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, “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.” Because when we are tangled up in sin, or brought low by suffering of some kind, we would do well to long for a glimpse of our Lord’s beautiful face. And 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: 

Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD? 

or who may stand in his holy place? 

He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,

who desires not what is vain. 

Increase our faith, Lord, for we are the people that longs to see your face 

All Souls Remembrance Mass

Today’s readings

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.

Each year, the Church gives us the grace of remembering, and praying for, all of our loved ones who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, and all the dead whose faith is known to God alone. The Church is great in wisdom in giving us this feast every year. Because even though on this day, we might shed a few tears, still we will have the grace of remembering the ones who have given us life, given us wisdom, those who have been Christ to us, those who have made God’s love tangibly present in our lives.

Perhaps the deepest mystery of the human experience lies in the reality of life and death. Everyone has, or will, experience the death of loved ones, sometimes after a long life, sometimes far too soon, always with feelings of sadness, regret, pain, grief and perhaps even anger or confusion.

That’s how grief works. It might seem sometimes like it would have been better to live without love, but we know deep down that that’s not true. Sadness and even death 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 that 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.

I want to pause here and speak a little about the reality of grief. Because, if there is one thing that we as a society do extremely poorly these days, it’s grieving. We rush through it and hope it’s all done before we have a chance to feel any kind of pain. That’s part and parcel of how things work in our world; we have a pill for every malady and a quick remedy for every pain, plagued with a whole host of horrifying side effects. And what’s important to know is that this is not how the Church teaches us to grieve. One of the most important reasons that we have All Souls Day each year is to give us the experience of remembering and grieving and healing. If you truly love, you will truly grieve, and not turn away from it.

The Church’s Catechism (989) teaches us: “We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day.” And so we Christians never grieve as if we have no hope. The Church’s Liturgy echoes this hope in the third Eucharistic Prayer: “There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For seeing you, our God, as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end, through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.” One of the Prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayers for the Dead makes it very clear that this hope touches our experience of grieving: “In him the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned, that those saddened by the certainty of dying might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come (Preface I for the Dead).”

And so I have some tips on grieving that I hope you will find helpful:

  1.  Don’t rush into the funeral. It’s hard to make all those difficult decisions at a moment’s notice. It’s great if you’ve talked about your wishes with your family, because it makes things easier. But if that hasn’t happened, the family would do well to take its time and avail itself of the resources of the funeral director and the church staff so that a funeral that adequately honors the deceased and comforts the living can be prepared.

2.  Let other people help you. Even if you can do all the preparations, you don’t have to. Let the Church and others help you and minister to you in your time of grief. As a priest, I presided at my father’s funeral, but one of the priests who knew him preached the homily. I found that was very helpful to me in my own grieving.

3.  Have a wake. A lot of people try to short-cut this one because they think it will be too painful. It will hurt a little, yes, but the comfort of others expressing their love for the deceased and for you will do so much to heal you in the time to come.

4.  Don’t be afraid to shed tears. Anyone who has ever seen me preach at some funerals of people I’ve known especially well has seen me get choked up. You’ve probably seen me shed a tear when I’ve talked about my father or my grandparents in a homily. Tears heal us, and it’s good for other people, especially your children, to see you cry. They need to know that pain and sorrow are part of life so that they don’t feel like they’ve gone nuts when it happens to them. You aren’t doing anyone any favors by not allowing them to see you grieve.

5.  Understand that grief doesn’t “go away.” Feelings soften with time, yes, but you will grieve your loved ones for many years to come, perhaps your whole life long. I still grieve for my grandparents who have been gone from my life for many, many years now. Sometimes those waves of grief will come up all of a sudden, without warning, kind of out of the blue. And that’s okay. Remember grief is a sign that we have loved, and loving is the most important thing we will ever do.

One of my most vivid childhood memories was when I was just about nine years old. My grandfather on my mother’s side, who had retired just a few months earlier, was diagnosed with cancer. There wasn’t so much that could be done about cancer in those days, so he wasn’t expected to live long. And so one night, as the oldest of the children, Mom and Dad came to my room to talk to me about Grandpa. That was the night I learned about life and death, sadness and grief, love and pain. We cried a bunch, hugged a lot, and talked about how we were going to miss him.

I went to the wake and funeral with my family, because that’s what we did when a loved one died. My parents could have shielded me from that experience in many ways, as so many parents do, but they chose not to, and I’m glad they made that decision. Death and grief aren’t things we actively seek, but we can’t be afraid to meet them head on, girded with faith, and confident of the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, I can’t say this strongly enough: if we don’t learn to grieve, as early as possible, we will never ever truly love. We won’t want to invest ourselves in love because we won’t want to ever feel pain. Jesus so deeply invested himself in love that he suffered the pain of the cross for us, so as to open for us the way to resurrection. We have to be willing to suffer loss in order to gain anything truly glorious.

