“Grant Me Justice” – the Psalms on Justice and Mercy

King David, Westminster Psalter

King David, Westminster Psalter

Today we begin our meditation on Psalm 26, using it to explore central themes in all of the Psalms.

The very first words of our Psalm are “Judge me.” It’s not a place we want to go. In the second stanza it continues, “probe me and test me, burn the dross from my inmost parts.” (Throughout this series I will be making my own translations, from the various Latin versions, the Greek, and the Hebrew; I will not be consistent.) We are inclined to say, no thank you. We know he will find a lot of impurities there.

Most Christians, Catholic and Protestant, think the great good news is that mercy has triumphed over judgment. We don’t want to be judged. So it is surprising to find that judgment is a constant call of the Psalms. Surprising, too, if you actually read the New Testament, to find that there even more, judgment plays a pretty central role.

What is going on? What has happened to mercy?


First, notice how this whole first stanza goes. “Judge me, oh Lord, for I have walked in innocence; and trusting in God, I have not fallen away.” In fact, there are two sides to this, combining mercy and justice in a way that exceeds our expectations.

On the one hand, there is the claim of innocence. Yes, the Psalmist dares to say, “Judge me, oh Lord, for I am innocent.” This is a claim about himself. Indeed, by making it “I have walked in innocence,” he makes it even more concrete. He doesn’t say, “well, I may sin, but deep down I’m not so bad.” To the contrary, his claim is precisely about the way he behaves. I am innocent!

But the next line turns this around: “Trusting in God, I have not fallen.” It turns out that he is not the source of his innocence. He claims no ultimate responsibility whatsoever. It is God’s work that saves him. We could even translate this, “when I trust, I do not fall” – with the obvious corollary, and “when I do not trust, I do fall.”

The Catholic, Biblical understanding of mercy and justice is not that God’s mercy allows him to overlook our wickedness – or at least, not just that. Because in that view God is purely outside of us. The Biblical understanding is that God is more interior to us than we are to ourselves. God’s mercy can make us just. He can change the way that we walk.

When we say, “judge me,” we really say, “despise not the work of your hands.” Be glad, O Lord, at what your hands have made!


Now, nonetheless, it remains pretty gutsy to say this. It is like when the Roman Canon says of us, “whose faith and devotion are known to you” (just as our minds are wandering off), or when we dare to say “forgive us as we forgive” (just as we are annoyed at the priest, and the organist, and the person down the pew, and daydreaming about various other people). Yikes. That comes awfully close to saying, “don’t bother to forgive me at all.”

There is something aspirational in this. We dare to say, “judge me, for I have walked in innocence,” when we really mean, “oh God, please let me become someone who could say something like that!”

In one sense, we simply accept the fact: God wants to make us just. It is not his will that we remain unforgiving, hurtful, hateful, unloving creatures. We say what we cannot yet say, accepting the fact that one day we must truly say it, and hoping that God will make us able to do that. Oh, let me one day be just in your eyes!

In another sense, we realize that his work has already begun. We are meant to acknowledge our sin. But we are also meant to acknowledge the work of conversion God has already done in us, the innocent steps we have already taken through trust in him. We are on our way.


But finally, always we must turn to Christ. The Psalms are ultimately his prayer; our great grace is to be joined to him. We ought to pray this as if he prays it, and Our Blessed Lady, who is truly and totally united to him, prays it. They can say, “I have walked in innocence.”

Our great hope is to be joined to them.

Do we hunger and thirst to be just as Christ would have us thirst?

Peter and Paul: The Church the Body of Christ

peter and paul

ACTS 12:1-11; PS 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 2 TIM 4:6-8, 17-18; MT 16:13-19

This Sunday happens to coincide with the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29. This feast speaks of the union of Christ with his Church.

The entire Acts of the Apostles tells the story of the pattern of Jesus being repeated in his apostles, especially in Peter (the first half of Acts) and Paul (the second half). Our reading from chapter 12 gives a nice example. “King Herod laid hands upon some members of the Church to harm them.” The most famous example is in chapter 9, where Jesus appears to the future Paul and says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” But throughout, those who would attack Christ, attack his Church, and those who attack his followers are said to attack Christ.

