Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday of the Frist Week of Advent

(Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 7:21.24-27)

People often come to churches looking for a handout. Not unusually they ask for cash to pay rent or purchase gasoline. It is difficult for churches to meet all these requests partly because of limited resources but also because church staff members frequently do not recognize the petitioners. If the needy were members of the congregation, however, the staff would make every effort to secure assistance. Today’s Scripture readings indicate why this is so.

The passage from Isaiah and the gospel today are related by the mention of the “Rock,” which is God on whom the people can rely. The reading from Isaiah is also connected to the basic gospel message proclaimed by Mary in her canticle praising God’s goodness. As it says, God comes to disperse the arrogant and raise up of the lowly; He provides a strong city with high walls to protect the humble. The city here refers to the Church, the community of faithful, who look out for one another.

We remember the poor, especially at this time of year. Whether or not they are members of our parish, we provide them assistance so that they too find joy in God’s coming. But if they are people who kneel with us in prayer, we naturally exert greater energy. They have a prior, although not an exclusive, claim on both our heart and our bounty.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Feast of St. Andrew, apostle

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

Although we know very little about St. Andrew, most Catholics remember the date of his feast before that of any other apostle. November 30 is etched in our minds because of its association with Advent. The feast does not mark the beginning of the season, but the Sunday nearest it is always the first day of Advent.

As Advent marks a new liturgical year, the Feast of St. Andrew reminds us of the dynamism of preaching. Today’s gospel shows Jesus calling the fishermen Andrew and his brother Peter to follow him. The call is so strong that the brothers do not hesitate a moment but leave their fishing nets and even their father in the boat. In the first reading St. Paul articulates the process of preaching. The word of God is not just read or recited but interpreted for the people in their own context. In this way all will come to know God as their common Father, Christ as their Savior, and each other as brothers and sisters.

This vision of a universal family coheres with the prophecies of Isaiah during the first weeks of Advent. We have to live it among ourselves, work for it among associates, and pray for it among the nations of the world.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 11:1-10; Luke 10:21-24)

A woman writes of her faith as the glue that holds her life together. She says that when her seven-year-old was hit by a car, she stormed heaven that his life might be spared. God favorably responded, and she remains imminently grateful. Jesus almost sings with similar gratitude in the gospel today.

Seventy-two of his disciples have just returned from a missionary expedition. They witnessed wonders like demons being repulsed in Jesus’ name. Now he praises God for providing such powerful testimony of goodness that they, like the woman who stormed heaven, may trust in Him completely.

During Advent we raise our expectations to see God work wonders. There is the almost universal goodwill of Christmas to look forward, but as short-lived and compromised as the season is, we will likely become disillusioned if we place much hope in it. No, now is the time to think really big as Isaiah envisions in the first reading. We redouble our efforts and prayers for the development of all peoples, for an end to the arms race, and for human rights in the Middle East.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 8:5-11)

Every so often a municipality advertises a “guns for cash” deal in hopes of reducing the number of firearms within its limits. There is usually a generous response, and the mayor and chief of police are photographed with a stack of guns in the background. A close examination of the guns, however, would reveal that the vast majority are useless! Such programs never make a city safer and may even result in more crime as people, deluded into thinking that there are fewer dangerous firearms around, take less precaution. The reality of “guns for cash” illustrates how the prophecy in the first reading today remains to a good extent an unfulfilled dream.

In one of the most hope-filled passages in all Scripture Isaiah foretells the day when nations will convert their bombs into books or, as he puts it, their “spears into pruning hooks.” It is a time of Messianic fulfillment when Israel’s king will win the favor of the world so that all peoples will accept the adjudications of his God. Christians, of course, see the prophecy partly realized in Jesus, the teacher of peace. But they have to admit that the arms build-down foretold by Isaiah still awaits completion.

