say at this point? Their conversation at this juncture was simply Heart to Heart. Just as Mary’s beating heart sustained Jesus in the womb, her heart now again must sustain the world until her Son’s Resurrection.

MORE DESERT

I mentioned in a recent post how a conversation I had with a friend about “desert experiences” inspired me to look up references to “desert” and “wilderness” in the Bible. Last time I focused on a psalm. This time I’d like to take up, briefly, the first mention of wilderness in the New Testament (for these discussions I will be using the RSV for the initial quote and the NAB for the rest):

For this is he [John the Baptist] who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

Mt 3:3

It seems to me that the message here is that when we find ourselves in our own wilderness or desert, this time becomes a blessed opportunity to pay attention to the voice crying out to us. Consider that quite possibly it is this trial in which the Lord can finally get our attention. What is He asking of us? Is this a clarion call to make our own paths straight which have veered off the narrow path that leads to eternal life (cf. Mt 7:14)? Is this a preparation for us to not only get on the straight and narrow but also invite others to join us through our example?

For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.

Heb 2:10

Suffering is part and parcel of this valley of tears. “The servant is no better than his master” (Jn 15:20). So why not take advantage of this time of darkness by making it a blessing rather than perceiving it as a curse.

ETHICAL VACCINES

I am looking forward to ethical (non-abortion tainted) vaccines being made available. Following is a helpful article on the subject and below that some information from the National Catholic Bioethics Center that is of great value in keeping up with this matter.

Article: Are Abortion-Free COVID-19 Vaccines on the Way?

NCBC:

We at the NCBC tend to trust information put out by the Charlotte Lozier Institute. They have an updated resource on their website (link) that includes a chart (scroll down) indicating which vaccines are being ethically developed and produced (not using any abortion-derived cell lines), those that are not ethically produced (use abortion-derived cell lines), and those for which there are questions. If a vaccine listed has all green squares in all its boxes (see the chart) it is morally fine. If it has red triangles in the “Design & Development” and “Production” boxes (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen and AstraZeneca), then it is heavily dependent upon the abortion derived cell lines. If it has a red triangle in the “Confirmatory Lab Test” box only (Moderna and Pfizer) then it is less dependent on the aborted fetal cells.

Right now, there are vaccines being developed here in the US that do not have any connection with abortion derived cell lines, but they are still in preclinical trials (see the Charlotte Lozier chart, linked above) and will likely not be available anytime soon. There is, however, a company called Ocugen that is looking to bring the COVAXIN vaccine from India here to the US. According to Charlotte Lozier, this vaccine has no connection with abortion derived cell lines. See this link: https://ocugen.com/vaccine/overview/ . Hopefully Ocugen will be able to make this vaccine available in the relatively near future. 

God bless.

Body and Blood — really!

TODAY’S READINGS

All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.

Ex 24:7

In today’s first reading (Ex 24:3-8), this exclamation of the Chosen People, just released from bondage and miraculously saved from the Egyptians, coming immeidately after Moses received the Ten Commandments and a host of other laws from God, are words to live by, no? Unfortunately, we generally find it as difficult as the Israelites did to keep this promise, sincere as it may be. for any length of time (by chapter 32 we already have the infamous Golden Calf episode). And like them (as we hear of repeatedly in the Old Testament), just as they were prone to repeat over and over their waywardness, so are we.

But if we are to legitimately attempt to “heed and do” the Lord’s will, we must come to know it. How? Through the reading of Scripture, the knowledge of Tradition, and the sure teaching of the Church that safeguards two fonts of revelation “flowing from the same divine wellspring” (Dei verbum, 9). Praying to the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit that inspired the sacred authors, and that the Church has a guarantee of, is indispensable in this task.

Now, back to the text. Notice how the covenant is sealed with blood. The Church does not pick these readings willy-nilly. She, in her wisdom, makes obvious to us the vital connection between the Mosaic covenant and the New Covenant. Did a real sacrifice with real blood happen at the base of Mt. Sinai? Yes. Did a real sacrifice with real blood happen in the Upper Room? Yes. There are many defenses of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist as to what Jesus intended and effected at the Last Supper; this typological one is just another on a long list.

