2018-01-21 Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 21, 2018

21 January 2018

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 1-:14-20 + Homily

15 Minutes 11 Seconds

 

(From the parish bulletin)

In the late 1990s I watched the rebuilding of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, replicating the nineteenth-century cathedral that had been dynamited by Stalin in 1931. It can hold an estimated ten thousand worshipers (they stand throughout the long services, for pews are abhorrent to venerable tradition) and is the tallest Orthodox church in the world with a dome reaching 338 feet. Stalin’s plan to build on its site a Palace of the Soviets with a huge statue of Lenin atop its dome was never realized because of World War II. That recalls the statue of Zeus, “the Abomination of Desolation,” which the Greek ruler of Syria, Antiochus IV, erected in the Jerusalem temple after he despoiled its sacred vessels. Antiochus basked in the title Epiphanes, which means “radiance of God,” but the Jews punned that as Epimanes, or “the mad man.”

   Two hundred churches are planned for Moscow, along with an estimated thousand across the nation, replacing and adding to those destroyed in the Communist period, during which priests were crucified on the church doors. These are in the classical Byzantine style, not the modern biscuit boxes and flying saucers that were the bane of the West over the last few decades. In some towns, the local people are taught iconography and mosaic art, so the churches really are the work of their own hands. 

   These days in China, where Christianity is oppressed, not especially for theological reasons, but because it is a threat to the political hegemony of the state, churches are being destroyed. Within the past few months, for example, in Henan Province an evangelical church was dynamited in Shangqiu, with a blithe ferocity paralleling that of Stalin. 

   In the West, churches are getting demolished for reasons other than political: redundancy, the lack of need for “ethnic” parishes, and the sheer cost of maintenance. Often, people who are much wealthier than their ancestors who built the churches sacrificially out of their penury, do not contribute enough for maintenance. Between 1995 and the present, the Catholic population in the United States has increased from 57 million to over 70 million.  New churches are being built in the South and West where populations are growing faster than the decline in other parts of the country.

   There is another factor, however, in the loss of churches in much of our nation, and it is simply indifference. The vice of sloth is a spiritual malignancy, and many of our great metropolises have become hospices for lapsed believers. When I was sent to our parish here in “Hell’s Kitchen,” which is experiencing a phenomenal population growth, I was asked, “How many Catholics live there?” The proper question is, “How many Catholics will live there?” 

   The Ascending Lord did not send his disciples into Catholic neighborhoods, because there were none.

00:0000:00

2017-01-14 Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 14, 2018

14 January 2018

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

John 1:35-42 + Homily

15 Minutes 37 Seconds

(From the parish bulletin)

The romantic soul of William Wordsworth thrilled over the French Revolution: “Oh! Pleasant exercise of hope and joy!  . . . Bliss was it in the dawn to be alive. But to be young was very heaven!” He crossed the Channel to see it in action, but when the Terror began he fled in horror. Then there is the story of Beethoven tearing up the first page of his Sinfonia Eroica, originally dedicated to Napoleon, upon news that his hero had succumbed to the vanity of a crown. The anarchist Emma Goldman hailed the Russian Revolution, but when fact obliterated her fantasy, she acidly described the Bolshevik State “crushing every constructive revolutionary effort, suppressing, debasing, and disintegrating everything.” The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact shattered the illusions of many armchair Communists.


   Disillusionment can decay into cynicism, but it can also be a salvific dose of reality.  Eugenicists in the last century envisioned a demographic utopia, only to find that illusion cruelly mocked by the Nazi death camps and made macabre by abortion mills today. Arthur and Elizabeth Rathburn of Grosse Point, Michigan are just the latest of people on trial for trafficking in the body parts of unborn babies. In 2013 the FBI discovered in their warehouse over one thousand heads, limbs and organs of infants. Their indictment seems to have been delayed because of what was previously a political reluctance to implicate Planned Parenthood. Increasing numbers of our population are recognizing unpleasant truths.


   Recent changes by our Executive Branch mark a shift in policy—reinstating the pro-life Mexico City Policy, moving to defund the United Nations Population Fund, expanding the religious exemption to the Health and Human Services Department’s contraception mandate, and favoring a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act—as well as encouraging the annual March for Life this January 19, marking the 45th anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision. One does not want to be overly optimistic, but illusions are being shattered and, save for stone hearts, the consciences of many may be recognizing the consequences of naïvely underestimating the forces of evil cloaked as social progress.


