Sunday, September 27, 2009

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sept. 27, 2009
Num 11: 25-29
Christian Brothers, Iona College
Ursulines, Willow Drive, N.R.

“Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” (Num 11: 29).

Moses needs to share the burden of leadership. Guided by the Lord, he chooses 70 elders to work with him as leaders in Israel. The Spirit of God descends on those 70, including 2 who had inadvertently missed their official installation rite, as it were.

Joshua, young and relatively inexperienced in the ways of the Lord, is jealous for the prerogatives of Moses, as he’ll be zealous later to carry out whatever the Lord tells him when he leads Israel across the Jordan and into the Promised Land. But at this point he still has a good deal to learn about the ways of the Lord.

I suppose it’s useful to pause and note that. This future great leader served an apprenticeship under Moses, learning how to relate to Yahweh, learning how to lead. It wasn’t all inborn. So we shouldn’t be surprised that we, too, have to grow in the ways of the Lord, and our learning goes on, or should go on, all our lives regardless of our chronological age.

The 1st lesson in the experience of the 70 elders is that there’s no limiting the Lord; he’s not constrained by human beings, by time, by space. He’ll bestow his Holy Spirit on whomever he wishes, wherever he wishes, however he wishes.

The 2d lesson is that the Lord does choose to work within some human framework. It was Yahweh who instructed Moses to “assemble for me 70 of the elders of Israel, men you know for true elders and authorities among the people, and bring them to the meeting tent. . . . I will take some of the spirit that is on you and will bestow it on them, that they may share the burden of the people with you” (9:16-17). The Lord didn’t choose the 70; he left that to Moses and to the established institutions of Israel, the existing system of tribal leadership. Altho God sometimes breaks from established institutions—calling shepherds to become kings or prophets, inviting a maiden to become a virgin mother, for instance—he also works in a partnership with men and women, using the gifts and the limitations of them, their society, their culture.

The 3d lesson flows from Moses’ wish “that all the people of the Lord were prophets! that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” (9:29). The Lord heard his plea, if not in Moses’ time, if not under the Old Covenant, certainly in the New Covenant, when, as Peter announced on Pentecost morning, quoting from the prophet Joel:

It will come to pass in the last days, God says,
“that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your young men shall see visions,
your old men shall dream dreams.
Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids
I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days,
and they shall prophesy.”

And Peter went on to link the fulfillment of this prophecy, and implicitly of Moses’ wish, to Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, “exalted at the right hand of God, who received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you both see and hear” (Acts 2:17-18,33).

God has anointed all of Jesus’ followers with the Holy Spirit, made all of us prophets (as well as priests and rulers). All of us are given the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation, and sometimes, like Eldad and Medad, some are chosen for a special share of the Spirit, some special charism, some special prophetic work in the Church and for the Church (the institutional, establishment side of things) but not necessarily in a manner that the institutional Church right away recognizes and accepts (the Spirit blows where he wills, when, how, and on whom). The Spirit inspires a Pope to call an ecumenical council, inspires an [Irish widower[1]/Italian orphan girl[2]] or an Italian farm boy[3] or an Albanian missionary sister[4] to found a great religious family.

The Holy Spirit works more quietly in most of us, enabling us to prophesy by how we live out our vocations [as religious or as married people]: in such wise that we testify to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior when we teach, when we converse, when we lead, when we act, when we serve one another, when we make sacrifices of ourselves—“whether eating or drinking or whatever we do, doing everything for the glory of God” (cf. 1 Cor 10:31) for all the world to see, not that we be seen but that Jesus Christ be seen; “performing mighty deeds in his name” (Mark 9:39) or simply “giving a cup of water to drink” to one of Jesus’ people (9:41). We testify to Jesus Christ by bringing the Gospel and Gospel values to our public as well as our private lives, using whatever influence and power we might have to advance justice and peace, human life and human dignity, the common good, the preservation of God’s creation, the sharing of goods and opportunities by all.

[1] Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers.
[2] St. Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursulines.
[3] St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesian Family.
[4] Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How Close to Manhattan?

Outside the New York metro area, many people have never heard of New Rochelle (I guess they weren't Dick Van Dyke-Mary Tyler Moore fans), and even many of those who have--vaguely, sort of--have no clue where "The Queen City of the Sound" (Long Island Sound) is located. Well, from that remark you can tell it's on Long Island Sound!

