Father James Wallace

What's the Significance of the Dove?

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 13, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

"And the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove" (Lk 3:22).  What's the significance of the dove?

We know now that the dove is one of the forms or images of the Holy Spirit. But for the crowd witnessing Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, they would not have picked up on this.  They simply would have seen a bird flying in the sky that happened to hover above this young adult.  The Old Testament made no mention of God being a bird.  But there are, however, some Old Testament references to the dove, and I'd like to use these to unpack the dove's significance in the Baptism of our Lord.

Noah releases a dove during the flood to determine if dry land has appeared; if the flood waters have begun to recede (cf. Gen 8:8).  It first returns with an olive branch and then, at last, it never returns, indicating to Noah that the land is once again habitable, as the dove is able to settle on it.    

Christ is the new man, representative of the new creation.  He emerges from the waters, just as that new land upon which Noah's dove settled emerged from the flood waters.  Jesus is the new people of God, emerging from water as Moses and the Israelites emerged from the Red Sea waters free from sin.

Three Stairways to Christ

The Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883 and designed by John Roebling, is a cable-suspension bridge.  There are two towers connected by horizontal cables.  The cable lines run to the land, ending at an anchorage. Emanating down from the horizontal cables are vertical cables that hold up the deck bridge.  Weight transfers from the cables to the towers, which is then transferred down to the ground.  In the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, two large pine boxes, called caissons, were floated down the East River.  When the limestone towers began to be constructed on top of the caissons, they sank until they reached the bottom of the river.  Workers were able to enter into these boxes to dig into the bedrock to allow the caissons to sink even further and form a solid foundation.  They were then filled with brick and concrete.  Everything rests, essentially, on these two pillars.

An interesting aside: vaulted chambers were built into the ramped anchorages at the ends of the bridge.  Situated within limestone and maintaining a perfect temperature of 60 degrees, these vaults became perfect wine cellars.  In fact, the city rented these cellars out to liquor vendors.  On the Manhattan-side entry into one of the vaults was a shrine to the Blessed Mother with a statue of Mary.  It was called the Blue Grotto.

Saint Catherine of Siena was no stranger to bridges.  She invoked the bridge as an image of Christ.  Our Lord is the span between heaven and earth, and the soul must traverse Christ to reach God. There are three stairways on this Christ-bridge.  One stairway is our detachment from sin, the second is the practice of the virtues, and the third is the loving union with God.  May we marvel at Christ, just as we do the Brooklyn Bridge.

Running the Race

At the start of the 20th Century, less than one percent of the population practiced any sporting activity.  Sport was used only as a form of military training or as a pastime for the upper class.  To increase participation in sports for the health of society, and help promote the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Olympics, called upon the Vatican for an endorsement.  Pope Pius X readily agreed.  "All right," responded the Pope to an audience, "if it is impossible to understand that this can be done, then I myself will do exercise in front of everyone so that they may see that, if the Pope can do it, anyone can do it."

Over a century later the vast majority of the population exercises.  Pope Francis, the present Roman Pontiff, had this to say in audience: 

In rugby one runs towards a goal. This word, which is so beautiful and so important, makes us think about life, because all our lives lead towards a goal. This search is tiring, and requires commitment and struggle, but the important thing is not to run alone. To arrive at the goal we need to run together, the ball is passed from hand to hand, and we advance together, until we reach the goal. And then we celebrate!

Sports are not only good for our health—Saint Paul spoke of "running the race" (1 Cor 9:24) and the need to present our bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Rom 12:1)—there are also moral and spiritual lessons sports instill, as Francis suggests. So, when enjoying the Super Bowl, perhaps we can be grateful to the Church to whom we owe, in part, its popularity.

