St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

cabrini1“We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.”

Those words could well have been said by Mother Cabrini. She was a humble woman of great faith and fortitude, who stayed with her mission. She was refused entrance to the religious order that had educated her. So she began working at an orphanage, eventually becoming a sister in the religious order that ran it. She later became their prioress. She went to New York intending to found an orphanage there. The house they were to use turned out not to be available, and the bishop advised her to return to Italy. But she stayed, and eventually founded not only that one orphanage, but 67 institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated and the sick. She died at Columbus hospital in Chicago, which she also founded. She was the first American citizen to be canonized a saint.

Frances Xavier Cabrini knew well that servanthood was not for one’s own glory, but instead for the glory of God. We disciples are called to do all sorts of things, and we would be well-advised not to look for glory for them in this lifetime. After all, we have done only what we were obliged to do, as the Gospel reminds us today. I think the words of encouragement that we must live and die for should be “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your Master’s joy.” That’s what we all hope to hear on that great day when we stand before our Creator in judgment. What a glorious day that will be for those servants who considered themselves unprofitable, working with fortitude as did Mother Cabrini, and who did what they were obliged to do.

Our first reading echoes that very sentiment. The just may indeed be mocked and chastised by people in the world. But those who persevere though those trials will be blessed by God, and their hope will be full of immortality. The souls of the just are always in the hands of God, and no torment can ever reach us there.

St. Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr

Today's readings

"Increase our faith," indeed! How often have you had that same reaction to the marvels of God happening in your life? I think about the many times I have had the Spirit point out something I should have seen all along because it was right there in front of my face. Increase my faith, I pray.

Because, as Jesus tells us today, there are many things that cause sin, and they will inevitably happen. But how horrible to be tangled up in them, right? Whether we've caused the occasion for sin, or have been the victim of it, what a tangled mess it is for us. Maybe we have made someone so angry that their response was sinful. Or perhaps we have neglected to offer help where it was needed and caused another person to find what they need in sinful ways. Or maybe we've said something scandalous or gossiped about another person and those who have overheard it have been brought to a lower place. None of that makes anyone involved happy; everyone ends up deficient in faith, hope and love in some way. The same is true if we were the ones to have fallen into the trap of an occasion of sin. Don't we just want to kick ourselves then?

This is what the Psalmist was talking about when he prayed, "Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way." Now, if those are the only words you utter in prayer some day, rest assured they are probably well-chosen. Maybe some days that's all you can manage. I'll translate it for you in an even shorter way: "HELP!" Because when we are tangled up in sin, or brought low by suffering of some kind, maybe those are the only words we can manage. But God hears those words and answers them, because we can never fall so far that we are out of God's reach. Listen to some more of the Psalmist's excellent words today:

Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence where can I flee?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I sink to the nether world, you are present there.

Maybe we can all agree as our homework today to take out our Bibles and read Psalm 139 a few times. Because you never know when you're going to need these words of hope and confidence. Increase our faith, Lord, guide us in the everlasting way.

Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Have you ever thought how depressing life would be if this is all there was? Do you know people who would say that they believe there is nothing else after this life? Do you feel sorry for them? These questions of life and death and last things and life after the last things are what’s going on in the Church’s mind and imagination in these last days of the Church year. Last week, we celebrated our saints, those people who have fought the good fight and who have joined themselves to Christ in his overcoming of sin and death. And we mourned our dead, those souls who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and whose absence in our lives leaves a great hole that cannot seem to be filled up.

And it’s no wonder these questions grab us in these waning days of the year. The trees are losing their foliage. The daylight hours are getting shorter. The air is a bit colder. We can sense there is a change approaching, and perhaps it isn’t one that we look forward to. Even with the festive atmosphere of the upcoming Christmas holidays, or perhaps even because of that, many of us feel depressed or blasé, and the festivity of the holiday season only serves to highlight it for us. Please God, let there be something more.

Fundamentally, we human beings need to make connections. We want life, we want light, we want peace, we want love. And because we want all these things, we know we are alive. We attempt, don’t we, to fill them up as best we can. We hope that our attempts are healthy, but sometimes we find ourselves stuck and attempt to fill our desires with things that are well, just shoddy. We anesthetize ourselves with drugs or alcohol. We enter into relationships that are unhealthy. We work ourselves to death. We distance ourselves from loved ones. We sin.

And it’s easy for us to console ourselves when we accept these shoddy ways of filling our desires. Hey, we’re only human, right? Well, that’s what we tell ourselves. And that would be helpful except for the fact that sin isn’t human at all. Filling our desires so poorly is the very least human thing we can do. Our desires aren’t wrong; it is not wrong to want something more. Filling that up with something less is the problem.

