Living in the Gaze of Christ

One of the dangers of familiarity with certain stories is that since they are so familiar, our ears can grow deaf to the small details within the narrative. I think that today’s Gospel is one of those familiar stories. And it is precisely one of the easy-to-miss details from today’s Gospel that gives us key insight into the Season of Lent, the process of conversion, and the Joy which the Church invites us into on this 4th Sunday of Lent. 

Read again the first two sentences of the Gospel:

“As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. 
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

In between those two sentences is something important for us to pray with, especially during this season of penance and conversion.

Jesus is looking so intently at the man that the disciples notice. The gaze that Christ is looking at the man with must be familiar to the disciples, because they can already tell what Jesus is going to do. They ask Jesus about the sin that brought blindness on the man, which indicates that they are expecting Jesus to heal him. Think of the healing of the Paralytic: Jesus forgives his sins and he is healed. 

The way Christ looks at the man is unique and telling. Surely the disciples recognize that same Gaze from the way Christ looked at each and every one of them as He called them to follow him.

I think that if St. Mark were recounting this story, he might have included the same description of Jesus’s gaze that he did when Jesus encountered the rich young man. St. Mark told us that Jesus “looked at him with Love.”

Jesus looks at this blind man before the blind man even knows he’s there. Jesus looks at him with love and the intention to heal him before the blind man even knows that healing, that sight, is possible.

The beginning of this man’s movement from blindness to sight has its beginning – not in the man crying out, not in the disciples bringing the man to Jesus or someone asking Jesus to prove Himself – no – the blind man’s movement from darkness to light begins with the tender gaze of Love which only the incarnate God can give. 

Our joy as Christians comes from living in that Gaze – from being looked at by the God who cries out to each and every one of us: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead…”

Every movement toward the Light starts with God – God loved us first! Do we remember that Gaze? Do we spend time trying to just be there, in the tender gaze of Love that God looks at us with? Or do we run from that Gaze? Do we hide out of feelings of unworthiness or guilt?

The story of the blind man is somewhat easy to relate to, because it is the story of each one of us. The Church reminds us what that Gaze was like and calls us back to it, here in the middle of Lent and in this strange time of COVID-19.

The basic movements of the story are: the blind man encounters Jesus, Jesus acts decisively to begin his healing and sends him to Siloam, the man is healed and begins to testify, to witness to the people around him about his healing and the one who brought that healing about.

Each and every Christian has had some sort of encounter with Jesus. In even small and subtle ways each of us has felt his tender loving gaze break into our darkness, our sin, and give us a hope we did not have before. It’s possible that we don’t remember what is was like, maybe we haven’t felt that gaze in years, or maybe we think that the Lord has never looked at us like that. This time of silence and isolation is a perfect time to return to the Lord, spending time with Him to remember and feel that tender gaze of Love again, perhaps for the first time in an intentional way.

After that initial encounter, Jesus worked to remove our blindness – our self-absorption, our isolation, the loneness of our sin. And He called us to wash in a pool – a pool named “sent.” This pool that Jesus sends the blind man to has often been interpreted in the Tradition of the Church as a foreshadowing of Baptism. Jesus is the one who is sent from the Father – the man washes in the pool of the “Sent One,” we have washed in the waters of Baptism. Our eyes were opened, we were given the light which is Life in Christ. 

After this encounter and healing, we went out to proclaim and witness to what Jesus did in our lives to a world which does not always accept and does not want to believe in Jesus.

And we are blessed even more to spiritually accompany the Catechumens of the Church on this very same journey during this time of Lent: they have encountered Christ, have felt his loving Gaze and have been sent by Him to the waters of Baptism – and even now, but more fully later – they give witness to what Jesus has done in their lives – and we thank God for that.

All of that being said, we all know too well how easy it can be to go back into the darkness – to become blinded again. And this is what we are invited to reflect on during Lent. Because in our lives we can often be the blind man again – and so Jesus continues to invite us back – to send us again to Baptismal purity through the Sacrament of Penance. And we begin again to proclaim Him. 

This is certainly a source of great joy! That God’s mercy is not just extended once, but extended to us every time we are willing to allow Jesus to work in our lives – over and over until we no longer want to return to the darkness and blindness of our sin, but simply desire to sit and live in that tender and loving Gaze with which He looks at each one of us (this is truly the joy of Heaven).

