Saint Josaphat, Bishop & Martyr and Notre Dame Day of Service

Today’s readings

This morning we gather in the presence of a merciful and compassionate God, not a dishonest judge. We gather in prayer knowing that those prayers are heard and answered in God’s way, in God’s time. The exercise of perseverance in prayer is not so much to change God’s will as it is for us to come to know God’s will and to further our relationship with him. People of faith get answers to their prayers all the time: maybe not the answers they expected, but always the answers that are for their good, in the long run.

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Josaphat, a sixteenth century Basilian monk and Orthodox bishop of the church in what is present-day Belarus. He joined five other bishops in a cause seeking reunion with Rome. Other Orthodox monks, however, did not want union with Rome; they feared interference in liturgy and customs. But over time, using synods and other instruction, he was able to win many of the Orthodox in that area to the union. But the fight was far from over. A dissident faction of the church was formed, and they fomented opposition to Josaphat. Eventually the mob murdered him and threw his body into a river. The body was recovered and is now buried in St. Peter’s basilica. Josaphat is the first saint of the Eastern Church to be canonized by Rome.

So Josaphat’s mission of unity in the Church continues to this day. This task requires open dialogue and discussion, but also persistence in prayer. Every day more and more doors are being opened, and we continue to have faith that one day, Josaphat’s mission, and the mission of so many others, will finally achieve unity and will re-establish the one Church that Jesus came to establish.

Today, on our Day of Service, we take our persistent prayer and manifest it in our work. As we come together to visit the nursing home or Ronald McDonald House, or make cards for those in military service, or make rosaries for the sick, our presence and concern may be the way God is answering someone’s prayers. As we engage in whatever we have signed up to do today, God may give us gifts that answer prayers we didn’t even know we had in our hearts. One thing is certain: when we pray persistently and work for the kingdom of God, God can take our faith and do great things with it. He did with Saint Josaphat, and he will with us.

Pope Saint Leo the Great, Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

Pope St. Leo the Great was known to be a wonderful administrator of the Church. But far from being caught up in purely administrative matters, he was also a very spiritual and prayerful man, many of whose great writings have become part of the lifeblood of our Church. He was elected to the papacy in the year 440, and he set the tone as a pope who believed in the pontiff’s total responsibility for the flock he led.

His work included extensive defense of the church against the heresies of Pelagianism and Manichaeism and others, he played the role of peacemaker, defending Rome against attacks by the Barbarians, and very significantly helped to settle a controversy in the Church of the east on the two natures of Christ. His work on that issue was promulgated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Leo was well versed in Scripture and ecclesiastical awareness, and he also had the ability to reach the everyday needs and interests of his people. We have many of his writings to this day, and some are used in the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. Some of his prayers also exist today in the Roman Missal.

Our Lord teaches in the Gospel today that the Kingdom of God is among us. As citizens of that kingdom, we would do well to follow Saint Leo’s teaching that holiness consists in doing the work we are called upon to do in our station in life, but not so much that it costs us our relationship with Christ. Prayer and spiritual growth are also required of the disciple, and holiness consists of doing both work and prayer in proper balance.

Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week of Ordinary Time: Election Day

Today’s readings

Turn from evil and do good,
that you may abide forever;
The just shall possess the land
and dwell in it forever.

So says the Psalmist today, and I think these words are comforting ones. Here we stand, finally, on election day, in the midst of one of the most rancorous and in many ways, disheartening, campaigns in recent memory. Now all the sound bytes and debates and campaign ads and news stories coalesce into the cornerstone of our democracy: your vote and mine.We Catholics are required by our faith to participate in this democratic process. The Catechism tells us: It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community. 

Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2239-2240)

Every one of our voices matter, and so we are required to vote even when we think we’re just one person. It is up to us to stand up for what’s right: to defend the sanctity of life, to advocate for the poor, and generally to build up a society in which all people of good will can grow in their faith while they await their turn to move to that place in heaven that God has prepared for us.

I understand when people say, this year, it’s all too depressing. But the Psalmist’s reminder is a good one: The just shall possess the land / and dwell in it forever. God is in control, and he’s using you and me to make his message known.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Mother Mary, patroness of the United States of America, pray for us.

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.