All posts by Father David Nix

St. Mary Magdalene Part 1 of 2

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Before I was a priest, I was a paramedic.  I remember running a call with the SWAT team in Southwest Denver. It was a midnight drug-bust and we had to accompany the police in the event that someone become wounded in the raid. We entered minutes after the SWAT team…and it had a pretty anticlimactic ending.  The police arrested only two people.  The young man and woman were caught in a compromised position, so to speak…and it smelled filthy. I was surprised at the stench, and it wasn’t the smell of drugs that was off-putting. Later in seminary, I remember reading on my own about how certain saints (like St. Christina the Astonishing) could smell impurity on people. I’m not claiming that the SWAT team or I had that gift. I just mean that there is a natural and a preternatural link to the fact that impurity stinks, literally.

Today, on both the old and new Catholic calendars, it is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene (22 July.) She too was filthy and with demons before meeting Jesus.  How interesting, then, that the Tradition Latin Mass Gospel of today recognizes the following woman as St. Mary Magdalene:

Then turning toward the woman, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but from the time I came in, she has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”—Luke 7:44-50

There is a mention in another Gospel of the smell surrounding Mary Magdalane:

Mary anointed the Feet of Jesus, and wiped Them with her hair; and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

This quote from John 12 was actually the morning prayer antiphon taken from John chapter 12. Thus, the ancient Western Church took the controversial women of Luke 7 and John 12 to be both the same person:  St. Mary Magdalene.

But notice the word “filled” in the above italics from John 12:3.   The word “filled” comes from the Latin impleta or Greek “ἐπληρώθη,” meaning that the whole house was filled with that smell of that spiked nard of extremely rich oil. What the ancient liturgy is telling us in placing those words in the morning-prayer antiphon is clear: No longer was the house filled with the stench of the sins of impurity.

Not only is Mary forgiven, but the smell of purity fills the entire house. The house is clearly analogous to the temple that is the body of St. Mary Magdalene. She now sits in the home, at Jesus’ feet, not only cleansed from her sin, but with a pacifying inebriation that comes from the anointing of a transformed soul.  She is beautiful and clean, and everyone can detect this, except those who remain in spiritual pride.  They remain in pride because they refuse to trust in the One they simply call “master.”

Remember also that oils were used to clean wounds. The stripped and half-dead traveller by the side of the road is approached by the good Samaritan who “binds up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.”—Luke 10:34. In ancient culture, oil was used to clean wounds, assumedly because most bacteria could not survive when drowned in strong oil.  Thus, Jesus doesn’t just take away the juridical imputation of sin, but at that point makes her strong again, inside and out, through and through, to the point that the overwhelming smell of spiced nard fills the whole house, the whole new life of Mary Magdalene.

This is not just post-modern presumption of God’s mercy. How do I know? Because within the ancient office of readings that we pray (the Divine Office) there is the equally astounding call-and-return a few hours later within the Psalms called “Tertia,” still referring to St. Mary Magdalene:

  • In thy comeliness and in thy beauty.
  • In thy comeliness and in thy beauty.
  • Go forward, fare prosperously, and reign.
  • In thy beauty.
  • Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
  • In thy comeliness and in thy beauty. Go forward, fare prosperously, and reign.

Who would have thought that the Messiah would spiritually wed the Magdalene? But the ancient liturgy today is clear: God-Incarnate, Jesus Himself, is calling a soul once-filthy to be His bride, for she is now filled with comeliness and beauty. So go forward, and reign in that anointing that fills the whole royal house with Christ your king, your spouse.  Forget your past, for you now exist in comeliness and beauty.

Ransom Note

Last week, Planned Parenthood was exposed for handing over the tissue of dead babies for research.  The president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, immediately made a press release explaining that Planned Parenthood itself did not make any money on this. Here’s proof she was lying:

America will be shocked, but the question remains:  What will end abortion?  Today, a woman in Louisiana texted me the answer:  “Our Response: Prayer and fasting isn’t enough! We need to sacrifice all for the love of God.”

We need to sacrifice all for the love of God.

America has seen the evil of abortion, but we continue to slaughter 3,500 children a day.  Why?  Most women are afraid and alone when they walk into that clinic, but we as a country find ending abortion difficult because of our minor inconveniences to the libido and bank account.

Thus, the end of abortion will come only through Divine Intervention.

