Posted by: Fr Chris | October 19, 2018

1.3 billion Catholics, 18% of world

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Official statistics for 2016 from the Holy See

Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) – As every year, in view of World Mission Day, which this year celebrates its 92nd anniversary on Sunday, October 21, 2018, Fides News Service offers some statistics chosen to give a panorama of the missionary Church all over the world. The tables are taken from the latest edition of the “Church’s Book of Statistics” published (updated to 31 December 2016) regarding members of the Church, church structures, healthcare, welfare and education. Please note that variations, increase or decrease, emerging from our own comparison with last year’s figures (2015), are marked increase + or decrease – in brackets

World population
To 31 December 2016 the world population was 7.352.289.000 with an increase of 103.348.000 units compared with the previous year. Population growth was registered on every continent, including Europe: increases were registered above all in Asia (+ 49.767.000) and Africa (+ 42.898.000), followed by America (+ 8.519.000), Europe (+ 1.307.000) and Oceania (+ 857.000).

On the same date Catholics in the world numbered units with an overall increase of 14.249.000. The increase affects all continents, except Europe for the third consecutive year (- 240.000). Increases were registered above all in Africa (+6.265.000) and in America (+ 6.023.000)* followed by Asia (+ 1.956.000) and Oceania (+ 254.000). The world percentage of Catholics decreased by 0.05 %, settling at 17.67%. By continent: increases were registered in America (+ 0.06), Asia (+ 0,01) and Oceania (+ 0.02), decrease in Africa (- 0.18) and Europe (- 0,11).

*America means the entire Western hemisphere

Persons and Catholics per priest 
This year the number of persons per priest in the world increased by 254 units, average 14,336. The distribution by continent: increase in Africa (+ 271), America (+ 108), Europe (+ 66) and Oceania (+ 181). The only decrease in Asia (- 264).
The number of Catholics per priest in the world increased by 39 units, average 3.130. There are increases in Africa (+ 7), America (+ 74); Europe (+ 22), Oceania (+ 52). Asia unvaried (-13). 

Ecclesiastical circumscriptions and mission stations 
The number of ecclesiastical circumscriptions are 10 more than the previous year to 3,016 with new circumscriptions created in Africa (+3), America (+3), Asia (+3), Europe (+1). Oceania unvaried.
Mission stations with a resident priest number 2,140 (581 more than in the previous year). Decrease was registered only in Africa (- 63), while and an increase was registered in America (+ 98), Asia (+ 151) Europe (+ 364) and Oceania (+ 31).
Mission Stations without a resident priest decreased in number by 513 units, to 142.487. Increase were registered in Africa (+ 135), Europe (+ 456), and Oceania (+ 91). The number dropped in America (- 35) and Asia (- 1.160).

The total number of Bishops in the world increased by 49 units, to 5,353. Diocesan Bishops and Religious Bishops increased in numbers. Diocesan Bishops number 4,063 (27 more), while Religious Bishops number 1,263 (22 more).
The increase in diocesan Bishops is registered in America (+ 20); Asia (+ 9), Europe (+ 3), while a decrease was registered in Africa (- 2) and Oceania (- 3). The number of religious Bishops increased in all continents except Asia (- 7): Africa (+ 5), America (+ 14), Europe (+ 8), Oceania (+ 2).

The total number of priests in the world decreased even this year, to 414.969 (- 687). The only continents which registered a major decrease was again Europe (- 2.583). There was also a decrease in America (-589). Increases were registered in Africa (+ 1.181) and Asia (+ 1.304) Oceania unvaried. Diocesan priests increased by 317 units, reaching a total of 281.831 with a decrease only in Europe (- 1.611) and increases in Africa (+ 983); America (+ 180), Asia (+ 744) and Oceania (+ 21). The number of Religious priests decreased by 1.004 units to a total 133.138. Increases were registered as in recent years in Africa (+ 198) and in Asia (+ 560), whereas numbers dropped in America (- 769), Europe (- 972), Oceania (- 21)

Permanent Deacons 
Permanent deacons in the world increased by 1.057 units to 46.312. The highest increase was registered again in America (+842) followed by Europe (+145), Oceania (+45), Africa (+22) and Asia (+3).
Permanent Diocesan deacons in the world are 45.609, with an overall increase of 982 units. They increased on every continent except in Asia (- 38): Africa (+ 36), America (+ 807), Europe (+130) and Oceania (+ 47).
Religious permanent deacons number 703, increased by 75 units compared to the previous year, with decreases in Africa (- 14) and Oceania (- 2), increases in Asia (+41), America (+35) and Europe (+15).

Men and women religious 
The number of non-religious priests decreased for the fourth consecutive year by 1.604 units to 52.625. Situation: a decrease was registered in all continents: in Africa (-50), America (-503), Asia (-373), Europe (-614) and Oceania (-64). Even this year there is an overall decrease in the number of women religious by 10.885 units to 659.445. An increase was registered in Africa (+ 943) and Asia (+ 533), decrease in America (- 3.775), Europe (-8.370) and Oceania (-216).

Members of secular institutes, male and female
Members of male secular institutes number 618 with a decrease of (-79) after an increase compared to the previous year. At a continental level there is an increase in Africa (+2) and Asia (+ 4), while a decrease in America (- 77), and Europe (-8), Oceania unvaried also this year.
The members of female secular institutes decreased this year, by 459 units to a total of 22.400 members. Increase only in Africa (+ 113), while a decrease was registered in America (-33), Asia (-35) Europe (- 502) and Oceania (-2).

Lay missionaries and Catechists 
The number of lay missionaries in the world is 354.743 units, with an overall increase of 2.946 units in particular in America (+ 4.728) and Africa (+759). Decrease was registered in Asia (- 1.569), Europe (-921) and Oceania (- 55). Catechists in the world decreased by 36.364 units to a total of 3.086.289. An increase was registered in only in Africa (+ 10.669). A decrease was registered in America (- 20.407), Asia (- 12.896), Europe (- 13.417) and Oceania (- 313).

