The Universal Church and The Glory of Each Land

On the last two Saturdays, Bishop Burbidge ordained three new deacons and four new priests for this Diocese, which reminded me of my own ordination to the diocesan priesthood 16 years ago, also on the day before Pentecost.

And the celebration of these ordinations and of Pentecost brings together two great themes of the Catholic faith, her universality throughout time and space, and yet also her consecration of the unique goodness of every specific locality and nation. For, on Pentecost, the one Gospel was heard in each individual language of people all over the known world. Likewise, the Church proclaims the same faith, provides the same sacraments, promotes the universal call to holiness, and unites all nations together.

But, as the one sun and the common rain bring forth different crops in every land, these universal means of salvation bring forth a unique harvest of grace in every people, age, nation and language. A diocesan priest connects this universal faith to each locality.

For a diocesan priest is ordained both for the universal Church and for a specific diocese, an area of the Church. There is both an order of priests throughout the world, and in fact throughout time and space, but also a unique brotherhood of priests in every diocese.

In my case, and in the case of these newly ordained priests and transitional deacons (who are on schedule to be priests next year), we received training in the universal faith and practice of the Church. And yet we are sent forth to a specific area, namely the northern third of Virginia. And most diocesan priests are primarily in parish ministry, and are thus called to a deep knowledge and love of the specific locality in which the serve.

This local patriotism tries to make of every town and place a new Bethlehem, a new Nazareth, in which Christ and His people are welcomed and the light of heaven shines upon earth. Over a century ago, the great Catholic writer and commentator G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem celebrating his home area of Kensington in London; in that poem he said, “For every tiny town or place, God made the stars especially . . . Yea, Heaven is everywhere at home.”

I have been at this parish for three and a half years, and have certainly learned how it is that the light of heaven shines forth upon this rural and hospitable locality, with its fresh green fields, ancient but life-filled mountains, and unique homes, civic groups and businesses. I think that we have, through common prayer, charitable works, learning, celebration and good company helped bring the light of Christ here to this area. And I am confident that Fr. Perez will likewise both learn and contribute to making Page County and this parish a place where heaven is at home.

Canon Law and The Law of God

As most of you know, Bishop Burbidge is sending me to study canon law, starting in August in order to help out the chancery of the Diocese in various ways, such as annulment petitions, sacramental and parish issues, dealings among the faithful and relations with organizations not affiliated with the Diocese.

It is a good occasion to describe what canon law is and how it fits into the realm of faith. We can begin with the principle that all laws enacted on this earth should flow from the eternal law of God. The eternal law is the ordering and unity of all things in heaven and on earth. We do not see that eternal law directly on this earth, but we see its effects, in the order of nature, in the moral law (both natural and supernatural) in the order of grace, based upon the salvation that Jesus Christ won and the Church and her sacraments that He handed on to us.

The 19th Psalm reflects this order of all things as the Psalmist begins by celebrating that “the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim His handiwork” and that the sun “like a warrior runs its course with joy.” The psalm then transitions to the law God has given us as “reviving the soul,” “making wise the simple,” “enlightening the eyes,” and “sweeter also than honey.”

The Jews in fact refer to the first five books of the Bible as the Torah, the law of God, for it describes all together the order of creation, the essential goodness of humanity, the providence of God, and His instructions for our lives and our worship.

Every society is meant to reflect this harmony of creation and of God’s guidance, each in its own unique way. Doing so requires judgement and application of these eternal principles to the individual circumstances and personality of each specific community. For example, the basic principles of justice, including property, the keeping of promises, and the fair treatment of all people in an economy are permanent; but how these principles are enacted in defining property rights, contracts, and the economic structure will vary.

Likewise, the fundamental principles that the Church is founded upon, including the Scriptures, the sacraments, the moral laws, communion of saints, an ordained priesthood, and the universal call to holiness are permanent. But, in order to apply these principles to every time and place, and to maintain order, peace, and rightful freedom and initiative, the Church has a Code of Canon Law, and each diocese and religious order has specific legislation.

It is that field that I will be studying, and later applying, to help this diocese reflect the peace and harmony of the eternal realms here and now.

Missionaries Coming To Town

On two weekends in June, we will have missionaries here at this parish to promote support for the Church around the world.