In this story of the persecution of Peter, Acts emphasizes, “It was the feast of Unleavened Bread” – Passover, when Christ himself was sacrificed. And Passover, fulfilled in the Eucharist, by which believers are united to the crucified Christ.

Though Peter will later be crucified like Christ, this time he is delivered. “Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers” – just as soldiers guarded the dead Christ, and stood around his cross.

But here we relive the resurrection: “a light shone in the cell.” The angel said, “Get up quickly,” and “the chains fell from his wrists. . . . So he followed him out. . . . Then passed the first guard, then the second, and came to the iron gate leading out to the city, which opened for them by itself.”

The angel leads Peter from the grave.


Similarly, in our reading from Second Timothy, Paul says, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.” “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” They follow their liberator, through death to life.

Paul is joined to the death of Christ, “poured out like a libation.” But he knows that Christ is in heaven, and “The crown of righteousness awaits me.”

Notice the delicacy of both stories, where on the one hand Peter and Paul are identified with Christ, and on the other hand, it is clearly Christ himself who liberates them, not they who liberate themselves.


Now, this is true of all the saints. Like Peter and Paul we are all united to Christ in his death and resurrection.

Yet Peter and Paul are special. The Church sees a special image of herself in Peter, so that in our reading from Acts, when Peter was imprisoned, “prayer by the Church was fervently being made.”

And though Paul says, “the award to me on that day” is “not only to me, but to all who longed for his appearance,” he also reminds us that the Lord gave him particular strength, “so that through me the proclamation might be completed.”

As Augustine says, they are Christians with us – but they are also apostles for us.


Our reading from Matthew 16, the profession of Peter, takes us deeper into Peter and Paul’s special ministry to the Church, which is in all its members the true Body of Christ.

When Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus commits to him a threefold gift. Perhaps we can see it the threefold ministry of prophet, priest, and king, which correlates to the ascending virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

First Jesus says, “upon this rock I will build my Church.” Through Peter we have a place to stand, and “the gates of the netherworld will not prevail” against us. But this is not yet action.

The rock is like the prophetic office, the teaching office, that shows us what to believe. In our faith, guaranteed by the profession of the Apostles and their successors, we stand secure.


Next Jesus tells Peter, “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.” Not only do we have a place to stand, but we have the possibility of entering into heaven. This is the ministry of the sacraments, which give us the possibility of coming into God’s presence. This is our hope.

But finally, Jesus says, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This is the ministry of leadership, the kingly ministry, by which the Apostles and their successors set the rules which bind together the Church as communion of love. The rules, the binding and the loosing, are at the service of ecclesial communion.

By giving us a Magisterium, the Sacraments, and the common life of the Church – by giving us the Apostles and their successors – Jesus gives us a deeper union with him.

Try to think of specific decisions of your bishops and priests where you can more profoundly discover the union of the Body of Christ.

“Friday after the Second Sunday after Pentecost”: The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Resting-on-Heart-of-Christ Tomorrow we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The dating of the feast, “the Friday after the second Sunday after Pentecost,” is a bit obscure. But following the logic of last week’s meditation on the feast of Corpus Christi, we can see how profound this liturgical celebration is.

All of life radiates out from the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. Through the Easter season we celebrate the joy of Christ’s victory. Beginning at Ascension, the fortieth day, we enter into the novena of the Holy Spirit. Christ has gone to heaven only to radiate his presence, his Spirit, into his Church. The pair Ascension-Pentecost celebrates this fulfillment: he ascends precisely to make the Church itself his body, enlivened by his Spirit.

The octave of Pentecost, the pair Pentecost-Holy Trinity, leads us into the heart of our divinization. The Spirit we are given at Pentecost is the Spirit of the Trinity, the Spirit who is one with the Father and the Son, who is himself the oneness of the Father and the Son.

