The Best and the Brightest is the title of David Halberstam's 1972 book chronicling the Kennedy administration. I keep it on my shelf and look at it whenever my ego inflates and I feel smart. The title is satirical. Characters like McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, and Robert McNamara, who composed JFK's cabinet and staff, were part of the intellectual elite. They were Ivy-League graduates, PhDs, Rhodes Scholars, and successful CEOs.
“God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living” (Wis 1:13). Read that line again from our first reading. God did not make death. Death and suffering and evil are not from God.
This is such a crucial understanding. There is death and suffering and evil in the world. We can be tempted to blame God for this and reject him. Why did God give my loved one cancer? Why did God cause these hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, forest fires, etc? Why doesn't God do something about these school shootings?
The problem of reconciling evil with God's existence has been around forever. We are not new in trying to grapple with it. In fact, it's so common to muse on the problem that the issue has a name. It's called theodicy. Theodicy is trying to figure out how evil in the world fits in with God.
We don't typically celebrate a saint's birthday in the church. We usually celebrate the day of his or her death. Most feast days are when we think the particular saint died or was martyred. Birthday celebrations are reserved for Jesus (Christmas) and Mary (September 8th).
And for Saint John the Baptist.
Yes, today, June 24th, the Church celebrates the “Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.” Even though it falls on a Sunday this year, we still celebrate it. As if it were Christmas, the Baptist's Birthday trumps the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which would have been this weekend.
We do indeed celebrate John's death (August 29th), but so important is John the Baptist that we also celebrate his birth. He is one of the few saints who receive multiple feast days: Joseph, Peter, Paul, and Mary.
John the Baptist's birth is six months after the birth of his cousin, Jesus Christ. Christ's birthday is around the winter solstice, when days begin to grow longer. The Baptist's birthday is around the summer solstice, when days begin to grow shorter. “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).
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:
We're back in the thick of Ordinary Time and the start of summer, and we're back to hearing the parables in the Sunday Gospels. This 11th Sunday we have two parables dealing with the growth of the Kingdom of God (cf. Mark 4:26-34).
The first parable indicates the Kingdom of God doesn't come suddenly and all at once. There is a process to it: “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” The Catholic Church didn't get to where it is today, over a billion members worldwide existing in structured dioceses and parishes, immediately after Pentecost. It took time. And there were setbacks and challenges along the way (there still are).
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.
Have you ever been called crazy? The kids in school call me crazy all the time. My family and friends do too. Usually this label is justified, for I act like a goof.
But I have been called crazy once or twice by a stranger or distant acquaintance. The individual is curious why I am a priest. How could I give up so much and devote my life to such a strange calling?
I'll admit, sometimes when I step back, I see it as crazy, being a priest and pastor, that is. I think, Man, God, how did you make all this happen?
But I don't have regrets, for I love being a priest. I love being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Following Christ and being a Catholic is, in many ways, counter-cultural. It raises eyebrows or prompts jokes. But it’s so fulfilling. Jesus was called crazy too. His family said, “He is out of his mind” (Mk 3:21).
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.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi. During the exodus, which we hear about in the First Reading, Moses put lamb's blood on the doorposts of each Israelite. When the Angel of Death came at night to take each firstborn, it passed over each house with the sign of blood, hence the name Passover for the feast. The blood of the lamb saved people from death.
The flesh of the lambs slaughtered by Moses was then used as food, to give the people nourishment for their trek out of Egypt, across the desert, and through the Red Sea. The body of the lamb gave the people life.
We see the parallel. Jesus is the Lamb of God. His real blood, which is in the chalice that we receive at Mass, saves us from sin and death. His real body, which is the Eucharist, gives us life. Blessed be God forever!