Life in prison without parole. With this sentence the murder trial of Kermit Gosnell has come to an end. Yet another horrific, unmentionable injustice has been addressed by our nation’s legal system. The murder of infants had tipped the golden scales of justice, but with the piercing percussion of a swift gavel strike, the balance was restored. Next case. Could it be that justice is so easy?
The Greeks thought heroism and beauty belonged together. The Iliad, the Odyssey, and many myths are full to bursting with beautiful heroes doing beautiful things—and ugly things, but still doing them beautifully. They demanded that their heroes be beautiful, which is why so many statues and busts commemorate the politicians, leaders, and wealthy men of the day as models of physical perfection—even when we know them to have been dumpy, hook-nosed, or puny in real life.
God has never worked like that.
And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
What are we to make of the Ascension? To some it may seem little more than a neat, miraculous way for Jesus to bid goodbye to His disciples. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, however, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, helps us to understand this mystery in a deeper way. In particular, he highlights the importance of a detail we might otherwise regard as insignificant: the presence of the cloud. Benedict calls this “unambiguously theological language” and recalls the instances throughout Scripture when the presence of a cloud marks some great event: the Exodus from Egypt (when Israel was led by a pillar of cloud through the desert), the Tent of Meeting (where Moses often conversed with the Most High, who was concealed in a cloud that filled the dwelling), and the Transfiguration (when the Father’s voice was heard coming from a cloud).
Have you ever been to a portrait gallery? It’s extraordinary, really: a bunch of people walking around for hours, looking at face after face after face. And do you remember your old class photos? Rows upon rows of faces, staring back at you. And if you’ve ever been to a bureau to get a driver’s license, you have probably noticed the same remarkably consistent pattern—you need your face on a card to get your hands on the wheel.
Last week I reread The Great Gatsby for the first time since a summer vacation in high school. With the buzz about the upcoming film (out this Friday), I wanted to revisit what I vaguely remembered to be a good but sad story.
Pope Francis is a master of understatement: ”He always does a nice job, the Holy Spirit, throughout history.”
In his recent homily for the memorial of St. Athanasius, Pope Francis spoke about the role of the Holy Spirit in fostering harmony in the Church. In the context of the dispute among the early Christians as to whether Gentile converts should be held to the observance of the Jewish law, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle James, bishop of Jerusalem, to speak in such a way that the dispute was settled (cf. Acts 15:7-21). As the apostles themselves described their consensus, “‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities” (Acts 15:28). As Pope Francis preached, “The Holy Spirit had … to foster harmony among these positions, the harmony of the Church, among them in Jerusalem, and between them and the pagans. He always does a nice job, the Holy Spirit, throughout history. And when we do not let Him work, the divisions in the Church begin, the sects, all of these things … because we are closed to the truth of the Spirit.”
The content of the Gospel is simple, but it is difficult to express simply. Consider the rare eloquence of a crucifix, or the unsurpassable summaries of the faith in Scripture: e.g., “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16). Akin to these condensations is a little book by St. Athanasius called On the Incarnation. Before reading the book as an undergraduate, I had never seen the whole account of Christianity so plainly and appealingly set out.
C. S. Lewis’ last sermon (since he was a layman he said he was “comparing notes”) was titled “A Slip of the Tongue.” He reflects on an experience of his in prayer:
When a man gets ordained, the first thing that generally happens after he bestows first blessings is that those who know him throw a huge party. And this makes sense; when something beautiful happens, we want to get everyone together and celebrate, whether the occasion is an ordination, a wedding, a graduation, or making it through Wednesday. Not celebrating a really landmark event might even be a sign of a spiritual malady, like a dour Puritanism that looks askance at levity, or a false humility that preens by being seen refusing honors.
On this Holy Thursday, as we commemorate Jesus’ institution of the Church, the Eucharist and the priesthood as their perpetual servant, we might wonder what the apostles did all those years ago to celebrate their ordination.
St. Luke gives us an answer: they fought.
We Catholics take a lot for granted. Consider, for instance, the fact that our Church was founded by God.