Saturday, November 26, 2011

Finding Beauty in the Third Edition of the Roman Missal

Today, throughout the English-speaking Catholic world, Catholics will begin to pray the new translation of the Holy Mass in the Third Edition of the Roman Missal.  By now, you've probably heard about this (I hope!).  Dioceses have been offering workshops, parishes have been talking about this; even the secular media have done stories on this "biggest change" in the Catholic Mass in the last 50 years.

Most of what has been written in the secular media focuses on the perceived problems with the new translation.  The grammar can be awkward in places as it follows a Latin rather than English structure.  Some words can be confusing and requiring additional catechesis (like "consubstantial). There are phrases which might not be immediately accessible like the oft-referred to response, "And with your spirit."

These things have been discussed exhaustively, and hopefully someone has taken good notes for the time with we are welcoming the Fourth Edition of the Roman Missal. In the meantime, what I think has gotten lost in these discussions is that there are also some real moments of profound beauty in the new translation.  While imperfect, there really are moments when this new translation is successful in drawing us more profoundly into the reality of God and the reality of our worship.  I have spent a lot of time over the last 8 months or so giving workshops, retreats and presentations to different groups of people on the new translation and I have been struck by some real moments of beauty in the prayers.

Let me give you a few examples. The first is one that we will hear immediately as it comes from the Opening Prayer (or Collect) for the First Sunday of Advent.

In the outgoing translation, we prayed:

All-powerful God,
increase our strength of will for doing good
that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming
and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven,
where he lives and reigns....

In the new translation, we will pray:

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ...

There is a passivity in the old, "that Christ may find an eager welcome."  It doesn't necessarily call anything forth from me individually.  We could almost think, "I hope the welcome committee is well organized when He returns."  The new translation seems to ask something of us individually, "the resolve" to not just welcome, but "to run forth to meet your Christ."  We are called to more than mere eagerness, we are called to run to Christ who is coming to us.

Likewise, this passage from the new Preface I of Advent:

For he assumed at his first coming
the lowliness of human flesh,
and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty
and all is at last made manifest,
we who watch for that day
may inherit the great promise
in which we now dare to hope.

Or how about this from the Eucharistic Prayer for use in Masses for Various Needs I (okay, maybe the could shorten that title!):

You are indeed holy and to be glorified, O God,
who love the human race and who always walk with us on the journey of life.
Blessed indeed is your Son,
present in our midst when we are gathered by his love,
and when, as once for the disciples, so now for us,
he opens the Scriptures and breaks the bread.

And later in that same prayer:

Lord, renew your Church which is in Massachusetts
by the light of the Gospel.
Strengthen the bod of unity between the faithful and the pastors of your people,
together with Benedict our Pope, George our Bishop,
and the whole Order of Bishops,
that in a world torn by strife
your people may shine forth as a prophetic sign of unity and concord.

Another example from the Opening Prayer (Collect) for Midnight Mass of Christmas:

O God, who have made this most sacred night
radiant with the splendor of the true light,
grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries of his light on earth,
may also delight in his gladness in heaven.
Who lives and reigns...

One final, I love the new dismissal texts, particularly these two:

God and announce the Gospel of the Lord.
   and
Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.

The point is simply this: there is a lot to welcome here.  There is a lot of beauty here.  This is our new Mass translation.  Will it be the last?  Probably not, but we will be praying it for decades to come, so let us welcome and pray that new beauty as we welcome this new translation of the Mass.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Elegy for the Sacramentary

POSTED AT: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2011 12:46:32 PM

There has been a great deal of ink spilled (and pixels posted) over the new English translation of the Mass, that is, the new edition of the Roman Missal, which will be formally introduced into American parishes this coming Sunday.  Even the secular media has gotten wind of the changes, with the result that by now most Massgoing Catholics are aware of the changeover, as well as the discussions surrounding the new translations and the process that led to their approval.  (Surveys show that less active Catholics are much less aware.)  In short--depending on who you read--it’s a beautiful translation that preserves the majesty of the original Latin; or it’s not much of a change at all; or it’s an overly literal translation that sounds clunky.
Which is it? It’s probably unfair to judge until a few months have passed, and the priests and people have had the chance to hear and speak and pray with the changes.

