This sermon is about Mount Tabor and the Transfiguration by way of the Sermon on the Mount and the countercultural calling of the Maccabean martyrs.
This is a talk I gave to the North Shore Latin Mass Society. It considers the historical, mystical and theological perspectives of the five sorrows of the Rosary.
Why do Christians keep the 10 Commandments but not the kosher laws of Leviticus? What do the Irish have to do with the Galatians of Turkey? This and more on today’s podcast.
I’m on the traditional calendar with an older “Divine Office.” But today, Pope Francis and every synod bishop in Rome should have read Malachi chapter one in their new Divine Office. It’s the Scripture readings that every priest has promised to pray on the day of his ordination. In Malachi 1, God Himself tells what He thinks about the priesthood, the worthiness of a sacrifice, divorce, and false-mercy becoming a mockery of God. If everyone at the synod has their mind made up (for better or for worse) then perhaps this is a last offer of unity…or even a last offer of mercy for those who would tamper with Scripture, timed impeccably by God, as always:
The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi: And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name? ’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you? ’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations…And this second thing you do: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
—Malachi 1:1-14, 2:13-16
God said “My name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised,” and “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence.” Combine these two and you have a clear injunction against sacrileging the altar of sacrifice with divorce-and-remarriage. And yet Pope Francis’ men are promoting open communion with the sole restriction being a false understanding of conscience. 1
But I mention Malachi 1 because I imagine God is still merciful to Pope Francis and the synod Fathers “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” But if they don’t listen, what would justice look like? Of course, God only wills the good of His children, but if we, His beloved children reject His hand, we also reject His protection. Justice entails losing God’s protection. Primarily, this would mean the loss of souls to Satan, especially if the Pope’s moral theology statements remain purposefully vague.
But there is something at the physical level, too. I am reminded that the number one goal of ISIS is not the destruction of the USA but the physical destruction of Rome. This is not some ultra-conservative doomsday prophesy. In fact, the best article I read on ISIS comes from the left-leaning Atlantic Magazine. Graeme Wood’s What Isis Really Wants has over half-million FB likes. Do a quick search for the word “Rome” in this article, and you will see that Rome appears 10 times. ISIS wants to destroy Rome. We need God’s protection. Now is no time to mock His doctrine or discipline on marriage. 2
No Pope or bishop can ever change God’s Word. Their job is to aid in the interpretation of Scripture in concert with Sacred Tradition. So when bishops conceal heresy with mercy, or give the theological wink-and-nod to kill consciences, Divine Justice is being tested. How are these men more merciful than Jesus who died for sinners like me? They’re not. They have overlooked the fact that there is no mercy without repentance. In a Vatican-approved apparition called Our Lady of La Salette, Mary said in 1846 to the French children: “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist.” Pope Pius IX approved and promoted this apparition.
I’m not saying we’re there yet. But I do know that Mary’s call to the faithful transcends this silly synod…just as timeless and infallible Catholic teaching transcends this synod, too. There will always be good bishops and bad bishops. We worship neither. That’s why it’s still awesome to be Catholic, regardless of certain bishops trying in vain to change Church teaching. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not worth reading any more news on the synod. Why get flustered? God will protect us from evil or from this evil He will bring good (and open schism would indeed be better than the current silent-smiley-schism.) Either way, Our Lady of La Salette showed us the way to Her Son:
Finally, I call on the Apostles of the Last Days, the faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, who have lived in scorn for the world and for themselves, in poverty and in humility, in scorn and in silence, in prayer and in mortification, in chastity and in union with God, in suffering and unknown to the world. It is time they came out and filled the world with light. Go and reveal yourselves to be my cherished children. I am at your side and within you, provided that your faith is the light which shines upon you in these unhappy days. May your zeal make you famished for the glory and the honor of Jesus Christ. Fight, children of the light, you, the few who can see.
