May 28, 2017 Ascension Day

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May 282017
 

In a culture where it is quite popular for folks to say that they are “spiritual” but not “religious,” we Catholics are proud to proclaim that we are intentionally religious. This is a very important term for us. The word religious is from the same root as the word ‘ligament,’ that which binds the body together, the Catholic religion holds together the Body of Christ. That’s why we refer to nuns and monks as ‘religious,’ they are bound together in community. We can and should be referred to as religious. We are connected. We have self descriptive phrases like: “the people of God,” a ‘royal priesthood,’ ‘a  pilgrim people,’ the “Body of Christ.”

A primary event that binds us together is the Ascension of Jesus. We read in the pertinent passage from “The Acts of the Apostles” that Jesus says… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

Some literalists who refute the faith would argue that this is preposterous. As someone once said: “anyone with a contemporary, scientific understanding of the atmosphere and the cosmos knows that it would take Jesus several billion years, traveling at the speed of light to reach the edge of the known universe and enter a transcendent realm beyond. It would take him another several billion years to return.”

Jesus’ Ascension into heaven it is not so much a matter of astrophysics as it is a matter of theology. Jesus went to heaven to finish what he had begun to do for us here on Earth. It was not enough that Christ came to Earth as the Incarnate God, born as human flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary, His Mother; it was the most wonderful Christmas gift of all time. Ironically, this departure was a gift as well. By his Ascension, Christ imported the fullness of humanity into heaven for the very first time. As an aside, some of you would refer to Enoch and Elijah in the OT as having gone into heaven before Christ, but neither of them died first. It was the entirety of the human experience, including death and rising from the dead that Christ pioneered.

He paved the way for us so that when we eventually do get there, all the Angels and Archangels won’t be completely shocked to see us. By ascending bodily into heaven, Jesus showed us that God who created us flesh and blood, also redeemed us through flesh and blood and flesh and blood is the medium that God likes when he is dealing with us humans. By putting on flesh and blood at his conception, Jesus brought God to us and it is by flesh and blood that Christ has brought us to God.

And now we wait and anticipate.

In so doing, let us affirm something as I toss out a double negative: absence isn’t nothing. It is something. It’s the stuff of promise and yearning, a heightened awareness, a sharpened appetite. When someone I love is absent, I become closer to what that person means to me. Details that get lost in our togetherness are recalled in our separation and the awareness of them at that intimate level has the power to pry my heart wide open. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. I see the virtues in those absent loved ones that I overlooked, the opportunities that I have missed. The quirks that were crazy making at close range become endearing at a distance. This is the stuff of love. There is something else that happens during an absence. If the relationship is strong and true, the absent one has a way of becoming present, if not in body, then in mind and spirit. I have listened to countless widows and widowers who have spoken of having a strong sense of the presence of their departed spouses. A myriad of parents have shared stories of having an intense awareness of the presence of a child who has died. When a spouse is serving in harm’s way overseas, when children and grandchildren have moved a long way away, we who miss them dearly know the ache and the heightened awareness that comes about because of their absence.

One thing is sure; there is no sense of absence where there has been no sense of presence. What makes absence hurt, what makes it ache, is the memory of what used to be there but is no longer. Absence is the arm flung in the middle of the night, the empty space, the hole in the bed. Absence is the overgrown lot where the old house once stood, the home in which people loved and laughed and fussed and thought that this family bond would last forever.

You cannot miss what you have never known. And if you think about it, it makes sense of absence and especially our sense of longing for Christ’s return, for it is the very best proof that we love him and know him and hope one day to know him more fully. There is loss in absence, but there is also hope. You see the absence hones our need.

And God does tend that need. After Christ’s Ascension, the Holy Spirit came and empowered the Apostles to become bishops, the elders to become priests, the servants and administrators to become deacons, and listeners became preachers, converts became evangelists, the wounded became healers.

And once the Holy Spirit descended on them they were empowered to do surprising things. They began to say things that sounded like Jesus and they began to heal the sick and cast out demons and proclaim the Good News. They became brave and competent and wise. Whenever two or three of them came together the sense of Christ’s presence was very telling. And soon those baptized were called his Body and they saw him in one another and the Body of Christ soon came together regularly, sometimes daily and certainly weekly, miraculously and mysteriously to receive Christ fully, his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Bread and Wine, the Body and precious Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. And their eyes were opened to see Christ not only at the Mass, but in one another and especially in the poor and neglected and outcast. They became truly religious.

Did they miss him? Of course, but they soon learned that it was not helpful to stand around looking up into heaven, awaiting his return. All they had to do was to look around, to look around and there he was, and is. We wait for Christ to return in glory. In the meantime, like the early disciples we can look around and discern him right here, right here in the midst of us. As we look around we see that we are connected by the great ligaments of the Church holding together the Body of Christ and upon his return, we will be fully religious.

May 21, 2017 Sixth Sunday of Easter

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May 222017
 

Our readings today depict the establishment of basic Church teachings. Underlying all this is the place and importance of prayer.

It’s good to start with a definition. The Catechism tells us that prayer is The elevation of the mind and heart to God in praise of his glory; a petition made to God for some desired good, or in thanksgiving for a good received, or in intercession for others before God. Through prayer the Christian experiences a communion with God through Christ in the Church. (p. 895)

It must be said that we Catholics never pray alone. Somewhere, some Catholic group or individual is praying at the exact same time as we are, especially if we are engaged in offering the formal prayer of the Church. In addition, we are always surrounded by what the author of the Book of Hebrews calls “the great cloud of witnesses.” (Heb.12:1) All the angels and saints in heaven are praying with us and for us 24/7. We never pray all by ourselves, no matter how desolate we may feel at times. We know this. That’s why we offer so many prayers to the Saints, especially the Virgin Mary to intercede for us. We just trust that they are there and that they will respond faithfully and generously.

For the sake of ease and convenience for this presentation, I put prayer into two general categories: formal prayer and informal prayer.