Yet while there have been an enormous amount of commentary on the initiation of the new Roman Missal, there has been relatively less about the loss of the Sacramentary (the book of the Mass prayers) and an appreciation for the riches it brought to the church for the last few decades.
Any significant change is like a death; and so any change brings about the need for some grieving.  You sell a house and buy a new one; and you are sad about the loss of the old one--even if your new house is more spacious.  You move from one job to another; and you shed a few tears saying goodbye to old colleagues--even if you’re looking forward to the new position.  You graduate from high school to college, and even if it’s your top choice, you cry at your graduation. 
It would be odd, therefore, not to acknowledge some sadness over the passing of something so central to Catholic life as what will soon be called the “old” Sacramentary.  Even if you are eagerly anticipating the new translations, something significant is moving into the past, and is being lost.
So let me say something: I will miss the old prayers, even as I prepare for the new ones.  I’m 50 years old, which means that by the time I was conscious of the Eucharist--say, around 1967--the Mass was being celebrated in English.  I dimly remember saying things like “It is right and just” as a very young boy, which was most likely a holdover from the early Mass translations after the Second Vatican Council.  But, for the most part, my entire Catholic life has been shaped by the familiar prayers of the Sacramentary, the book that we are leaving behind this coming Sunday.

Those prayers accompanied me as I marched up the aisle, hands folded tight, for my First Holy Communion and Confirmation in our suburban Philadelphia parish; they helped me to pray during some confusing high school years in that same church; they taught me about God during my college days in Philadelphia when I dragged myself (sometimes hungover) to Sunday Mass; they challenged me during my stint as a wannabe executive in New York City; and they startled me at times, and eventually helped prompt me to consider the priesthood, when I was working in Connecticut in my late twenties.
As a Jesuit novice in Boston in the late 1980s, I listened far more intently to those prayers and grew to love their simplicity.  One virtue of the prayers of the Sacramentary was their clarity, their economy, their clean lines.  They seemed, well, natural, and sounded like the prayers I said when I was alone with God.  And in the novitiate, when I began to attend daily Mass (a first for me), it seemed as if I was hearing some of those old phrases for the first time: “You renew the church in every age.”  “Each year you give us this joyful season.”  “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.” “Happy are those who are called to his supper.”   How wonderful that these prayers, which I had said as an eight-year-old, could deepen in me.  In this way my adult faith felt profoundly connected to that of my youth.
Over the next few years, during my Jesuit training, I would hear those prayers during philosophy studies in Chicago, when I prayed them with Jesuits from across the country; and in Nairobi, Kenya, where I would hear them said, and sung, with an East African accent.  Later, during theology studies in Boston, I began to wonder what it would be like to say the priest’s prayers.  But I certainly didn’t need to “learn” them any more than I needed to learn the Our Father; I had known them all my life.  All I needed to do was grow in comfort at praying them in a new way.  A few weeks before my diaconate ordination, my sister and brother-in-law gave me a great gift: the Sacramentary, and I began to study it in earnest.  And on the day of my first Mass, I could barely believe that I had the privilege to say these words: “Father, you are holy indeed…”
As many priests will tell you, it takes a while to move from saying the prayers of the Mass topraying them.  From feeling like you are performing to praying with the congregation.  And at some point I know I will feel comfortable with the new English translation.
Last week I celebrated what was probably my last “public Mass” (that is, outside my Jesuit community) using the Sacramentary, and as I moved for the final time through the words that I’ve known since I was a boy, I became sad.  Most likely I would never hear some of these phrases again.  And as I stood at the altar, my mind went back to, oddly, my First Communion: I had heard these same words on that day.  Other priests have shared with me their sadness as we set aside these familiar words, phrases and cadences.