The Archbishop of Chicago is theologically correct in his statement that conscience is “inviolable.” But if conscience itself can self-absolve from the grave sins he discussed in that link, then there is no longer a need for a Magisterium nor the sacrament of confession. Archbishop Cupich is not a party-crasher. He said: “I came here at the request of the Holy Father. In fact, I was not elected. I was appointed by the Pope to come here.” Although open communion will probably not be promoted explicitly next year by Pope Francis, the notion of “inviolable conscience” seems well on its way to replace (at least at the level of discipline if not doctrine) both the Scriptures and the Magisterium. It’s important to note that a post-synod statement is not to be considered ex-cathedra infallible nor considered to be articulated faith and morals of the ordinary Magisterium. Thus, although Pope Francis’ continued errors would not overturn the indefectibility promised by Christ to Peter in Matthew 16 regarding the Catholic Church, this would lead to an unprecedented loss of souls. We must pray for nothing short of conversion or intervention. Error has indeed been spoken. In May of 2013, Pope Francis preached at the Domus Santae Martae. While speaking of atheists at Mass, Pope Francis said: “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” By “there,” Pope Francis meant heaven. Hebrews 11:6 is very clear on belief and salvation. ↩
A faithful bishop from Poland attending the synod said: “Practically all are repeating that there will be no doctrinal change, but this is understood in different ways. For if you add to this first group that disciplinary changes are possible, this means, in practice, that doctrinal stability is being nullified. In my opinion one cannot speak of the separation of the practice of the Church from her doctrine, from her teachings. The two are inseparable. I have the impression that many supporters of this modernity, are in fact thinking about changing doctrine, yet calling it a change in Church discipline. It is a disturbing point in these discussions, for it is strongly emphasized: “we accept the entire doctrine”, but there immediately follows a suggestion that doctrine has nothing to do with it. This is greatly worrying me, for one and the other are saying that they want no change in doctrine. From where then, are arising these practices opposed to doctrine?”—Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, translation from Toronto Catholic Witness. ↩
A friend of mine who is a beautiful wife and mother of seven children was in a supermarket this week. A 50 year old man stopped her and then sarcastically asked her if she knew what “caused” having seven kids. She texted me about this and then added her and her husband’s thoughts on this:
Some days the world just wears you down and a part of you starts to feel like maybe you are a freak. Not just about having a lot of kids, but about everything. And then you realize you need to spend some time in adoration and start to once again see life through Jesus’ eyes and not the world’s. The world is so blind and hard-hearted that what is beautiful and sacred just can’t be comprehended by it.
Why is the world so hard-hearted to Christians today?
As I said earlier, it’s not because we’re being hateful on issues of sexuality. So why do Catholics constantly get mocked for following Christ and His Church in the silence of their homes? Is it because they’re secretly judging their neighbors and everyone feels it? Maybe…but I think today’s feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist can shed light on the psychology of the conviction of conscience.
Now, there’s a lot of Herods in the Bible but I want to consider Herod Antipas (20 BC-AD 40), the tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. He’s the one who mocked Jesus before His execution. He’s also the one who ordered John the Baptist’s death for having spoken out against his adulterous relationship.
Now, most Bible movies do a pretty good job at capturing the love/hate relationship between Herod and the Baptist because of this one very rich line in the Gospel: “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.”—Mark 6:20
I believe it was Earnest Hemingway, an unbeliever, who liked to travel the Deep South of the USA and listen to fire and brimstone homilies in Baptist Churches. Apparently it made him feel alive, or at least he heard these homilies “gladly.” This curiosity was also found in Herod.
But of the 2.5 million people populating first century Palestine, why would a somewhat-powerful governor like Herod move beyond curiosity towards the murder of a homeless man who had been calling him out for living with his brother’s wife? I mean, really—2.5 million people are silent about his adultery, and then one guy who is half-dressed in skins and eating crickets calls this magistrate out for a sexual sin many miles away on the Jordan River and Herod panics? What exactly got under Herod’s skin? Or better, what gets under Herodias‘ skin? The answer is that they secretly recognize John the Baptist as the mouthpiece of the one, true God they are running from.
As I wrote in a post called Mercy Killing of Consciences:
You see, if the final exterior agent of traditional Judeo-Christian belief (the Catholic Church) reflects the interior-but-objective, flickering, dying pilot light of your conscience that you’re trying to kill, then the Catholic Church is the one thing that is keeping your conscience alive…and you hate it. This is because long before rules were found in the catechism, they were found in your heart.
I know John the Baptist wasn’t a baptized Catholic, but killing John the Baptist was Herod trying to kill his own conscience, for Herod’s conscience was not created by Herod-himself in a relativistic way, but by God-Himself in an objective way.
