Friday, December 6, 2019

Mystic Mountains


Climbing mountains to encounter God
12/02/2019
Isiaih 4:2-6 On that day, The branch of the LORD will be luster and glory, and the fruit of the earth will be honor and splendor for the survivors of Israel. He who remains in Zion and he who is left in Jerusalem Will be called holy: every one marked down for life in Jerusalem. When the LORD washes away the filth of the daughters of Zion, And purges Jerusalem's blood from her midst with a blast of searing judgment, Then will the LORD create, over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her place of assembly, A smoking cloud by day and a light of flaming fire by night. For over all, the LORD's glory will be shelter and protection: shade from the parching heat of day, refuge and cover from storm and rain.
I come from a land of mountains, in fact, from the land of the highest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest. Because it is the tallest mountain in the world, towering at a height of 29,029 feet, it receives international attention and people from all over the world attempt to ascend it. After eight failed attempts by various groups, the team of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay (an expert Sherpa) were the first humans to set foot on its peak on May 29, 1953. They took photographs of themselves and buried a small cross and a few sweets in the snow. I guess as a reward for anyone else who makes it to the top in the future. Want to join me in trying to find those sweets?
The peak of Mt. Everest is often covered in clouds, being at such a high elevation, but even on a clear day the snow blowing off the top gives the impression of a halo of clouds at the summit. In other words, mountains, like Everest, are not only majestic to behold, but they are also mystical places where people feel close to God. Indeed, mountains are quite literally where heaven and earth meet.
In the first reading today, Isaiah the Old Testament prophet predicts that Mt. Zion will hold a similar (albeit spiritual) attraction like Mt. Everest. You may recall that Mt. Zion is the peak on which Jerusalem is built, and in particular where the Jerusalem Temple is placed. Jerusalem sits approximately 2,500 feet above sea level. In Isaiah’s imagination Mt. Zion is the Mt. Everest in a spiritual sense. He writes: “Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion, and over her place of assembly, A smoking cloud by day and a light of flaming fire by night.” He adds: “For over all, the Lord’s glory will be shelter and protection.” The Jews believed that God’s glory was present in the form of a cloud called the “shekinah” glory cloud that hovered over the Temple on Mt. Zion, like the cloud that hangs over Mt. Everest. And on Mt. Zion the people would not find sugary sweets but the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant that contained the 12 loaves of Show Bread, one for each of the 12 Tribes of Israel. Now, that was some sweet bread!
Moreover, in Isaiah 2:3, the ancient seer had already announced that “People from many nations will come and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…There he will teach us his ways and we will walk in his paths.” Just like people from all over the world are attracted to Mt. Everest, so too, all the nations are irresistibly drawn to the wisdom and holiness found at the heights of Mt. Zion. Jesus echoes Isaiah’s prophecy in the gospel of Matthew 8, saying: “Many will come from the east and from the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.” Like Hillary and Norgay, and like Isaiah, so Jesus sees mountain peaks as places not only of majestic dignity but places for mystical experiences, where heaven and earth meet.
My friends, have you ever studied closely how Catholic churches are typically and traditionally built? Usually, the sanctuary around the altar is elevated by one or two steps. And the high altar is further raised by 3 or 5 steps. That construction is not accidental or merely artistic but very deliberate to designate an ascent up a mountain. And what do priests use at high Masses? We burn incense to create a cloud of smoke to symbolize God’s glorious presence, his Holy Spirit. But some people miss that meaning and only cough and complain about the incense. It can indeed by hard to inhale the Holy Spirit! And what do we receive when we approach this sacred mountain? Not some sweets left by human mountain climbers, but the sweetest of all food, the Eucharist, left by Jesus, who climbed Mt. Zion, and died on one of its peaks called Golgotha, and left behind a cross and some sweets for those who come after him, that is, me and you.