So today, we are invited to return to that first and crucial moment in our lives of faith. The tender gaze of Christ is the foundation of our entire lives as Christians. And it must be this gaze, the love of God, that motivates and purifies every aspect of our lives! All of our penance, all of our good works and prayer find their true source in that experience of Love, which enlightens and heals us, which brings us into Light.

This strange time that we live in is also a blessed opportunity to spend time praying with God about the way he looks at you. Pray about that moment you first felt His tender gaze calling you to Himself, and the ways in which you experience that gaze here and now. Rooted in that tender, powerful gaze, we will be able to see clearly what God asks of us, what in our lives gets in the way or tries to darken our vision of Him and we will learn the Joy which is properly Christian, the Joy of knowing and experiencing a God who loves us more than we could possibly know. 

The Night I Saw Jesus Healing

A couple weeks ago, some of my seminarian brothers and I made an evangelization mission trip to one of our local universities. Our purpose was quite simple – to provide an encounter with the ever-living and supremely loveable God revealed in Jesus Christ. Sure, it sounds like a tall order, but when we realize that the Blessed Trinity is always laboring to love us, it’s not that complex of an endeavor. 

At any rate, the culminating event of our time at the university was a Night of Healing led by some of our diocesan priests, accompanied by several talented musicians to lead us in songs of praise and worship. There were also several religious sisters in addition to the seminarians who served as intercessors for those seeking prayers for healing. The format of the evening was fairly straightforward. We would begin with a song, followed by a Gospel reading and homily, and then folks would line-up to receive prayer from the priests. While this was taking place, the musicians would lead us in song. I thought it all sounded pretty simple.

Now, during the days leading up to this event the seminarians had chatted with and prayed with nearly 300 students on campus. We had even accompanied a man back from total unbelief in Jesus to a profound encounter with the risen Lord which reignited his faith and led him to a peace he hadn’t experienced in a very long time. So, I had thought we had seen some extraordinary healing already taking place, but when the Night of Healing came, I was totally blown away. 

In that chapel, there were over a hundred people seeking the Lord’s healing touch. I don’t know the specifics, but I’m sure there were folks suffering from everything from various aches and pains, to anxiety and depression, to more serious illnesses and disease – not to mention the incessant spiritual maladies we all bring with us. While each of them came forward, the priests would lay hands upon them and simply invite the Holy Spirit to come upon them. In that time of prayer, God alone knows what took place in the hearts of His children. 

It was immediately after these people received prayer that I saw the greatest healing take place. I presumed after the time of prayer, most folks would move on with their evening and head back home. Instead, what happened? Most people stuck around for nearly two hours singing their praises and giving glory to God. For many, they truly worshiped God with a real sacrifice of praise. There were even a handful of people who stuck around for nearly five hours giving praise and thanks to God. It was in this that I saw the greatest healing taking place – the healing of the wounded and broken human heart. 

In fact, in this act of praise and worship, the primordial wound of our humanity was being healed. From the Fall of our first parents until our own time, the greatest wound in the human heart is to doubt God’s goodness and love for His creation. We doubt God as loving Father. We doubt His faithfulness to His promises. It is precisely in this that humanity was tempted to sin in the first place. Nonetheless, in the very act of praise and worship (through the grace of God, of course) the human heart is able to firmly declare the goodness of God in Himself and His steadfast love for humanity. To put it simply, praise and worship says “God is God, I am not. He is faithful and true, even when I am not. He is loving and merciful, even when I cannot forgive.” In a word, praise and worship heals the human heart because it restores us to a proper relationship to the God who fully reveals Himself in Jesus Christ – transcendent and immanent, God and man, crucified and risen. 

All of this really came to a climax when I went to Mass on the following Sunday. In the Gospel (Luke 17:11-19), we heard Jesus healing the ten lepers, sending them to the priests, and then one returning to Jesus to give thanks to God. At first glance, it seems like a nice story of Jesus healing ten sick people – perhaps what I was first looking to see at the Night of Healing. 

But what happens next? Jesus sends them to the priests. Why? So that they could be once again declared clean so that they could resume public worship – to give glory to God; that is, so they could be restored to proper relationship to God. Then the lone foreigner, a Samaritan, returns to Jesus to give thanks to God. Jesus replies: “Your faith has saved you.” Another word for “saved” here could also be translated as “healed.” Thus, what was it that healed the Samaritan leper and regained for him the ability to worship? His faith in God’s goodness and the faithfulness displayed by Jesus. His only response, in turn, was praise and thanksgiving. 

