Father James Wallace

Here I am, Lord

Dear Parishioners,

“Here am I Lord; I come to do your will (Ps 40:8-9).” The responsorial psalm for this Sunday provides both a perfect prayer and a good model for discipleship. What do we "need" to do to be good Catholics, good disciples of Jesus Christ? Simply present ourselves before God and do his will. Check out each of these verses from the psalm.

I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.

The ball is in God's court. Simply wait for him (“I have waited, waited for the Lord”) and he will give you what you are to do to follow his will (“and he put a new song into my mouth”).

Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”

A Real Character

Father Basil Maturin

“All things, everything great and small, most ephemeral or most lasting, everything that compels men to work or dooms them to idleness, everything that calls out a moment's interest or lays the grasp upon the heart, all these things, whether men believe it or not, or even think of it, have one supreme, one eternal result: the making of character.”

These are the words of Fr. Basil Maturin. The Irishman was a convert to Catholicism, highly regarded for his ability to preach, to write, and to counsel souls with compassion, particularly students. In his early 20th Century classic, Christian Self-Mastery, Fr. Maturin reflected on how every event or experience in this life is intended to mold us to our true self. That is, if we abide by the universal principle: do what you believe right, avoid what you believe wrong. Regardless of your culture or creed, everyone must do what is good for himself. If he doesn't, then he will have a poor character and will be unhappy.

Christ the Cellist

The Cellist of Sarajevo, a 2008 novel by Steven Galloway, is a brilliant read and, in my opinion, contains an image of Christ. The basis of the story is a local cellist who plays every day at 4pm, for 22 days straight, the Adagio in G Minor by Tomaso Albinoni, a 17th Century composer. The cellist is unyielding in his resolve to honor the dead. He plays on the site of an attack that killed 22 people, despite mortar shells landing nearby and sniper bullets whizzing around him. In the midst of the war-ravaged city, this cellist's somber music is a beacon of light. His music allows the citizens to escape the desolate situation; to experience heaven in hell. Here, for instance, is the impact the music has on a female character of the story, a sniper named Arrow: “She didn't have to be filled with hatred. The music demanded that she remember this, that she know to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness. The notes were proof of that.”

A Beautiful Body

Mozart

Christ's physical body on earth was beautiful. Yet, it underwent much suffering. As a fresh baby Jesus was exposed to the cold air of Bethlehem and the hot, desert winds with bits of sand of Egypt. As a young man he labored as a carpenter and was surely cut at some point. As a man he walked hundreds of miles; slept in fields and caves; was hit by rocks in attempted stonings; smacked and scourged and suffocated and speared. Jesus's body was indeed beaten down. There is a reason in the Apostles' Creed we immediately go from “was born of the Virgin Mary” to “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” We don't want, in our Catholic faith, to give the impression that Jesus was a Greek God, never unharmed. Unfortunately sometimes artwork gives this impression. Paintings show Jesus with a perfectly groomed beard or milky white skin.

And the Oscar goes to...

As you watch the Oscars this weekend, keep in mind Hollywood's Catholic roots:

Academy Award
  • Alfred Hitchcock was born Catholic, invoked Catholic themes in many of his movies (I Confess, Vertigo, and more), and towards the end of his life had a priest come to his home every Saturday for Confession and Mass.
  • John Wayne called himself a “cardiac Catholic.” He raised his children from his first marriage Catholic and, two days before his death, summoned a priest to his bedside to be baptized and received into the Catholic Church. His grandson became a Catholic priest.
  • Gary Cooper befriended his Catholic wife's parish priest, whom he called "Father Tough Stuff," and converted to Catholicism, saying, “I know that what is happening is God's will. I am not afraid of the future.”
  • Bob Newhart, a Chicagoan, attended Loyola University, raised his four children Catholic, put them all through Catholic schools, and is active in his parish in Beverly Hills. His faith influenced his comedic career, which included The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, The Bob Newhart Show, and Newhart, which was declared by TV Guide to have the best series finale of the twentieth century.
  • The director John Ford, who won Best Director for four films, including The Grapes of Wrath, was Catholic and inserted Catholic notions of grace and redemption throughout his pictures. He received a Catholic funeral Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood.
  • Bob Hope was generous not only to the United States government, giving shows to American soldiers during wartime, but also to the Catholic Church, giving large-scale gifts to various parishes and religious orders. Hope converted to Catholicism a few years before he died in 2003.