As we move to the new, let's not forget the value of the old.  After all, tradition is an important part of the church, and we would be remiss if there was not an elegy for the old Sacramentary, the prayers of our youth: simple, clean, clear, direct, unadorned, beautiful. 
James Martin, SJ

Happy Thanksgiving!

NOTE: This is a wonderful holiday story from my good friend and brother, Fr. Joe Lorenzo.  No one can tell holiday stories like Fr. Joe can.  I share this with you to get us all into the spirit of this Thanksgiving week!  Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!!

Thanksgiving is one of the holidays that has national origins, and yet is very often treated with religious overtones. Although it is not a holy day in the church, and people do not feel the need to go to church on that day, it is still a day when families get together to celebrate around the dinner table, much like we would do on Christmas or Easter.

Growing up in an Italian family always presented a dilemma for us, especially around Thanksgiving time. After all, we asserted the fact that we were “Americans”, not Italians, and that we should be celebrating this holiday in American-style, like other Americans. (It’s funny how, as young people, we wanted to be Americans like everyone else- but as we grow older, we gravitate more and more toward our traditional ethnic origins). Today I would take a dish of mom’s ravioli over a turkey any day.

In those days, I think we were keenly aware that we were different- and didn’t want to be different. I remember the days after Thanksgiving especially, when our non-Italian friends would bring their turkey sandwiches to school for lunch- white meat turkey on white bread smothered with white mayonnaise. How we Italian kids envied them with our eggplant parmigiana, meatball, and sausage sandwiches on fresh Italian bread, oozing with gravy and oil. I remember one of the Irish Sisters that taught us remarking that she could always tell which homework was from the Italian children- it had grease stains on it! And we would gladly trade (with some candy bars thrown in) our greasy gravy-filled sandwiches for one of their turkey delights.

So we revolted. Us kids (cousins, etc) went to our parents, proclaiming, “We want a traditional turkey dinner this year for Thanksgiving. We’re tired of the same old Italian stuff.” And so, it was announced that this year we would have a traditional American turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. However, some concession would still be made to our Italian heritage, but, by far, it would be a turkey dinner.

We were delighted, thinking of the turkey sandwiches on wonder bread we would proudly display at school Monday morning.

Finally, the day arrived. We were all excited- it was like Christmas morning, opening our gifts. I remember going over Aunt Tessie Jr’s house in Park Slope. The table was set. We had so many people the table extended in through two rooms, using fold-up tables to extend the dining room table. There at each place was a half grapefruit, with the fruit cut in pieces, and a cherry on top. Yes, this was exciting.

We sat down for our Thanksgiving Day dinner, as Americans did all over the country. We started with a prayer, usually led by one of the younger cousins. Then we started. How delicious it was, that cold fruit sliding down our throats. After the grapefruit came out several large platters of antipasto- with Italian cold cuts, olives, peppers, artichoke hearts, cheeses, all smothered with olive oil. OK. This was still a turkey dinner, right? After the antipasto came a delicious bowl of hot turkey soup. Yes, we were back on track- Americans again. Then it started- our choice of lasagna, ravioli, or cavatelli, followed by sausage, meatballs, bracciola, pork ribs. What’s going on here? Don’t worry, we were reassured. Turkey’s on its way.

Then came what we were waiting for- a large turkey, sweet potatoes, turkey stuffing, turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet corn. Our eyes bugged out of our heads. This was wonderful, until we realized that we were stuffed. We had filled up so much on the pasta and gravy meat, we couldn’t eat another thing. “You see?” my mother bellowed from the kitchen. “You wanted turkey and nobody ate it!”

Yeah no one ate it, not after all that other food. Our turkey was followed by Italian pastries, and pumpkin and apple pies, accompanied by black coffee (espresso, we say today).

Although the older folks got their way- we cleaned up on the Italian food and the turkey was untouched- we had tons of leftovers for the next few days- including a lot of turkey meat to proudly display at school the next Monday, on wonder bread, dripping with mayo.

