Sunday, November 27, 2011

Shaken & Stirred

Well, today we "launched the Missal"*--the full implementation of the long-anticipated 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, that is.  It wasn't too explosive, only a few misfires, and very few casualties.  It did shake things up a bit...which is only appropriate.
*True confession: I borrowed this clever turn of phrase from a deacon in the neighborhood.

   First Sunday of Advent   B 

The Nazis were already on their steady rise to power
when Fr. Alfred Delp entered a Jesuit seminary in 1926.
He could see where the Third Reich was heading—
and he was troubled that many of his fellow Germans did not.
Because he dared to speak out, Fr. Delp was arrested
and eventually hanged on February 2, 1945.

On scraps of paper smuggled out from a Nazi prison,
he wrote this reflection on his final Advent:
There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more
than to be genuinely shaken up.…
Many of the things that are happening today
would never have happened
if we had been living in that movement and disquiet of heart
which results when we are faced with God, the Lord,
and when we look clearly at things as they really are.…
Here is the message of Advent:
faced with him who is the Last, the world will begin to shake.…
It is time to awaken from sleep. 
It is time for a waking up to begin somewhere.…
[T]he great question to us
is whether we are still capable of being truly shocked
or whether it is to remain so that we see thousands of things
and know that they should not be and must not be,
and that we get hardened to them. 
How many things have we become used to
in the course of the years, of the weeks and months,
so that we stand unshocked, unstirred, inwardly unmoved.
Advent is a time of being deeply shaken,
so that man will wake up to himself.

Are you a deep sleeper?  Or maybe you live with one?
I certainly was Thursday night with a tummy full of turkey!
When it’s time to wake up,
the gentle approach just won’t do;
more drastic measures are called for.
And so it is with the slumber that overcomes the human soul.
When our hearts sleep, they tend to sleep deeply.
Blanketed by false securities,
they settle in for the spiritual equivalent of a long winter’s nap.

Advent comes along each year sounding like an alarm.
Or—at least—it should.
We’ve rather tamed Advent over the years.
A mere shadow of its former self,
Advent is now more like a clock radio set to easy listening,
playing ever so quietly to gently rouse us
for a sentimental celebration of Christmas four weeks hence.
But the Advent we really need
is more like a trumpet blaring in your ear,
or a firm hand gripping and rattling your shoulder,
or a big splash of cold water in your face—
a wake up call which simply cannot be ignored.
Not only is the feast of Christmas coming,
but we profess to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ
will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Faced with Christ’s return,
and with a world that’s clearly not as it should be,
we do well to pray with Isaiah,
not for comfort and joy, but for a cosmic disturbance:
Oh, that you would tear open the heavens, Lord,
and come down with the mountains quaking before you!

But, why all the quaking and shaking?
To what do we so urgently need to wake up?

First, we must wake up to the darkness—
the darkness that so often surrounds us,
the darkness that’s so often found within us.
Am I really satisfied with the state of this world
and the state of my own soul?
Advent’s promise of a Savior doesn’t mean much at all
if I don’t recognize that I’m powerless
and need saving in the first place:
helpless before my own sinfulness,
helpless before my own death,
helpless to give my life ultimate meaning and purpose.
Advent is wrapped not in shiny paper and bows,
but in the somber purple shades of penance and conversion.
What’s at stake in Advent is not being prepared for a beloved holiday;
what’s at stake is being prepared for eternity,
being receptive to salvation and its demands—
like clay in the hands of the potter.

But we don’t wake up to then just sit around in the dark.
Despite the need to face the darkness—
actually, because of it—Advent is joyful for,
as we’ll see in the increasing glow of this wreath of candles,
its promise is the coming of the Light.
We are weak, we are limited…
…but the Most High God
has assumed the lowliness of our human flesh.
In Jesus Christ, the Lord has come,
the Lord has overcome, and the Lord is coming again.
It is for this return, for this bright new dawn,
that we are to remain ever awake, watchful, and alert.
Would that you might find us doing right, Isaiah continues,
that we were mindful of you in our ways.

Am I well prepared to meet God face-to-face?
And not in some distant future—
after all, we know not the time—but even now?
That, of course, is the truth before which we ought to tremble.

