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

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

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

_____
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.

Free “Courage & Hope” Zoom talk Thu, Apr 22, 7:00pm

My school, Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High School in south Florida, is honored and privileged to welcome Dr. Michael Dauphinais, Professor and Chair of Theology at Ave Maria University, to our Spring Speaker Series. 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 interesting and relevant talk will prompt you to sign up and join us tomorrow evening at 7:00pm.

Next month we are pleased to welcome Mike Aquilina, Executive Vice President of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, to give the final talk in the series, on the Virgin Mary in history (check out his recently published related book, that I can highly recommend, History’s Queen, here).

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

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

“You are witnesses.”

TODAY’S READINGS

In the first reading (Acts 3:13-15, 17-19), as well as in the Gospel proclamation, the importance of witness is stressed. You likely know that our word martyr comes from the Greek for “witness.” When we think of martyrdom, we tend to think of those who have died for the Faith. That is fine, although it is important to make distinctions of types of martyrdom because, while we may not be asked to be killed for our beliefs, there are other types of dying that we are called to experience (see here for a fine, succinct overview).

Peter was not speaking to the members of the crowd to endear them to himself in accusing them of killing “the author of life” (just ponder that for a moment or two or a lifetime — the creator dies — willingly, purposely — at the hands of His creatures). Rather, he was speaking truth to the multitude to bring them to conversion. Also, notice that he is not vengeful but attributes their action to ignorance (a good pastoral approach, I think). What is required? Repentance. The same words that John the Baptist and Jesus used when their public ministries were introduced are among the first demands of the post-Ascension ministry of the apostles.

Now, this repentance is not a one time deal (sorry, “once saved, always saved” crowd — few tenets by self-styled Christians are more scripturally dubious than this pithy mantra). John the Evangelist tells us in the second reading (1 Jn 2:1-5a) that

The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep
his commandments.
Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments
are liars, and the truth is not in them.

1 Jn 2:3-4

This is why we must always tell God’s truth (not “my truth” or “your truth,” as if truth is subjective) in season and out of season, always with love, often assuming ignorance (it is not, properly speaking, as pejorative as we have made it out to be). (N.B.: This is a good time to review ignorance as it relates to sin, in particular the tenet that “full knowledge” is required for mortal sin.) Will there often be blow back? Well, just look around. Vitriol leading inexorably to “canceling” is widespread. But we must not be intimidated. LIfe is short, eternity is long. I find it helpful to consider what I will say to Jesus the day I meet Him when I must give an accounting of the time He allotted me in my mortality. This is why His admonition, “stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mt 25:13), should be sobering.

In closing today’s Gospel passage (Lk 24:25-38), Jesus says to the apostles and other disciples, “You are witnesses of these things.” What things? Well, certainly Jesus’ whole public ministry as well as His closing ministry in the forty days following His Resurrection. But also, note that Jesus then “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” So, they can not only witness to His public acts, but they can also witness to His fulfillment of all that was promised in the Hebrew Scriptures (and more — He was God Himself!). What does this witnessing get them? Tradition has it that all the apostles were killed for the Name, save one, John, who, nevertheless, endured many severe trials in a long life but remained steadfast till the end.

We read that the disciples were “incredulous for joy” in seeing Jesus. Can we say the same in seeing Him in the Eucharist and in all persons we encounter, recognizing in them the image and likeness of God “who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4)? There’s that word again, “truth.” Saved by truth. Saved by Truth. Salvation only comes through Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6) So, when someone asks, directly or indirectly, like Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38), be sure to “[a]lways be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15), not counting the cost.

(For another great Bp Barron sermon, “harping” on the Resurrection, go here.)

TWO ARTICLES

Check out these short pieces: the first for a spiritual lift using imagery I have long loved; the second for another troubling issue regarding vaccines (I continue to follow this matter closely).

REGARDING THE PHOTO

The photograph below comes from the St. Paul Street Evangelization website which has some fine apologetic materials and videos. I had hoped to be involved directly in the organization’s work, but the pandemic seems to have put a damper on this (at least for the time being).

Tracts | St. Paul Street Evangelization

God bless.

Happy Birthday, Benedict!

Of the 265 former popes, none ever completed his ninety-fourth year. So, congratulations and many blessings to Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) on his birthday today. Furthermore, in three days it will be sixteen years since he became pope. Finally, another milestone just around the corner will be his seventieth anniversary as a priest on 29 June.

Retired pope returns to Vatican after visiting his brother in Germany -  Catholic News Service
Your reaction: Pope Benedict XVI
Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has been serving the Church as a  priest since he was ordained at age 24… | Catholic popes, Pope benedict,  Pope benedict xvi
See what the future Benedict XVI asked for for Christmas when he was 7

I have over two packed shelves of his work or books about him or his theology, although his writings alone could fill a small library. So many books so little time! The one I am most looking forward to getting to (summer reading!) is Peter Seewald’s Benedict XVI: A Life (Volume I: Youth in Nazi Germany to the Second Vatican Council, 1927-1965). I just discovered the second and final volume is coming out in November so I need to have the initial tome done by then (only 463 pages of text — no sweat).

For those who haven’t read anything of his, the three volume Jesus of Nazareth series that he wrote while pope is the best place to start. Another of his writings, coming much earlier is his famous Erasmus Lecture that tells the reader much about his approach to interpreting Scripture (he is a world-class Bible scholar) — an approach I attempt to emulate.

We were blessed to have him as priest, theologian, and pope. There is no question in my mind that one day, maybe not so far off, “saint” will be added to that list.

Long live Benedict!

TODAY’S READINGS

After recalling the Apostles, they had them flogged,
ordered them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus,
and dismissed them.
So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin,
rejoicing that they had been found worthy
to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.

Acts 5:40-41

This excerpt from today’s first reading (Acts 5:34-42) should give us much to ponder. We heard yesterday of the Apostles arrest by the Jewish religious leaders. Today, the verdict (substantially lightened by an impassioned speech of one of the Jews most respected teachers) is reached and the punishment imposed, as we just read.

The chance (opportunity?) to “suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” is increasing daily in this land. Are we so intent on spreading the Word that we are willing to suffer this fate as well? And can we truly say we would rejoice in it? We should. Jesus never promised us a rose garden (as the song goes) here on earth (cf. Mt 16:24-26). But he promises mansions for those who persevere in faith until the end (Jn 14:2).

Consider the wise words of Gamaliel, the aforementioned respected teacher

[I]f this endeavor or this activity is of human origin,
it will destroy itself.
But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them;
you may even find yourselves fighting against God.

Acts 5:38b-39

May we never compromise on the truth (which “comes from God”) or put our light under a bushel basket for anything in this world. If God is for us who can be against? Our Father is bigger than the devil.

No one was more scorned and falsely accused than our Lord. Is the servant any better than his Master (Jn 15:20)? May each of us be the “good and faithful servant” who will be greeted on judgment day (the moment of death) with these joyous words:

‘Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’

Mt 25:21 and 23

And they are all small matters, even death itself, compared with life eternal.

—–

A final note: Today the daily readings begin working through John 6 that concludes with the Bread of Life discourse that so greatly informs Catholic theology on the Eucharist. Pay close attention to the readings and find helps digging deeper all over the internet (here is a good place to start).

God bless.