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Reflections on Catholic Faith - November 2007 - All Souls: Yours, Mine and Others

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November 26, 2007

Blessings dear friends. We are into our final week of what the Church calls ‘Ordinary Time.’ Next Sunday brings us into the beginning of Advent. I hope that you were at Mass this weekend as we celebrated the Kingship of Jesus Christ. Recognizing Jesus in that ‘title’ is fitting as we complete the end of another year of worship.

If you’ve attended any daily Masses last week – you may recall that there were readings from the Second Book of Maccabees. In part, the topic had to do with a prominent and holy Scribe named Eleazar. Non-Jews were trying to force him eat pork – a meat that was not permitted in the Jewish faith practice. He was martyred for his refusal to consume non-approved food. Keeping that in mind – today’s reading is from the Book of Daniel. We hear a ‘story’ about four men who were to be elevated to serve the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. As a part of their ‘training’ – the men were expected (well – perhaps gifted depending upon point of view) to eat the same food as the king. However – the king’s food wasn’t kosher – and the men persuaded their ‘trainer’ to serve them only vegetables so the men wouldn’t violate the Jewish dietary laws of those times.

Knowing that Scripture speaks to us in all times and in all circumstances – what lesson can we take from these readings?

Well first and foremost, I believe that the world calls on us today to disdain the practices of our faith so that we can all ‘get along. ‘

Can we see a parallel? The Jews grew up in a culture of faith practice just as many of us (especially those of us who are pre-Vatican II) grew up in a certain faith culture. Bishop Tod Brown of Orange County, California says, “We now live in a society quite different from what we had when most of us grew up… Those of us of a certain age became Catholic by a kind of osmosis. Like the air we breathed, our faith seemed to have always been there. We discovered it in and through the culture in which we were immersed: by the way our families celebrated holidays, by the religious images that hung around our necks and the statues that adorned our bedroom bureaus and our dashboards…. Our Catholic faith seemed all around us; something so customary and comfortable as to be taken for granted.”

“Times have changed and there is much that is worrying about our current society. In this environment we have now come to think of ourselves more and more often as individuals rather than members of a community…”

Well – I think Bishop Brown makes a point that lays out the challenge of today --- a challenge for all of us trying to be a part of the All-Souls Family that we’ve been speaking of this month. And this challenge that we have is in a way, related to the teaching of Holy Scripture found in Maccabees and in the Book of Daniel. As Christians, we are not called to just go along with the currents and thinking of society. We are called to be part of the community of real believers.

To do so, we need to be strong in our faith – willing to endure the slings and arrows of today’s monolithic society. We need to be a Holy Family within the family of man!

In what ways do you think we can live out our faith today? I’ve often said I don’t think any of us will be called to don sackcloth and cover our foreheads with ashes. Hardly any are called to stand with signs reading ‘The End Is Near… Repent and Be Saved!’ But as I’ve also preached – we must be willing to live our faith in public and not just on Sundays inside the comfortable confines of our local parish.

Are you willing to say grace before meals at a restaurant? Are you willing to say a Rosary while commuting on a bus or mass transit train? Are you willing to share about your faith at your office (when asked by someone)? Does the inside of your home suggest anything about your faith practice? Will we support the Church and the poor like the widow in today’s Gospel – not out of our excesses – but even when it hurts? All of us are challenged. All of us need to be willing to respond.

Do we love the faith? Do we say yes to demonstrate our faith? Or do we submit to the pressure to ‘get along’ and eat of the forbidden food of society?

Reading 1
Dn 1:1-6, 8-20

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah,
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came
and laid siege to Jerusalem.
The Lord handed over to him Jehoiakim, king of Judah,
and some of the vessels of the temple of God;
he carried them off to the land of Shinar,
and placed the vessels in the temple treasury of his god.