Folks, you and I are probably not going to climb Mt. Everest in Nepal, or maybe even venture up Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, but at every Mass, we spiritually scale the heights of holiness as we approach Mt. Zion transplanted to every altar where the Mass is celebrated. There we sing Psalm 122 with people from all the nations, from the east and from the west, chanting: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”
Praised be Jesus Christ!

Monday, December 2, 2019

To Catch a Thief


Upgrading our security system called Christianity
12/01/2019
Matthew 24:37-44 Jesus said to his disciples: "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
One of the highest priorities for people these days is safety and security. Surprisingly, we are even willing to sacrifice our personal freedom on the altar of feeling more safe and secure. Long gone are the days when people could casually leave their car key in the ignition, or their front doors of their homes unlocked all day. And who can blame anyone, when week after week we hear of some random shooting or terrorist attack? Put simply: faith in the common man has been replaced by fear of the common man, and we want to feel safer than we do.
As the pastor of a church prominently placed at the head of Garrison Avenue, safety and security are often a concern for me, too. Several years ago, a church usher told me his dream of how he wanted to die. Some Sunday, while he is serving as usher, he envisions a crazed gunman barging into the church and open firing. As the gunman turns to point his gun at the priest, my usher-friend would jump in the way of the bullet. He would sacrifice his life and simultaneously save the life of the priest. He figured dying for a priest would get him a one-day ticket to heaven. By the way, my friend was an ex-Marine and that is why I have instituted the new policy that all ushers at Immaculate Conception must be ex-Marines. People put a high premium on their safety and security, and we sometimes sacrifice everything else for it.
In the gospel today, Jesus hopes to harness that natural desire for safety and security and help his apostles elevate it to a more supernatural end. That is, he wants their instinct for self-preservation to be their impetus for self-preparation for his return. How so? Well, listen to our Lord explain how: “For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into to.” He goes on: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” In other words, Jesus compares his coming to that of a thief in the night. And how do you catch a thief? You install the best security system available. I hope this does not sound irreverent, but I believe Christianity can be compared to a high tech security system to catch a thief, and that thief is Jesus. We want to catch Christ so we can love him and live in him.
As we begin the holy season of Advent, may I suggest a few ways we can enhance our security system called Christianity, that is, our personal faith life, so we can catch a thief? I am convinced the best way to be on guard spiritually-speaking is by going to confession. Why? Well, sin has the effect of lowering our defenses and makes us vulnerable not only to manipulation by Satan, but also to missing our Savior. This week on Thursday evening at 6 p.m., we will have priests from the area to hear everyone’s confessions. I promise: they will be priests you have never seen before and will never have to see again! Every confession sort of “reboots” our security system and we are prepared to catch Christ, who comes like a thief in the night.
Another way to sharpen our security capabilities is by attending Mass every Sunday. By the way, do you know that we have between 75 and 100 people who attend daily Mass at 7 a.m. every morning? Why do they come? C. S. Lewis described our world as “enemy occupied territory.” He wrote: “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” He continued: “When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.” Folks, is it really that far-fetched to suggest that in the eyes of this world Jesus comes like a thief in the night to launch a counter-offensive against the values of this world? When we catch the divine Thief through the Scriptures and sacraments, we can be sure we are on his side in the spiritual battle.
And thirdly, my favorite way to catch a thief is to follow Mother Mary’s example by praying the rosary daily. Mary was the first to catch Christ not only in her heart but even in her womb. What happened when she caught Christ? We read in John 1:14, “The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.” Nothing less than the Incarnation happens when you catch Christ! In other words, when we pray the rosary we learn from Mother Mary how to grow in holiness and humility, which are the irresistible bait to lure the love of our Lord so we can catch him. Every time we catch Christ, “the Word becomes flesh” again and again, in each one of us who are called Christians, that is, “little christs” (with a small “c”).
My friends, you keep your family safe by locking your house doors at night and activating your alarm systems. And I promise I’ll keep our spiritual family safe by allowing only ex-Marines to serve as ushers. But we should also be on red alert and not lower our defenses spiritual-speaking by living our Christian faith to the fullest. Why? Because Christianity is the best way to catch a thief.