While I may not have seen lepers healed before my eyes during the Night of Healing (though I’m sure some physical healing took place), I certainly witnessed faith being restored by Christ so that broken hearts could once again sing praise in order to worship the all good God.

For that, I give my own praise and thanksgiving.

Jesus, you are so good.  

The Harrowing of Holy Week

I know this is a little late, but we’re still in the Easter season, so (at least for me) I think that it’s important to reflect on the most sacred time in our Catholic Faith.

This was my first Holy Week as a priest, which was exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Holy Week, from as early as I can remember, is one of my favorite times of the year (I guess if we are excluding Christmas)!  As a seminarian it is an especially joyful and exciting time; being able to follow the bishop around and help serve at the different masses and liturgical services is really beautiful.

I had a tough Lent this year. Long hours sitting in the confessional, turmoil with some of my relationships and my ever-continuing battle with sin made for a desert journey of sorts through Lent. So I was looking forward to Holy Week to bring that crazy Lent to a close and rejoice with the Resurrection and the beautiful liturgies of Holy Week.

The day of the Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, I spent the day with some good friends of mine before the Mass that would begin around 9pm. For some reason there was something that was just irking me all day long; something that made me feel anxious and unsettled. While I was with my friends I was irritated and anxious in a place which usually gives me peace and relaxation. As I was leaving my friends’ house, I recognized that it was simply the devil attempting to steal my peace and joy (which he was partially successful in doing). First I acknowledged that, then I tried to gear myself up to celebrate the Easter Vigil liturgy.

This lack of peace and anxiety continued well into the liturgy until I came to the point where I was to sing the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet). The Exsultet is a long chanted song that beautifully recounts the great deeds of the Lord during the events of the His passion and Resurrection. As I was singing this ancient hymn, there was a beautiful, almost cathartic, movement within myself as I proclaimed the power of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, the King of Kings, and the conqueror of Death! My singing of that hymn was me telling the world, “I choose you Jesus Christ and I reject the lies and temptations of the evil One!” And I began to sing this song as a prayer:

“Let all corners of the earth be glad knowing an end to gloom and darkness (I can rejoice because Jesus has brought light and life to me)!”

“Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father and pouring out his own dear blood wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness (Jesus wiped out the sin that would bring me to hell, and gave me a chance to choose him).”

“This is the night when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld!”

Christ has already conquered the evil one, there is no battle left to fight but my choice to live and follow Him. Jesus conquered sin, broke its power over humanity and has given us an opportunity to live in His love. My singing the Exsultet was as if Jesus ripped the Devil’s dirty fingers off of my restless heart and pounded him with a sledge hammer straight back to Hell! I know that my Redeemer lives and that he has saved me from a miserable life as a slave to sin.

That is what this Easter Season is about. “Let the trumpet of Salvation sound aloud our Mighty King’s Triumph!”resurrection2007

“What can you do?”

On John 6: 30-35

When someone is trying to sell us something, the natural questions that arise go along the lines of, “why do I need this?” “how will it improve my life?” “how much does it cost?” All of these questions really hinge on the essential question: what can it do?

What an item does for us is of supreme importance, because it determines how much we value it. Our value determination regulates our investment in something, and therefore has an effect on our lives to a varying degree.

What an interesting thing, then, that in the Gospel of John the crowd asks Jesus: “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do (6:30 NAB)?” A better translation of that word “do” in this situation might be “perform” (RSV), but the point remains. The crowd treats Jesus like he is selling something, like the life he is proposing is some sort of diet or life advice. “Ya, the Bread of Life and the Kingdom is cool and all, but what can you do for me?”

But the point is not about the doing. It’s about who Jesus is not what he does. In fact, the crowd betrays themselves when they immediately follow their question with a Scriptural passage: “As it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” They’ve missed the point.

They are focused on the giving, the doing. What they’ve missed is that the bread was given to them and was sustenence precisely because it was from heaven. What matters is what it is, secondary is what it does.

This is even more so the case with Jesus. Often, we approach Jesus just like we would a salesman who’s selling a nice car or computer. “I’ve heard what you’re giving has done great things for people.” “The commands you’ve given have really helped a lot of people, maybe they can help me.” “If I live according to your commands and prohibitions, maybe you will give me what I ask for in prayer, or better yet, maybe if I give you some of my Sundays, you’ll let me into heaven.” It’s a subtle game of constantly asking the Lord, “What can you do?”