Formal prayers are the prayers of the Church. The most powerful prayer that we offer is the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the source and summit of our faith. Then comes other formal prayers that are usually familiar, and therefore they are the most common and comfortable for most Catholics. These formal prayers often consist of time-honored, well-honed phrases. They may be a “Hail Mary,” or an “Our Father,” or other written and usually memorized prayers that express clearly particular perspectives, petitions or adoration. We have Novenas and other disciplines that enhance our prayers. We pray them by ourselves or in groups.

If we are looking for folks to pray with us, all we have to do is to say something like: “Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts…” and every Catholic present will join in because it’s commonly understood that we are about to eat a meal and this is the blessing. We have common prayer that binds us as the faithful of God.

Prayer also includes silence—whether meditating or contemplating on something such as a crucifix or an icon. Prayer covers a lot of areas.

Prayer posture is also important. Traditionally, the Church advocates that when praying we clasp our hands as we stand or kneel. Sometimes we prostrate ourselves. Sometimes we sit, especially if we are alone.

I like the joke about 3 old priests who were having coffee and they started talking about the best prayer posture.

The first says, “For me, the only proper position is down on my knees, with hands clasped, offering prayer in a state of true humility.”

The second disagreed, saying, “I believe the way to pray most effectively is with outstretched arms, palms up and with an upturned face. This shows my joy at being in the presence of the Blessed Triune God.”

The third priest said, “When I’m praying by myself, I find a comfortable place in which to sit and then my prayers are ever so much more intimate.”

Just then a power company lineman descended from a utility pole nearby and walked up to the priests.

He said, “Pardon me, but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. About a year ago, I fell from one of these poles and on the way down managed to get one leg wrapped around a single utility line.

The thing I want to tell you is that I did my best praying ever, dangling by one leg, upside down, 40 feet above the asphalt.”

It’s akin to that old line from a sermon given by an army chaplain after the battle of Bataan during World War II. He said: “there are no atheists in foxholes.”

There are things in life that sharpen the mind and intensify the will. These regularly are times of intense and profound prayer. But most prayer is regular and rhythmic. For the faithful, it’s part of a daily routine. Let me now share with you a bit of my routine.

I want to talk especially about prayers of intercession.

In addition to praying The Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary and so forth, I have a rather lengthy, categorized list of intercessions. For your convenience and reference, you will note that the outline for my intercessions have been placed in the bulletin.

After I’ve finished my formal prayer in the morning, this is the list that I offer of specific intercessions.

1.The Church–Her Members and Mission

This includes for:

  • The Holy Father, Pope Francis, Archbishop Sample, Bp. Peter his auxiliary, area parishes and their staff, etc.
  • Specific Clergy, both priests and deacons
  • O’Hara school, the faculty and staff and especially the first grade. I’m the first grade priest and these little ones are especially dear to my heart.
  • The Carmelites—as you know they are on the cusp of something significant happening to their community, and along with petitions for their well being, I pray for new members for their monastery.
  • Especially at the request of Archbishop Sample, I pray for those considering vocations to the priesthood and other consecrated life. I get a little pushy on this one when asking people if they might have a vocation, and if they think they do, I add their names to my list of daily intercessions.
  1. Our Nation and All in Authority—I pray for the US House and the Senate and for President Trump. I specifically ask that they will be endowed with wisdom and humility.
  2. The Welfare of the World-There is so much hatred and violence. I pray for refugees, immigrants and migrants. I pray especially for families with little ones. And I pray for all women considering abortions. I pray that the Holy Spirit will gently turn their hearts.
  3. The Concerns of Our Local Community—I specifically pray for agencies such as Catholic Community Services, St. Vincent De Paul, First Way—our pregnancy resource center and other pro-life organizations such as Rachel’s Vineyard and Project Aurora. And I pray for the unemployed and destitute.
  4. Those in Particular Need—this is my longest list. I have great concern for those who have chronic health issues. We’re pretty good about praying for acute needs—people with the flu or a broken bone. But if someone has a long term problem such as Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis or a severe mental illness, we tend to stop praying for them after awhile. I would urge you not to stop. Long term prayer support is critical for their well being. I also pray for those in prison and those battling addiction.
  5. Those Who Have Died
  6. Family
  7. Personal Requests.  This is when I offer my personal petitions for insight into homilies, issues affecting my health and well being and so on. I pray for strength and wisdom to lovingly deal with people who really annoy me. The general rule is to pray for yourself last. I think it’s just basically good manners.

This is how I organize my intercessions. You are welcome to use this pattern or devise one for yourself. Whatever you do, I encourage you to make a categorized list for your intercessions.

At the end of my intercessions, I close with this prayer from St. Thomas More, martyr of the English Reformation:

Grant me , O Lord good digestion and also something to digest. Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humor to maintain it. Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil, but rather finds the means to put things back in their place. Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumbling, sighs and laments, nor excess of stress, because of this obstructing thing called “I.” Grant me, O Lord the grace to be able to take a joke and to discover in life a bit of joy and to be able to share it with others.

Amen.

May 14, 2017 Fifth Sunday of Easter Mother’s Day

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May 142017
 

There is an inexplicable connection between love and self-sacrifice. The ultimate example is the cross: Christ laying down His life so that we might have life, true life in Him. Parents offer self-sacrifice by design. In his book “In the Grip of Grace,” Brian Chappell tells of one mother’s self sacrificing love. He writes:

“On Sunday, August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines flight 225 crashed just after taking off from Detroit airport. One hundred fifty-five people were killed. One survived: a 4-year-old from Tempe, Arizona named Cecilia.”

“News accounts say when rescuers found Cecilia they did not believe she had been on the plane. Investigators assumed [she] had been a passenger in one of the cars on the highway onto which the airliner crashed. But when the passenger register for the flight was checked, there was Cecilia’s name.”

“Cecilia survived because, as the plane was falling, [her] mother, Paula Chicon, unbuckled her own belt, got on her knees in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms around her, and would not let her go.”

