Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Isaiah 25:6-10a; Matthew 15:29-37)

People speak of “death with dignity,” but, as a leading bioethicist has observed, death always compromises human dignity. It refuses to recognize the person’s desire not only to live but to thrive. Of course, what people mean by the term is a death without the depersonalization of medical technology, without intense long-term suffering, and with the person controlling some of the circumstances about her demise. Full dignity, however, goes beyond these considerations. It is a quality of soul engendered by virtuous living. In death dignity is reflected especially in courage that expresses gratitude for life even as it drains away and pursues reconciliation with God and others to leave the world a friendlier place.

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah promises a heavenly banquet for those who die with full dignity. On that occasion the tears that they may have shed bearing pain or seeking peace will be graciously wiped away. Also, the God to whom they entrusted themselves will reveal Himself as their savior. The gospel passage foreshadows that banquet with Jesus providing the repast as he shows himself the fulfillment of the people’s deepest desires.

During Advent we look for Jesus to come and console us in our efforts to live virtuously. We yearn for him to escort us to the table of plenty which our Eucharist foreshadows. Finally, we hear him tell us the best way to prepare for his arrival is the same virtuous lifestyle.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feast of Saint Andrew, apostle

(Romans 10:9-18; Matthew 4:18-22)

Although we know very little with certainty about St. Andrew, Catholics probably remember his feast day more than that of any other apostle. November 30 is etched in our minds because of its closeness to the beginning of Advent. The day does not really commence the season, but the Sunday closest to the date always is its beginning.

As Advent begins a new liturgical year, the call of Andrew begins a new chapter in Jesus’ life. Described more specifically in the Gospel according to John but indicated as well in today’s reading from Matthew, Andrew’s vocation marks the beginning of Jesus’ formation of disciples. He will eventually direct part of this entourage – his apostles -- to take his message to the ends of the earth. With this role, as the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans today indicates, apostles are instrumental to many people’s salvation. They also pay a stiff price for the honor. Tradition views each of the twelve apostles, with the possible exception of John, as martyrs. Andrew is said to have been martyred on an X-shaped cross.

At the beginning of Advent, the feast of St. Andrew anchors the Christ, whom we await at the end of time, to the historical Jesus. We are not to wait for him on our haunches but, like this apostle, by evangelizing with words of truth and deeds of mercy. The suffering that we may experience in doing so will give witness to Jesus’ Lordship over creation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday of the First Week in Advent

(Isaiah 4:2-6; Matthew 8:5-11)

Ask any professional about how to do a fund-raising campaign. She will tell you that personal appeal is all important. You have to ask people – face-to-face if at all possible – for money if you expect to reach your goal. The rule is, “If you do not ask for something, you will get nothing.

The centurion in the gospel today seems instinctively aware of the fundraising rule. Very directly he seeks Jesus’ help. What’s more remarkable here, however, is his faith in Jesus as Lord. He does not ask Jesus to come and treat his servant but only to give the order that the servant be healed. Only God with angels at His service would be able to effect a cure from a distance.

As the beginning of Advent, we are being called to imitate this centurion. First, we should not hesitate a moment to call upon Jesus with our needs – preferably person-to-person in the Eucharist. Maybe we seek the healing of someone like the centurion in the gospel or, perhaps, assistance in overcoming a personal challenge. Then we are to put complete faith in him. This does not mean that we expect an answer to our prayers explicitly as requested but that we know that he will take care of our need.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 20:1-4.11-21.2; Psalm 84; Luke 21:29-33)

Apocalypse is the Greek word for revelation. For this reason the last book of the Bible, from which we take the first reading today, is alternatively called the Apocalypse or the Book of Revelation. Apocalyptic literature, however, of which the Apocalypse is the only full New Testament example, has a meaning beyond revelatory. It also refers to the cosmic struggle between God and the powers of darkness causing the end of the world as it now exists and its replacement by the Kingdom of God. Today’s first reading gives a figurative account of that struggle and the coming Kingdom characterized by “a new heaven” and “a new earth.”