How shall I make a return to the LORD
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.

Ps 116:12-13

The psalmist (116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18) also prefigures the Eucharist. Our salvation comes through the Blood of Christ. We “make a return to the Lord” by participating at Mass as often as possible; Sundays, to be sure, as is our obligation, but also frequently throughout the week, as we are able. God doesn’t need us but He gives Himself to us entirely. We need God entirely since we can do nothing good on our own. And, in justice, we owe God praise and worship for who He is in the way that He designates through His Church. Why would anyone miss the opportunity? What could be more important?

[Jesus] said to them,
“This is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed for many.”

Mk 14:24

All previous history led to this point and all subsequent history flows from this point. The Paschal Mystery, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, anticipated in the Eucharist, is actually made manifest at this Passover meal before these events happened in time. Thus, it was a timeless event that saved many who died before this moment and it is the only possibility for salvation for every person who has since lived or will ever live until the end of time. It is, at best, disappointing that so few Catholics, and even more so, Christians in general, do not appreciate this great gift that Jesus gave us at the cost of His own life.

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”

CCC 1324

Pretty important? Much more than that. Vital, rather; that is, “‘of or manifesting life,’ from Latin vitalis ‘of or belonging to life,’ from vita ‘life,’ related to vivere ‘to live.'” (from Online Etymology Dictionary). “‘In [God] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Jesus tells us as much elsewhere:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.

Jn 6:53-54

Quite an invitation. Yet so many turn it down. Let us not be in that number; rather, let us be exemplars, drawing other in by our actions, inviting others in with our words.

MORE CORPUS CHRISTI

Late last year, I hunted down a book called The Fathers on the Sunday Gospels edited by Stephen Mark Holmes. It is the only book I have found that provides sermons from the Fathers of the Church in book form that follows the current lectionary of readings. I have been reading along since around Christmas. This section, under Corpus Christi, from a homily of St. John Chrysostom particularly struck me:

I do not mean that we should not approach [the Sacrament of the Eucharist], but simply that we should not do so thoughtlessly. Just as coming to it in a casual way is perilous, so failing to share in this sacramental meal is hunger and death. This food strengthens us; it emboldens us to speak freely to our God; in it is our hope, our salvation, our light, and our life. If we go to the next world fortified by this sacrifice, we shall enter its sacred portals with perfect confidence, as though protected all over by armour of gold.

p. 177

May we ever draw closer to appreciating, as St. John did, the power and necessity of Holy Communion.

_____
Another brilliant sermon from Bp. Barron: The Lifeblood of God

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A fine video from Dr. Edward Sri on the history of this great solemnity: Celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi

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A wonderful resource for all things Eucharist: Fr. Hardon Archives

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As always, turn to Catholic Answers to defend the faith, in this case the Eucharist


VIRTUAL PERPETUAL ADORATION

My favorite site to do Eucharistic Adoration virtually (obviously, going to a church or chapel is preferred, but this is a nice option when that is not possible): EWTN Polska

P.S.

All of this can only help us appreciate all the more the very real and important controversy around politicians receiving the Eucharist unworthily. But more on that another time.

BLESSED EUCHARIST

God bless.

The Holy Trinity, desert/wilderness experience, and more on vaccines

THE HOLY TRINITY

Today we are blessed to celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity on the Church calendar. This feast, introduced in the ninth century and added to the calendar in the fourteenth century, is a glorious day for the faithful as we are invited to contemplate more deeply this eternal mystery. Now, it is true that we invoke the Trinity every time we make the Sign of the Cross (which we should do at least a couple of times every day), but this day is a special occasion to really dive into this bottomless ocean.

(By the way, one more way we are blessed and privileged to be Catholics [the Orthodox are with us on this, albeit with a bit of a twist] is that the Sign of the Cross is a visible part of our prayer. What a great witness, particularly in light of today’s Gospel!)