Heroic measures like this touch us deeply. In John 15:13 Jesus says, “No one has greater love than to lay down your life…” whether for a child, or a friend, or perhaps even a stranger. Self sacrifice.

I’ve also been thinking of a more humdrum understanding of self-sacrifice. I’ve been thinking of self-sacrifice on a daily basis. It’s the series of good natured self-sacrifices of accommodation, the willingness to change to help someone else. It’s a mom cheerfully giving up her career to tend her kids; it’s a dad who willingly does the same thing, willing to be the home-schooler while his wife is employed. Either way it is parents putting their kids first; it is love manifested as self-sacrifice. It’s the willingness to change for the betterment of others.

Here’s some perspective on this. Psychologist Stephen Gilligan says that people don’t want to be changed, they want to be blessed. One of the main reasons people resist change is because they don’t perceive it as blessing. He defines blessing as “an outcome state that is of greater value than is currently present.”

In many cases people resist change because they perceive the outcome to be of lesser value. In Luke 18:18 and following, we have the story of the rich ruler who asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus informed him that he needed to get rid of his money and give it to the poor and then follow him, this member of the ruling class could not perceive that following Jesus was more valuable than his current wealth and position. How could following Jesus be more of a blessing than his financial assets and his political and social status?

One of the reasons we revere our mothers so much is that in almost all circumstances they were—and are— willing to change to accommodate us. They take on stretch marks and heartburn and heartache for our benefit. We also revere our dads for depriving themselves for us, sometimes taking on two jobs to make sure there is food and clothing and shelter— and then there are all the duties of both parents: of diapers and laundry and dinners and dishes, of dispensing wisdom and discipline, and trips to “Mickey D’s” or Taco Bell, of kissing booboos and teaching a toddler the difference between a dandelion and a daffodil, of coaching Kids’ Sports Soccer, of sitting in the drizzle to watch the game as your kid’s team gets clobbered, of waiting up way past bed time to hear all about the prom, and so much more.

Dr. Gilligan goes on to say that true self-sacrifice must be based on the awareness that there is a greater reward for the person offering the sacrifice than not offering it. Almost all parents say and believe that the sacrifices they make for their kids are worth it. The blessings are there, even when kids are aged two and then later as teens.

Gilligan offers a warning, however: “Any blessing that comes to us at the unwilling expense of someone else is not a blessing, it is theft — and it will be [resented and] resisted and it will not be sustainable.”

After four plus decades of ordained ministry, I have come to realize that love has many enemies: hate, disdain, ignorance, brutality, contempt, apathy, the quest for dominance and so on, but I think perhaps the greatest enemy of love is resentment. Resentment is feeling that you always get the short end of the stick, of always being passed over for promotion, that no one appreciates your gifts and skills and efforts and abilities, of being consumed by jealousy and envy, of believing that you are under-appreciated and that you are surrounded by a federation of dunces, that you are a princess who had been kidnapped by Troglodytes and were reared beneath your natural station.

For most of us, our resentments aren’t that intense but for some they are quite strong; you see them, they’re generally scowling, expressing chronic disapproval. I see it all too often in moms and dads who resent their kids because they, the parents, feel deprived of something; they feel that their kids have somehow stolen something from them: a career, a social life, money. By the way, any parent who resents his or her children is going to help make a very nice living for a psychotherapist when they, the kids, get older. Resentment permeates, particularly in little ones. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t go away and it scars for life. Resentment is an insidious form of abuse.

Resentment is the basis of Satan’s hatred for us as God’s children; he thought he was the special one—not us—and that’s why he led the rebellion in heaven that St. Michael and the loyal angels thwarted. The message the devil sends to each of us: “You’re no good, you never were any good, you never will be any good,” is the message of one who resents our existence. Satan wants to shame us, to have us believe that we are not worthy of being loved. A parent who resents his or her children shames them, and in so doing presents the same basic message: you are not worthy of being loved—you never were worthy of love—you never will be worthy of love.

Love is not just for brief, intense moments like airline crashes. Love is for the long term. Love is in the humdrum and the boring as well as the times of adrenaline rushes and fear and joy and extreme bravery. Love hangs in there—with good humor and warmth— when the ego says to bail out.

How do we get this self-sacrificing love? For many it’s hardwired—especially in mothers. It’s part of natural moral law; you find it in all sorts of critters, but unfortunately some humans, for whatever reason, don’t naturally seem to have it, but any and all of us can receive it supernaturally by the power of the God who loved us first, who teaches and compels us to accept this love, and then to share it with others, especially our children. Sometimes circumstances and feelings seem to tell us that God’s love is not present. When we give into that falsity, we give into something that is terrible, that may lead us to pull back, or skulk off, or even just to wonder off, to separate from God and that is the manifestation of sin and the definition of Hell—the ultimate, permanent, eternal separation from all that is loving and holy.

Sin is usually the result of our tendency to be self-absorbed (remember the bumper sticker: “It really is all about me.”) Sin always interferes with our attempts at love, we need Grace to counter the sin and to strengthen our resolve. And it is important to note that the word grace is from the same root as gratitude.

I believe firmly that the central ingredient of love is gratitude. If I am not grateful, then I don’t think I can be loving. If either parent is not grateful for her or his kids, then the kids will most probably be ignored, abused, abandoned, ridiculed and, above all, resented. They will be perceived as a burden; thieves who have stolen the blessing from the parents. But when parents are grateful for their children, no matter how difficult they may be at times, then the parent will love them with a fierceness and gentleness that no other can emulate.

And here is a word of hope. Just as sin is “all about me,” so is love “all about me…being forgiven and accepted and empowered to love others through the self-sacrifice of Christ.” It’s realizing that no matter how resentful I’ve been of others, especially my children, God loves me, no matter how abused or resented I was as a child, I am loved. All of us can know that God frees us from sin through Christ’s atoning death on the cross, and then he empowers us to love even the most obnoxious selfish person, it’s because he’s forgiven us for being so obnoxiously selfish.

