Jesus, Mary, and the Eclipse

Jesus, Mary, and the Eclipse

So a big thing happened this week: the United States experienced its first total solar eclipse since 1979, and the first total eclipse to stretch from coast to coast in over a century. In ye olden days, eclipses were viewed with abject terror, as divine harbingers of death and destruction. This is understandable, given the scientific limitations of the time, and the potentially frightening experience of the sun disappearing midday. Today, eclipses are viewed as “cool” or as simply an accidental quirk of the rocks circling our sun. But I think there could be some truth to the “divine sign” idea, though not as a sign of devastation.

The sun has long been used as a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Of course, “son” and “sun” are similar words, but the symbolic connection predates the English language. Jesus is the “Light of the World.” As the sun rises over the horizon, overcoming the darkness, so Jesus rises from the dead, defeating death forever. The sun as a symbol figures prominently in the badge of the Society of Jesus, which is today seen as the major charge of the coat of arms of Pope Francis:

Francis Coat of Arms

The moon has equally long been used as a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is in large part because she is identified as the Woman in the Revelation of Saint John, who is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1) The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe includes Mary standing on the crescent moon, and the moon is used as a heraldric device for Mary, such as in the coat of arms of my local church, the Archdiocese of Mobile:


Mary’s identification with the moon is particularly apt because of what the moon actually does. The moon has no light of its own. It merely reflects to us the light of the sun. Mary, too, is not noticeable on her own, but is radiant because she perfectly reflects to us the light and love and grace of her Son, Jesus Christ.

Just as the sun and moon reveal Jesus and Mary, I think that so too does an eclipse—a special confluence of the sun and the moon—reveal the relationship between Jesus and Mary and our experience of that relationship.

I firmly believe that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1) I take this message seriously. Sacred Scripture itself shows that in many ways God has painted the Gospel message in the medium of His creation. The stars themselves are his paintbrush. The birth of Our Savior, of the Creator’s own Son, was announced by a “star at its rising.” (Matthew 2:1) In ancient Judea, this language could have had a number of meanings, but something in the sky caught the notice of the learned.

And this eclipse we have experienced should catch our notice. A total solar eclipse such as the one just seen in the United States occurs when the moon passes just perfectly between the earth and sun, completely blocking out the surface of the sun. With the surface blotted out, it is possible to see the sun’s corona with the naked eye. The corona is always there, an aura of plasma extending out from the sun in every direction, but is only visible during a solar eclipse, when the moon shields us from the full glare of the sun’s surface.

As the moon stands in the gap between the earth and the sun, so too does Mary stand in the gap between us and the Son. She has no desire to best Jesus, to block us from ever seeing His Light. But every once in a while, she stands between us and Him so that we can see Him better. She humanizes Jesus, lifting her veil so we are shielded momentarily from His shimmering glory, and can experience parts of Jesus that we would never be able to see otherwise. His corona, His humanity, is visible around her veil, and we see the deep love he has for us. And then, like the end of an eclipse, she drops her veil and again we are enveloped in his wondrous light.

Take notice of this sign in the sky, this sign of Our Savior and His Mother. Take advantage of the Veil of the Virgin to see her Son more fully.


If Chick-fil-A were Catholic . . .

If Chick-fil-A were Catholic . . .

I love eating at Chick-fil-A. If you don’t live near one of the 2,000 Chick-fil-A locations, I am really sorry. There’s nothing quite like the CFA sandwich, or their waffle fries, or their amazing cookies. I live in the South, where most CFA’s are, and I still don’t think I live close enough to one. It’s like ten whole minutes away.

But Chick-fil-A has one major fault: it’s closed on Sundays. This is a really, really dirty trick to play. It’s such a dirty trick that the Internet (a/k/a Tim Hawkins) made a remarkably funny satirical song about it. Why is it a dirty trick? Because 75% of the time that I crave Chick-fil-A is on a Sunday, when I can’t have it. When nobody can have it. Your wife asks “what can we get for dinner?” and you think “Chick-fil-A!” and then immediately say “but it’s Sunday . . . ” It’s really upsetting.