Eventually, our American traditions won out- and now we have only our turkey with all the trimmings. But every Thanksgiving, when I sit down to give thanks to God for all his blessings, I remember them all- Mom and Dad, Aunt Tess, Aunt Tess Jr. and Uncle Happy, Aunt Rose and Uncle Nick, Uncle Joe and Aunt Marie- all the De Palo’s and Lorenzo’s, all gone on before us- and I wish I could trade in that big fat turkey for a nice bowl of ravioli with some wonderful meatballs.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Love
Fr. Joe

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Heaven anyone?

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THE KING, November 20, 2011:
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One day, three men arrived at the Pearly Gates in Heaven. St. Peter was there to greet them and asked the first man, “What is your religion?” He replied, “I’m Episcopalian.” St. Peter looked on his list, found the man’s name and said, “Go to room 24. But be very quiet as you pass by room 8.” He asked the same question of the second man, “Sir, what is your religion.” The second man replied, “I’m a Methodist.” Again, St. Peter checked the list and found the man’s name and said, “Please, go to room 14. But be very quiet as you pass by room 8.” Finally the third man steps up and is asked the same question, to which he replies, “I’m a Baptist.” St. Peter said. “Go to room 21. But be very quiet as you pass by room 8.” The third man’s curiosity got the better of him so he asked, “St. Peter, I’m more than a bit curious. You told each of us to be quiet as we pass by room 8. What’s going on in room 8?” St. Peter responded, “Well the Catholics are in room 8, and they think they're the only ones up here.”

Can I ask by a show of hands, how many of you want to get to Heaven? I hope that every hand in this church would be raised in answer to that important question. Of course, we all want to get to Heaven. Heaven is our goal; our destination; our final reward. But how many of us have actually thought about what it takes to get there? What constitutes living a life worthy of Heaven? Does it simply mean being a Roman Catholic as our joke suggests? Does it mean going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation? Does Heaven come when we’ve gone to Confession regularly or prayed our Rosary daily or fulfilled certain devotional practices? Are these the things that will help us to merit the reward of Heaven?

Well, on this last day of our Church year, as we celebrate this Solemnity of Jesus Christ our King, our Gospel passage puts before us the answer to this very question. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus is sitting on His Throne, judging all of creation. Our King is deciding who will be welcomed into the glory of Heaven and who will not. He gives us this image of the King separating people into two categories – sheep and goats. And guess what we want to be? We want to be sheep! The sheep are welcomed into “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.” The goats are sent off to eternal punishment. And Jesus is not mysterious about what makes someone a sheep as opposed to a goat.

In this passage, Jesus essentially gives to us the criteria for gaining Heaven. So, for all of you who raised your hands today hoping for the glory of Heaven, here are the criteria: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The criteria for entrance into Heaven will be the kind of life that we lived and the ways in which we strove to reach out to those most in need around us – those who are hungry or thirsty or strangers and alone or naked or sick or in prison.

The question for salvation is essentially this? Do we have hearts that have been converted, transformed, and changed to love as Jesus loves – to love always, to see everyone with hearts moved to compassion, to reach out even and especially to those that the rest of society has deemed unimportant or worse disposable. Do we have categories in our hearts where we have decided that some people are unworthy of our love and concern?

So what happened to going to Mass and going to Confession and praying our Rosary and saying our devotions? Why aren’t those in the criteria? Does this mean that these things are not important? Of course not. But what it means is that we need to understand them properly in this economy of salvation. An improper understanding of the spiritual life of the follower of Christ is to view these things as the goal or as an end in and of themselves. They are not the goal, they are the means to the goal. So, we do these things not as the culmination of our spiritual life, but we do these things as the way to cultivate our heart so that we can love like Christ our King.

It isn’t easy to love the way Christ loves. In fact, on our own accord, it is probably impossible. For whatever reason, we are born with an ingrained selfishness; a primary concern for our own welfare before that of others. The more we allow Christ to transform us, the more He changes the direction of our love – away from ourselves and always towards others. And that’s why He gave us all of these things to serve us on this journey to Heaven – He gave us the Sacraments, the Gospels; He gave us one another – the Church – all so that we can receive everything we need to get to Heaven. And so we should treasure and nurture these things as the essential elements that make us into the Christians we are called to be.