Even if the memories aren’t the best, and even if we struggle with the pain of past hurts mixed with the sorrow of grief, there is grace in grieving and remembering. Maybe this day can be an occasion of healing, even if it’s just a little bit. Maybe our tears, mixed with the saving Blood of Christ, can wash and purify our wounded hearts and sorrowful souls. And certainly our prayers are heard by our God who gives us healing and brings our loved ones closer to him, purifying them of any stain of sin gathered along the journey of life.

That pain that perhaps we feel won’t all go away today. We are left with tears and loneliness, and that empty place at the table, and that hole in our heart. 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, with all of our hurts healed and relationships purified, in the kingdom that knows no end.

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

Saint Charles Borromeo, Bishop

Today’s readings

Eleven years ago today, I was ordained a transitional deacon, on my way to becoming a priest. For me it was a very significant day: it was the feast of Saint Charles Borromeo, and I was being ordained at the Saint Charles Borromeo Pastoral Center. So I feel like I have a bit of connection to Saint Charles, who is the patron of learning. I certainly depended on his intercession while in seminary, and there is a statue of him in the seminary chapel.

Saint Charles was a very bright boy and part of a well-connected Italian family. His uncle eventually became Pope Pius IV, and he made Charles a cardinal, recognizing his intellect and devotion to the church. He served for a while as the Vatican Secretary of State. After his elder brother died, Charles made a definite decision to be ordained a priest – in those days one did not need to be a priest to be a cardinal. Soon after he was ordained a priest, he was consecrated bishop of Milan.

He didn’t take up residence in Milan for a while, though, because he had convinced the pope to re-start the Council of Trent after it had been suspended for ten years. He worked hard to respond to the Reformation, and is credited with keeping the Council of Trent on track at a period when it was often in danger of breaking up.

When he at last took up residence in Milan, he spent a great deal of his time reforming the Church there. Although the reform was aimed at both clergy and laity alike, specific regulations were drawn up for bishops and other clergy: If the people were to be converted to a better life, the clergy had to be the first to give a good example and renew their apostolic spirit. He himself was known to give a good example: he lived very simply and shunned any kind of personal luxury, he was known to feed thousands of the poor daily, at great personal cost, and he ministered to the sick and dying in the city during the plague.

Saint Paul calls for that same dedication to the Gospel in today’s first reading. We are not to be people who are caught up in the distracting spirit of this world. Instead, we are to devote ourselves to Christ and to remember that our citizenship is in heaven. Blessed are we when we live the Gospel and follow the example of Saint Charles Borromeo, standing firm in the Lord.

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel calls us to examine our perspective. Jesus asks, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” Well, those men he talked to were shepherds, or had shepherds in their family, so they would have responded “nobody would do that!” Why on earth would they risk losing the other ninety-nine sheep to find the lost one?

And as far as the coin goes, why bother staying up all night? It would probably have cost more to light the lamp and search all night than the coin was worth. It would be wiser to wait until she had the morning light and could find it easily.

But here’s the perspective part: God is not like us. Every sheep among us is important, and he will relentlessly pursue us individually until he has us all in the sheepfold. And if we’re lost, he’s going to light a lamp and stay up all night until he has us back. For him, one of us is every bit as important as the other ninety-nine. Even if our own self-image is poor, we are a treasure in God’s eyes.

And that’s all well and good, but we always have to ask ourselves why the Church gives us this reading again in the closing days of the Church year. We hear these kinds of parables typically in the summer months, when the Church wants us to see that God loves us and wants us to be his disciples. But hearing the parables in these days, there’s a little more urgency. Time is running short, and it’s time for the lost ones to be found and gathered up and celebrated. These waning days of the Church year are a foreshadowing of the end of time, and so we need to cooperate with God in making the urgent message of God’s love known in every time and place.

And so that’s what the Kingdom of heaven is like. It’s a relentless pursuit and a flurry of activity until we are all back where we belong. Once we are all with God, the joyful celebration can continue, knowing that we are all back where we were always meant to be.

The Solemnity of All Saints (Evening Masses)

Today’s readings

I think we all bristle, mistakenly, at the idea of being a saint. Saints are those super-holy folks who are depicted in artwork and glorified in amazing stories. We are just ordinary people who struggle with our holiness, at best. But today, the Church is asking us to think about saints in a broader way. Yes, we include all those “official” saints that have been canonized through the ages. The Church rejoices in the saints because when someone becomes a saint, the Church recognizes that he or she is definitely in heaven, the goal of all our lives. That’s what the process of canonization is all about. And bringing people to heaven is the whole point of the Church. So, from the many saints of every time and place, we know of thousands of people that are certainly in heaven. This illustrates that God’s will is done in the end, doesn’t it?