 

Father Emil Kapaun

Father Emil Kapaun quickly enrolled as military chaplain following his ordination in 1940.  After serving in WWII, he found himself in Korea as a Captain with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army.  When his group was overrun by the Chinese on November 2, 1950, Kapaun ran from foxhole to foxhole, lifting men out so they could retreat, giving Last Rites to others who had been mortally wounded, hearing confessions over gunfire, and, in several cases, dragging men to safety at the casualty collection point.  He ran back and forth across 'no-man's land' and at last determined to stay behind with the wounded men who could not be transported.  He used his preaching skills to negotiate the removal of a few more soldiers and was finally forced to a POW camp, though not before stepping in front of Sergeant First Class Herbert Miller, who was about to be executed by a Chinese soldier.  Miller was spared and Father Kapaun began the 87-mile death march to prison.

Kapaun carried men on his back during the march and when the depleted group arrived, the chaplain did not rest, but set about building fires, purifying drinking water, obtaining scraps of food, and tending to the sick and dying.  He rallied the whole group, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to pray the rosary together.  He prayed individually with men, baptizing a few into the Catholic faith, and gave homilies to the group.  The Chinese guards ordered him to stop and, when he refused, he was stripped naked and forced to stand on a block of ice for several hours.  Worn down, he was left to die alone, which he did on May 23, 1951.  His body was thrown into a mass grave.  This Medal of Honor recipient is an icon of the priesthood and hero in the Catholic Church and United States.

The Gates of the Netherworld

The Holy Spirit moved mysteriously over the "waters" of the Piedmont region in Northern Italy over several decades in the 19th Century.  This was a tumultuous time for the church.  The pope had been imprisoned, the Papal States were confiscated by the new king of Italy, and the rise of nationalism led to the outright persecution of the clergy, parishes, and Catholic schools.  This was particularly the case in Germany with Otto von Bismarck.  The heresy of Jansenism had a negative impact on people, and there were still lingering anti-Catholic sentiments from the French Revolution.  The general population was skeptical of Catholicism.  God thus responded, producing a number of saints.  Never has there been so many saints from one area (around Turin) during one period of time.  Pope Francis has referred to them as the 'social saints.'  We have Saints John Bosco, Joseph Cafasso, Leonardo Murialdo, Luigi Orione, and Joseph Cottolengo.  There are others on their way to sainthood, such as Bruno Lanteri, Francis Faa di Bruno, and the 24-year-old Pier Giorgio Frassati..

Saint John Bosco, the "apostle to the youth" and founder of the Salesian Order was known for his great smile and exceptional love for all people.  Saint Joseph Cafasso was Bosco's close friend and the one who inspired Bosco with his pastoral visits to the suffering.  Saint Murialdo founded the Society of Saint Joseph, which looked after delinquent children, and Saint Orione, who was an apprentice to Bosco, founded the Hermits of Divine Providence, which tended to the poor and sick.  Saint Cottolengo likewise opened a home for the sick and orphans.   These holy priests won back the people's hearts to Catholicism and proved true Christ's claim that "the gates of the netherworld shall never prevail against the Church."

Christ's Heart Beats Loudly

Adapted from the homily delivered this past Christmas...

When Christ was born, a drumbeat entered into existence.  Beforehand, there was silence; no beat to give people a cadence and to excite them.  For that is the twofold purpose of a drum sound.  An army marching will often do so to the rhythm of a drummer.  This keeps the soldiers in line.  If the pace of the beat rises, the army charges.  The drumbeat not only quickens the feet, it also quickens the heart.  There is something primordial about a drum that produces adrenaline and energizes us.  See a football team coming out of the locker room to the drummer of the marching band.  Listen to a rock song with a great drum solo or sequence, like Happy Jack by The Who.  Or, if you want to stick to Christmas music, The Little Drummer Boy.  Originally known as 'The Carol of the Drums' this song is all about the poor shepherd boy pleasing the Holy Family with his drumming, since he has nothing else to offer.  Bob Seger has a great version of this Christmas carol.  If rock is not to your taste, you could listen to 'The Hallelujah Chorus' in Handel's Messiah, which utilizes the timpani masterfully.  This is not a sad or dull piece.