On a sunny summer weekend (such as this one, Sept. 19), Long Island Sound fills up with sailboats. Too bad I can't shoot panoramically with my camera, because the whole horizon was full of sails (plus the occasional freighter, kayak, and paddle boat). This was shot from the east end of Pine Island, New Rochelle.

In 1906 George M. Cohan produced a musical called Forty-five Minutes from Broadway that was set in our fair city. Later in the century many of the country's top illustrators lived here because of its proximity to Manhattan, including Norman Rockwell (24 Lord Kitchener Rd.). So did baseball's greatest-ever first baseman, Lou Gehrig (4 Meadow La./Lou Gehrig Way), across the street from the College of New Rochelle. So did TV producer Carl Reiner, whose home at 48 Bonnie Meadow Rd. in the city's far north end was the setting for fictitious Rob and Laura Petry's fictitious address of 448 Bonnie Meadow Rd.

Nowadays MetroNorth, the commuter railroad, will get you to Grand Central Terminal in half an hour. If it takes you 15 minutes to get out of the terminal and walk to Broadway, there's your 45 minutes!

How's this for visual evidence of how close New Rochelle is to Manhattan?
This shot was taken on Pine Island, just outside our city's harbor, looking toward Glen Island, where Glenn Miller used to play in the late '30s, tho not in that building at the left, which is much more recent. But the tall, spiked building in the center of the photo isn't in New Rochelle or even in Westchester County. It's the Empire State Building. That's how close we are to Manhattan. (It's even better if you click on the pic and enlarge it.)

Another stunner is this, shot from the same spot at the west end of Pine Island, just turning slightly southward, relative to the previous shot:
It's the Whitestone Bridge, which crosses the East River and connects the borough of The Bronx with the borough of Queens. The East River is wide enuf at that point that it's on the verge of becoming the Sound.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sept. 20, 2009
Mark 9: 30-37
Provincial House, New Rochelle

“Whoever receives one child such as this…” (Mark 9: 37).

This passage has a particular appeal to Salesians because we see Jesus welcoming a child and encouraging his disciples to welcome children. Don Bosco liked to cite another passage where Jesus prevents the apostles from chasing away little children and in fact embraces them and blesses them (Mark 10:13-16).

Here at least the focus is not on children per se. Rather, it’s on the least important in society. In Jesus’ time, children qualified as among the least important. For starters, high infant mortality rates meant there was much less emotional investment in small children than we’re used to. Second, society’s emphasis on the maturity and wisdom of elders placed a premium on being older rather than younger—all very different from our society, which goes ga-ga over babies (once they’re born), goes to great lengths to maintain youthfulness (or at least the appearance of it), and puts elders aside.

In Jesus’ Palestine, a child can’t contribute to the family by working; until he or she grows, it’s just another mouth to feed, and whatever attention is requires is a distraction from the serious business of earning a living, cooking, baking, drawing water, washing. At best, a child is an investment in the future—a future worker on the land, in the shop, or in the household.

It is such an insignificant person whom Jesus presents to his disciples as someone to be received and welcomed in his name. He’s giving a value to the child by identifying himself with the child—a precious Salesian theme—but in the context of the disciples’ arguments over their own importance, he’s emphasizing what it means to serve, to attend to the least significant people, to count them as precious in God’s eyes, to look to their needs. Whoever receives a refugee, an immigrant, a leper, someone with AIDS, the poor, the homeless, the uneducated, someone who counts for nothing in society, is receiving Christ.

Most of us received a copy of Frank Moloney's commentary on Mark's Gospel[1] on our retreat in 2003. His remarks on this passage highlight the word receive, being receptive.The disciples’ idea of leadership, of greatness, is to exercise power and influence. Jesus says it’s being innocent and powerless like a child; it’s being wide-eyed and open to the world around you, ready to take it all in as it is, being eager for new experiences.

To receive Jesus, and the One who sent him, means we have to look at the world in a fresh way—like the vintner who uses new wineskins rather than old (Mark 2:22). Jesus demands a fresh approach to our understanding of God, of our relationship with God, of our relationships with one another. In his own time, Jesus was calling Israel to aggiornamento, and in our time he calls us to keep looking at the world like children to figure out what it means, how God’s speaking to us today, how do we receive God today—thru society, culture, events, science, the Scriptures, everything and everyone. What is God speaking to us thru such contemporary issues as the women’s movement, the environmental movement, globalization, any number of movements, issues, happenings that we’re all familiar with? What is God telling us thru movements in the Church, like the dynamic lay movements Focolare, Communion and Liberation, St. Egidio, and others; thru the call to ressourcement (the return to the sources of the Scriptures, the Fathers, the ancient liturgy, and so on)?