The king told Ashpenaz, his chief chamberlain,
to bring in some of the children of Israel of royal blood
and of the nobility, young men without any defect,
handsome, intelligent and wise,
quick to learn, and prudent in judgment,
such as could take their place in the king’s palace;
they were to be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans;
after three years’ training they were to enter the king’s service.
The king allotted them a daily portion of food and wine
from the royal table.
Among these were men of Judah: Daniel, Hananiah,
Mishael, and Azariah.

But Daniel was resolved not to defile himself
with the king’s food or wine;
so he begged the chief chamberlain to spare him this defilement.
Though God had given Daniel the favor and sympathy
of the chief chamberlain, he nevertheless said to Daniel,
“I am afraid of my lord the king;
it is he who allotted your food and drink.
If he sees that you look wretched
by comparison with the other young men of your age,
you will endanger my life with the king.”
Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief chamberlain
had put in charge of Daniel, Hananiah,
Mishael, and Azariah,
“Please test your servants for ten days.
Give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.
Then see how we look in comparison with the other young men
who eat from the royal table,
and treat your servants according to what you see.”
He acceded to this request, and tested them for ten days;
after ten days they looked healthier and better fed
than any of the young men who ate from the royal table.
So the steward continued to take away
the food and wine they were to receive, and gave them vegetables.

To these four young men God gave knowledge and proficiency
in all literature and science,
and to Daniel the understanding of all visions and dreams.
At the end of the time the king had specified for their preparation,
the chief chamberlain brought them before Nebuchadnezzar.
When the king had spoken with all of them,
none was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah,
Mishael, and Azariah;
and so they entered the king’s service.
In any question of wisdom or prudence which the king put to them,
he found them ten times better
than all the magicians and enchanters in his kingdom.

Responsorial Psalm
Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56

R. (52b) Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and glorious above all forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you on the throne of your Kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
praiseworthy and glorious forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!

Lk 21:1-4

When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”

November 19, 2007

Those who read these reflections from time to time may have noticed that I titled this November’s columns as All Souls: Yours, Mine and Others. This is, of course to tie in with All Souls during November when the Church calls us to be prayerful and mindful of our familial relationship with the saints, with those in Purgatory and with all living Christians.

I wonder how often we say our ‘rote’ prayers in a mechanical fashion – not often thinking much concerning the meaning of the words we say…. Words such as the Communion of Saints – the words we pray in the Nicene Creed. What does this phrase mean?

All of us who are Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ. If you accept that – if you profess that, then all of us are members of one family.

Let us start this All Souls discussion with words concerning the Saints. Columnist Jeanne Hunt says: “ When I was growing up, a parish calendar hung in the kitchen. Each morning at breakfast, my mother used to read the biography of that day's saint. Through the years I collected a treasury of saint information from that early morning ritual.”

What I like about that squib of life-experience is that Jeanne’s mother was making real… making intimate and personal the experience of saints who were and are members of our family.

We are related to every saint – well, in fact we are related to all who have gone before us as members of Christ's Church – those who have gone before us and who have entered eternity and are now present to behold the ‘face of God.’  

We are related as well to those who, while deceased from this life, live on in a state of ‘waiting’ for union with Almighty God. We refer to this as a state of purging – more commonly referred to as Purgatory. The Catechism tells the following about our relationship with and about praying for the souls in purgatory:

“In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and 'because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins' she offers her suffrages for them. Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.” ( CCC, #498)

You and I are in the third or ‘other’ state of being a part of the ‘All Souls Family.’ We are what have been referred to as the Church Militant. We are in battle to achieve the goal of union with God in Heaven – of achieving the glory of sainthood. We may have prayed for our parents, our grandparents or others when they were living. And, as Catholics we believe it is still right to petition for them and to petition to them (to intercede for us) even if they are deceased.

Franciscan Friar Jim Van Vurst says, “ Heaven will never be just "God and me." What it will be is God and all of us united in his love and our love for one another. After all, how could we not share with each other God's love for us? We are family.

As I prepare the closing words of this reflection, it is Sunday evening and my wife and I have just returned from a weekend retreat with brother deacons and their wives from our diocese. In part, we met and talked with our bishop. It was a good retreat – a very good retreat. I mention this because the theme of the early part of the retreat was the necessity for us deacons to convey the message of ‘family’ to all people. We are all God’s family – just like the words of the song that said something like ‘we are all God’s children.’