St. John put it this way: “This is love…that God loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for sin.” (I John 4:10)

As we ponder this, I want to share with you two stories about parental love. The first one is set in the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, site of the 1992 Summer Games.

Derek Redmond, a British runner, was lined up for the 400-meter semifinals. He was probably thinking about the long, hard road he’d taken to get there. Four years earlier, at the ’88 Olympics, Derek had to withdraw because of an injured Achilles tendon, just 90 seconds before the race was to begin. He was incredibly disappointed. But in Barcelona, four years and five surgeries later, Derek was ready to roll. The starting gun went off, and so did Derek. A hundred meters into the race, Derek crumpled to the track with a torn hamstring.

Paramedics rushed out to help him, but he refused their help, waving them aside. He struggled to his feet, and started hopping and then falling and crawling, determined to finish the race. And then, a big guy wearing a cap that says “Just Do It” came charging out of the stands. He pushed a security guard aside, ran to Derek’s side and picked him up—and hugged him. It was Derek’s dad.

With his arm around his son’s waist, Derek’s dad helped his son limp the rest of the way around the track. The crowd at first was silent, and then they were on their feet, stomping and clapping and whistling and cheering and weeping. Millions of TV viewers around the world did the same. Finally, Derek and his dad crossed the finish line together, arm in arm, long after the other runners had finished the race …

And the second story: Solomon Rosenburg and his wife and two sons, and his father and mother were in a Nazi labor camp. The rules were simple: “As long as you could work, you would live. When you were too weak to work, you were exterminated.” Rosenburg watched his mother and father be marched off to their deaths and he knew that his younger son David was next, because he was a frail child. Every evening Rosenburg rushed back to the barracks after hours of backbreaking labor to search for his wife and children. When he found them they would cling together, giving thanks to God for another day of life.

One day he came back and could not find his family. Finally he found his older son Joshua huddled in a corner weeping and praying. “What happened?” his father demanded frantically. “Papa, David was not strong enough to work, so they came for him.” “But where is your mother?” “Oh papa,” Joshua said, “When they came for David he was so afraid.” Mama said, ‘there is nothing to be afraid of David.’ And she took his hand and went with him.”

Two stories of parental love—two stories illustrating the love God has for us. The fierce love of a protective parent who charges out to tend his child who is in great need—and the tender, gentle, self-sacrificing love of the one who takes our hand and accompanies us through the portals of death into life eternal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 7, 2017 Fourth Sunday of Easter

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May 072017
 

I’ve learned a great truth: stress will either be a clamp or a wedge in our relationships. It’s true in marriages, in relating with our children and other family members, at work or with our friends. And it’s especially true in our relationship with God.

Let’s look more closely. Long time Catholics crash into their first wall of life-threatening illness and all the light goes out of their eyes. They pack their missals when they go to the hospital but they do not pray once they are there. They watch television instead, cruising channels for something to busy their minds. They cannot pray. When they try, it seems as if their prayers get no farther than the ceiling. One of them says he is afraid to pray now. He prayed before and look what happened. Now all he wants to do is to lie low and try not to catch God’s attention.

Many times the wedge comes not from our own suffering, but from the suffering of others. How many times have we seen a mother become estranged from God and the Church because of a serious illness to her child? Or imagine an emergency room nurse whose faith is wavering; what does she see?

  • Two 19-year-old coeds who were killed in a car wreck over spring break,
  • A young single mother who has been beaten almost to death by her meth-addicted live in boyfriend,
  • A young man with AIDS whose parents won’t take him back home with them and he’ll have to find a new place to live.

After a shift like this the nurse wants to break something. She says she’s tired of cleaning up God’s messes, and the breech gets wider.

I’ve experienced similar sensations. I know what it’s like to sit for hours in a hospital waiting room, waiting to hear the results of a family member’s emergency and life threatening surgery, knowing that the prayers seem futile, even with the help of sacramentals like the rosary. In my heart of hearts I’ve felt broken and alone and tired and depressed, thinking “enough God, enough.”

I’ve also had days as a priest in the hospital tending one catastrophe after another and finding myself being more than a little angry at God, asking the question: “Why did you allow this to happen?” I know the pressure of the wedge. It’s there. It’s been traumatic.

How many people do you know who have just stopped coming to Mass because of some great grief in their lives? How many are experiencing a shriveled soul, a dried up spirit? I suspect quite a few. Many become angry and rail at God, many more just stop believing and a great void fills their hearts.

But we must not succumb to the wedge. Perhaps the most powerful statement I’ve read about refusing to allow suffering to be a wedge was written some 80 years ago by a Scots Presbyterian Minister named A.J. Gossip. He and his wife were deeply devoted and she died suddenly; initially he knew no consolation from the grief, but then he rallied. This is from the first sermon he wrote after her death.

I do not understand this life of ours. But still less can I comprehend how people in trouble and loss and bereavement can fling away peevishly from the Christian faith. In God’s name fling to what? Have we not lost enough without that too?

If Christ is right—if, as He says, there are somehow, hidden away from our eyes, as yet, still there, wisdom and planning and kindness and love in these dark dispensations—then we can see them through. But if Christ is wrong, and all that is not so; if God set his foot on my home crudely, heedlessly, blunderingly, blindly, as I unawares might tread upon some insect in my path, have I not the right to be angry and sore? If Christ was right, and…the dear hopes of which He speaks do lie a little way ahead, we can manage to make our way to them. But if it is not so, if it all over, if there is nothing more, how dark the darkness grows!

You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it. We have nothing else.

This is a call for stress to be a clamp. The power of stress and suffering can be profoundly strong in binding folks together, and cementing one’s relationship with God. One of the things that suffering does is that it strips away pretense. People tend not to play games when they are really hurting. And almost nothing binds folks together more closely than to share hardships. That’s the purpose of boot camp in the military; ask any combat veteran how he feels about comrades in arms, especially those who have endured enemy fire with him.

