Passion Sunday

On Being a Good Donkey

When Jesus and his disciples drew near to Jerusalem,
to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, 
he sent two of his disciples and said to them, 
“Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately on entering it, 
you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat.
Untie it and bring it here.
If anyone should say to you,
‘Why are you doing this?’ reply,
‘The Master has need of it.”

                                                                   Mark 11:1–10           

 

The colt the disciples found was not a horse but a young donkey, unbroken to the duty of carrying a burden on his back.      This donkey was not the only one of its kind to play a part in the Biblical story.  Numbers 22:1-31 recounts the attempt of the Midianite prince Balak to secure the blessing of the Prophet Baalam in the face of the impending invasion of his land by Israel, now freed from Egypt and on the march to Canaan.   Baalam’s indecisiveness in the face of this invitation leads the  Lord to send an angel to stand in the path, blocking the way to Moab.   Balaam did not see the angel but his donkey did, and so refuses to go forward on Baalam’s misguided mission.  Having urged his perceptive ass forward three times to no avail, Baalam then strikes the donkey, who protests, “What have I done to you , that you have struck me these three times?”  Baalam replies, “Because you have made sport of me.  I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.”   Baalam’s ass replied, “Am I not your ass, upon which you have ridden all your life long to this day?  Was I ever accustomed to do so to you?”  The Lord then intervenes: “Why have you struck your ass these three times?  Behold I have come forth to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me and the ass saw me. . . . .  If she had not turned aside from me surely just now I would have slain you and let her live.”   

           Baalam and his talking ass were famous in Israel in apostolic times, so that Peter in his Second Letter compares the false prophets of his day to Baalam; “forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Baalam, the son of Peor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a dumb ass spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness” (II Peter 2:15–16).  And tradition has quite reasonably assigned the donkey a place in the story of Jesus’ birth.  The donkey is central to the image of the flight of the Holy Family, depicted so lovingly in Giotto’s fourteenth-century painting showing Mary mounted on a donkey holding Jesus, following Joseph into Egypt.   And tradition has further enriched the role of the donkey by locating him at the manger, medieval tradition flowering in Christmas music such as the 1865 carol by William Chatterton Dix: “Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?”   And in this text for Passion Sunday from Matthew a young donkey is given the honor of bearing the Lord into Jerusalem for the only popular acclaim He ever enjoyed, and if that acclaim was marred by irony—the crowd that shouted hosannas would soon turn on Jesus to demand His death—this was not the donkey’s fault.  The colt was commandeered, willingly as it happened, because Jesus had need of him.   Without the donkey there would have been no triumphal entry, no event that alerted the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin to the possibility that this Jesus might be so popular that civil unrest, even rebellion, might occur, no arrest, no cross, nor resurrection; the greatest story would not have been told in the way that it must have been told.

          “The Master has need of it” strikes the imagination awkwardly, but in order to work His holy will in the world Jesus had needed many things.   Without the six stone jars that the Virgin commanded be brought there would have been                                                                                                                                                                   no miracle at Cana (John 3:6).   The miracle of the feeding of five thousand could not have taken place without the five loaves and two fishes that Philip discovered (John 12:22).   Christ sent two of His disciples into Jerusalem to ask a householder, “Where is my guestroom where I am to eat my Passover?”  The Lord made bread and wine the means of His presence in the Church.  From the cross the Lord cried out for water (John 19:28).   He called the disciples because He needed them for the apostolic mission upon which He would send them as witnesses to His resurrection.   And in a yet deeper sense Jesus longs for souls.  One of the greatest of theologians, that fifth-century Dionysius of whose history we are ignorant, wrote that God through His excess of goodness yearns for mankind.  Christ is a shepherd who seeks us, “the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 9:10).   Even Plato wrote in His Laws that God who is just cares for men.   

          It is a great mystery that this caring, the desire for the good of mankind, does not represent a want or a need or an insufficiency in the divine life, because in the community of the Blessed Trinity all truth is established, all love fulfilled, and all of time comprehended in a way that while it may be acknowledged is beyond human knowing.  God’s willingness to engage human reality from creation to redemption is an expression of the love that overflows from the joy that is the eternal fruition of all being in the begetting of the Son by the Father through the Love that is the Holy Spirit.    God’s willingness to know humanity from within, His omnipotent life expressed in an incarnate life of Jesus, seems to answer to our necessity but in the divine life it is the center of an ever-present reality, of a story whose beginning and end are known to the Story-Teller from the foundation of the world.    Jesus’ need for the colt, His calling the twelve, are moments in an eternal design within which for God there are no surprises.    But the drama and the glory of human life is our being called, as was the young colt, into the divine design whose end we do not know and which for us, is an open road.   The animal who warned Baalam was, as Saint Peter writes, a dumb ass who by divine agency spoke.   And one can at least hope that the colt, the untried donkey, who bore Jesus into Jerusalem, if he could not know as persons might know that he was bearing the Lord of glory, had at least the inchoate awareness that he was playing a starring role in God’s plan.   