I could go on, but I'll stop there. Now, back to your viewing...

Good Things Happen to Bad People

Why do good things happen to bad people? Perhaps the story of Jacob from the Old Testament (cf. Gen 27-35) can give us some insights. Jacob was, to put it simply, a bad guy. He deliberately tricked his father Isaac into giving him the inheritance, when it was intended for the older son Esau. (Isaac, by the way, was also a pretty mediocre figure.) Jacob bartered for his wife, had concubines, stole from his father-in-law, fought again with his righteous brother, and had sons who were likewise murderers and liars (you know the story with Joseph and the coat.) Jacob even had a wrestling match with God—literally! And what happens to this miscreant? Not only does he not receive punishment or misfortune, he gains prominence! Jacob will become one of the forefathers of Israel. In fact, the name Israel is derived from Jacob (cf. Is 45:12). It means ‘one who does battle with God.’ God will even deign to refer to himself as The God of Jacob (cf. Matt 22:32).

A Fish Tale

Old Man and the SeaErnest Hemingway converted to Catholicism, attended Sunday Mass, visited shrines, and arranged for a priest to conduct prayers at his graveside. Yet people still see him as irreligious, if not an atheist. When I read The Old Man and the Sea, which was published in 1952 and for which Hemingway won the Nobel Prize, I indeed see a Catholic.

The story is simple (spoiler alert!). The old man finally snags a gigantic marlin. He reels in the 18-foot fish after five exhausting days only to have it eaten away by sharks. When he returns to shore, there is merely a skeleton tied to his boat.

Christ in "Hell"

Christ descends into HellThere's a saying that Christ's mysteries are our mysteries. It's based off the theological principle that the realities of Christ's life are enduring. In other words, the Resurrection didn't just happen two thousand years ago and now it's over. The Resurrection is ongoing. Jesus continues to rise; the world continues to be renewed. Likewise, Jesus continues to suffer and be crucified; our sufferings add to Jesus's for the continual redemption of the world.

Well, if that's true, then it means Christ continues to descend into hell. That's right, Jesus descended into hell on Holy Saturday. We say this in the Apostle's Creed: “he descended into Hell, on the third day he rose again from the dead...”

Bring it on, Babe

Babe Ruth“Once religion sinks in, it stays there—deep down. The lads who get religious training, get it where it counts—in the roots. They may fail it, but it never fails them.” George Herman Ruth Jr. uttered those words in 1946, two years before he died. Babe was a product of a Catholic education. He was raised a Catholic and attended St. Mary's College. It was actually at that Catholic school that a teacher, Brother Mathias Boutlier, encouraged the boy to play baseball.

Mary the Uniter

Statue of Mary in Protestant Church in France

In this week of Christian Unity I think it is most fitting to speak about our Blessed Mother. She is a point of unity for all Christian denominations. You might be thinking, “Huh, really? Isn't Mary an issue which Protestants diverge from Catholics? Aren't Catholics accused of ‘worshipping Mary’ and so forth?” Perhaps, but this accusation isn't an accurate representation of genuine Protestant thought. The Protestant Reformers had a tremendous respect for Mary. Zwingli called Mary “the highest of creatures next to her Son,” as well as the “Mother of God.” Other Reformers, especially Martin Luther, affirmed and asserted her perpetual virginity. Luther wrote, “in childbirth and after childbirth, as she was a Virgin before childbirth, so she remained.” In his Book of Concord (1580) that was the official statement of faith of the Lutheran church, Luther wrote: “Mary, pure, holy, and Ever-Virgin.” This virginity, by the way, would also be a model for the "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth in Protestant England.