Christ has provided the drumbeat for us.  If we are to receive genuine excitement and joy and not fall astray in life, we ought to listen and march to this beat.  Henri Nouwen writes, "Discernment is a life of listening to a deeper sound and marching to a different beat, a life in which we become 'all ears'."  Prayer is one way we listen to the drums.  The Mass is another.  Christ's heart beats loudly in the Eucharist. 

For 2,000 years God has been drumming.  It is not only for us to this Christmas to be attuned and 'rock out', but also our Church, founded on a rock

 

Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 6, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany.  We celebrate the manifestation of Jesus as a divine person, the second Person of the Holy Trinity.  There are three scenes from the life of Christ that are traditionally used for the Epiphany: the adoration of the three Magi, Jesus' baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, and the Wedding Feast of Cana.  This week we read about the Magi.  Next Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and will read about that event. In two weeks, on January 20th (the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time) we will read about the Wedding Feast at Cana. 

Every moment in Christ's life was significant.  There is not just a lesson to be had, but also some change in the natural order.  If Christ did something, then that 'thing' is holy.  For example, the fact that Jesus labored as a carpenter sanctifies work.  When we work honestly to make a living, we are doing something holy, for Jesus did it. 

Let's take that lesson and apply it to the three manifestations.  We'll go in reverse order, starting with the Wedding Feast of Cana. 

With God, All Things Are Possible Even Time Travel

In discussing the Eucharist, Saint Thomas Aquinas writes, "This sacrament has a threefold significance: with regard to the past...with regard to the present...with regard to the future..." (ST III, 73.4). The movie Back to the Future comes to mind.

If you have never seen the 1980s cult classic movie trilogy, time travel is the subject.  A high school student travels to the 1950s and interferes with the events, thus altering the future.  When he returns back to the present, it is no longer the present as he left it.  Some terrible events have also happened in the future, and so the main character and his sidekick must travel back to the past and then back to the future to correct the situation.  It is easier to watch than describe.

"With God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26) and God makes 'time travel', in a sense, possible with the Eucharist (not the flux capacitor).  When we celebrate Mass on Sunday, three time periods are being invoked and affected.  With regard to the past, Mass is the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary 2,000 years ago.  His sacrifice that led to our redemption is placed anew upon the altar at Catholic parishes around the world.  With regard to the present, Mass is communion.  We are united to Jesus right now and to the church, both members here on earth and those in Heaven. With regard to the future, the Mass is the participation in a banquet occurring in Heaven.  It will draw us to Heaven, which is why we sometimes refer to the Eucharist as viaticum

When we go to Mass we are, as theologian Peter Kreeft puts it, "bilocating, not just in space but in time."  I hope you enjoy the presentation.

Theotokos of Vladimir

The Theotokos of Vladimir is an icon written (icons are technically 'written' not 'painted') in the year 1130 in Constantinople and is currently in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.  Theotokos means 'bearer of God,' and there are series of Theotokos icons, of which our present study is a part, called the Eleusa icons.  Eleusa means tenderness.  And so this image is sometimes referred to as 'The Virgin of Tenderness.'

Mary is holding Jesus delicately, while staring, if you notice, directly at us.  Mary wants a relationship with us.  We will be fulfilled if we do.  It is also as if Mary wants us to have the same desire for her as her Son does.  There is a lot of significance in those eyes.  Mary's tender and penetrating eyes are always upon us.  This is a beautiful thing.  We never want a mother and a lady's gaze to drift elsewhere.  We are possessive of the feminine attention.  Mary satisfies our need.      

The infant appears as if he is trying to climb Mary, to get as close to her as possible. A sandal of Jesus has even fallen off (see the right foot) in his haste to fly unto his Mother.  Mary is cooperative with this effort.  Her left hand seems to be pushing Jesus upwards. You will also notice Jesus' right hand on the face of Mary.  He has wrapped his arm around her neck--another sign of affection.  Our Lord embraces Mary.  The faces of mother and son are touching as well.  Great intimacy is present in that physical connection.  And Jesus, of course, is looking directly into the eyes of his mother. 

If there are times in our life we do not believe Jesus is looking at us, chances are he is looking at us through the eyes of his tender Mother.