All Saints

Today is the Feast of All Saints.  It’s a day when we remember the hundreds of saints who don’t have their own feast day.  But our non-Catholic friends might ask us, “Why do Catholics pray to the saints. Only God can answer prayers.”

True enough.  Only God can answer our prayers.  The fact is that we don’t pray to the saints.  We ask the saints to pray for us. The “litany of the saints” that we say on special occasions concludes with the words “pray for us.”  No Catholic, at least no Catholic who understand his or her faith, ever prays to a saint.

 

So, what’s the deal?  First of all, we believe that the saints are in heaven.  They are in God’s presence. Second, we believe that saints have a special connection to us either through our location, through our occupation, through our station in life, or in some other way.  When Catholics are confirmed, we take the name of a saint. In my case, it’s Saint Patrick.  When I pray, I ask Patrick to pray for me.  Since I’ve adopted him as my personal patron, I believe that he will intercede for me.  I think of him as a friend who lives in heaven.

 

Periodically the Church will canonize a new saint.  It’s important to remember that the Church isn’t making that person a saint.  She’s just recognizing the person’s holiness. Bernadette didn’t become a saint because Pope Pius said so.  All he did was recognize Bernadette’s holy life and add her to the list.

 

I live in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.  Saint Louis IX is the patron of the Archdiocese.  I believe that he takes a special interest in those of us who live in his namesake city.  Saint Rose Phillipine Du Chesne and Saint Vincent De Paul are also patrons of our Archdiocese.

The Church has designated certain saints as patrons of vocations and occupations.  Saint Stephen, the first deacon, is the patron of deacons, along with Saint Lawrence, and Saint Francis of Assissi.  All three were deacons.  According to saints.sqpn.com, there are 23 saints who were deacons, and that doesn’t include the three that I’ve listed.

Maybe you, or someone you love has cancer.  Saints.sqpn.com lists six patrons saints for you to choose from.  On his feast day, February 3, we pray to Saint Blaise, patron of diseases of the throat.  Here’s a good example of praying through a saint.  When the congregation present themselves for the blessing, the deacon or priest lays crossed candles around the neck and prays,”Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may you be free from all diseases of the throat and every other illness.” The key word here is “intercession”.  We’re not praying to Saint Blaise. We’re asking him to pray for us.

 

Maybe you’re a nurse.  You have eight patrons.  Soldiers, you have sixteen.  Even lawyers have eleven patron saints.  The list goes on and on.  The bottom line is that none of these folks can answer your prayers, but they can put in a good word for you.

Many of our protestant brothers and sisters think it’s scandalous that we try to sneak up on God through this spiritual back door.  But the same people will ask you or me to pray for them.

 

When I had my brain surgery in March, the members of my son’s Baptist church in Alabama prayed for me.  It’s the same thing. Remember the parable of the persistent widow? She kept coming back over and over again until the judge relented.  Likewise, I can ask God to bless my ministry. Or, I can flood heaven with prayers from my patron saints, my friends, and my family. This takes nothing from God.  It just moves the process along. I can ask for something 100 times, or I can ask ten people (living and dead) to pray for me ten times. The result is the same.

 

Of course, only God answers prayers.  To think otherwise is not Christian. But if you have friends who have His ear, it doesn’t hurt if they put in a good word for you.

Saints of God, pray for us.

 

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December 6–The Feast of Saint Nicholas

Today we remember Saint Nicholas.  He lived in present-day Turkey from 270 to 343.  Nicholas was present at the Council of Nicea where he signed the Nicene Creed in 323.

Saint Nicolas was known for his secret gift-giving, including leaving coins in children’s shoes which led to our modern celebration of Saint Nicholas Day on December 6.  The legend of Nicholas spread northward to Holland and came to New York with the Dutch settlers.  Eventually, the legend morphed into Santa Claus and associated with Christmas.

But gifts and money are still given in some areas on December 6.  So, leave your shoes out tonight.  Who knows?  You might get some gifts.

It’s Paddy! Not Patty!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone.  This post really has nothing to do with Lent but it’s a good day to show off my Irishness.

