In last week’s blog, I spoke of silence. Silence is joy, because only in silence can we poor mortals begin to hear the voice of God (or the voice of Nature, in some folks’ parlance). As Mother Teresa would say, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence.” I write this early in the morning, and I can hear many things: wind buffeting palm fronds, birds chirping, waves lapping the sand, etc. But what I don’t hear is disorder. I hear the ordered sounds of nature.
A Latino business group to whom I am chaplain held their annual meeting at a hotel on the island upon which I find myself. They are honest and hard-working, and they brought their families, as Hispanics are wont to do. I don’t just mean a “significant other”: they brought children, mothers-in-law, cousins, grandchildren, abuelas and abuelos. The top leadership was not ashamed to speak of God’s blessings and our dependence on His providence to the 500 participants. Certainly God-talk can be superficial, but these folks genuinely want to be the friends of God. They openly express their struggle to submit to His will. It was most edifying.
We had an opening dinner poolside. Everyone was there, including the ninos and abuelitos, and even the padre (your scribe). The purpose of the opening social was for folks to reacquaint, to network, to converse about the business and to deepen friendships. So how did the hotel help us do that? They erected large speaker towers and blasted reggae and rock “music” at us the entire time. We had to shout at each other, we had to use hand signals, we had to cover our ears when getting second helpings near the speaker towers. Some left early because any meaningful communication was almost impossible.
So who asked the hotel to inflict this upon us? Maybe the hotel just assumes tourists want this type of thing. But couldn’t someone say to the management that we don’t want this music at this volume? That it defeats the purpose of our gathering? That we want more beautiful and cultured music? That it harms our children and shouts down our conversations with friends?
Volume wasn’t the only issue: what they played was not really music. Music communicates order and beauty, but what they played was a kind of noxious noise. It disrupted, it distracted, it communicated nothing beyond self-gratification. Can we not say, after so many years of bad music, that Pop and Rock and Reggae and Rap is bad, that it denigrates virtue and human relationships, that it is not true art, that it is base? Who has decided that everywhere we go in western culture we have to endure trashy music? We went to a restaurant. It shouted and taunted us from corner speakers. We went diving. It blared from the boat radio. We sat on a beach. It pounded and oozed from people’s boom boxes.
Do you want this kind of noise in your public places? If not, consider asking the management to change the channel and/or lower the volume. Let them know that the services they offer are considerably less appealing if it includes banal music. I have done this at a few restaurants, and actually, almost always they have lowered the volume. Some have even changed the music. After all, as we all know, the customer is always right, and it’s time for some customers to speak up, above the trashy music imposed upon us.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1622), the eminent French scientist and inventor of the first mechanical calculator, once observed: “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” Silence is joy. Of course, one must acquire a taste for silence, especially since the multiplication of noisy technologies. The gasoline engine began modernity’s proliferation of noise; since then the jet engine, the television, and the stereo system has compounded the chaos. Electronics have added visual noise to audible noise, and on a virtually infinite scale (you can waste your life surfing 1000 channels on your TV and 20 billion websites on your smartphone). But my all-time favorite purveyor of noise is the gas-powered leaf-blower, the bane of once-quiet residential neighborhoods.
A few of us priests went in search of silence to a friend’s cabin in the Sierras this week. While the others yet slept, my guardian angel woke me up at 6:00 with the first rays of the dawn. I rolled out of bed, grabbed a chair and a breviary, and went to the nearby lake. The sun had just risen, casting sparkling glimmers on the lapping water. Volcanic cliffs above the lake glowed red in the morning light, and towering Douglas Firs tilted slightly in the morning breeze. Aside from the gentle sighing of pine boughs, flitting birds provided the only other sound. Prayer was as simple as looking and listening to an ordered a near-perfect landscape. Within a few minutes I was thrilling in the conviction of God’s infinite love for me and his perfect providence for all creatures great and small. It doesn’t take long to perceive God when we soak ourselves in silence.
But then the construction crew came, and my precious silence was interrupted. They came to remodel one of the cabins, about a mile away, but in the morning silence I could hear their rough conversations, and then their drills, saws, and pounding hammers. How hard it is to preserve silence, either because we cannot sit still or because others cannot sit still! But I sat quietly by the lake, and decided to finish out my hour of prayer where I began it. It is possible to preserve an interior silence even in the midst of noise, but it takes an act of will. God has permitted this noise, I told myself, and he means to show me love even through consternation. God permits chaos, and we are meant to find silence within it. There is a good bit of chaos at the moment, and it will likely get worse before it gets better. But no government persecution, or Church mismanagement, or cultural decline need break our silence and blessed interior stillness. “In the silence of the heart, God speaks,” said Mother Teresa. Silence of the tongue, of the eyes, of the ears, of the heart, is an act of the will, within reach of every man. Silence is joy.