Praised be Jesus Christ!

Bone Spurs


Cherishing bones in spiritual and natural bodies
11/28/2019
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 Brothers and sisters: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Today on Thanksgiving I feel deep gratitude for all of you, my parishioners, my spiritual family. I am especially thankful for all the parishioners with whom I have crossed swords, those with whom I have disagreed and not always gotten along, because you have taught me that I don’t know everything and have helped me to be a better pastor and priest. Like a sort of “whetstone,” you have sharpened me so I can continue the good fight of faith. I am grateful to the parishioners who like me, but also for the ones who don’t like me, because each and every one of you is an instrument of God’s grace making ma a sharper and smarter priest. Thank you, to all of you.
That reminds me of the advice an older priest gave me when I became a rookie pastor, a first-time pastor. He suggested that the people in your parish are like the bones of a human body. Some people are like the jawbones because they love to talk a lot, spread gossip and start rumors. Other people will be like the butt bones and do nothing but sit around a lot. You cannot count on them to help you. And finally you will find the people who are the backbones of the parish. The backbones are usually the last people you meet but just like in the human body, the backbones hold up the whole parish.
Nonetheless, over twenty years as a pastor, I have learned to appreciate not only the backbones, but also the jawbones and even the butt bones in every parish. Why? Well, the human body needs all its bones because God has created each bone for a special purpose, and today I am grateful for each and every bone that forms the Body of Christ here at Immaculate Conception Church.
The second reading today is taken from the beginning of St. Paul’s magnificent first letter to the Corinthians. Notice how he begins with a note of gratitude, saying: “I gave thanks to my God always on your account.” Now, was St. Paul grateful only because the Corinthians were perfect little saints, all of them the backbones of the Body of Christ? Hardly. He levels very strong criticisms of their behavior in chapter 10 and 11 about the divisions they cause when they sit down for the Eucharist.
Then in the following chapter, however, he beautifully describes how each Christian form part of the Body of Christ – the hand, the feet, the arms, and the legs – in chapter 12, just like that wise pastor taught me. In other words, St. Paul was not only glad and grateful for the people he got along with, but for all the Corinthians, even the jaw bones and the butt bones. By the way, if you want to hear about a really heated disagreement he had, read Galatians 2:11-14, and how he crossed swords with St. Peter. Why was Paul thankful for all? Well, because each and every person is essential for the full functioning and flourishing of the Body of Christ.
My friends, as you sit around the Thanksgiving table today, bear in mind the advice that wise pastor once gave me: people are like the bones of a human body. That analogy is true not only for spiritual families, like our parish, but also for natural families, like in your home. As you pass the turkey and dressing and ask for seconds on the apple pie, try to figure out which family members are the jawbones, the butt bones, and the backbones. Sometimes I play a little game in mind and count how many there are of each kind of bones. And usually first place is shared by the jawbones and the butt bones.
The real trick of Thanksgiving, indeed, the real trick of Christianity, is to feel gratitude for all the bones that make up the body of your family, just like each Christian makes up the Body of Christ with Jesus as the Head. This Thanksgiving, try to be especially glad and grateful for those with whom you don’t get along so well, with those you disagree and fight with, those who get under your skin, and those with whom you cross swords, like Peter and Paul. Why? Well, because somehow they make you a sharper and smarter person, and you should say thank you.
By the way, do you know when we will finally feel gratitude for all the bones of our spiritual and natural families? It is when people die and pass from this world to the next. Have you noticed how easy it is to say something good about someone after they die? The English word “eulogy” is a compound of two Greek words meaning “good” and word,” a eulogy is a good word about someone. This Thanksgiving try to utter a good word about all the members of your family, especially the jawbones and the butt bones. Why? Without them the Body of Christ cannot function and flourish. And you cannot either.
Praised be Jesus Christ!