Jesus, however, both sees through our foolishness and desires to actually do so much more. His response is simple. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst (6:35 NAB).” What matters first is who Jesus is. What he does is not there to convince us to join his feel-good club, it’s a direct result of who he is. Jesus calls us to himself, and it’s when we are in relationship with the Son of God that we expirence the effects of his presence in our lives.

Especially in our consumeristic society where we use people and love things, Jesus is calling us to first love people (first of all God) and from that relationship, things are done. We need to constantly assess how we respond to the proposal Christ is making to us so that our response is not “what can you do?” but rather, “who are you?” Because in the end, the thing that gives any credibility to the claims Jesus makes and the miracles he performs is that he is the Son of God. If he wasn’t that, then anything he did or performed simply doesn’t matter.

If Jesus is the Son of God, then his very being demands the totality of ours. That’s what the crowd doesn’t understand. This is not just another teacher or miracle worker, this is Someone who is totally unique at the level of his being. Belief preceeds the miracles. Assent to who he is comes before he does anything “for” you.

The question the crowd should have asked is the same question we should ask. Not “what can you do?” but “who are you?” The second answers the first.

You are Jesus

This past week, eight of my seminarian brothers and I had the opportunity to go to the University of Saint Francis for an evangelization trip. Our mission was simple: to facilitate an encounter between Jesus Christ and the students at USF.

How did we go about doing this? We were armed with nothing more than our baptismal identity as sons of the Father and the anointing of our confirmation as soldiers for Christ. Many of you reading this probably have the same gifts dwelling within you; that is, the indwelling presence of the Most Blessed Trinity.

Think about it, by nature of your baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist, God dwells totally in you and makes you a member of the Body of Jesus Christ. Thus, you and I are Jesus really present in the world.

This fact should give us great fortitude and fearlessness in witnessing to the Christian event. No matter the trial, setback, or failure, you and I are always children of the Father and members of the Body of Christ. Further, because the human person was created by God and for God, there is a deep yearning within the human condition that longs to be in communion with God. As such, the Christian is the tangible Body of Christ which must bring about the communion of humanity with God.

In our experience at USF, we found this to be the lived reality. In the course of two days, we met somewhere between 200-300 students. After engaging with them on a very human level about their own life and experiences, we then proposed the basic kerygma and invited them to pray with us. Repeatedly, this led to either a reconsideration of the Faith, a return to its practice, or an overwhelming gratitude for our presence; that is, Christ’s presence. In a word, when folks encounter Christ, they experience a transformative fulfillment which satisfies a yearning from very root of their created nature.

It’s a fulfillment for which all creation yearns – and you are Jesus.

Be not afraid to cast out into the deep!

Jesus wants to heal you

Do you actually believe that? Or is that phrase simply some kind of pious sentiment. In the course of our lives we have all experienced suffering to one degree or another. However, when that suffering becomes prolonged and shows very few signs of progress, it is very easy to become disheartened and doubtful. In fact, it becomes very easy to doubt whether God actually does want to heal our broken bodies and wounded souls. Even the most stouthearted saints like Therese of Lisieux began to feel the overwhelming darkness and extraordinary feelings of isolation from God when enduring the trials of tuberculosis. 

So, let’s take a deeper look at the meaning of healing – does Jesus actually want to heal us?

To start – what does it mean to be healed? In the biblical world, to be healed means to be made whole or to be saved. In fact, the Gospel writers often use the same word to indicate both healing and saving. It is interesting to note, though, that not every one who encountered Christ in the Gospels was physically cured. However, Christ did desire for them all to be saved and in this way He truly did desire to heal all those encountered. Unfortunately, some did not recognize the healing presence of Christ in their midst. I think this is the case with most of us when it comes to the Lord’s healing presence. 

According to John Paul II, healing is the Healer, Jesus Christ.

In his encyclical Redemptoris missio, St. John Paul II pointed out the following:

“Jesus implies that the message of salvation is in fact himself: “Since the ‘Good News’ is Christ, there is an identity between the message and the messenger, between saying, doing and being”

In other words, the message of healing and salvation is not primarily found in the external act of having particular ailments cured of infirmity, but rather in the communion with the One who is salvation Himself. It is from this source alone that our bodies and souls can actually be restored to health.