Major seminarians 
The number of major seminarians, diocesan and religious decreased this year, they are globally 683 units, reaching a total of 116.160. Increases occurred in Africa (+1.455) and in Asia (+9), while even this year a decrease in America (-1.123), Europe (-964) and Oceania (-60). 
Major diocesan seminarians number 71.117 (+999 more than the previous year) and Religious major seminarians 45.043 (-1.682). Diocesan seminarians increased in Africa (+1.059), America (+16) and Asia (+310). Decreases are in Europe (-381) and Oceania (-5). Religious Seminarians increased only in Africa (+396), while decreased in America (-1.139), Asia (-301), Europe (-583) and Oceania (-55).

Minor seminarians 
The number of minor seminarians, diocesan and religious this year decreased by 2.735 units to 101.616. Overall decrease on all continents: Africa (-69), America (-1.299), Asia (-871), Europe (-581), Oceania (-5).
Minor diocesan seminarians number 78.369 (-1.729) and religious seminarians number 23.247 (-1.006). The number of diocesan minor seminarians increased in Africa (+ 236) and Oceania (+7). Decrease in America (-684), Asia (-988), Europe (-300), Religious minor seminarians increased in number only in Asia (+207), while decreases in Africa (-305), America (-615), Europe (-281) and Oceania (-12).

Catholic schools and Education 
In the field of education, the Catholic Church runs 72.826 kindergartens with 7.313.370 pupils; 96.573 primary schools with 35.125.124 pupils; 47.862 secondary schools with 19.956.347 pupils. The Church also cares for 2.509.457 high school pupils, and 3.049.548 university students.

Catholic charity and healthcare centres
Charity and healthcare centres run in the world by the Church include: 5.287 hospitals, most of them in America (1.530) and Africa (1.321); 15.937 dispensaries, mainly in Africa (5.177); America (4.430) and Asia (3.300); 610 Care Homes for people with Leprosy, mainly in Asia (352) and Africa (192); 15.722 Homes for the elderly, or the chronically ill or people with a disability, mainly in Europe (8.127) and America (3.763); 9.552 orphanages, mainly in Asia (3.660); 11.758 creches, mainly in Asia (3.295) and America (3.191); 13.897 marriage counselling centres, mainly in Europe (5.664) and America (4.984); 3.506 social rehabilitation centres and 35.746 other kinds of institutions. 
Ecclesiastical Circumscriptions dependent on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples 
The ecclesiastical Circumscriptions dependent on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Cep) are 1.114 with an increase of 3 circumscriptions compared to last year. Most of the ecclesiastical circumscriptions are mainly in Africa (511) and in Asia (482), followed by America (75) and Oceania (46).
(S.L. – Agenzia Fides, 21/10/2018)

Special Dossier Catholic Church statistics 2018 ->
Posted by: Fr Chris | September 26, 2018

Resources on Pius XII and the Holocaust

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Pope Pius XII, pontiff from 1939-1958 

Want to hear Pius’ voice? This film shows his address in English to Allied soldiers who liberated Rome in 1944:

I did a presentation for university students on Sept 25, 2018, on Pius XII and the Holocaust. The video of my talk will be on You Tube on our CAFE Catholic Apologetics Evangelization Fellowship Channel in Fall 2018  ‘

Below are first books, and then good internet resources, that cover his years as nuncio in Germany (Munich 1917- 1920, Berlin 1920-1929), Secretary of State at the Holy See, and Pope. These deal with the Empire, Weimar Republic, and the National Socialists (Nazis) in Germany,  and his actions on behalf of German and Italian Jews while working in the Vatican Secretariat (1929-1939), and his actions as Pontiff during the War (1939-1945). Pius himself questioned if he did enough, or spoke out enough, but at the same worried that if he was too open in speaking, that the Jews would suffer even more.

These should all be of interest to anyone who wants to read more on the topic. I have to say that I am amazed at the amount of misinformation, or outright lies on the internet, e.g., “the Catholic Church did nothing to help Jews during the Holocaust.”  It is a difficult area to read about, but important given the rise in Anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, and the actual denying that the Holocaust even took place! 

Pius XII Resources

Bartley, Peter. Catholics  Confronting Hitler.

Blet, Pierre, ed. Pius XII and the Second World War

Bottum and Dalin, eds. The Pius War: Response to the Critics of Pius XII

Caroll-Abbing, John Patrick. But For the Grace of God. Autobiography includes this priest’s work in the Italian Resistance and the rescue of Jews in occupied Italy 1943-44.

Chadwick, Owen. Britain and the Vatican in the Second World War.

Dalin, Rabbi David. The Myth of Hitler’s Pope

Gallo, Patrick. Pius XII, the Holocaust and the Revisionists.

Harris, Robin. Stepinac: His Life and Times

Krupp, Gary, ed. Pope Pius XII and World II: The Documented Truth.

Kurzman, Dan. A Special Mission: Hitler’s Secret Plot to Seize the Vatican and Kidnap Pius the XII.

Pacepa, Ion. Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism (former spy chief for Romania and USSR)

Riebling, Mark. Church of Spies.

Rychlak, Ronald. Hitler, the War, and the Pope.

Sanchez, Jose. Pius XII and the Holocaust: Understanding the Concerns.

Tittman, Harold.  Inside the Vatican of Pius XII: Memoir of an American Diplomat During World War II.

“Roman Convents Opened to Jews During the Occupation: Orders from the Top. L’Osservatore Romano, 30 January, 2015, p. 2.