Since all acknowledge the destiny of the present world to be annihilation, some have questioned the value of working for a better world. “Why take risks to create a better society” they ask, “when we know that this world is bound to crumble?” The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of the Second Vatican Council addresses this issue. It declares, “…the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one.” Its reasoning is that we can institute values and constructs that will endure in the future age of grace. For sure, it warns us not to equate earthly progress with the heavenly Kingdom, but nevertheless it insists that since Christ began the work of the Kingdom when he walked the earth, his followers have the responsibility of carrying on his efforts. In other words, we must do what we can to build up the Kingdom of God while recognizing that our work can never be perfect or complete. In time, Jesus will come again to crown our achievements.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

(Sirach 50:22-24; I Corinthians 1:3-9; Luke 17”11-19)

There is a touch of irony in the fact that the Pilgrims, who originated the American tradition of Thanksgiving, did not celebrate Christmas. When December 25 came around, the Pilgrims made sure not to stop their work to rejoice. They considered the celebration of Christmas a pagan custom to be shunned. Today, of course, Thanksgiving begins the Christmas season in the United States. From the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Christmas Parade to “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, when Christmas shopping begins in earnest, Thanksgiving anticipates the celebration of the Lord’s birth.

There is certainly sufficient reason for linking Thanksgiving Day and Christmas. As St. Paul does in the first reading today, we reserve our most special thanks to God for Jesus Christ. He crowns our lives with hope and infinite love. At times, in our struggle to do the right thing – to become holy, as Pope Benedict constantly reminds us – we wonder if anyone cares. We may not want to make a spectacle of our donation to charity because Jesus tells us to give alms in secret but wonder whether it would be better for everyone if people saw what we are doing. Jesus, however, assures us that our heavenly Father notes our action. Or perhaps we ask ourselves if we should not listen to lewd comedians as many people do. But then we remember how Jesus promises that the pure of heart shall see God.

Today Americans give thanks for many gifts, especially freedom, opportunity, and plenty. Yet God’s most precious offering to us is His son who deepens our freedom, expands our opportunities, and multiplies our plenty. Our thanks to Him for these benefits stretch from today, through Christmas and throughout the new year.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, priest and martyr and his companions

(Revelation 15:1-4; Luke 21:12-19)

Eastern Europeans are largely oblivious to wide-eyed Western idealists who show little stomach for arms. Tempered by the bitter experience of iron-hand Communist rule, Poles, Czechs, and Ukrainians suffer few illusions that nations will live in harmony anytime soon. They would resonate with John, the Presbyter, in the first reading. After being exiled, he only revels at the dream of angels preparing plagues to be hurled at his people’s persecutors.

On the other hand, people who have not experienced persecution can barely stomach the Book of Revelation when it describes divine retribution. They believe the accounts fanciful and almost un-Christian. But they should recognize at least the possibility of a fearful justice being realized. After all, the gospels are full of phrases warning of teeth-grinding and hell-fire. Perhaps, however, the fear warranted by such admonitions is more properly intellectual – that of missing out of life’s fulfillment – than physical – burning in oblivion.

In any case those who strive for righteousness will feel awe before the Lord as he rescues his people. This transcendence is John’s vision of the saved standing victoriously over their nemeses. We can easily imagine the hundred plus Vietnamese martyrs, whom the Church celebrates today, in this throng. Assured that their suffering would not go unnoticed, they persevered in their faith to the bitter end.

Tuesday, November 22, 2010

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 14:14-19; Luke 21:5-11)

After reading the famous judgment scene in Matthew 25, we might wonder, what’s wrong with goats? After all, Jesus never explains why they are used to describe the hell-bound who cared not for the needy. Similarly, we may ask why, in today’s first reading from Revelation, the grape crop is cut and burned while the first fruit harvested is apparently stored and cherished. Nothing is said about the grapes tasting bitter or containing poison.

Perhaps, however, there is something about grapes that intimates corruption. The reading says that the harvested grapes are ripe, that is fully mature – big, round, and juicy. They look nutritious but have little body to provide sustenance. We can think of vain people who would deceive others to consider themselves as more accomplished than they are in reality. Some years ago, for example, the newly hired coach at Notre Dame had to resign for lying on his resume.