On June 16 and 17, Father George Kintiba will be celebrating Mass and giving homilies for Cross Catholic Outreach, whose priests have given presentations here during the last two years.

On June 23 and 24 Father Kwadwo Angyekm from the Diocese of Obuasi in Ghana will be celebrating Mass and describing the specific situation of the Church in Ghana and the west coast of Africa. Fr. Collins will also be taking up a second collection to support the church in his diocese. Fr. Kintiba is from Congo and is a priest for the Society of the Divine Word, a rapidly growing missionary order that currently has 6000 priests and brothers sent to all parts of the earth.

That Society is an example the Church’s creative response to difficult situations. When the German government forcibly closed many seminaries and religious institutions in the late 19th century, one of the exiled priests Saint Arnold Janssen moved to the Netherlands and united many priests, seminarians and religious brothers into the new Society of the Divine Word, which has since then supported missions that are based heavily upon a reverence for God’s revelation through the Bible and through nature.

Soon, two women’s religious orders arose from the same inspiration: the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, which carries on active missionary work in 49 countries and the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, contemplatives who now pray for the missions in their 22 convents around the world.

Fr. Kintiba, sent from this order, will be speaking about the efforts of Cross Catholic Outreach, a lay ministry run by American Catholic nonprofit that helps poorer communities in their efforts both to recover from natural and manmade disasters and to develop dignified and prosperous lives for the future. Likewise promoting an understanding of the universal Church.

Fr. Collins will be speaking about the Church in Ghana and the west coast of Africa. Ghana became independent in 1957 when the British withdrew from the so-called Gold Coast of Africa, ending almost five centuries of European colonial control. The country is mostly Christian and about 10 percent Catholic.

The Catholic Church in Ghana has strongly supported human rights, the culture of life and family, and protection of the environment. Her defense of rights of the people incurred the oppression of the government for many years. But the situation has improved somewhat and the country’s 3 million Catholics are served by about 850 priests and about 1000 religious sisters.

By uniting our efforts in the West and the Church in other lands, we are bringing the nations together in the grace and truth of Christ and building hope for a better future.

An Education in Faith, Hope and Charity

We are now in the midst of graduation season. Most colleges and universities have held graduation ceremonies recently; and the elementary and high schools will soon do so. In this context, it is helpful to reflect upon the idea of education, and how all of this life should be an education in the ways of the greater kingdom.

In its declaration on education entitled Gravissimum Educationis, the Vatican II Council praised modern advances in recognizing the universal right to an education and greater flexibility in teaching methods. But it also called for a renewal of the timeless wisdom that education is not only about acquiring information, but rather should be help people become wise, moral and charitable, able to take our rightful place in society and in the kingdom of God.

As the Council called for, let education “ develop harmoniously [each person’s] physical, moral and intellectual endowments so that they may gradually acquire a mature sense of responsibility in striving endlessly to form their own lives properly and in pursuing true freedom as they surmount the vicissitudes of life with courage and constancy.”

Thus, while tests and grades are needed to provide goals and track academic progress, and while education hopefully helps people in useful occupations, the focus should be on the whole person, on virtue and wisdom, on self-respect and an appreciation of others, with a desire to keep learning throughout life. Such deep goals are not so easily measured, but their effects are forever. In this context, we should see all of this life as an education in the ways of the greater kingdom.

During every day and every year, in all ages of life, we should be learning different aspects of our relationship with God, with the heavenly hosts, and with each other. Sometimes, especially when things are going well, the lessons are easier. Sometimes, there are greater struggles and the lessons are more difficult. In the former situations, we should thank God, and not coast, but strive ever further.

When the lessons are more challenging, we should remember that, in life as in formal education, if we persevere and cooperate, the greatest difficulties can be opportunities for the most profound growth and unity with others. And we should not focus only on the aspects that we are already best at, but rather take on the challenges that God gives, advancing to be a complete person. May all of this life be an education in faith, hope and charity. For, as Saint Paul says, all things of this earth pass away, but these three virtues bring joy forever. See 1 Cor. 13:8-13

Mothers’ Day and Communion

On Sunday, we celebrate both Mothers’ Day and the First Communion for five of our parishioners; it is thus a good opportunity to reflect upon the unity between these sacred occasions.