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Breslau Synagogue ablaze, Kristallnacht, 1938  Did Pius XII Lie to Save Jews? Details about the roundup of Jews in Rome in 1943  Catholics and the Holocaust Hiatt Collection at Holy Cross College with links to other sites (some of which are not the best, FYI)  New Book Defends Pius XII, Attacks Critics  Nizkor Project: Timeline with links on how Nazis came to power in Germany   This link:    includes information on attacks against the Catholic Church,-the-Pope-who-opposed-Hitler-17173.html   Deals with the Black Legend of Pius XII   Links to articles in First Things on Pope Pius XII, the Nazis, the Holocaust and his role as pope during the war.   Doino, William. Papal Rescue in Wartime Rome Claims that Pius XII was framed gaining support – 1

Pave the Way Foundation:

-Contains the entire French-language series of wartime Vatican documents and letters 1939-1945;

-relevant copies of L’Osservatore Romano in Italian, 1938 – 1945;

-19 video interviews with researchers or co-workers; and  120 collections of documents from the Holy See, Germany, Italy, the American OSS, letters, testimonies of survivors;

-Argentina’s role in hiding Nazi war criminals; radio interviews;

-article on the concordat of 1933. You have to register to use the site, but there is no fee.   Critique by William Doino of the various charges against Pius XII during the war The Good Samaritan: Jewish Praise for Pius XII  The Cold War How Moscow framed Pope Pius XII as pro-Nazi In 1934 The Pope Hired a German Jew  Pius XII: The Martyrdom of Silence Graham, Robert. Pius XII’s defense of Jews and Others 1944-45 Dalin, Rabbi David. Pius XII Saved More Jews Than Schindler  Abbot Marcone and  Croatia  Pius XII and the Armenian Genocide  Hitler’s Mad Plot to Sack the Vatican Martin Gilbert on Pope Pius XII  Russian article on refugees in Castel Gandolfo Flight from Defeat: Who Helped the Germans Escape Europe?   Holy See’s Apostolic Visitor intervened on behalf of Croatian Jews

file:///C:/Users/hp15/Documents/5601-10936-1-SM.pdf     Ventresca, Robert ” The Vatican Was For Us Like a Mountain”Reassessing the Vatican’s Role in Jewish Relief and Rescue during the Holocaust (2014).

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Posted by: Fr Chris | September 14, 2018

The Holy Cross and Our Situation Today

September 14, 2018

Today’s official feast day title is The Exaltation of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross.  This reflects the paradox that Saint Paul writes about – the Cross is a stumbling block to pagans, Jews, Muslims, nonbelievers of all kinds. Why would a merciful and loving God require the death of His Divine and Human Son in such a terrible way?

Ave Crux, Spes Unica! is an old Latin phrase: Hail O Cross, our unique hope! The instrument of death becomes an instrument of salvation. In imperial Japan, they crucified people who were discovered to be secret Catholics, part of a network of faithful that waited nearly 200 years for Catholic missionaries to return. In the Soviet Gulag, there were cases of priests nailed to doors and then doused with water in the middle of winter, leaving them crucified and frozen to death. Muslims routinely call Christians as Worshippers of the Cross.  In the recent upsurge of Islamic fundamentalism, many Christians have been crucified on church doors or along the roads to punish them for continuing to believe in Jesus  Christ, and to frighten remaining  Christians into converting. In all of these examples and more, the Cross on which Jesus died has been used by  pagan, communist, and Muslim regimes to frighten people, where instead it simply increased their resolve to imitate their Savior by accepting such a death in His honor, confident of what awaited them after death.

The original Cross is said to have been buried, and Saint Helen to have been directed to it during excavations of Jerusalem in the early 300s. A sick person who touched the cross was cured, but when a funeral procession went by, Helen had them stopped and touched the cross to the corpse. The man immediately came back to life. The instrument of death gives life and healing, both literally in these two cases but also spiritually and psychologically for millions over the last twenty centuries.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus was crucified outside the walls of the city – that was a death reserved for the worst criminals. The Jewish leadership wanted to get rid of Him and His miracles, His challenges to their authority, His constant call to conversion. The Romans were the only ones with the authority to kill him, and do so because the procurator is too weak to stand up for the authentic truth. The apostles take off, except for the youngest, who stands with the Blessed Mother and the other women. We must be willing to stand at the Cross in our lives, with St. John and Mary and the others – we can’t run away. From the Cross comes the Church and we are staying with this Church founded by Jesus Christ, not by some ordinary guy who wants to make his own theology.

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Jesus dies in order to bring salvation to the entire world, not only the Jews.  The cross is a door. Through it we will find redemption and God’s abiding love. Stay stuck in front of it and we may be moved by Christ’s great suffering, but not find the resurrection. Saint Edith Stein wrote that we must embrace the Cross, go into the Cross, and only then will we find the power of God on the other side. In His death, which He willingly went to, Jesus makes the weak strong, makes sinners into holy people. Jesus defeats death itself, conquering Satan and all his wicked plots, to emerge triumphant as the king of kings, the risen Lord.

The pouring out of Jesus’ blood and water from the wound in His side is very important, which is why the Gospel records it. At this stage, Christ is dead. He had been in a long, brutal passion, with neither food nor water since the Last Supper. He has been tortured, flogged, abused psychologically in the mocking, and forced to drag a heavy weight over cobblestone streets while His blood and sweat pour out of His body. Then He is nailed to the cross, and lifted up, like the bronze serpent of Moses, for the people to look upon. But when the soldier wants to insure that Jesus is truly dead, he runs the spear through His side into the cavity around His holy heart.  Nothing should really come out, because by that point the body is exhausted. So everyone is surprised by not only the fluid coming out, but the amount and force: it gushes out, pours out, floods out. From that wound, the Church is born. That wound from what traditional Catholic devotion calls the Sacred Heart gives out water, which baptizes us, and blood of the Holy Eucharist,  which feeds us.

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“Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from the side of Christ, wash me” is from the ancient Anima Christi prayer. His Precious Blood, which we will receive tonight, is that same blood that poured out onto the streets of Jerusalem and soaked the wood of the holy Cross. This Precious Blood should fill me, enliven me, indeed cause me great joy, as a testimony to the awesome love of Christ, willing to die so as to bring about my salvation; the incredible humility of the Holy Trinity, that one Person would take on our weak humanity in fullness so as to save us.