Holy Trinity is important as the completion of Pentecost, because the doctrine of the Trinity is precisely the teaching that the Christ who saves us and the Spirit he gives us are nothing less than one with the Father. The Father gives us nothing less than unity with himself.

Holy Trinity means the Spirit is one with Christ: nothing less than his own Spirit. And Holy Trinity means Christ and the Spirit are one with the Father – and so too our redemption is nothing less than being brought into full union with the Father. Anything less than this is less than the true Gospel: he gives us nothing less.


But we are still celebrating the Paschal mystery of his Cross and Resurrection. We are celebrating its radiating out, celebrating our being drawn into the Cross at Pentecost.

Immediately after the octave of Pentecost, we begin our celebration of Corpus Christi. As we said last week, Corpus Christi is the very first Thursday after we finish that celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit. As soon as we are able, we return to Holy Thursday, and we recall that the night before he died, Jesus gave us precisely the gift of union with himself, and particularly union with him on the Cross. This celebration continues the celebration of the radiance of Christ. He gives himself to us so that we can be united to him.

Corpus Christi, too, gets its octave, its full week – and then the very next opportunity we get, the Friday after that week-long meditation on Christ giving us union with himself through the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, immediately we celebrate the next aspect: the Friday of the Sacred Heart. The timing, “Friday after the second Sunday,” etc., is not so obscure after all. Except that we might call it, “the very first Friday after Corpus Christi, which is the very first Thursday after the octave of Pentecost.”


This Friday is the “next step” in two ways. First of all, we are walking again through Holy Week – though this time focusing on its most central results for us, instead of on Jesus’s own experience of it. Now that we have completed the celebration of Easter-Pentecost, we spend a week on Holy Thursday – and the very next day, we enter into Good Friday.

Just as Corpus Christi is on a Thursday to draw us into the unity between the Eucharist and the Last Supper, the Sacred Heart is on a Friday to show that this is all about Good Friday: Christ on the Cross. We enter into the wound in Christ’s side, the wound in his heart.

St.-Gertrude-the-Great-3-231x300The Sacred Heart took off as a liturgical feast after the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the seventeenth century. But it rests on earlier medieval devotions. In the wondrous thirteenth century, St. Gertrude envisioned laying her head near the wounded heart of Jesus, as St. John had laid his head on the breast of Jesus the night before he died, and entering into the passion of his love.


In a second sense, this Friday is another step, not through Holy Week, but into our ordinary time. From the Eucharist, we enter into the love of Jesus. This is the culmination. This is what it’s all about: Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Eucharist. It all culminates in becoming one with his loving heart.

How could we spend some time near the heart of our loving Savior?

The Aparecida Document: General Overview

brazil-popeWe begin this week our overview of the 2007 Aparecida document, the great pastoral work of the Latin American bishops, led by Cardinal Bergoglio, the later Pope Francis. Today we will examine the broad outline of the document; in weeks to come we will delve into the various sections in greater depth. Our purpose is not just to parrot what someone else has said, but to learn from Aparecida how to live a deeper sense of mission ourselves: to learn from the Latin American bishops how to open our own eyes to where Christ calls us to follow him.

I wish to emphasize the movement of the Holy Spirit behind this document, and will thus refer to its author simply as “Aparecida”: as Mary, inspiring the bishops, and as the bishops, speaking as one, out of that inspiration.


The document has three main sections:

Part One: The Life of Our People Today

Part Two: The Life of Jesus Christ in Missionary Disciples

Part Three: The Life of Jesus Christ for Our Peoples

There are three important insights in this approach to the question.

First, Aparecida calls us to see Jesus as the answer to the challenges of today. We look first to “our people today,” to the challenges (and opportunities) we face in our real lives. And then we turn to Jesus Christ. In Part Three, we look for Jesus Christ as the answer today. But by far the longest part of the document comes in between: first we take a long time to gaze at Jesus Christ himself.

This approach teaches us to avoid twin dangers. On the one hand, we can look to Jesus without looking at our own world. Perhaps it would seem pious to keep our entire focus on Jesus. But our world remains, our problems remain. We need to see Jesus in relation to the world we live in, to see how he comes to save us here and now.