Falling Skies promotional poster
I sent the following post to the LA Times’ as a letter to the editor, but they seem adverse to printing opinions contrary to their editorial views. So I offer it to my devoted readers.
The Sunday Times sported a TNT Television advertisement over its front page that looked just like the front page (complete with Sunday masthead). It promoted the TV series “Falling Skies” with a photo of a dozen men and women marching toward the viewer, each brandishing various kinds of assault weapons. They looked very cool.
The “real” front page (beneath the advertisement) contained a story about Friday’s Santa Monica shootings. It showed a surveillance photo of the killer entering the college library with an assault weapon. He looked not very cool—he had “a history of mental issues,” says the article. It blames the tragedy on access to firearms. So which is it, America? Are guns good or not good? Is shooting up other people cool, or is it not cool? If murder is not cool, then let’s stop promoting movies that make killing look cool, especially to those walking our streets with “a history of mental issues.”
Sacred Heart of Jesus by
José María Ibarrarán y Ponce, 1896
The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Today we celebrate the external feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is properly celebrated on the Friday after the Sunday after Corpus Christi. The Church often celebrates beloved feasts more than once—we just can’t get enough of them! For example, we celebrate the Christmas and Easter Masses for eight days in succession, and the Church often permits us to celebrate a weekday feast again on the following Sunday. Such is the case today. Fr. Hildebrand did celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart with all solemnity last Friday at the 5:20pm Mass, and they even kept the kitchen open 15 minutes longer so we could get some dinner afterwards. We really appreciated that kindness from the kitchen staff—the thoughtfulness of the heart of Jesus. As Mother Teresa was wont to say: “thoughtfulness is the beginning of great sanctity.” On the Feast of the Sacred Heart, we call to mind how our Lord thinks about us all the time; for example, in his thoughtfulness Jesus inspired the kitchen staff to keep the food lines open for us.
Blood and Water
The graces we receive daily from God’s thoughtfulness, however, come at a price, as we are reminded in the Gospel today. There is no love without suffering; no love without sacrifice. Jesus had been crucified, and his body hung lifeless from the Cross. A soldier thrust for his heart to make sure he was dead, and the lance drew a great flow of blood and water from his open side. St. John assures us that he saw this himself. Why would blood and water flow in abundance from a corpse? First, because Jesus, though dead, lives forever, and his heart never ceases to beat, his blood never ceases to flow for the people he loves. Second, the Church is born from Christ’s wounded heart as the sacraments of water and blood—Baptism and the Holy Eucharist—pour out upon the world. He will cleanse us with the grace-filled water flowing from his open side, and he will feed us with the blood flowing from his open heart. Christ’s heart is open to all men and women. It is never closed. St. Paul will often say, “open your hearts to me.” We open our hearts by enthroning the Sacred Heart in our lives. Families and individuals who have enthroned Christ the King in their homes have hearts like unto his, open hearts.
They will look upon Him whom they have pierced
One of the kindest, most open-hearted prelates I have met is Raymond Cardinal Burke. Twelve priests had dinner with him at his rectory when he was Archbishop of St. Louis. He sat at the center of the table, showing kindness to every one of us. It was really like the Last Supper with Jesus. I met him again in Turin, in May 2010. The Shroud of Turin was exposed for a month during the Year for Priests and I was in the city for five days hearing confessions and visiting the Shroud myself. A few of us priests came to the early Mass on Sunday in front of the Shroud, and we found Cardinal Burke in the sacristy. He greeted us warmly, and then at Mass preached on the Sacred Heart (he has a deep devotion, and has spread that devotion to the Sacred Heart in his dioceses). I will never forget listening to his heartfelt witness to the love of Christ, to the blood of Christ, and seeing just 20 feet behind him the blood stains on the Shroud. “They will look upon him whom they have thrust through” (transfixerunt in Latin). Every Catholic church is to have an image of Christ crucified, Christ thrust through, Christ’s open heart, pouring out the sacraments of redemption upon the world. We long to look upon him whom we have thrust through. Let us renew our love for Christ by praying before the Crucifix—by placing a crucifix prominently in every room of our houses, and by enthroning the Sacred Heart in our homes. Deepening our love for him, we learn to love each other. Those who turn daily to the Sacred Heart of Jesus have opened hearts for one another.
We live in a time of cultural decline. As those around us deny truth and mock goodness, and are tempted to close our hearts and hole up in protected Catholic enclaves. Certainly we must protect our children and our culture, but we must keep our hearts open to others, imitating Jesus. He opened his heart, knowing that men would misunderstand him, abuse him, and pierce him. We Christians, we Catholics, choose to become warmer, more charitable, more thoughtful, even as the world around us is growing colder, less caring, less reasonable, and more violent. We can do this only by devoting ourselves to Christ’s Sacred Heart, open and bleeding for the life of the world.
