Divine Physics and the Gift of Fortitude

Divine Physics

Some weeks ago, I attended a great seminar on evangelization in the present cultural moment.  The Speaker used a phrase that really stuck in my mind, “divine / spiritual physics.”  The idea is that because God has placed certain systems in place in Creation… and because he is always faithful to his own Word, there is a divine physics in place to which we are subject (as created beings), and to which God voluntarily subjects himself in fidelity to his own Word.  So, for example, God gave us free will.  We must live with the consequences of that… and so does he (albeit by his own choice).  God does not enslave us.  To do so would go against the divine physics of Creation.  

Often enough, I think we focus on the negative (for lack of a better word) consequences of divine physics: “Why did my relative get cancer?”  “Why did disease break out in that village?”  “Earthquakes… really God??”  Each of these things is a consequence of humanity introducing sin into Creation.  They’re not God’s fault any more than it’s his fault I can’t breathe under water… It’s just the way things are.

There is however a more positive approach to divine/spiritual physics.  These laws of Creation establish an objectivity… a floor on which we can stand… something we can lean on with absolute certainty throughout life.  Consider the words of Jeremiah at tonight’s mass for the Vigil of the Nativity of John the Baptist:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.

“Ah, Lord GOD!” I said,
“I know not how to speak; I am too young.”
But the LORD answered me,
Say not, “I am too young.”
To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Have no fear before them,
because I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.
(cf Jer. 1:4-10)

The would-be prophet makes a reasonable argument… the same one Moses made in fact… “I’m not good a public speaking; and you want me for your Prophet?”  Jeremiah was forgetting about divine physics.  Eloquent or not, it’s not about him… or you… or me.  God’s plan is about God’s will, not ours.  Relying on this, Jeremiah goes on to become not only a prophet, but one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament.  

Celebrating his nativity, it’s appropriate to look to the Baptist’s parents.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were unable to conceive a child.  Nonetheless they remained faithful to their relationship with the Lord.  God rewarded them, sending them not only a son, not only a miracle, but a son who would be the greatest of the Prophets and point the way to Jesus himself!  Keeping it all about God became their strength.  John, their son, was no different.  Whether it was his ascetic life in the desert, his preaching repentance, or his courageous witness in the court of Herod (cf Mt. 14) John was able to let go of this life by being totally focused on what God wanted.  This was his strength.

I also think of St. Philip Neri (whose patron saint, as a Florentine, was John the Baptist… and who often preached in the church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini in Rome).  God performed many miracles through St. Philip including one very much related to divine physics.  A certain Gabriele Tana was dying in Rome.  Calling for St. Philip, Gabriele told him, “I do not want to die.”  The man was tormented by this desire to hold on to earthly life, even as heaven called him.  Philip, embraced Tana and asked him, “My son, do you trust me?”  He responded to his confessor, “Of course Father.”  “Then give me your will… and I will offer it to God at holy mass.”  Gabriele surrendered this spiritual gift to St. Philip who immediately offered mass, lifting up the dying man’s will to God.  When Philip returned from the chapel Tana was preaching to everyone around him how peaceful he felt.  Suddenly, a terrible vision locked Gabriele’s attention.  The devil was tempting him to hold on to life, but Tana replied with great peace, “You cannot tempt me because I have no will of my own anymore; God’s will be done.”  He died having made a great witness to all those around him.  Gabriele’s problem was the disconnect between what he wanted and the reality (i.e. divine physics) in which he found himself.  Once he surrendered himself to that reality, peace… and death… came quickly, as did Eternal Life.

Great challenges can plague us, none greater perhaps than our own self-centered willfulness (e.g. Gabriele Tana).  More commonly however, we prefer to play the victim.  “I don’t trust the government anymore.”  “It’s all the president’s fault.” “If only Congress would…” etc., etc…  In the life of the Church we find this (sadly) all too frequently: “My priest stinks, so I don’t believe the Gospel.”  “This leader set a bad example so I’m not buying all this ethics business.”  etc., etc… While the credibility of a teacher, a leader, even a priest may make belief easier or harder, Truth is not dependent on the messenger.  Truth is dependent only on God it’s author, His witness, His power, His beauty, His miracles.  Truth is a matter of divine physics.  And in times of great sadness and struggle, those divine physics become a pillar of strength for me.  I hope it may be that way for you too.  

