Because of the Answer to Question 108 of the Baltimore Catechism

Sometimes, my faith lets me roll with what life presents to me. At my college teaching job yesterday, one of my students approached me at my desk in the middle of class as students were revising their work. It was clear he wanted to talk, and he didn’t need privacy. Several other students listened in on the conversation.

 He leaned down to look me in the eyes and calmly shared his anguish over a personal matter involving a child, a custody battle, and a broken home that had been visited by violence.

I don’t know my student’s religious beliefs and he doesn’t know mine.  But I felt immediately a sense of peace about  this difficult situation  because of the answer to Question 108 of the Baltimore Catechism, What is hope? “Hope is a Divine virtue by which we firmly trust God will give us eternal life and the means to obtain it.” My personal addendum is: Hope is also a Divine virtue by which we firmly trust God will guide us through hardships on our earthly journey.

Whenever someone shares their difficulties with me, my first thought is: I need to be the face of Christ for this person. Yesterday I discovered something else about this kind of encounter.

Before I responded, what flashed through my head was this: I’ve taught this man for a year now. He’s in his thirties and a war veteran. He’s had his share of heartbreak and hard times, some of which I have read about in essays he has shared with me and the class. School was not always a place where he experienced success. He has no shame or embarasssment about some of the messier details of his earlier life, nor should he.

I asked him a few follow-up questions and then I told him, “It’s going to be all right.” Commuting home, I  mulled our encounter. It’s easy to imagine that I am the face of Christ to this man in distress. But had I ever considered that he was the face of a suffering Christ to me? He needed to tell me that he was aching because of the brokenness of the world. And I needed to offer him hope.

So now I pray for this child my student is so worried about.

We beseech You, O Lord, visit this home and drive far from it all the snares of the enemy; let Your holy angels dwell therein so as to preserve the family in peace; and let Your blessing be always upon them. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Thanks to Walt Whitman (A Few Words for Wednesday)

My sojourn in the wilderness lasted forty years, from 1967, when I left the Episcopal Church, until 2007, when I wandered into a Catholic one. Many things tried to pull me apart during those years, and many meanwhile sustained me. One of the latter was the poetry of Walt Whitman, which I used to memorize and recite while out walking, striding along much as he did 150 years ago.

I know, I know. Walt Whitman was both an egotist and a pantheist. Whitman was no Catholic. He was homosexual, too—although if we throw out every poet who shared that characteristic, we lose Auden’s “Ballad of Barnaby” and Dunstan Thompson’s “Magdalen” and (who can say?) maybe even Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty.” It’s a sure thing that with Whitman you have to pick and choose, but then the Great American Poet gives you the whole universe to choose from. What follows are a few of my favorite pickings and choosings.

You can dip into Leaves of Grass almost anywhere and find lines to inspire your faith. Here, for example, from “Starting from Paumanok”:

Each is not for its own sake,
I say the whole earth and all the stars in the sky are for religion’s sake.
I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough,
None has ever yet adored or worship’d half enough, 
None has begun to think how divine he himself is, and how certain the future is.
I say that the real and permanent grandeur of these States must be their religion, 
Otherwise there is no real and permanent grandeur; 
(Nor character nor life worthy the name without religion, 
Nor land nor man or women without religion.)

Whitman envisions America as a great Christian nation. Pantheist, Christian, proto-Buddhist, whatever you call him, Whitman lived in awe of the Creation and his poems inspire awe. Even “Song of Myself,” which is far from my favorite, has lines like these to ponder:

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven, 
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,
And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is a miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.

Awe at creation and skepticism at science are encapsulated in one of Whitman’s great short poems, just eight lines long and all one sentence:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer, 
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, 
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. 

When I was in fifth grade my family moved from Minnesota to Connecticut, and I was plunked down mid-year in a new school, where I was a fish out of water. My saving grace was being a pretty good athlete—and winning the public speaking contest with Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!”—Whitman’s ode to Lincoln after the assassination. But that’s not a particularly religious poem, so if you’re interested, I’ll let you look it up here.

