Jesus Climbs into Your Pickup
In today’s Sunday Gospel, the last before Ash Wednesday, Jesus commands Simon Peter to go deeper. Notice that Simon wasn’t paying any attention to Jesus at first. Picture the scene as if it were you, Joe University Student: imagine that you’re unloading boxes from your pickup at the Engineering Building on campus. You’re vaguely aware of a street preacher addressing a crowd of students nearby. Then the preacher walks over and gets into the passenger side of your truck. “Please take me downtown,” he says. You get in without question and begin driving. He looks at you and says, “The superficial mediocrity of American college life is not enough for you. Go deeper.”
Jesus is preaching to a crowd on the lakeshore. Simon, a professional fisherman, was not paying any attention, apparently—he was busy making a living, cleaning his nets after a frustrating and useless night’s work. Jesus steps into Simon’s boat, without asking permission, and asks to be taken a distance from the shore. He preaches from the boat, while Simon, who is weary from a hard night’s work, waits patiently. But he too listens. Then Jesus commands Simon in those perennial words: Duc in altum. “Put out into deep water, and lower your nets for a catch.” It was one of John Paul II’s favorite lines. He quotes these words of Christ at the beginning of his apostolic letter guiding us into the Third Millennium, Novo millennio inuente. Duc in altum.
Simon, Simon Bar-Jonah: you have worked hard, but you have caught nothing, because you have not gone deep. You live your faith superficially; you keep your life in the shallows. You’ll catch nothing there. Let me show you how to go deep, teach you the virtue of holy daring, of trustful surrender to providence.
Simon replies: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing. But at your command, I will lower the nets.” Simon’s acquiescence to Christ’s command defines the rest of St. Peter’s life, and the life of the Church. He makes the decision to trust Him whom he grasps intuitively to be Lord and Messiah. “Master,” he addresses him, “at your command I will lower the nets.” And having once trusted Jesus, Peter is flooded by a superabundance of life—a great number of fish flapping and slapping and breaking through the nets, and the other boats rushing over to assist their partners.
Peter sinks before Jesus: “leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” He realizes with terror that the thrice-holy Lord and King of Isaiah’s vision (in our first reading) sits before him. Like Isaiah, Peter cries out “Woe is me: I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips!” But even as he cries out, Simon hopes that Jesus will touch a burning ember to his lips, will raise him up from the bottom of his boat and make an Apostle of him. And so Jesus utters his third command: “Do not be afraid (another of John Paul II’s favorite lines): from now on you will be catching men.” Simon and his partners left immediately everything and followed him.
Building a Civilization of Love
I like to think that Thomas Aquinas College is the last best hope for western civilization. The lights are going out in the west (my seminary moral theology teacher would often say that “the 21st Century belongs to the Pacific”). The curtain is falling on 18 centuries of Christian-inspired philosophy, scientific method, jurisprudence and economics, art, literature, and music. Our culture is regressing to a superficial humanism, an attempt at enlightened paganism, which will bear only dissatisfaction and violence.
Jesus needs fishers of men to build the Kingdom of God. He climbs into our boat and directs us to go deep into the Christian culture which is our patrimony. Our work now is that of students, fully assimilating the philosophy and theology offered so freely here at our College. But there will come a time to give back what we have received, to engage deeply the society in which we live. If all we do is keep the faith to ourselves, we have failed Jesus Christ. We must cast out the great net of a deeply imbued Christian culture, and then we will certainly catch souls for God. John Paul II calls this the New Evangelization, and Benedict XVI calls it a Year of Faith.
What will you do with your TAC education? How will you deepen your life and lower your nets for a catch? What and who will you catch for Jesus Christ? Do not be afraid of failure, for it is Christ himself who commands us. He stays within our boats as we cast the nets. With Our Lady, we dedicate ourselves to working alongside the Lord, building a civilization of love.