Tuning in to God—it’s a radio term, isn’t it? It means seeking him and having our reception set ready to listen to him with all the openness, innocence, and wonder of a child seeing, hearing, smelling, touching the world. “Disciples,” says Frank Moloney, “are called to be receptive to one another, and also to the design of God … [and] … to all that Jesus asks of them….”[2]

[1] Francis J. Moloney, SDB, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002), pp. 188-189.
[2] Ibid., p. 189.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 13, 2009
Isaiah 50: 4-9
Mark 8: 27-35
Christian Brothers, Iona College

“The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear” (Is 50: 4).

The 2nd part of the book of the prophet Isaiah contains 4 poems about the Servant of the Lord. Our 1st reading was 6 verses from the 3rd of these poems.

It’s not at all clear who this Servant of the Lord is: some unknown individual of Isaiah’s time, some future individual, or Israel collectively. Different parts of the poems make it seem like now one, now another of those possibilities.

What is clear thruout these poems is that the Lord has chosen this Servant of his: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit…” (42:1); “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. You are my servant, he said to me…” (49:1,3); “The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I may know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear” (50:4).

It’s also clear that the Servant suffers a great deal: “I gave my back to those who beat me” (50:6), and similar passages; and the Servant remains unshakably loyal to God: “I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I have set my face like flint” (50:5,7), and so on.

Finally, it’s clear that God saves or vindicates his Servant: “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; [I know] I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right” (50:7-8).
Whomever the prophet may have meant by these poems, from the beginning the Church has seen in them an image, a figure, of our Savior. He is the Lord’s true servant, intent entirely on doing the Father’s will. There are echoes of these poems at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration and in the details of his passion. The Father has chosen him to be the Christ, as Peter recognizes (Mark 8:29), but—as we considered last week in reference with the “messianic secret” (cf. 7:36), and which Jesus exercises again this evening: “he warned them not to tell anyone about him” (8:30)—that role doesn’t promise national liberation and political power. Jesus makes clear today that it means rejection and suffering (8:31,34). The fate of Jesus mirrors that of the Servant of the Lord. But God will also vindicate Jesus; he will rise (8:31) so that he’s not shamed (cf. Is 50:7), but glorified instead. The Lord God proves to be his help, and no one will be able to deny it on the day of judgment: “Who disputes my right? Let him confront me. See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?” (50:8-9).

Peter was reluctant to believe that the Son of Man “must suffer greatly and be rejected… and be killed” (Mark 8:31). He didn’t grasp the identity of the Son of Man with the Servant of the Lord. As events proved, Peter and the rest of the 12 were even more reluctant to identify themselves with the Son of Man, to see that they also might have to suffer and be rejected, be put on trial and condemned. It’s one of the indications of the truth of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus that they were so convinced after Jesus’ crucifixion; convinced not only in mind but even in their total commitment. St. John Chrysostom, whose memorial we ordinarily observe on Sept. 13, writes in a homily on 1 Corinthians:

How [do you] account for the fact that these men [the apostles], who in Christ’s lifetime did not stand up to the attacks by the Jews, set forth to do battle with the whole world once Christ was dead—if…Christ did not rise and speak to them and rouse their courage? Did they perhaps say to themselves: “…He could not save himself but he will protect us? He did not help himself when he was alive, but now that he is dead he will extend a helping hand to us? . . .” Would it not be wholly irrational even to think such thoughts, much less to act upon them? (Homily 4, 3.4, in LOH 4:1345-46)

Evidently Peter and the rest had also come to see themselves as the servants of the Lord, chosen, destined for rejection in this world, redeemed and vindicated by Jesus—who is not John the Baptist, who is not Elijah, who is not a prophet, who is the Messiah for the world to come.

That identity between the Christ and his disciples Jesus spells out with terrifying clarity when Peter objects to the prediction of suffering and death (8:32): Peter is a satan, an “adversary,” a “tempter,” for thinking to mislead Jesus from his true role as the Father’s servant; moreover, if we wish to be with Jesus, we must walk the same road that he does, the way of the cross (8:34). The Christian way of life makes us, also, servants of the Lord who have been chosen, who will be rejected for identifying ourselves as Christ’s people—sometimes openly persecuted, as is happening now in Pakistan, India, and elsewhere; sometimes more subtly persecuted, as when defenders of human rights are harassed, threatened, and assassinated (as happened to a priest in the Philippines last Sunday); sometimes just pushed aside as irrelevant.