Judgment scenes in the Scriptures are notoriously severe. We pray that when we go before the bench, God might forgive our shortcomings as well as those of loved ones. Yet it would be presumptuous to think that we might lie and bluff our way past the just judge that God is. Instead, let us make a habit now of speaking little of ourselves and regarding others, as St. Paul admonishes, as our betters.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, virgin and martyr

(Revelation 14:1-3.4b-5; Luke 21:1-4)

Pope Benedict has written that sacred music makes its hearers aware of the glory of God. But what makes music sacred? Certainly sacredness in this sense means more than its being played in church for sometimes we hear music there that belongs more to a rock concert. One commentator on Benedict’s statement writes that sacred music gives us a sense of eternity by the use of counterpoint to attune our ears to a higher order of time.

Musical theory may be beyond most of us, but all of us can feel the grandeur of the “Hallelujah” chorus. Such music inspires us to transcend base desires so that we might sing God’s praises with the choir. It recognizes that God both supplies us the wherewithal to overcome sin and judges us if we squander His graces.

Today we celebrate the patron of sacred music, St. Cecilia, a Roman martyr of the second or third century. Coincidentally, the first reading describes sacred music descending from heaven. It thunders like a thousand-pipe organ with all stops released. But the tune cannot be easily joined. Not a fine ear, but a pure heart is necessary to sing along. The Book of Revelation is urging us to lead righteous lives if we hope to sing with the saints. It urges us to follow the teaching of the Lamb of God who is Christ.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 10:8-11; Luke 19:45-48)

Franz Jӓgerstӓtter died at the hands of the Nazis toward the end of World War II. He was an ordinary farmer with a wife and three daughters until war broke out and he was called to fight in the German army. He knew that the Nazis were thugs and took his stand as a conscientious objector. For a while he was allowed to maintain his neutrality, but by 1943 the Nazis would no longer tolerate his resistance. They tried him for sedition and summarily beheaded him. Jӓgerstӓtter defended his position before critics who told him to think of his family. Before his death, he wrote, “I cannot believe that, just because one has a wife and children, a man is free to offend God."

In the first reading, Presbyter John conveys how Jӓgerstӓtter felt before the guillotine ended his life. John says that a prophet announces God’s will with euphoria. It is indeed a privilege to speak the word of God. But words have meaning, and actions have consequences. To preach the word of God, a prophet needs courage. Some will rightly judge him or her on the basis of fidelity to the preached message. Others ignominiously persecute the prophet because the truth he or she speaks constrains their will to do as they please.

Although Jӓgerstӓtter made the ultimate sacrifice for his faith, his story actually has a sweet ending. In 2007 he was beatified by the Church. There was no call for a miracle to show Blessed Franz Jӓgerstӓtter’s sanctity because the farmer-war resister was declared a martyr of the faith.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

(Revelation 5:1-10; Luke 19:41-44)

The Marriage Encounter weekend includes two sessions entitled “Marriage in the Plan of the World” and “Marriage in the Plan of God.” The first describes marriage as a contract made to enhance the self until the relationship might interfere with individual fulfillment. The second shows marriage as a covenant in which the couple makes a permanent commitment to give of themselves for the good of each other. Since following the world’s ways only leads to disillusionment, people need to know the plan of God.

The scroll which the Almighty holds in His hand in the reading from Revelation is similarly His plan for the world. It likewise needs to be revealed so that people may attain happiness. But its revelation requires credibility that comes from giving perfect witness. Only the Almighty’s Son can do this, the one we know as Jesus Christ and pictured here as the “lamb of God.” Christ’s words, reinforced by his deeds, show us the primacy of self-sacrificing love. Without this revelation, life turns hollow or, at best, sours when evil raises hard questions.

Everyday we join the rest of creation in the hymn of praise to the lamb for undergoing the trial that reveals God’s plan. Now we can bear with injury knowing that God has something wonderful in mind for those who practice true love.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary

(Revelation 4:1-11; Luke 19:11-28)

Liturgy connects us with the mysteries of salvation so that we might participate in their splendor. The Eucharistic liturgy, for example, enables us to experience Jesus’ death and resurrection as if we were there when they took place. It is more efficacious than a dramatization because we actually take part in the action. The passage from the Book of Revelation today shows the liturgy of the heavens with all creation giving glory to God.