One of my areas of weakness (perhaps even sin) is a tendency to impatience towards those who fall into this category of ‘one hour a week Catholic.’ I’m not being judgmental; I know what I have witnessed. There are a lot of people… many, many Christians who see faith as a one-hour a week activity. And to give examples of ideas that call us to act like family: are you registered in your parish? Do you participate in any service organizations or committees? When you hear names of parishioners who are sick – do you know who they are? Do you visit the sick? Have you written a letter of appreciation and support to your pastor and bishop? Have you had a Mass said for the Souls in Purgatory? Do you read the parish bulletin? Do you read the Archdiocesan newspaper? How long since you have made a visit to the Blessed Sacrament? Blessings! Happy Thanksgiving! See you next week. I love you, as family!

November 13, 2007

In our readings for today, the Responsorial contains thoughts from Psalm 139, the Psalm that I would call my favorite. There are others that I think are beautiful, inspiring or majestic. But Psalm 139 truly speaks to the special recesses of my being. Today’s psalm is a plea for justice and justice is also mentioned in the first reading from Wisdom, chapter one. God’s Justice is found in the Gospel teaching by Jesus about what will happen to those who lead innocent ones into sin. However, the writer of Psalm 139 is caught up in awe and wonder at the depth of the Creator’s knowledge of him.

But – setting justice to one side, it is the intimacy – the personal and ever-present relationship with God that is found in Psalm 139: “O where can I go from your Spirit?” Like the writer of this work, we can contemplate that even if when we are unwilling to accept intimacy with God – where can we go and hide from Him? We may be able to escape it for a period of time, but long term, we cannot. In the silence of a sleepless night, or the loneliness of serious, life-threatening illness… in the disintegration of a marriage… God waits to speak with us. We cannot escape our God even as we try to busy ourselves in hundreds of daily pursuits. We cannot escape God in our addictions or in temporary physical pleasures.

Who is this God that is present at every corner and above and below us? He is the One who created us…. “For it was you who created my being and knit me in my mother’s womb.”

You know, I read in a book (The School of Prayer). It said that there was a popular primeval myth that told of the birth of humankind from the womb of mother earth…. This myth speaks the words of the psalm when it says, ‘I was molded in the depths of the earth. The writer used this poetic image of darkness to express what it was like during our pre-birth period in our mother’s womb.

God is our companion at all ages and at all times. Many of us experience Yahweh most profoundly in our adult years. We are on our own road to Emmaus and He joins us for the journey: Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way. O LORD, you have probed me and you know me; you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My journeys and my rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar.”

This psalm is an affirmation of love and intimacy between God and us. Let us spend time contemplating – thinking of – walking with an awareness of the intimate God and Creator who loves us so much. This love – this intimacy – this knowledge of God is so much beyond us… yet it is there. The intuitive psalm-writer knew it. In the depths of our hearts – we know it too.

And I’ll close these (personal) thoughts about Psalm 139 by saying that if God… if Jesus isn’t this intimate to you – then pray for faith – the kind of faith that Jesus talked about in today’s Gospel… the kind of faith that can move mountains (or hearts as hard as mountain rock)!

Reading 1
Wis 1:1-7
Love justice, you who judge the earth; think of the Lord in goodness, and seek him in integrity of heart; Because he is found by those who test him not, and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him. For perverse counsels separate a man from God, and his power, put to the proof, rebukes the foolhardy; Because into a soul that plots evil, wisdom enters not, nor dwells she in a body under debt of sin. For the holy Spirit of discipline flees deceit and withdraws from senseless counsels; and when injustice occurs it is rebuked. For wisdom is a kindly spirit, yet she acquits not the blasphemer of his guilty lips; Because God is the witness of his inmost self and the sure observer of his heart and the listener to his tongue. For the Spirit of the Lord fills the world, is all-embracing, and knows what man says.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 139:1b-3, 4-6, 7-8, 9-10

R. (24b) Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
O LORD, you have probed me and you know me;
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.