Suspecting his death to be imminent, Fr. Delp wrote:
I see Advent this year
with greater intensity and anticipation than ever before. 
Walking up and down in my cell,
three paces this way and three paces that way,
with my hands in irons and ahead of me an uncertain fate,
I have a new and different understanding
of God’s promise of redemption and release.

May we allow the Lord to do likewise
and truly shake us up this Advent.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Nuts & Berries

Just a couple of scenes from the recent Thanksgiving festivities at my sister Jen's new home.

We begin with a bit of the Thanksgiving spread...

That's cranberries, four ways: (clockwise, from the right) homemade whole cranberry sauce, cranberry-maple chutney, cranberry tapenade, and--well--you know...  Yes, I'm responsible for three of these.  Can't a guy like cranberries?

And then my other sister, Cori, snapped this classic shot of her crazy brothers...

Good times, good times...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I heard this song tonight on NPR's World Cafe.  It's not exactly new...but it's new to me, and I rather like it.  Hope you do, too!

Gooble, Gooble

Whether you're eating some turkey or just happen to be acting like one, I pray that you and yours have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

That's me and the First Grade down at Holy Family School the other day.  Near Thanksgiving last year, I was invited to read the Kindergarden a book about the first Thanksgiving.  Needless to say, I arrived with the appropriate headgear.  Which meant that for the rest of the year, those kids called me "Fr. Turkey Head."  When they did so at their Kindergarden graduation last June, some of their parents and grandparents nearly popped a gasket at their apparent disrespect for the clergy...until they saw the slideshow of the year and discovered what all the fuss was really about.

Somehow, the name still seems to stick...

Sunday, November 20, 2011


At least, that's what it felt like this afternoon to take the rack off the top of the car, the gear out of the trunk, and to get everything stowed away in the garage for a long winter's nap.

But with a low of 18º F forecast for here seemed like it was about time.  Sigh.

A Few Words

Our Lord Jesus Christ the King [A]

On the radio this past week,
I heard a touching interview with retired astronaut Mark Kelly
and his wife, Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
As you no doubt recall,
Gabby Giffords was shot in the head last January 8
while meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona.
The story of her continuing recovery is truly inspiring.

Learning to speak again
has been a particular challenge for the Congresswoman.
Six months after the shooting,
she still couldn’t formulate a question.
So Mark was taken aback when he came home one evening
and Gabby asked, “How was your day?”
“It was a big event,” Mark says. “It was so big to me…
I could not remember one thing I did all day.…
[Gabby] had this momentous event
where she finally asked a question
and I had no answer because I was so happy about it.”

“How was your day?”
Such a simple phrase--just four words,
so common that most of us wouldn’t give it much thought--
but for this couple, in this moment,
it was absolutely jam-packed with meaning.

We have some very similar moments in the course of the Mass.

I think of one near the very beginning:
The Lord be with you.
> And with your spirit.
This is more than an ordinary, “Good morning!”
These words go back to the earliest days of Christianity:
drawn from the pages of the New Testament,
they unite us across countless generations of believers.
The Lord be with you.
I greet you not as Joe Giroux,
the sociable host of a community gathering;
no, this is a greeting that comes to us from the apostles.
I recognize you not as the citizenry of Malone,
a group of friendly neighbors and acquaintances;
instead, I see before me a family called together by God the Father,
the assembled Body of Christ,
the living temple of the Holy Spirit.

My father was an altar boy years ago.
There’s one part of the Latin Mass he still remembers quite well;
let’s see if there are any old altar boys here this morning…
Dominus vobiscum.
> Et cum spiritu tuo.
The new English translation of the Roman Missal
changes your response to better reflect this ancient Latin text.
And with your spirit.
This unusual formula clearly means something other than,
“The same to you, Father.”
You speak to me in this moment,
not as an individual man, but to my priestly spirit--
to that deepest part of me which was transformed
on the day of my ordination
that I might stand here before you in the place of Christ.
It’s not because I am somehow better than you
that you are to speak this way;
it’s precisely because I am just as human as you are
that the gifts of the Spirit need to be stirred up again in my heart.