First, like the title says, today is NOT Saint Patty’s Day.  Patty is the familiar form of the female name Patricia.  The male form, at least in Ireland, is Padraig.  And the short form of Padraig is Paddy.

If you doubt the truth of this bit of history, in New York City the Paddy Wagon used to go around picking up our drunken ancestors.  They were called Paddy so the horse-drawn police vehicle was called a Paddy Wagon.  For more on the name Padraig, check this article on Wikipedia including a list of famous Paddys.paddy-irish-whiskey-40-07-l-puszka

Currently the most famous Padraig is Padraig Harrington, the Irish golfer.

Need more proof?  Paddy is a very popular whiskey in Ireland.  It’s Paddy, not Patty.

paddypowerLast, but not least, off-track betting is legal on the Emerald Isle, and the biggest legal bookie in the land is a company called Paddy Power.  They’re huge and have betting parlors all over the country and in Great Britain.

As much as we hate to admit it, Saint Patrick (Padraig) wasn’t Irish at all.  He was born in England and kidnapped by pirates who held him in Ireland.  He escaped but returned later to bring Christianity to the country.  Today he is the patron saint of the Irish (and those who wish they were Irish) and his feast day is celebrated all over the world.  How important was he?  Even today many bishops dispense their subjects from abstaining from meat today.

So, if you live in a diocgreen chicago riverese where it’s permitted, enjoy your corned beef and cabbage (something the Irish never eat), drink your green beer, and dance a jig or two, but keep in mind that is is a feast day for one of the most revered saints in history.  (FYI, there never were any snakes in Ireland).

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

mother-teresa

I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?” 

 

This is a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta who, as you probably know is being canonized by Pope Francis today in Rome. I think it’s important that we all understand what it means to be called a Saint by the Church. It doesn’t mean that tomorrow (today) she’s any different than she was when she was alive. Some people will mistakenly say that Francis is making Teresa a Saint. That’s wrong. Only God can do that. What is happening is that the Church is officially recognizing what we all knew all along.

 

You and I can be saints just as surely as Teresa is a saint, and we don’t have to travel to India to do it. We don’t have to open a hospital or tend to the sick and dying. It doesn’t hurt. But it’s not necessary. Teresa said it herself.

 

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?”  And that’s coming from someone who did a lot of good things.

Another woman, an American nun, said “We’re all called to be great saints.” That was Mother Angelica. She didn’t build hospitals. She built a TV station. But she did it with great love and I suspect she’s as much of a saint as Mother Teresa. I hope someday the Church canonizes her too.

 

As I was doing research for this homily I was surprised at how much negative stuff I found about Teresa. She had a lot of critics; even a lot of enemies. But isn’t that always the way? After all, they DID crucify Jesus Himself. When you do good things, you’re going to arouse a lot of resentment, mostly from people who don’t do anything themselves.

 

Look at today’s Gospel. Jesus tells the crowds, “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Look at what happened to Him. Luke tells us “great crowds were traveling with Jesus.” He speaks to them and lays down some pretty heavy instructions. “Take up your cross.” “Renounce all your possessions.” “Hate your parents, your wife and your children, your siblings, even your own life.”

 

In the end, when He was crucified, the great crowds were gone and He was pretty much alone. It wasn’t easy to follow Jesus. It still isn’t.

 

I’ve always had a problem with the idea of renouncing all my possessions. We’ve just gone through the Beyond Sunday campaign, and the Annual Catholic Appeal. There’s a second collection today for Catholic University. Your chapel is always in need of money. How can I respond to all these things if I don’t have any possessions? It seems confusing.

 

The answer is in today’s bulletin, in the Stewardship Thought for the week. Here’s what it says: “what we must renounce is the belief that our possessions belong to us.  Everything that we have belongs to God alone.  All of our resources are entrusted to us not only for our own use, but also so that we can help others.  Once we renounce the idea that we possess or are entitled to anything, it is much easier to share the many gifts that God has given us.  Then we truly are His Disciples.”

 

That makes perfect sense. After all these years I finally understand. I don’t have to give up my stuff, I just have to understand that it’s not really mine. God has given me things so I can use them for His glory. When we’re asked to give, either to the Church, or to the poor, or to some other good cause, we’re being asked to give back a little of what wasn’t really ours in the first place.