The greatest minds in the Church have tried to tackle, or at least approach, this mystery, ultimately acknowledging that our puny intellects can do very little to grasp it. That is not to say nothing can be said about it, but we have severe limitations. St. Augustine wrote the most famous work on the subject. De Trinitate. Note: the image in this post highlights his limitations on the matter as revealed by God Himself.

Today’s sermon by Bp. Barron is a bit lofty but does a nice job in succinctly explaining the theology of the Trinity. I would also recommend my friend Jim Papandrea’s book, Trinity 101: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, for a concise and accessible overview of Church teaching in this area (I used it, with great profit, in a course I taught on the Trinity). Of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church should be your first source for information before diving more deeply.

Today’s Gospel (Mt 28:16-20) makes pretty darn clear the doctrine of the Trinity (even though that term is not explicitly used) — from Jesus’ own lips (some who claim to be Christians don’t believe, regardless). It happens to be the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, so these words of Jesus’ — in essence His parting words — should carry particular weight with us. “Make disciples of all nations,” He tells us. A call to evangelize! “Teach[] them to observe all that I have commanded you,” He adds. A call to catechize! And note that the formula for baptism is in the “name” of the Three Persons, not the “names.” There is one God (see Mk 12:29 which references Dt 6:4). As always, I recommend diving into Catholic Answers to learn more and to find help in defending this dogmatic teaching.

But before I leave this topic, I must mention that we don’t have to wait for Jesus’ ministry to find hints of the Holy Trinity. Scripture does not wait at all to show the power of God in His Persons. Let’s go back to the opening lines of the Bible:

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.

Gen 1:1-3

God the Father, creator. God speaks the Word, Jesus (see Jn 1:1-18). The “mighty wind,” the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, carries the Word (we learned all about Him last Sunday at Pentecost).

A last note: today’s Responsorial Psalm reinforces what we already know from Genesis 1:

By the LORD’s word the heavens were made; by the breath of his mouth all their host.

Ps 33:6

God the Father breathes out the Word and all that is, is.

THE DESERT / WILDERNESS

In speaking with a holy friend recently, we discussed so called “desert experiences”: a time of particular challenge in one’s life. We tend to think of this, with merit, in the Old Testament as primarily referring to the “wandering in the desert” of the Chosen People after leaving bondage in Egypt. In the Gospels, first to mind is Jesus’ experience immediately before beginning public ministry. Certainly not the only instances of such a challenge in the Bible, but good places to start.

Well, I immediately got to thinking about how I might explore all of Scripture on this theme to understand the depth and breadth of its various aspects. A method of Bible study I have long advocated, and have used to great profit myself, is to simply search for a certain word throughout the entire Bible and then dive further into references, looking at context, that seem applicable to my inquiry. You will be quite amazed at the vistas that open up if you do this in as serious, thoughtful, and systematic way (add good commentaries to make it even more fruitful).

Well, I began by looking for “desert” in the Old Testament (I use this RSV search engine that I found years ago and really like for its simplicity). This yielded forty-five results that I was able to pare down to eighteen relevant passages in eleven chapters. Then I looked for the same word in the New Testament — I was shocked to find only four references, none relevant.

One of the challenges of this method of Bible study is considering not only a specific word, but also synonyms that get at that for which the researcher is looking (this is where going to the Greek and Hebrew really come in handy, but let’s save that for another time). So then I tried “wilderness.” Voilà! Thirty-five matches, nearly all relevant. Then I went back to the Old Testament. An astounding 245 matches popped up (suffice to say it will take me a while to work through these).

I will provide updates on my discoveries in this endeavor from time to time. But, let me start right now with a passage that struck me with an aspect of the desert experience I had not considered:

He opened the rock, and water gushed forth;
it flowed through the desert like a river.