But on the other hand, we can be temtped to lose ourselves in the here and now, to worry only about our immediate problems. We have to learn to see our problems in relation to Jesus, to see him intensely involved in every struggle and joy we face. Aparecida has the courage to look even to questions like economics and the environment – and then ask how Jesus himself is the only true solution to our problems.

In either case, the danger is to make Jesus irrelevant to our life. He is not. He is true King and true Savior. We have to learn to see everything in relation to him.


A second insight of Aparecida’s broadest outline is a focus on mission. This appears in two ways.

First, Jesus calls us to look to the world around us. Love of God is expressed in love of others. This takes on a special importance for bishops, who are uniquely charged with the pastoral care of entire peoples. But it is the call of all of us to be responsible to the world around us. A faith that seeks into itself, a faith that is not genuinely missionary, is a falsified faith. Love calls us to our neighbor – and it calls us, too, to our neighborhood, to a concern for all the social reality in which we live.

Nothing can be left out of our transformation by Christ. To focus on mission, and mission to “our people” it its entirety, underlines this. Aparecida emphasizes that we must live our faith above all by going to the hardest places, to the furthest reaches, to the problems that we find most intractable. There too we must find our Redeemer and King.

A second way to put this is that Jesus Christ is present “in his Missionary Disciples.” We are called to be truly conformed to Christ, to share in his redemptive love for all of humanity. We can neither look for Jesus to love without us, nor try ourselves to save the world without Jesus. Instead we look to his missionary presence within us.


The third key insight from Aparecida’s broad outline is a focus on life. Jesus is the lifegiver, the one who raises us not only from physical death, but even deeper, from spiritual depth.

This is the key aspect under which to see Jesus as Savior, and savior of our peoples today. He heals, he brings back to life. He fulfills the deepest longings of our heart. We share in his mission because we know that he along brings true joy to us and to others.

What areas of our life do we tend to separate from the healing presence of Jesus?

Pius XII on Active Participation in the Liturgy

Pope Pius XII (1939-58) was a great pope in many ways, but he holds an especially important place in the rediscovery of the liturgy. The Fathers of Vatican II, in fact, proclaimed their document on the liturgy to be “the last will and testament of Pius XII.”

Here, in his monumental 1947 encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei, he explains what “active participation in the liturgy” really means, and how essential it is to our relationship with Christ.

Pius3x-largeThe cooperation of the faithful is required so that sinners may be individually purified in the blood of the Lamb. For though, speaking generally, Christ reconciled by His painful death the whole human race with the Father, He wished that all should approach and be drawn to His cross, especially by means of the sacraments and the eucharistic sacrifice, to obtain the salutary fruits produced by Him upon it. Through this active and individual participation, the members of the Mystical Body not only become daily more like to their divine Head, but the life flowing from the Head is imparted to the members, so that we can each repeat the words of St. Paul, “With Christ I am nailed to the cross: I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

We have already explained sufficiently and of set purpose on another occasion, that Jesus Christ “when dying on the cross, bestowed upon His Church, as a completely gratuitous gift, the immense treasure of the redemption. But when it is a question of distributing this treasure, He not only commits the work of sanctification to His Immaculate Spouse, but also wishes that, to a certain extent, sanctity should derive from her activity.”

The august sacrifice of the altar is, as it were, the supreme instrument whereby the merits won by the divine Redeemer upon the cross are distributed to the faithful: “as often as this commemorative sacrifice is offered, there is wrought the work of our Redemption.” This, however, so far from lessening the dignity of the actual sacrifice on Calvary, rather proclaims and renders more manifest its greatness and its necessity, as the Council of Trent declares.

Its daily immolation reminds us that there is no salvation except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and that God Himself wishes that there should be a continuation of this sacrifice “from the rising of the sun till the going down thereof,” so that there may be no cessation of the hymn of praise and thanksgiving which man owes to God, seeing that he required His help continually and has need of the blood of the Redeemer to remit sin which challenges God’s justice.

