All posts by padreperegrino

He’s got nothing on me

Jesus

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to the Apostles before His death:
I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me, but the world must know that I love the Father.” (John 14:30)

I noticed that the Greek doesn’t actually have the word power (dunamis) as the English translations do. So, I’m going to give you my literal translation of that line from today’s Gospel:

The ruler of the world comes and he has nothing on me, but so that the world might know that I love the Father…(this I do.)” (John 14:30-31)

Yes, Jesus literally says of Satan in today’s Gospel in Greek:

He’s got nothing on me.

Besides being awesome, this shows that the devil does not have the power to crucify Jesus. Rather, Jesus goes to the cross of his own accord at the occasion of creatures’ rebellion but ultimately to show the world His own love of the Father, the will of the Father, the decree of the Father that Jesus can drink this cup of suffering (and others’ sin) all to engulf the spirit of death into the divinity of the Trinity by letting the spirit of death, for a very short time, engulf the sacred humanity of Jesus.

Jesus is always in control. That’s why the devil’s got nothing on him. So also in our sufferings, as long as we suffer with Jesus.

Fire of India

Y’all know I’m in India, but I haven’t told y’all about why I came to India for the first time last autumn. It was to help with a new video on the lives of three saints who came to India (St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Francis Xavier and Mother Teresa.) The short movie was produced by my friend Anand and created by my friend Keenan. My job was apparently to sit on the set and drink chai tea. I was very good at that, and good at little else.  But I’m happy to say it’s going to be released on Ask a Bishop, so here’s the short preview of what they worked on:

Deodorant

old spice

The Americans I live with got me Old Spice, for showers here are rendered useless within five minutes of walking through the streets of Kolkata.  Old Spice is a time-tested product that has been eclipsed by newer sprays that promise impassioned encounters with strangers.  So, I’m happy to go with the Old Spice.  However, with the above advertising, I suspect that Old Spice decided that instead of simply replacing the geriatric connotations with sex, they could just combine the two.

This advertising stunt of being self-deprecating is a bit like how Radio Shack had a Super Bowl commercial with the Muppets so as to display a good self-deprecating admission of antiquated products.  This way they could have a good [forced] laugh with their customers and move on in their sales (or sink into bankruptcy, like Radio Shack did.) So also, Old Spice declares:

If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist.

While that is a bit obnoxious and surely not a visual that any customer wants, there is a profound truth in it:  Attraction was for procreation in a bygone era when no one questioned that connection between babies and bonding, even if pheromonically amplified by grandpappy’s Old Spice.  (N.B. My blog’s spell-check was very disapproving that I just turned the noun “pheromone” into an adverb. )

Old Spice’s advertising recognizes a pre-contraceptive era when male-female attraction  produced children.   I don’t have such a rose-colored view of the past as to think that our grandparents didn’t sin.  But back then, even if your parent was conceived before WWII and your grandparents got married after WWII, this union was still ordered towards…existence, life…in a time of so much world-wide death and world wars.

Existence:  This tremendous reality that God’s creation should leave us in awe at His super-abundant, super-diverse creating power.  God wills your existence as He declares:  IT IS GOOD THAT YOU EXIST.

God bless Old Spice for even talking (albeit in an slightly-gross way) about family, pro-creation and that most-important word of Thomistic Metaphysics:  existence.

Sr. Nirmala, Missionary of Charity

sr. nirmala

Sr. Nirmala Joshi MC is found to the left in the picture above.  It’s taken on 14 March 1997, the day that Mother Teresa and a closed-door vote of about 100 sisters made Sr. Nirmala the Superior General of the 5,000 Missionaries of Charity world-wide.   CNN took notice in this article because a Hindu-convert to Catholicism took over the most rapidly-expanding religious order of the 20th century. (Up to that point, her CV was already impressive, as Mother Teresa’s co-founder of the MCs and the foundress of the Contemplative Branch of the Missionaries of Charity in 1976.)

Now Sr. Nirmala is 81 years old. She had a heart attack about a month ago. Because she is a veritable celebrity in India, they had to make her hospital stay a very short one.

A couple of days ago, I was surprised when a younger  sister asked me out to take a 15 minute bus ride in order to offer Mass in the 81 year old foundress’ bedroom. There would be just a few nuns assisting at Mass.  I went and offered Mass there.