The Lord be with you.
> And with your sprit.
In effect, I’m saying, “Remember who you are! 
I recognize that the Lord is in your midst. 
Be the people God calls you to be!”
And, in effect, you’re responding, “Remember who you are!
We recognize that Christ acts through you. 
Be the priest for us now!”  (cf. J. Driscoll)

Another brief exchange so rich with meaning
comes at the very end of Mass.
Go forth, the Mass is ended.
> Thanks be to God.
While most of the new Roman Missal
is just a new English translation of the same original Latin text,
it’s here that we encounter something entirely new.
At the request of the Synod of Bishops a few years back,
Pope Benedict XVI personally selected
a couple of new dismissals with which to conclude the Mass:
Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord, and,
Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.
These new dismissals are meant to remind us
that when we leave from Mass
we are sent--and sent with a mission from God.
(That’s one good reason why we should never leave early!)
It’s not enough for us to recognize Christ’s presence
for the hour or so we come together at the altar;
we go out to meet and serve Christ in his least ones,
whenever and wherever we find them.
We are to take what happens in church out into the streets:
bread and wine are transformed that you might be transformed;
and you are transformed that the world might be transformed.
In a certain sense, the Mass is never ended;
the work of God in us, with us, and through us goes on
until we return here again.
Go and announce the Gospel.
Go and glorify the Lord by your life.
Go, and keep on going, sent with God’s blessing,
until Christ should come in glory.

It is particularly appropriate
that we should reflect on these words of the Mass
as the Church celebrates the Solemnity
of our Lord Jesus Christ the King.

Christ is a King unlike any other.

First, Christ is a King who is also our Priest.
A king can claim to speak to his people
on behalf of God.
A priest can claim to speak to God
on behalf of the people.
True God and true man, Jesus Christ fulfills both roles.
And through the many priests he has chosen
to share in his one priesthood,
Christ continues to exercise his unique authority
and to offer his perfect sacrifice in and for his Church.

And Christ is a King who is also a Shepherd.
Not aloof and removed
from the troubles of those subject to him,
Christ tends to the sick and the injured of his flock,
seeking the stray
and rescuing those who have been scattered.
He sends us forth to do likewise:
providing for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked;
caring for the sick and imprisoned;
welcoming the stranger.
When our Shepherd takes up his glorious throne,
it will be based on this measure
that he separates the sheep from the goats.

Gabby Giffords now regularly asks her husband,
“How was your day?”
And, Mark admits, it’s already become
just another ordinary question again.

May the words of the new Roman Missal, however,
remain ever fresh and meaningful for us.
Indeed, they are part of no ordinary exchange;
they give shape to the ongoing conversation we have
with our Priest, our Shepherd, our King.
And for that: Thanks be to God!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happiness is...

...celebrating one holiday at a time.  Or so they believe at Nordstroms, I guess:

I guess this has been the department store's corporate policy for some time now (all the way back to the '70's...when it didn't stand out from the crowd quite so much).  Makes me kinda wish we had one nearby...or at least another store that thinks much the same.

In checking this out, I learned that the opposite trend (anticipating Christmas--or at least Christmas shopping--earlier and earlier) is known as "the Christmas creep."  Rather aptly named, no?

Friday, November 18, 2011

In the Spirit of Giving

My dear friend Dr. William Guiffre, a well-respected educator and former parishioner of mine at St. Anthony's in Inlet, is spending his retirement writing children's books--including a few delightful Christmas stories...

Bill has very generously offered to donate to us 35% from purchases made on his website by those who say they're from the Malone Catholic Parishes. His books are available at: 

They make great gifts for the young and the young at heart! Check 'em out, and please be sure to let him know you're from MCP when placing your order.  

Thanks a bunch, Bill!

Hot Dawg!

This morning, I got all duded up in my priestly finery to pay a visit to our own Holy Family School.  For a second year, at the invitation of their social studies teacher (who just happens to also be the principal), I did a little clerical "fashion show" for the eight graders (all boys this year), explaining the Catholic priest's traditional garb and how it relates to the more "normal" clothing of your ordinary gentleman.

(Maybe not so closely related to the clothing you see on these gentlemen.)  They, of course, love all the hats (as did the younger grades when I popped in to say hello).  I, of course, love walking along Main Street between the rectory and school, wondering what people are thinking when they see this black-caped man as they make their morning commute.  (Last year I did this a bit closer to Christmas, while my car was in the shop, so I was driving down a snowy Main Street in one of the big ol' parish trucks.  Nothing like subtlety...)