The Sadducees had no idea, but that’s exactly what they were doing. The Sadducees, we are told, were a group of religious authorities that taught there was no resurrection. I had a professor in seminary that told us that that is why they were sad, you see. It’s a bad joke but I never forgot what the Sadducees were about! So these Sadducees come to Jesus and seem to have an earnest question. They speak of a woman seven times widowed and wonder whose wife she will be in the resurrection of the dead. Except that their question wasn’t earnest at all. Clearly they were out to discredit Jesus, even embarrass him. So you think there will be a resurrection, they say, well then, what about this?

The Sadducees didn’t get it when it came to the resurrection, and they weren’t willing to open their minds to any kind of new possibility. If what Jesus said didn’t fit what they believed, then it absolutely must be wrong. They were filling their desires with the sin of pride instead of the possibility of eternal life. What a horrible, shoddy way to fill up their desires!

But swing that around and look at the seven brothers in the first reading. All they would have to do was eat a little pork and they could have lived. Yet they patently refused to do so. One by one, they are tortured and killed. Why would they have let themselves be treated that way? All they had to do was eat some pork, for heaven’s sake; surely God would forgive them, right? But listen to what the first brother says: “You are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.” These brothers and their mother realized that there was something greater, something more. They knew their desire could never be filled up with a little pork, or the shoddy life that would come about as a result of giving up their beliefs. What a stark contrast they are to the prideful Sadducees!

St. Paul underscores this today in his letter to the Thessalonians. Listen to his opening instruction again:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement
and good hope through his grace,
encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.

There is something more, St. Paul tells us. There is something that will fill up our desires once and for all, and that something is Jesus Christ. It’s not going to be our pride, boasting of our elaborate wisdom or ability to take care of ourselves. It’s not going to be a little pork, or giving in to whatever temptation comes our way to take us off the path. It’s not going to be alcohol, or drugs, or unhealthy relationships or Dr. Phil or Oprah or anyone else. It’s only going to be Jesus, only Jesus who will fill up the desires that touch us to the core of who we are.

The Church in these waning days of the Church year would never deny that there is suffering in the world. She will not even allow us to tie up all the loose ends neatly so that we can march our way into the kingdom. But she will encourage us to open up our desires to be filled with our Savior who comes not to make our suffering go away, but instead to fill it up with his presence. Jesus tells us as much in another place: “In this world you will have suffering.” But suffering isn’t all there is. There is something more, and we can expect to be filled up with it when we realize that the fit for the hole we have in our hearts is Jesus Christ.

Our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. To him all are alive. So in these last days of the year, if we find ourselves desiring peace, desiring wholeness, desiring comfort, desiring love, desiring fulfillment, or desiring anything else, that’s okay. Because what we’re really desiring is Christ, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Monday of the Thrity-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!

How often would we like to figure out what’s going on in God’s mind? Wouldn’t it be great to just be able to see the big picture as God sees it so that we can always do the right thing? But that’s just the point. The meaning of everything isn’t ours to know. God gives us what we need in order to follow him. If we would just open up our hearts and minds we could see what we need to see in order to be good disciples. But often we forget the grace we have been given and ignore what’s right in front of us in order to see what we want to see.

For who has known the mind of the Lord
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given him anything
that he may be repaid?

I often wonder if we really could see the whole big picture if we were more obedient to God’s will. Maybe it’s our disobedience, and not God, that keeps us from seeing everything as it truly is.

When it comes down to it, though, God is God and we are not. That is what St. Paul has been trying to tell us these past couple of weeks as we’ve been reading from his letter to the Romans. We have been disobedient and cannot be obedient apart from God’s grace. Thanks be to God, he has poured out his grace and mercy upon us. We cannot see what God wants us to see apart from God’s grace. Thanks be to God, he gives us his vision when we ask for it and are disposed to receive it.

We cannot give anything to God that he has not already given us. Our desire to thank him is itself a gift from God – it says that in today’s preface to the Eucharistic Prayer. God made us for relationship with him. We are called to be obedient to God’s grace and mercy that we might be able to see ourselves, others, and the whole world as it really is, and to know God’s plan for our lives. The Psalmist certainly received what he asked for today, and we can too: Lord, in your great love, answer me.

St. Martin de Porres

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

St-Martin-DePorresSo much of our progress in living the Christian life is hampered by our own ego, self-centeredness and pride. Many people think sexual sins are the worst sins there are. While they are certainly bad, when it comes to being able to get past them, they pale in comparison to pride. Pride is a stubborn sin that refuses to go away, and puts up huge barriers between us and the God who made us. Whenever I am finding it difficult to progress in my spiritual life, I find that I need to do a deep examination of conscience to root out whatever traces of pride may have been rearing their ugly heads. I need to take that lower place at the table, realizing that it’s not about me, it’s about Christ. It’s an examination of conscience we should all make regularly.