The Church is seen as being born from the wound in the side of our crucified Lord. Right now the Body of Christ is suffering, as decades of sexual abuse of children, teenagers, and adults at the hands of priests and even bishops continues to come to light. The Church is being wounded by the sins of some of its clergy – only some, but enough to do serious damage to the reputation of Catholicism and to thousands upon thousands of souls, and through the financial payments of compensation and for therapy of victims, to cripple the Church’s charitable and educational work in many dioceses. The exalted nature of how some clergy live and think of themselves, the failure to weed out abusive personalities, the STILL ongoing emphasis on protecting the institution rather than the souls and bodies of the faithful, the isolation some clergy lived in, and the failure to stop predators when they were first discovered all contribute to the mess we are in. It is a profound moment when the Body of Christ is being attacked by these sins, and the only one benefiting so far is Satan.

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Today is a day of abstinence for us anyway as it is Friday, and a day of expiation nationally for these sins. Personally I think every bishop involved in any cover up who is still around should be kneeling in his cathedral facing the people and prostrating himself on the floor in complete sorrow, and not in fancy vestments either but sackcloth and ashes. Whether or not that ever happens, we as the members of the Body, some of us having been personally affected by these sins, all of us being spiritually wounded, must remember that it is from that sacred wound that the Church was born on Mount Calvary. The sacred wound gave us life. This wound can again give life – if the leadership of the Church is willing to be washed in the blood and water and pray again with that ancient prayer, “Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from the side of Christ, wash me” and listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and act accordingly. For ourselves, may we each listen to that same Holy Spirit, and move forward. Let us work at being healers for those who are wounded directly and indirectly. Let us listen to those who are suffering. And let us take our strength from a God Who was willing to suffer alongside us and die as we die, in order that we find peace in this life, and eternal happiness with Him, the Virgin Mary, and all the saints in the life to come.

Posted by: Fr Chris | September 7, 2018

Birth of Our Lady, the Holy Mother of God

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Like other feasts of Our Lady, the celebration of her nativity comes from ancient Syria and Palestine. St John Chrysostom mentions the feast being observed in the late 300s, so it is one of the older Marian feast days. As to why it is on September 8, it was on this day that the basilica of the Virgin Mary was dedicated in Jerusalem under the leadership of Saint Helen.

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St Dmitri of Rostov, with the Mother of God 

St Dmitri of Rostov writes that before a king settles in a city, he builds a palace worthy of his residing in it. God set aside not the glories of Herod’s Second Temple, but the womb of a virgin woman. The story of her birth is told in the legends of Saints Joachim and Ann found in the Protoevangelium of James,  a book written about 145 AD that claimed to fill in the gaps of the New Testament dealing with the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Saint Joseph. The icon of her birth tells a powerful story. Always the icons show a birth at home, with Ann reposing on the bed, the midwives washing the baby girl, and then a side panel where Joachim receives Mary in his arms. They know that this daughter will be the mother of the Messiah, one of the highest graces a woman can have in Judaism.  She will be raised in a loving home, in a setting that you and I would recognize, with happy parents rejoicing in their child’s growth.

In a time when purity is often mocked, when women have been targeted both sexually and with violence, when people very much want to go their own way and do whatever feels good, when the very foundation of family life is under daily assault, Our Lady stands as a reminder of the power of purity, of chastity, of obedience, of radical love, of radical self-giving in the Name of God out of love for God. God chooses a family in which the Mother of the Son is to be raised,  just as that same Son will be raised in a family by two loving parents.

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St Dmitri goes on:       The palaces of earthly kings are guarded by armed guards, who do not allow everyone desirous to enter therein to do so, but rather stop and carefully question everyone as to why they have come. But as for the living palace of Christ, although she is surrounded by Cherubim and Seraphim, by the innumerable choirs of Angels, and by all the Saints, at the doors of her compassionate mercy no one hinders anyone who desirous of entering, neither do the guards expel anyone, nor do soldiers drive anyone away after having questioned him as to why he has come, but having prayerfully entered, he receives a gift which profits him according to his petition.

This matches with our church’s title – Perpetual Help. Our Lady spends heaven helping those who ask her to intercede with God. In the revelation of our patronal icon, Mary said, “I am your Mother of Perpetual Help.” In celebrating the day of her birth, let us rejoice that God loves us, and ask her to strengthen our Christian faith, our commitment to Christ and His Church.

So to conclude with St Dmitri: Thus, let us hasten to the compassionate bosom of her who was born of a barren womb, hailing her thus, “Rejoice, O immaculate palace of the King of All! Rejoice, dwelling place of God and of the Word! To Him, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and to you, O Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Bride of the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory from us mortals unto the ages of ages, Amen.

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SS Joachim and Anne with the Virgin as a child 

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 25, 2018

Divine Judgment which none can escape

Texts:  2 Corinthians, 1:21-2:4 Matthew 22:1-14, Byzantine Rite

The Parable of the King’s Wedding Feast (22:1-14) This is the third parable in the series of Jesus’ responses to the challenge  by the Jewish clergy to His unique authority (21:23-27), preached at the Temple in Jerusalem during the first Holy Week, and it is likewise a parable of judgment. There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it.

Matthew is the most quoted gospel among the ancient Fathers of the Church, because of its rich content. It was written for a Church composed of both Jewish and Gentile Christians: chapter 1 presented St. Joseph’s ancestry, presenting Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, and in chapter 2 the wise men come from Persia to worship the Christ Child. So in the opening we have both the Jews and the Gentiles as part of Jesus’ life. Matthew is answering the question of how Jesus was rejected by the Jewish leadership, and that He is truly the Son of God, far beyond any expectation of the first-century Jews looking for a royal king. Christ is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the leadership at the Temple is confronted by Jesus after His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and when He cleanses the temple with His holy anger at what that leadership has allowed to happen in the areas where worship and prayer should be going on. He drove out the money changers, all the signs of commerce, to restore the Temple as a place of worship. He is consumed with a holy righteous anger at what has been done to His Father’s House. In short, He claims divine authority, exousia, to do that, and the parables of judgment answer the questions of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and the Sanhedrin: Who is this who dares to condemn us?

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The parable of the wedding feast helped to explain the mixed reception of the gospel within Israel (as in chapter 13). God through his ser­vants the prophets, then through Jesus, and finally through Jesus’ disciples issued the invitation to the banquet.