To use a striking example, let’s recall the story of the ten lepers in the Gospel of Luke 17:11-19. Take a second to check it out and recall the story here. What happens in the story? Ten lepers, the most outcast of society and in extraordinary pain, approached the Lord and begged for His pity. I’m sure it’s a familiar place we have all been – looking for anything that will help and begging the Lord for mercy. What happens next is the incredible part of the story and exemplifies total healing. While all ten of the lepers were cured of their leprosy, only one was totally healed – the one who returned to Jesus, fell at His feet, and gave thanks. In response to this, what does Jesus say? “Your faith has saved you.” 

Here are the takeaways from this little pericope. 

First, all of us our broken and wounded in our humanity. We all need healing and saving. Like the ten lepers, there is no shame in begging the Lord for His mercy. In fact, this is absolutely what we should so. Along with this, though, we must be especially disposed to receive the Lord’s healing in whatever way He chooses to give it. While the nine lepers saw their physical maladies cured, only one saw the source of the healing and returned to be in communion with Christ. In this way, he was totally reintegrated in both body and soul. He received total healing – salvation.

And how did he receive this healing? Jesus said it was through his faith. Faith is the source of our healing. It gives us eyes to see the presence of Christ in our midst so that we can enter into communion with him. For it is in communion with Christ that we are led to the vision of the Father, which is heaven. To put it simply, without Christ there is no healing. With Him, there is always healing – for He is healing itself. 

In sum, there is no human condition which Christ does not want to heal. He truly desires to bring all woundedness and brokenness into communion with Himself. This is the very nature of His life and ministry. By nature of the Incarnation He brought our broken humanity to Himself, and through the mystery of His Cross He conquered death and brought about eternal life through His resurrection. In so doing, there is now no area of human life which is exempt from His presence – from His healing. The key, I believe, to receiving this healing is found in that great gift of faith which allows us to see Christ’s presence pervading every aspect of our lives. It draws us into communion with Him and will inevitably allow us to see the finality of our healing according to the eternal horizon of heaven. 

So does Jesus want to heal you?

Ask Him.

I believe He’s already in the process. 

The Universal Language: The Person of Jesus Christ​

“The shutting up of oneself in this inner fortress of isolation, which exists secretly even in the most jovial joiners of clubs, is proof of narrowness, limitation, even stupidity. For it presupposes a certain egocentric attitude toward the world and God. The man who has been melted by the sun of values, and above all the man who has been wounded by the love of Christ, is also lovingly open to every man and has entered into the objective unity of all. Yes, this ultimate true spirit of communion, the universal disposition to love, and the life in the ultimate loving “We,” is only possible as a fruit of the ultimate “I-Thou” communion with Christ, through which we are transfigured into Christ. Every attempt to achieve this “We” without Christ leads to a superficially anchored pseudo-communion.”

Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Liturgy and Personality

Given some of the unique opportunities that have presented themselves to me by my being a student in Rome, I have been recently reflecting on the beauty of the universal Church and the light of Jesus Christ in my own life and the life of the world. What I have come to find is that the measure of community that we experience is intimately tied to our relationship with Christ.

For Christians, no meeting is mere chance, everything works, in the end, for God’s glory. My travels of late have taken me to three different nations. In each one, I have found that it is my relationship with Christ, more than any human language I know (or not know), that makes true communion and intimacy with others possible. Yes, it is true that on some basic human level, we are all able to connect. However, that connection, that intimacy, is deepened in unimaginable ways when people are striving for intimacy with the Lord.

For the years I am blessed to spend here in the Eternal City I am not able to return home for Christmas. Therefore, this year was the first Christmas I have ever spent away from home. I did not really have any particular expectations of what this would be like; I knew it would be hard, but so is being away for the major part of five years. I decided to go to England for a few days around Christmas, and so I cannot help but recall that great quote of Chesterton:

“Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised.”

-G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

And gloriously surprised I was. I stayed with a friend at a lovely parish where we were able to serve Mass and enjoy fraternity with two other priests and the pastor. On Christmas day I was tasked with cooking the meal. In proper English fashion, the meal looked like American Thanksgiving. I just found myself struck by the fact that all five of us were from different parts of the world, and yet, here we were speaking and living as though we were old friends. We had met each other just a day earlier, yet our mutual love of Jesus Christ gave us an infinite communion to share.