And for our example, we can certainly look to today’s saint, St. Martin de Porres. He was the son of a Spanish nobleman of Peru, and a slave woman, probably black or perhaps Native American. His father refused to acknowledge him for eight years, and eventually gave up on the family after the birth of his sister. His mother apprenticed him to a local barber/surgeon when he was twelve. After a few years in this position, he applied to the Dominicans as a “lay helper” because he felt like he was not good enough to be a full brother. After some time with them, the community begged him to become a full brother and he did so, serving the poor and serving in the community’s priory and kitchen. But he never got past being “a poor slave,” even noting that the community should sell him when the priory was in debt.

St. Paul tells us today that “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” No matter how often we try to turn away, or more poignantly today, no matter how often we try to forget that God is God and we are not, God never turns away from us, and continues to give us the gifts and call us to service. What we are is God’s gift to us and what we become is our gift back to God. Putting our gifts at his service, ever aware of the source of those gifts, we are called to grow in holiness. St. Martin was called “Martin of Charity” because of his loving service to all those in need, and because of his great humility. May we see in him our model, never exalting ourselves, but always humbling ourselves for the sake of Christ.

All Souls: The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed

Readings: Wisdom 3:1-9 | Revelation 21:1-7 | Matthew 25:31-40

0871 Jesus resurrection christian clipartWhen I celebrated this Liturgy last year, the homily I gave was pretty straightforward. It was theologically accurate and liturgically sound. This year, the experience is a little different for me, and so will the homily be different. Many of you know that this past May, my Dad died, and the experience of grieving his loss has helped me to personalize my theology and my pastoral care, and my preaching. Today I hope you don't mind if I reminisce a bit about my Dad, because I do it so that perhaps it may touch something in you to help you in your grieving and give you hope in your sorrows.

Lots of things remind me about Dad. Whenever I was staying at the house overnight, and I'd get up in the morning to go shower, I would pass by his room and he would still be in bed. But he'd be awake, and would always say "good morning." I miss those good mornings now. Just the other day, Mom and I were out staining the deck. When we were getting started, I was searching the garage for some painting supplies. When I got frustrated and couldn't find what I was looking for, I said "okay Dad, where did you put it?" And the next drawer I opened had all the things I needed, right where he left them. I couldn't help but smile and say "thanks" because Dad was the only one who knew where anything was in that garage. Not that it was messy; it was very organized, but he alone knew the scheme!

In the days and weeks and months since May, my family has gathered to celebrate many events – as best we could. I remember on Mother's Day, just after Dad died, we gathered at my aunt's house and I celebrated Mass there. When we were getting ready, I thought to myself, "Oh wait, we can't start yet … somebody's missing." As I looked around, I realized just exactly who we were missing. It's times like that that we go on with a bit of a heavy heart. We have told the stories, and laughed about the memories. That has helped some, but there's still a hole in our hearts.

These days, remembering is hard for all of us I think. As we come close to the first holidays without our loved ones, we will miss celebrating with them. There will be an empty place at the table, an extra Christmas stocking, nobody to help find the burnt out light bulb on the Christmas lights that keeps the whole string from working. We feel grief more intensely at the holidays, because the world is rejoicing, but we are hurting. I remember a time visiting a gift store in Glen Ellyn years ago, just after one of my grandmothers died. It was all decked out for Christmas and looked so very homey. I was overcome with a wave of depression that socked me from out of nowhere. I had no idea what that was about, and I had to leave in a hurry. Later, I realized that it was about grieving my grandmother.

And so I think it is the Church's great wisdom that has us stop and celebrate All Souls Day before the holidays are upon us. Because we are a people who believe that there is hope in the midst of sorrow, joy in the midst of pain, resurrection that follows death, and love that survives the grave and leads us to the one who made us for himself. There has to be something that gets us through all these hard times, and I think the Church gives us that something today.

In the Liturgy, the words of hope that we find lead us back to the Cross and Resurrection. Death is not the end. Love does not come to an end at the grave. As the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer will tell us today: "Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven." Our loved ones who have been people of faith have been made new by passing through the gates of death. Their happiness is our hope; the grace and blessing that they now share will one day be ours.