But, as I said, I think the Church wants us to think about saints in a broader way. There is the story of a schoolteacher who asked her children what a saint was. One little girl thought about the saints she saw in stained glass windows, and said “Saints are people the light shines through.” Think about that for a minute – that little girl isn’t far from the kingdom of God there. Because all people are called to let the light of Christ shine through them, and saints are those people who have made that the business of their lives.

Heaven is that great multitude that John the Revelator tells us about in today’s first reading: that multitude “which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” They are wearing, he tells us, white robes, which have been washed in the blood of the lamb. That seems very counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Everyone knows that blood stains like nobody’s business. But he’s speaking poetically here, and recognizes that nothing washes us sinners quite as clean as the saving blood of Jesus Christ.

And that’s really the only way. Because we’re quite right when we bristle a bit at being called saints. We can’t be saints all on our own. We aren’t good enough, we can’t make up for our sins with any kind of completeness, and there’s basically no way that we can jump high enough to get to heaven. But this feast of All Saints recognizes that we don’t have to. We don’t have to because Christ has saved us through no merit of our own but based solely on God’s love for us. The fact that we can be called saints is a grace, and we dare not bristle so much that we turn away from that grace.

It may help to know that most, if not all, of the saints struggled with holiness too. Think about Saint Paul himself: he began his career by persecuting Christians and we know that he had a hand in the stoning of Saint Stephen. Or think about Saint Augustine who was an intellectual man who disdained Christianity, until his mother’s prayers caught up with him. Or we might think even more recently of Saint Teresa of Calcutta who experienced a very dark time in her life when she could not even communicate with Jesus. But Jesus was still there and led her to heaven.

We are all of us on a journey, and we know that our true home is not in this place, however good it may be. We are on a journey to heaven, and that means that we are in the process of becoming saints. That journey consists in following the Way who is Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Redeemer. He has commanded, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” and there is no way to do that except to follow him.

So, no, of course, not all of us will be canonized. Most of us will go to the Kingdom rather imperfect in many ways, and will have to work that out in the grace of Purgatory. But if we look to those canonized saints for inspiration, perhaps our relationship with the Lord will lead us and our brothers and sisters to that place where all the saints worship around the Throne of the Lamb.

Today we, the Church militant, honor the Church triumphant: not only the great saints like Mary and Joseph, Patrick and Benedict, Michael and Gabriel, Francis and Dominic, but also those saints that God alone has known. We glory in their triumph that was made possible by them joining themselves to Christ. We take inspiration from their battles and from the faith that helped keep them in Christ when they could have turned away. If God could do that in their lives, he can certainly do that in ours too. Perhaps, if we are willing to accept it, he can fill us with saintly attributes: strength in weakness, compassion in the face of need, witness to faith in times when society lacks direction, and so much more.

Those virtues are virtues that we think about when we call to mind those official, canonized saints. But they are virtues for which we can and should strive as well. The desire and the grace to attain those virtues comes from God himself, and the reward for receiving that grace and living those virtues is a heavenly relationship with God. What could be better than that?

This is a lot of work, and it’s not easy to live a saintly life, but Jesus makes a promise today to those who strive to do so: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven!”

The Solemnity of All Saints (Morning Mass)

Today’s readings

Today, the Church militant – which is all of us – rejoice with the Church triumphant – which is all the Saints in heaven – because of the great glory of God. This glory they can already see; we hope to see it one day. And we will see it if, please God, we perfect ourselves and grow in holiness to the point that we too become saints for the Kingdom of God.

But I think many of us bristle at the very idea of becoming a saint. We might even throw up our hands in some conversations and say something like, “hey, I’m no saint…” Saints are those people in elaborate paintings or statues, who lived lives that we find very remote. Saints just seem out of touch and sainthood seems way past our grasp.

But that’s all wrong. We were all made by God to come back to him one day: we were, in fact, made for heaven. Becoming a saint is the vocation of all of us. Because the most important thing we know about saints is that they are definitely in heaven, which is our true home, which is where we were meant to return some day. To get there, we ourselves have to become more like them. We have to grow in our faith and make our reliance on God’s mercy the central focus of our lives.

It may help to know that most, if not all, of the saints struggled with holiness too. Think about Saint Paul himself: he began his career by persecuting Christians and we know that he had a hand in the stoning of Saint Stephen. Or think about Saint Augustine who was an intellectual man who disdained Christianity, until his mother’s prayers caught up with him. Or we might think even more recently of Saint Teresa of Calcutta who experienced a very dark time in her life when she could not even communicate with Jesus. But Jesus was still there and led her to heaven.

And so this feast in honor of all the saints is an important one. We celebrate those saints we know of like Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul, Patrick and Dominic and so many others. But we also celebrate the ones we don’t know of; people whose faith and goodness only God knows. And most importantly, in celebrating them, we vow to become like them: close to Jesus who leads those who believe in him past the gates of death to the glory of heaven, where our reward will be great, as Jesus says in the Gospel today. On that day, we will indeed rejoice and be glad!