Homily: The City of God and the City of Man
Extraordinary Form Homily, October 7th, 2012
19th Sunday after Pentecost
A tale of two cities
Dickens’ great novel about revolutionary Paris and London tells the tale of Two Cities. So our Lord in today’s Gospel tells the tale of two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. You belong to one, or you belong to the other. The Kingdom of heaven is like a King who invited many guests to his Son’s wedding feast. He slaughtered his oxen and fatlings and dressed the great table for his guests, so earnestly does he desire each guest’s salvation. He prepares his table at every Mass, but many guests do not come. They treat the king’s invitation with contempt, and murder his messengers.
Do you know the largest religious group in this country? It is not Catholics, for Catholics attend Mass every Sunday and submit themselves to the apostles’ teaching. The largest religious group in our country is not Catholics, but non-practicing Catholics, for 75% of those who claim membership in the Catholic Church neither attend Mass faithfully nor believe in all the Church’s teachings. They do not come to the Wedding Feast, and they ridicule the Pope and his faithful bishops. What is this mysterious malice, that not only ignores the King’s invitation, but that drives the invited guests to a fury of intolerance?
So the King destroys those murderers and burns their city, the City of Man. The King affords apostates no quarter, and for us, neither is there any third way. Either we enter the City of God, and take our place at the wedding feast of the Lamb, or we obtusely remain in the City of Man to await our certain destruction. But one man did try a third way. He entered the City of God in shabby clothing. St. Gregory the Great writes of this passage: “The marriage is the wedding of Christ and his Church, and the garment is the virtue of charity: a person who goes into the feast without a wedding garment is someone who believes in the Church but does not have charity.”
How terrible to come before God with dirty, stinking, rotten clothing! We observe a dress code in our college chapel. It is a sign that we do not come before the Lord without clothing ourselves, as best we can, with the virtues that God himself provides. God provides grace, but we must put it on, as St. Paul says in the Epistle: “Put on the new man … put away lying … let not the sun set on your anger … steal no more….”
Year of Faith
God intensely desires our happiness, now and forever. He prepares the nuptial feast of his Son, at which we receive the very self-offering of our bridegroom. With his own hand he feeds each of us with himself. Yet how many Catholics believe this? How many, rather, manifest the obstinate malice that ridicules their own Mother, the Church? They have lost the virtue of faith. Faith must be received from another, certainly, but we must develop and practice the faith we receive. Pope Benedict opens a Year of Faith this week, on Thursday, October 11, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The “Door of Faith is always open for us,” writes the Pontiff. “To enter that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.” But “in large swathes of society, a profound crisis of faith has affected many people.” How will you, college students and college tutors, practice this Year of Faith? The Pope recommends, above all, studying and teaching the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I will say more on the Year of Faith in the coming weeks.
The Holy Rosary
Today is also October 7th, the Feast of the Holy Rosary. On this day in 1571, 70,000 Christian men came up against the seemingly invincible Ottoman Navy. Each Christian held a rosary in his hand, and so the ensuing victory brought about a new devotion to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. We too must bear the rosary into our battles. The City of Man wars incessantly against the City of God, and the battle lines cross directly through each human heart. What will save us from the furious secularism of our time, intent with mysterious malice to humble and subjugate the Church of Christ? You and I must pray the rosary, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “my favorite prayer. A marvelous prayer! Marvelous in its simplicity and its depth.” Nothing bad can touch the family that regularly prays the rosary with devotion. It is one of the great anthems of the City of God, of which, we beseech God and His Holy Mother, we many always be faithful and true citizens.
Homily: How Best to Thank God
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Today the Gospel speaks to us of the famous ten lepers, all of whom Jesus healed of leprosy. Only one returned to render him thanks. And Jesus seems a little hurt that the other nine did not take the trouble to thank him.
We often say, “I’m only human … I just want a little thanks.” Jesus Christ is not only human, but he is human: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). One of our greatest weaknesses is ingratitude. We often do not take the trouble to thank God and God’s servants, and of course if we feel others do not thank us our noses go way out of joint. I can remember my first month as pastor of my last parish. The business manager took me aside one afternoon and said: “Father, I know you appreciate us, but you could tell us once in a while.” And I have been tempted to think many times, “all I do for this parish, and nobody appreciates it!”