Instead, I’ll close with my favorite lines from Whitman, the final lines from “Song of the Open Road.” The beauty of Catholicism, for me, is in the companionship it offers—of friends in my parish, of that great big fraternity known as the communion of saints, and finally of Jesus Christ. Together, we walk the road of salvation, leaving everything behind. That’s what Whitman describes at the end of his great poem. Perhaps you can imagine Jesus of Nazareth saying the following words to the Twelve. I hope I would have followed Him too:

Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.

Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me? 
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

Because We Need to Believe in Goodness

Today my heart is heavy. I was daunted to discover over the weekend what happens when parents are too busy, too distracted, too “successful” to bother rearing their children. The details are immaterial, but the consequences are clear: some children whom I have known since they were in diapers have lost their innocence far too soon.

I cling to my faith. After hearing Sunday’s homily about Saint Thomas the Apostle, I was planning to write about how Thomas’s doubt reminds us that faithful people doubt. It does. But now I see Thomas more deeply. When most of us think of St. Thomas the Apostle, we think of “doubting Thomas,” the one apostle who needed to see and feel Christ’s nail wounds to believe in the Resurrection.

I realize Thomas must have been one of the most loyal of Christ’s disciples. So anguished was he over the loss of his leader, he needed a concrete example of that “good news” in order to believe that God, in His infinite mercy, had resurrected his friend and thus given all of humanity the possibility of eternal life. He needed to believe in transcendent goodness. So do I. Perhaps Thomas, like me, was feeling weary of a world that sometimes seems beyond miracles.

Who was Thomas? We know he was a Jew, perhaps a builder or fisherman, who became a brave and loyal follower of Christ, both during Our Savior’s earthly life and after.

When Jesus announced that he was heading to Judea to visit his sick friend, Lazarus, Thomas admonished his fellow disciples to join Jesus on the dangerous journey. The other disciples were fearful of the risk for both Jesus and themselves. But Thomas prevailed: “Let us also go that we may die with him.” Ultimately,  the journey of Jesus to Judea and his raising Lazarus from the dead precipitated the Sanhedrin’s decision to crucify Him.

Thomas demonstrates his intense devotion once again at the Last Supper. Jesus tells his disciples he is leaving them soon for his Father’s house. Thomas raises an objection: “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus’ response gives us a perfect encapsulation of Christian faith: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

After Christ’s death and resurrection, tradition tells us that Thomas spent the rest of his life preaching the good news of salvation. He traveled far from home, farther perhaps than any other apostle, on this mission. He set up seven churches in southern India, beginning in A.D. 52. Legend says he carved a cross with his fingernails, a cross that bled for a century. St. Thomas was speared to death 20 years later in Mylapore.

To this day in southwestern India, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox believers call themselves Saint Thomas Christians, tracing their faith to Thomas’ first century missions. What a stunning legacy. In 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the San Thome Basilica, the site of Thomas’s tomb near the mountain and cave where he lived a spartan life as a preacher.

Nearly 2,000 years after the apostle’s death and more than 8,000 miles away, what can Thomas’s life teach me about the struggle to keep my faith in a secular culture that seems indifferent to whether its children are cultivating sin?

O Glorious Saint Thomas, your grief for Jesus was such that it would not let you believe he had risen unless you actually saw him and touched his wounds. But your love for Jesus was equally great and it led you to give up your life for him. Pray for us that we may grieve for our sins which were the cause of Christ’s sufferings. Help us to spend ourselves in His service and so earn the title of “blessed,” which Jesus applied to those who would believe in Him without seeing him. Amen.

It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (Music for Mondays)

What does this morning’s music have in common? Basically it’s only rock n’ roll, but I like it. Heck, maybe I just feel like playing air-guitar and singing some of my favorite secular tunes. Follow along with me and see if we can pull some Catholic perspective out of the following songs. Keeping in mind, of course, that these are just one person’s impressions. Your mileage may vary.

Stevie Ray Vaughn, The House is a Rockin’. Not much to explain here. It’s Spring and Our Lord has risen, and we feel like partying here at YIM Catholic! If the house is a-rockin’, don’t bother knockin’. No invitation needed, just come on in!