Chick-fil-A closes on Sunday because the restaurant recognizes that the day is special, belonging  to God, and so that their employees can spend time with their families. Other chains do this too, like Hobby Lobby and Dirt Cheap. But I don’t care about those. My wife wants her crafts at Hobby Lobby and her deals at Dirt Cheap, but I just want my hand-breaded deep-fried all-white-meat chicken sandwich.

But if Chick-fil-A were run by Catholics, it might be open on Sundays. That would be amazing. Paragraph 2187 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says “Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort . . . Traditional activities (sport, restaurant, etc.) and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure.”

Restaurants stay open and athletes compete in order to enhance the enjoyment of the Lord’s Day, a day of rest, by others. And Chick-fil-A staying open on Sunday would seriously enhance my enjoyment of Sunday. I would never think “I want Chick-fil-A” on Sunday and then be without any hope of eating that wonderful fried goodness. And that’s a really good thing, because Sunday is not a day for being deprived. It’s a day for celebration.

Am I (bbbb <–that’s my 1-year-old’s contribution) kidding just a little bit? Am I twisting the Catechism out of context just this much to make my point? Is it really optional whether an establishment wants to be open Sunday and other Holy Days? Yes, Yes, and Yes.

If I’m being totally serious, I guess I’m glad that there’s a national chain willing to cut into their profits in order to point out to the wider culture that Sunday is special, Sunday is important, Sunday is for better things. But guys! Is it too much to ask for fried chicken? Doesn’t a feast of fried chicken signify that today is a Holy Day, a day set apart, the Eighth Day of Creation? Open on Sunday and feed my need, Chick-fil-A!

Say No To Satellites!

Say No To Satellites!

Recently, a friend of mine shared a satirical article about Steven Furtick, a pastor in Charlotte, North Carolina, signing a six-year $110 million contract to preach at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Texas. Of course, Furtick didn’t sign any such contract and isn’t going to Texas, but when my friend posted it, it caused a stir among his relatives who didn’t know that it was satire.

The story also caused me to remember my long-time ire of megachurches. Furtick founded “Elevation Church” in North Carolina, which hosts 20,000 people each weekend in 15 locations. The Church of the Highlands in my state of Alabama hosts 40,000 people in 16 locations.

I’ll admit off the bat that not everything about megachurches and their pastors is bad. Many, like Furtick’s church, are known for doing a ton of service work (but not Joel Osteen’s). Some of them have pastors with actual theological training (but not Joel Osteen). Some of them have pastors that live like normal people instead living in mega-mansions (but not Joel Osteen).

But megachurches also have a lot of big issues seriously affecting Christianity in America. Joel Osteen’s “prosperity gospel” is an unadulterated heresy that has taught millions of people that material wealth is a reward for spiritual greatness. The unbelievable personal wealth amassed by megachurch pastors is seriously disconcerting, and an abrogation of Christ’s “poor in spirit” message. But the big thing—the thing that always bewilders me—is the tendency of many megachurches to have a dozen or more satellite campuses.

The satellite campuses are strange for a specific reason. It’s not an attempt to make a new ecclesial community fifty miles away. The pastor uses video technology to livestream his sermon to the new campus, in an attempt to merely extend the existing church community. Thousands of people walk into an auditorium on Sunday morning to watch a preacher on big screen from a different city.

I feel like there’s a monumental hubris involved to feel that you have to be live-streamed to another auditorium and another group of people. Most people respond best a person in the room, but these churches and these pastors have decided that nobody else can preach as well as them. Nobody else can take the Gospel to the next town or the next neighborhood. They have to go themselves, despite the fact they can only go by video.

They send an assistant minister to tend to the needs of the flock, but don’t let that person preach, because the preaching comes from the TV. They are essentially saying that this assistant being sent is good enough to do the heavy lifting of helping you through difficulty in a marriage, or helping to form your children in the faith, but the pastor doesn’t trust them to preach. The pastor has to get the notoriety of preaching to huge crowds and won’t share it.