After Mass, Sr. Nirmala and I got to talk.  I would say that it was one of the only times in my life that I felt the consolation of being in the presence of a living saint. I asked her to tell me why she converted from Hinduism to Catholicism, and I’m going to recount her story as best as I can, even though I wasn’t taking notes as I knelt next to her wheelchair:

Of Nepalese blood, Nirmala Joshi was raised in India in a Hindu family. At age 7, she was leaving the temple of Shiva, and she looked across the street to a Catholic Church rectory statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She explained that at that moment, the statue shined a overpowering light that terrified her. She left the area of the Church and temple, but she went back to peek over the fence every day on her way home from elementary school. She was clear with me that it was more from fear than devotion!

Eventually as a child, she picked up a New Testament, and she opened right to the one verse where Jesus talks about His own heart: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” (Matthew 11, which was the Gospel for the day that I had just read in the private Mass!) Expecting a third miracle of her telling me about the Sacred Heart, Sr. Nirmala surprised me. She said she closed the Bible and said He must be so arrogant talking about Himself all the time! (The sisters giggled because they knew what was coming…I was a little taken aback, but then I realized later that, for Eastern Religions, they wouldn’t understand why Jesus would talk about Himself. For example, Buddha said “Be ye lights unto yourselves” but Jesus said “I am the light of the world.”  This only makes sense if Jesus is God, the only true God.)

But as she became a teenager, Nirmala (which means pure in Sanksrit) wasn’t too interested in Christianity.  Perhaps for the quality of education, she went away to a Catholic High school in a different city. Then, one day in her dorm room, at the Angelus Bell, her roommate (a Hindu) dropped to her knees to apparently pray the Angelus (an ancient prayer with three Hail Marys.)  Sr. Nirmala eyed her curiously, but then Sr. Nirmala told me something I’ll hopefully never forget:

“Jesus entered my heart at that moment, and made it clear to me it was He. And He hasn’t left since.”

She smiled when she told me this, and she meant it.  She continued her story to me, even though I thought she was going to wrap up our session at that point…

After her conversion, she soon wanted to start a congregation to her help her country’s people (Nepal) a land where she had never been. She wrote her Jesuit spiritual director who put her in contact with Mother Teresa (early 1950s, I think.) Mother told her she would only train her as a Missionary of Charity, and she should only come if she were 100% able to put her whole heart into it.

Nirmala went to Kolkata and was one of the first members to join.  In fact, I believed it was the Jesuit spiritual director of Mother Teresa who baptized her upon entrance!  Still, she was worried about her dream to go to Nepal being sunk in the MCs.  So, Sr. Nirmala asked mother about this. Mother Teresa told her: “Kolkata is the same as Nepal. Everywhere you need to bring people to the heart of God.” So, Nirmala slayed her dreams of Nepal.

However, many years later she would not only help found dozens of homes around the globe, but Sr. Nirmala would be responsible for founding three homes of Missionaries of Charity in Nepal! Such is a true Abraham/Isaac story of vocation and God’s faithfulness.

I left Sr. Nirmala with a prayer request but then the sisters asked me back to offer private Mass with her again this weekend, so I will return on both Saturday and Sunday…to offer the Holy Sacrifice in the presence of Mother Teresa’s best friend.

Jesus and Religion Part III

Xavier-Osteen

For a few weeks, I’m living in the Muslim quarter of Kolkata. I wear my Roman collar around here, and what’s peculiar is that I rarely get snarky looks from the swarms of Muslims and Hindus packed into this city. Actually, I was shocked at how much respect the Muslims gave me on Qatar Airlines even as I wore my cassock.

On the other hand, a certain generation of Catholics in the United States treat me very differently when they see the cassock. That generation of Americans always stops me with a unconvincing rictus to tell me some combo of the following:

1. I’m glad that what you’re doing “works for you.”
2. I used to be Catholic (usually an altar boy or a nun or both.)
3. Here’s what’s wrong with the Catholic Church (p, q, r, all very predictable.)
4. Here’s what’s wrong with priests (x,y,z, ditto.)
5. My god’s bigger than your religion because we’re all brothers and sisters.

I think this happens to me almost every week.  No joke.  I usually just smile and nod.  So, I don’t know what wounds that generation is dealing with, but philosophically, here’s the ironies they’re speaking to me:

1. Here’s the dogmatic truth of no-dogma that you must accept.
2. Here’s the pathway of no-judgment while I judge you harshly for wearing a cassock
3. I’m absolutely sure there’s no absolute truth.
4. You must promote tolerance.

That last one is funny, considering that I’m a priest and they preach to me.  I don’t preach anymore.  Not that I’m afraid of a good old- fashioned debate.   I just can’t get a word in edgewise anymore when I get around that group who inadvertently subscribe to ecclesial totalitarianism.  (Hint:  They are not younger than me.)