 

The first reading asks us, “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” That’s a good question. The answer is nobody. We can’t know what God intends. We’re not smart enough. But, as the reading says, “He has given us wisdom and sent His Holy Spirit from on high.” And every once-in-a-while, we’ll get a flash of inspiration, like I did when I read the Stewardship quote.

 

The same goes with Jesus instruction to “hate” our families. He’s not telling us to hate anyone. He’s the guy who told us to love one another as we love ourselves. What He’s telling us is to not put anyone before Him. We’re not supposed to hate our own lives. He wants us to give our lives in service to others.

 

So, as we celebrate this last holiday weekend of the summer, and celebrate the canonization of a great Catholic woman, let’s remember where we started, with the quote from Saint Teresa,

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?” 

 

 

 

 

2nd Sunday of Easter–Divine Mercy

Mother_AngelicaMother Angelica died on Easter Sunday. I’m sure most of you know who she was, but just in case….She was the founder of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). Starting in a garage, she grew EWTN into a worldwide media network reaching more than 250 million people. Even though she’s been unable to do TV work since 2002, her programs are still the most popular on the network.

 

Mother was quite a character. Her down-home style and her sense of humor attracted millions of people to her, and to Jesus. She was a nun of the Franciscan order of Poor Clares and was devoted to Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration.

 

She wasn’t afraid to be outspoken when it came to her love of Jesus. She once said, “Do we love Jesus enough to defend Him?” What a great comment!

 

Mother Angelica was 92 years old and had been sick for a long time so her death wasn’t a surprise. In fact, her community in Hanceville, AL, had been planning for her passing for a long time. They had prepared a week of liturgies to mark her death. But, being the person she was, she died on Easter. We’re not allowed to pray the Office of the Dead during the Octave of Easter, so all the services that had been prepared for so long had to be scrapped and a new series of services had to be prepared on very short notice. I’m sure the cantankerous nun is smiling in heaven, seeing so many priests and religious scrambling to prepare for this week.

 

Two things Mother said, among the thousands of quotes attributed to her, will always stay with me. She once said, “When I think of all He’s done for me and how little I’ve done for Him, I could cry.” Here’s a woman who’s taken the Gospel to millions of people around the world in spite of her many physical challenges, and she doesn’t think she’s done enough! How insignificant our contributions are by comparison. “When I think of all He’s done for me and how little I’ve done for Him, I could cry.”

 

She often said, “We’re all called to be saints”. As you and I sit in this beautiful chapel surrounded by statues and images of great saints, her words should be a constant reminder to all of us of what God’s calling us to be. She said her greatest fear was not to do God’s will.

 

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Our readings remind us of just how merciful God can be. In the Gospel, the Apostles are gathered in a locked room “for fear of the Jews”. He stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Think about that. Think about what’s just happened. Jesus was tortured and killed and these guys ran away. They hid. They deserted Him when He need them the most. Peter, the one chosen to lead His new Church even denied that he knew Jesus, not once, but three times! And Jesus’ first words to them were “Peace be with you.” He forgave them. That’s Divine Mercy.

 

All the Apostles weren’t there. Thomas was missing. When he came back, he refused to believe. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and pub my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

 

A week later, Jesus returns and this time Thomas is with the others. Again Jesus wishes them peace and offers Thomas the proof that he said he needed. Jesus didn’t rebuke Thomas. His mercy extended even to “doubting Thomas.”

 

If Jesus could forgive them, why wouldn’t we think that He’d forgive us for our transgressions.

 

In the first reading, Peter and the others have been doing signs and wonders. Not only did Jesus forgive them, He gave them power to do wondrous things so that people might believe. They believed so strongly that they thought even Peter’s shadow falling on the sick would heal them. More proof that no matter how sinful we might be, we can do great things with the help of the Holy Spirit.

 

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, when we realize that a crippled nun could start in a garage and build up a massive communications network reaching millions of believers and nonbelievers, we should realize that we can do great things too. Maybe we’ll never reach millions of people, but we can spread the Gospel to everyone we meet. That’s our mission. That’s our calling. As Mother Angelica said, “We’re all called to be saints.” Our only fear should be not to do God’s will.