Kick off your shoes start losin’ the blues
This old house ain’t got nothin’ to lose
Seen it all for years, start spreadin’ the news

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Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter. I can hear some of you sigh and mutter, there Frank goes again. You know what? I need shelter, and I find it in the Holy Mother Church. Which means my soul won’t fade away either. This song works for me. And do you know the difference between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones? The Rolling Stones are still together and making music, basically ’til death do they part. I like that ideal.

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Bruce Springsteen, Brilliant Disguise. Look out for the false self. In light of the scandal imbroglio, perhaps many have been tempted to think the Church is a sham, a house of cards. Better look hard and look twice. Recently, and grudgingly even the “respected” news sources have to contend with the truth that the entire Roman Catholic Church isn’t the only game in town when it comes to abusing children. Just lonely pilgrims we are, but as for me, Jesus I Trust in You. Bruce concludes this tune with this wise line: God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of. Amen.

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Sarah McLachlan Sweet Surrender. Sarah, on the other hand, really has the right idea, I think (see the lyrics below).

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It doesn’t mean much.
It doesn’t mean anything at all.
The life I’ve left behind me
Is a cold room.

I’ve crossed the last line
From where I can’t return,
Where every step I took in faith
Betrayed me

And led me from my home

And sweet
Sweet surrender
Is all that I have to give

You take me in
No questions asked
You strip away the ugliness
That surrounds me

Are you an angel?
Am I already that gone?
I only hope
That I won’t disappoint you
When I’m down here
On my knees

Next up, Jack Johnson Better Together. I only recently came across this Jack Johnson fellow and really like some of his work. This song in particular works well as I pondered the Divine Mercy novena prayer for the reunification of Christ’s Church here on earth. See the lyrics below…

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Love is the answer
At least for most of the questions in my heart,
Like why are we here? And where do we go?
And how come it’s so hard?
It’s not always easy,
And sometimes life can be deceiving,
I’ll tell you one thing, its always better when we’re together.

Rush Limelight. Only three guys, but big, big sound! Yes, I am asking you to consider the universal dream, the real relation and the underlying theme. Guess what I think those are. See the lyrics below and have a listen.

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Living on a lighted stage
Approaches the unreal
For those who think and feel
In touch with some reality
Beyond the gilded cage.

Cast in this unlikely role,
Ill-equipped to act,
With insufficient tact,
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact.

Living in the Limelight,
The universal dream
For those who wish to seem.
Those who wish to be
Must put aside the alienation,
Get on with the fascination,
The real relation,
The underlying theme.

Living in a fisheye lens,
Caught in the camera eye.
I have no heart to lie,
I can’t pretend a stranger
Is a long-awaited friend.

All the world’s indeed a stage,
And we are merely players,
Performers and portrayers,
Each another’s audience
Outside the gilded cage.

To Be an Old Man Who Goes to Mass Every Day

I’ll be 59 this summer, the last age at which I reasonably can say that I’m not an old man. You may say that 60 is the new 40, but if you ask my 20-ish daughters about 40, they’ll say it’s the age to start shopping for caskets. As a Catholic, though, I’ll be happy to be 60, happier still to be 70 and 80, if I’m even destined to get there. As long as I’m going to Mass every day, I’ll be the happiest old man in town.

I see that happiness every morning in Frank G., Frank K., and Ferde, though, even at 70-plus, my big brother Ferde will not appreciate the “old man” tag. I saw it all last year in Henry, too. In October, Henry and his wife, Phyllis, stood inside the church door at the end of Mass while Father Barnes blessed them. Then the elderly couple headed off to South Carolina for the winter. The implication of the blessing seemed clear—one or both of them might not make it back in the spring.