Importan Parish Announcement

26/27 May 2018
7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Dear Friends,

I’d like to update you about a new development here at St. Francis Xavier, my imminent departure, and the arrival of a new parish priest.

A combination of retirements of pastors around the Archdiocese has once again set dominos falling among our priests.  At the end of June, I will move to become the parish priest of St. Mary’s in Chinatown.  St. Mary’s is home to several Catholic communities including the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite… that is to say, the Latin Mass as it was celebrated before 1965.  Because of my skills in language and liturgy/ceremony, Cardinal Wuerl has asked me specifically to accept this assignment.  Obedient to my vows I have happily accepted.

The new priest at St. Francis Xavier will by my dear friend Fr. Mark Cusick, currently assigned at St. John the Evangelist, Silver Spring.  I’m confident that Fr. Mark will bring his intellect, excitement and most of all his pastoral love to bear on ministry here at St. Francis Xavier.  I’m also confident that this will be a seamless transition.  I ask your prayers for me and for Fr. Mark, whom I hope to invite for a visit as soon as possible.  As I mentioned Fr. Mark and I are friends, having attended seminary at the same time.  I think you’ll find that we are generally of a mind and so this change will be marked by a surprising degree of continuity.  

There’s a mix of emotions whenever a priest moves.  I’m sure the dominant feeling will be that of our boat rocking.  The barque of the Church often rocks, but she never gets overturned… and eventually, things do settle down.  Right now we feel this more frequently than in the past because there are so few priests to go around.  This year we will ordain an unusually small class for our Archdiocese, only three new priests making it that much more of a challenge to keep all of our parishes open and staffed.  The growing frequency of priest-moves is all for that purpose: to keep ALL of our communities open.  Every other diocese around the country has shuddered churches, sometimes many dozens of them, but in the more than three hundred years since the first mass was said in St. Mary’s County, our area has never seen a parish close… so even amidst the topsy-turvy feelings about priests moving, we can hold on to that as a source of pride and stability.  

There’ll be more to say over the coming weeks, but as with most of Church life, it’s said in person.  Please know that as always my door is open if you have questions or concerns and that my heart is open to all of you whom I have so enjoyed serving these last eighteen months.

Your priest,

Fr. De Rosa

Pentecost Music: the Original Spiritual

Based on Fr. De Rosa’s Pentecost Homily and Posted Originally on His Blog http://www.eyesoffaithdc.com

Yearning is a big part of our religious existence… ultimately yearning for God, but by extension yearning for all the good things of this world.  I’ve written before about the positive power of yearning, about the eros-dimension of our love for God.  Yearning is front and center in the life of the Church as we “groan in expectation” (Rm 8:19) of what God promises, and never more so than on Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.  At Christmas we await his coming in the fullness of time.  At Easter, even though we know how the story ends, who can help but watch, wait and wonder with the Apostles on Holy Saturday, “What happens next?”  And at Pentecost we cry out, Veni creator Spiritus.  And Veni sancte Spiritus!  Come Creator Spirit!  Come Holy Spirit!

The yearning of Pentecost is associated with it a particularly venerable musical tradition, enshrined in two hymns Veni Sancte Spiritus and Veni Creator Spiritus.  Their music comes from the middle ages (9th and 11th centuries), but their texts and their sentiment call forth memories of a more distant antiquity.

As the Apostles prayed following the Ascension, we know that they awaited the coming of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit promised by Christ.  Huddled in the Upper Room they would’ve chanted the psalms together, as the Jews still do today at the Western Wall and in their synagogues, a musical expression of the heart’s deepest yearning.