St. Augustine famously said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” And so as Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst through the great gift of His Body and Blood, He also teaches us to be like Him; to become what we receive. As we are nourished by Him, He asks us to go out from this place and offer nourishment to the hungry and thirsty around us – not because we deem them worthy or unworthy of our charity, but for no other reason than they are loved by God and so by us. We come to Church as spiritually naked people, but as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” As He covers our nakedness with Himself, we are called to go out and cloth those who are naked, to cover up those who have no home.

As Jesus has offered us freedom from the sin that kept us in chains and in bondage, He invites us to visit those in prison and speak to them about the true freedom they too can find in Christ.

You know, we call what we gather here to do each Sunday the Mass. Did you know this word comes from the Latin verb mittere, which means “to send.” In other words, by the very title of what we are here to do, it tells us something. This Mass must be in direct relationship to what happens outside of these doors, outside of this church. We come here and are filled with God’s Holy Word and receive the Sacred Body and Blood of His Son for one reason – to be sent! We are sent into the world as the very presence of Christ to transform it. We are sent into the world to literally love it to holiness; love it to Heaven. And in the process we get ourselves there too! It is no coincidence that the very last words that the priest says at the end of every Mass are “Go!” Go in the peace of Christ! Go in peace to love and serve the Lord! Or my favorite change in the new translation of the Mass that we will begin to pray next week, “Go and glorify the Lord by your life!”

So, who wants to get to Heaven? It starts here. Let Jesus lift the sins that bind you. Let the Lord fill you and satisfy you with His Holy Word. Let the Lord transform you into Himself through the grace of His Body and Blood that we receive and then go and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned – LOVE as Jesus loves without restriction; without limit because “whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Do this and Heaven will surely be yours!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Use it or lose it!

HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 13, 2011:
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A flood struck a local town and a man quickly found himself trapped in his home. Being a faithful man, he began to pray that God would rescue him. As the water continued to rise, his neighbor urged him to leave and offered him a ride in his pick-up truck to safety. The man thanked him but responded, “God will save me.” The water continued to rise and as it began to fill his house, he climbed up on the roof. A boat came by and the driver said "Come on board and we'll bring you to safety." Again the man thanked them but said, "God will save me." The flood waters continued to rise and now a helicopter flew over and offered to lower a ladder and bring the man to safety. Again, he thanked them, waived them off and said, "I know that God will save me." Eventually, the waters overtook the house and swept the man away and he drowned. When he reached heaven he asked, “God, I have such great faith in you. I'm a good Catholic; I go to Mass, I pay my tithe, I say my prayers. Why didn't you save me?" To which God replied, “Hey, I sent you a pick-up truck, a boat and a helicopter and you refused it all. What else could I do for you?!”

At one time or another, we’ve all heard the phrase “use it or lose it.” We hear this phrase in relation to things like freedom of speech, the use of our intellect, even weightlifting and general health and exercise. In these types of situations it is easy for us to see that if you don’t use it, you certainly will lose it.

Today’s Gospel offers us another example of “use it or lose it.” A man went on a journey and entrusted his servants with his money. Upon his return, he required an accounting of them. Now to put this in perspective, it is helpful to know that a talent was worth about 6,000 denarii, and one denarius was equivalent to a day’s wage. So, assuming a six-day work week, every talent was worth just shy of 20 years wages. No small sum. So, even the servant who received only one talent was entrusted with a sizable sum. Some are troubled by the harshness of the master’s treatment of this man. After all, he did not direct the servants to invest the money. So, why should one be penalized for not having done so? We can only conclude that investment was presumed. They had been told, in effect, “Use it or lose it.”

The readings of these last weeks of the church year prompt us to look at different aspects of the endtime. Last week we were exhorted to await the time of fulfillment in readiness. Today we are told that we cannot simply sit back and do nothing while we’re waiting. We must be industrious while we wait. Use it or lose it.