R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know the whole of it.
Behind me and before, you hem me in
and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
too lofty for me to attain.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
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.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
Even there your hand shall guide me,
and your right hand hold me fast.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.

Lk 17:1-6
Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the one through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.”

And the Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

November 5, 2007

As I sat down to prepare today’s reflection, and knowing that it is the day of memorial of Venerable Solanus Casey – the first thing that came on the screen of my computer were thoughts from the Holy Father – spoken yesterday (Sunday) when he met with visitors and led the Angelus mid-day prayer with them. P ope Benedict XVI emphasized that love, acting in the human heart, is the force that renews the world. The Pontiff commented that in this weekend’s Gospel, the passage of Zacchaeus, reminds us that Jesus called him from the tree saying: "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." It was the love of Jesus that would quickly change Zacchaeus – and it was the holy love of the Irishman Barney (Solanus) Casey that changed the corner of the world he lived in.

Now as a young lad, long before I became a deacon – I grew up on the east side of Detroit. Alas, it was a period of self-centeredness and time spent on youthful pursuits. And while my mind was filled with thoughts of mostly me – many Detroit and area Catholics, including my mom and dad knew of the holy priest just a few miles away on Mt. Elliot Avenue at the Capuchin monastery downtown.

In an article written by Diane Morey Hanson, she said: “ When the doorbell of St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit rang, it sounded sharp and clear, like the clanging of a school bell. And if it rang in the wee hours of the morning, it nearly always startled the thirty or so residents out of their sleep.”

“For more than twenty years, one man hurried to open the heavy, carved oak doors: Fr. Solanus Casey, "the porter of St. Bonaventure"-the humble, compassionate, healing priest who may one day be the first American-born man to be canonized.”

There were two Franciscans who agree there was something different about Solanus. One was Brother Leo Wollenweber who served as Fr. Casey’s assistant for six years. “But (at that time) in the monastery, he was just another one of the friars, and we didn’t know the deep impact he was having on so many people.

The other Franciscan who at an early age came to know of this holy priest was Fr. Benedict Groeshelle. He tells the story that one warm evening when he was unable to sleep, he slipped into the chapel to pray. After some minutes of kneeling there in the dark, he realized that someone else was in there. Startled, he reached to turn on a spotlight. There – kneeling on the top step of the altar with his arms extended and eyes riveted on the tabernacle was Fr. Casey. “At that time he was in his late seventies and yet he didn’t move a muscle. Although his eyes were wide open, he didn’t know I (Fr. Benedict) was there and he didn’t seem to realize the light was turned on. He was a very humble man and he would have moved immediately if he knew that someone was watching him.”

Fr. Groeshelle could only conclude that the priest was in a kind of "ecstasy," a state of deep mystical prayer in which all his attention was absorbed in Christ. After a few minutes, feeling like an intruder, he turned the spotlight off and quietly left the chapel.

We place holy ones – saints and venerable folks on pedestals. May it comfort us to know that Fr. Solanus had a sense of humor – sometimes quite deprecating of self. He played the fiddle – admittedly with little talent. He had a great love of the Eucharist and Blessed Sacrament, and it has been reported that Casey would go into the chapel when no one was there – and he would serenade the Lord Jesus with his fiddle music.

Barney Casey became one of Detroit’s best-known priests even though he was not allowed to preach formally or to hear confessions! This was because when ordained, his superiors thought his theology was weak – and they never gave Father Solanus permission to hear confessions or preach. But this ‘sentence’ brought forth a love and compassion for the poor and hurting people who came to the doors of the monastery – the restrictions on this priest showed a greatness and holiness that might never have been realized.

One of my wife’s favorite sayings is: “Bloom where you are planted.” Let us pray to Solanus today for his help to bloom in God’s garden wherever we are planted – and in whatever role we are planted. But let us be sure to bloom… and shine brothers and sisters…. Shine!

© 2006-2008 Deacon Tom Online

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