The American Empire


Putting our trust in the eternal Empire of Christ
11/26/2019
Daniel 2:31-45 Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar: "In your vision, O king, you saw a statue, very large and exceedingly bright, terrifying in appearance as it stood before you. The head of the statue was pure gold, its chest and arms were silver, its belly and thighs bronze, the legs iron, its feet partly iron and partly tile. While you looked at the statue, a stone which was hewn from a mountain without a hand being put to it, struck its iron and tile feet, breaking them in pieces. The iron, tile, bronze, silver, and gold all crumbled at once, fine as the chaff on the threshing floor in summer, and the wind blew them away without leaving a trace. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
A friend of mine was studying at the University of Notre Dame a few years ago and said the average age of world empires and kingdoms is roughly 400 years. Have you ever heard that? Of course, some empires endured longer while others were of shorter duration. Just like human beings have an average life-expectancy of 80 or 90 years (sorry to scare you if you’re close to that age), so, too, do human kingdoms, empires and civilizations. Although, what I found fascinating was not how long empires last, but rather that eventually empires end. They don’t last forever.
A further interesting fact is that during the life-time of every empire, the citizens always think their particular kingdom would never end. How many Americans today can imagine a time when the United State will end and be replaced by some other superpower in the world? To most Americans, myself included, that seems impossible, if not laughable. And yet every great kingdom that came before the United States – the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, etc. – all thought exactly the same thing: our civilization will never end but endure into eternity. If my Fighting Irish friend is correct our American Empire, which has been around a little over 200 years, has reached its zenith and therefore, we have begun our steady descent to our death. Just like human beings like to deny that we will die – so we invent things like Viagra – so too, civilizations all deny they will die. But die they do; no human empire is eternal.
Our scriptures today also argue for the rise and fall of empires, just like my friend from Notre Dame asserted. The prophet Danciel interprets a dream for King Nebuchadnezzer, which was a succession of kingdoms that would follow his, symbolized by a statue made of various materials. The Babylonians were the golden head of the statue, who would be replaced by the Persians symbolized by silver, who would be then later succeeded by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, the bronze belly and thighs, which in turn would be conquered by the Roman Empire the legs and feet of iron and clay.
But all these human kingdoms would be destroyed by an unearthly kingdom, the Kingdom of God, symbolized by “a stone which was hewn from a mountain without a hand being put to it.” In other words, the final kingdom is not made by human hands, that fashion gold, silver, bronze or iron, but by God’s hand that shapes and fashions the whole world, and everything in it. Daniel, of course, it predicting the coming of Christ, “a stone rejected by the builders but becoming the cornerstone” (Luke 20:17).
But Daniel’s point, I believe, was deeper than to interpret the dream. He was saying what my Fighting Irish friend was saying: every empire ends, even the greatest go the way of the Do-do bird, to extinction. But do you think the Babylonians or Persians or Greeks or the Romans or we Americans thought their civilization would ever end? Of course not. We all deny we will die, both individual human beings as well as collective human civilizations.
My friends, we are so blessed to live in the United States of America, and to live in the time of her life-cycle that we do. Arguably, we are standing at the apex of the American Empire. We feel the euphoria of Nebuchadnezzer at the height of the Babylonian Empire, and we may feel like our empire will last forever. But we hear Daniel’s voice today in my friend from Notre Dame, like Nebuchadnezzer heard it in his day from the young Jewish exile, saying: this won’t last.
Instead, put your eggs in the basket of the eternal empire not made by hands. That is, put your faith and trust in the Kingdom of God established by Jesus Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit – the Hand of God – and not by human intervention. In other words, the only eternal empire is the Church, established by the hand of God in Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, and built on Peter the Rock, and placed firmly on the foundation of the twelve apostles. And how long has the Catholic Church lasted. 200 years? 400 year? Over 2,000 years and still going strong. Why? Well, because the Church is not a human kingdom but rather the Kingdom of God on earth, and she will endure until her King returns in glory.