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The Lamb of God in heaven

Heaven is not described in the bible as a place of angels playing harps and everyone sitting on clouds – there are two descriptions, of it being one giant party, and of one giant worship of the Lamb of God. In that Liturgy, the Cherubim and Seraphim sing the thrice-holy hymn, the Sanctus: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts.” In the Byzantine Church, we will soon sing the Cherubic Hymn: Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim and sing the thrice-holy  hymn” – we are to spiritually be like the Cherubim close to the altar of God in heaven: that is our goal, that is our destiny, that is what Christ promises us!

The invitation Jesus gives is not to an earthly wedding, but the marriage of Himself to His Church. The Jewish leadership, He was warning in all of these parables, each stronger than the previous, was rejecting Him and was going to pay a price: the Kingdom of God was going to go to those Jews who accepted it – especially the Jewish tax collectors, prostitutes, poor, and sick –  and then to the Gentile outsiders, the people despised because of their paganism, the poorest of the poor.  Those who rejected the King of Kings are punished: their daily life of business was more important than participating in the banquet of the messiah and they deliberately ignore that Jesus is the Son of God – just what a lot of people in Europe and North America do today, as church attendance has plunged, as survey after survey shows people doubting that Jesus is divine, that Jesus is the long-awaited savior, that Jesus’ teachings are in fact binding on our souls. Business flourishes – the economy is booming, the bull stock market is historic, unemployment is down, but our moral life in the Western World is incredibly bankrupt on so many levels, and has been decaying now for decades. Pope Paul VI warned in 1968 what would happen to the world if it broke with God’s commands on sexual morality, and here we are, in a royal mess. There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it.

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One of the invited comes in without a wedding garment and is thrown out into darkness: I always felt bad for the guy. The servants went out into the hedgerows, bringing in the homeless – of course he didn’t have a wedding robe! Why throw him out? But the custom of the time was that people were given a festive robe when they came to a wedding. He chose not to wear it. He represents those who think that they can get into the Savior’s banquet, the Savior’s liturgy, into heaven, just by showing up. God made me, God loves me, I’m in.

Not so fast. Those who rejected the invitation stayed away, and made light of it – who cares if we go or not? This guy says, who cares if I put on the robe or not? The Fathers of the Church write in their commentaries on this parable that the wedding garment represents our behavior, and that our behavior better be rooted in the virtue of authentic Christian love and a love that was acted upon: repentance, conversion of heart and mind, a life of good deeds. The Jewish rabbis of the day told a story of a king, representing God, who gave people beautiful robes, representing the soul. The wise treasured those robes, the fools wore them to do daily work in the fields and got them dirty. When the king wanted the robes back, the wise were given blessings, and the fools were thrown into a filthy prison. God wants our souls back clean, as a sign of a life well lived.

There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it. None of us will escape God’s judgment. Saint Peter Damian dealt with a major crisis in the Latin Church of the eleventh century in western Europe. The Church was threatened by kings who wanted to control the appointments of bishops, pastors and even the election of popes; by clergy who not only broke their vows of celibacy by taking mistresses but also abused adult men and women as well as children: sound familiar? There was also the issue of clergy who sold access to the sacraments and sold the appointments of bishops and pastors. He laid the groundwork for the Gregorian Reform that eventually delivered freedom to the Church from secular powers.  Peter Damian had called for many reforms, and wrote that one of the problems was that there were bishops who were more afraid to be despised by men than to be judged by God. So those bishops covered up scandal, hid the sins of wayward priests, and went along with the powerful instead of protecting ordinary believers. Part of the whole mess of the early medieval era was that the failure of the bishops to stop such behavior by priests and bishops dragged the reputation of the Church into the mud and people lost respect for priesthood and bishops. Sound familiar? There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it.

                                                                                            Related imageThe Last Judgment: Sistine Chapel 

            It is not enough to show up at the banquet; one must be prepared to enter into the banquet as a full participant, wearing the robe of a soul that has sought to respond to God’s holy will. Grace gives us liberty, God’s saving grace gives us freedom, but always with a free will. I accept all of it, or just part of it. If I accept part of what is taught by Christ’s Church, then I better remember: There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it.

St.  Gregory the Great wrote that “We shall be separated when we reach our goal. Only the good are in heaven, and only the bad are in hell. This life is situated between heaven and hell. It goes on in the middle, so to speak, and takes in the citizens of both parts. But at the end of time, God will separate them.”   In the Epistle today, Saint Paul writes in 2 Corinthians about the problems they had, and how he refrained from making another visit because he knew he was going to have to pass a judgment on them. They had abandoned by the seal of God imprinted on them at their baptism and Confirmation/ Chrismation – when the priest anoints the infant or convert with sacred chrism saying “The seal of the Holy Spirit.”  When the priest anoints the convert or infant, he repeats that phrase and everyone says “Amen”, which means Yes, I believe it is so. Just as we will after the Words of Institution to be uttered shortly at this altar, we believe Jesus Christ comes to us in the consecrated bread and wine, in His Body and Blood. Saint Paul  refrained from making that visit, but he wrote, as we heard in chapter 2, verse 4,” I wrote you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears …  to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” He had authentic Christian love. True Christian love.

People who are wicked can have a warped kind of love -they commit sins together: robbery, corruption, violent beatings of innocents, genocide, or the kind of abuse as described in the Pennsylvania report. But that is not Christian love. Christian love is the love that comes with tears, with anguish of heart, with passionate attachment to God above all else. Saint Paul warns in his famous passage in 1 Corinthians that a Christian can lay claim even to interpreting the gift of tongues, but if that Christian does not have the self-giving virtue of love, the love that impelled God to take on our weak human condition so as to save us, then he is a clanging gong, worthless. There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it.

We are angry at the mess in the American Church, and indeed throughout too much of the world. I have had to deal with this garbage since I entered seminary in 1977 and I am sick of it all. I am sick that it has gone on so long with nobody stopping it with serious reforms. But our anger  must be a holy anger, an anger like that of Christ, not of Man. May we pray fervently for our own conversions, for the conversion of our parish, for the conversion of the leaders who have failed the Church, and for the gift of humility – but for the grace of God, there go I – so that at our own personal judgment by God, Jesus Christ will step forward and wrap His arm around me and say, This one belongs to Me.