And then this afternoon, Fr. Stitt and I were invited to take part in a "focus group" taste test at the local Glazier hot dog plant.  Glazier dogs are a local institution; I grew up on the things.  They're working on a new product, and we got to be among the lucky few to give our opinion about it.

How much fun is that?  (I'd say more, but I don't want to give away any trade secrets.)  A few hot dogs later, and it was back to the office.

All in a day's work, I guess...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I sent this letter into our local paper, The Malone Telegram.  It was published today.
To the editor:
This letter is in response to Monday's editorial by Bill Press, “Why are footfall coaches just like Catholic bishops?” (11/14/11).  I’ve read a number of similar editorials in the last week--in print and online, in the secular and the religious press --drawing parallels between the recent accusations of child sexual abuse at Penn State and those which have come to light in the Catholic Church over the course of the last decade. 
What strikes me most is how “surprised” the authors appear to be about the similarities: abuse of power; leaders willing to look the other way in order to preserve the reputation of a revered institution; more concern about the damaging potential of scandal than preserving the innocence of children.  Such things are surely disturbing, wherever they’re found. 
I guess it’s the apparent “surprise” that troubles me most.  We’ve pretty much abandoned the notion that the only threat to our little ones is a stranger with candy…but have we substituted another boogeyman who’s lurking “out there,” somewhere else? 
The patterns of abuse and cover-up which have been pointed out in recent days are not limited to this church or that institution of higher learning--and the longer we think, speak, and write as if they were, the longer we leave our kids at great risk.  The tragedy of the sexual exploitation of children is an issue that pervades the whole of society.  Pointing an accusing finger toward “them” in no way can absolve “us” of our responsibility. 
Do we stand idly, silently by as culture and commerce hyper-sexualize just about everything--including the very young?  What are we doing to prevent abuse where it happens so frequently: within context of the family?  Do we think of this as a problem for somebody else to deal with?  And if so, aren’t we, too, just looking the other way in an effort to preserve our own false sense of security? 
Sadly, we can expect to continue to read headlines and op-eds about what’s wrong with the clergy and coaches and other people to whom we’ve entrusted the care of our youth.  But until our society as a whole does a little soul-searching, examining our collective conscience and confessing our shared sins of omission, we can also expect to be “surprised” that children suffer at the hands of adults because of this horrendous crime. 
Rev. Joseph W. Giroux
Malone Catholic Parishes

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Good Fit

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

I hate buying new shoes.
I have rather wide feet (thanks, Dad!)
and finding a pair that fits well is a challenge.
So when I do find a pair that looks good and feels good—
well, I always have this notion of going out
and buying—say—four, five, six pairs of the same,
tucking them in the back of the closet,
and being all set for a very long time.
Of course, I’ve never actually done this…
…and when I finally decide to go shopping again,
those shoes I’ve been so crazy about
just aren’t for sale any more.

Earlier this year, Bishop Edward Grosz, auxiliary bishop of Buffalo,
said that most American Catholics
are going to find the new translation of the Roman Missal
a lot like buying a new pair of shoes.
At first, Mass-goers should expect things to be a bit uncomfortable:
seemingly ill-fitting, maybe even rubbing us the wrong way.
The “old” translation of the Roman Missal
has served us well and will be missed.
(It’s the only text of the Mass that I have ever known.)
But if we grant the new Missal some “breaking in” time,
Bishop Grosz assures us,
then things will come around to the point
where we not only feel comfortable with the changes,
but find that they provide us
with an even richer experience of the Mass.

Now, it’s not really fair to call
what will happen in two short weeks a “change.”
True, this is more than a simple revision;
it’s a whole new translation of the prayers of the Mass.
But the Mass itself isn’t changing.
It helps to remember that this is a far, far cry from the reforms
which followed the Second Vatican Council back in the 1960’s.
I don’t personally remember those days…but many of you do.
The Mass didn’t just sound a little different after Vatican II;
it swapped languages altogether—from Latin to English—
besides looking and feeling a whole lot different, too.
That was really uncomfortable for many folks;
indeed, some still aren’t over it—more than 40 years later.
And yet, when the dust finally settled, most Catholics would agree:
it was a pretty good thing.