Ps 105:41

The context provides these words in a lengthy segment of verses speaking of the glory of God in nourishing the Chosen People in the Egyptian desert after they were freed from bondage. But what else jumps out at us? The “rock.” Who is the Rock? Well, certainly Peter, whose name means Rock. But who is that rock built upon? Christ! And when was that Rock opened up with water flowing out? On the Cross. When else do we open that Rock? When we open the Word, who, as we mentioned above, is Jesus. All of Scripture speaks of Jesus, a refreshing water for our thirsty souls. As for Peter, representing the Church, here, too, we have a solid foundation, giving us divine revelation without error as guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. Nothing slakes one’s thirst for the truth like the indefectibly holy Bride of Christ, the Church He founded.

So how does this relate to the desert experience? Well, it seems to me that no matter where we are in our lives, no matter how bad things seem to be, if we want to be reinvigorated and refreshed, we go to the Rock: Christ and His Church. This life-giving water of Word and Sacrament (remember the waters of baptism), turned to in faith, is an unfailing help regardless of our situation.

VACCINE UPDATE

For those still deciding on whether or not to get vaccinated, this podcast from Catholic Culture should be very helpful in informing your conscience. It is a far and thorough look at concerns regarding the morality of taking the various vaccines currently available for use. An important issue that does not seem to be widely addressed in U.S. dioceses.

In the podcast, Dignitas Personae (Instruction on Certain Bioethical Questions) is mentioned often. This 2008 CDF document is worth a read (paragraphs 34 and 35 are the most relevant for this discussion).

Additionally, two important articles:

I contacted the National Catholic Bioethics Center regarding the status of research related to ethically sound vaccines and I received this reply (the first link provided, in particular, is worth checking out):

At the outset, I need to clarify on behalf of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) that we do not provide medical or legal advice. At the NCBC, we help people to engage in ethical discernment regarding bioethical issues based on the teachings of the Church and on the Catholic moral tradition. This being said, the question of whether COVID-19 vaccines are ethical is a huge one with a lot of differing nuances. As I am sure you know, there is a lot of information available about these vaccines and not all of it is 100% accurate. We at the NCBC tend to trust information put out by the Charlotte Lozier Institute. They have an updated resource on their website (link) that includes a chart (scroll down) indicating which vaccines are being ethically developed and produced (not using any abortion-derived cell lines), those that are not ethically produced (use abortion-derived cell lines), and those for which there are questions. If a vaccine listed has all green squares in all its boxes (see the chart) it is morally fine. If it has red triangles in the “Design & Development” and “Production” boxes (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen and AstraZeneca), then it is heavily dependent upon the abortion derived cell lines. If it has a red triangle in the “Confirmatory Lab Test” box only (Moderna and Pfizer) then it is less dependent on the aborted fetal cells.

Right now, there are vaccines being developed here in the US that do not have any connection with abortion derived cell lines, but they are still in preclinical trials (see the Charlotte Lozier chart, linked above) and will likely not be available anytime soon. There is, however, a company called Ocugen that is looking to bring the COVAXIN vaccine from India here to the US. According to Charlotte Lozier, this vaccine has no connection with abortion derived cell lines. See this link: https://ocugen.com/vaccine/overview/ . Hopefully Ocugen will be able to make this vaccine available in the relatively near future. 

I will continue to follow this closely.

MY LATEST MUSICAL OBSESSION

A song I have been going back to often in recent weeks is Just a Shadow (Extended Remix) by Big Country. Known by most Americans as a one-hit wonder, having gotten to know its catalog pretty well, and having seen the group in concert last year (days before we were shutdown), I can confidently say that the only wonder is why these guitar-driven Scottish gents did not gain much more popularity this side of the pond.

Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1497) fresco of the Life of Saint Augustine – Scene 12 – in the Apsidal chapel, Sant’Agostino, San Gimignano (detail)

God bless.