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Posted by: Fr Chris | August 15, 2018

The Assumption of Our Lady, Aug. 15

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In the icons, Jesus holds the soul of His most Blessed Mother, and comes to lift her body into heaven. There she stands as a sign of our own resurrection from the dead and life in glory! 

In the Eastern Churches, today is known as the Dormition, or the “falling asleep” of the Virgin. “Falling asleep” is the ancient phrase for dying, used by Saint Paul so often. It is the occasion of pilgrimages across Europe, as tens of thousands gather at shrines large and small, across most of Europe, as well as in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Mary has been honored as the Theotokos – the Mother of God. The oldest copy of the prayer We hasten to your protection, Sub Tuum Praesidium, gives her this title and asks her intercession, dates to about the year 250 and is found in Armenian, Coptic, Greek, Latin, and Syriac books and services.  Under your mercy we take refuge, Mother of God! Our prayers, do not despise in necessities, but from the danger deliver us, only pure, only blessed one.

The voice of the ancient Church acclaims her as the only pure one, using the word which refers to her virginity, the only blessed one, meaning a special and unique person, and the great title Mother of God. It further asks her intercession – the Coptic fragment we have probably dates to the great persecutions under either Valerian or Decius. So this is 200 years before the council of Ephesus, which uses the title Theotokos, not as an invention to defeat the Nestorian heresy but rather using ancient tradition. In antiquity, texts were written down after they had been used for a long time verbally.

What does it mean for her to be the Theotokos? God-bearer doesn’t convey the whole power of the word. As the Venerable Henry Cardinal Newman wrote:

She is not merely the Mother of our Lord’s manhood, or of our Lord’s body, but she is to be considered the Mother of the Word Himself, the Word incarnate. God, in the person of the Word, the Second Person of the All-glorious Trinity, humbled Himself to become her Son. Non horruisti Virginis uterum, as the Church sings, “Thou didst not disdain the Virgin’s womb”. He took the substance of His human flesh from her, and clothed in it He lay within her; and He bore it about with Him after birth, as a sort of badge and witness that He, though God, was hers. He was nursed and tended by her; He was suckled by her; He lay in her arms. As time went on, He ministered to her, and obeyed her. He lived with her for thirty years, in one house, with an uninterrupted intercourse, and with only the saintly Joseph to share it with Him. She was the witness of His growth, of His joys, of His sorrows, of His prayers; she was blest with His smile, with the touch of His hand, with the whisper of His affection, with the expression of His thoughts and His feelings, for that length of time.

The tradition that Mary died at the end of her life on earth but was bodily assumed into heaven and reunited with her soul goes back to very first century of Christianity. In a Church which values relics of the saints, the only ones we have of her are cloths claimed to be her veil and her belt. That her body was not left to undergo corruption in the grave makes sense – this was a unique body of the New Eve, who did not give in to the temptations of Satan, who acclaimed God’s saving power in the Magnificat at her visitation to Elizabeth, who nudged Jesus into His public ministry at the wedding in Cana, who wept at the cross and the tomb, who prayed with the apostles on the day of Pentecost. Basically, why should she who loved God so greatly, who followed Him as we were made to do so, be left to decay like all other people, when she is the only human not subject to the penalty of original sin? The tradition of her bodily assumption was confirmed by Pius XII in 1950, that the immaculate Mother of God stands as a sign to us of our eternal destiny: glorified body united with the soul, in the company of God, His angels, and all His saints, all the holy ones who have sought to follow God’s will and been purified to enter into the presence of the life-giving Holy Trinity forever.

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Pilgrims in August, Byzantine Catholic Shrine of Mariapocs 

The icon to which our parish is dedicated is that of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. This is the title which Mary herself gives to this image, in which the Child Jesus rests in her arms, frightened by the vision of His passion, which the angels Gabriel and Michael have shown to Him with the  cross, spear, and the sponge on a reed. In that icon, the Virgin looks out at us – she points to her Son with one hand, showing us He is the way, the life of the world, and with her other hand cradling her little boy against her. This is our goal: to be saved by the life-giving Passion of Christ, His death and resurrection, and to imitate Mary in her closeness to Jesus Christ.

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Crowning of the Perpetual Help statue at the Assumption Pilgrimage, Enugu, Nigeria 

May our blessed Lady intercede for our parish, our city, our nation, for all Christians, and through her perpetual prayers may all souls come to know Christ through the revelation entrusted to His Church on earth. It is a Church that is being rocked by scandals in a fallen world – a tragic reminder that Jesus left His Church guided by fallen people, not by angels. But the Church has gone through worst times, and emerged purified and triumphant. (If there were more women running diocesan offices, I doubt that the sexual scandals of the last 50 years could have taken place!)

Through the perpetual prayers of our Lady, glorified in heaven body and soul as a sign to us, may we enter into the heavenly court, and may we ourselves be living signs of that destiny and faith to those around us.

PS – Today the Church blesses flowers. Why? According to an ancient legend, when the apostles went to open Mary’s tomb, they found it empty, her body was gone. In its place, were flowers and herbs. Ever since, Christians send flowers to funerals as a sign of our faith in the resurrection of the dead to eternal life. 

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Statue of the deceased Virgin covered in flowers, Poland 

Card from the Assumption pilgrimage, Birkenstein in Bavaria 

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Carrying the statue of Our Lady for her assumption, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Poland

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 13, 2018

Two saints who give us an example we need today!

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SS Pontian and Hippolytus together 

An anti-pope is a man elected in opposition to the reigning pope, and the first one, oddly enough, is a canonized saint. The short biography below of Pope Saint Pontian and his one-time opponent, Saint Hippolytus, gives the background and how they were reunited, in the fearsome Roman mines of Sardinia, where thousands died. Hippolytus, by the way, was the leading theologian in Italy in the third century.