It’s important for us to recall at a moment like this
that the Mass isn’t something we create from scratch—
a human invention easily adapted to changing times and tastes.
No, the Mass is something we receive—
a gift we’re given, a sacred trust—
which has developed across the ages
according to its own inner logic. (cf. J. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy)
In this way, it follows the pattern of the talents
in this Sunday’s Gospel parable.
The departing master gives a large sum of money to his servants—
and with a distinct purpose in mind.
Since each talent—
an ancient monetary unit,
averaging 85 pounds of silver apiece—
was worth about 20 years of an average laborer’s wages,
the master’s rather high expectations are understandable.
But those who are willing to make the investment he desires
can look to reap a profit—and a very significant one, at that.
To everyone who has, more will be given;
from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Sounds like something they’re protesting
down on Wall Street these days!
But in the strange accounting of the kingdom of heaven,
those who are rich in the things of the spirit do keep getting richer.
Notice that the master doesn’t take for himself
any of the profits made by his faithful servants;
the investment he demands
is entirely for their benefit—not his own.
You see, nothing pleases God more
than enriching his creatures.  (cf. A. Vaonier)
The Lord’s purpose
is to just keep piling the treasures of heaven upon us
that we, in turn, might multiply them
for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.
There’s only one thing that can stand in the way
of this divinely-sanctioned get-rich scheme,
and that’s burying our talent for safe keeping—
leaving it to sit idly by,
recognizing neither its true potential…nor our own.  (cf. A. Giambrone)

The liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council
called for the “full, conscious, and active participation”
of Catholics in the liturgy. (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14)
In response, parishes fostered a whole lot of activity.
All kinds of new “jobs” sprang up at Mass:
we were used to having altar servers, ushers, and a choir;
now we’ve added deacons, readers,
extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, cantors and greeters.
It’s as if Vatican II said, “OK, everybody—get busy!”
These diverse ministries are important, of course,
and have a been a positive step.
But all this activity can distract us and keep us from realizing
that “full, conscious, and active participation”
isn’t really about making sure
that as many people as possible have something special to do.
That’s because the most crucial action in the Mass
is the one undertaken by God—and not anything done by us.
The Mass reaches its high point as God in Christ
becomes really and truly present to us in the Eucharist.
But are we fully, consciously, and actively present to God?

And that’s where the analogy of buying new shoes breaks down.
A new shoe’s fit improves
as it takes on the unique shape of my foot.
But when it comes to the liturgy,
the “right fit” isn’t about the Mass conforming to me;
it’s about me being conformed to the Mass.
I most actively participate when I model my life
on what happens at the altar:
when I unite myself to Christ and his one, perfect sacrifice.
No multiplication of ministries, no words from any sacred text,
can do that for me.
A movement of the heart is required;
I must consciously invest myself.

As much as I always dread the prospect,
when I finally do give in and buy a new pair of shoes,
I so often discover that the new ones
suit me much, much better than the old.
But I would never come to know this
if I didn’t allow some time for “breaking in.”
Let us likewise receive the new Roman Missal as it is intended:
as a gift—a gift of immense value, a gift with a high purpose.
God has invested so very much in us.
Let us now invest ourselves in the Mass and in the Missal—
with real openness, great enthusiasm, and deep trust—
and surely it will turn a rich profit,
surely it will give us a share in our Master’s joy.

Friday, November 11, 2011

St. Martin (the Unflappable)

In the seminary, candidates for the priesthood undergo constant evaluation.  One of the rather positive things that kept coming up during my evaluations over the years was that I always seemed so calm--as I recall, "unflappable" was the precise adjective used by the rector on one occasion.  Praise God, despite crazy circumstances, I have--in general--experienced a whole lot of peace in my life.  So I was quite amused when I saw this on the funnies page during breakfast this morning:

(Prudently, Fr. Stitt advised that if I posted this strip without further comment it might be taken by some as a covert cry for help!  But there are days...)