          There is something in the very character of the donkey that portends a place in God’s scheme of things; he is little, lacking the intrinsic nobility of his cousin the horse, not the mount of a great warrior but a barer of burdens.   It was with insight that C. S. Lewis made the donkey Puzzle the animal hero of the Narnia stories, a role much different from that other Narnian hero, the valiant mouse Reepicheep, but the emblem of that patience and endurance and simplicity of soul without which we will not see God.   It is ours to imitate the donkey of Passion Sunday, doing with the freedom and good will that belongs to the human estate what the colt did in the way that nature always hears the voice of its Lord, bearing Him with us toward the cross that belongs to every life and rejoicing with Him in His defeat of death and gift of life unending with Him.        

A Prayer of Saint Anselm for Lent

Most merciful Lord
turn my lukewarmness into a fervent love of you.

Most gentle Lord,
my prayer tends toward this –
that by remembering and medicating
on the good things you have done
I may be enkindled with your love.

Your goodness, Lord, created me’
Your mercy cleansed what you had created
from original sin;

Your patience has hitherto borne with me,
fed me, waited for me,
when after I had lost the grace of my baptism
I wallowed in many sordid sins.

You wait, good Lord, for my amendment;
my soul waits for the inbreathing of your grace
in order to be sufficiently penitent
to lead a better life.

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Thoughts on the First Reading

The days are coming, says the Lord, 
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel 
and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand 
to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; 
for they broke my covenant, 
and I had to show myself their master, says the Lord.
But this is the covenant that I will make 
with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord.
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; 
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, 
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

                                                                   Jeremiah 31:31–34

 

The prophet Jeremiah knew that he lived at the end of an age.  The reign of good king Josiah (606–-598) was followed by the rule of his son Jehoiakim, himself politically ensnared and inept, vacillating between alliances with his powerful neighbors Egypt and Syria, presiding over a kingdom too weak to maintain its independence, with religion reduced to external observance. 

          These were not good days for prophets.  Jeremiah had begged off the job, arguing that he was too young and inexperienced to be a prophet (Jeremiah 1:6-8).   It was always dangerous; Jesus would later make the persecution and murder of the prophets a characteristic of Israel (Matthew 5:12. 23:31).  Jeremiah’s prophecies had so irritated the chief priest that he had ordered Jeremiah “put in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the House of the Lord” (20:1-4).   Jeremiah complained bitterly that he had been deceived by the Lord.   He was commanded to proclaim violence and destruction, so that the words he spoke were a source of reproach and derision all the day long.   He had tried to be silent, but if he said, “I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,” Jeremiah’s heart became a burning fire within so that he was weary with holding it in, and indeed he could not.  So he heard whispering on every side, “Denounce him! Let us denounce him! Say all my familiar friends, watching for my fall”(20:7–11).  It was a hard lot; indeed Jehoiakim had ordered the death of the prophet Uriah, a fate from which Jeremiah would be saved by the fortunate influence of a court official, Ahikam, who was friendly to him (26:20–23). Continue reading “Fifth Sunday in Lent”

Fourth Sunday in Lent

When God Lets Us Go

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by His messengers because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, till the wrath of God rose against His people, till there was no remedy.  II Chronicles 36:15

 

The account from the Book of Chronicles tells the story of the final events in the pre-exilic history of Judah, after which in 586 the nation would be taken captive into Babylon.   The history of Israel account in the concluding chapters of Chronicles is a particularly grizzly tale of national apostasy, idolatry, and the rebellion of the kings.  After good king Hezekiah came Manasseh, who built altars to the hosts of heaven, listened to sorcerers and wizards, and burned his sons as an offering in the valley of Hinom.  The story ends with the faithlessness of Zedekiah, who, refusing to hear the counsel of the prophet Jeremiah, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar.   God “stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord.  The leading priests and people likewise were exceeding unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations, and they polluted the house of the Lord which He had hallowed in Jerusalem” (Chronicles 36:11-14). Even then because He had compassion for the people and for His dwelling place, He “sent persistently to them by His messengers . . . but they kept despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, till the wrath of the Lord rose against His people.” So God sent Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Chaldeans, and Israel went into slavery in a far land.       