I spent a long time wondering why anybody would put up with a satellite church experience. The focus is apparently on a big television screen. This can’t possibly be nourishing anyone in the same way as a person-to-person experience.

Then I realized why these churches do this, instead of sending a real-life minister: that famous preacher is the glue holding that community together. Some will argue that it’s Holy Scripture that’s the lifeblood of the community, but that’s a bit of an overstatement. All of the Christianity shares the New Testament, along with Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists, and we are all far from being one people. These megachurches also lack ingrained traditions—concrete actions divorced from particular individuals—by which to affirm their unity. They do not gather around an altar for the sacrificial offering of the Eucharist, as do Catholics and Orthodox. The substance of these ecclesial communities is the preacher and his preaching.

I don’t think poorly of anyone who is making a concerted effort to know the Lord Jesus Christ. But the Church founded by the Christ is real, and it’s more than a persona projected on a screen. The Church is the The Person of Jesus Christ, not a person on a stage. Demand more! Demand God at the center of your Sabbath experience, not a celebrity! At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is obvious who is most important. His Body and Blood are on the Altar. The Church needs Christ, and bringing Christ means coming in person. No satellites!

*I have real hang-ups about Joel Osteen on just about every level. He’s a poor representative of Christianity and probably will merit a post all his own in the future.

3 Things To Fix-Up This Country

3 Things To Fix-Up This Country

A belated Happy Independence Day to everyone out there! And to all the Canadians up there who haven’t read my blog yet, a belated Happy 150th Canada Day, ya loveable northern weirdos!

I love this country (my country. America. I’ve never been to Canada). I don’t mean that in a perfunctory ‘sure, I was born here’ kind of way. And I don’t mean that the United States can do no wrong (we’re often really good at making mistakes). I mean I love this country. I want the absolute best for my country and everyone in it. And it doesn’t hurt that I like this country. I like our freedoms. I like baseball, and barbeque, and waving the red, white, and blue. I willingly worked for the federal government. Several times I have been a soloist at naturalization ceremonies, singing The Star-Spangled Banner as men and women born elsewhere become Americans. I freaking love this country (almost as much as Hulk Hogan does in that pic up there, but probably not quite as much).

But I also think this country has a problem. One, overwhelming problem. It’s our government, guys. Our government is terrible. I don’t mean that our government is bad right this second and will magically improve when one person or another enters or exits office. I don’t mean one leader is terrible. Our whole government is terrible. Look around and see the awful leadership seeping out at every level and in every sphere. So many of our leaders are corrupt, are influence first of all by money and political donors, are embroiled in one scandal after another. All of our leaders are embroiled in partisan bickering, unable to serve the common good or to compromise in any way if it means their party ‘lost.’

I have a lot of really hard opinions about our countries problem. But I also have the week from Hades at work, so I don’t have time to write the many treatises that I want to. Rather, I’ll just suggest 3 things that our country really, really needs right now:

  • Ideas: We need good ideas to fix our problems. This may seem like “duh, Mark” kind of statement, because of course we do, and because of course there are a lot of great ideas floating around out there. But the issue is that we do not focus on ideas. We focus on candidates, and on scandal, and on whether a “D” or an “R” is behind someone’s name. We are driven by petty competition, or by fears, or by controversial soundbites. But we are not engaging with real ideas for successful policy in this country.
  • Data: When we do spout ideas, they are usually not based in fact. So often, we spout off one fact or another, one ailment or achievement in this country, and we have no clue what we’re talking about. We say there’s more crime, when really there’s less. We say such-and-such is more affordable, when really it’s more expensive. If we’re going to fix anything in this country, we have to have a realistic idea of what our problems are.
  • Prayer: We think we can fix this place alone, and we just can’t. We have to dedicate our country to Jesus Christ through the Patroness of the United States, the Immaculate Conception. If we lift up our country in prayers, and our leaders in prayer, and each other in prayer, we’re going to be better off. If we don’t get serious about cooperating with the Holy Spirit in caring for this country and everybody in it, we’re not going to get anywhere, real fast. So say it with me, guys, and say it often: GOD BLESS AMERICA!