The man who buried the money in the ground knew that he would be held accountable. He said, “I knew that you were a demanding person.” Thus he is punished not because he is a poor manager of funds, but because he did not take his responsibility to be industrious seriously. The same is true for us. But, instead of a talent, God has given us something far more valuable – the gift of our faith; the treasure of the sacraments; the pearl of the Gospel - and He has asked us to be industrious in investing these, in using our faith in such a way that it will increase faith in the world – our investment should show a grow of faith in ourselves, in the members of our families, our friends, our workplaces and communities. The world should be an increasingly more Christian place because of the way each of us invest our faith in it.

Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in a 1988 letter cautioning the faithful against, “the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel's acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world… How can one not notice the ever-growing existence of religious indifference?” This is the question of industriousness that our Gospel raises. It asks, how do we live our lives? Do we live a life that is witness to a separation of faith from life, of hearing the Gospel but not living the Gospel? We come to church, but do we share faith at home – do we read Scripture and pray with our families, do we teach our children the ways of faith and show them how wrong the prevailing culture around them is? Do we teach them to be kind and loving and compassionate in a world that seems to have less and less of these virtues? Do we hold strong to the teachings of the Church and support them in our daily lives or are we part of the ever-growing number of people who boldly speak out against the teachings of Jesus that call us to respect life, love our neighbor, reach out to the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the immigrant; to be peacemakers? Is our faith multiplying? Is our faith showing a return on its investment?

The message of our readings calls us to a few things today. First, it is important to remember that we are accountable to God for living up to the responsibilities of our life in a faith-filled way. Parents must devote themselves wholeheartedly to parenting, teachers to teaching, politicians to lawmaking and so on. Do people look at the way you live and say it is obvious that you are a Christian, or is Christian something we are only at Church?

Our readings ask us to focus on the end of time, the eventual second coming of Jesus. But, they also encourage us to endtime living now. No more waiting to live as God would have us live. Live in the Kingdom, as members of the Kingdom now – right here, today.

“Use it or lose it.” We can either use and put into practice the gift of faith that God has given us, or we can lose our access to the Kingdom He promised us. Surely we want God to say also to us when our time has come, “Well done, my good and faithful servant … Come, share your master’s joy.”

May God give you peace.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Be prepared!

HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 6, 2011:
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John had fallen on some bad times. Things were so bad that he could barely support himself and his family. Desperate, he got an idea. He would go back to Church and ask for God’s help. He was a little nervous because he hadn’t stepped into a church in years, but he finally made it through the doors. He knelt down in the back and prayed: “God, if you’re up there, please help me win the lottery so I can support my family.” He returned to the same church day after day and made the same prayer. But nothing happened. Weeks passed, then months. Finally, one day, he was making his regular visit: “God, if you’re up there, please help me win the lottery.” And much to his astonishment, the ceiling opened, the choirs of angels appeared, a bright light shone down and a thunderous voice from heaven answered: “OK, fine John. But, can you help me out and at least go buy a ticket?!”

My friends, I think sometimes we can be like John too. We all want everything that God promises He will give us, but how often do we fail to do our part, afraid perhaps to take the risk of fully living the life God has called us to?

A few years ago, Steve McEveety, who produced such well known movies as “The Passion of the Christ” and “Braveheart” was giving a lecture to a group of college students who wanted to pursue a career in entertainment. During the question and answer period one of the students asked an interesting question. She asked, “Mr. McEveety, what is your goal in life?” This wealthy and successful Hollywood Producer paused and thought for a moment, then turned back to the audience and responded, “My goal in life? To get my kids into heaven. And I guess to get there myself, too.” It certainly wasn’t the answer the audience expected to hear. And yet, if you think about it, isn’t that how all of us should answer the same question? What else in life could possibly matter if it means being denied our glorious reward in the end?