Jesus promises to those who are unshakably loyal final vindication: “whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (8:35). On the last day his disciples will not be shamed but raised up with him.

Saturday, September 12, 2009



Most of us kept a somber remembrance of some kind yesterday, September 11, perhaps reliving the emotions of the day, perhaps mourning someone we lost.

Loss was definitely on the mind of the Scouts and Scouters of Troop Forty from Mt. Vernon, N.Y., although none of the boys now in the troop were there eight years ago. One of the more than 2,700 who died in New York was our Scoutmaster, Michael Andrew Boccardi.
Credit: Ed Maselli
Mike, just 30 years old, had grown up in Troop Forty, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, then becoming an assistant scoutmaster and finally in the mid-90s Scoutmaster. He was practically married to the troop, giving loads and loads of time and attention, and not a little bit of his own money, to every detail of the program and to the Scouts and Scouters. For more than one Scout, Mike was the only father in their lives.

He also served young people through Rockland County Child Protective Services.

Mike was one of five Mt. Vernon citizens who perished on 9/11. When the city decided to memorialize them with a plaque at city hall this year and invited Troop Forty to participate in the memorial service on the evening of September 11, 2009, we eagerly accepted. In particular, during the service five Scouts lit candles in honor of the five who died: Michael A. Boccardi, Johnathan Eric Briley, Sandra Patricia Campbell, Katie Marie McCloskey, and Rochelle Monique Snell

The ceremony honored all the first responders of Mt. Vernon as well as remembering those who lost their lives. A substantial number of city officials, police officers, firemen, and others attended, in addition to the Scouts, Scouters, and parents.

Mike Boccardi wasn't a 9/11 hero. He was just at work on the 92nd floor of the North Tower, as usual. But he was a hero every day with the young people of Troop Forty. I witnessed that for six years as I served alongside him with the troop, and I saw it again at Mt. Vernon City Hall in the tears of one of those boys, now a young adult.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Blue Dot Special

Blue Dot Special
On Sunday afternoon Fr. Jim Mulloy and I undertook an overnite backpacking trip into Harriman State Park. Since it was Labor Day weekend, we knew there wasn't any chance of landing one of the dozen hikers' shelters scattered thru the park, and even finding a place to park a car overnite would be a challenge. I suggested the parking area at the end of Johnsontown Rd. in Sloatsburg, and he agreed.

Then we picked out route: the Blue Disc Trail (white blaze with blue dot), which starts there and goes 2.8 miles up a couple of strenuous climbs and then down to an end at Tri-Trail Corner, where it runs into the the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail (at 21 miles, the 2d-longest in the park, I think) and the trailhead for the Victory Trail. There's water there, running out of Black Ash Swamp into a creek, and I remembered some likely camping spots around there. (My memory was better than the reality in this case. But at least we had no competition for a site.)

As it turned out, there were exactly 2 parking spots available when we got there, and about 20 cars parked. We ran into lots and lots of day hikers on our route, and other trails (e.g., the White Bar and the Kakiat) are easily accessed from Johnsontown Rd. This morning, as we drove by the Reeves Meadow Visitors Center on our way home--it's on Seven Lakes Dr. not far from where we parked--cars lined the highway for at least a quarter mile on either side of the visitors center, indicating what the main parking lots were like, just for hiking areas (not to mention those that also serve picnickers).

There are a lot of things to remember about hiking, some of them essential to your safety, others just to your convenience. One that falls in between is "pay attention to the trail blazes" on your chosen route. In the photo above, the Blue Disc Trail (bet you can figure out which one that is!) is turning right, indicated by a double blaze with the top one to the right of the lower. The Kakiat Trail, which had joined the Blue Disc for a very short distance, is forking off to the left. In Harriman there are numerous unmarked side trails and woods roads. Miss a trail marker, and you'll soon get lost!

The trail map indicates a spot called "Almost Perpendicular." That sounds not just challenging but a little scary. (Someone I was backpacking with once let it scare him, and therefore me, from attempting it.) The Harriman Trails guidebook (very valuable) gives a fair description of a pretty steep climb--that's it in the photo above, which doesn't quite do justice to it, but it is manageable. In fact, we encountered several dogs along the route, a mom and dad each toting a tot (on their way down the climb pictured), one or two bigger kids, and many other hikers. The views make it worthwhile.

