East of Eden by John Steinbeck is one large allusion to the Book of Genesis. The title of the novel is literally taken from Genesis 4:16. One of the crucial passages, in my opinion, comes when one of the main characters, Adam, is debating what to name his twin boys. He settles on Caleb and Aron, but not before discussing Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel because God favored Abel's offering of an animal more than Cain's offering of grain. Lee, Adam's steward, articulates:
Tassel of the Cloak
Why are priests unable to marry? I am asked this frequently. Let me discuss Mohandas Gandhi, who took a vow of celibacy.
Celibacy is called Brachmacharya in the Hindu custom and it signifies total self-control. Disintegrating qualities, such as anger and vanity, are eliminated in this way of life. From the position of control, the celibate can make a total gift of himself to others. Gandhi sought to give himself entirely to his countrymen, and so at age 37 he renounced marriage and the pleasures of the flesh. He felt his love for others was more available and authentic. It is for a similar reason that he fasted. He wanted to be less self-centered and completely dedicated to others. “I fasted,” Gandhi said, “to reform those who loved me.”
Jesus healed many people for the three years he was on this earth, but there were many more he did not heal. Were those select individuals in that select spot on the earth in that select time period the only ones to experience Jesus? No. Let us explain using the image of D-Day. Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944 was arguably the most significant event of WWII. But the battle did not end the war. Hitler would not surrender until May 7, 1945. The Allies still had to break out of Normandy, retake Paris, and fight to Berlin. Operation Market Garden would be launched, the Battle of the Bulge fought, the perilous slog through the Hurtgen Forest commenced, and this was only the war in Europe.
St. Margaret Clithrowe, a housewife who lived during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, was asked by the judges to promise not to hide priests again. It was illegal and treasonous to be Catholic and to harbor priests. Clithrowe picked up her Bible and said, “I promise you I will hide priests again because they alone bring us the Body of Christ.” The woman was pressed to death on St. Michael's bridge in York. Her death for the priesthood and for the Eucharist occurred four hundred years ago.
The Path to Power, the first volume in Robert A. Caro's series, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, spends a fair amount of time describing the land where LBJ was raised, the Texas Hill Country. This fascinating land stands at the crossroads of West, Central, and South Texas. It was once a land of opportunity, but overgrazing in the 19th Century, combined with the constant threat of Native American attack, made it a somewhat desolate place. Residents of the Texas Hill Country were, to say the least, tough. The women were especially strong. Caro describes the brutal nature of household chores: lugging water for miles; hauling wood and then chopping it for the stove, which was extremely difficult to light; ironing shirts with twenty pound iron wedges, literally, without handles; and so on. So arduous was their lifestyle, Texas Hill Country women were noted for their bent-over posture. These figures were heroic, if not saintly.
“By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (Jn 15:8). We hear quite a bit about fruit throughout Scripture. Jesus tells us that if we remain in him, like a branch connected to the vine, we will bear fruit. He also speaks of a good tree bearing good fruit—“by their fruits you will know them” (Matt 7:20). St. Paul talks about the fruits of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Galatians (cf. Gal 5:22-23), and, of course, we have the most well-known and infamous fruit of all—the apple, the cause of our downfall when consumed by Adam and Eve.
Muhammad, the founder of Islam, had a daughter named Fatima. When she died at age 29 in the early 7th Century it is reported that her father said, in grief, “She has the highest place in heaven after the Virgin Mary.” Muhammad did not mourn too long however. In the subsequent years his religion spread across the Middle East, Africa, and into Europe. In 711, the Crescent crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and a small town named Salatia, on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula, was conquered. In the 12th Century the Christians organized themselves and reconquered Spain and Portugal, including this small town. During the reconquista, the Muslim princess of Salatia, named Fatima, was captured. Falling in love with the Spanish Count of Ourem, Fatima converted to Catholicism. Like Muhammad's daughter, Fatima died prematurely and her hometown, reclaimed for Catholicism, was renamed in her honor.