As we approach the end of our Church year, our Scriptures look towards the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus speaks to this “end times” theme today in a way that can be summed up in two words: be prepared! With the parable of the 10 virgins, Jesus gives us a lesson in watching and waiting, and reminds us that the fulfillment of the Kingdom is in God’s hands. We can neither hurry it or stop it. But we must be prepared for its coming. Today’s readings want to tell us something about that fulfillment and about our need to be ready.

The fulfillment of the Kingdom that Jesus speaks of is nothing other than the realization of all that God promises. The Bible tells us that God promises us a secure and prosperous future. That God promises peace. “Peace is my gift to you,” Jesus tells us and by that he means not merely a superficial peace; not merely the absence of war or conflict, but a true peace that includes these things plus everything that we need to be happy and to thrive, to be holy and destined for Heaven.

The challenge for us as Christians is that we cannot live in our world the way non-believers do. We must live in a different way. We must live in an extraordinary way in these ordinary times. We must live in a way that shows we know there is nothing ordinary about it, instead we know that the time of God’s fulfillment is at hand. We must live with our eyes, our hearts, our lives focused on Heaven.

In today’s parable, the virgins are part of a very large bridal party. And the point of the story is the necessity of always being prepared, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.” All of the virgins were ready for an immediate arrival of the bridegroom and his company, but only half of them were prepared for the long wait and the half that were not ready, were excluded from the feast.

Parables always ask us to identify with someone in the story and so which are we? Are we prepared? Or will we be among those left out because we failed to be ready for Jesus. The great Church theologian St. Augustine in his autobiography talks about the struggle he faced in fully accepting Christ in his life. Prior to his conversion he had a mistress and bore a child out of wedlock. When he writes about this time, he says, “I prayed, ‘Lord, grant me chastity, just not yet.’”

How often do we essentially pray in the same way? God, help me leave behind my sin, my anger, my need to gossip, my jealousy of others, my grudges that I hold, my failure to come to Mass every week or go to confession, help me to live a life fully committed to you in all that I say and do – just not yet!

The challenge placed before us today doesn’t need to be overwhelming. God isn’t calling us all to leave our lives and to quote Hamlet, “Get thee to a nunnery!” But, we are all being invited to live in the moment; to live each moment as though the fulfilled Kingdom of God were in our midst. You may have seen the bumper sticker which reads, “Jesus is coming! Look busy!”

So, what is God asking us do right now? He is asking us to take those first steps at being prepared. So, perhaps that means there’s a relationship in your life that you need to fix, or even end? Maybe there is someone you need to forgive or seek forgiveness from? Maybe you need to renew your commitment to the ABCs of being a Catholic: daily prayer, regular communion and confession, supporting the Church, making reasonable efforts to know what the Church teaches?

God doesn’t want our lamps to run out of oil. He wants His light to keep shining in our hearts, for our own benefit, and for the benefit of those around us, now and forever. But He won’t force us to fill up that lamp and keep it filled. Today, as He comes again to offer Himself to us and for us in the Eucharist, tell Him that you will do your part, whatever it may be. Let us all make that promise to God today.

When Pope John Paul II was dying, the doctors were treating him with pain killers and other procedures to keep him with us as long as they could. At one point, the Pope simply had enough, and he waved them away, knowing that his moment had come. And his last words were, “Let me go to the Father’s house.” To the Father’s house, where all his brothers and sisters in the faith were waiting for him, where all the saints he had canonized would be cheering his arrival, where he hoped to see again his mother who had died when he was so young, his older brother who passed away soon after, and his father, who had not even lived long enough to see his son ordained a priest. Let me go to the Father’s house.

Let us pray that we too may be counted among those who are ready; among those who will be welcomed into our Father’s house.