After returning from England with a quick stop (just long enough to do my laundry and see the New Year’s fireworks of Rome), I was headed off to Corsica, France. Here, some friends and I were staying at a pilgrim house for a few days. Honestly, I once again had no idea what to expect. And once again, I was gloriously surprised by Christ. The sisters had sent a woman (a friend of the convent that has the pilgrim house) to pick us up from the port and bring us up to the house for the first time.

The sunset on Corsica

When we were walking up to the exit from the port, we saw a woman whose smile widened as we appeared. She asked us (in French) if we were seminarians. Luckily, the word in Italian, French, and English are close enough that we knew to say yes to the question. From that moment on, she poured out her love on us in helping us navigate the city, driving us to Mass, and praying holy hours with us. For four days we shared a large chunk of time with this woman, some of the days there was another guest who knew some English and could translate, other days not. For the entirety of the time, we were still able to communicate because we spent our time communicating about something we held in common: Jesus Christ.

Lastly, a random opportunity presented itself this last weekend (I had written this post before, but didn’t like it, so I waited to rewrite it. While waiting this happened, so…the Lord wins again). I was asked by a fellow seminarian to fill in for him for a Mass that he had been asked to serve. I said yes (for some of the guys its finals season here while mine does not start until next week) becasue I was free.

Here in Rome, there have been plenty of holy happenings (and not holy happenings, but that’s a different story) over its 3000ish year history. One moment of Grace was the appearance of our Lady to a man in the Church Sant’ Andrea delle Fratte. Every year since our Lady inspired this man’s conversion to the Catholic and Apostolic Faith, she is celebrated at the altar where she appeared.

It was this Mass that I was asked to serve. The place has a special place in my heart as St. Maximilian Kolbe celebrated his first Mass there too. When we arrived, to our surprise, we were asked who was going to MC the Mass. When no one volunteered, I did (I have done it before, but not often enough to jump at the opportunity). Why did we hesitate you ask? Because the Mass was being celebrated by the Cardinal Archbishop of Genoa, that’s why.

I told the priest who was coordinating everything that I knew how to do it but that I don’t speak Italian well, so I wasn’t sure if he really wanted me to do it. He just smiled and said it would be fine. Thus began a night of real grace as I got to be right by the side of the Cardinal for two hours. What struck me most was this man’s love for Christ and his deep calm and prayer. He is a man in love with Jesus Christ. It was peaceful. We did not exchange much, just some simple small talk afterward, but having stood next to him while he prayed the Eucharistic Prayer and noticing the ease with which we communicated throughout the Mass, I could not help but be once again struck by this intimate communion through Jesus.

This post begins with a quote from one of my favorite books of all time, Liturgy and Personality. In it, Dietrich Von Hildebrand lays out a vision of the Liturgy that challenges one to embrace the veil of mystery and through that embrace to catch a glimpse of the reality. His view of the community formed through the Church’s Liturgy is a great description of what I have attempted to express here: that the closer each one of us is to the God-Man Jesus Christ, the closer we will be to each other. Any attempt to grow closer to each other that is not directed towards intimacy with Christ is folly, and at best will keep us at the same distance away from Him, while at worst it will take us far from Him. I have attempted to sketch it:

What transcends all peoples, all languages, and all cultures without destroying anything that is good in them, what actually enables us to be united with each other in a real spirit of respect and good will, what actually brings peace into the world is Jesus Christ. Any attempt at union or communication without Him is folly, and at worst utter madness. Our desire for unity and community should always be directed towards Him, and if it is, it will bear much fruit.

What I have described is nothing more than the life of the Church and what God wills for each one of us. It is the love of Christ which enables us to love each other, and that is somehting that knows no limits and is not restricted to any one human language.

“What really matters in life is that we are loved by Christ and that we love Him in return. In comparison to the love of Jesus, everything else is secondary. And, without the love of Jesus, everything is useless.”

-St. Pope John Paul II

In Defense of Ordinary Time

Moving back to Ordinary Time after spending the last month or so reflecting on the mystery of the Incarnation and the Second Coming is always shocking in a sense. The parties are over, the lights are down, and here we are, returning to our regular schedules of work and study. This year was great because we had a full week between the Ephipany and the Baptism of the Lord. In fact, its because of this that I felt inclined to reflect on Ordinary Time.

Three things are worth considering: 1) the color green, 2) the ending of the Gospel from the Saturday before the Baptism as a guide for understanding Ordinary Time, 3) the goal of the Christian Life: the divinisation of Man and its relation to the name of the season.