Mike Aquilina on “Mary, Queen of History” free on Zoom this evening at 7:00pm Eastern

My school, Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High School in south Florida, is honored and privileged to welcome Mike Aquilina, Executive Vice President of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, to give the final talk in our Spring Speaker Series, on the Virgin Mary in history (check out his recently published related book, that I can highly recommend, History’s Queen, here).. Due to the pandemic, this entire series is being conducted via Zoom. I invite you to learn more by checking out the flyer below. I hope this fascinating talk will prompt you to sign up and join us this evening at 7:00pm Eastern (sign up as indicated in the flyer or just email me at rgrebenc@mccarthyhigh.org if interested in attending). This is interactive, so you will have an opportunity to ask questions personally or via chat.

To get a flavor of Mike’s work, I invite you to check out YouTube and his ”Way of the Fathers” podcast.  Mike is also a prolific author – find out more about him and check out his work at his ”Fathers of the Church” website.

For previous talks in this series, see our Speaker Series YouTube channel here.

Looking forward to this evening’s event and to seeing you there! God bless.

Cornerstones, evangelization, and the way to Heaven

TODAY’S FIRST READING (Acts 4:8-12)

Upon hearing this reading I am reminded of the axiom “No good deed goes unpunished” as Peter, flanked by John, responds to the interrogation he is receiving for healing a disabled man. But, since the servant is no better than his Master (see Jn 10:32ff) he certainly must have expected nothing less than this awful treatment. He turns it around for the good, though, as he uses it as an opportunity to evangelize. A good lesson for us, I think. Instead of brooding or discouragement when we receive similar flak, let us be cognizant of Who it is we are seeking to exemplify and let the perpetrators know (as happened to Saul) Who it is really that they are persecuting.

He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
    which has become the cornerstone.

Acts 4:11 (cf. Ps 118:22)

With these words, Peter begins his conclusion of his defense. It is important to note that “[a] chief or head cornerstone is placed above two walls to maintain them together and avoid the building to fall apart” (Wikipedia). Jesus, the “stone rejected,” was cast out of the city of Jerusalem to be killed. Is it any wonder that the Temple’s demise (prophesied by Christ) was assured at Jesus’ death?

Coincidentally, I happened to be listening to Scott Hahn’s study on Mark (today is St Mark’s feast day!) regarding the Temple on my bike ride home from Mass this morning. Hahn tells us that the tearing of the Temple’s sanctuary veil at the death of Jesus ends that edifice as a suitable dwelling place for God. This act of the Father (the curtain was torn from top to bottom) profanes the Temple, making it no longer holy. With the cornerstone discarded is it any wonder that the Temple ultimately collapes in a generation (70 A.D.)?

Last, but not least, Peter’s final words to his captors:

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.

Bp Barron does a much better job than I could ever do explicating this verse in his sermon for today (find Lumen Gentium 16 here), but suffice to say that these words of the first pope place a serious obligation on Catholics to evangelize the world. A person can only be saved by Christ. But can a person be saved without being explicitly in the Church or without even being a professed Christian? Yes. But it is not easy. And we are called to more, anyway.

TODAY’S SECOND READING (1 Jn 3:1-2)

See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.

1 Jn 3;1

How blessed we are that Baptism turns us from creatures of God to children of God! Do not miss the opportunity to encourage Christian family and friends to plan this for their children while still in the womb. And, per the first reading, let us look for opportunities to evangelize those outside the Church so they to can call God “Father.”

TODAY’S GOSPEL READING (Jn 10:11-18)
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. All I will suggest as a wonderful exercise is to find all uses of “shepherd” in the Bible and then consider all the famous and not so famous shepherds throughout salvation history in context and what they tell us about the ultimate Shepherd.

(Find here a wonderful message for priest about their shepherding role from Fr Paul Scalia.)