Praised be Jesus Christ!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Knuckle-draggers


Seeing the hidden King with eyes of faith
11/24/2019
Luke 23:35-43 The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God." Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews." Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Today I would like to make a crazy comparison, namely, between Jesus Christ and King Kong, the movie monster. Before you laugh ludicrously, or phone Pope Francis to excommunicate me, just hear me out. It is not as far-fetched as you might imagine at first sight. Consider these six points of contact and even convergence between these two kingly characters. First, King Kong lives happily in a prehistoric place called “Skull Island” as a king who rules his kingdom and keeps the peace, just like Jesus was happy in heaven ruling as King and Lord over the angels. Second, because of the greed and ambition of human beings, King Kong is forced to leave his primeval Paradise and dragged into the wicked world of men and women. So, too, Jesus leaves his peaceful Paradise to walk this valley of tears due to the ambition of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. Third, King Kong falls in love with Ann Darrow and only submits to the cruel yolk of slavery in order to save her, and she in turns slowly learns to love him. In like manner, Jesus comes to save his beautiful Bride, the Church, and we Christians too are slow to love our Lord in return.
Fourth, when Kong arrives in Manhattan, how do the people receive him? They are filled with fear that turns into fighting and finally they kill him, on the great monument of Manhatten, the Empire State building. The Jewish leaders also feared Jesus, fought him first verbally, and then finally killed him on the cross, a monument of Roman cruelty. Fifth, as King Kong dies atop the highest point in the Big Apple – reminiscent of ancient apple eaten by Adam and Eve – only Ann Darrow sees King Kong’s goodness and greatness. What happens in the gospel of Luke as Jesus dies on the cross? Only the good thief recognizes Jesus’ royalty, his goodness and greatness, saying: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The good thief sees Jesus Christ as a king. And sixth, King Kong was a very a-typical king. I mean, he was a huge gorilla after all, and therefore, not handsome or rich or riding on a white horse, and so most people missed his royal dignity. So, too, Jesus is not a typical king: he is poor, rejected, abandoned, ridiculed, and finally executed like a common criminal. So, too, most people, even those closest to him, missed our Lord’s majesty, indeed they missed his Messiahship. My main point in comparing Christ the King to King Kong is to show how easy it is to miss the majesty of the Messiah. True holiness is often hidden and hard to see with human eyes. It requires the eyes of faith.
Missing the Messiah was not only an occupational hazard for first century Jewish believers, it is equally elusive for twenty-first century Christians believers. Have you ever wondered: how did the Jews miss Jesus, their long-awaited Messiah, after witnessing all the miracles and teachings and his holiness? Well, I would suggest to you three areas where it’s easy for us to miss the Messiah, too, especially because his holiness is often hidden. First, we may miss him in the sacraments, second, we don’t usually see him in our spouse, and third, we often overlook him on the streets.
How hard it is to believe that the King of the Universe hides himself in a morsel of bread and a few drops of wine. It would be easier to believe God transforms into a gigantic gorilla than he is transubstantiated into a wafer of bread! And in case you think belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist comes easily, just ask all the Catholics who miss Mass on Sunday, or who have stopped going to Mass all together. Why don’t they come to Mass? They believe they are missing nothing, and sadly, they end up missing everything. It is easy to miss the Messiah because holiness is often hidden from human sight, you must use the eyes of faith to find him.
The second area where we might miss the Messiah is in our spouse, our husband or wife. I have never missed the Messiah in my spouse. Ninety-nine percent of the counseling I do is for marriage problems, mostly counseling the women who complain about their husbands who act like big gorillas, “knuckle-draggers.” And yet St. Paul advises women in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives be subject to your husbands as to the Lord,” and three verses later, he urges men in 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” In other words, spouses should love each other because they see Jesus in each other. But how easy it is to miss the Messiah in my spouse!