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From Michael Heinlein:

Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus
— Aug. 13 —

The joint celebration of these saints since 1969 is a lesson in forgiveness and an example of how enemies can become friends. Not only did the Church face threats from the hostile Roman Empire in the third century, but also the internal unity of the Church was threatened by heresy. The theologian St. Hippolytus took things to an extreme when he believed that the bishops of Rome were not strong enough in their defense of the Faith against various heresies. Elected as an alternative bishop of Rome, he became the first antipope, attacking his rivals, popes Urban I and Pontian. When Pope St. Pontian was arrested and sent to a slave camp, St. Hippolytus soon followed the same fate. Before their martyrdom they reconciled, and Pope Fabian brought their relics together in Rome on Aug. 13, 236.

To resume my post: here we have an example of a divided Church. The diocese of Rome was split over which bishop to follow, and each man had their advocates. Hippolytus was convinced he was right, Pontian was convinced he was right, and each was convinced the other was wrong. Hippolytus felt that Pontian was too soft in how he restored sinners and lapsed Christians to the Church, and that a previous pope was not vigorous enough in defeating heresy. He was so convinced that he was right, that he was willing to rupture the Body of Christ rather than accept the popes’ acts, because after all, “I’m right.”

But in their common circumstance of suffering for Christ our Lord, they were able to set aside their differences, and truly reconcile. Survivors testified to their authentic forgiveness of each other, and that Hippolytus was restored to the communion of the Church. Thus, Pope Fabian enshrined their relics together in the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus circa 237 AD. Since 1969 their feast day has been celebrated jointly.

In these days of harsh words and condemnations of the “other” as being wrong, these two give a great example of how we should set aside our differences and be able to talk to each other! They not only talked to each other, they embraced and shared Holy Communion together. Would that Democrats, Republicans, and everybody else who is given over to divisive language would follow their example and be able to sit down and break bread with one another respectfully!

Holy martyrs Pontian and Hippolytus, pray for us!

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 11, 2018

Jesus and the Rich Young Man – and me

12th Sunday after Pentecost, 2018

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Jesus gave him a list of the commandments which have to do with a man’s obligation to his fellowman. He was going about the task of bringing this man to conviction and showing him his need of a Savior. The young man quickly answered, I have kept all these commandments all of my life.” But Jesus had not mentioned the first commandment which says that we are not to have any other gods before the God of heaven. Nor had He mentioned the second commandment which says that we are not to bow down and worship any earthly thing. Nor the great commandment: love God with whole heart And soul and love neighbor as yourself. And right here the man’s supposed perfection broke down. He did have a god other than the God of heaven. He did worship an earthly idol. Money was his bigger god-he worshiped his wealth. And Jesus, who could see his heart, knew this, so He applied the acid test. “Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow Me.”

In 1st cent Judaism there was a heresy that the wealthy are blessed by God – this is NOT found anywhere in Scripture. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Protestant Reformers, and some Scripture “scholars”, dealt with this episode like this: ancient gates were called needles because they were pointed on top, so the camel had to get down on the ground to get through it, so Jesus really meant that the rich had to be humble. While rich folks and everyone else has to be humble, this is NOT what Jesus meant. Ancient gates had arches that were round or square – no narrow tiny spaces. This is the kind of twisting of the gospel we get in the US with so many mega churches that preach the gospel of prosperity – it was a heresy in the 1st century, it was a heresy in the reformation, it is a heresy today. God does not shower wealth on the saved! Nowhere does that appear in the bible, or for that matter, in church history. Because those who were convinced they were saved due to their status and power almost always ended up abusing the rest of humanity, and did so firm in the belief that since they were the only ones saved, they had the right to do so.

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Jesus uses all kinds of hyperbole, of odd images in His preaching, which was a common thing to do in first century Palestine. He is telling the disciples it is impossible – why? the rich wanted to get richer, more powerful, at the expense of everyone else, and control more of the economy – and if my life is devoted to acquiring stuff and power,  God usually gets the leftovers of my energy.

God did not choose ancient Egypt, or the mighty Persian empire, or even the Roman empire as His chosen people –  God consistently chose the anawim in Scripture, and early Israel is definitely among the anawim! God chose twelve wandering clans descended from one elderly man and his wife who supposedly could not have children, who spent their days walking with their sheep and goats in one of the most heavily traveled parcels of land in the ancient world, to be His Chosen People. When ancient Israel rose into kingdoms, false gods were worshipped and the temple abandoned except for the priestly families and God’s little ones – the ones who continued to trust in Him. When ancient Israel hit hard times, the false gods were overthrown and the crowds returned to the temple. The wealthy young ruler knew he needed more, but once convicted in his heart that he had to give up his money and power, he refused to do it, even though it meant happiness and salvation.

The good deeds we perform mean nothing unless they are supported with love of God and neighbor. Even communists have a code of behavior – they rarely follow it, preferring to keep the Party and its members in power at all costs, but they do have one. The key is WHY are we doing what we do.

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St Elizabeth Queen of Hungary: her royal relatives were angry that she gave bread to the poor, and her own husband pulled open her robes thinking he’d find rich food and instead he found roses – after that, he let her do whatever she wanted.

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Saint Zita, incorrupt since her death in 1272 

St Zita was a maid in a wealthy house for 48 years – went to daily Mass, said many prayers, yet fulfilled all her duties perfectly. Servants were jealous of her and her employers were angry that she gave food to poor people and beggars – in the end everyone was won over to love her – why? Her work was prayer, she sanctified dusting, washing, cooking with her constant prayers and love for God. Her body remains incorrupt over 700 years after her death, a sign of just how much she pleased God.

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Blessed Karl of Austria and his wife, the Servant of God Zita of Bourbon-Parma

Crown Prince Karl of Austria and his wife stopped to eat in a village inn in the early 1900s. He was in his military uniform, heading back to his troops. A woman recognized the regiment whose uniform he was wearing and asked if he could deliver clean socks and food to her son in that regiment. Imagine her shock when her son wrote to her that the future Emperor of Austria-Hungary himself had happily delivered her care package to him! How many of our 1% who control 40% of America’s wealth would do such a thing? How many of us would happily do so?