CLASSIC CATHOLIC MEDITATIONS

After nearly four months I have completed my daily meditations from Fr Bede Jarrett, O.P.’s great book. Find my short review here. These are the profound closing words of the book:

{U]nless I take deliberate care, I shall simply copy the life around me. I shall conform to the spirit of the world in which I am immersed. But to achieve that newness of mind whereby I am formed after the fashion of Christ, I must make careful scrutiny of myself, and, contrasting myself with that Divine Model, reform my soul gradually to that perfect pattern.

p. 476

SPEAKER SERIES

We had the fourth of five talks on Thursday, this time featurring Prof Michael Dauphinais, Chairman of Theology at Ave Maria University. See his talk and all the previous ones here. Next month, we close with Mike Aquilina speaking on History’s Queen (guess who that is?). Hope to see you there (sign up here)!

HEAVENLY SONG?

Well, maybe not, but I have been obsessed with if for some time now — not sure why. I do remember listening to it early on while working out mornings at the company gym. One of my favorite Phil Collins songs: Something Happened on the Way to Heaven.

Building Strong Faith Upon Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone

God bless.

John 6:66 and a gazelle springs to life

TODAY’S FIRST READING (Acts 9:31-42)

When [Peter] arrived, they took him to the room upstairs
where all the widows came to him weeping
and showing him the tunics and cloaks
that Dorcas had made while she was with them.

Acts 9:39b

What a lovely detail we have here about this woman who had just died. This very much humanizes the scene and draws the reader into it. It was said that “[s]he was completely occupied with good deeds and almsgiving.” Imagine the great care she took in making garments and what lovely distinctive details she must have incorporated in them that made her friends go out of their way to share them with Peter. I picture a pretty young woman, quiet, hard-working, a model Christian, who all around her bemoaned a death that happened far too soon. We are invited to mourn as well. And Peter must have been cut to the core. He quickly turns to prayer, having seen his Lord raise the dead, he asks this favor as well for this poor woman. His faith, now much larger than a mustard seed, effects the resuscitation of the much beloved Dorcas (meaning “gazelle”) and through this act many come to Christianity.

TODAY’S RESPONSORIAL PSALM (Ps 116:12-17)

How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?

Ps 116:12

One need go no further than this response itself to have fruit for meditation for a lifetime. First, what return can I make to the Lord? He doesn’t need anything from us, but we need to show our gratitude. In prayer, of course. But also in how we treat others. What do we do for God? Jesus tells us: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40). So, there we have it. What we are to give to the Lord is our treatment of others. A “return” on His investment in us: creating us, redeeming us, and sanctifying us.

Second, do I realize the good He has done for me? Well, I just mentioned what the Triune God has done in the last sentence above. Everything we have, except our sin, comes from God. We have no reason to exalt ourselves — true humility. So we are to offer everything back to Him. Paradoxically, the more we give, the more we get. In this life, peace of soul. In the next life, eternal glory.

TODAY’S GOSPEL (Jn 6:60-69)

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Jn 6:66

It is not uncommon for commenters and speakers to note that the chapter and verse in which many disciples abandon Jesus is 6:66. Certainly, that day, Satan, must have felt a great measure of pride in this event. Maybe he was working overtime to cause this division. Maybe he saw this as one of those “opportune” moments he was looking for since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, hoping to either break Jesus or have Him water down His message. Well, Jesus was ready to have all abandon Him rather than compromise on the truth. Are we able to say the same?

In addition, it was in regards to the Eucharist that this cleavage occurs. Lest anyone think that the Eucharist is not really Jesus’ Real Presence or that it is not very important, consider what Jesus was willing to give up for the sake of this reality? Are we willing to do the same?

One final note. Peter responds to Jesus when Jesus invites him to leave:

Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Jn 6:68

How are we to attain eternal life if we do not know the Word and His words? St. Jerome famously said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” There is no excuse for anyone reading this to be ignorant of the Bible. As St. Augustine was told, “Take and read.”

MORE VIRUS STUFF

An excellent article from a few weeks back from a doctor who provides objective data on our experience of the last thirteen months or so:

Do COVID-19 Restrictions Serve the Common Good?

Saharawi Dorcas Gazelle (Gazella dorcas neglecta) | Gazelle, Zoo, Animals

God bless.