From the top of Almost Perpendicular, this is one view: that's the Reeves Meadow Visitors Center parking lot and Seven Lakes Dr. If you're able to enlarge the photo, you'll see what I meant above about parking. This shot gives you an idea of how much climbing we'd done just to get to this point.

When we got back into some woods, Fr. Jim saw this orange fungus growing at the base of a large tree and got excited. He called it "sulphur shelf" and said it was edible. For a minute I thought he was going to grab a handful and eat it, but he didn't. I sure wasn't going to!

Eventually, after some hard hiking we got to the large cliff where Claudius Smith Den is located (he was a notorious outlaw in the 1770s). The Tuxedo-Mt. Ivy Trail crosses the Blue Disc here, and we considered cutting short our original design and heading along the TMI to the Dutch Doctor shelter, where there's usually water in a nearby creek and quite a few camping spots if the shelter's already taken. But Fr. Jim wanted to check out the view from the cliffs, which we found at least 7 hikers and a dog already doing: grand westward views toward Tuxedo.
Once up that high, on top of Claudius Smith Rock, we decided we might as well continue on the Blue Disc (not having noted that there was still one big climb to come). There's nice woods up on that ridge, including a lot of birch.

When we reached Big Pine Hill, the highest point on the trail, we had a fine view to the north. Here you see Black Ash Mt., and in the center, Black Ash Swamp, whose west end was our destination.
It took us almost 3 hours to do the 2.8 miles of the Blue Disc Trail, with several pauses to enjoy views or catch our breath.
The available water at Tri-Trails Corner was less than we'd expected, but it was usable (with a water filter). We found 2 camp sites flanking the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail just above the "corner," with existing fire rings; neither had been used for a while. I picked the slightly larger of the two and set up my little home for the nite:

This, with the rain fly, weighs just over 2 pounds and is roomy enuf for me and a tiny bit of gear (mainly whatever nite wear plus the change of clothes for the morrow). This shot was before I put in 2 sleeping pads (which still leaves quite a hard bed to sleep on, but not as hard as bare ground!) and my sleeping bag. The sleeping bag's stuff sack plus some extra clothing, e.g. a quilted jacket, makes for an adequate pillow.
Fr. Jim and I have a nice arrangement: he fetches the water, I fetch the firewood. That wasn't hard here: there was a superabundance of it, almost all very dry. After we ate our freeze-dried suppers (beef teriyaki and chicken teriyaki) plus a few other morsels, we got a little fire going around 8:00 p.m.--one match required, plus a bit of paper and one of Fr. Jim's unpatented firestarters (lint and parafin in a section of egg carton) and the ample kindling wood. We kept the fire going for an hour while we talked or listened to a radio (Fr. Jim) or read (me). He was disappointed there weren't many stars out--lots of clouds instead. We could just barely hear traffic from the Thruway, there were lots of cicadas, and otherwise it was very, very quiet. We turned in at 9:00 p.m., Fr. Jim in sleeping bag under what stars there were, I in my tent.

Monday morning, after rising between 6:45 (me) and 7:15 (Fr. Jim), we prayed and celebrated Mass. Fr. Jim's a light breakfast eater--a little bit of bread and cheese. I went for a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and coffee (see above, with water almost boiling on my Pocket Rocket stove), plus some bread and cheese.
At 9:00 we got onto the trail. With no desire for serious climbing, we took a longer--3.7 miles--but easier route: the Victory Trail toward Lake Skenonto, but picking up the White Bar Trail about halfway to the lake and following that south to the Dutch Doctor shelter, thence west back to Johnsontown Rd.
Along the White Bar Trail we had a little bit of uphill, especially as we went over a shoulder of Blauvelt Mt., and a lot of downhill. There were already signs of autumn. If you look behind me in the photo above, you'll see a tree already turned red. Most of the trail is quite pretty with fairly open woods. There was one vista with a good view toward Tuxedo.