But I will acknowledge that even that glimmer of hope doesn't erase all the pain. We are left with tears and loneliness, and that empty place at the table. But sadness and pain absolutely do not last forever, because death and sin have been ultimately defeated by the blood of Christ. We can hope in the day that our hearts will be healed, and we will be reunited with our loved ones forever, in the kingdom that knows no end. The Eucharistic Prayer itself will tell us tonight that there will come a day when "every tear will be wiped away. On that day, we shall see you, our God, as you are. We shall become like you and praise you for ever through Christ our Lord, from whom all good things come."

Perhaps sometimes it feels like it would have been better not to have loved at all, because then maybe the pain wouldn't be so great. We know that's not true. Sadness and pain are temporary. Love is eternal. As the Church's Vigil for the Deceased tells us, "all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death." We know that death only separates us for a short time, and even though there is a hole in our heart, the sadness that we feel is way better than never having loved at all, never having had our loved ones in our lives at all.

The pain doesn't just go away. There is no time when grief is "over." I miss Dad in many ways, all the time. You miss your loved ones in exactly the same way. There are times when our grief overwhelms us, comes at us out of nowhere. But many are the times when our memories provide us healing and joy. My nephew had a very close relationship with Dad, who he called "Boppy." He often dreamed of Dad and said to his mom, my sister, a week or so ago, "I'm sad because I didn't dream of Boppy last night. I like to dream about Boppy." Our dreams, our memories are gifts from our God who insists that we always know that we are loved. Sometimes it hurts, but ultimately it heals. Sadness is temporary. Love is eternal.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

The Solemnity of All the Saints

Today’s readings | Today’s feast (more)
Mass for the School Children

Albrecht Durer All Saints smDid you hear that? Jesus says, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (And) blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Now I want to see a show of hands here: how many of you would like to be insulted, persecuted, and had mean things said about them? Nobody? Well…

These days, not too many of us have to suffer like that for our faith. In the country in which we live, faith is more or less accepted. If you’re a Christian, not too many people are going to give you a hard time or even kill you. But it wasn’t always that way. Especially back in the very early days of the Church, right after Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven, things were hard for Christians. They were though of as some kind of evil people or troublemakers. People were always trying to get them to give up their belief in Jesus. And when they wouldn’t give it up, they were often put to death.

We call people who are put to death for their faith martyrs. The Church always believed that these people went right to heaven, because of what Jesus tells us today: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Right away, these people were remembered with great fondness and eventually there were enough of them that the church celebrated a day in remembrance of all the martyrs.

Eventually, the Church believed that you didn’t necessarily need to die for the faith to be holy. And so the idea of saints began to include people who were popes, bishops, priests, nuns, and lay people who had done wonderful things or who had been known to be very holy people and dedicated to the faith. These are people who were poor in spirit, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful to others, peacemakers, and all the rest. We started to look at all these people as role models, and remembered them after their death.

Each of us has a patron saint. Usually it’s a saint with the same name as you, or maybe you’ve picked some other saint whose story appeals to you for some reason. Our fourth graders recently did a project about their patron saints, and I’d like them all to come up here now to show us their banners, and some of them are going to share their stories with us…

All of these wonderful patron saints help us to know Jesus better. That’s why they are with us. These saints pray for us and with us every day of our lives. When we celebrate the Eucharist together here at Mass, they are praying with us up in heaven. Whenever we think about them, we can learn a little more about what it means to be close to Jesus and to be holy.

But even these patron saints aren’t the only ones we celebrate today. Lots of saints have their own feast days, like the ones our fourth graders showed us on their banners. This is the feast day for all of those unofficial saints: people who lived holy lives but never really attracted any attention. They might even be people you know, or knew. Maybe these saints are your grandparents or great grandparents whose prayer life and witness has taught you about the faith. Maybe they were those who served in our armed forces heroically and with integrity. Maybe they are your neighbors who work and live with honesty and grace. Maybe she is the lady you knew from Church who was probably in pain just before she died, but never complained and was always cheerful. These holy men and women have made their families and their homes holy, and have painted our communities with holiness. They may never find their names on the list of the official saints, but they too are part of what we call the Communion of Saints.

Because the real news of this celebration today of All Saints is that we are all called to be saints! Every one of us! It’s not enough to just think about the saints and admire them for being holy, poor in spirit, peacemakers, and all the rest. We have to become those things ourselves. Each of us is called to live a holy life. We do that by reading the Bible, by praying, by going to Mass, by becoming responsible people, by loving all the people in our lives, by reaching out to those less fortunate than ourselves, by staying away from anything that makes us love people less. Most of us aren’t saints yet, but we are on our way. Every day of our lives is a chance to become holier, to become that saint that God created us to be.

And who knows, maybe in a couple hundred years, some other fourth grade class will be doing a saint report about one of you…

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