And there is a redemptive, even holy, component to suffering. Back in 1984 Pope St. John Paul II wrote an Apostolic letter entitled Salvific Doloris, “On the Christian Meaning of Suffering.” St. John Paul was no stranger to personal suffering; he lost his mother, his father and his brother before he was ordained priest. He had endured both the German and Soviet occupations of Poland, he survived an assassin’s bullet, and at the end of his life he bore the cross of Parkinson’s disease. The Holy Father knew personal suffering.

And although some of this suffering occurred after he wrote Salvific Dolores, the work is very insightful. After a rather lengthy introduction describing various aspects of suffering, St. John Paul looks to the Book of Job. If you remember, the narrative of that book opens with a statement that Job was a good and righteous man. Then the narrative switches to the heavenly court. God is presiding and courtiers are all about. Among them is Satan. Remember that the word Satan means “Accuser,” or as I like to translate it, prosecuting attorney. And that’s how he was functioning in the heavenly court that day. He was there to accuse Job of having a shaky faith. God says not so and Satan in essence says: “I can break him.” God says: “I don’t think so.” And Satan says: “Yes I can” and God says that he can do anything he wants to Job except kill him.

And Satan unloads. Here we have a just and righteous and innocent man who loses everything; first his assets, and then his children, and then he is afflicted with excruciating boils from head to foot. He is broken. His friends visit him and tell him he must have sinned, he must have done something wrong. Yet Job steadfastly protests, he has been faithful, he has done nothing wrong, he committed no sin which caused this suffering. It’s horribly stressful and it’s a mystery.

St. John Paul points out that often our suffering is a result of sin and sin deserves punishment; it’s a matter of justice. If we do something wrong, we need to pay for it or at least make amends. Often that causes suffering—you rob a bank, you go to jail and you and your loved ones suffer.

But much of suffering seems so unfair. St. John Paul notes that as the book of Job ends, there is God asking Job if he can possibly understand the great mysteries that God alone knows. Finally Job is humbled by the inscrutability of suffering and acquiesces to God’s sovereignty.

St. John Paul then skips forward several hundred years to the time and the person of Jesus. He has us look to the full revelation of God’s love in his incarnate Son. For love is critical if we are to withstand suffering, especially if suffering is to be a clamp in our relationship with God and with others. A key to this is found in Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (3:16) Jesus was given to us to save us from the ultimate manifestation of suffering which is Hell, eternal separation from God.

It’s the big picture. Christ’s atoning death, his suffering, is the means by which we can have an epoxied clamp with God. In our Epistle lesson from 1 Peter we read: …Christ… suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.

And then St. Peter makes a direct reference to the suffering servant motif found in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed…

The clamp is strongest when we can offer our suffering along with that of Christ. And when we do that, then our suffering is redemptive and we have an eternal hope, a tightly fastened hope, a clamped hope based on love and grace and peace.

In closing I return again to that homily given by A.J. Gossip after the loss of his wife. He speaks of crossing the River Jordan:

I don’t think you need to be afraid of life. Our hearts are very frail; and there are places where the road is very steep and very lonely. But we have a wonderful God. And as Paul puts it, what can separate us from his love? Not death, he says immediately, pushing that aside at once, as the most obvious of all impossibilities. No, not death. For standing in the roaring of the Jordan, cold to the heart with its dreadful chill, and very conscious of the terror of its rushing, I…can call back to you who one day in your turn will have to cross it, “Be of good cheer… for I feel the bottom and it is sound.”

April 30, 2017 3rd Sunday in Easter

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Apr 302017
 

Strangers Who Help Themselves To My First Name

I’m going to vent a little this morning. Please bear with me.

I’m a product of the 1960s when there was great emphasis on intimacy and egalitarianism. It was well phrased a decade later in the theme song from the TV show “Cheers.” Here’s the line: You want to go where people know the people are all the same. You want to go where everybody knows your name, and that almost always means using one another’s first names. I remember a wisecrack in an address by the president of The Claremont School of Theology where I was a student at the time. The custom there was to call everyone: students, faculty, administration and staff by their first names. And the president said that we had to use his first name because no one knew him well enough to use his title and last name. We all laughed.

What got me started was a “cold call” from an insurance agent who was trying to drum up some business. The first thing he did was to call me by my first name. I hope I was polite when I told him I was not interested.

As background, I’ve been dealing with some health problems lately, primarily soft tissue arthritis that has caused me to be gimpy and grumpy and annoyed and frustrated. I’ve been seeing a lot of medical personnel as they try to figure out how to treat me. This leads to the issue.  You see, my first name is Orville, that’s why I go by my middle name Bryce, and when I walk into a health care appointment and the person behind the counter immediately addresses me as Orville, I don’t much like it. The first couple of times I requested that they not call me that, but there are so many layers of people one has to get through in modern medical practices, I just keep my mouth shut, work on my “appropriate detachment” skills and pray that all this will be over shortly.

As I pondered this, I remembered a column written by one of my favorite columnists, William Raspberry of the Washington Post who died some time back. He was an articulate and insightful writer, who happened to be African American. Among other things, he taught me much about the civil rights movement in America. As I dug through my files, I found the column. It was dated December 1, 1993, over 23 years ago.

Mr. Raspberry wrote: I work in a business in which the use of first names is commonplace. Not only do newsroom peers call each other by their given names (or worse), but honorifics frequently are abandoned, even across lines of rank. The executive editor is called ”Len” more often than not. The publisher is not startled to be addressed by a subordinate as ”Don.”

Mr. Raspberry went on to say that as he was getting older, he was becoming more and more troubled by people assuming that he wanted to be called by his given name. He wrote:

I guess I [am] reacting to what my friend Edith Smith describes as ”strangers helping themselves to my first name.”

Smith, a retired Washington school official, is a woman of great dignity and silver-streaked hair who reckons that she has earned the right to be treated as a grown-up. And yet, she finds it hard to get through two consecutive weeks without having some stranger help himself to the unauthorized use of her given name.