May God give you peace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Common people, uncommon destiny

HOMILY FOR ALL SAINTS DAY, November 1, 2011:
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If you read my column in Sunday’s bulletin, I quoted a story by the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton in his book Seven Storey Mountain about a conversation he had with a friend about sainthood and how to attain it. Merton was uncertain of what it would take, but his friend Robert simply reminded him, “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

We find ourselves today in the midst of two of the most beautiful and intimately connected feasts in our Church year – All Saints Day which we celebrate today and All Souls Day which we will celebrate tomorrow. These days are not only intimately connected, but they also reveal a very natural progression that we all go through when we lose a loved one. At first we react with shock and sympathy and grief. We let our “Lord have mercys” fall gently upon the souls of our beloved dead. But, as the days, weeks and months progress, we tend to move on to the questions of why. Why did they have to leave now? Where is my loved one? Are they now merely the victims of death?

To all the questions of the hereafter, the Church responds with these feasts. The celebration of All Saints Day is a rapturous reminder that the path to glory leads beyond the grave. Today, on this day, our restored, forgiven and glorified humanity is on show. Today’s feast is not the gala performance of the canonized – all of those names saints we know so well, whether Blessed Mother Teresa or John Paul II, Saint Padre Pio, Saint Francis or St. Margaret – they have their days throughout the year. Today’s emphasis is on the rest of the saints in Heaven; perhaps even in particular the oh-so-many who will never be recognized by name.

The saints we celebrate throughout the year; whose lives are for us inspiration – perhaps because of their dramatic death for the faith, or the strength in which they lived their commitment to Christ – these saints are Heroes of the faith placed before us often in great drama. But, today we recall the every-man, the every-woman, the ordinary, the regular, the just-like-us saints who made it to the glory of heaven because they were - very simply, very profoundly - faithful to God in their lives.

Today’s feast is a celebration of the commonplace; the beatification of the ordinary; the vindication of the daisy rather than the rose. Today’s feast reminds us that common people – you and me – have an uncommon destiny. And the enduring title for these men and women who reach that Heavenly destiny is “saint.” They are not destined to become so much dust, but to see God as He truly is and be in His presence for ever. The people that you and I have loved in our lives, but have gone to their eternal reward, are now eternally loved by God in Heaven. His will is that they gather around His throne, the palm of victory in their hands. They are saints. And this we celebrate today.

But, this feast of All Saints is not just the feast of the blessed in Heaven. It is our feast day too. What the saints enjoy, what the holy souls anticipate, you and I are promised. Too often I hear people say that they could never be a saint. But, perhaps it is because they are only looking at the great heroes of faith and realizing that perhaps they would not have the courage to give their life for Christ. But we are, in fact, all called to be saints – most likely it will never be in a dramatic way; most likely it will be in the ordinariness of our every day lives continually being faithful to our God. Most likely, our names will not be enrolled in the calendar of saints celebrated by the Church. But, sainthood is ours if we only desire it and let God lead us to that heavenly destination.

And so, this promise on God’s part for our eternal happiness requires action on our part. The terms of this action are spelled out in today’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount. But some people hear this sermon and are dismayed. It can seem to imply that to get somewhere in the next life means getting nowhere in this life. It is the poor, the mournful, the meek, and the hungry who will succeed. But, this is a false interpretation. Christ’s sermon is not an endorsement of destitution. It does not suggest that a dollar in your pocket is less Christian than a hole in your pants. It does insist, though, that worldly success and the accumulation of wealth are not ends in themselves. We are not here on earth to build an empire that magnifies ourselves; we are here primarily to serve, as Jesus served.

A truly Christian society matures not in selfishness but in service. Happiness for the Christian lies not in having, but in giving. The poor in spirit accumulate wealth insofar as they give away, insofar as they love God and transform His world with gentleness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and peace.

One final point – the most important perhaps. This is God’s feast day too. Saints don’t make it on their own. Ultimately God makes it for them. The saints living successful Christian lives and eventually moving joyously around His throne in Heaven is evidence of God’s heart and love for us. All Saints Day is God’s heart translated into happy people. It is proof of His compassionate purpose, confirmation of His universal love for us, a triumphant vindication of His will for our salvation.

“All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

God has created each of us for Heaven; for sainthood. As we gather around His altar, let us, in union with the saints above, give thanks to our God for His saving Grace.

May God give you peace.