But maybe God Almighty is waiting for this Divine Intervention.  Maybe He is waiting for people to step up to the actual doors of abortion mills for peaceful prolonged-fasts or hunger strikes. Imagine who would follow Cardinal Dolan if he led a hunger strike in front of the Planned Parenthood in the East Village of Manhattan?  I would.

For nearly 800 years, young celibate men from Europe, under the mantle of Our Lady of Ransom, would offer to take the place of women and children who had been kidnapped by Muslims.  Christians were rescued through several different religious orders, but it took men who would not just give up candy in Lent, but young men would agree to be handed over to the forces of darkness so that others may live.

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With Planned Parenthood and ISIS promoting more death than ever in the history of the world, I believe that God is raising up young men who will give their lives in ransom.  I don’t mean figuratively.  I mean that we can use YouTube to reach ISIS to offer ourselves to be slaves for them.  Each man could then ask ISIS that they release 5 Christian girls and 5 Muslim girls for every celibate brother or priest given in ransom against the innocent.  These 10 girls (multiplied) could then return to their families.

This offering of love could be offered to the Blessed Trinity for the end of abortion, too.

ISIS is just traditional enough to partake in this exchange.  Did you know that over 1,000,000 Christian slaves (from 1200 to 1900) were returned by Muslims in exchange for monks, brothers, priests (and funds raised) during the Middle Ages?  Times are more ripe than ever.  Surely God is raising up men for ransom again, for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”—Mark 10:45 and “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”—John 15:13

 

The Last Enemy

My homily from today in the TLM calendar, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost on the line from St. Paul to the Romans, “The wages of sin is death.” These will hopefully be in podcast format starting this summer, but here it is for now. Right-click to download any of these.

Miracle

As a seminarian in 2009, I introduced two of my close friends to each other at the March for Life in San Francisco.  Although from different parts of the country, they too became good enough friends for Beth to fly out to Denver for Fr. Nepil’s ordination in 2011.  There, Beth came to know Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, a 20th century Italian mountain-climber and servant of the poor who died young; he was found on Fr. Nepil’s ordination card. What Beth did with that ordination card led to a series of events (on Long-Island with her family of origin) which were recently scrutinized by the Papal Nuncio of the Vatican to possibly make this story below the second miracle needed for Frassati to become a Catholic saint:

Free-Will and Suffering

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Should God have ended the world when Adam and Eve sinned?

As I tell high-school kids, as soon as Adam and Eve had sinned…There were only three options that God had for a planet spiraling towards total sin:

1) Blow up earth to end both sin and free-will…or…

2) Turn people into robots that would automatically obey, so as to terminate free-will but keep the planet…or…

3) Send a rescuer who could transform the human state of suffering into redemptive suffering.

If you can think of a fourth option, let me know.  In the mean time, notice that only the third option allows for free-will.

Because option #3 allows for free-will to continue among both the good and evil people on this blue planet, it is the only option that allows for either love or harming people until the end of time.

For example, if a woman is choosing to offer up her suffering for her children after her husband was killed by a drunk driver, she can only choose to unite her redemptive suffering to Christ’s infinite merits of the cross precisely because she lives in a world where someone else can choose to drive drunk.  This is why widows must live side-by-side with drunk drivers until the final judgment.

We each have the option to continue the cycle of suffering and sin, or… we can choose to escape from that horrible cycle.  Baptism ends sin (original sin, at least, and actual sin in the lives of some saints) but suffering continues for them.  However, their suffering then ceases to have a certain mental pain, as God said to St. Catherine of Siena.  When you carry the cross God has allowed in your life, your suffering can become redemptive because it more easily fits with the merits of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  With Christ, we escape the red patten to the left in favor of the orange trajectory, a different trajectory of suffering:

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This is only possible by the cross.  I put the cross in blue for two reasons. The vertical blue bar shows that Mary gave God the one thing He didn’t have: The ability to die. This symbolizes Christ’s incarnation and His approach to us. Secondly, our incorporation into the mystical body of Christ happens in the waters of baptism (the horizontal blue line.) As St. Peter writes, “It is baptism that now saves you.”—1 Pt 3:21. Suffering has little value in  itself until it be incorporated into the suffering mystical body of Christ. This happens at baptism, because it is at that moment that we receive all of the merits of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ as a free gift of redemption.  The best description of death to oneself, baptism, and this new life can be found in Romans 6:3-11.