Yet we not only hope for a safer world but put our shoulders to the task. We should acknowledge schemes such as “cash for guns” as well-intentioned but naive. Nevertheless, we begin by cultivating peace among ourselves as a way of life. Then we take the effort to bring our peace to other places and cultures. Finally, and most critically, we place our hope for peace not so much in our own but in God’s with constant prayer.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 7: 2-14; Luke21:29-33)

It is difficult for most people today to appreciate apocalyptic literature. Certainly contemporary concerns -- keeping a job and educating the children – are legitimate, of course. However, they pale really in comparison to the woes of apocalyptic times. People engage in apocalyptic thinking when ravaging armies come into their lives and systematic servitude becomes a looming threat. Apocalyptic writers offered hope to victims of calamity by providing a vision of eventual triumph after a long, hard struggle.

The only example of a completely apocalyptic work in the New Testament is the Book of Revelation. There faithful Christians are assured victory over their Roman persecutors, “the whore of Babylon.” In the Old Testament the Book of the Prophet Daniel is the prime example of the apocalyptic. Written during the oppression of the wicked Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Daniel foresees an eventual reversal of lots. Israel will overturn its oppressor, and God will reign over it forever.

Interestingly, the grotesque passage from Daniel that we read today makes sense when it is interpreted with the aid of the Book of Revelation. The text at hand is obscure. But John, the visionary of Revelation, cites the same passage evidently working from a different manuscript to provide a sensible rendition of its meaning. The passage is apparently an alternative account of the reading from Daniel heard at mass on Tuesday; that is, the succession of empires leading to the everlasting reign of God.

We should not take apocalyptic literature as a literal description of the future. Then how are we to understand it? We might spiritualize its meaning: we must struggle against the evil in our lives, be it lust, greed, or hatred. Or we might allow it to remind us of peoples in the world live today suffering the same kind of oppression as the ancients: Christians in the Near East and Tibetans, Mynamarians, and Congolese in their native lands come to mind. Or, finally, we might appropriate the hope offered by these texts as our future when we take up God’s ways: a time of universal peace, goodwill, and friendship.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day

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

After Thanksgiving dinner the family invited its dinner guests to stand in a circle. Each person was asked to announce her or his reasons for being grateful to God. Most said that they were thankful for their families. The children of one family expressed heart-felt gratitude for their baby sister who seemed to have been born unexpectedly but who brought new joy to the household. The gospel today expresses how important such exercises of giving thanks are.

In the passage Jesus bestows salvation on the one healed leper who remembers the source of his blessing. As important as good health is, it is not the end and goal of life. Salvation, our eternal welfare, is. Jesus indicates that salvation comes as a gift from God when we give Him thanks. It should be added that such thanksgiving needs to be more than a one time or even annual affair. No, the thanksgiving that results in salvation is a way of life that finds expression not just in worship of God but also in service to others.

Our Thanksgiving customs, like most things today, have become unfortunately secularized. The day is associated more with eating turkey and watching football than with offering thanks to the Lord. We do well to institute a custom of giving thanks like the family in the illustration above. It will encourage everyone to count his or her blessings. It should also provoke service to the poor so that they too will have manifold reasons for giving thanks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 5:1-6.13-14.16-17.23-28; Luke 21:12-19)

The writing on the wall has been decipherable for some time now. Yet many still refuse to pay attention. The sexual revolution of the 1960s propelled by the contraceptive pill has caused more misery than could have been imagined. Children born without fathers to protect them, women and men contracting diseases, and the felt need to destroy emerging life are all pathologies attributable to the frivolization of sex. Sexuality is rightfully considered as God’s gift to creation for its continuation. Humans have turned it into a vehicle of common pleasure.

In being both being blind to the writing on the wall as well as misusing God’s sacred vessels, humans today duplicate the story of the Babylonians in the first reading. The latter should have been conscious of what they were doing when the robbed the Jerusalem Temple of its sacred objects. But they were completely oblivious. They also might realize that the peculiar writing on the wall can be nothing but a message of doom for their rapaciousness.

With good reason we want our young to shun present ideology which attempts to control the outcomes of sex rather than respect it for the holy and creative force that it is. In teaching them discipline regarding sexual appetites we are providing a map to both righteousness and happiness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, virgin and martyr

(Daniel 2:31-45; Luke 21:5-11)

Recent events have shown that the United States, as powerful a nation as it is, cannot control the course of the world. Its withdrawal from Iraq indicates that it has lost the will to assure a peaceful society there. And the persistence of the Taliban in Afghanistan challenges the American quest for justice in that land to the breaking point. The country must reassess its purposes as prophet Daniel proposes in today’s first reading.