The poor are not perfect – they can be focused on getting rich or at least better than what they have so as to escape grinding poverty and forget God – but, why is it that we have so few saints who were wealthy and powerful, who had luxury of time and energy to supposedly devote to God since they weren’t working long hours? The few who were, were like St Elizabeth, Blessed Karl of Austria or St Henry the Emperor – they were people who took time out for union with God, to participate in worship, who treated the men and women around them as equals made by God, who raised their wealthy children to be grateful to God for everything and everyone around them.

The key for either rich or poor or middle or working class is this: what is our god here on earth in addition to God? too often we all have one. power, popularity at work or school, being a better athlete, controlling other people in my life, showing off with my skills to those who I think are not as good as me – we all have these gods, and they are all negatives.

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” – do I want to spend eternity in heaven with God and His angels and saints? The answer for all here is presumably yes – we must ask ourselves in light of this gospel, do I have one God, one Almighty God? How do I act towards others: do I behave to other students, co -workers, as if they are all equally important in God’s eyes, or do I respect only a boss or the local bully? Do I keep God’s commandments? How much time does God get from me? How much time and attention could He get from me? What have I taught my children? What am I teaching my children, my grandchildren now? How do I act towards others – politely, out of social harmony, or with respect and affection, because they are the children of God?

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What must I do to be saved? What must I be doing so that I can enjoy eternity with God, His angels, His saints?  I could be 90 and still ask that question, because we continue to change and grow. In our prayers tonight, let us ask God  that question: given who I am now, and where I am in life now, what must I do to be saved?

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Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 6, 2018

Faith and the Transfiguration of Christ

A Large Antique Russian Icon Depicting the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ For Sale

When priests meet, we usually talk about our parishes. Never do we ask each other, “How intense if the faith of  your parishioners?” Rather we talk about Sunday and holy day attendance, mortgages, is the hall adequate, youth programs, young adult programs, family programs, budget and Sunday collections. But we never ask, “How intense is the faith of your worshippers? How intense is your  own faith?”

Six days earlier, in Matthew chapter 16, Peter had answered Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” with his proclamation of faith: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus makes him the rock on which He will build the Church, but Peter messes up pretty quickly by arguing against Jesus’ prophecy of the passion, death, and resurrection. Out of love, he is horrified that this should come to Jesus, but Jesus firmly tell him “get behind me, Satan, for you are  not on the side of God, but of men. Then Jesus goes on to tell them about the importance of the cross, accepting crosses, and carrying them,  “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?”

It is after all of this that Jesus withdraws to the top of Mount Tabor with Peter, who is both the rock on which the Church will be built and the one who will betray Jesus three times in His passion;  and the two brothers James and John, who had to both struggle with pride and anger. These three are the ones who see Jesus revealed in full glory, in full majesty, blinding them.

In icons, only Peter can look at the vision, and he is the only one who can speak – James and John are overwhelmed. Moses and Elijah are there to represent the Law and the Prophets and the message is clear: the Law, the Prophets and all the Writings all point to, culminate in and magnify Christ. In fact, every book of the Hebrew Bible either prefigures, foreshadows or points to Jesus in some manner. The history of Israel often foreshadows Christ’s difficult relationship with his sometimes idolatrous and wayward Church – a Church where right now we have seen bishops repeatedly circle the wagons for decades to save institutions and reputations rather than rescue laity, seminarians, and priests from predatory bishops and priests whose sexual abuse has destroyed lives and wrecked families. A bitter harvest has been the result: even more souls walking away from the holy sacraments which are the instruments of salvation, an entire society questioning whether or not Catholic bishops even have the right anymore to speak to the world about morals.

How intense is the faith of your people; how intense is your own faith? Jesus knew Peter’s weaknesses, his emotionalism, his fear but Jesus also knew that Peter would step up in the end and become the rock, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew James and John aspired to greatness, and he knew their tempers were so bad that he nicknamed them the sons of thunder! But James is the first apostle to be martyred for his faith in Christ as the Son of God as is recorded in chapter 12 of the Acts of the Apostles. John of course outlives everyone, being the youngest, and also was the one who loved Jesus so much that he is still called the Beloved Disciple, and who produces the magnificent passages in his Gospel, which begins with the affirmation that Jesus is the Eternal Word of God.

How is intense is the faith of your people? how intense is your own faith? My father asked me once, “Do you believe that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ?” I answered, “Of course I do, don’t you?” And he said in reply, “It has to be … anything else run like this would have folded in the first fifty years.” He’s right! It is proof of the divine foundation of the Catholic Church.

The three apostles behold the two natures of Jesus: His full humanity, which they knew well, and His full divinity, the promise of their future, which they were still learning about. The Church has been through many trials, and will be again. People leave in droves at different times, and people enter in huge crowds at other times. The job of we who stay is to indeed have an intense faith, confidence in God’s saving power through the holy sacraments, above all the Holy Eucharist. We are here to grow in faith, no matter who the pastor is, or what the bishop does, or if the pope is a good man or a bad man. Our faith is in Christ and the Church he founded: the great Catholic writer Frank Sheed wrote that “we are not baptized into the hierarchy; we do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; we will not spend eternity looking on the pope’s face. Christ is the point.” And he was right – we are baptized into the Holy Trinity; we receive God’s living grace in the sacraments, and we will spend eternity unpacking the wonderful mystery of God in His awesome glory accompanied by the saints and angels. This feast day celebrates the fullness of Who Jesus is, and Peter, James and John ended up slowly being transformed by their experience until Pentecost and their proclamation of Jesus as the Son of the living God.

It is up to us to live out the mystery of this feast: to be willing to go forward in confidence and trust in our personal relationships with Almighty God, to look at ourselves in the bright light of the Transfiguration and confront our failings like those three apostles had to and root out sin from our lives and replace sin with God’s healing grace. How intense is the faith of our parish? Faith must grow steadily, constantly, and be watered by the power of the Holy Spirit, strengthened in the sacraments which we receive. Tonight, we must answer that question for each of us who has taken the time to come here: How intense is my faith?  Christ is among us.

Russian painted icon, Transfiguration 1

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