   The Scottish king Robert the Bruce provided a lesson in persistence. Defeated in battle, he was tempted to give up, but for three months he took refuge in a cave where he watched a spider persevere in building a web, after failing numerous times. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” The line has edified schoolchildren, but it also helped the Bruce secure his kingdom after victory at Bannockburn. Various places claim the site of the cave—Dumfriesshire, Arran Island, Craigie, Taitlin Island—but that cave is wherever people learn from their mistakes and do not succumb to cynicism. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

 

 

00:0000:00

2017-01-07 Epiphany

January 7, 2018

7 January 2018

The Epiphany of the Lord

Matthew 2:1-12 + Homily

19 Minutes 48 Seconds

 

From the parish bulletin

When The New Yorker magazine was peerless for its combination of erudition and wit, it ran a cartoon of Lilliputians contemplating Gulliver, whom they had fastened to the ground with ropes: “Either he’s very big or we are very small.”

   That is what we might say of the Creator when Epiphany directs our eyes to the stars. But while man must be humbled by the size beyond measure of the galaxies, the Creator does not humiliate us. In an interview in 1930, Einstein said: “We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how.” With the humility of a scientist who knows that there is much he does not know, that same professor wryly remarked to R. A. Thornton that he did not want to be like someone, including so many physicists, “who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest.”

   Well-meaning scientists have tried to calculate a physical explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. In 1604, Johannes Kepler proposed that at the time of Christ’s birth there was a supernova simultaneous with the conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. This often is a feature of Christmas programs in astronomical observatories. There may be something to that, but saints like Chrysostom were of the opinion that this was no ordinary phenomenon, given the way it moved and came close to earth, but was “of some power endowed with reason.” For Aquinas, it is “probable that it was a newly created star, not in the heavens, but in the air near the earth, and that its movement varied according to God’s will.”

   Little is known of the Magi, and for that reason they are a mine easily plundered by romantics who make them so exotic that they seem too good to be true.  We do not even know their homeland; perhaps it was Persia or, according to one recent theory, what is now Yemen. We do know that God, unlike Gulliver, is beyond measure, and his grace has made us more than Lilliputians. Saint Hippolytus, before dying a hard death for Christ, said of him:

He wanted us to consider him as no different from ourselves, and so he worked, he was hungry and thirsty, he slept. . . . When we have come to know the true God, both our bodies and our souls will be immortal and incorruptible. We shall enter the kingdom of heaven, because while we lived on earth we acknowledged heaven’s King. Friends of God and co-heirs with Christ, we shall be subject to no evil desires or inclinations, or to any affliction of body or soul, for we shall have become divine.

 

00:0000:00

2017-12-31 - Holy Family

December 31, 2017

31 December 2017

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Luke 2:22-40 + Homily

18 Minutes 23 Seconds

 

From the Bulletin

[This week the regular pastor's column yields to Saint Gregory Nazienzen, whose feast is January 2.]

   The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father: he it is who comes to his own image and takes our nature for the good of our nature, and unites himself to an intelligent soul for the good of my soul, to purify like by like.

   He takes to himself all that is human, except for sin. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary, who had been first prepared in soul and body by the Spirit; his coming to birth had to be treated with honour, virginity had to receive new honour. He comes forth as God, in the human nature he has taken, one being, made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit. Spirit gave divinity, flesh received it.

   He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first.

   Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant by force and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son. The Son arranged this for the honour of the Father, to whom the Son is clearly obedient in all things.

   The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice. When he found it, he took it on the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.

   Christ, the light of all lights, follows John, the lamp that goes before him. The Word of God follows the voice in the wilderness; the bridegroom follows the bridegroom’s friend, who prepares a worthy people for the Lord by cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit.

   We needed God to take our flesh and die, that we might live. We have died with him, that we may be purified. We have risen again with him, because we have died with him. We have been glorified with him, because we have risen again with him.

 

 

00:0000:00

2017-12-24 Christmas Mass During the Night

December 24, 2017

24 December 2017

Christmas Mass During the Night

Luke 2:1-14 + Homily

12 Minutes 27 Seconds

00:0000:00

2017-12-24 - Advent IV - Luke 1:26-38 + Homily 16 MInutes 47 Seconds

December 24, 2017

From the Bulletin - 24 December 2017

Saint Paul was converted by the risen Christ, who appeared as a blinding light. Later, he would meet Peter and James who had seen the actual risen body, which had changed from the way it appeared during Christ’s three years with them. 