Daniel, writing from an historical perspective, recognizes that mighty kingdoms come and go. He is supposedly warning the king of Babylonia but actually has all the rulers of the earth in mind. His message is that they not strive to conquer more lands but to concern themselves with true justice and peace. In the end God will judge the nations of the world. In Daniel’s prophetic imagination, God’s kingdom is the stone that becomes a mountain that fills the whole earth.

We Americans have cause to be grateful for the blessings heaped upon our country. Our nation has all-in-all contributed to a better world. But we should not be lulled into thinking that every American initiative is just. Our leaders are wise to remember that Americans have caused hardship in the name of democracy and that they too are subject to judgment.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Daniel 1:1-6.8-20; Luke 21:1-4)

Jews are often thought of as competitive even to the point of being merciless. Certainly Shakespeare views the Jew Shylock in this vain. The foil to the protagonist of his drama “The Merchant of Venice” would have a man die in retaliation for all the affronts that he and his people have received. More intricate but, on a superficial level at least, just as belligerent the Jewish lead character of the movie “The Pawnbroker” looks down on the non-Jews who surround him. However, knowing the Scriptures should leave us with an opposite evaluation of Jews.

Although it is true that the Pharisees are depicted in the gospels as hypocritical defenders of the Jewish Law, they need not be considered ideal or even iconic Jews. Jesus, of course, is a Jew until the day he dies. So is his mother Mary whose Jewishness the Church celebrates on this feast of her presentation in the Temple. Daniel and his confreres in the first reading today might be considered ideal as they are willing to sacrifice the pleasure of eating succulent meat and tasting choice wine in order to observe the kosher laws. The poor widow hailed by Jesus as truly generous is also Jewish.

Our responsibility is not just to refrain from demonizing Jews. Rather we should recognize and be grateful to them. Some of their literature is dismissive of Christ and probably contemptuous of Christianity. But they have contributed enormously to Western civilization and have maintained the Covenant into which our Savior is born.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Maccabees 4:36-37.52-59, Lucas 19:45-48)

The first reading today describes the origins of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. Some treat this feast as the Jewish Christmas because it is celebrated around the same time of year with special attention to children. However, its significance to Jews seems as thin as a pencil in comparison to the meaning of Jesus’ birth to Christians.

As we have heard for the last week, the Maccabees clan resisted the reforms of the Seleucid (Syrian) king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The king tried to impose pagan customs on the people to the extent of desecrating the Temple with an altar to Zeus. After eight years of outrage, Mattathias Maccabeus and his sons rebelled. They rallied faithful Jewish forces behind them to oust the occupiers. In the passage today Mattathias’ son Judas leads the rededication of the Temple and declares an annual celebration which Jews observe today as Hanukkah.

In the gospel we find Jesus performing a vaguely similar cleansing of the Temple. The situation, of course, is very different but it is the same zeal for the holy that impels Jesus to drive out the vendors. Both readings remind us of the centrality of a consecrated place to worship. We might praise God anywhere and should pray wherever we find ourselves. But formerly the Temple and now the synagogue for Jews and the church for Christians have unique importance. They are the designated places of encounter with God hallowed by the prayers of forbearers in many cases for ages.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, religious

(I Maccabees 2:15-29; Luke 19:41-44)

With secure ways to imprison violent convicts most Western countries and many American states have abandoned capital punishment for most crimes. The exception to this rule is treason which still carries the death penalty in states like Michigan, the first English-speaking jurisdiction to ban it for other felonies. These facts provide context to understanding the two killings that shock sensitive readers in the passage from I Maccabees today.

Mattathias takes the lives of a Jew who was offering an illegitimate sacrifice and of the king’s messenger, probably not Jewish, who is promoting the abominable sacrifices. At least the death of his first victim is mandated by the Law (Deuteronomy 13:7-10). But both killings should be taken as legitimate execution. Just as some contemporary jurisdictions treat treason as the only capital crime, sacrifice to idols in ancient Israel is uniquely offensive. It violates the Covenant in a way that not only affronts the Lord but diminishes the faith of the people, which is considered necessary for Israel’s survival.