           As it happens we have Jeremiah’s account of his prophecy to Zedekiah:  “It is I who, by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.  Now I have given this land to Nebuchadnezzar” (Jeremiah 27). Nebuchadnezzar was a notorious tyrant, a worshiper of false gods, but, like every circumstance of history, an instrument of God’s providence.    In His omnipotence and omniscience God had used circumstance to punish and chastise; when those He loves despise His words, He may withdraw for a time the hand of His blessing and give them over to evil. 

          It is possible to decline God’s message, to walk away from His commandments, as did Zedekiah and Israel.  In the New Testament the rich young ruler did just that.   He wanted to enter the kingdom, but when Jesus told him to sell his goods and give the money to the poor, he walked away (Matthew 19:21).  When the philosophers on the Areopagus heard Paul’s preaching of the resurrection some believed but some mocked, and others suggested politely that such a weighty matter should wait for another day (Acts 1:32-34). Continue reading “Fourth Sunday in Lent”

Thoughts on the Gospel

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

  Which Is Easier?

 “If you wish you can make me clean”
Mark 1:40

“Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk.’”
Matthew 9:5

Luke tells his readers that “many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha” (4:27) and in the time of Jesus they still were many.   That lepers would be healed was among the original promise of the kingdom, along with freedom to captives and sight to the blind (Matthew 10:8, 11:5, Luke 7:22).    It was one of a company of ten lepers whom Jesus healed who turned back to thank the healer (Luke 17:11–19).  Jesus was in the house of Simon the Leper when the woman came to pour precious ointment on the Lord’s head (Matthew 26:6).    Jesus had no fear of lepers, although their disease was fearsome, a wasting disease, caused as we now know, by bacteria that make the body visibly decay.  Leviticus commanded that lepers cry out “unclean” as they walked among other men and women, and that they live apart (Leviticus 13:45).   In the twelfth century there were two thousand hospitals for lepers in Europe, and lepers still carried a bell to warn of their approach.  

Often finally fatal, it made those afflicted repugnant.   When one sees a body horribly deformed from wounds or bearing the evidence of disease or born imperfect or with limbs falling away, although the second thought, the product of disciplined imagination, may acknowledge that the person must be treated with every respect, often    the first thought is to distance oneself from the painful sight.   In the worst case the person thus afflicted may be contagious; avoidance is intuitive.    Leprosy was a particularly disgusting disease, common in Palestine when Jesus taught.  Lepers were pariahs; that Jesus visited Simon’s house was a sign of His  love for the unlovely.  Continue reading “Thoughts on the Gospel”

Ideas Have Consequences

Spring 2018

Mondays 7pm, Taught by Dr. Patrick

6-week course on “Ideas Have Consequences” by Richard M. Weaver

Suggested donation is $75 but all are welcome. Give what you can.

Christ The King Catholic Church
8017 Preston Road
Dallas, TX 75225

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Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

                                     Face to Face

On this mountain He will destroy the veil that covers all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations.
He will destroy death forever 
The Lord will wipe away 
the tears from every face 
The reproach of His people He will remove.

                             Isaiah 25:7–8

Perhaps every person is born hearing snatches of a melody the words of which he cannot quite comprehend and longing for a face whose outline we can see only dimly.   There is a veil or covering over the soul of the human race that prevents our seeing that face and hearing that voice.  This is puzzling and challenging, sometimes a cause for skepticism, perhaps there is no voice, no face; and sometimes a cause for hope; the intimations are persistent and sometimes fill the soul with gladness.   For we do see, but in Saint Paul’s words, as in an imperfect glass, obscurely. This inability to see God face to face is part of the curse earned by the rebellion.   The last words God speaks to the children of Adam in the Genesis account are addressed to Cain, who in the murder of his brother Abel had revealed the character of fallen man, which issues first in envy and then in murder. God said: “You are cursed from the ground,” and   Cain replied, “Behold thou has driven me away from the ground and from thy face I shall be hidden.”   Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord (Genesis 4:14).  