And then, when I sat down with my breviary to pray, I came across the passage below in the Office of Readings (long an annual favorite) for today's memorial of St. Martin of Tours (316-397), the Hungarian-born soldier turned French monk and then bishop who was one of the very first (outside of Biblical figures and the early martyrs) to be widely recognized as a Christian saint:
Martin knew long in advance the time of his death and he told his brethren that it was near.…In their sorrow they cried to him with one voice: “Father, why are you deserting us? Who will care for us when you are gone?”…Turning to our Lord, he made this reply to their pleading: “Lord, if your people need me, I am ready for the task; your will be done.”

Here was a man words cannot describe. Death could not defeat him, nor toil dismay him. He was quite without a preference of his own; he neither feared to die nor refused to live. With eyes and hands always raised to heaven he never withdrew his unconquered spirit from prayer. 
--Sulpicius Severus, from a letter on the death of Saint Martin of Tours

An interesting juxtaposition, no?  (And not just because it's Peanuts next to the Divine Office!)  

There's something to be said for serenity in the face of life's many challenges--when it's one that penetrates beneath the surface, of course.  Oh, to have such an "unconquered spirit"!  To live with such detachment, and willingness to serve!

St. Martin, the "Unflappable," pray for us!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


A dear friend ( a HS biology teacher) sent me this novel take on the OWS phenomenon.  For those of you more zoologically inclined...

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I had to laugh that on the morning when the clocks "fall back," we heard Jesus saying, "You do not know the hour..."

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Preaching on this Sunday’s gospel parable,
a professor at a Protestant seminary reached the heart of his sermon
and asked the students who filled the chapel,
“Young men, tell me,
would you rather be in the light with the wise virgins,
or out in the dark with the foolish virgins?” 
Needless to say, the service ended early!  (cf. M. Anders)

Back at the time Jesus walked this earth,
wedding celebrations lasted for days.
The climactic moment came
when the groom arrived at the bride’s house,
where waiting bridesmaids greeted him joyfully.
Sometimes, the groom would purposefully delay his arrival
to heighten the spirit of expectation
and maybe—just maybe—catch the bridesmaids off guard.

So, what was the big mistake
of those five foolish bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable?
Running out of oil was their first mistake…but not their biggest one.
Their big mistake wasn’t even falling asleep;
the wise virgins are caught dosing off, too.
No, their big mistake was running off to the store.  (cf. A. Giambrone)
For one thing, it was crazy to think they’d find a merchant
open for business in the middle of the night.
(No 24-hour shopping 2,000 year ago!)
But…think about it:
the whole reason they’ve been hanging around,
the whole reason they’re worried about lighting lamps at midnight,
is to meet the bridegroom when he arrives
and escort him into the wedding feast.
And they miss it!
They know he’s getting close…
…but they step away to try and buy some oil anyway.
Oh, if the groom had found their lamps grown dim
he might have been a little disappointed…
…but at least he’d be happy for the warm greeting
and most likely still bring them into the party along with him.
But instead of cutting their losses,
the five foolish virgins are completely absent from the scene
and so find themselves locked out in the dark.

In their effort to understand this parable,
Christians have put forth many theories
about how to understand the lamp oil of which Jesus speaks.
Some have speculated that the oil represents faith.
Some propose that the oil is our good works or our virtue.
But taking into account the “big mistake” of the five foolish virgins,
I’m most convinced by those who think the lamp oil
stands for a close, personal relationship with the Lord.  (cf. B. Stoffregen)
Isn’t that, in fact, what fuels us to do good and be good—
to allow our light to shine out before others?  (cf. Matt 5:15-16)
Such an interpretation makes sense
of the wise virgins’ refusal to share their oil—
since I can’t use or borrow someone else’s rapport with God.
It also makes sense
of the bridegroom’s response through the locked door:
“I do not know you.”

How much of that oil is in my flask?

I’ve been privileged on a few occasions to meet the Holy Father—
even to introduce my parents to the late John Paul II.
So I can, in some true sense, say, “I know the Pope!”
(And I even have the pictures to prove it.)
But wouldn’t it be another thing altogether
to be able to say, “The Pope knows me”?

So often, the criteria we use for evaluating our spiritual lives is,
How well do I know the Lord?
And by that we usually mean:
How well did I learn my catechism?
How often do I get to Mass? say the rosary? read the Bible?
But maybe a better question would be,
How well does the Lord know me?
How close have I allowed God to get?
How much do I share with him?
Have I invited God to be part of everything I do? 
Is our relationship rather formal…or truly personal?
a bit distant…or growing ever closer?