Death is the cycle to the left.  The requirement for new life is: a new life.  The gift of the cross is free (gratis) to us at the high price Jesus paid for us in his 17 hours of torture…nay, His whole life lived for us.  But, for salvation to be realized, we must cooperate.  The cross doesn’t offer an escape from suffering but it does offer an escape from sin, and that part is up to our cooperation with grace in living in our free will as we become transformed, divinized sons and daughters of God.

We are then given the chance on this earth to let our sufferings be united to those of Jesus (through Mary) so as to become participators in redemptive suffering.  Again, in itself, suffering has no value.  But joined to the cross, it helps redeem the world.  It helps pull more people out of the cycle on the left to the orange bar on the right.  This is all that the old-school (and now new-school) nuns meant when they said “Offer it up.”  It all comes from what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.”—Col 1:24.

What is lacking or wanting in the suffering of Jesus?  Nothing except my participation.  It was 100%, but that 100% continues in His mystical body.  As long as sin continues on the earth, so also must the suffering of Christians.  It is a gift, not a burden, and it is joined to Christ’s sufferings at the nearest Mass.  That is why both the suffering of the Mystical Body and the Mass continue until the end of time.

At the final judgment, the left cycle will continue in hell.  However, the right trajectory will become heaven.

Here on earth, both cycles have to suffer.  So, if you have your choice between the devil’s eternal cross and Jesus’ temporary cross, why not avoid sin and choose the pattern to the right?

4th of July in the District

JFK said Washington DC “is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” I don’t know about that, but right across the Potomac outside the District, the lovely opposite is true: Virginia is a place of Northern efficiency and Southern charm…and hospitality. Proof of this is the work my friends went through to smoke a shoulder and prepare a smorgasbord of ribs for several other young families on this wet 4th just outside the Nation’s Capital:

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America’s Passion

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     Driving across the country just two days ago, I came into DC during the night.  Fireworks had already started over our Nation’s Capital.  As I drove, I had been listening to the unabridged version of the book that probably many of you have read:  Unbroken.  It’s the story of resilience of an American soldier from WWII named Louie Zamperini, liberated from a Japanese concentration camp.  (See above.)  Louie belongs to what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.”  The Greatest Generation had what it means to be an American: passion.
     In The Greatest Generation, Brokaw interviews an older couple about divorce, and why divorce flattened future generations so severely.  The older woman’s remedy is a show-stopper:   “People don’t fight enough nowadays. They just give up.”  They just give up.  Somehow the passion to fight in marriage is better than silent back-stabbing or just floating into nothingness.  There was a passion in Zamperini and that generation that got them up in the morning.
   I think purity in marriage (or out of marriage) is tied to more passion, not less, ironically.  The attraction to sin is not due to a heightened sexual prowess, but the opposite:  Sorrow at a spiritual good.   We are tempted to experience the passion only offered by the stomach or lower organs.  But Zamperini and the “Greatest Generation” seemed to have a pan-passion for love, worship, service, sacrifice practical jokes, family, beer, singing choirs of angels, letters lost in the mail, resilience in POW camps….all the things that filled the life of those sung heros of Unbroken and unsung heroes of our country.
     At one point in a Japanese prison camp, the starving POW Zamperini was given an egg and a tangerine by a sneakily compassionate guard who did not want to see him starve.  Louie, near death, shares these two tiny treasures with his fellow bunk-mates.  He does this self-sacrifice act even before his conversion to Christ.  Louie, and many in that generation, put others before their own stomachs in dying for their brothers and country.  (“Could it be true — no, no, I can’t believe it — that in the world there are not men but bellies?”—St. Josemaría Escrivá, the Way #38.)
     Every generation laments lost generations of the past and complains that young whippersnappers don’t respect anyone.  But this time it’s different because we have undeniable statistical evidence that America has become slow, sloppy, and flabby.
So, here’s the solution:
     Passion is the key to purity and rebuilding this country.  “Flies don’t land on boiling water” said St. John Vianney.  Risk-taking-love will automatically lead to purity.  Try something crazy like tithing, going on mission, meeting all your neighbors who don’t talk to you, selling everything for a vocation to consecrated life, buying your wife flowers 7 nights in a row, giving most your money to the poor, destroying your TV, fasting:  This is the real passion that Jesus made us for. This is the passion Zamperini lived for—and doubled when he came to know Christ.
     There’s an intensity of heaven that only the passionate will inherit. It’s no wonder the pure in heart will see God: Flabby or bizarre patterns of libido will simply not be  passionate enough for heaven.
Happily, a true passion for a loud and messy life is still alive in America.  A family from here in Norther Virginia made headlines with this not too long ago:

