Saint Martin of Tours/Veterans Day

Today we have the opportunity to celebrate some heroes.  One hero is today’s saint, Saint Martin of Tours, who was actually a veteran and a fierce defender of our faith.  The other heroes are our nation’s veterans, who have fought in wars to protect us and to protect our freedoms.

St. Martin of Tours is a fitting saint to pray for veterans today. His father was a veteran and he himself became a soldier and served his country faithfully, even though that was not what he most wanted to do.  But, at fifteen he entered the army and served under the Emperors Constantius and Julian. While in the service he met a poor, naked beggar at the gates of the city who asked for alms in Christ’s Name. Martin had nothing with him except his weapons and soldier’s mantle; but he took his sword, cut the mantle in two, and gave half to the poor man. During the following night Christ appeared to him clothed with half a mantle and said, “Martin, the catechumen, has clothed me with this mantle!”

During this time, Martin became a catechumen, someone preparing to become a Catholic, and he wanted to focus on doing that. He asked his superiors in the army, “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” After a time, he asked for and received release from military service.  Having received his release, he became a monk and served God faithfully. As a soldier of Christianity now, he fought valiantly against paganism and appealed for mercy to those accused of heresy. He was made a bishop, also not his first choice of things to become, and served faithfully in that post.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month of the year 1918, an armistice was signed, ending the “war to end all wars” – World War I.  November 11 was set aside as Armistice Day in the United States to remember the sacrifices that men and women made during the war in order to ensure a lasting peace. In 1938 Congress voted Armistice Day as a legal holiday, but World War II began the following year. Armistice Day was still observed after the end of the Second World War. In 1953 townspeople in Emporia, Kansas called the holiday Veterans Day in gratitude to the veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill renaming the national holiday to Veterans Day. Today, we remember those who have served for our country in the armed forces in our prayers.

On this Veterans Day, we honor and pray for veterans of our armed forces who have given of themselves in order to protect our country and its freedoms. We pray especially for those who have died in battle, as well as for those who have been injured physically or mentally during their military service. We pray in thanksgiving for all of our freedoms, gained at a price, and pray that those freedoms will always be part of our way of life.  St. Martin of Tours, pray for our veterans!

Monday of the Thirty-second Week of Ordinary Time

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 we 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.

Increase our faith, Lord, guide us in the everlasting way.

The Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time: The New Roman Missal

Yesterday morning on the news, I saw a brief story about the changes to the Mass that are coming up later this month.  It was a pretty neutral piece and just made people aware that a new translation of the Roman Missal will be used beginning on the first Sunday of Advent, November 27th.  Of course, all of us here at Notre Dame have been talking about this for quite a while now, and so I don’t think that story was “news” to us, although it was nice to see it covered in the secular media.

Father Steve, the deacons, and I have been preaching about this upcoming change on and off now for a while, but I thought today it might be good to circle back and talk a bit about why the change is happening.  So today’s brief homily is going to be an “FAQ” or “Frequently Asked Questions” of sorts about this upcoming change.

The first question we have been hearing is, “Why change the Mass?”  And the answer to that is that the Mass is not changing.  The fundamental mystery that we celebrate remains the same: the saving sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Altar of the Cross, whose Body and Blood we receive to strengthen our witness in the world and lead us to the Banquet of Heaven.  Nothing new about that; and there would be no reason to change something so essentially perfect.  The structure of the Mass remains the same as well.  It is simply that some of the words are being re-translated.

Which brings us to the second question: “Why re-translate the Mass?”  Well, after the Second Vatican Council, the Liturgy underwent some adjustments.  The most notable adjustment was the permission to celebrate Mass in each country’s local language, known as the vernacular.  So every country’s bishops oversaw a translation.  This resulted in different versions, some richer, some plainer, some less accurate, some very precise.  A secondary result of this was that there was a different version of the Mass in every English-speaking country in the world.  Now all were valid, but as a Universal Church, it makes more sense that we should share the same translation for our worship.  That is what is happening now; every English-speaking country on the planet will use the same translation of the Mass, and it’s a translation that is truer to the original Latin text.

So that may lead us to another question: “Does this mean that we have been celebrating the Mass wrong all these years?”  And the answer to that is simply “no.”  Whatever may have been the deficiencies of our current translation, it was a translation made in good faith, and accepted by Rome.  We have all prayed it in faith and it has led us to Christ in many splendid ways.  There is nothing so deficient in the current translation that would make it invalid.  Some say this new translation is a move back toward where we “were” before Vatican II.  That is not the case; this is simply a perfection moving us forward in our implementation of that important work.

And that brings up another question: “So if the current translation is valid, why bother changing it?”  The reason we are renewing ourselves with a new translation of the Mass is that we always want to be perfecting our participation in the Sacred Liturgy.  We’ll never get it completely right this side of the Kingdom of God; the only place worship would ever be done perfectly is in heaven.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t strive for perfection here on earth.  So that means constant renewal when renewal is warranted.  This re-translation is all about bringing ourselves to more perfect prayer and thus to more perfect union with God Almighty.

So who did the new translation?  The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) is chartered to prepare English translations of liturgical texts on behalf of the conferences of bishops of English–speaking countries.  They presented draft versions to the various English-speaking bishops conferences.  They made changes and eventually a version was presented to Vox Clara, a group in Rome charged with seeing to the faithful translation of the Mass into English.  At that point the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments examined the texts and gave approval for their use.  This process was not a quick one; it took over ten years.

So that’s a quick overview of why the Mass is being re-translated.  If you have other specific questions, I am happy to answer them.  We will have two evenings of preparation to which all are invited; please see the bulletin for the details.  It is my prayer that Notre Dame will be as well prepared for the changes as we can be, and that we will celebrate the opportunity to grow in our appreciation of the Sacred Liturgy.

