“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard,” vaccine ethics, Catholic Romans, and praying for the next president


With Christmas break from school comes a breather, a chance to unwind, and a blog post (with a few more sure to follow in the next couple of weeks).


As many times as I’ve heard or read the story of Zechariah and the angel (Lk 1:5-25), I never fully processed the verse in the headline. The angel’s first words to the startled and fearful man were “your prayer has been heard” (v. 13). This leads me to wonder if Zechariah still was praying, hoping against hope, for a miracle for his wife, Elizabeth, even though her child bearing years were past her. If so, then why do we soon hear of his doubt when his fervent prayer has been answered? More likely, his heartfelt prayers ended years before when he knew that pregnancy was out of the question for Elizabeth. He may well have been thinking: “Now you tell me this?! Where were you twenty years ago when this was still possible and I was in much better shape to be a dad?!” His skepticism is understandable. And did you ever think what his interaction with his wife was like when he got home? He is now speechless and she must wonder what in the world is going on. He was certainly a literate man being a priest. Was Elizabeth also literate? Did he write down what happened or did he leave her in suspense wondering what was going on? Did he eagerly have relations with her or did he ponder all of this for a time before becoming intimate with his bride? We come to realize that Elizabeth knew at least some of the story because she names the child John (v. 60), the name the angel told her husband the child should be called (v. 13). Whatever the case may be, all’s well that ends well. Mary comes to visit her cousin (clearly not her first cousin because the Blessed Mother was probably fourteen and Elizabeth maybe forty years her senior — maybe Mary’s mom, Anna’s older cousin?) six months later and leaves about the time John is born and Zechariah finds his voice. Imagine how the old man must have excitedly related his angelic encounter some nine months earlier. How the couple must have discussed the words of the angel and how they would be made manifest:

he will be great in the sight of [the] Lord … He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God

Lk 1:15-16

With what wonder did they watch this child grow, praying with him, and teaching him the Scriptures, especially the exploits of Elijah (see v. 17), before finally sending him on his way to fulfill his mission for his cousin Jesus. It makes one wonder how often the two boys were together in their early years and what there interaction was like. In the end, John gains life by losing his head and Jesus gives us all life by losing his life.

The Angel Appearing to Zacharias, William Blake (British, London 1757–1827 London), Pen and black ink, tempera, and glue size on canvas
The Angel Appearing to Zacharias (1799–1800) by William Blake


I have been following with great interest discussions in certain Catholic circles about the ethics of developing and taking vaccines. This revolves around the issue of the use of fetal cell lines of aborted children during development and/or testing of the vaccines. Both of the current coronavirus vaccines being administered have been tested on such cell lines but not developed from them. A third, still not approved, is much more problematic as it was developed from such a cell line. Can the first two be taken in good conscience? Yes, but with caveats. Before making a decision, start with the following two articles, the first which has a link to the USCCB statement on this matter, the second which helps to lay out the case as well as address a harder line stance from a handful of bishops:

As COVID-19 Vaccinations Begin, Ethical Issues Remain in Play (National Catholic Register)

A Corrective to the Schneider Statement on the COVID Vaccines (Catholic Culture)

I encourage everyone to pay close attention to this matter. Both of the sites above are very helpful in keeping abreast of latest developments.


I mentioned in the last post the St. Paul Center app. A series that appears there features several different speakers working through Paul’s Letter to the Romans. If you, as I used to, think of the Gospels as Catholic and Paul as Protestant, this is an indispensable listen that will disabuse you of that notion. You will be blown away. In addition, may I recommend for your bookshelf Romans from the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture by Scott Hahn (if you prefer audio, see this older version here). I had been waiting for years for a solid Catholic commentary on Paul’s longest and most controversial letter and was ecstatic when it came out, devouring it immediately.


I can’t wait to begin Peter Seewald’s mammoth first volume of his biography of Pope Benedict XVI that just came out in English. Benedict is the longest living pope in history and will celebrate his 94th birthday on April 16 and his 70th anniversary as a priest on June 28, God willing.

But first I must finish the excellent A Church in Crisis by Ralph Martin. More than two-thirds of the way through but I can already highly recommend it to anyone troubled by the state of the Church today (and that should be everyone who is paying attention — and a great gift for those who are not). Martin pulls no punches in his evaluation of where things stand and what must be done.

As I always like to be working through more spiritual reading each day, I have only recently begun Classic Catholic Meditations by the Dominican Bede Jarrett, but can already recommend it without reservation. Each meditation is a bit shy of three pages but every one is power-packed: a solid theological truth is expounded upon clearly, concisely, and understandably giving the reader much food for contemplation.