The Almighty sits on a throne sparkling like jewels. The twenty-four elders enthroned around the Him represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. Their white garments indicate their faithfulness and their golden crowns victory over their oppressors. The four living creatures are traditionally associated with the four evangelists, but their symbolism goes deeper. They represent the range of creation harmoniously praising God.

The liturgy here closes the first part of the Book of Revelation. Seven letters describing the strengths and weaknesses of Christian churches under persecution have been read. Although the persecution will continue, the liturgy assures a victorious outcome. The purpose of the service is to encourage the churches to keep the faith despite persecution. We today find hope in the message for the persecution continues. Whether we are menaced by bombs like the Christians of Iraq or by our personal desires taking us beyond the boundaries of the good, we want to continue living what we believe. The assured end will make our efforts worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 3:1-6.14-22; Luke 19:1-10)

George Harrison expressed the desire of Zacchaeus and each of us when he sang, “Lord, I just want to see you.” Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a bird eye’s view of Jesus passing by. We have to strain our imaginations to picture him. Although he is often portrayed as tall, ruddy, and long-haired, the gospels actually reveal nothing of what Jesus looked like.

But seeing Jesus with one’s eyes holds no great advantage. Most of those who saw Jesus did not choose to follow him. Indeed, the majority of witnesses to his miracles turned their backs on his call to conversion. More important than seeing Jesus is having faith in him. As he says in John’s Gospel, “’Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’”

Surprising to many, Zacchaeus expresses such faith. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus is expected to swindle the poor, not to treat them with kindness. But he couldn’t be more generous as he promises to give the needy half of his possessions. The only recognizable motive for his doing so is his belief that since Jesus brings salvation, what better thing is there to do with one’s wealth than to share it with Jesus’ special friends.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Memorial of Saint Albert the Great, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Revelation 1:1-4.2:1-5; Luke 18:35-43)

It is one thing to see, but quite another to see with insight. A trainee can look at human tissue through a microscope, but a biologist names the different kinds of cells she sees. A fifth-grader can read a racing form, but a handicapper will more often than not pick winners.

In the gospel today Jesus enables a blind man to see, but the man sees more in Jesus than a healer. He recognizes him as a savior to be followed forever. Similarly, St. Albert the Great, whose feast we celebrate today, was an authority of his time on fauna and fossa, but his greater achievement perhaps was recognizing the glory of God in nature.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Memorial of St. Josephat, bishop and martyr

(II John 4-9; Luke 17:26-37)

It may seem that those whom the presbyter John accuses in the first reading today of not believing that Jesus Christ came in the flesh are spiritualists who have little appetite for carnal pleasure. The truth is likely the opposite. They probably believe that Jesus’ enlightenment is psychological to the extent that it does not matter what they do with their bodies. So they indulge vigorously in sexual pleasure. Of course, as the presbyter points out, Jesus is fully human, his grace chastens the body as well as the soul, and his followers must discipline themselves.

One wonders if pastoral challenges change much over the centuries. Today also a few still believe that they can live a promiscuous life and be faithful Christians. One woman is quoted in a book on preaching that this is what Jesus means when he says that he comes to bring life in its fullness. But the Church teaches strongly and consistently that following Christ includes curbing sexual desire so that fulfillment comes not in pleasure but in sacrificing oneself for the good of others.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Memorial of St. Martin of Tours

(Philemon 7-20; Luke 17:20-25)

The Letter to Philemon differs from other Pauline letters in the New Testament in several ways. It is the shortest of the letters – so short that the editor several centuries ago did not divide it into chapters. Also, it is the only canonical letter which all scholars agree was genuinely written by St. Paul directed to an individual. Finally, the letter involves one specific issue – the acceptance of Onesimus back into Philemon’s household. Despite its brevity and specificity, we are wise to consider this letter well because, as one scholar maintains, “Philemon’s problem” is “the problem of any believer.”

Onesimus is a runaway slave who Paul has instructed in the Christian faith. Now Paul is sending him back to his master with the appeal that he be accepted as “a brother.” What does he mean here? Paul is at least suggesting that that Philemon not punish Onesimus for his flight. He is also hinting that Philemon set Onesimus free. Of course, even the first request might create trouble for Philemon. Slaves’ misconduct was expected to be punished to deter further transgression of rules. And if Philemon were to set Onesimus free, his other slaves would likely beat the same path to Paul’s door so that they too might gain liberty.