That’s why Obama wants to stop the Little Sisters of the Poor in the HHS mandate . That’s why a 50 year old man in a supermarket harasses a young mother of seven. Both bullies know that that’s how they should have lived. If you think this is an exaggeration, then what other explanation would there be for them to go out of their way? It has to be personal conviction of conscience at how others silently live their lives for God:
“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us, and opposes our actions…the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange.”—Wisdom 2:12a, 15
I don’t know that supermarket stalker’s past, but statistically an American man of his age has already paid for one to two abortions, not to mention one or two dozen dead children from several decades of abortifacient-pills-induced sex. I don’t know this guy’s conscience, heart or past, but I’m just saying statistically this is the truth for an American male of his age. (Do the math if you want.) Of course he’s going to feel convicted by a Catholic woman who lived the way he should have. His conviction came out as sarcasm. Herodias’ came out as murder.
There’s only one truth of how humans should live, and it’s entirely found in the Catholic Church, so we should probably stop apologizing so much. Yes, it’s true that we Catholics lost a lot of credibility in the priest scandals of the past 50 years that destroyed so many lives, and for that we do need to keep apologizing. But the Truth remains on walking billboards like my friend in the supermarket. She and many others are heroes and white martyrs of marriage, like John the Baptist was a hero of marriage carrying his red martyrdom in the picture above. They’re both formidable Marriage Defenders: one married, and one celibate.
I wasn’t so clear on this at first. Yesterday, I texted my friend back that I would have punched that a** in the face if I had been there in King Soopers.
Later, I realized that creeping behind that broken old creeper’s sarcasm was probably a hunger and even sadness for the family he had contracepted away. In the face of such brokenness and/or hostility (only God knows) it can still make us wonder how to act. Here’s my suggestion: Catholics are not called to act like weird-o-cult people who act strange in order to appear holy. But we are called to live normal, fun lives in a way that seeks Christ fully, especially in the Eucharist and in the daily Rosary. Doing simply that may make others say of us: “The very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others.”
Once we boldly but humbly accept the fact that our manner of life is unlike that of others, then it’s easy “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”—Titus 3:2-5
When I think of angels in adoration of the Blessed Trinity, I think of how the angels´ adoration is: cosmic, undulating, unified to an inter-galatic degree of gyrating glory, power, light and effusion.
Then I wonder: How could I praise God like that? Hands up? Sing louder? Better music? Everything except the Mass actually comes up short in reality, and even then the full glories of the Mass are not known except to a few saints, this side of the veil.
Why exactly are we left in dust and ashes on earth while the angels know quite easily how to orbit God in weightless joy, combined with all the weight of glory?
The answer is pilgrimage. This is all training to praise God like that. St. Therese wrote, “The world’s thy ship, and not thy home.”
If you remember from the last pilgrimage entry, we have to face the giants of the Canaanite tribes in order to get into the Promised Land. These giants are real-live demons threatening the New Covenant. As formidable opponents, we find a third of the angels fell before we were even conceived. Before that, their level of glory was pre-determined by God. As their slots are now open, it is the glory of men and women to fill into higher and higher places of glory in heaven. But this won´t be based on who shot the best laser-beams at the DC Talk show.
Our level of glory in heaven (1 Cor 15:40-43) will be determined by our level of suffering (Rom 8:17) lived with love (1 Cor 13.) That is, sacrifical love will determine how high of a slot of glory we take in heaven that literally used to be held by a fallen angel. We, however, will have our bodies within this new heavens and new earth.
Why did God ever let us get to this valley of tears? Well, we banished ourselves from the Garden by rebellion, but the angel guarding paradise with the flaming sword became not only a justice, but a mercy of God. The return plan would take 4,000 years, but God is faithful. Now we are in that time which “many prophets and righteous people longed to see…but they didn’t see.” (Mt 13:17) Yes, we were sent out on an adventure by Our Father—one which can now be lost with the most serious of consequences—but He gave us His only Son as the companion for every step of the journey. The journey where? Home. That’s where praise will be uninterrupted if we pass this gauntlet of a training phase.
This great departure and return has been called by St. Thomas Aquinas the Exitus and Reditus, the exit and the return to God. It’s a giant circle that is dangerous and fun. It is called by St. Maximilian Kolbe “Separation” and then “Union.” Either way, both show that we were set out on an adventure, a journey-quest, sent by God Our Father, with Jesus our brother to walk with us. The goal? Make it back home alive in a land of dangerous giants. Why must we leave home? Because our first dad, Adam, chose to leave home and chose death. Home was life. The pilgrimage was death. But the pilgrimage was transformed into life by the Second Person of the Trinity becoming a human.