It is, therefore, desirable, Venerable Brethren, that all the faithful should be aware that to participate in the eucharistic sacrifice is their chief duty and supreme dignity, and that not in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming, but with such earnestness and concentration that they may be united as closely as possible with the High Priest, according to the Apostle, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” And together with Him and through Him let them make their oblation, and in union with Him let them offer up themselves.

-Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei

Psalm 26: An Introduction

King David, Westminster Psalter

King David, Westminster Psalter

For the next several Mondays we will be studying the Psalms as the fundamental manual of Christian prayer. I have brainstormed a long list of topics that seem important in appreciating the richness of the Psalms: topics including battle, Jerusalem, the poor, truth, guile, bribery, justice, kidneys, and heaven. But rather than going through this list abstractly, I think we can appreciate it more by examining a particular Psalm.

Thus the next several weeks we will read very carefully through Psalm 26, trying to hit all of those themes as they arise here.

Psalm 26 has an important part in the liturgical tradition. Right in the middle are the words, in one of the old Latin translations, “Lavabo inter innocentes manus meas,” I will wash my hands among the innocent. The Psalm was thus used for centuries in the part of the Offertory Rite where the priest washes his hands – in fact, if you google “lavabo,” you will find that there are various hand-washing devices named for that line in Psalm 26.

The revision of the Missal after Vatican II shortened this ritual, and thus now only quotes one line of the Psalm, where the priest used to say most of it. But the Psalm itself in its entirety would make a magnificent Offertory Hymn, for a parish rediscovering the beauty of the Psalms, or a private devotion at that time. It is an easy length to memorize.


An interesting sidenote: the Psalter is of such importance to the Church that there have always been disputes over translations. When St. Jerome set about producing the Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate – or “vernacular” translation – there was already an old Latin version of the Bible, based on the old Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint.

Jerome produced a better version of this translation. The Psalms from that revision, “iuxta LXX,” or “from the Septuagint,” became the “Roman Psalter.” But then he retranslated the Psalms, this time not from the Greek but from the Hebrew original. This one was adopted, among other places, in France, and so called the “Gallican Psalter”; it was also used by many religious orders.

Later Jerome made a third translation. And there was a new translation made at the time of the Council of Trent, and Pope Pius XII requested yet another one, by the great Cardinal Bea, in the decade before Vatican II. All this translating makes it confusing to say which is the “official” version – but testifies to the Church’s great love for this revealed text.


The meaning of the Lavabo rite is obvious enough: just as we wash our hands before handling important things, so too is this symbolic of how we should wash our souls before handling sacred things. But Psalm 26 takes us much deeper.

The Psalm maintains a rich tension between our goodness and the Lord’s mercy. The last section begins, “I will walk in my innocence. Redeem me and have mercy on me.” Which is it? Am I innocent, or do I need redemption and mercy? The Psalm’s answer is clearly both.

Indeed, though it begins by saying, “I do not sit with the wicked,” by the end it proclaims, “do not abandon me with sinners.” The Psalm takes us deeper into the struggle for righteousness. I do not want to be wicked – but I fear that, without the Lord’s help, I will be. Lead us not into temptation! Deliver us!

Similarly, it opens, “be just to me.” This is a mighty claim, as if I count myself truly deserving. But though it next says, “I walk in my innocence,” the following line shows the way to righteousness: “trusting in the Lord, I have not fallen.” (We might add, but when not trusting in the Lord, I have!)


The Psalm takes us deep into the relationship between righteousness and worship. “Your goodness is before my eyes, and I walk in your truth.” Our “walking” is hemmed in on two sides. On the one hand, we walk in light of God’s goodness to us. On the other, we recognize that truth belongs to him: it is he who makes right and wrong.

Perhaps the culmination of the Psalm is in the words, “Lord, I love the dwelling place of your house, and the place of the tent of your glory.” Worship is defined as simply being in God’s presence.