Henry is only an inch or two taller than Phyllis, who doesn’t clear five feet, but they look hale and hearty and are both beamish and twinkly. During my first two years of daily Mass at 7 a.m., as I drove or walked my route from home to church, I often saw the two of them out walking by 6:30. They had a daily route, starting out from their apartment down near the train station and winding their way through the neighborhoods on a path that left them at the church door about five minutes of seven. I would arrive at church before them, but could almost set my watch by their arrival: First Phyllis, coming alone up the center aisle and taking her place in the second pew from the front. Then Henry, about thirty seconds later, with their two missals in hand. He would settle himself gently beside Phyllis and hand her her missal. They would often exchange a whispered word or two. They seemed to have trouble hearing each other and, I thought, repeated everything twice. They read aloud faithfully from their missals as the liturgy unfolded. One time, when the antiphon to the psalm reading was particularly long, Father Barnes afterwards thanked Henry and Phyllis from the pulpit for being the only ones who chimed in on the antiphon, because of those missals.

I didn’t see Henry and Phyllis all winter and began looking for them on their morning walk by the official start of spring this March. Not until this week did I see them—and saw them both. Phyllis is using a cane lightly now, without leaning heavily, and Henry is still following behind her with the missals. This morning they were wearing matching green Irish sweaters. Henry’s read “Sean-Athair” and Phyllis’s “Sean-Mháthar”—Irish for grandfather and grandmother. I couldn’t have been happier to see them if they had been my own grandparents.

When I was in college, I used to have a poster on my dorm room wall, one of those crunchy hippy-dippy posters we used to feature in the late 60s and early 70s. It showed an old man who looked much like Walt Whitman—whispy gray hair and beard—walking through a field holding a flower gently between his hands. I remember thinking that I wanted to be that old man some day. It seemed an odd wish for a 19-year-old who thought he would live forever. But I think that even then I knew I would not live forever.

We are all moving relentlessly toward old age (if we get there) and death (when we get there). So it matters what our vision of old age happens to be. This morning, my vision is Henry. My vision is being an old man who goes to Mass every day, preferably with my Phyllis, and carrying her missal.

(NOTE: This post owes a debt to Dr. and particularly to Mrs. Thomas Howard, about whom I wrote here.)

For Thoughts Like These on Divine Mercy Sunday

It is the first Sunday after Easter, now known as Divine Mercy Sunday.  For the previous nine days we have been praying a novena for the Divine Mercy in preparation for this day. Today there will be services honoring the Divine Mercy image, special penance services, indulgences, etc. Why? All because some nun had visions and heard voices? Well yes, but only because the visions and voices were true to Christ and His Church. If it had been otherwise, we wouldn’t be commemorating this day with such vigor and passion.

For those of you who prayed the novena with us you know that I included various passages from works of saints, historians, and theologians to shed light on the various works of mercy that we were praying for on any given day.  After all, prayer itself is a work of mercy too.  Especially when we are praying for others as Our Lord asked us to do these past nine days.

I’ll spare you from any more of my personal reflections on this great day and leave you to enjoy it with these beautiful words and thoughts written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux about 900 years ago.  It is from his book of answers to the question he received from a nobleman named Lord Haemeric. To wit, why God is to be loved, and how much? What follows is chapter one of St. Bernard’s answer.

Why we should love God and the measure of that love

You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love. Is this plain? Doubtless, to a thoughtful man; but I am debtor to the unwise also. A word to the wise is sufficient; but I must consider simple folk too. Therefore I set myself joyfully to explain more in detail what is meant above.

We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable. When one asks, Why should I love God? he may mean, What is lovely in God? or What shall I gain by loving God? In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists, namely, God Himself.

And first, of His title to our love. Could any title be greater than this, that He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God’s claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us (I John 4.19).

Ought He not to be loved in return, when we think who loved, whom He loved, and how much He loved? For who is He that loved? The same of whom every spirit testifies: ‘Thou art my God: my goods are nothing unto Thee’ (Ps. 16.2, Vulg.). And is not His love that wonderful charity which ‘seeketh not her own’? (I Cor.13.5). But for whom was such unutterable love made manifest? The apostle tells us: ‘When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son’ (Rom. 5.10). So it was God who loved us, loved us freely, and loved us while yet we were enemies. And how great was this love of His? St. John answers: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3.16). St. Paul adds: ‘He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all’ (Rom. 8.32); and the son says of Himself, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15.13).