We know that immediately following Pentecost the Church’s musical tradition began.  There are, in fact, many texts within the Gospels and writings of the Apostles that were most likely musical lyrics before they were ever enshrined as Scripture.  Indeed, in an oral tradition, music makes it much easier to remember and hand on information across generations.  The Magnificat is a great example of this, as is the Canticle of Zechariah.

Both Christian and pagan imperial records tell us that during the Roman persecutions, Christians were famed for singing under torture, and in the arenas as they prepared for death in the mouths of beasts, or on the cross after the fashion of our Lord.  This music was particularly powerful: It witnessed to tens of thousands of onlookers the power of the Holy Spirit whose gifts of hope and fortitude filled the dying Christians.  That witness turned the dynamic of the arenas on its head so that the very events meant to crush the Church spread her message of hope to vast crowds.  By their musical witness, the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the Church.

Through the dark ages, the droning chant of the monks preserved civilization like a low flame supported by the power of the Spirit flowing from their altars… I could go on and on… but I should fast forward through time and space to America and a dark chapter in our own history.  What was it that sustained enslaved peoples here in the US if not their nascent Christian faith expressed through… spirituals… This beautiful genre of music witnessed hope not only to successive generations of enslaved individuals, but also to those who would become their greatest advocates, the abolitionists.  Their work and prayer finally sent the Grand Army of the Republic marching to the Battle Hymn of the Republic to end slavery and preserve the union.

One of the great things about Pentecost is that its gifts go on unchanged.  The gift of the Incarnation at Christmas ultimately ascends to the Father out of human sight.  The gift of the Resurrection happened once.  But the descent of the Holy Spirit continues unchanged to this day, if only you and I can see it with eyes of faith.  And the music of the Spirit is our great helper in that effort.

Recommended Listening: Gustav Mahler’s 8th Symphony – based on the Veni Creator Spiritus

The Beauty of the Ascension

Baldassare Franceschini, Ascension – in the National Gallery of Art, DC

Excerpted from Fr. De Rosa’s Blog http://www.eyesoffaithdc.com

We’re in a season of really beauty… it’s not just the Washington is ablaze with roses, irises, and peonies.  It’s not just the broad smiles and easy laughter of college grads moving on to great things… It’s also a holy season.  We’ve just concluded the great cycle that began way back at the beginning of December with the first Sunday of Advent.  That flowed into Christmas, Epiphanytide, the preparation for Lent, Easter, and now finally, Ascension and Pentecost.  And these last two really do shine to match the natural beauty of the world around us.

I propose three ways in which the Ascension may be called beautiful: superficially, philosophically and theologically…

At Ascension Jesus rises Body and Soul into the glory of heaven, finally returning to the Father… and bringing with him something new, our humanity.  On the face of it, we may well say, “Wow, bright light, clouds, angels, how beautiful!” And we’d be right.  But there’s more!

Ascension participates in the classical philosophical definition of things objectively beautiful.  It is marked by three classical categories: Integrity, Consonance, and Clarity.  Integrity – Ascension is the fulfillment of all Jesus prepared us for.  He had to leave to complete his mission.  He alludes to this in the Last Supper discourses in John (ch. 14 and 15), and said as much overtly to Mary Magdalene: Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (Jn 20:17).  Consonance – Jesus Ascension works not only within itself, but also in conjunction with all that came before and after it.  The Ascension fulfills Prophecy and corresponds with everything the the Apostolic age that followed.  It is a harmonious or consonant part of salvation history.  Finally, the Ascension is marked by clarity… by which we mean it is radiant, warming us and calling us to change are selves for its sake.  You see, the Ascension of Jesus finally means that the Church is his remaining Mystical Body on earth.  The Church is now called on to live his ministry: Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. (Jn 14:12)

The Ascension’s beauty is also seen in what it accomplishes as part of theology.  The event marks a very real beginning to what theologians call “recapitulation,” that process by which Jesus presents redeemed Creation to the Father… and the first thing to be presented is our humanity, restored by his divine presence.  It’s the beginning of him presenting the Church, Christ’s bride, to the Father as St. Paul suggests in Ephesians (5:27): that [the Lord] might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  A fallen world restored and presented to its Creator as worthy once more of heaven… Beautiful.