What if I knocked on your door, and asked to you to accept the love of a man who:
1. Is named Jesus
2. Is very kind
3. Has dark skin
4. Has a great smile
5. Has a batting average of .258

…would you care that I’m describing Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners?

Jesus1

In other words, do facts also matter in matters of faith?

As a quick disclaimer let me say that I’m not saying that a single intellectual error means that a person is worshiping a different Jesus Christ than me. It’s simply an open question: Do the facts of a person have to be accurate in order to enter into a relationship with Him? Does doctrine matter in the realm of a relationship with God, or is accepting Jesus nothing more than emotions?  If so, I’m sure that mentally-accepting Jesus Montero would make a person feel good, especially if he got that batting average up.

Another disclaimer:  Catholicism is not against relationship.  Catholicism is about how a relationship can exist with roots that are real, roots that I can’t make up or change.  That’s to say:  A family.  A family exists with both relationships and rules love and traditions.  Religion comes from the Latin word religare which is a verb that means “to have roots.” Also, the word “tradition” comes from the Latin traditio which means “to hand down.” What is handing down?  Teaching.  The word teaching is nothing more than the modern English translation of two words we all seem to have the strangest allergy to:   “doctrine” or “dogma.”  Perhaps this is all proof that it is  fascism—not Catholicism—which tries to shut down the intellectual life.

When someone knocks at your door to tell you about a man named Jesus, that’s nice, but you have to realize that he actually got his ideas of Our Lord from someone who got those ideas from another someone who may or may not be traced back to Christ in an unbroken tradition. Or, the smiley-knocker at the door got his theology directly from the Bible, aka his own private revelation…hence the 30,000 denominations in the USA (and 5 new ones every week) that are each “Bible-only.”

The only other option is a living, guarded, Apostolic authority which is ever-ancient and ever-new.

People say that an unbroken apostolic tradition of teaching would take a miracle to triumph over the telephone game. Yes, God’s good at those. Apostolic tradition is the one no-spin zone of doctrine, the one “non-denominational” Church. In fact, universal is really just a synonym of “non-denominational.”

So, how much change in doctrine begins to paint a different Jesus Christ from the friend and Savior of the Apostles? I don’t really know but let’s look at the two men in the opening picture of this post.

To the left we have St. Francis Xavier, the 16th century co-founder of the Jesuits.  He was recruited by his university buddy, St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Xavier was sent by Ignatius as a soldier for Christ to the far East to become arguably Christianity’s second greatest missionary, right behind the Apostle Paul.  Xavier preached to hundreds of thousands of people especially in the country from which I write, India.

On the right we have an astoundingly wealthy American preacher.   Joel Osteen is modern health-and-wealth apostle of the 21st century. Watch a few minutes of him on YouTube to know him yourself.  (I know he’s an extreme example, one whom even most of my Protestant friends wouldn’t buy…pun intended.)

In any case, I don’t pretend to know the state of anyone’s heart before God, but even a cursory study of the respective theologies of Xavier and Osteen reveal a belief in a different God/god.  Even if you’re not convinced that St. Francis Xavier be perfectly in line with the Apostle Paul (like I am) you still have to admit that this chasm of “Christians” and their respective beliefs seems to prove that Jesus without religion is a human-communication-impossibility.  In other words, you’re going to get sucked into someone’s spin zone whether you like it or not.

Apostolic succession is logically the only guarantee of an accurate interpretation of the Holy Scriptures which she (the Catholic Church) produced after being God-breathed into the Evangelists.

So, when Jefferson Bethke tells you about “Why I hate religion but love Jesus,”  just realize this:  It’s a human-communication-impossibility.  Bethke has simply created another religion with Bethke as Pope.  If you think this is an exaggeration, just consider that one of the top searches on him is “Jefferson Bethke tattoos.”

In end there is no spin-free zone outside the Apostles and their succession.  So, I’ll stick to the “original religion” of the Catholic Church, even if she includes some hypocrites along the way.  She also produces some St. Francis  Xaviers.

Jesus and Religion Part II

1040

The world over is home to about 7 billion people.  Did you know that most of these people (4 billion) have never heard of Jesus Christ?  These 4 billion have seen neither hide nor hair of any Christian willing to share the Gospel.

The area most neglected is in the blue areas of the map above.  Most of those 4 billion live here.  Some missionaries refer to it as the “10/40 window”  because here, between the 10th and 40th latitude, live the most unevangelized peoples.  I am currently in this window for a few weeks.

Considering the urgency of such a missionary call to evangelize the Far East, we Catholics might be tempted to agree with Jefferson Bethke’s critique of religion (see previous post on his  “Why I hate religion but love Jesus”) especially when there is an urgency to spread the basics of the Gospel.