I will be writing more about this in coming days, but for now, just pray for Joe Biden. There is much to criticize about his stance on vital Catholic doctrines, but I have heard little, if anything, about the most important thing we can do: pray. So, I invite you to pray, as I do, for the next president that he may be thoroughly Catholic in thought, word, and deed, in his governing and in his personal life.

“There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues,” purgatory, new books, apps, and more


Aside from a handful of the 866 previous posts on this blog, all have had to do specifically with Scripture. Today, I begin to broaden my horizons with occasional posts on all sorts of Catholic things that interest me (while not neglecting the Bible): books, apps, videos, podcasts, current events, etc. I hope you will be in conversation with me and, if you find something worth sharing, that you will do so with friends and colleagues. This is a wordpress blog but also posts to Facebook (which I now only use for Messenger when necessary) and LinkedIn. Let’s go!


I was excited to receive two recently released books in the mail today. Scott Hahn’s latest, It is Right and Just: Why the Future of Religion Depends on True Religion which I will begin devouring today and Purgatory is for Real by Karlo Broussard from Catholic Answers which I purchased for a friend.

It seems to me that we don’t hear much about purgatory these days — a real shame. Not only is this doctrine one of great hope (God willing, I will be spending plenty of time, if that is the way to think of it, there) but it should be of great comfort to us in regards to those friends and loved ones who have gone before us to the Lord. It is not uncommon to hear folks bemoan the fact that an untimely death did not provide them a chance to say goodbye or that it left unresolved serious issues. These are not reasons for anyone to torture himself. The reality of the communion of saints is a great blessing and comfort. Whatever we feel we have neglected here can be made up in spades by never ceasing to pray for the dead. They can no longer help themselves so it is up to us to help them. Praying for the dead is a spiritual work of mercy and it is promoted in the Bible (2 Mac 12:42-46). And never assume that someone is in heaven (no matter how long since he died) unless canonized by the Church (heaven preserve us from eulogies that presume eternal bliss for Aunt Emma — this does no one any favors, particularly poor Emma). We leave judgment up to Jesus; meanwhile, our prayers for the dear departed never go to waste: if it so happens that someone for whom we intercede has already made it home you can be assured that the Lord will apply our supplications elsewhere where they are most needed.

Something I discovered fairly recently (better late than never) is the Gregorian Series of Masses for the dead (see page 2 here). I recently arranged for these for my parents and would strongly encourage everyone, as they are financially able, to do this wonderful thing for a departed loved one. Imagine the greeting you’ll get when you meet again!


There are plenty of Catholic apps on the market — and I’ve checked out a number of them — but three have become indispensable: Laudate, iBreviary, and St. Paul Center (all free!). The latter has recently been completely revamped and is a treasure trove of audio and video from Scott Hahn and the crew at SPC. Get this on your phone and you will never want for something edifying to listen to (I stream these on my bike rides). I’m all for purchasing books and other resources to enhance my love and knowledge of the Faith, but there is so much out there among apps, YouTube, and the internet. that you could fill your mind and heart with faithful content for years without spending a penny. Spread the word!


Last but not least we get to the Bible. I try to get in one chapter a day along with associated commentary. I just finished working through Wisdom and Sirach and now pick up with Joshua, one of my favorite Old Testament figures, whose name graces the sixth book of the Bible. Joshua is such a valiant figure: one of only two faithful Israelites coming out of Egypt in the Exodus (the other was Caleb) who actually was permitted to enter the Promised Land. I will be using the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible for this reading.

Moving on to today’s Gospel (Lk 21:5-11), I was struck by the words in the headline of this post, as the pandemic (or “plague”) is affecting all of our lives. Jesus prompts the discussion of the destruction of the Temple by countering the people’s admiration of that structure. While it is true that the actual Temple will be destroyed by Rome in forty years time, it seems quite clear that Jesus is speaking of something even bigger here: the end of time itself. We have come off of a century of unprecedented casualties due to war. Now, devastating earthquakes, catastrophic weather events, massive hunger and famine, and our current deadly pandemic, all might seem to bode ill for the long-term existence of humanity. But I have long deferred to these words of Christ:

But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mk 13:32)

While we don’t know the “day or hour” of the end of time, and we shouldn’t spend time worrying about it, we should be very aware that our personal day and hour is inevitable. The Knights of Columbus (of which I am a Fourth Degree member) has as its fraternal motto: “Tempus Fugit, Memento Mori” (“Time Flies, Remember Death”). Good advice.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Triumph of Death, c. 1562, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Triumph of Death (detail) (c. 1562) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

God bless.