First, green. I love talking about this color, mainly because I never recieved a satisfying answer about it as a kid and once I found one I was so happy (call it my thurst for knowledge taking revenge on ignorance, or just call it a mild OCD, whichever). Anyway, apart from a sad attempt at self-deprecating humor, green is important: it serves as a constant reminder of the nature of Ordinary Time. The best way I’ve come up with to explain this is the example of the Wizard of Oz.

A common misconception is that Oz is green because it is wealthy and ostentatious. I disagree. I argue that it is green because green is the color of hope and fidelity. Oz is Dorthy’s only hope, and she has to remain fixed on it as her end if she is going to get there. The green of Ordinary Time reminds us every time we see it that we have our own “Emerald City,” that place that is our hope: the life of the Trinity. And it is through fidelity to the Person of Christ that we journey onward to it.

The difference in our case is that instead of having a vague idea of a mysterious city that we’ve never been to or heard of before this journey, our journey is in and through a concrete experience of a Person, the God-Man Jesus Christ… but that’s a whole different reflection.

Second, it hit me just this year in the hearing of the Gospel on the Saturday before the Feast of the Baptism. The best guide for what to do with Ordinary Time is found in the words of John the Baptist: He must increase, I must decrease. We get to spend considerable amounts of time each liturgical year reflecting on the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. Obviously, those are of the highest importance as they are central to the Christian Life. However, I think there is immense value in spending a substantial amount of time simply living with the Lord. 

The Baptism of Jesus, Church of St. John the Baptist
Bastia, Corsica, France

This living with the Lord in the ordinary (not the play on words I’m looking for, see below) is the way in which the mysteries take on their power in our lives and transform us. If Christians needed a campaign slogan to quickly explain themselves, I think the words of John the Baptist pretty much sum it up. Which leads us to the next point.

Third, if you’ve ever found yourself in Mass and super distracted (I’ve never met a Catholic who is completely foreign to this experience) the thought may have crossed your mind, “what am I doing here right now?” (in these or similar words) With eyes to see, Ordinary Time is giving you an answer.

The Name: Jesus Christ came to order our lives and our love in response to the disorder caused by sin. Ordinary Time is “ordered” time, a time that is arranged. While I don’t think the connection is intuitive, after all the Latin directly reads something like “time through the year,” there is wisdom in the English term, because it expresses what is understood to take place in this time. The process of conversion and conformation to Christ takes time and it requires us to allow him to reorder us, or rather, put us back in order.

Divinization: This year it struck me that Ordinary Time begins after the Baptism of the Lord (it does every year). I do not want to go into interpreting the meaning of the Baptism, rather I just simply want to draw the connection that our own life of conformity to Christ began at our Baptism. What a powerful yearly reminder of the call we received. And if we submit ourselves to the life of the Church as it is lived properly in each distinct season, we find a beautiful unpacking of the mystery of the gift that Baptism is and what God has done for us, all accomplished through faith in Jesus Christ.

This short, awkward time between Christmas and Lent is not just an afterthought or some sort of attempt to “fill in the time” with something as we await a new mystery to unpack in prayer with the Lord. It’s a renewed call to a relationship which reorders us, a call to realize the hope that Christ brings in His Incarnation, fulfilled in his Death and Resurrection, and has its beginning in the very mystery which brought us to Him: Baptism.

3 Gifts Point to the Cross

Why is the feast of the Epiphany such a big deal? Are we simply celebrating the beginning of giving gifts at Christmas? All of the gifts of the wise men indicate some essential aspect of who Jesus Christ is and what role he will take in Salvation history. These gifts, I don’t doubt, were divinely inspired. As wise as these 3 men were, I doubt they had the supernatural vision to foresee what this little baby was going to become!

The first gift is a somewhat normal gift of homage and respect. Gold. This gift is indicative of the royalty and power that Jesus has.  And really, this was the main reason the magi visited Jesus in the first place: to pay their respects to the new KING! Jesus is the King of heaven and earth, so this gift of gold points to Christ’s kingly royalty.

The Second Gift, of Frankincense seems somewhat strange. Frankincense is a type of incense and during the time of Jesus was almost as precious as gold because of its importance. In the Jewish culture, incense was used by the high priests of the Temple to bless and make holy the sacrifices that would be offered to God in the sanctuary. As the smoke of the incense rose up into the air, it was symbolic of their prayers going up into heaven to God. The gift of Frankincense to Jesus foretold the fact that Jesus would be the Great High Priest and would offer the true sacrifice of himself on the cross. 