The End of the Mass

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You might think that this is a grumpy-the-grump post on bad liturgy with a title like “the End of the Mass,” but it is not.  The “end” simply means the goal of something.  The Greek word telos was appropriated into the English to mean “the end term of a goal-directed process.”  For philosophy students out there, it’s the final cause.  What is the telos or goal or end of a pencil?  Writing.

What is the goal or telos of the Mass?

We will get to that, but—okay—permit me one grumpy-the-grump story in contrast.  Last year, I was traveling across Florida.  In Tampa, I stopped into a Church one afternoon.  I kindly told the secretary of the parish that I was a traveling priest and that I’d like to offer Mass.  She was confused, and asked if I had a group of people to join me.  Maybe a youth group?  When I told her that I did not have anyone else, she simply couldn’t imagine why I’d be offering Mass…and refused me.

She was a kind woman, but perhaps she believed that the Mass would have no value without people receiving Holy Communion.  Clearly, she did not have an evil will.  But this account demonstrates that theological ignorance can have the same outcome as a malicious will (eg. one less Mass in the world, in this case.)  Would that every Catholic Church secretary in the world read this single post!

The month of July has traditionally been consecrated and devoted to the Precious Blood of Jesus.  To learn the telos of the Mass would be a great resolution for this month.  To reveal those goals, I want to show the prayer that every priest (before Vatican II) would pray before the Mass.   It’s in Latin, but with the English there, too.  I give here my translation a bit more word-for-word:

I will to celebrate Mass and to confect the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the rite of the Holy Roman Church, unto the praise of the omnipotent God and all the Triumphant Church, for my good and the good of the entire Church Militant, for all who have commended themselves to my prayers—in general and specifically, and for the happy state of the Holy Roman Church.  May the omnipotent and merciful Lord grant us joy with peace, amendment of life, space for true repentance, consolation of the Holy Spirit and perseverance in good works.

Jesus offers Himself in the sacrifice of Calvary at the Mass.  This prayer tells us, in the order of importance, the ends of the Mass, taking the italics below from the prayer above:

1) The Blessed Trinity: Unto the praise of the omnipotent God.

2) The priest: For my good.

3.) All the Saints: All of the Triumphant Church.

4) All the Catholics on earth: The good of the entire Church Militant.

5) Those who have generally given themselves to the prayers of the priest:  For all who have commended themselves to my prayers—in general.

6) Those who have commended themselves specifically to that priest’s prayers at Mass:  For all who have commended themselves to my prayers…specifically.

7) For the happy state of the Holy Roman Church.

Notice that at the end of that prayer, I ask God to “grant us joy with peace, amendment of life, space for true repentance, consolation of the Holy Spirit and perseverance in good works.”

I have done this prayer almost every day for five years, spoken right before I offer Mass.  It makes me think about why I’m doing it.  Jesus offers Himself first in an act of infinite love to the Blessed Trinity, even if the priest has no altar server.  That means that the priest offering Mass brings infinite value to the world when he offers Mass—alone or with thousands in attendance.  Another reason to ignore numbers is because the Mass has billions of angels in attendance, anyway.  One should really have a holy fear of God when you consider that at consecration even Mary adores, from the highest point in heaven.

When Church authorities put Padre Pio (see picture above) under interdict for ten years, prohibiting him from offering anything but a private Mass, was Padre Pio’s Mass of any less value during those ten years?  It’s my unproven opinion that Padre Pio’s suffering (conjoined to Christ’s merits in the Mass Pio offered) deferred the wrath of God from ending the world during two World Wars.

Mary told the children of Fatima, after the main apparitions, that souls fall into hell “like snowflakes” every day.  Thus, we can not hope that “all men be saved.”  The Mass is offered for the salvation of the world—whether or not physical people be in attendance or not.

Giving glory to God and the salvation of souls is the telos of the Church, whether or not anyone show up.  This is the theology that will determine if Mass be worship or entertainment.  This is the theology that informs every vocation:  that we must strive to please God, and not men.