We must not commend actions such as Mattathias’ if done today; nevertheless, we should be cautious about condemning the Jewish hero. Jesus never faces such a critical situation although he does use force in cleansing the Temple. It is his teaching, however, that inclines us to shy away from capital punishment. He implores us to love our enemy, which does not necessarily exclude putting him to death, but certainly suggests it. Capital punishment, as the Church teaches, is a penalty of last resort when the common good is genuinely and severely threatened.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(II Maccabees 7:1.20-31; Luke 19:11-28)

Doomsday prophets seem eternally upon us. Many forecasted disaster in “Y2K.” Earlier this this year a radio commentator predicted with considerable effect the end of the world in May. Now several authors have written of an apocalyptic happening when the ancient Mayan calendar supposedly runs out in December of next year. The scientific community has produced several life-ending scenarios as well. Showing evidence that a meteorite crashing into the earth millions of years ago caused the extinction of dinosaurs, astronomers declare that a similar occurrence can happen again with little warning. Similarly geologists point to past cataclysmic eruptions inside the earth which are likely to change its face again. More important for us, Jesus in the gospel today hints at what it will be like at the end time.

Jesus is about to ascend to Jerusalem. There he will be crucified and rise from the dead. Now he wants to leave the people with a sense of what to expect after those traumatic events take place. His parable is an allegory about his paschal journey from which he will return to judge his followers. He emphasizes that if they pursue goodness, they will be richly rewarded. On the other hand, if they idly wait for his coming, they will be left empty-handed.

We have no idea when the world will end. Indeed, according to Jesus, only “the Father” can say that. But whenever it takes place, we want to anticipate it by working diligently because Jesus has indicated that his return will take place co-terminally. This means that we are to strive for justice in the world, love among our associates, and peace in our hearts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Memorial of Saint Albert the Great, bishop

(II Maccabees 6:18-31; Luke 19:1-10)

Conventional wisdom sees old age as a time of relaxation. The aged should not have to work and may be excused from the disciplines other adults are expected to keep. St. Albert the Great shunned this kind of thinking for himself at least. When he saw that the legacy of St. Thomas Aquinas under attack, he left the leisure of his cell to defend Thomas’ teachings. It was hardly a matter of pride in Aquinas as his former student. Albert realized as much as anyone that Thomas’ writings would be one of the richest treasures in the Church’s storehouse.

In the first reading we hear of another senior who refuses to allow himself to be seduced by comfort. Eleazar could avoid torture by flaunting the Jewish Law along with the masses. His sense of righteousness, however, does not permit it. He further rejects causing scandal by refusing to feign eating pork in order to escape death.

We owe the elderly respect and in many cases thanks. They have given us life and built a society recognized for justice and development. But their work is not finished. In our age of wavering virtue we need them to exemplify faith in God and commitment to righteous living. Without these the gains of the previous generation will be lost in the next.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Maccabees 1:10-15.41-43.54-57.62-63; Luke 18:35-43)

The language of faith is often undercut by popular thinking. When a person says that she “believes” something, most people hear a modicum of doubt in her voice. They understand her to mean that she does not know for sure but only thinks that what she says is true. This kind of qualified assertion is hardly what the Church understands by faith. Faith is a way of knowing with more certainty, not less, that what is said is true. The reason for such conviction is that the tenets of faith have been revealed by the Lord.

In the gospel the unnamed blind man, called Bartimaeus in Mark’s version, demonstrates real faith. Not wavering a bit, he acts on his belief that Jesus is the Messiah by making a scene. Because such faith is always rewarded, the man receives the sight which he requests. The gospel adds that he wastes no time to follow Jesus. True faith in Jesus can do no less.