The Third gift, is even stranger than the second. Myrrh. Myrrh is an oil that was used to anoint the deceased body of someone as they are preparing for burial. Imagine how Mary and Joseph would have felt receiving this gift for their newborn son??? Why would their son need this? Did the wise men think he was sick or was going to die soon? No, it was foretelling the type of life Jesus was going to live – a life of self-sacrifice, death to selfish desires, and obedience to God the Father even to death. The gift of Myrrh was appropriate because Jesus’ greatest act on the earth was his death, and the oil of Myrrh was symbolic of this great gift. 

Even today, we give these same gifts to God through the Church: We fill our sanctuary with beautiful, golden gifts to point to Christ’s Royalty and to adorn his Church with beauty. On High feast days, we light incense and fill the Church with the beautiful smoke to make holy the sacrifice which is offered on the altar.  And we use holy oil to anoint those who are preparing for death in the Anointing of the sick, We anoint with oil those who are dying to their old ways of sin in baptism, and we anoint priests and bishops who will die to their selves in a deeper and true way in their ministry, no longer living for their own passions and desires, but conforming themselves to the life that Christ lived. 

We celebrate on Epiphany more than just 3 guys who went to visit Jesus to give him presents on his birthday. We celebrate a great Foreshadowing of who this small child will become, what he will do, and how he will bring life to each one of us. 

Why I still want to be a priest

A group of seminarians from Fort Wayne-South Bend who formally declared their intent to pursue Holy Orders

As 2018 came to an end, and we begin 2019, it was not a glamorous year for the priesthood. In fact, it was one of the most devastating, humiliating, and repulsive years for priests. Through the heinous and unconscionable actions of some clerics, simply wearing a Roman collar in public often gets stares as if I were an accomplice to a network of monstrous criminals. 

And in spite of it all – no, because of it all – I stillwant to be a priest. 

At its core, my vocation is singly centered on one thing – a friendship with Christ. Despite my weakness, sinfulness, and unworthiness, Christ reached down and chose me for His own in the waters of baptism. He has nourished me daily in the Eucharist, strengthened me with His Spirit in Confirmation, healed me with His anointing, and continues to bind up my wounds in the sacrament of penance. 

Friendship, at its deepest roots, changes everything. The experience of friendship is one of the most marvelous experiences of life. I would argue that it often goes beyond human expression. Just take a second and try to explain your best friendship to someone else. It’s pretty difficult, isn’t it? Yet – I do think we can say a few things about friendship.

First, friendship is a real experience borne out of an encounter. When we meet some one who becomes a friend, there is something remarkably different about that encounter. In the highest forms of friendship, the friend sees the other as more important than himself. A perfect example of this is the sacrificial nature of a husband and wife. At some point, both bride and groom recognize that the other was worth laying down their entire life. So, too, did the divine Bridegroom do for me. In spite of my infidelity and sinfulness, Christ still chose to befriend me – at the cost of His own life. 

Secondly, friendship is built upon trust and belief in the other. Once I knew the friendship of Christ, I started to take seriously His promises. While I could do anything with my life, it is hard for me not to be moved by Christ’s words in John 6:53: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” If this is true, and because of my friendship with Christ I believe it is, it seems that the fullness of life is inseparable from Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. In other words, without a priest, there is no Eucharist. And without the Eucharist, there is no life. 

This brings me to the final point of friendship – it is life-giving and inviting. Friends, rather than becoming isolated from others, display a certain joy that is full of life and inviting. So, too, with Christ. His friendship has called me out of the darkness of my sin, filled me with the warmth of His love, and given me a desire to share that divine joy with others.

In short, I cannot deny my own lived experience and encounter with Christ. I am a sinner. I am unworthy. Whether in spite of it, or precisely in order to draw me out of it – Christ chose to befriend me. He has given me a new life, brought me abiding joy, and promises me eternal life – and I trust him. Thus, it only seems reasonable to continue to live in this friendship and to invite others to it. For it is only in the friendship that one person becomes like the other. For the priest, this means becoming like the Great High Priest and Savior – Jesus Christ. And only by abiding in this friendship will the face of the priesthood be properly restored. 

So, why do I still want to be a priest? 

Honestly, I’m doing it for a Friend.