I enjoy local writer Mary White’s
occasional articles in the Press Republican.
She shared this great story in yesterday’s paper:
My mother's father died when he was 96.
There was a scene at his wake that I will never forget.
An old woman tottered in, bent over a cane.
She walked unsteadily up to my Aunt Mary
and grasped her hand with gnarled fingers.
Weeping openly, her weak voice trembled as she spoke,
"You never know, do you?"
From my young, cocky vantage point, I thought,
"Well, along about 96, you start to suspect."

Whatever our age, Jesus warns us,
“Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
What I do know is that my time is limited,
and if I wait till the very end—
the end of my life, the end of this world as I know it—
then it will be too late to establish the sort of relationship
which God wants to start with me now,
and which God hopes will last into eternity.

Religious bumper stickers can be pretty funny,
yet still carry an important message.
There’s one you’ll sometimes see that reads:

That brings to mind the big mistake of the foolish bridesmaids.
But there’s another with a bit more wisdom behind it; it asks: 

And that—my friends—is the question.

What Christ the Bridegroom wants most is not your lamp…but you.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Souls Day

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

What does the word “suffrage” bring to mind?
“Suffrage” as a word meaning, “the right to vote,”
first appears in 1787, in the U.S. Constitution.
“Suffrage” had a more general meaning of “lending support”
(hence the connection with voting—supporting a candidate).
But the word first appeared in the English language
all the way back in the 1300’s with a rather different sense:
that of pleading or praying on another’s behalf—
particularly, on behalf of the dead.
(Now, I could make some snarky comment here
about what many of our political candidates
have in common with those who are dead and buried…
…but that would get me off track!)

It is a basic human instinct to pray and to plead,
to make offerings in suffrage for the dead.
We see that played out in our first reading,
as Judas Maccabeus takes up a collection
that a sacrifice may be offered in the Temple
on behalf of his fallen soldiers
for the forgiveness their sins.  (2 Macc 12:43-46)
This same instinct lies behind our Catholic funeral rites,
the ancient custom of having Masses offered for the dead,
and today’s commemoration of All Souls Day.

But I fear we’re losing this sense of suffrage.
Many funerals today are referred to as “celebrations of life,”
and are focused more on comforting the living (albeit an importnat thing)
than on making any atonement for the dead.
And when folks request Masses for their departed loved ones,
the emphasis seems to fall on hearing their names read from the pulpit, 
rather than the sacrifice—of infinite merit—offered upon the altar.
Talk turns to keeping the memory of the dead
alive in our hearts and minds…
…but what would be left, then, when our memories fade?
Wouldn’t the focus be better placed
on reminding God about the dead—
since to live on in God's memory is, in fact, to live forever?

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, once wrote:
I would go so far as to say that if there were no purgatory,
then we would have to invent it,
for who would dare say of himself
that he was able to stand directly before God.  (God and the World, 2002)
For those who die in God’s friendship,
the work of our purification goes on
until we are made ready to enter the fullness of his presence.
We may not be able to raise the dead,
as Jesus did his dear friend, Lazarus. (Jn 11:32-45)
But the bonds of love and affection endure beyond the grave,
and we owe it to our deceased family and friends
to lift them up in prayer before the Father,
assisting them on their journey to heaven’s endless joy.

There is an interesting connection that can be made
between the two meanings of “suffrage.”
If you help vote a candidate into office,
doesn’t he or she owe you something?
(And, no…I’m not talking about buying or selling your vote.)
An elected official has a duty
to then represent your needs and interests.
Now, imagine that you’ve helped someone get
not into elected office, but into paradise.
Talk about having friends in high places…
…and ones who will be eternally grateful!
Consider how well they would then represent you—
your needs and your interests—before God.
Let us not neglect our duty
to offer prayerful sacrifice in suffrage for the faithful departed—
and not just for our own loved ones,
but also for the forgotten dead,
those for whom there is no one else to pray.

We believe that we shall see the good things of the Lord
in the land of the living.  (Psalm 27)
In the communion of the saints, between this life and the next,
let us continually implore God’s mercy
on behalf of one another.