Must we really talk religion when people don’t know about Jesus?  I have seen significant religious cowardice this past year, so I understand why Bethke is so wary of hypocrites.   I really get that.  But, the difference is that I still believe wholeheartedly in the Catholic Church.  Here’s why:

Jesus founded an Apostolic Church, despite the problems he knew would come. In fact, the very first priest scandal was Judas…and yet Jesus chose him.

Well, that’s old news.  You already know that.  But the positive of an Apostolic Church recently struck me in yesterday’s liturgy of the hours.  Listen to Peter’s initial explanation of Christ to a group of Gentiles:

“They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:39b-42)

In the bold font above, St. Peter is saying that the Apostles are not like “all the people” who will soon be speaking of Jesus.  Rather, God the Father “made [Jesus] to appear not to all the people but to us,” the Apostles, precisely because they were “chosen by God.”

In other words, the Apostolic nature of his explanation is his carte blanche of credibility into their hearts.  Why?  Because they alone received the fullness of His teaching, and they alone remembered that Jesus said “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

When I share the Gospel with a person on a plane, I will usually try to introduce that person to the overwhelming love of the Father in sending His Son for us.  Only later in the flight do I get to a love of the Church and her moral teachings.  And I guess that’s not a bad plan since Jesus did say “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

But Peter is more Church-based in his first explanation of the Gospel.  He found it necessary in the above quote from Acts 10 to mention himself and the Apostles even in his very first message of Jesus to the pagans!

St. Peter shows post-modern missionaries that the Apostolic Nature of the Church is not inappreciable to reaching the lands of the 10/40 window, but central.  This is why we need not be so ashamed to be both lovers of Jesus and lovers of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Why then are there so many more American Protestant families in the 10/40 window than American Catholic families here?  Won’t you consider coming to share the Gospel here?  They need not only part of the truth, but the fullness of the truth.  See http://www.familymissionscompany.com

Jesus and Religion Part I

girl in adoration

There’s a video that went viral on YouTube by Jefferson Bethke called “Why I hate religion but love Jesus.”  It has almost 30,000,000 views, and there have been formidable Catholic rebuttals online, in conferences, in podcasts and newspapers.

Surprisingly, none of the Catholic apologists whom I have read (which admittedly is only a few) have pointed out that the word “religion” is promoted as a good thing in the New Testament:

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26-27)

The word for religion above is the Greek θρησκὸς and θρησκεία. Even a Protestant Greek dictionary I have on my iPod translates θρησκεία as “religious worship” and even adds that this word refers to that which is “especially external, that which consists in ceremonies.”

I snapped the above picture this morning.  There is a Eucharistic host in exposition in the monstrance just off the shot on Bose street at the Missionaries of Charity Motherhouse.  Adoring Christ (almost in the same spot where Mother Teresa knelt) was this Indian girl off the streets.  Prostrate, she adored her Lord.   She was directly above the tomb of Mother Teresa.

It is interesting that religion, according to St. James, is both external ceremony and taking care of orphans.  What is the connection there?

I believe that the answer comes from the Apostle Paul:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

The Latin translation from the Greek “living sacrifice” is hostiam viventem.  Notice where else in this post is used the word host:  Jesus in the Eucharist.  The girl is adoring the Host, but by being in a prostrate state of sacrificial love, she herself has become a host too.

In other words, it is in the Mass that you adore the Host (the sacrifice of Christ perpetuated through time) and then you become a host (a living sacrifice) by serving the poorest of the poor, the unborn, your own children, the rejected, or simply fulfilling your duties in faith and hope and love.

Although a living sacrifice is a terrifying thing from a Jewish point of view, it is our spiritual worship.  May we show our brothers and sisters that we can be people of both religion and love, as the Apostles believed 2000 years ago as they offered the Mass and served the orphans.

The dangers of nighttime taxis

traffic

Last night, at 10pm, I took a taxi from a restaurant here in India to the priest home near Bl. Mother Teresa’s “Motherhouse.”  As the taxi started, a dwarf jumped in my taxi, unannounced and uninvited.  He said to me “Hello, boss!” from his side in the back where we both were.   He immediately rolled his window and popped his head out as we barreled through traffic.  He began yelling at the extremely crowded Kolkata streets in Bengali, assumedly to get out of the way.  With his head out, standing up, he looked like an American cowboy hooting and hollering, stomping his feet in delight against the floor of the taxi.  The driver (at his chin) seemed rather to enjoy the raucous.  I did too, though I sadly wondered why I couldn’t live the quiet life of a parish priest for even one week.