On August 27, 1942, General George C. Marshall wrote the following in a letter to John Hildring, upon Hildring's appointment as the head of the Army Civil Affairs branch:
“We have a great asset and that is that our people, our countrymen, do not distrust us and do not fear us. Our countrymen, our fellow citizens, are not afraid of us. They don't harbor any ideas that we intend to alter the government of the country or the nature of this government in any way. This is a sacred trust that I turn over to you today. We are completely devoted, we are a member of a priesthood really, the sole purpose of which is to defend the republic.”(emphasis mine)
Nellie Organ was born in Waterford, Ireland on August 24, 1903. Nellie's father, William, wrote of his daughter, “When only two, she would clasp my hand and toddle off to Mass, prattling all the way about Holy God. That was the way she always spoke of God, and I do not know where she could have learned it.”
Poor Nellie was afflicted with severe scoliosis and would spend much of the nights coughing and crying. The toddler's comfort came, amazingly, from visits to church to see the Eucharist. She would point to the monstrance and whisper, “Mudder, there He is, there is Holy God!” Nellie desired to receive communion, but she was too young, as the age for First Communion at the time was twelve. Instead she would ask those who had just received communion to give her a kiss so she could have some contact with Jesus.
William Shakespeare's original patron was a Catholic and when Shakespeare came into his own he bought a house in London that housed and hid Catholic priests. When he retired to Stratford, one of Shakespeare's few visitors was John Robinson, a Catholic to whom Shakespeare had leased his London house, called the Blackfriars Gatehouse. An Anglican clergyman sighed upon Shakespeare's death that he had “dyed a papist.” All of this in addition to the many Catholic references and themes in Shakespeare's works, from Purgatory to the Mass, seem to indicate the greatest writer in human history was Catholic.
There are multiple reasons I give brief homilies. It is not for lack of preparation. In fact, it takes me more time and effort to compose a five minute homily than it would a 15 minute homily. I am reminded of what Blase Pascal once wrote, “I am sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I did not have time to write a short one.”
But there is also an implicit message I am seeking to convey by means of a short homily: the homily is not the most important part of the Mass. The Eucharist is. I want you to be filled and satisfied not by my words, but by Jesus himself.
Baseball season is underway and the Cubs' home opener is tomorrow, so allow me to reflect on the spirituality of baseball. Francis T. Vincent, Jr., the former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, once said this:
Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often--those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players. I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.
The ancient Romans believed in many gods, and their chief god was Jupiter. The title they gave Jupiter was, in Latin, Conservator, or savior. Salvation, in the pagan mindset, consisted in the conservation of Rome: the preservation of the status quo of Roman society. For Christianity, our God, who is also a savior, is not a conservator—one who preserves the particular society—but a salvator—one who renews and transforms society. The Church, the Body of Christ the savior, is always moving forward, renewing and transforming herself. This is why we qualify our history as salvation history. The Church is not related solely to the past, but lives in the present, bearing within itself the character of hope and pointing to the future.
When I was a seminarian I was on a Lenten retreat in a monastery in a small town in Italy. The local stray dogs barked constantly. It was a disruption to me at first, but then I thought of a fable that can help us appreciate what it was like for Christ to become man and to die for us. (Fulton Sheen gives us a similar image in his book, Those Mysterious Priests.)
More in this category:
- Queen Counselor
- Red Seaside
- Virgin Most Fruitful
- An Ordinary Lent
- Song of Bernadette
- The Diaries of Adam and Eve
- The Last Lion
- A kingdom for a life.
- Telling the Truth
- Railroad Ties
- Lincoln and Mary
- Find Your Meaning
- Silent Night
- On Being Useless
- Burr and the Final Judgment
- The Naming of Cats
- A Beautiful Piece
- Bee Sweet
- Christopher Columbus
- I love this bar.
- Priests of the Civil War
- The Odyssey
- You Are My Sunshine
- Water Boys
- Don't be Evil
- Fat Man