This is the claim which God the Holy, the Supreme, the Omnipotent, has upon men, defiled and base and weak. Some one may urge that this is true of mankind, but not of angels. True, since for angels it was not needful. He who succored men in their time of need, preserved angels from such need; and even as His love for sinful men wrought wondrously in them so that they should not remain sinful, so that same love which in equal measure He poured out upon angels kept them altogether free from sin.

As the song goes, Love is a many-splendored thing.

Because of Ferrell, My Guardian Angel

I “met” Julie Cragon a few weeks ago when I stumbled onto her blog, Hand Me Down Heaven. She is a married mother of six and runs a large Catholic bookstore in Nashville, the same store her parents ran when she was in college. We talked about her writing a guest post for YIM Catholic. When she discovered after she’d  finished her post that I, too, had just written about Guardian Angels, Julie worried we’d have to postpone hers. To me, this is just another way God makes connections.

Guest Post by Julie Cragon
A couple of years ago, a few of us at the bookstore were having a conversation a couple about Guardian Angels. Catholic bookstore, spiritual conversations, pretty normal.  I recounted something my mother had passed on to her eight children. She had told us if we said the Guardian Angel Prayer five times before going to sleep, our protector’s name would come to us the next day. The employees and I laughed about the idea, but thought we would give it a try.

That night, before I lay my head on my pillow, I said a prayer to my Guardian Angel. I fell fast asleep. Around 2 a.m., I sat straight up in bed and the name Ferrell came into my head very clearly. And that was all. I lay my head down and the alarm woke me at 5 a.m. At 6 a.m., my mother and I drove to the airport to fly to Chicago to buy products for the Christmas season at our store. On the plane, I told my mom about the name in the middle of the night. She simply said, “Well, he’s it.”  “He’s what?”  “Ferrell’s your guardian angel. Now you can call him by name when you pray to him.” Being a doubting Thomas, I needed more proof. I told my mom if one of the new angels in the Roman showroom, the company to which we were headed to buy products, was named Ferrell, I’d be convinced. My mom couldn’t believe I was making it so difficult.

We arrived in Chicago and were driven to the showroom, where our sales representative was waiting to work with us. After buying for Christmas, we ate some lunch and continued through the huge showroom, meticulously looking at each item. As we were about to end our day, we walked to the front to look at the new Seraphim angels. I said to mom, “If one of these new angels is named Ferrell, then  I’ll believe. Our rep shuffled up to us and asked why we were talking about the name Ferrell.

I told him it was a long story I’d have to share with him later. He said, “I just asked because my middle name is Ferrell. It was my mother’s maiden name and I don’t hear it much. My full name is Jack Ferrell Carmody.” I whipped my head around to my mother, who was already wearing that goofy smile and said, “Okay. Okay. I believe.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “from infancy to death human life  is surrounded by their (the angels’) watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united to God.”

Angels work for God as messengers and are here for us to aid in our salvation. They guard and protect us from evil. They are spiritual beings, gentle souls who witness to God’s commands. As protectors, we call upon them for our countries and our soldiers and our children and ourselves. Many of us learned as small children to speak to them in prayer and ask for guidance in our daily lives. May we never be too old or stubborn to ask our angels for help.

To Suffer with the Church, with Christ

I used to think how lucky I was not to have been a Catholic early in this decade, as the abuse scandal was first coming to light in Boston. Only now, it’s worse, and I realize how shallow that so-called luck of mine is. Now, the daily, weekly drip, drip, drip of revelations—two months ago Ireland, last month Germany, yesterday Norway—is just exactly torture. And my Pope, about whom I have written so often with admiration, is right under the drain spout. What to do?

My first inclination is to go on the defensive. As a personal witness to abuse in non-clerical situations (secular day school, prep school, ashram), I know that this is not alone a “Catholic problem.” I watched “The Daily Show” with mounting outrage a couple of weeks back as host Jon Stewart guffawed through a seven-minute segment called HOLY SH*T about—guess what. I said to myself that when Stewart runs seven minutes on abuse in the Jewish community (his culture) I’ll watch the show again. It would not be politically correct to poke such “fun” at Jewish or Muslim communities, but the Catholic Church? The Catholic Church has a bullseye painted on her forehead.