“He to whom I speak will quickly be wise, and will greatly profit in spirit.” (IC 3,43,2) | “When the arrogant man is punished, the simple are the wiser; when the wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.” (Prv 21:11)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLIII: “Against Futile and Worldly Learning” (third entry)

Full wisdom is possible only in consulting with the Lord. After listening to teachers and studying about God, one turns to the Author of Life, thus showing true wisdom.

|Today’s first reading: Prv 21:1-6, 10-13

Proverbs is replete with pithy sayings that one could contemplate for hours regarding their practical application. Contrasting the arrogant and simple, essentially the prideful vs. the humble, is not an uncommon theme throughout Scripture so it is no wonder that reflections on the theme are liberally sprinkled throughout the wisdom book of Proverbs.


Christ, in Kempis, speaks of the wise man gaining knowledge by coming to Him for instruction. In Proverbs, a man becomes wise by becoming and staying simple and humble. So the formula for us is clear: become humble to become wise to gain heavenly knowledge. Humility disposes us to a greater openness to the gifts of the Holy Spirit which include wisdom and knowledge. The author of Proverbs had a good sense of the Spirit and Jesus fully revealed Him to us. As we read, pray, and meditate on the Scriptures, let us invoke this same Holy Spirit for enlightenment in order to gain eternal wisdom and knowledge,

Prayers in the Bible: Powerful Scriptures to Pray

“I am He Who in an instant can elevate the humble mind to understand more reasons of the eternal truth than anyone who had ten years of study in school could.” (IC 3,43,3) | “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” (Mt 9:13a)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLIII: “Against Futile and Worldly Learning” (second entry)

Kempis has Christ once again emphasizing the need for humility; in this case, this virtue opens up the heart more so than the mind to “eternal truth.” Book learning, without the proper disposition, and without appeal to the Spirit of truth for understanding, ultimately is an exercise in futility, at best leading to frustration, at worst plunging to error.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 9:9-13

For today’s Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, it is appropriate that we hear of the writer’s own, albeit brief, account of his calling by Jesus. The Lord once again uses this event as a teaching opportunity for His unrelenting antagonists, the Pharisees. Upon seeing Jesus later that day at the house of the tax collector, and thus Jewish pariah, Matthew, and eating with others of his ilk, these religious leaders call out Jesus for dining with tax collectors and sinners — in one of their homes, no less! Jesus, in turn, points them back to the book to which they claim special expertise, the Scriptures, for their lesson for today (seen in the headline). In closing, Jesus tells these self-righteous men that He has “not come to call the righteous but sinners.”


God has elevated brilliant intellectuals as well as the simplest of minds to the heights of heavenly contemplation. The one virtue that connects the two and everyone so disposed along this spectrum: humility. Conversely, the prideful, no matter how great their natural power of learning, will always fall short, and will often fall into error, due to an arrogance that leads them to the conclusion that they can plumb the depths of religion without divine assistance. It is a temptation from the devil himself who convinced our first parents that they knew better than God what was good and what was evil. So, too, many Pharisees, claiming to be Scripture scholars, and unhesitatingly directing the people regarding their way of life, are taught in five words of Jesus’ likely more than all of their learning to that point. Will they take His advice. Hopefully some did. But most were undeterred, or at best silent, as the persecution of Jesus (without mercy) would continue to His death and beyond with their antagonism toward the Body of Christ, the Church.

Jesus “did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” That’s all of us. So, like EF Hutton, when He talks, we better listen in all humility to the simple, profound, and challenging words of the Master.

The Calling of Saint Matthew-Caravaggo (1599-1600).jpg
The Calling of Saint Matthew (1599-1600) by Caravaggio

“I teach without noise of words, without confusion of opinions, without ambition of honor, without strife of arguments. (IC 3,43,3)” | “[M]y thoughts are not your thoughts…As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are…my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Is 55:8a,9a,9c)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLIII: “Against Futile and Worldly Learning” (first entry)

Kempis often comes down strongly against book learning thus coming across as anti-intellectual. But I see it as more of a cautionary tale to not become so involved in study and reading that God and others are set aside in pursuit of personal ambitions, even if ostensibly noble ones. Also, there is a danger of pride here. The short quote above leads the student back to the One whose teaching is concise, clear, inarguable, and presented with not ulterior motives.

|Today’s first reading: Is 55:6-9

Isaiah 55 is the epilogue to the second part of the prophet’s book. An invitation to the banquet of the Lord’s covenant. It is a call to repentance and conversion from a God who will not judge as we do for His thoughts and ways are far above our thoughts and ways.