”I don’t care whether it’s a fellow-professional I’m meeting for the first time or a member of an audience I’m addressing, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for them to wait to be invited to familiarity,” she said. ”The worst, of course, are the people – strangers – who are trying to sell me something, and before I even know what they’re selling, it’s ‘Edith this and Edith that.’ I find it disrespectful.”

Mr. Raspberry then wrote: So, apparently, do the Delany sisters – Miss Sarah Delany, 104, and Dr. Elizabeth Delany, 102, who have just published a joint autobiography, Having Our Say. In their day, they told an interviewer, adults (and especially people of color) ”resented being called by their first names as if they were children or ‘no-account.’

And as Mr. Raspberry added: ‘Or so old that they can be treated as children again. At least that’s what I feel when I hear 25-year-old attendants calling nursing home residents ”Mary” or ”George.”

Mr. Raspberry went on: There are times when I take no offense at being called by my first name. A group of guys attending a ball game or jazz concert should not have to ”Mr.” each other, even if they’ve just met. I am flattered by readers who address me as ”Dear Bill,” if they follow it up with something like ”I’ve been reading you so long, you seem like a member of the family.”

He continues: what makes me a little cranky is the false intimacy calculated to deliver some advantage to the person pretending the intimacy: the phone company rep, the insurance agent or the used-car salesman who has never seen me before and wouldn’t recognize me the next day. These are people trying to convert what is clearly a business relationship for them into an ersatz personal relationship for me, on the assumption that I will find it harder to say no to a ”friend.” Want to bet?

And I will add the person on the medical staff whose job it is to see that the patient is compliant and cooperative so that things will go more smoothly and efficiently. And I cringe when the physician who is younger than my child will say, “Hello Orville. I’m Dr so and so.” It seems awfully condescending. It is causing me to ponder the use of the title Father when I’m feeling free to call a parishioner by her or his first name. I’d appreciate a little feedback from you, if you would please.

Moving on,  ”Miss Manners” (etiquette columnist Judith Martin), who has made a crusade of taming such false intimacy, has an explanation for both the practice and the resentment:

”We Americans always have prided ourselves on showing to everyone the respect other societies save for their ‘betters,’ and on our demeanor of cheerfulness, helpfulness and openness. But we have also scorned and satirized phony behavior, of which social pretense . . . is an excellent example.”

Mr Raspberry writes: I don’t know whether this particular social pretense is more offensive when it comes as company policy (surely there are training manuals that command salespersons to get quickly onto a first-name basis with their prospects [or, I’ll add, medical practice specialists who train their personnel that using an old person’s first name will put them at ease and make them more comfortable and therefore more compliant.]

Mr. Raspberry concludes with this.

[I’m] just practicing up for the nursing home.

What this min1-tirade is about is an affirmation of human dignity. That’s a primary theme of the Easter Season. The one who came in the flesh and died for our sins has risen from the dead. It is an act of affirmation of human dignity. The Church teaches that: The dignity of the human person is rooted in his [or her] creation in the image and likeness of God…(CCC #1700) St. John Paul II wrote that: Human persons are  willed by God; they are imprinted with God’s image. Their dignity does not come  from the work they do, but from the persons they are. (St. John Paul II, On the Hundredth Year [. . Centesimus annus]. . . , no. 11)

As I get older and significant pain is just a fact of life and my mind gets more and more cluttered and clouded, I find that I get a little anxious at times. And I need medical attention more often than I want. Being treated with dignity helps the anxiety by letting me gather my wits, take some deep breaths, say a prayer and keep on keeping on. Being annoyed does not help.

So in response to this, I’ve written to the administrator of Peace Health to invite him to add one more question to their questionnaires about patients. I invited him to please ask each patient, especially new ones: “What would you like to be called?” Some may very well like to be called by their first names. Some of us do not. It is an act of courtesy to ask.

And in the meantime, I am going to be more careful on how I address people, especially older people who are caught up in the perils of aging. Christ came in the flesh, died and rose to affirm the goodness of the human person, in spite of sin and sadness and the brokenness of this fallen world. I find that one of the more significant enemies of aging is the lack of seemliness. When the Church firmly teaches that we are to affirm life from conception to natural death, this means, in part, that we are to treat those who are most vulnerable with the most respect. And I’ve found this to mean something as simple as not assuming they want any of us to call them by their given names. I’ve personally found that when I’m going through some kind of test or procedure, I often feel particularly vulnerable. If I’m not called by my first name, especially one I don’t much like, I can feel a little better about things and it often enhances my sense of security and dignity.

It’s a small thing, but it augments gracious living which in itself is a gift of the Resurrection.

Thank you for bearing with me.

 

April 23, 2017 Divine Mercy Sunday

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Apr 232017
 

John 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them.  Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

We just read in the Gospel lesson that “Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.” So we ask: “Where was he?” We don’t know. There has been a lot of speculation over the centuries. I was struck by one observation of a man struggling with alcoholism. He said that it seemed to him that Thomas may have been so devastated by Jesus’ crucifixion that he went on a week-long bender. That’s not impossible. But I would suggest that Thomas was out looking for Jesus on his own. Whatever else, Thomas did seem to pride himself on being independent.

There are a couple of things here that I’d like to note. The first is that while Thomas was away, the text tells us that our Lord appeared to the apostles “on the evening of that first day of the week,” the Day of his resurrection. This is significant because for Jesus, as for all Jews, the climax of the week was not Sunday but the day before— Saturday, the Sabbath—the last day of the week, the day of rest.

Let’s look at this more closely. The third of the Ten Commandments ordered God’s people to keep the Sabbath holy, by offering special worship to God and by resting from unnecessary work. In his book Jesus of Nazareth Pope Benedict writes: “It is clear that only an event of extraordinary impact could have led to the abandonment of the Sabbath and its replacement by the first day of the week. Only an event that marked souls indelibly could bring about such a profound realignment in the religious culture of the week.” (p. 259)

As noted, on the evening of that first day, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas was absent. He did not see Jesus until he joined the other apostles a week later in the upper room. There and then he uttered the words that are the climax of St. John’s Gospel. When Jesus invited Thomas to touch him and to stop his unbelief, Thomas—awestruck—proclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” In this one phrase, Thomas affirmed that Jesus was Lord or master, and by calling him God, he was also proclaiming that Christ was the Incarnate Deity, the second person of the Blessed Trinity; this Jesus was actually God. This was the first time in all the Scriptures that someone actually said this.