Two Real Tomatoes, perhaps on their
I write on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, and having just read an article in the Los Angeles Times declaring that even foes of gay “marriage” admit its inevitable legalization. What is this “gay marriage” they are trying to sell us? Is it the latest version of “Love American Style?” It can’t be anything more than another cheap American imitation, one without savor and without heart, that we are selling to the rest of the world.
Perhaps you have had a garden. Gardeners take supreme delight in their tomatoes. One of life’s greatest satisfactions is to pick a few garden tomatoes, if you can get home for lunch, and cut them up for sandwich or salad. Just a few wedges of freshly-picked tomatoes, with a drop of olive oil and a pinch of salt, maybe a sprinkling of pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar. The taste is real. It has heart. Food in Italy tastes so good because they use garden tomatoes rather than the mass-produced things we pick green and spray with ethylene gas to look ripe. These
“tomatoes” are generally tasteless and textureless and they don’t even smell like tomatoes.
But what if an entire generation grew up knowing no tomato but this plastic kind of “tomato?” They would not know what real tomatoes tasted like, looked like, smelled like or felt like. I suppose, in a way, you can call those plasticky, reddish, hard round balls “tomatoes,” but they are almost nothing like what you pluck from real, living, pungent tomato vines. Plastic tomatoes, plastic marriage. We’ve artificially manufactured a new kind of “tomato,” and we’ve artificially manufactured a new kind of “marriage” that does what we want it to. But there’s one problem: it’s not natural, and it doesn’t taste good.
The savor of marriage comes precisely from its difficulties, heroically overcome by spouses who learn, gradually, to give rather than to take, to accept rather than to manipulate, to receive rather than to demand. Ever wonder why the homosexual movement demands what it wants like a spoiled child? It’s because its members are not married. They have not learned to accept that you can’t put a round peg into a square hole. They are used to forcing nature. But our marriage problems began with artificial contraception, which unnaturally forces nature. They got worse when we began giving up on lifelong marriage. Now, please understand me: I’m talking about social trends. Many people have nobly sustained divorce and heroically rebuilt fine human lives from the wreckage. But as a culture, we’ve lost the nerve required to sustain lifelong married love.
Marriage is lifelong because it takes an entire lifetime to become a good person. We only learn to love another gradually, over the years, through trials and errors. Marriage forces people to mature, and without it we are a peevish, inconstant, selfish people. Yes, marriage has always been difficult, and folks have always cheated by having affairs with secret lovers and letting themselves devolve into the “married singles” lifestyle. But we’ve never come to a point of denying the goodness of marriage itself. Until now, perhaps. In the last fifty years personal wealth and security have increased to the degree that we can afford divorce. In years past, folks just couldn’t come up with the tens of thousands of dollars for divorce lawyers and therapists and setting up a second household. So they stayed married, and they worked things out, or learned to live with disappointment. If things were really bad, they divorced, but they didn’t deny marriage itself.
But we have done that, over the last fifty years. An entire generation or two has grown up with a tasteless, savorless, cheap imitation of “marriage” in America. Mostly what we have seen since 1968 is superficial, egotistical, confrontational relationships—on TV, in movies, among friends, and at home. We’ve grown up with a plastic imitation of marriage. How would anyone who knew nothing but “Love American Style” know what real marriage looks like, smells like, feels like? So when the totalitarians of culture tell them gay “marriage” is marriage, they say: “I guess so.”
But real tomatoes taste better, and so does real marriage. We can settle for plastic tomatoes, and we can settle for artificial marriage, but at some point, I suppose, we’ll get sick of it. We will make the sacrifices necessary to grow and ship and buy real tomatoes. And we will do the same with marriage. There comes a time when you just won’t settle for cheap imitations anymore. You plant real vines, and hoe around them, and weed, and water, and sacrifice, because you want a real tomato.
Corpus Christi procession through Thomas Aquinas College campus.
The Lauda Sion
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, established in the universal Roman calendar by Pope Urban IV in 1264. The Pope asked the greatest theologian of the time (and our School’s patron), St. Thomas Aquinas, to compose a Mass for the new feast. He composed five hymns, among them the beloved Adoro te devote, the Pange lingua, and the Lauda Sion. Of the five sequences in the Roman Missal, today’s is the longest and perhaps the most lyrical. In its dogmatic precision, it provides an admirable catechesis on the Holy Eucharist in 24 stanzas. It seems almost effusive, but St. Thomas leads us to wonder rather than definition. How can the Church sufficiently describe the Corpus Domini made real at every Mass, and quietly present in every tabernacle? We simply cannot say enough about the Holy Eucharist, the Inaestimabile Donum of our Provident Father. Some excerpts from our Sequence today:
Lauda Sion Salvatórem, Lauda ducem et pastórem, In hymnis et cánticis.