          And that is the last message we receive from God until Christ comes to say, “He who believes in me believes not in me but in Him who sent me” (John 12:44).  We will not hear God’s own voice again until He says to each of us either, “Come ye blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” or, “Depart into the everlasting flames” (Matthew 26:24–25).  In the meantime there are messages and signs that poke through the puzzle.   God gave the law; He sent the prophets; He made His presence known over the Ark of the Covenant, and in the fullness of time He sent His Son, who was neither a messenger nor a manifestation but the Second Divine Person, of one substance with the Father, and finally He sent His Spirt, not an effect but God Himself again to reveal and indwell.   In Christ the eye of faith could see God.  Thomas said first, “Unless I see I will not believe,” and then, “My Lord and my God.”   And John said, “Blessed are those that have not seen and have believed” (John 20: 24–25, 29). And the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess is not yet.  Then Jesus will destroy that texture of light-obscuring shadow that Isaiah calls a covering over all peoples and which Irenaeus described as the fashion or schema of the world, the skein of sin and rebellion.     Continue reading “Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time”

Twenty-Second Sunday

Thoughts on the first Reading for The Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Truth-Telling Shepherds

Thus says the Lord
You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel;

When you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me
If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die,”

And you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked one from his way,
The wicked shall die for his guilt,

But I will hold you responsible for his death,
But if you warn the wicked,

Trying to turn him from his way,
And he refuses to turn from his way,

He shall die for his guilt,
But you shall save yourself.   

Ezekiel 33:7–9

 

There is currently a much-reviewed book by Daniel Mattson titled “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay,” which catalogs his journey from that damaging and disappointing behavior into a heart-filling relation with Jesus Christ.  Mr. Mattson’s journey is his own, but his engagement with the Catholic Church speaks volumes. A ‘cradle’ Catholic, Mattson attended Catholic schools for twelve years, during which he recalls being taught only two unchallengeable moral propositions:  the evils of poverty and the goodness of open immigration. 

While his moral formation was being neglected, Daniel was being subjected to the great heresy of the twentieth  century, that omnipresent putting of the cart before the horse, the teaching that Christ died to make the world a better place, so that everyman can be good without God while we perfect the natural order and build the good life.   This overlooks the fact that such charitable works as Christians do are not merely natural but move out of the living relation with Christ in the sacraments and prayer.  As Saint Paul put it, “If you give all your goods to feed the poor but  do so without charity, it does you no good at all” Continue reading “Twenty-Second Sunday”

Lewis Tolkien Dinner 2017

The Thirty-Six Annual Lewis & Tolkien Dinner

7:30 pm Friday November 17, 2017

Speaker: Dr. Ralph C Wood
Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University 
Author of Tolkien Among the Moderns & Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-haunted South

Topic: 
“Tolkien as a Writer for Our Time of Terror.”

Tickets are $125 / person

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Trinity Sunday

Perfect Life

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Few of us will have had the privilege of saying in a liturgical setting the third ecumenical creed, the first being the Apostles Creed, the ancient baptismal creed of the   Roman Church, and the second the creed of the Council of Nicaea.  Named eponymously for Saint Athanasius (296–373), the great archbishop of Alexandria, victorious opponent of Arius, it appears in the fifth century and soon became part of monastic life, in which context it is still occasionally sung.  A masterpiece of medieval Latinate poetry, comparable perhaps only to the Te Deum, it fell out of favor in part because of its opening lines:  “Whosoever would be saved, it is first of all necessary that he hold the Catholic faith, which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”  In an age in which life is not rightly ordered by truth that commands intellect and heart,  given by God to whom we  owe obedience, but opinion sincerely held or belief comfortably arranged to suit one’s needs, these words seem narrow and off-putting, and this because the truth that the wideness of God’s mercy is founded in the narrowness of His  commands is often neglected, and perhaps also because, forgetting that God gave His  promise to one politically negligible nation, it seems tiresome and  embarrassing to stand alone against a world of unbelief, especially when one is haunted by the Hegelian-like conviction  that if  the catholic faith were really God’s work it would have been made universal and effective long before now.  The warning of the Creed is not the same as God’s judgement, and the same medieval civilization that saw so clearly the necessity for the submission of intellect to truth, convinced that unbelief is damning, was from Justin Martyr in the second century to Dante in the fourteenth, most inconsistently unwilling to confine summarily to eternal loss Plato, Aristotle, and Trajan, among many others who followed the divine reason.       

And this, says the Athanasian Creed, is the catholic faith:

That we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity,
Neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance 
For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, 
another of the Holy Spirit. 

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit 
is all one,  the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.  

Continue reading “Trinity Sunday”