So Jesus feels slighted, and rightly so. In fact, we owe God an infinite debt of gratitude for His infinite gifts, both for creating us and for redeeming us. He asks us to thank Him, surely not for his own good (he doesn’t “need our thanks”) but for our own good. It is good for us to cultivate and express genuine gratitude. Not the superficial “thank you” phrase so often parroted in our culture, but a welling up from the heart gratitude for His very presence.
How best to thank God? What gift can we give to the one who has everything? Well, what Jesus seems to want most of all is our faith. The lone leper, a Samaritan, a “double leper”, so to speak, renders him thanks: ‘gratias agens.” But how did he render thanks? He fell on his face at the feet of Jesus and magnified God in a loud voice: “cecidit in faciem, cum voce magna magnifcans Deum.” He professed his faith in the divinity of Christ. He believed in him. He prostrated himself before Jesus, which is done only before a deity. And Jesus makes this clear in the last line of our Gospel: “Rise and go: your faith has saved you.” Of course, what he means is that God has saved him, through his faith. But he first had to make that profession of faith in the Divine Person of Jesus.
It is precisely this faith that is seriously on the wane in our time. Without faith, nothing works. Without faith, there is no real love, no gratitude, no justice, no equality, no hope. All virtue, all prosperity and human flourishing, depend on one foundation: that there is a power greater than ourselves ordering the universe. Acknowledgement of God’s providence in human history changes everything for the individual Christian. Faith in God, not in man, served as foundation for the great flourishing of culture in the Christian west. This culture stands on the precipice in our time, as the faith on which it was built recedes.
Thus has Pope Benedict called for a Year of Faith. Let me read to you from the document Porta Fidei.
Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people…. In the light of all this, I have decided to announce a Year of Faith. It will begin on 11 October 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, … The starting date … also marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
We all have a crucial part to play in this Year of Faith. You who are tutors, must bring the faith to your students. All scholarship has its beginning and also its proper end in faith, “fides quarens intellectum” presupposes a faith, but also leads to our final end, union with God through faith. The Catechism begins with the Creed, but ends with Prayer, the deepest expression of faith. You who are students, must bring the faith to the world beyond this campus. TAC has set out to form witnesses to the Truth, “co-workers in the truth” in the words of Pope Benedict. Faith in God is the highest expression of Truth.
We count on Our Lady to help us, the woman who believed in the promises of God. In the concluding words of Benedict’s letter, “Let us entrust this time of grace to the Mother of God, proclaimed “blessed because she believed” (Lk 1:45).”
Recently, and with great joy, I read Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei (“Door of Faith”). It is not a long document, and we will print parts of it on our “Pope Page” (page 6) beginning today. Benedict wrote it last October to prepare the Church for the Year of Faith, which will begin October 2012.
We scarcely can imagine, the Pope writes, the inestimable treasure that is our Faith. Life without it would be hardly bearable. So much of our peacefully-ordered culture owes its prosperity to the Faith of our Fathers. Consider President Washington’s words in 1789: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” Our Founders’ humble faith in a Power greater than themselves enabled them to build a prosperous America. Our prosperity recedes, however, as our Faith recedes. Movies, TV programs, political speeches — all manner of public discourse, arts and entertainment — used to speak openly about God. Compare yesterday’s movies such as the Sound of Music and the Ten Commandments with today’s movies that ignore or mock faith in God. The Pope, while pointing out how much society has lost its faith, urges us to celebrate the Gift of Faith, and to recover it: “The ‘door of faith’ (Acts 14:27) is always open for us…. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.”
How will we celebrate this Year of Faith at St. Joseph’s? We begin by learning our faith better, because no one can believe what he does not know. Most Catholics know very little, perhaps not even the essentials, of Catholic doctrine. We must learn our faith more clearly and then teach it to others, especially to our own children. “In order to arrive at a systematic knowledge of the content of the faith,” writes Pope Benedict, “all can find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church a precious and indispensable tool.” We will celebrate this Year of Faith by studying our Catechism, like good boys and girls. I welcome you to our Catechism 101 Course, which begins June 18, and continues the third Monday of every month (see page 3).