And thirdly, try to see Jesus in the streets, especially in the poor who live on the streets, the homeless. We are so blessed to have lived in the lifetime of St. Teresa of Calcutta, better known as “Mother Teresa.” I personally met her in Little Rock and again in Washington, D.C. She was so convinced that the street people of Calcutta were Jesus, she would run to pick them up from the gutters and hold them tenderly until they died. She was absolutely convinced she was caring for Christ in every street person. We may not do what St. Teresa of Calcutta did in loving the poor, but we can at least try not to miss the Messiah who walks on the streets. Charity is not a faith accessory, charity is faith in action. Yet how easy it is to miss the Messiah in the poor!
I started this homily with a crazy comparison between Jesus Christ and the mythical movie monster, King Kong. And I admit it was a bit of a stretch. But our Catholic faith also makes rather strange and surprising comparisons to Christ: Jesus hides in a piece of Bread, our Lord is disguised as a husband or wife, and the Messiah suffers in the poor of the streets. Now you tell me: who’s making the crazy comparisons?
Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Bachelorette


Seeing marriage as life-long, monogamous and heterosexual
11/23/2019
Luke 20:27-40 Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone's brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her." Jesus said to them, "The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.
Probably on no one issue does our culture and our Christianity clash over more than on marriage. And I am afraid that clash will get louder and cause more casualties, especially for Christianity as more Christians choose their culture over their faith. Modern culture has put Christian marriage in its cross-hairs and taken dead aim at life-long, monogamous, heterosexual marriage. This culture clash started all the way back in the 1960’s with the free-love movement, where we chanted, “Make love not war.” It has crescendoed in the same-sex marriage movement, which became legal on June 26, 2015 by the Supreme Court decision Obergefell versus Hodges. Any religion that revolts against this cultural tidal wave will be seen as reactionary and regressive and ultimately irrelevant.
But we don’t have to look outside the Church to find the clash between culture and Christianity. It is raging right in our own hearts and in our homes. How do we usually feel about human love, even enshrined in life-long, monogamous, heterosexual marriage? Most Christians would say marriage lasts forever, even in heaven we will be married to our spouse. But that’s not entirely accurate. Our faith teaches that marriage is for earth, not for heaven; it is life-long, meaning for this life, not for the next life; it is a sacrament but a sacrament of service while we walk in this world, not when we step foot into paradise.
Think about it for a moment. The Church does not hesitate to allow widows and widowers to marry. So, when that person – the widow who remarried – enters heaven, will they have two spouses in heaven? Or, maybe she will see which was was the nicer one and keep that one and discard the other? Can you see how even honest, faithful, Church-going Catholics can fall prey to this culture clash? The culture wars are not waged very far from our own hearts and our own homes.
In the gospel today, Jesus weighs in on this culture war regarding marriage. The Sadducees present a predicament of a woman who married seven brothers and finally they all die. Then they ask: “Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.” That question would have stumped modern American Catholics who feel marriage goes on into heaven. So we might answer that the woman gets to pick the best husband of the seven brothers, like in the television show “The Bachelorette.” That seems to us like only fair way to handle the situation. And perhaps the other six brothers can go be on the show “The Bachelor” and try to find a beautiful woman in heaven.
But is that what Jesus answers to this cultural conundrum? Our Lord’s reply is simple, straight-forward, and also startling. He states like a thunderclap echoing down the centuries: “The children of this age (earth) marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age (heaven) and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry not are given in marriage.” In other words, marriage is for earth not for heaven. When the Church defines marriage as life-long, monogamous, and heterosexual, most Catholics get the monogamous and heterosexual parts: between one man and one woman. But like the Sadducees, we are stumped with the life-long part. We would like marriage to continue into eternity. But Jesus says in heaven there will only be bachelors and bachelorettes. Indeed, Our Lord insists: “They are, like the angels.”
My friends, probably nowhere else do we invest more of our time, talent and treasure than into our families and our marriages. And that’s a good thing. But we should also be careful to recalibrate our expectations for marriage and family according to Christian values instead of cultural values. Sometimes very innocently and unwares, we stand on the side of our culture over and against our Christianity, especially when it comes to matters of marriage. Pray for the gift to see marriage and family life through the eyes of faith, and then read Luke 20 again. And keep reading that passage of scripture until it makes perfect sense.
Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Palisades


Perceiving the power of the words of the Word
11/22/2019
Luke 19:41-44 As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If this day you only knew what makes for peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation."
The dictionary defines the word “logophile” as a lover of words. And next to the word logophile is a picture of me! Not really, but I do love words, almost to the point of obsession. I feel such a strange and sublime pleasure in finding just the right word to express my thoughts. And if I cannot find just the right word, I sit there like an idiot with a blank stare on my face until I do stumble upon the right word. My deepest delight in discovering the right word comes from seeing how love for all words leads you to love for the original Word, the Word of God, the Word made Flesh (John 1:14), that is, Jesus Christ. In its deepest and most profound sense, a logophile is another word for a Christian, someone who loves all words because all words ultimately point us to the one true and eternal Word, Jesus Christ.
Today, let me help you fall in love with the word “palisade” which we find in both the first reading from 1 Maccabees and the gospel of Luke 19. If you ever visit New York City and drive over the Hudson River on the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey, you will see a striking geological wonder called “The Palisades.” Have you ever seen those or heard of them? The Palisades are a stretch of steep cliffs that roughly resemble stakes that form a fence line for 20 miles. The word “palisades” comes from the Latin word “palus” meaning “stake.” In effect, a palisade is a wall or fence made up of stakes for the purpose of defense against enemy attack.
In the gospel, however, Jesus uses the term “palisade” not to describe how Jerusalem will defend itself but how it will be attacked by the Roman armies. We read Jesus’ words, “For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you, they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides.” Our Lord goes on: “They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” And what happened? Almost exactly 40 years after Jesus uttered those prophetic and powerful words, they were fulfilled to the letter by the Roman armies that leveled Jerusalem in 70 A.D. forming a “palisade” or siege around the holy city, which had become an unholy city. When we carefully examine the word palisade we perceive the power of Jesus, the Word of God, who never wields his words carelessly.
We have to dig a little deeper to find the word “palisade” in the first reading from Maccabees. We hear about a heroic man named Mattathias, who killed a Jew committing idolatry. Listen carefully: “When Mattathias saw him, he was filled with zeal…he sprang forward and killed him upon the altar.” But then we hear how Mattathias’ zeal is compared to that of Phinehas, who in Numbers 25, also killed two people committing idolatry, engaging in sexual immorality, by using a palisade, a spear, to pin them both to the ground. In other words, a palisade is a weapon not only to erect a wall of defense, but also to wield in attack against enemies who deny or distort the worship of God by committing idolatry, false worship.
Mattathias may not have picked up a palisade like Phinehas, but both men were filled with a fiery zeal for true worship of God which is related in the Word of God in the Old Testament books of Numbers and Maccabees. That zeal for true worship is exactly what the people lacked in Jesus’ day and therefore “palisades” would be used against the Jews by their enemies because now it was the Jews who were guilty of idolatry, false worship. In other words, if the Jews had studied the history of the word “palisade” in their bible, they would learn how they had failed to offer God true worship, and therefore, they “did not recognize the time of their visitation,” the time of their destruction.
By the way, here’s a random thought. Do you know how to kill Dracula? Of course you do: you have to drive a wooden stake through his heart. You have to drive a palisade through his heart to kill him. Why? Because Dracula does not offer God true worship, rather he is an idolater, he worships false gods. Have you noticed what Catholics do at the beginning of every Mass when we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness? We strike our breasts three times as we ask for mercy and forgiveness. Symbolically, it is as if we are driving a palisade through our hearts for all the times we have loved others things – other false gods, like money, sex and power – more than the true God, for the times we have committed idolatry. A palisade is a great weapon against enemies, and our greatest enemy is within.
And that’s how loving a little word, like palisade, can help you love the Big Word, Jesus Christ. And that's why all good Christians are logophiles.
Praised be Jesus Christ!