This is why the earliest Christians designated Sunday as “the Lord’s day.” It celebrates the actual day of the Resurrection, while remembering that one week later, there was the proclamation of the Incarnation right from the mouth of Thomas the Doubter. From then on the Faithful have gathered together each “Lord’s Day,” each Sunday, to pray, to hear the word of God, to affirm the truth of the Resurrection and the Incarnation, and to receive the bread of life.

The Catechism tells us that: Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath. In Christ’s Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man’s eternal rest in God. For worship under the Law prepared for the mystery of Christ, and what was done there prefigured some aspects of Christ:  Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the sabbath, but the Lord’s Day, in which our life is blessed by him and by his death. (CCC # 2175) 

The second point that I want to make is that Thomas’s experience has an important lesson for us all. If, as I suggested earlier, that Thomas was out looking for Jesus on his own while Christ appeared to the huddled disciples in the upper room, then there is much for us to consider. It must be said that we normally and regularly encounter Jesus not one-on-one, but when we gather with our brothers and sisters in the great family of God which we call the Catholic Church. Purely personal encounters with Christ such as that enjoyed by Mary Magdalene on the morning of the resurrection, by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that afternoon, or by the apostle Paul outside Damascus do happen. And when they do occur, such one-on-one encounters are never just for the individual, to give that person a great spiritual experience. There is another, more important reason. You see, down through history Jesus comes to specially chosen souls so that they can go to others as his witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit to say: “I have seen the Lord.”

Today, there are many people who are sincerely seeking the Lord, but who prefer to do so apart from the worshiping and believing community. Many, if not all of these folks will claim that they are “spiritual but not religious.” I would remind you that the words religion and religious come from the same Greek word for ligaments. Religion, by design and intent, is to bind people together, just as ligaments connect muscle to bone. That’s why we call monks and nuns “religious.” They are linked not only with each other in community—they also have a special link to God and to those of us who are not part of their community. That’s why the Carmelites out here on the edge of town are so important to us. Although they are cloistered, they are committed to an apostolate of intercessory prayer, which includes you and me and anyone else who requests their intercessions. They are religious and they are not only connected to other Carmelites, they are tightly linked to us.

It must be said that the Catholic religion is personal, but it is not private. People who neglect the communal dimension of our faith are constructing a private spirituality of their own devising, one in which they are the supreme authority. They need to learn the lesson Thomas learned: that the Lord comes first and foremost to us when we are gathered together with our fellow believers.

Let’s look at an example from Jesus himself. He taught us to pray not “My Father,” but “Our Father.” We pray as members of a community. We need each other. We believe not as isolated individuals, but as members of this family into which we were reborn in baptism: the Catholic Church. That is how the apostle Thomas came to faith in the risen Lord: when he rejoined his fellow apostles.

Faith is a gift. And the Lord uses his Church to give us this gift. It is in the Church, however, that our faith is nourished. Here is how the Catechism explains it: Faith is a personal act, the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others.” And the Catechism continues: “Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in their faith.” [CCC #166]

St. Luke states it succinctly in Acts 2:42: From the beginning on the Lord’s Day, the Faithful came together and devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.

Let me close with this. St. Thomas the Doubter wanted to do it his way. He was a precursor to Frank Sinatra who sang from an old man’s perspective looking back over his life. Sinatra proudly proclaimed “I Did It My Way.” Perhaps, but when we approach the Throne of Grace and look at the Lord and say “I Did It My Way,” just imagine how that will be received. It’s by doing it Christ’s way,  in the company of the other members of the Faithful that God is pleased and the fullness of blessing comes to us. This is intended to be a bit more grist for the mill.

         

 

April 16, 2017 Easter Sunday

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Apr 192017
 

If you’ve been following current events, you will know that Christians are the targets of the wrath of the Taliban, Isis, Boko Horam and even some nation states. Last year some 90,000 Christians (one every six minutes) were imprisoned, tortured or simply murdered for being Christian, and there is no sign that it will abate any time soon.There really is a new generation of martyrs. Meanwhile, in much of the west, the Christian faith is settling into irrelevance. Tesco, an English Supermarket chain ran this ad: “Great offers on beer and cider. Good Friday just got better.” They eventually did apologize and retracted the ad.

And then, I read about a “YouGov” poll in England which posed this question: “What do you associate most with Easter?” Jesus came in 4th—proceeded by chocolate Easter eggs, bank holidays and hot cross buns. The report went on to say, that people associate the Easter Bunny with Easter, more than they do the Son of God.

Our task is to deal with all this honestly in a forthright manner without getting cynical. So we begin with this:

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!!!

St. Paul tells us in today’s epistle lesson:

Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.( Colossians 3:1-4)

This is a call to holiness in a world that is all too often either antagonistic or apathetic.

Holiness is possible by a combination of God’s Grace and Love and the exercise of our Free Will—our Good Will. We all know that holiness can only come about through prayer, participation in the sacramental life of the Church—outreach to the poor and needy—and living in Love and Charity with all those about us.

St. Peter writes in his first Epistle—quoting from Leviticus 11:42—“As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct—for it is written—‘You shall be holy as I am holy.” (I Peter 1:15) Only God knows what it means to be completely holy, but I’ve compiled a very incomplete list of what I think Holiness is—

A Holy Person is Virtuous. St. Gregory of Nyssa said that “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” The Catechism tells us that virtuous person has—“A habitual and firm disposition to do the good. The moral virtues are acquired through human effort aided by God’s Grace… [and] the theological [or Supernatural] virtues are gifts from God.”(CCC p. 903)

Again, The moral virtues are acquired through human effort aided by God’s Grace. They are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Prudence directs all the other virtues—for prudence is the acquired ability to recognize what is right and what is wrong. Only a prudent person, a wise person, can properly apply the other moral virtues of justice, fortitude and temperance.