When we got to Dutch Doctor, we took a good rest. The shelter had indeed been used Sunday nite; in fact, the users had left their campfire still smouldering in the fire ring! That's a big no-no! We didn't have enuf water to douse it well, but we at least made sure all the remaining wood was removed. From there the White Bar Trail pursues pretty much a straight run down a woods road to within a quarter mile of the Johnsontown Rd. parking area; that last stretch is a narrow footpath.
This morning at first we met almost no one: a trio of hikers going up the RD Trail before we left our camp, another trio on the Victory Trail coming, apparently, from overnite camping at Lake Skenonto. But there was more traffic once we got to Dutch Doctor, two pairs of day hikers and a trio of overnite backpackers (one a small lad) heading toward Tuxedo's train station.
We got back to our pickup truck about 11:15: a longer route in mileage, but a shorter one in time and energy expended. The parking area was nearly full. Since we hadn't seen that many people, I guess a lot of hikers were heading up the Blue Disc Trail....

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Homily for the 23d Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 6, 2009
Mark 7: 31-37
Christian Brothers, Iona College
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it” (Mark 7: 36).

In our gospel story tonite, we have one of several examples of Jesus telling people not to talk about his wondrous deeds. This is a feature of Mark’s gospel in particular and has the name “messianic secret”: here’s Jesus healing the sick, expelling demons, feeding thousands, being transfigured before the eyes of his chosen apostles—and not least, announcing the presence of the kingdom of God—and he doesn’t want people to talk about it!


Of course there’s been an abundance of speculation about that. Most often, it seems to me, the answer proposed is that people didn’t understand Jesus’ role as Messiah, so he didn’t want them proclaiming him as the Messiah. For most of the Jews, Messiah was a political role: a liberator and just ruler; for the Romans, he would be a rebel, an insurrectionist—and in the end, that was the charge brought against Jesus before Pontius Pilate, who executed him as “King of the Jews.”

Jesus’ wondrous deeds and his teaching, instead, are signs of God’s desire to love and to heal humanity, to make people whole, to restore a family relationship between God and men. It’s a whole different idea of redemption and restoration, one that even his closest followers were extremely slow to grasp. Hence, lots of caution about publicity.

What kind of salvation Jesus has come to offer us—that relates to our prayer this evening. We begged God to “redeem us, make us [his] children in Christ, give us true freedom, and bring us to the inheritance [he] promised.” The inheritance isn’t any earthly kingdom. True freedom is neither national security nor the agenda of the ACLU; it’s not even physical or mental health. Redemption isn’t economic recovery nor the restoration of our forests, clean water, and clear skies. The inheritance is divine life; true freedom is casting off the chains of sin and practicing virtue without inhibition; redemption is returning to God’s family as “his children in Christ.”

“He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”

There’s another way we could view this “messianic secret.” In the 2d half of the 1st century, when Mark wrote his gospel, Christianity was outlawed and Christians were being harassed, exiled, put to death. Later on, when they had collections of sacred writings, those writings were burned when found by the public authorities. Those public authorities, like the Sanhedrin in the Acts of the Apostles (4:18; 5:28), forbade any teaching about Jesus as the Christ (the Messiah), about the coming of the kingdom of God. Those public authorities, both Jewish and imperial, wanted Christianity not only kept a secret but suppressed entirely—as do various regimes and movements today: Communists in China and North Korea, Muslim jihadists, Hindu radicals, militant atheists and secularists in Western society, the ACLU, the abortion industry, the homosexual marriage lobby.

But there’s no suppressing the word of God, no stifling the Good News of the kingdom. The more these oppressors order the Church to shut up and disperse, or to keep our opinion to ourselves—you can believe whatever you want in your heart; just don’t talk about it, don’t let it affect what you do in public life—the more does the word of God spread. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,” Tertullian wrote early in the 3d century, and it’s still true.

Human ears and human hearts remain open to the truth—indeed, hunger for it; and Christian tongues continue to speak the truth plainly (cf. Mark 7:34-34)—because God created us for truth, which is to say, for himself, as St. Augustine confessed so many centuries ago on the basis of his own experience:

O eternal truth, true love and beloved eternity. You are my God. To you do I sigh day and night. When I first came to know you, you drew me to yourself so that I might see that there were things for me to see…. I sought a way to gain the strength which I needed to enjoy you. But I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…. He was calling me and saying: I am the way of truth, I am the life. . . .
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. . . . You touched me, and I burned for your peace. (Confessions, Book 7, ch. 10, in Liturgy of the Hours 4:1356-57)
And in his most famous passage, Augustine proclaims to God, “You have created us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Book 1). The powers of this world can no more keep Jesus a secret than they can keep us from hungering for the truth, for freedom from evil, for love, for an eternal inheritance.