Fortunately, the institution of slavery barely exists today. But still Christians are plagued by the dilemma of what to do when contemporary norms conflict with moral principles. Should we fight in a war that our government starts with a preemptive strike? Should we vote for a political candidate with many excellent credentials except that she legitimizes abortion? Should we shop at stores which do not give employees health insurance? Scripture provides us no easy answers to these questions just as Paul gives Philemon no clear directive. We should, however, search for the right thing to do just as Paul expects Philemon to consider Onesimus a brother.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

St. Leo the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

(Titus 1:1-9; Luke 17:11-19)

It is remarkable that the Letter to Titus has to remind the early Christians to obey state laws. We think of these men and women as so devout that they would never tell a lie much less steal a cow. Today we equate being Christian with being law-abiding although, unfortunately, wanton aberrations abound. There are also a few issues that have moved some contemporary Christians to civil disobedience.

Each year for that last twenty citizens led by a Catholic priest have protested the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA) located at Fort Benning, Georgia. Although the Army claims SOA trains Latin America military to be more ethical as well as more effective soldiers, it is also true that a couple of the most notorious thugs in recent hemispheric history have graduated from SOA. Protesters believe that the school needs to be shut down immediately. During the protests a contingent crosses a line defying a federal law.

Such crimes may be justified when the law itself is unjust. For example, when students during the Civil Rights crisis in the 1960s held sit-ins at all-white lunch counters, their violation of the law revealed the injustice of allowing public restaurants to discriminate along racial lines. However, it seems to be another case when protestors trespass on property prohibitive to everyone.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

(Ezekiel 47:1-2.8-9.12; I Corinthians 3:9c-11.16-17; John 2:13-22)

We may wonder why the “Dedication of the Lateran Basilica” in Rome is recognized as an official feast day. Even more curious is the fact that when this feast falls on Sunday, it replaces the “Lord’s Day” liturgy. “Why is all this?” we ask. Answers are found in the truths that in honoring any church, we honor the Lord, and in celebrating the Lateran Basilica, the pope’s cathedral, we celebrate all Christian churches.

Throughout the New Testament we find interplay between Jesus, his disciples, and the places where they pray. As today’s gospel shows, Jesus identifies himself with the ancient Temple which enshrined the glory of God. Later in the same Gospel according to John he pronounces that the one who eats his body and drinks his blood has his life within her. St. Paul closes the circle by calling the community of Jesus’ disciples in Corinth a temple of God.

As Jesus offers us his life, we extend it to others. His temple, which we have become, has life-giving water to be shared for the healing and growth of all. We accomplish this by constant and fervent prayer, the purpose of a church building, and by acts of mercy, what Jesus did throughout his public life.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Titus 1:1-9; Luke 17:1-6)

The fruit of the mulberry tree is hard to enjoy. It has a taste both sweet and tart, but more characteristically mulberries it lack substance. What is worse, it stains the hand that picks it and blotches the sidewalk if found on a city street. The mulberry tree gives little shade but sits like a mole on one’s face defying the beauty around it. It is no wonder that Jesus would suggest that it be rooted out and sent to the sea.

We might compare the mulberry tree to depression that casts a pall over most people at times and affects some gravely. Little good can be said of it also. It makes one cynical and anxious as it colors his world grey. It provokes sadness, cynicism and apathy which give rise to thoughts of self-destruction.

A worthwhile question is to what extent a depressed person is responsible for his behavior. Certainly depression will mitigate culpability, but it may be wise not to excuse oneself completely of wrong-doing when depressed. Rather, as Jesus advocates in this gospel reading, we should be as ready to repent of the malice we cause as we are to forgive those who offend us.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 16:1-8)

Dual citizenship is not as uncommon as it once was. Descendants of Italian emigrants to other lands, for example, can receive Italian citizenship when they go in Italy. Although St. Paul does not have this kind of arrangement in mind when he writes the Philippians that Christians have “citizenship…in heaven,” the idea bears reflection.

Paul wants to warn his readers not to copy the ways of the pagan majority. He sees the obsession with fine dining and the ubiquitous references to sex in Greek society as anti-Christian. Disciples of Jesus, he would say, do not belong to such a realm. According to him, their homeland is the kingdom of God which is still to come in fullness. For now, he would recommend, they are only to comply with the laws of the land like immigrants and not its mores. They receive their living directives from the gospel.