But that defensive response misses the point. And there are other ways to get lost on this issue, like leaving the Church altogether, the Protestant response. Or to leave one’s body, the Buddhist response. My dear friend Robbie shared with me a video on brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor who is famous for describing a stroke—her own—from the inside out. You can check it out here.

If you don’t have time for this video, let me summarize: Taylor explains the basic differences between the left and right brain and then concludes that if only we could see the world from the timeless peace of the right brain all the time we would never experience distress, we would never suffer. It is a Buddhist view, and one that I imagine Robbie, as peaceable a person as I know, endorses.

But what is a Catholic to do, and now? Part of an answer can be found at the US web site for Communion and Liberation (CL). At the head of the CL web page you can find a link to a letter written to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica by Fr. Julián Carrón, president of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation (pictured here). In the letter Carrón begins by openly acknowledging the horror of the situation:

The request to assume responsibility, the acknowledgment of the evil committed, the reprimand for the mistakes made in the handling of the affair – all of this seems to us to be totally inadequate as we face this sea of evil. Nothing seems to be enough. And so we can understand the frustrated reactions that have been coming forth at this time.

Then Carrón poses a question:

“Quid animo satis?” What can satisfy our thirst for justice? . . . In other words, cannot the whole force of human will succeed in bringing about the justice that we so long for?

This is the question I and probably you are grappling with. What response will have any value at all? How can this wrong be righted? How can our desire for goodness and justice and truth be satisfied? Carrón writes that Pope Benedict has given us an answer, if we have ears to hear it:

To begin with, [Benedict XVI] admitted without hesitation the gravity of the evil committed by priests and religious, urged them to accept their responsibility for it, and condemned the way certain bishops in their fear of scandal have handled the affair, expressing his deep dismay over what had happened and taking steps to ensure that it not happen again. But then, he expressed his full awareness that this is not enough to respond to the demand that there be justice for the harm inflicted: “I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated.” Likewise, even if the perpetrators serve their sentences, repent, and do penance, it will never be enough to repair the damage they did to the victims and to themselves.

Benedict XVI’s recognition of the true nature of our need, of our struggle, is the only way to save our full demand for justice; it is the only way to take it seriously, to take it fully into consideration. “The demand for justice is a need that is proper to man, proper to a person. Without the possibility of something beyond, of an answer that lies beyond the existential modalities that we can experience, justice is impossible… If the hypothesis of a ‘beyond’ were eliminated, that demand would be unnaturally suffocated” (Father Giussani). So how did the Pope save this demand? 

(I’m glad you asked, Father Carrón. You were starting to lose me there.)

By calling on the only one who can save it, someone who makes the beyond present in the here and now, namely, Christ, the Mystery made flesh. “Jesus Christ … was Himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, He still bears the wounds of His own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church.” Calling on Christ is not a way to seek a hiding place to run off to in the face of the demand for justice: it is the only way to bring justice about. The Pope calls upon Christ, and steers clear of a truly dangerous shoal, that of distancing Christ from the Church, as if the Church were too full of filth to be able to bear Him. The Protestant temptation is always lurking. It would have been very easy to give in to, but at too high a price – that of losing Christ. Because, as the Pope recalls, “it is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ.” 

I read this letter last night and went to bed thinking about it and woke up to the Office of Readings. Does it happen to you, as it happens to me, that when you’re thinking about a question, answers appear all around?

This week’s readings from the first letter of Peter, prescribed for the Octave of Easter, enjoin us to suffer with Christ. Yesterday, household slaves were urged to “obey your masters with all deference, not only the good and reasonable ones but even those who are harsh.” Today, married women are instructed to obey their husbands and we are all reminded, “Even if you should have to suffer for justice’s sake, happy will you be.” Today’s second reading, from the Jerusalem Catecheses, reminds us that baptism is not some Buddhist rite of cleansing the mind and soul:

Our baptism is not like the baptism of John, which conferred only the forgiveness of sins. We know perfectly well that baptism, besides washing away our sins and bringing us the gift of the Holy Spirit, is a symbol of the sufferings of Christ. This is why Paul exclaims: “Do you not know that when we were baptized into Christ Jesus we were, by that very action, sharing in his death? By baptism we went with him into the tomb.”