As Sister Briege McKenna, an Irish mystic, pointed out, there is a complementarity between Mary and priests as spiritual Mother and spiritual fathers. Mary, on behalf of all women, brought Christ into the world in the Incarnation; and priests continue, on behalf of all men, bringing Christ into the world in the Eucharist. Thus, Mary represents the maternal aspect of the Church, which religious sisters carry on to this day. And priests bring forth a visible manifestation of God the Father.

This complementarity in the family of God that is the Church should be reflected in all families. Wives and mothers are meant to bring the maternal, caring, motherly aspect of the Church to their families. And husbands and fathers are meant to bring the passionate, self-sacrificing love of Christ to their families.

Grandparents, uncles and aunts can be seen as like the prophetic witnesses of the Old Testament, or like Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna in the Gospel of Luke; they bring the wisdom of the ages to their families. Children should respect and honor their parents and grandparents, as we respect Christ, His Church, and the prophetic witnesses of Scriptures and history; but they should also be respected as the future hope of their families and of the Church.

There is also a connection between families and the teaching, governing and sanctifying roles of the Church. As parents should both be clear in their teaching and guiding of children, but also be forgiving and understanding, so the Church both gives clear teaching and guidance, but also understanding and forgiveness. And, as parents both unify the family, but also recognize that each child has his own gifts, so the Church sets down clear standards that unite the world, but also respects the diversity of the types of people and cultures.

It is a struggle to maintain this unity and diversity in a family and in the Church; but the grace of God guides us in this sacred effort. And, as a mother gives and sustains life, the Church also gives and sustains supernatural life, especially in the sacraments. When people object that Jesus giving us His body, His life in the Eucharist is incomprehensible, we can respond that when a mother bears children in the womb and feeds infants after birth she is naturally doing what Christ does in the Eucharist.

Through sharing her body, she gives life to her children so that they may grow and continue that life into the world. Thus, Christ, our brother and Savior and His bride the Church, who is our mother and teacher, makes us the family of God on earth and one day in life everlasting

Preparing for Our Lord in Communion

Five of our parishioners will be receiving First Communion next Sunday, which is also Mothers’ Day.

This joyous occasion is a good time to reflect upon the glory and privilege of receiving the very life, human and divine, of Jesus Christ into our very selves. Anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic alike can come into the presence of the Almighty God, for at Mass and in any church where the Eucharist is reserved, Jesus is here with us, as much as He was with His disciples when He walked the earth.

But, when we receive Communion, heaven and earth are joined within us as Christ, the light of the world, dwells within our bodies and souls. In order to fully appreciate and value this great gift, it is important to prepare to receive Holy Communion by an openness to this divine and supernatural life. It is helpful here to focus on five ways through which we can prepare for this great gift: purity of heart, repentance of sins, appreciation of sacred beauty, consecration of the mind, and charity towards others. To begin with, purity of heart leads to greater vision. As the Psalmist says, “Who can climb the mountain of the Lord? Who can dwell in His holy place? The man of clean hands and pure heart.” Psalm 24:3-4. Or as Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.” Matt. 5:8.

And to the degree that we have allowed the burden of sin to cloud this divine vision, we can receive His cleansing power by repentance of sins. This purifying freedom is especially available in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is a requirement at least once a year, and in case of mortal sin and it is recommended about once a month. It is also important that we lift up our hearts and minds to God through culture and learning. Thus, for example, music, art, vestments, sacred architecture and the like portray the sacred and holy in tangible and beautiful ways.

Even outside of Mass, it is helpful to listen to sacred music, appreciate sacred art and tap into sacred entertainment to continue the effects of this splendor into our lives. And to guide this glory and beauty, we should also continue improving our minds to appreciate more of God’s presence.

For example, it is helpful to read and meditate upon the readings for Mass in order that the wisdom of heaven will dwell in our souls more and more. And then, at the end of Mass we are sent forth to live out the Gospel in the world that all people may likewise sense how it is that Jesus Christ dwells among us in the Eucharist and in His people who receive Him

The Renewal of Pentecost

This Sunday two of our parishioners Darren and Monica Vaughn will be receiving the sacrament of Confirmation from Bishop Michael Burbidge at Saint Peter Church.