Today, because we of the Christian humanization of much of the world, we find many positive elements in secular society. To be sure, we must proceed prudently; still, we can actively participate in social affairs without undue worry over contamination. Indeed, the Second Vatican Council promoted such engagement so that the world might be increasingly prepared for the coming of God’s kingdom in its fullness.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo, bishop

(Philippians 3:3-8a; Luke 15:1-10)

As much as Paul could boast of his pedigree Hebrew background, St. Charles Borromeo could have basked in the glory of Italian nobility. Charles was born into the Medici family and his uncle was Pope Pius IV, who made him a cardinal of the Church at twenty-two years of age! At the same time, before he was ordained a priest, Charles became administrator of the Archdiocese of Milan. He might have sat on his laurels at this point enjoying the luxury of a prominent public authority but chose a different course.

Charles took seriously the Council of Trent’s reforms bringing the Church more in line with gospel mandates. He founded a seminary in Milan and set up orphanages, hospices, shelters for the homeless, hospital and schools. When epidemic scourged his city, Charles did not lay back in fear but personally visited the parishes most affected by the plague. He distributed money to aid the victims and gave spiritual support. He died several years later, a victim of disease.

Paul tells us in his Letter to the Philippians the motivation of such sacrifice as Charles Borromeo’s. Whatever one has or whatever one does, it is as nothing compared to the glory of Christ. The victory that Christ has won over death is freely shared with us so that whatever achievements we have racked up on our own become as insignificant as drops of water in a river. Rather than boast of the insignificant, we are wise to praise Christ’s infinite accomplishment.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Memorial of Saint Martin de Porres, religious

(Philippians 2:12-18; Luke 14:25-33)

Gospel commentators call Jesus’ shocking statement that his followers are to hate their families a “Semiticism.” This means that it was a way of expressing oneself in the Semitic language that Jesus spoke. Evidently his native Aramaic did not use comparatives. For Jesus to indicate that his disciples have to love him more than their families, he has to say that they must love him and hate their families. Of course, he does not mean that they are to scorn their loved ones. After all, how could Jesus, who taught the primacy of love of God and neighbor, mean that we are to literally hate those who are closest to us?

But some of us may have difficulty with the idea of even loving Jesus more than family and friends. “How can he expect us to love him more than our mothers who gave us life?” we might ask ourselves. It is a formidable task but also a fruitful one. We are to make Jesus our best friend, more intimate than even a spouse. This is done by constant dialogue on all subjects, especially those that concern us most.

A painting hanging in the Dominican generalate’s convent in Rome shows Jesus and St. Catherine of Siena walking side-by-side. The two are not talking to each other directly but rather meditating on the written word. Catherine’s red-colored book is probably the Book of Gospels, the story of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Jesus’ white-colored book is likely the virgin Catherine’s gentle words to him. All of us can engage in this kind of dialogue intensifying our love for our Savior. We can meditate on the gospel and respond perhaps with a journal telling the Lord how we love him and need him.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day)

(Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40)

A man writes from prison that he does not like being a drug addict. He is ashamed to have disappointed his family and ruined his life. But he finds himself helpless confronting drugs -- he simply cannot stop taking them. Other people find themselves similarly challenged by sexual desire, gossip, stealing, you name it. We do not surrender hope for their souls when they die, but pray for God’s mercy on them.

Today, the Feast of All Souls, the Church sets aside to pray for all who have died without living fully Jesus’ Gospel. It’s an ancient custom that clashes with our conception of cause and effect. “If the person’s life has ended,” many ask today, “what good does it do to pray for her? She has already decided for or against God.” “Yes,” we should answer, “but since God’s love is eternal, that is outside the bounds of time, He provides the grace of repentance for those who have already died.” Furthermore, God’s infinite mercy appreciates an individual’s involuntary weakness that may mitigate any offense committed.

We can add that our prayers for the dead redound to ourselves. They are acts of mercy that make us stronger believers and more accomplished Christians. There is good reason for us to pray for the dead today and every day. Our prayers elicit the forgiveness of their sins as they shore up our souls against our own sinfulness.