I would have been lucky to be a Catholic in 2002, and I am lucky to be a Catholic today, especially today—lucky to be asked to embrace the Church now, when it is most wounded. The Church is the bleeding body of Christ. It is my Pope who said it: we encounter the person of Jesus Christ in our wounded Church, and nowhere better.

Because Worshiping God is Important, Even If It Takes an Electronic Sign

Sometimes, I think of Catholics as a billion introverts. We Catholics are not known for proselytizing on street corners.We don’t tend to feature stereo speakers or percussion sections at our Masses. In general, our church bulletins are modest affairs featuring outdated fonts. Many practicing Catholics have rich interior lives but are tight-lipped about their beliefs. We tend to follow advice widely attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” So I was stunned to drive past an LED sign advertising Eucharistic Adoration at Saint Thomas the Apostle Church in Old Bridge, New Jersey. My first thought? Whoa. That’s in really poor taste.

Every Wednesday morning for months now I’ve been driving past this sign on my commute to my college teaching job, wondering what in heavens the parish leaders were thinking when they dreamed up this monstrosity. But through the long winter, my thoughts started to change about the sign. Truth, after all, should triumph over taste.

In the first place, this programmable, flashing sign doesn’t exactly sit in a garden spot in the Garden State. It’s on the southbound side of Route 18, a state highway that begins near Exit 9 of the New Jersey Turnpike and widens to as many as eight lanes. As it runs through East Brunswick and Old Bridge townships, the highway is a tax collector’s dream. It is packed with what New Jerseyans call “ratables,” retail properties that add lots of bucks to municipalities’ tax coffers. Starbucks. Kmart. Macy’s. Wendy’s. Sports Authority. AC Moore. It was here on Route 18, in fact, the other day, where I found Christ in the shoe department at Kohl’s. This sign lives amid the necessary detritus of consumerism: fluorescent flags fluttering along the edges of a used car lot; a man dressed in a minty green foam Statue of Liberty costume outside an insurance agency; and  massive, brightly colored inner tubes in front of a pool supplies store.

Secondly, I mused, the sign is advertising worship. Which matters more, a new Weber grill or worshiping God? We accept that retailers hawk their wares with colorful signs. Why can’t a church let people know it’s offering an opportunity for Eucharistic Adoration, a chance to pray in the presence of our very Lord?

I gave a call to Michael Luczkow, the business manager at St. Thomas the Apostle. The parish has 4,000 registered families, making it the biggest church in the Diocese of Metuchen. After talking to him, I felt more kindly about the sign.

Mr. Luczkow, baptized at St. Thomas a half-century ago, said parents with St. Thomas School’s Home-School Association had lobbied for the sign. The H.S.A. is primarily a fundraising organization. The parents felt thousands of cars were streaming past the parish and its elementary school daily without even knowing they were there. In the end, the parish and the Home-School Association split the cost for the sign, which, in addition to Wednesday’s Eucharistic Adoration, also advertises Mass times, school fundraisers, registration deadlines and so forth. On Monday and Tuesday this week, the sign proclaimed: “He is Risen.” Installed three months ago, the sign was instrumental  in the school hosting its most successful crafts fair fundraiser ever, Mr. Luczkow said. Next Wednesday on my way to work, I will pray for this vibrant parish and the more than 400 students at St. Thomas School as I drive past their sign.

“Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

“Pied Beauty” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I’m not sure. This might have been the first poem I ever loved. And it was a Catholic poem, 40 years before I became a Catholic. William Merriss was the English teacher of all English teachers at my junior high school, and he, though probably not a Catholic (I don’t know) taught me Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet and, it turns out, a Jesuit. God bless Mr. Merriss.

Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.