Up next…  a few thoughts on the beauty of Pentecost and the divine music it initiates.

Easter Mystagogia Homilies

Since her most ancient days, the Church has used the time after Easter to reflect on the sacraments.  The links below are to the homilies we’ve heard in Church during the Easter  season to help us unlock and fall in love with the sacraments that we’ve all received.

Divine Mercy Sunday: The Sacraments are all related and flow from the events of Jesus’ Passion Death and Resurrection

Third Sunday of Easter: Confession

Fourth Sunday of Easter: Baptism

Fifth Sunday of Easter: Confirmation

Sixth Sunday of Easter: Holy Orders and Marriage – the Nuptial Sacraments


Some Q&A About Daily Mass

Over the last two weeks, I’ve gotten some questions from two parishioners about daily mass, and thought I might field some answers here in the Bulletin for everyone’s benefit.  

“What is daily mass?”  While the Lord commands us to observe the sabbath (Sunday mass), daily mass is more a matter of personal devotion, a smaller-scale chance during the week to hone one’s love for the Lord not out of necessity, but out of pure gift.  Daily masses are also a great chance for people to offer up attendance at mass for a particular purpose, for example the journey of a loved one through purgatory to heaven… or the healing of a sick friend… etc.  Personal acts of devotion and sacrifice find a wonderful setting at daily mass.  Daily mass is also the Church’s way of marking all the various feasts/observances of the year in answer to St. Paul’s admonition, “Pray always.”(cf. I Thess. 5).

While most people can’t make it to daily mass on a regular basis because of work schedules, it’s certainly something I’d recommend whenever one can.  Here at St. Francis Xavier daily mass is offered at 9am in the Rectory oratory (an oratory is a space with an altar but no tabernacle).  We typically offer the rosary at 9 and begin daily mass by 9:15.  You can enter the Rectory via the side door just opposite the church entry most of us use all the time.

“Why the Rectory?” Is another question that has come up lately.  Up until November of last year we were celebrating daily mass in the church every day.  When the boiler broke down for about two weeks, we moved into the Rectory so that attendees wouldn’t be worshipping in the cold.  Once the boiler was fixed I decided to keep celebrating daily mass in the Rectory.  I addressed this with the parish council at the time.  

“Why stay in the Rectory?  A few reasons in no particular order: (1) From January until November 2017 we rarely had more than 4 people attend daily mass, and very frequently it would just be me and our parish sacristan Mr. Zappone.  It requires a lot of work to open up the Church for so small a crowd.  Also, the experience can be a bit cavernous as voices echo around the mostly empty space.  I thought the Rectory would be a somewhat more intimate setting.  (2) Bills – In fiscal year ’16-’17 it cost us about $10,000 to heat/cool the church 7 days/week on a timer that turned the HVAC on/off according to a schedule.  If we’re going to use the church through the week those systems need to be on all week long because it takes so long to feel the effect of the heat/AC in so large a space.  Holding mass in the Rectory means we can keep the heating/cooling systems off Mon-Fri. And turn them on just for weekend worship. As the finance council and parish council know from regular updates… and as you know from the updates we’ve been publishing every six months, our financial position is delicate at St. Francis Xavier.  As of last Sunday we were maintaining a cash balance of only $3,000 in our operations account and approximately $40k in our savings account, which we’ve had to dip into from time to time to keep our operating balance securely positive.  I’m proud to say that we pay all our bills on time and in full, but it’s not always easy.

“Can we consider moving back to the church?”  I’m certainly open to celebrating daily mass in our beautiful church and I’ll bring up the subject at our May 6 Parish Council meeting to get the input of parishioners.  I’m just trying to be as prudent as possible with our limited resources.  I’m grateful to our entire community for any thoughts you may have at any time.  

Until then, I remain,

Your priest,

Fr. De Rosa