But that makes us long to “openly proclaim praise, and tell all your wonders.” We wash our hands, and our lives, so as to be able to see his goodness more clearly.


In the weeks to come, we will examine each line of this Psalm in greater depth.

What is your favorite Psalm?

Sunday’s Readings: Corpus Christi, the True Bread

panisDT 8:2-3; PS147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20; 1 COR10:16-17; JN 6:51-58

In the Eucharist the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. This is the daily miracle that we celebrate especially on this week’s great Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The word transubstantiation, which sounds a lot fancier in English than it does in Latin, simply means, “it is changed.” What is “standing” (-stant-) “underneath” the apperances (-sub-), the real reality of the thing, is now “different” (trans-). When he says, “this is my Body” . . . well, all we can say is, yes, I guess it “isn’t” really bread anymore, it “is” his Body – even though it still looks like bread.

But in order to fully appreciate what that means, with this Sunday’s readings, I would like to spend some time pondering the opposite point. Yes, the bread has become his body – but it is also true to say that his body has become our bread. “I am the living bread,” he says in our reading from John 6. “Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh.”

The Jews ask, “how can this man give us his flesh to eat?” It’s not such a stupid question. The answer is, “transubstantiation.” But we do well to think about it a little.

Sometimes, when I emphasize Thomas Aquinas’s teaching about how it matters that Jesus comes to us under the form of bread, my students ask, “what if there was one of those Eucharistic miracles, and it became flesh?” They laugh – but I think it’s an important point – when I respond, “if it turns into flesh, don’t eat it.” In the Eucharist, he gives himself as bread.


In our reading from Deuteronomy, Moses teaches the people in a mysterious way. He says God wanted to “find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger.”

Now, there’s two sides here, the spiritual and the physical. The ultimate point is their spiritual relation to God. But they learn through their physical relationship. The conclusion will be, “not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.” But the way God teaches them is with manna, bread.

Just as they rely physically on the bread God gives them, they are to rely spiritually on his word, his commandment. The physical sign of bread reminds them of the deeper spiritual truth that God himself is the source of life – and above all, the life of their soul. He is the true bread. (Bread even for angels, who don’t need physical bread.)


Our reading from First Corinthians is Paul’s central teaching on the Eucharist. Paul knows not the obscure manna in the wilderness, but the real body and blood of Christ. But he continues to insist on the symbolic meaning of bread.

“The bread that we break,” he says, “is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” And the cup “a participation in the blood of Christ.” (Notice, by the way, the phrase, “the bread we break”: in the New Testament, “breaking bread” is the central phrase for the Eucharist. It’s not a normal expression in Greek.)

Now, this “participation” has three interrelated meanings. First, it means the Real Presence. The bread (he still calls it bread, though we know it technically isn’t) IS the body of Christ. It “participates,” shares in the reality of Christ’s body.

But second, and in fact even more powerfully, it gives us a “participation” in the Body of Christ. The Fathers of the Church said, “the [Eucharistic] Body makes the Body [which is the Church]” – in fact, they called the Church the “true body.”

Third, and consequently, this Body gives us communion with one another. The word translated “participation” is actually the Greek koinonia. Through the bread we have communion – union – with God, and because of that, we are also in communion with one another. Paul underlines this: “we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”

The bread symbolism remains important: because the Body of Christ has become bread, we can make it our source of life, and our act of table-fellowship. This only works because he has become bread for us.


John, instead of koinonia, uses the word “dwelling,” or “remaining.” “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” But then he emphasizes life-giving: “Just as . . . I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”

Let us not forget that Jesus becomes our bread, our nourishment, our table of fellowship and our source of life.

Corpus Christi: The Thursday after Holy Trinity

Corpus-Christi-Holy-Quotes-Sayings-Wallpapers-Messages-SMS-3Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ – or it would be, if it didn’t get shunted off, in most of our dioceses, to Sunday.