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

Gospel reading: Romans 8:31-39

I remember a trip I took a few years ago, not long after my dad died.  I packed up early on Sunday and was out of the house by 6am, and took a 3 hour and 45 minute drive to see a friend, one of my classmates from seminary, who is a priest in the diocese of Springfield.  I visited with him all of Sunday and on Monday morning, then packed up just before noon and returned home.

I mention this because the trip itself was a bit unusual for me.  Usually, I’ll play the radio or my iPod in the car the whole way down, but for most of this particular trip, I traveled in silence.  I did that because I was aware that I was missing my dad in a special way.  I had been missing him a lot – still do – but I think I was missing him in a special way on this trip because Dad was great for road trips.  He’d get up before the crack of dawn, which is what I did, and he’d motor on toward whatever our destination was.  He loved to drive even long distances, and especially when I was a kid, the trip was kind of filled with expectation.  It wasn’t always fun getting up so early to leave, but it was kind of cool because it was a different experience, and as a kid, who could sleep the night before vacation anyway?

So many wonderful things continue to remind me of Dad.  Sometimes my little nephew Danny will say something funny, and I think, “that’s just what his grandfather would say!”  A few years ago I was celebrating Mass at Mom’s house and I thought, “we can’t start yet, someone’s missing” – and then I knew who I was missing, and remembered he was there with me in a completely different way.  Our loved ones are always in our hearts and on our minds, and sometimes it just comes right out of the blue at us.

As I’ve experienced these things over these last years, I’ve been aware of my sense of loss that doesn’t ever seem to completely go away.  In some ways, that’s a good thing, because it reminds me how much I have loved and how much I was loved.  And through all of it, I have felt the abiding presence of God who is with us in all of our joys, and all of our sorrows.  I really feel like the danger of grieving is so miniscule compared with the danger of never having loved in our lives.

Grieving is something I learned early on in my life.  I have a profound sense of gratitude to my parents for having given me the opportunity to learn to grieve when I was little.  I remember when my grandfather, Mom’s Dad, was close to death.  Mom and Dad talked with me about what was going to happen, and we all cried and hugged, and I began the strange feeling of grief when I was just nine years old.  When the time came, as is the custom on both sides of our family, all of us went to the wake and funeral, little as we were.

Some people try to shield their children from that experience.  Indeed, our overly medicated society tries to protect us all from that experience of grief, white-washing it and moving on just as soon as possible.  But how grateful I am that my parents didn’t do that to me.  Through that experience, I learned to love more deeply, not less.  I learned that the people in my life are signs to me of God’s love and presence in my life.  I learned that grieving is part of life, that it’s natural, that it’s something we all experience, that it’s a sign of God’s love.  We have to learn to grieve, as soon as we have the opportunity, and not to be afraid of it, because grieving is a way that we remember and love and heal and grow.

Grief and loss can do a number of things to us, and that is what makes it so scary.  Some people can become fixated in their grief and can be taken by a kind of clinical depression.  For that, we must count on the expert assistance of counselors and therapists who can help us through the root causes of depression and help us to experience our grief in healthier ways.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone who experiences loss should be medicated or is even ill.  If you’re moving through grief and continue to be aware of the gifts of your relationship with those you have lost, and continue to know that God is present with you even in your pain, then you’re probably grieving in healthy ways.  But if you’re lost and have lost sight of God’s love, then you might need to speak with someone about your grief.

In our Gospel this evening, Jesus reminds us that he is the source of our hope and our joy.  Jesus, the resurrection and the life, gives new life to those who have passed through the gates of death, and restores joy to those who morn.  When we grieve, we are especially close to God, close to our God who grieves when we are hurt, who may allow the bad things that happen in our lives, but never wills them, whose heart breaks whenever we sin and turn away from him.  We are made in the image and likeness of our God who is no stranger to grief, especially in the person of Jesus Christ, who grieved at the death of his friend Lazarus, who grieved with those he ministered to, and whose heart was broken when he saw the sadness of his mother at the foot of the cross.  Our God accepts grief head-on, and so should we, aware that in our grieving we are closer to God than ever, and have the benefit of his abiding presence in our pain.

On this feast of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, I could reflect on the difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  But participating in this holy days gives you the proper sense of that.  I could tell you all about purgatory and the need for us to pray for the dead.  But there’s another time and place for that too, I think.  Instead, I have chosen to reflect on our experience of grief, and I’ve done that because it’s an experience we all have, on some level, at some time in our lives.  I want you to know how very natural grief is, and how very blessed an experience it is.

Death is always a time of great sadness, but our Liturgy teaches us that we who believe in the Lord Jesus must never grieve as if we have no hope.  Our hope is always in Christ, the one who knows our grief and pain, and is with us in every moment of our lives, most especially when we are in pain.  The Church teaches us that if we believe in God and do his will, we can be reunited with all of our loved ones forever one day.  For the believer, the hopelessness of death is always overcome by the great hope of God’s grace.

We will hear later in this Liturgy that for those who believe in Christ, life is changed, not ended.  Because Jesus has died and risen from the dead to pay the price for our sins, we have been given the great gift of salvation.  And so we know that death only separates us from those we love for a short time, and that death never has the last word because Christ has triumphed over death.  The beginning and end of everything is Christ, and Christ is with us in our first moments, and also in our last.  He is with us in our pain and with us in our joy.  He helps us to remember our loved ones with love that continues beyond our death and beyond the grave.  Grief and loss and pain are temporary things for us.  Love is eternal, love never ends, love can never be destroyed by death, love leads us all to the great glory of the resurrection and eternal light in that kingdom where Christ has conquered everything, even death itself.

Eternal rest grant unto all of our loved ones, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.