In a way it is understandable why many people possess faith that is tainted by doubt. Some of the concepts that the Church has held as part of faith in the past have been abandoned. One example is the literal accuracy of the account of Adam and Eve. Another is the belief that the world is at the center of the universe with the sun revolving around it. But these have always been secondary beliefs. What is at the Heart of faith, called the “hierarchy of beliefs,” is non-negotiable. We should accept those truths with all our minds and, more importantly, live from them.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, bishop

(Wisdom 13:1-9; Luke 17:26-37)

“Don’t ask for whom the bells toll, it tolls for thee,” writes poet-priest John Donne. Of course, the bells he has in mind are the death toll. Although many people prefer to put off thinking about it, the hour of life’s end is always approaching. For those with sixty years behind them, it will surely be sooner rather than later.

Jesus makes the same point in the gospel today. With an image that might chill a polar bear, he warns, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.” He means that death is part of life because we have bodies which will one day be the food of worms if not birds. So, Jesus admonishes, humans should prepare for the inevitable.

Jesus’ injunction to deal with mortality deserves more than passing attention. Although it is certainly legitimate to stave off death through healthy living and medical practice, we need to give ourselves over to death in a sense by self-denial. Jesus himself is our primary example. He took up his cross not just in Jerusalem but throughout his public ministry. St. Martin of Tours serves as another model. He gave up a military career to follow Christ, and when he became a bishop, worked tirelessly to administer his diocese as efficiently and effectively as possible. We follow by living for others not for ourselves, by performing periodic penitential acts, and by praying constantly.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, pope

(Wisdom 7:22b-8:1; Luke 17:20-25)

People often think of the present age as the greatest. But are its representative products -- I-phones, plasma TVs, global positioning devices – really so wonderful? Or do they, like the fashions of every age, just provide the rich with outlets for their wealth and the poor with objects to crave? Can we not ask with T.S. Eliot a few generations ago, “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Today’s first reading reminds us that wisdom has an eternal character that is available to every age. It is also universal so that both rich and poor may partake of it. In contriving twenty-one attributes the author shows how wisdom, and not the products of technology and commerce, makes life worthwhile. The number, incidentally, symbolizes absolute perfection being the product of seven, representative of simple perfection, and three, indicative of the divine.

Wisdom admonishes us to discern the value of everything. It recognizes the satisfaction that comfort and convenience bring us but realizes that these do not comprise happiness. Most importantly, it understands that fulfillment is found in our striving to live righteously giving each his or due, beginning with God, not overlooking anyone nor ignoring our own potential.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

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)

In a world torn by war and other forms of violence the Community of Sant’Egidio is reaching out for reconciliation. Sant’Egidio is a Catholic lay organization whose members pray together and do works of charity. Because the community recognizes war as the cruelest agent of poverty, it has taken an active part in peace negotiations among warring peoples. Its modest successes demonstrate how the image of church as healer proposed in the reading from Ezekiel today can be realized.

Ezekiel shows the Temple, the archetype of church, as the source of healing and welfare. From its bowels water flows with regenerative power that produces life-giving plants and even freshens the sea. It can do so, of course, because it is the pole of the earth where God meets humanity.

Christianity has crowned the concept of church with a new meaning. It is no longer strictly the place where we pray but our very community. Most radically, it is Christ whose body becomes both altar of the perfect sacrifice and embryo of a new people. In him our wounds are healed and our enmities reconciled.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Wisdom 2:23-3:9; Luke 17:7-10)

The Book of Wisdom was probably composed in the century before Christ in Alexandria, Egypt. In some ways the Jews in that context were dealing with the same challenges Christians face today. Individualism was on the rise along with skepticism and general dissatisfaction concerning traditional beliefs. Formerly religious people were turning to paganism and secular philosophy in order to thwart the threat of persecution. The author of Wisdom searched ancient texts for remedies to these challenges. He maintained by living righteously according to the Law, Jews could be assured of eternal life.

This sounds like Christianity's message, but there is a critical difference. Jesus promises much more than the eternal existence of the soul flying around like a spark in a fire. His resurrection from the dead offers followers the prospect of glorified bodies. They are to enjoy the wonders of physical creation without the maladies that corporality in its current mode inevitably bears.