By the incarnation of the Divine Word, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus turned the pilgrimage into the beginning of life (and fun) if we walk it with Him. We are the prodigal, pilgrim sons and daughters. Our family (human beings) had to leave the garden and now we learn how to fight for love.
The phrase “Our kids are on loan from God” may be over-used among certain families, but I remember that the first time I heard it. I was blessed because the family who said it really, really meant it. I was stunned at the sincerity of the parents who told me that. It was during my first year of priesthood. After Mass, I asked this family about their kids, and the parents said: “We know that they’re just on loan from God.” Perhaps that philosophy is the greatest medicine against the “cult of the child” that can fester a skewed adoration of one lone child. It’s also great medicine against the opposite “We had a child to fulfill our emotional need” syndrome. Both parenting techniques will lead the poor kid to a psychologist’s chair by the age of 14.
But if the kids are on loan from God, then the one goal is: heaven… not Harvard, not Yale, not Wall Street. Why would God trust anyone with the precious souls He has created? This is the mystery of responsibility, how our actions have eternal outcomes. But also we have to recognize the great mystery of the exitus and reditus of pilgrimage here. The child goes forth (exitus) from her Origin (God.) Then, the parents’ job is one: Return (reditus) the child to her true Origin. This is why God is Father as no man is father. This giant circle is the pilgrimage of earth, and we have to get as many home safely as possible.
St. Augustine wrote “God promised eternal salvation, everlasting happiness with the angels, an immortal inheritance, endless glory, the joyful vision of His face, His holy dwelling in heaven, and after resurrection from the dead: no further fear of dying…He wanted, through His Son, to show us and give us the Way that He would lead us to the goal He has promised…It was not enough for God to make His Son our guide to the way; He made Him the Way itself, that you might travel with him as leader, and by Him as the Way.”
Thus, the glory on this earth will not feel like an angels´s spreading of the six-wings. Rather, it will feel like the arms stretched on a cross.
This is a series not on my current pilgrimage, but on the Theology of Pilgrimage. A priest-friend from Denver once said to me: “Pilgrimage isn’t just another analogy for the Christian life. Pilgrimage is the reality of the Christian life.” That may not sound too profound at first, but the more I meditated on the Old and New Testament, the more I realized that every book of the Bible fulfilled these words. It is no wonder that he had walked the Camino a few times.
I’m in Spain now, but when I wrote this post, I was flying from India to Spain. Flying over the Red Sea, I look at the computer map of our location and I notice we’re directly south of the spot where Moses miraculously crossed with half a million Hebrews.
That was 3300 years ago. As I look through the plane window, I see the most majestic, mysteriously-straight clouds lighly separating me from the greatest Old Testament miracle. I can even see the shores of the sea that God miraculously parted at the lifting of the hands of Moses…and then closed upon the armies of Egypt.
So, I have to wonder: Why did God have the Israelites wander in the desert for so long before getting them to the promised land? Of course, Scripture is clear it was a punishment for rebellion. But there was also something to be learned within the pilgrimage: It was to divest Israel from treating Adonai like another addictive-idol.
The book Grace and Addiction, although written by a non-Catholic, has an important commentary about loving God in freedom:
Full and freely chosen love for God requires searching and groping. What would happen to our freedom if God, our perfect lover, were to appear before us with such objective clarity that all our doubts disappeared? We would experience a kind of love, to be sure, but it would be love like a reflex. Almost without thought, we would fix all our desires upon this Divine Object, try to grasp and possess it, addict ourselves to it. I think God refuses to be an object for attachment because God desires full love, not addiction. Love born of true freedom, love free from attachment, requires that we search for a deepening awareness of God, just as God freely reaches out to us.—Grace and Addiction by Gerald May, p. 94
This is the theology of pilgrimage: What it takes people of every vocation to die in sanctifying grace so as to experience the beatific vision. It’s not all pain, but we’re going to see how detachment is God’s surgery in our life to remove idols of comfort so that He can have us behold Him forever.
In the next sections released on Saturdays (if I can find hostels with computers so as to write posts as I trek across Spain) we’re going to explore this detachment, this journey and the final destination.