   The body of the resurrected Christ had four characteristics. First, it could no longer feel pain. This “impassibility” was a triumph over the horrors of the Passion. Second, by “subtlety” the body was no longer subject to the laws of physics. During his earthly life, Christ had to knock on doors to enter, but in the Resurrection, he could appear in a room though the doors were locked. Third, the “agility” of Christ’s body had a strength that freed him from the constraints of motion and enabled him to bi-locate. Fourth, the “clarity” of the risen body radiated a brilliance that emanated from the divine intelligence: “light from light.” This was glimpsed in the Transfiguration, and was what blinded Paul on the Damascus road.

   These lines would seem to be an Easter meditation, but they are a Christmas meditation as well, for the two mysteries are inseparable. Without the Resurrection, the Nativity would be just another birthday, for even extraordinary people like Alexander the Great or Mozart had ordinary births. Because Christ is the Divine Word who created all things, the restrictions of his human nature are no less wonderful than the glory of his divine nature.

   The infant in Bethlehem was not impassible: he hungered and cried like any other baby. Without subtlety, he was confined to the stable. While in the Resurrection his agility could cast aside the shroud, in the manger he was bound by swaddling clothes. And as for clarity, his infant body could be glimpsed in the darkness only by frail lamplight. As he has no beginning and no end, his divine glory was not something he attained as he grew up: rather, it was what he allowed to dim when he came into time and space. He “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).

   So Christmas is about two caves, and the birth in a stone stable would be only a sentimental reverie without the fact of the burial cave burst open. The Holy Infant in the manger is a kind of graphic hint for our limited intelligence, of the indescribable Ruler and Judge of the Universe. And the qualities of his risen body intimated what he would let us become in eternity.

   That youngest of the apostles wrote in his old age: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is” (1 John 3:2).

00:0000:00

2017-12-17 - Advent III - John 1:1-8, 19-28

December 17, 2017

Saint Catherine of Siena said that all the way to Heaven is already Heaven for those who love the Lord. To keep Advent is to peek into Heaven especially on “Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday,” when we rejoice at what is about to happen. This glimmer of light prefiguring the Light coming into the world has exquisite poignancy.

Let us not be selfish: Christmas is for the faithful departed as well as for those still in time and space. There need be no sadness at Christmas when we remember our forebears who are no longer at our table, for in the Holy Eucharist we are united with “the whole company” who are with the Lord.

This brings to mind one of our own, Bishop Jean Dubois, the third bishop of New York who died in 1842 on December 20, after nearly seventeen years of arduous labor serving the entire state of New York and much of New Jersey with the help of just eighteen priests. He founded churches and institutions, including a seminary and two future universities.

Jean Dubois was trained in Paris just when the French Revolution rose up with diabolical furor against the Church. A chief architect of the Reign of Terror, which slaughtered countless priests and nuns, was Robespierre who tried to replace Catholicism with a “Cult of the Supreme Being,” declaring on May 7, 1794 that “priests are to morality what charlatans are to medicine.”  Nonetheless, Robespierre had been a friendly classmate of Dubois in the 

Collège Louis le Grand and, old school ties being strong, he disguised Dubois and helped him to escape. Ironically, Robespierre would be beheaded on his own guillotine.

With letters commendatory from Lafayette, Dubois made it to America where he lived with future president James Monroe. There had been two bishops of New York, both Dominicans living in Rome: Concanen who was impeded by the Napoleonic blockade of Naples; and Connolly, who worked himself to death establishing parishes. The small but growing numbers of Catholics were opposed to a “foreign” bishop, for they did not appreciate that the Church Universal is also international. The Irish objected that their new bishop spoke French-accented English, this in spite of the fact that the English tutor of Dubois, Patrick Henry, had been impressed by his proficiency. The bishop’s claim that Saint Patrick was French further irritated his flock.

After many trials, Bishop Dubois asked to be buried under the front steps of the old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, so that people could “walk on me in death, as they did when I was living.”

At Christmas, gift giving also requires that we accept gifts from the Lord, and among them is the gift of those who served him in this world and who join us at the altar every day.

“Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers in their generations” (Sirach 44:1).

00:0000:00

2017-12-10 - Advent II - Mark 1:1-8

December 17, 2017

As a chaplain in a state mental hospital, I quickly learned two things. First, sometimes it was easy to mistake a psychiatrist for one of the patients. Second, and more importantly, the mentally ill can be highly intelligent. If one begins with an illogical premise, one may convincingly make a fallacy seem cogent. An unfortunate man in a locked ward who thinks he is Napoleon Bonaparte can almost convince a visitor that he is there because he lost the battle of Waterloo.

Insanity is not a lack of brains; it is a lack of judgment. The Second Sunday of Advent focuses on the right use of reason, in preparation for the coming of Christ the Logos, the source of all creation. He is the Righteous Judge because he is supremely logical, and it would be a form of madness not to expect the Logos to be so. 

Our society has employed cleverness to justify moral madness, rationalizing a radical overhaul of social order as “hope and change.” George Orwell anticipated this in his “doublethink” which means holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and accepting both of them, so that, for instance, ignorance is strength, war is peace, freedom is slavery. Currently there are those who call censored speech “freedom of speech” and redistribution of wealth “income equality,” and who varnish anarchy as “resistance.” Infanticide is responsible parenthood, infidelity is independence, decadence is progress, common sense is bias, and natural law is hate speech. When the modern moral collapse euphemized as “sexual liberation” redefined vice as freedom, defective judgment unleashed a host of contradictions, so that the very institutions that promoted libertinism affect to be scandalized when celebrities are revealed to have done precisely what the euphemizers wanted. Like Casablanca’s Captain Renault they are “Shocked! Shocked!”

“Doublethinkers” cannot cope with the consequences of their manipulation of logic. Immature students riot when a professor disagrees with them, and voters scream at the sky when an election does not go their way. Their intolerance calls itself tolerance, but it is the false kind of tolerance which, as Chesterton said, is the virtue of the man without convictions.

The same people who ask “Who am I to judge?” judge right judgment to be tactlessly judgmental, and they politicize the judiciary to appoint justices who will usurp the function of legislators. Certainly, our Lord forbids any attempt to judge the human heart or the fate of a soul (Matthew 7:2), but blurring the line between right and wrong, which the theologians call antinomianism, turns an entire culture into a raucous asylum. 

“If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 3:18).

00:0000:00

2017-12-03 - First Sunday of Advent - Mark 13:33-37

December 3, 2017

The explanation for your sense of expectation is that you have an imagination. Unlike animals guided by instinct, we can imagine past and future. Advent is the time of expectation. Since Christ is not limited by time, he can be born again in our lives at every Christmas.

Expectation requires thinking about the four most important matters of existence: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. These are the primary mysteries that arrest the attention of minds awake, more compelling than holiday shopping and attempts at partying before Christmas begins.

To look at death at the start of Advent is what we do on a small scale when we look at the end of anything, whether it be the end of the day or the end of some project we have been working on, or even the end of a movie or a song. The question is: Does the end of life have a purpose? C.S. Lewis answered that in a typically lucid way: “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for a bird to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

Along with the sense of expectation is the intuition that what is expected is more vital than what we now have. On the day after Christmas in 1941, Winston Churchill stood before the joint houses of Congress and spoke of “. . . my life, which is already long, and has not been entirely uneventful.” Then a full twenty-four years later, his dying words were: “I’m bored with it all.” That was really wonderful because, though skeptical about the Gospel, he knew that things as they are, are not enough. He was a bit like Benjamin Franklin who, while far from an orthodox Christian, playfully wrote his own epitaph as a printer, comparing himself to a worn old book: “For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more, In a new and more perfect Edition, Corrected and amended, By the Author.”

There is a worthy movement now to rebuild the lamented old Pennsylvania Station, constructed on the site of our original church. That church was destroyed in 1963, in the arrogant period when many classical churches were wrecked by misguided liturgical experts who shared the modern contempt for anything old. The restoration of the old station would cost about $3.5 billion, an immense amount but small change compared to the $20 billion of innocuous glass boxes rising around us in the Hudson Yards development.

Jesus spoke of rebuilding the Herodian Temple in three days (John 2:19). That was at the price of his own blood, for he was speaking of his body. He did raise it. And he can do the same for us.

00:0000:00