TSD 31: Salt of the Earth

Sometimes you need a little pepper, too

I’m in prison this weekend. Pray, if you would, for the men making the retreat at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset.

Errata: The Solemnity of All Saints was extended to the universal Church in 835 by Gregory IV, not Gregory VII. Also, the All Souls’ Day plenary indulgence extends through the entire All Saints octave! Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader for these corrections.


These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings are Wisdom 12:22-12:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2, and Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus.

There is an incredible amount of theology in these verses from the Book of Wisdom:

  • The infinite distance between the Creator and the created: “Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”

  • God’s knowing, gratuitous, and merciful patience: “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people's sins that they may repent.”

  • The intrinsic goodness of all creation: “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.”

  • That God sustains all creation in being at every moment, because He is being itself: “And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?”

  • The all creation shares in God’s being: “But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”

  • The reality of conscience: “Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!”

Jan Luyken's Jesus 21. Zacchaeus. Phillip Medhurst Collection

Etching of Jesus beckoning Zacchaeus by Jan Luyken.


…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost. The Epistle is Ephesians 6:10-17 and the Gospel is Matthew 18:23-35, the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

This is really a tremendous reading from Ephesians: the description of the “armor of God,” which we don for spiritual battle: “your loins girt about with truth”; “the breast-plate of justice”; “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace”; “the shield of faith”; “the helmet of salvation”; and “the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.”

Buried in all this martial imagery is the word “peace,” which I think is notable. Even as we rightly conceive of the conflict between good and evil in terms of warfare, peace remains essential to goodness. Of course we aren’t talking about peace as pusillanimity—a cowardly acquiescence with injustice—but as genuine harmony, order, justice. We must bring souls and communities that are at peace—that is, in order—to the battle, and we must aim for that peace, for all, as our goal.

This painting by Domenico Fetti (c. 1620) portrays the unforgiving servant, whose debt to the king had been pardoned, assaulting his own debtor. In response, “his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all his debt. So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.”


…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Monday, November 4, is the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo. The life of this saint was full of endlessly complicated political-ecclesiastical intrigue (Remember when we had a Borgia a few weeks ago? Charles was related to the Medicis!), and yet both his holiness and his effectiveness shone through. Charles Borromeo is a rebuke to those who would sacrifice morals and sanctity for “practicality”: He achieved reforms of immeasurable importance in Rome, Milan, and throughout the Church through the founding of seminaries for priestly formation, all while committing himself to personal austerity (including staying in Milan and serving the faithful during an outbreak of plague) and holiness. While Charles is known today as an uncompromising prosecutor of the counter-reformation, he is remembered in the old Mass for his feast especially for his “pastoral solicitude.” I’ll let Fr. Butler have the last word:

St. Charles was raised by God to revive an ecclesiastical spirit in the clergy. Priests are called by our Blessed Redeemer the salt of the earth. Through them the world is to be seasoned, as it were, with the Christian spirit of perfect humility, meekness, patience, charity, devotion, and contempt of the world. How can they infuse these virtues into others who are themselves unacquainted with this spirit? For this, much more is required than barely to know the names of virtues. To be disengaged from the world, and dead to themselves; to love retirement, and to be always employed in the business of their heavenly Father, is the characteristic of the ministers of the altar. Such were the pastors who formed so many saints.

Charles Borromeo calls down God’s help for Milanese plague victims. By Jacob Jordaens, 1655.


Saturday, November 9, is the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica, officially the Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran—the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome and thus the seat, or cathedra, of the Pope. It is the mother church of all the faithful and the highest-ranking church in Catholicism. In all these respects, it is what most people assume St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to be.

Today, the uniquely-titled “archbasilica” is something of a mishmash of architectural and artistic styles through the ages. There is more than a hint of frustration, even coldness, regarding the contemporary appearance of the cathedral in its entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The writer is downright scornful of the seventeenth-century renovation that gives the building its current appearance:

It was not until the latter part of the seventeenth century that the church took its present appearance, in the tasteless restoration carried out by Innocent X, with Borromini for his architect. The ancient columns were now enclosed in huge pilasters, with gigantic statues in front. In consequence of this the church has entirely lost the appearance of an ancient basilica, and is completely altered in character.

The feast of the dedication dates to the twelfth century.

The translation of this inscription on the facade is “Most Holy Lateran Church, mother and head of all the churches in the city and the world.”


Those Seven Days

Really cool project being spearheaded by priests in my diocese:


I’m not really sure what to make of this, but it’s amazing:


Following Ambassador Habsburg’s American junket on Twitter has been a delight:

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