Praise O Zion your Savior, praise your leader and your shepherd, in hymns and canticles.
Dogma datur Christiánis, Quod in carnem transit panis, Et vinum in sánguinem.
To Christians is given this dogma, that bread becomes flesh, and wine blood.
A suménte non concísus, Non confráctus, non divísus: Integer accípitur.
Neither cut nor broken nor divided: the receiver receives Him whole.
Sumit unus, sumunt mille:Quantum isti, tantum ille: Nec sumptus consúmitur.
One receives him, a thousand receive him: as much as one receives, so much do a thousand receive: He is never exhausted.
Ecce panis Angelórum, Factus cibus viatórum: Vere panis filiórum.
Behold the bread of angels, made into bread of pilgrims: truly bread of sons and daughters.
Bone pastor, panis vere, Jesu, nostri miserére: Tu nos pasce, nos tuére, Tu nos bona fac vidére, in terra vivéntium.
Good pastor, true bread, Jesus our mercy: you keep us, you protect us, you will make us to see good things in the land of the living.
Feeding Five thousand
In today’s Gospel Jesus feeds five thousand, as he feeds five billion mouths every week throughout the world in the Holy Mass. It is growing late, and the Apostles see five thousand hungry and (potentially angry) men before them. “Dismiss this crowd!” they urge Jesus. Our Lord contests: “No. They are hungry. Feed them.” Jesus commands his first pastors to feed the world, but not with earthly bread. But the apostles reply, “feed them with what? We have only five loaves and two fish.” Jesus instructs them: “Then give them what you have. Give them all you have.” The disciples, thankfully, give everything they have to Jesus. He blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples, who give it to the people. All ate and were satisfied.
The priest must give what he has to Jesus before he can give it to the people. He cannot offer the Church anything of value without first surrendering it to Christ. It is Christ who consecrates and multiplies what we give, so that it may be sufficient. What have we to offer that will satisfy anyone? Very little, and certainly not enough. Do you ever feel inadequate in trying to meet the needs of your spouse, your children, your friends, or your parishioners? The trick is to offer what we do have to Jesus. Mother Teresa would say, “To God there is nothing small. The moment we have given it to God, it becomes infinite...”
In the Incarnation, God took what little Our Lady had to offer—her finite human will, her small and imperfect body—and he made it infinite. In Sacred Eucharist, God repeats that miracle. He takes what little we have to offer—a bit of bread and a few drops of wine—an hour of our time, a few dollars thrown into the basket, the little bit of energy we spend in getting to Mass. He takes our little tithe and feeds the world with it. The eternal salvation of every man, woman, and child on earth depends on the Mass, and the Mass depends on us. If we don’t offer the Eucharist, it won’t happen—Jesus entrusted this duty to men, after all. We have to offer what we have, as Abraham offered his little tithe in the first reading. He offered just a tenth of his wealth to the priest-king Melchizidek, who brought out offerings of bread and wine. And the blessing our father Abraham received is sufficient even unto this day.
After Mass we will process behind the Blessed Sacrament. In the words of Blessed John Paul II, the Church “solemnly bears it in procession, publicly proclaiming the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world.” The parishes that carry Christ in procession, and enthrone Him in the Blessed Sacrament, are transformed. My last parish had more people at daily Mass, fed more poor people every week, received more money in the Sunday offertory, and sent more men into the seminary than any other parish in the diocese. Asked by our local newspaper why this was so, one of our elderly parishioners replied immediately: it is because we have a perpetual adoration chapel.
Our Procession and Holy Hour
In our Corpus Christi procession today, we will consecrate the entire student body and academic year by bringing the Blessed Sacrament into the residence halls and throughout the campus. Pope Francis himself processed with the Sacrament through the city of Rome on Thursday, and today has just completed a Eucharistic Holy Hour (5-6pm Rome time, or 8-9am Santa Paula time). We join him in our Mass this morning, as we join him in a holy hour after our procession, with benediction at 11:30, just before a nice lunch at the Commons.
In a small work on Corpus Christi Sunday, St. Thomas articulates our own wonder in the Holy Eucharist: “O precious and wonderful banquet, that brings us salvation and contains all sweetness! Could anything be of more intrinsic value?...In the end, no one can fully express the sweetness of this Sacrament, in which spiritual delight is tasted at its very source….it was the fulfillment of ancient figures and the greatest of his miracles, and for those who were to experience the sorrow of his departure, a unique and abiding consolation.” The Eucharist, the Holy Mass, is our unique and abiding consolation, a divine foretaste of what awaits us in heaven.