The Holy person knows that justice is based on the principle—“to each his due.” For example a child with a disability and a highly gifted child must be encouraged in different ways— so that each may fulfill her potential. Justice is concerned with equity and longs to see people get what they are entitled. Justice also instructs us on what we owe God—and to give him what he is entitled—specifically our love and our worship.

The holy person practices fortitude—it is the virtue of discerning by prudence what is right and good—and then firmly and constantly and courageously pursuing it—conquering fear—even to the point of death. For example—the martyrs in Nigeria who refuse to renounce Christ are practicing great fortitude—as is the husband who patiently tends his wife of 60 years— who is slowing sliding— into the darkness of dementia.

The Holy person embraces temperance or moderation. The immoderate person abandons himself to the rule of his impulses—he offends others by acting on his inordinate desires—and harms himself by his indiscretion. Conversely the obsessive and the compulsive are immoderate in the opposite direction—for they do not allow for the flexibility of Grace.

Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance are the acquired moral virtues that are aided by God which are present in the holy person.

The three supernatural or theological virtues are faith, hope and love and they are God given.

The Holy Person is a person of strong Faith. The author of Hebrews in Chapter 11 verse 1 tells us that on the one hand “faith is the assurance of things hoped for—the conviction of things not seen.”

On the other hand this faith has a definite content—which the Church professes in the Creeds and the holy person safeguards them with her life. Anyone who wants to receive this gift of faith—anyone who wants to truly believe—accepts—affirms—and joyously proclaims and shares the content of this faith that the Church has preserved through the millennia.

A Holy person is hopeful. The Catechism tells us that hope is “The Theological virtue by which we desire and expect from God both eternal life and the grace we need to attain it.”(CCC p.882)

Above all a holy person loves—deeply, passionately, completely—unequivocally. As St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 13:13 “So faith, hope, love abide—these three—but the greatest of these is love.” When Jesus was confronted with the question—“What is the greatest commandment, He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength—and the second is this—you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mk. 12:30-31) Those who are holy are constantly striving to find ways that they can grow in love and they instinctively are drawn to the words of Jesus —“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”(Jn. 14:15) A holy, loving person yearns to know and discern God’s will—and then does it. A holy person is virtuous.

I have some other thoughts about holiness.

A holy person knows that life is a continuous warfare against the world, the flesh and the devil—those great threefold sources of sin. The Apostle Paul wrote about his own difficulty with sin in Romans 7:15—“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” And St. Peter tells us in the 5th chapter of his first epistle “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion—seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Holy people also know that life is fraught with suffering. Again St. Peter tells us—“Beloved, do not be surprised by the fiery ordeal which comes upon on you…But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, or a wrong doer, or a mischief maker—yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God.” (I Peter 4:12ff) We Catholics know that our suffering can be redemptive—and we are called to “offer it up” for the glory of God.

The holy person has a sense of constantly dying to self. In Galatians 2:20, St. Paul writes—“I have been crucified with Christ—it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Among other things there is translucence in holiness—one of my former bishops used to admonish each of us to be “an alabaster vase through which divine light shines.” In true holiness there is a simplicity which takes one beyond fear and beyond vanity. A truly holy person has no hidden agendas. Using a psychological term—the holy person is fully integrated. She is “wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.” (Mt. 10:16)

The holy person strives to have the mind of Christ. In I Cor. 2:16—St Paul states that he and his fellow Christians in Corinth had the ”mind of Christ.” It doesn’t mean that they knew every one of our Lord’s thoughts. But it does mean that they loved what Jesus loved—and they hated what Jesus hated. Above all—a holy person hates her own sin. She does not rationalize her behavior—she is constantly looking for those things done and left undone that separate her from God—for that is the essence of sin. It is when she has repented—and received the sacrament of reconciliation—and has returned fully to loving companionship with our Lord—then she can rest assured that her thoughts and Christ’s thoughts are united.

Holy people have childlikeness. Jesus tells us that in order to enter the Kingdom— we must become like a small child. A holy person is playful. This is where I got the great quote from G.K. Chesterton that we’ve embraced as a family motto—‘Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly’—the truly holy person does not take him or herself too seriously. The story is told of St. Seraphim of Sarov—Russian Orthodoxy’s greatest saint. Some ecclesiastical big wigs wanted to investigate him—to check out his alleged sanctity.

But when they went to his hut in the forest, they couldn’t find him anywhere. Finally someone spotted him. He was flat on his belly in the tall grass—playing “hide and go seek” with some of the neighboring farm kids.

The holy person has a reverence for life. This encompasses the biological life of all human beings—from conception to natural death—because we all have been created in the image of God. This means that there is a special concern for the most vulnerable—babies in the womb and the sick, the poor, the disabled and elderly infirm.

Finally, the Holy Person knows that he abides in Christ—knowing that this is a great spiritual mystery—and also knowing that this means being part of the Body of Christ—living in community—knowing that to be holy means to think “we instead of me,” knowing that Christ is found in the community—and especially in the broken and poor and downtrodden—as well as on the holy altar in the Eucharist—where we discern the “source and summit of our faith.”

In review—

What I have presented to you this morning is far from complete. Only God knows those who are truly holy—but there are indicators that I look for.

  • The holy person is virtuous, choosing the Moral Virtues—God given, and yet things for which we have to work— prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance—and embracing God’s gift of the Theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.
  • The holy person resists strongly the ever-present temptation to sin—and when they do sin, they flee to the confessional.
  • The holy person is constantly dying to self
  • The holy person strives to have the mind of Christ
  • The holy person is childlike
  • The holy person has a reverence for life
  • Holy people rejoices that they abide in Christ—both spiritually and in community—always thinking “we instead of me.”

My hope is that this will prompt your own thinking about holiness—as we all await the fullness of the Glory of God.

I pray you a most holy Easter.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!!