We look to the Church, established by Christ, and entrusted with the keys of the Kingdom, for calm, clarity, and peace, with the sole ambition to pass on the Deposit of Faith faithfully. When those who hold a teaching office in the Church (the bishops) fail in one or more of these areas, trouble ensues. The Church is indefectibly holy but its members are not. We are grateful to the Holy Spirit Who ensures that all official teaching on faith and morals in the Church has His guarantee. Should we learn these teachings well for our personal benefit and to bolster us in our catechetical and evangelical efforts? Of course! But let us never forget to have recourse to the Lord first, last, and always as He clarifies and acts in ways far beyond our poor efforts to do so.

God the Father by Cima da Conegliano, painted 1510-17. Over a third of UK Christians believe God is male
God the Father (c. 1510-17) by Cima da Conegliano

“If you know perfectly how to annihilate yourself, and empty yourself of all created love, then would I flow into you with much grace.” (IC 3,42,2) | “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.” (Lk 6:20)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLII: “Peace is not to be Placed in Men” (second entry)

Kempis’s nearly continuous call to self-abasement continues here. We need to empty ourselves to worldly attachments so that grace can find more room to abide in us.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Lk 6:20-26

Today we are given Luke’s version of Jesus’ proclaiming of the Beatitudes, with blessings to those who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted, and denounced, but woes to the rich, satiated, mirthful, and exalted.


Matthew’s Beatitudes say “poor in spirit” in his version of the Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the mount (chapters 5 through 7), meaning those who are detached from earthly things. This interpretation fits here, as well, it seems. A quite wealthy person may use his riches for good and may not be attached at all to material things. A person in dire financial straits may be extraordinarily greedy and holding closely even his meager possessions while coveting more.

Our spirit must desire God in all circumstances, never letting the world become a hindrance. With such obstacles out of the way, we open up ourselves to taking advantage of the graces with which the Lord so happily desires to ravish us.

May our disposition always be one of openness to God’s gift. The ultimate reward is fit for a king.

abouna.org : Pope: Jesus is the King "of our life"

“[I]f you have recourse to the everlasting and abiding Truth, you will not be grieved when a friend leaves you or dies.” (IC 3,42,1) | “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28a)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLII: “Peace is not to be Placed in Men” (first entry)

Variation on a recurring theme here ultimately gets back to the idea of placing one’s primary and overwhelming focus on God. Any good earthly relationship is arranged and sustained by God. Nevertheless, one should even withdraw himself from worldly ties to be closer to the Lord. Ultimate peace comes from emptying oneself and drawing nearer and nearer to the Almighty.

|Today’s first reading: Rom 8:28-30

Romans 8:28 is oft-quoted and certainly not an uncommon tagline under many signatures. It is a message of comfort and hope when life does not make sense and the darkness never seems to part. For the faithful who persevere, though, glory will be theirs.


How difficult it is to lose a loved one or close friend to life circumstances or death. In tragic situations it is difficult, if not impossible, to perceive how any good can ever come out of certain events. Yet, we must trust in the Lord who allows evil in order that a greater good can come from it (the verse we are considering is the “go to” Scripture for this truth). Sometimes we are blessed and can look back to see how this has been so. Other times, we may go to our deathbed without ever understanding the calamities of this life. In any case, a deep and abiding faith in our loving Father is required. And, at the end of time, all will be made known by the Lord about the entire plan of salvation.

Man kneeling and praying at coffin, funeral service

“Lift up your heart to Me in Heaven, and you will not be grieved by the contempt of men on earth.” (IC 3,41,1) | “The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.” (Lk 6:7)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLI: “Of the Contempt of all Worldly Honor” (third entry)

Kempis has Christ saying the words of encouragement above to the disciple who is “disheartened [to] see others honored and advanced, and [him]self despised and humiliated.”

|Today’s Gospel reading: Lk 6:6-11

Jesus is confronted with a man with a withered hand as the scribes and Pharisees continue to observe Jesus carefully in the synagogue. Knowing that they sought to trap Him for Sabbath violations, Jesus calls out these religious leaders and then cures the man since it is “lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Infuriated and humiliated, amongst themselves they “discussed together what they might do to Jesus.”


Although Kempis has Jesus direct His words to His disciple to strengthen Him, it seems that Jesus Himself would have often had recourse to his heavenly Father with the same sentiments in His frequent times of prayer. This was especially needed due to the machinations of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, several of whom were on a constant crusade to take down this popular interloper. How it must have grieved Jesus to bear such acrimony from men who claimed to be privileged representatives of His Father.

‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (Jn 15:20)

So why should we, as fallen and imperfect as we are, to be treated any better than Our Lord and Savior? Would it be that we would handle these situations as He did. God help us.

Spoiler Alert: Jesus Offended a Lot of People | Third Hour

“Lord, we are blind, and quickly seduced by vanity.” (IC 3,41,2) | “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert” (Ps 95:8)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLI: “Of the Contempt of all Worldly Honor” (second entry)

Above we have the disciple’s immediate response to Christ’s telling him to not be concerned about being humiliated, despised, or receiving contempt from his fellow man. The disciple, realizing his weakness, knows that pride will rear its ugly head with a vengeance if provoked by the attacks of others. He concludes that he cannot complain since he has done far worse to God and thus must content himself with this deserved treatment.

|Today’s responsorial psalm: Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

This psalm praises God for His glory and majesty and looks back with regret at the defiance of the Israelites in the desert whom the Lord rescued from Egypt. Their constant complaining and lack of trust in Yahweh ensured that “They shall never enter my rest.” And none did but the noble Joshua and Caleb.


What is hardening one’s heart but vanity that is a result of pride? The Israelites in the wilderness thought they had a better idea than God their savior so they told their leader Moses what they thought in defiance of the Almighty. So, too, we disciples, thinking we know better how the Lord should treat us and what’s best for us, let our haughtiness rule our actions. Do we really think that “we don’t deserve” this offensive treatment?

I never heard anything bad said of me which I did not clearly realize fell short of the truth. If I had not sometimes–often, indeed–offended God in the ways they referred to, I had done so in many others, and I felt they had treated me far too indulgently in saying nothing about these” (Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection, 15).

Is this easy to swallow? Not in our condition. But the eternal rewards of accepting humiliations helps us increase in humility and the reception of even greater graces. As for justice, leave that up to God to mete out — He has got it covered perfectly (us, not so much).

Now, it may be necessary to defend oneself against particular allegations, but it should always be done in humility with no desire for revenge assuming the best possible motives. Our good example will be a sign for all observers (including the attacker, but especially Jesus Christ) that we are Christians of good will who desire only the best for every person, friend or enemy. This attitude, widely adopted, will be more effective in changing hearts and minds than any imposed program to legislate morality.

St. Teresa of Jesus

“[U]nless I place myself in this disposition: to be willing to be despised and forsaken by all creatures, and to be esteemed wholly nothing, I cannot possess interior peace and strength, nor be spiritually enlightened, nor perfectly united to you.” (IC 3,41,1) | “When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently.” (1 Cor 4:12b-13a)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLI: “Of the Contempt of all Worldly Honor” (first entry)

We begin this very short chapter by presenting the last paragraph, spoken by the disciple in response to Christ’s telling him that when he is despised on earth he should have recourse to Him. A line in the reflection following the text says all that needs to be said about this chapter: “It is only just that a person, who has sinned against his Creator, be punished by creatures, who are the instruments of Divine Justice.”

|Today’s first reading: 1 Cor 4:6b-15

Paul uses irony (I deem it sarcasm) to call out the Corinthians who are proud, boastful, and full or worldly wisdom, thinking that the possessions they have and the honors they have received came through their own power or status. Paul and Apollos, on the other hand, count themselves fools for Christ and are persecuted for His name. Yet they do not return these attacks in kind. Paul closes by saying that he does not write this to shame the Corinthians but to admonish them to listen to apostles like himself in order to live well as Christians.


The apostles and many early Christians were “willing to be despised and forsaken by all creatures” for the sake of the Faith. This disposition was not unique to them and their time as throughout the ages, and even today, in many parts of the world, including our own country, being “despised and forsaken” for espousing and living authentic Christianity is becoming more and more a commonplace.

Blessing our persecutors, enduring their persecution, responding to slander gently. These are the dispositions Paul and his companions possessed, and what we are called to do by Holy Writ. This is true imitation of Christ. Christianity’s numbers explode when and where its adherents are most despised. When Jesus superseded “an eye for an eye” with “turn the other cheek,” it seems to me He was on to something (see Ex 21:23-25 and Mt 5:38-42) (I’m sure Jesus is happy for my vote of confidence in Him)? Our politicians should take special note, but this instruction applies to us all. This begins in the domestic church (our homes) and fans out. It is a grassroots effort. Revenge must become socially unacceptable. Thus hearts may be softened and the impulse to persecute be lessened.

The reward for all this effort to be Christlike? “Interior peace and strength,” spiritual enlightenment, and unity with the Lord. Quite a bargain, don’t you think?

slapping jesus