Wisdom's message is especially timely in this month of November when we remember our beloved dead. It shores up our hope for eventual reunion as it points to the moment in eternity when we will all huddle together in familiarity and joy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Wisdom 1:1-7; Luke 17:1-6)

The revelation that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced darkness, dryness, and depression on her way to sanctity shocked the world. Yet despite her trials every morning before the sun came up, she prayed an hour before the Blessed Sacrament. Her prayer probably echoed that of the Apostles in today’s gospel, “Increase our faith.”

The Apostles ask for more faith after Jesus challenges them to a new kind of holiness. Not only are they never to give scandal causing others to sin, but they are to be always ready to forgive the sins of others. They feel incapable of following these commands.

In truth, unaided they are! None of us can live the righteousness of Jesus solely by means of natural virtue. It is the grace of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts that provides the decisive margin. The Spirit moves us to both inordinate zeal for personal perfection and compassionate understanding of others’ foibles.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo, bishop

(Romans 15:14-21; Luke 16:1-8)

Two Protestants visiting Rome were amazed by the immensity of St. Peter’s Basilica. One said to the other, “I wonder how much it cost.” The reply was, “Half of Christendom.” The answer implies the trouble which the granting donations for a fee caused. Unable to stomach the transactions, Martin Luther made his famous protest which led to much of northern Europe seceding from papal authority. The Church badly needed reform from within which men like St. Charles Borromeo carried out.

It does not seem unlikely that Charles Borromeo would make a statement like St. Paul’s in the first reading today. “…I will not dare to say anything except what Christ as accomplished through me…,” Paul writes. Like Paul Charles faced a huge task. Nepotism was rampant in appointing bishops and cardinals. Some clerics not only had children but promoted their advancement. The Council of Trent outlined a program to reestablish right order, but it took intelligent, diplomatic, and holy men like Charles to implement it.

In praying to St. Charles Borromeo we implicitly recognize the Church as an institution. Perhaps some of us are uncomfortable with thinking of the Church in this way. But unless it had a definite structure, it would hardly be able to exist much less administer the needs of more than one billion people. Still it behooves the leaders of the institution not to think of themselves as corporate executives but as servants of the Lord.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Memorial of Saint Martin de Porres, religious

(Romans 14:7-12; Luke 15:1-10)

St. Martin de Porres, a half-Black Peruvian, at first thought of himself as unworthy of religious life. When the Dominican friars of Lima, who accepted him in their convent as a servant, wanted him to join their ranks, he was resistant. Was it the color of his skin that made him consider himself as unfit? Or perhaps it was the awareness of himself as a sinner? In either case his humility seems exaggerated today. It may be that Martin eventually reappraised his own self-worth to realize that although he was not perfect, he too was redeemed by Christ.

In today’s gospel Jesus demonstrates that no one is outside the range of God’s salvific action. Tax collectors, at least in Jesus’ day, are notoriously greedy. “Sinners,” perhaps Luke’s euphemism for prostitutes, are likewise given to depravity. But Jesus expresses loving care for these unsavory types by the dual parables of the shepherd and the housekeeper. No one should consider herself or himself as so lost that God would not go out of His way to rectify her or his life.

Christian holiness starts from the realization of oneself as a sinner. Everyone should recognize that deep down he or she is inordinately self-centered and avaricious. From this consciousness we hear Jesus’ call to conversion and look to him as both model and impetus for overcoming the inclinations to sin. Then we legitimately see ourselves as works of a new creation with full membership in the company of saints.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

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

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

The preacher declared, “We all go to purgatory when we die.” Then he gave his reasoning: no one on this earth is perfect and everyone dies in need of purification.

On one level the preacher may be too hopeful. Evil does exist, and some people submit to it. We pray that no one is condemned to hell, but we should not forego the possibility. On another level, the preacher may not be optimistic enough. There are a few who live spectacularly holy lives and are duly accorded heaven at death. But generally the preacher has it right. Most people never fully give up selfishness and will need some work before mounting God’s heights.

Today we pray for the dead hoping that in time other Catholics will pray for us. Purgatory may not be the dreadful fire that is sometimes depicted. We could think of it as a kind of program for substance abusers. But as cozy as some programs may be, substance abusers want to return to their families. Just so, the souls in purgatory long to be with God.