(The argument is that in rural and under-staffed parishes, a major feast day requires a coordination of many part-time workers, which is just too hard to pull off during the week. Theoretically, I think it’s a shame to lose the sense that yes, the liturgy can and should interrupt our work week! But practically, we should always be willing to give our pastors the benefit of the doubt, just as we want the benefit of the doubt for the challenges of our own vocations. If they say they can’t make Corpus Christi happen on Thursday, we should be merciful with them.)


Now, this “Thursday after Holy Trinity – which is the Sunday after Pentecost . . . which is the seventh Sunday after Easter” is such an odd way to schedule things that it deserves our attention.

Corpus Christi is on Thursday because Thursday is the day of the Last Supper – way back during Holy Week. In our weekly rhythms, where Friday we remember the Cross, Saturday Mary’s waiting, and Sunday the Resurrection, Thursday too can be marked by a remembrance of the Last Supper, one of the key moments in the history of salvation.

Corpus Christi relives Holy Thursday, but under a particular aspect. So much is going on that night: we are anticipating the Lord’s death, entering the Triduum, recalling the institution of the priesthood, washing feet. But of course we are also recalling the institution of the Eucharist. And that particular aspect is worthy of a second run of Holy Thursday, another Thursday where we specifically recall the giving of Christ’s Body.

That’s why we celebrate it (or, in theory, would celebrate it) on Thursday.


But why now? Why this particular Thursday?

The simplest answer is that now it’s Ordinary Time, and there’s nothing else to compete with. This gets close to the answer – though let us note that strictly speaking, that’s really wrong. In fact, in Ordinary Time what it competes with is the orderly reading of the Bible. That’s what will get wiped out by moving it to Sunday. That was, in fact, a key point in the liturgical reform of Vatican II: we should try to live Ordinary Time well, not run it over with other feasts and exceptions. In one sense, the Thursdays in Easter are more “open” to getting bumped by Corpus Christi than is Ordinary Time.

Yet the real reason this reliving of Holy Thursday comes so long after Holy Week is precisely so that we can live out each part of the paschal mystery. Easter deserves its fifty days. And more to the point, Corpus Christi is not part of Easter.

In one sense, Corpus Christi is part of Holy Week – and in another sense, it is part of the time after Pentecost, the time of the Church, Ordinary Time. Corpus Christi, in fact, celebrates Holy Week radiating out into Our Time: Holy Thursday, and the whole Paschal Triduum, made present to us today.


Pentecost is the fulfillment of Easter, the radiating out of the heart of Christ into his Church. At the end of his forty days, Christ goes up to heaven – and then launches us on our way, with Pentecost.

Holy Trinity is the completion of Pentecost. In fact, Pentecost used to have an octave, an eight-day celebration, so that Holy Trinity is simply the last day of Pentecost. (Vatican II simplified some of these things: let’s just emphasize the fifty days of Easter, not fifty days, then seven more, etc. The same thing happened before Lent: the old season of Septuagesima, the pre-Lent preparation for Lent, was lovely . . . but let’s just focus on the forty days.)

Holy Trinity, for all its mysteriousness, is simply a celebration of the Father and the Son being one – and the Spirit they send us being part of that unity, so that Pentecost comes from the Father and the Son, and unites us back to them.

Corpus Christi is only four days later, the Thursday after Holy Trinity. After we have completed the Easter mystery with Pentecost-Holy Trinity, we take the very next Thursday, the first Thursday back into the ordinary year, to return to Holy Thursday, and find in it the source of our union. We find in Corpus Christi, in fact, the primary place where we receive the Holy Spirit, our entrance into the unity of Father and Son.

How could we better meditate on the unity between Easter, Pentecost, and the Mass?

Aparecida: An Introduction

brazil-popeOn Wednesdays we have been exploring how we live out our faith, through meditations on the capital sins, the sacraments, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

This week we begin a new approach to this question: a reading of “the Aparecida document.”

Aparecida is the great Marian shrine of Brazil, where an image of Mary appeared to two poor fishermen. In May of 2007 the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean gathered there to discuss pastoral strategy. This was the fifth such gathering since Vatican II. At Vatican II the bishops discovered the great gift that comes from gathering together to speak about mission and pastoral care. They brought that home to gatherings on their own continent.