At the Easter Vigil, five of our parishioners, Sandra, Kathleen, Josephine, Sarah and Anna Modersohn, likewise received Confirmation, along with Baptism and First Communion, as they came into the Church at the Easter Vigil.

And another parishioner, Neva Nikirk, received Confirmation in the extraordinary form last October 9.

It is thus a good occasion to review what the sacrament of Confirmation is for and what it adds to Baptism As the Catechism says, Confirmation is the personal renewal of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the early Christians and they went forth to evangelize the world around them. See Catechism 1302.

Baptism is like the first call of Jesus to His disciples, “Come, follow me.” The Holy Spirit is certainly present at Baptism, for one person of the Trinity does not act without the others. But Jesus also promised at the last Supper and after the Resurrection, that once He ascended into heaven, His people would be more open to the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we could know the truth more deeply, live it out more fully and bring the Gospel to the world. See John 14:25-26, 15:2627, 16:7-16; Acts 6:8.

That promise was fulfilled first at Pentecost and now in the sacrament of Confirmation. We can see the effects of the sacrament in the lives of the Apostles. Before Pentecost, eleven of the twelve Apostles were well intentioned, but often misunderstood Jesus and squabbled among themselves about such things as who was the greatest. And, when Jesus was arrested, they all fled; only John returned to the Cross.

But after Pentecost, they became a strong, wise and united band. Starting at Pentecost, they courageously bore witness to the Gospel before the world. They finally understood the meaning of Jesus’ words and they were able to explain how Jesus fulfilled both the prophecies and the longings of humanity. And they no longer jealously fought over who had what position, but rather cooperated well together for the sake of the kingdom of God.

Likewise, with baptism, we become disciples of Christ, children of God and co-heirs to a greater kingdom. Confirmation brings these gifts further, and helps us be brave in withstanding temptations and bringing the Gospel to the world. The Holy Spirit guides us to delight in understanding our faith at a deeper level. And we become more friends with the rest of the Church throughout time and space that we together can build up His realm on earth and be worthy of the lands of heaven.

Jesus Alive With Us

Following upon last week’s article describing the Passion of Christ, for Easter we here consider how the four Gospels present Jesus risen from the dead. All four Gospels begin with the holy women
coming to the tomb on Easter morning to mourn Jesus. There is a colossal earthquake, shaking heaven and earth. Angels come to the tomb and roll away the stone, revealing that death no longer binds Jesus. He then appears to His disciples, commissioning them to bring His salvation to the world. Each Gospel also focuses on other events that demonstrate lessons from the Resurrection for us. As with the passion narratives, Matthew and Mark have similar accounts. Matthew contrasts the universal truth of the faith with the dishonesty of the world, as the authorities in Jerusalem bribe the Roman guards to say that the disciples somehow stole the body of Jesus from under their noses. By contrast with these worldly powers, Jesus tells the Apostles to unite all nations in the teachings and purifying authority of Christ. True to form, Mark presents a very brief account of the risen Christ.

Even when they hear from the holy women about the angels and the empty tomb, the disciples still have trouble believing the in the Resurrection. Jesus appears to them, rebukes them for their lack of faith, but still commissions them to bring the Gospel to the world in face of much opposition. Here, as throughout Church history, God brings salvation even through very imperfect people.
Luke and John focus on the comfort Jesus brings to His people. Luke describes Jesus as consecrating hospitality, meals and the home. Thus, Jesus appears to disciples on the road to Emmaus. They do not know it is Jesus, but they listen to His words and invite Him to stay with them. They finally recognize Him in the breaking of the bread, which is both an example of devotion in common life and a sign of the Eucharist. Likewise, when appearing to other disciples on Easter night, Jesus goes out of His way to eat with them. John describes the appearances of the risen Christ more at length, focusing especially on the forgiveness that He offers

Thus, John describes the repentant Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the risen Christ and the first evangelist to the others. Likewise, when Jesus appears to the Apostles on Easter night, He offers them the power and authority to forgive sins. Later on, Peter makes a threefold proclamation of his love (albeit an imperfect love) for Jesus, reversing his earlier threefold
denial. In that context, Jesus forgives Peter and restores Him as shepherd of the flock. The Gospels thus emphasize how Jesus, the conqueror of death, brings us consolation and healing, and calls for us to share these gifts with a fallen world.