This conference, however, was different, because this time they gathered at a great Marian shrine. They were surrounded, inspired, and supported by the faith of real pilgrims. They were themselves immersed not in media or fancy hotels, but in a place of prayer. They met in a hall underneath the shrine, where they could hear the pilgrims singing above. And they placed themselves under the protection of Mary. What emerged was a deeper experience of pastoral zeal.


Another thing that emerged was a great leader, a certain cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who six years later would be elected pope and take the name Francis. It was he who led the composing of the final document, based on the three weeks of discussions.

The “Aparecida document,” he said, presents a great “harmony,” a spiritual wisdom of the bishops gathered at that Marian shrine. But the great visionary of that harmony was Bergoglio-Francis himself. He saw how to fit it together – and, more importantly, he would say, he was the one who learned the most from this movement of the Spirit.

Our approach to the document will be precisely to look for this synthetic vision. We will not dig into particulars, but we will review the outline of the document at various levels, in order to discover how it all fits together: the harmony of Aparecida.


The insights of Aparecida are particularly for Latin America. But they speak to us in the United States, as well. They speak to us first because we too are Americans, part of this new world. There are great differences between the North and the South, especially our much greater wealth, and our country’s decidedly Protestant heritage. But we are all relatively new countries, founded by Europeans, but displaced Europeans, remaking their world. We share the same intensely immigrant, new-world experience.

It is amusing to think sometimes of Francis, bull in a china shop, as a cowboy American, with our decidedly American willingness to challenge convention. It is significant that Europe speaks not of seven continents, but five: Antarctica doesn’t count, and from their perspective, America is one.

We can also learn from the differences. How would we innovative Americans think about pastoral work if our culture was Catholic from its inception? The Latin Americans can teach us. And how do Americans think when they are not immersed in material wealth, that great opiate that replaces faith? The poorer countries can teach us. Indeed, this is the experience of many Americans (unfortunately, not myself) who have gone on “mission” trips, and come back renewed by the freshness of Latin America’s deep Catholicism and rich poverty.


We should always be aware of the danger of “creeping infallibility”: the Holy Spirit protects the Church when the Pope teaches, but sometimes we are tempted to treat as Church teaching everything ever said by someone who would later become Pope. Whether Francis, Benedict XVI, John Paul II, or Pius X, what they wrote in their friends’ high school year book is not a revelation from God.

That said, Cardinal Bergoglio’s insights at Aparecida are important to us. In a very real sense, it was the man of Aparecida who was elected Pope. The Cardinals are not infallible, but they saw in this man the pastoral insights that the Church needs in our age.

Our reading of the Aparecida document will give us insight into who Francis is and how he thinks. But more importantly, Francis aside, they manifest some of the greatest pastoral thinking of our age. We read this not as part of Francis’s magisterium, but as a great movement of the Holy Spirit, encouraging us to think deeper about how to rediscover the life of faith in this modern world.

Vatican II on Love of Scripture

The Second Vatican Council worked in various ways to strengthen the Church for the struggles of the modern world. One of its central strategies was to return to a traditional spirituality rooted in reading Scripture. This suffuses the document on the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) and the entire approach of the documents on the Church (Lumen Gentium) and on the Church in the modern world (Gaudium et Spes).

The following quotations, from the concluding section of the document on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) reminds us of the centrality of sacred reading to the tradition – pointing out that this is why translations like the Greek Septuagint and the Vulgate existed in the first place. (Remember, the Vulgate was the central life work of the very St. Jerome who said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.) It also gives a nicely concrete description of lectio divina: put yourself in touch with the sacred text itself!

MEETING DURING SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL FILE PHOTOEasy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament which is called the Septuagint; and she has always given a place of honor to other Eastern translations and Latin ones, especially the Latin translation known as the Vulgate.

But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them. . . .

All the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become “an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly” (St. Augustine) since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy.

The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere.

And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying” (St. Ambrose).

-Second Vatican Council, “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” Dei Verbum