Ways of Seeing the Passion of the Christ

On this Sunday, the main Gospel reading focuses on the Passion in preparation for the Good Friday remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for our salvation. Continuing last week’s reflection on the four
Gospels, this article will comment on how each of them presents His sacrifice for our salvation.The Gospels of Matthew and Mark are similar in how they describe the true suffering of Jesus.
We proceed from the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus says “Not my will, but Thine be done” to the hill of Golgotha, where Jesus quotes the beginning of Psalm 22, “My God, my God why have Your forsaken me.” In contrast to the sacrificial love of Jesus is the dishonest envy of the leaders of Jerusalem, the puzzled cowardice of Pontius Pilate, and the faltering of even His disciples. Only Simon of Cyrene helps Him (involuntarily), with the devout women mourning in the distance.

The two Gospels vary slightly in their signs of triumph over death. In Matthew, when Jesus dies, an earth communion of saints. Mark presents, in the garden of Gethsemane, a mysterious young man clothed in a shroud. He casts away the shroud; but then the young man (presumably an angel) is there at the empty tomb on Easter morning, now in a white robe announcing the Resurrection. It is an image of humanity casting away the domination of death and receiving a new status as a people of everlasting life.

The Gospels of Luke and John emphasize the compassion and command of Jesus. Luke describes many of the same events as Mark and Matthew, but adds such events as the devout women
weeping with Jesus on the way to the Cross and Jesus comforting them as well. On Calvary, Jesus prays, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” hears the repentant thief’s confession, and gives him the wondrous promise, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” John describes Jesus’ power and majesty as He is virtually marching off to triumph through the Cross. Thus, for example, at His very arrest, Jesus’ thundering proclamations, “I Am” (reflecting the name of God, “I Am who Am”) show forth a power that causes the soldiers to retreat; and in the conversation with Pilate, Jesus is very much in control. Likewise, He shows divine authority even on Calvary, entrusting Mary and John to each other and pronouncing His last words, “It is consummated.” The Gospels thus, in their different ways, show the true suffering, compassion and power of Jesus as He offered His life for us, in anticipation of the Resurrection.

The Gospels and the Four ways of Seeing Jesus

As Holy Week and Easter approach, it is helpful to read about the crucifixion, death and Resurrection of Jesus, as described in the four Gospels. As outlined in a bulletin article from January, the four Gospels present the life of Jesus from different perspectives in order to bring out the full richness of this mystery.

Next Sunday, this article will discuss their different ways of presenting the death of Christ. And on Easter Sunday, the focus will be on their presentations of the Risen Christ, then and now. As a preparation, it is helpful to consider the general style and themes of the four Gospels. Matthew presents Jesus as the teacher of Divine Wisdom, who fulfills the promises made to Israel and brings salvation to the whole world. Thus, Matthew contains the full three-chapter Sermon on the Mount, which outlines the general principles of the Christian life, and contains more parables than the other Gospels.

It begins with a genealogy that traces the history leading up to Jesus and describes over and again how the prophets spoke of Him; and also, through the Magi and the final great commissioning, the Gospel presents the faith as encompassing all nations. Mark is the most dramatic of the Gospels, focusing on how Jesus battles the forces of evil and presents vivid accounts of the miracles and conflicts between Jesus and the demons. This Gospel barrels right out of the gate at the beginning with John the Baptist as the voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” It then presents in quick order Jesus’ time in the desert, the calling of the Apostles and a series of miracles and exorcisms in the first chapter alone, with a fast pace that continues to the end. Luke presents more of the beauty and compassion of God.

For example, in the infancy narratives, he describes the great canticles of Zechariah, Mary and Simeon. And this Gospel is the one that contains such material as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the conversion of the thief on the cross, and the final scene of joy and blessings in the Temple. John is more the mystic, who presents fewer events, but calls for deep reflection on them.

Thus, he begins with a poetic description of the Incarnation and then proceeds onto a seven day structure that provides the theme of Jesus bringing out a new creation. John focuses on seven miracles and the lessons to be drawn from them, and describes at length the Last Supper discourse, which contains many paradoxes, leading to the triumph of the Cross and Resurrection. The four Gospels thus helps us understand in different ways the mystery of our faith and the pathway to everlasting life.