 

 

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Some of the special days in our calendar are called “feasts” and some are “solemnities”. What’s the difference? A solemnity is ranked much higher than a mere feast. According to Catholic Answers, “a solemnity is the highest ranking feast. These commemorate an event in the life of Jesus, Mary or the Apostles central to the Christian faith. The celebration of mass on a Solemnity includes proper readings, the singing of the Gloria and the recitation of the creed.”

 

There are a lot of rules regarding solemnities that you really don’t need to know, but the main thing you do need to know is that part about commemorating an event in the lives of Jesus, Mary, or the Apostles that’s central to our faith. So, why is this celebration, just one week after Christmas, central to the faith?

 

It’s the day that the shepherds came to Bethlehem to see the Baby Jesus. Notice that the shepherds “went in haste”. In 2016 we don’t have a lot of contact with shepherds. We don’t know much about them. But one thing we do know is that the don’t go anywhere “in haste”. They spend their days hanging out with sheep, not known to be speedy animals. Shepherd is a pretty low-key job. But here we have them hurrying to Bethlehem to see this little baby. Something important was going on here.

When they got there, they told Mary and Joseph what the angels had told them. Luke says, “All who heard their story were amazed!” What was so amazing? Well, the story itself was pretty outrageous. But the fact that the angels had delivered this message to these sheep herders, the absolute lowest rung on the social ladder was even more amazing. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

 

Then Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary was the central player in the greatest event in the history of the world. Everything that had happened to her in the last nine months had to be pretty overwhelming. She wasn’t an educated girl. She was a young girl from a small town whose life had been turned upside-down and I’m sure she spent many hours reflecting on what had happened.

 

She knew from the time that Gabriel had visited her that she was going to give birth to the Messiah. The angel had also visited Joseph and told him what was to come. On Christmas night Mary gave birth to the Son of God. She knew it. Joseph knew it. So what makes the visit of the shepherds an event “central to our Christian faith”? What makes it a “solemnity”? Why do we have to go to mass on New Years Eve (day)?

 

I think it goes back to the shepherds. Over the centuries, God has chosen the most surprising people to deliver His message. Look around at the statues of the saints in our chapel. There are a couple of kings, and Saint Michael, the Archangel. But for the most part they were ordinary people. Yet God chose them to be His messengers. The first in this long line of ordinary messengers were those shepherds.

 

Why didn’t the angels appear to somebody important; somebody with some influence; somebody who didn’t smell like a sheep? The most obvious answer is because the shepherds lived a quiet life. They were available to hear the message. They listened. Then, when they had received the message they went “in haste” to Bethlehem. It may have been the first time in their lives that they hurried anywhere.

 

If the shepherds were the first New Testament messengers, and if all these saints were messengers, then who are His messengers today? Take a look at the person sitting next to you. Better yet, take a look in the mirror. That’s where you’ll find His twenty-first century messengers. It’s you and me. We’re called to spread the Good News of the Gospel in this place and time. And, like the shepherds, we’d better hurry! There’s no time to waste!

 

If we’re not just as amazed by this story as the people who heard it first-hand from the shepherds, then we haven’t been paying attention. In the first reading the Lord told Moses to bless Aaron and his sons saying, “The lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

 

“Let His face shine upon you.” Nobody had ever seen God’s face. How could the Lord let his face shine upon them? That’s what this solemnity is all about. Now God has a face! It’s the face of a little baby lying in a manger. And the shepherds couldn’t wait to see it. This is what the world’s been waiting for for centuries. It’s an event that’s central to our faith.

 

The all-powerful God has chosen to show Himself to us in the form of a little baby. Halleluia!

 

On this day when we celebrate this awesome event, and on a day when we celebrate the changing of the secular calendar to a new year, we should keep in mind our neighbors who are suffering greatly from the recent rains and the catastrophic flooding. Please keep them in your prayers and, do what you can to help them. We will be taking up a second collection today and at both masses this weekend to help our neighbors. Please be generous, as you always are.

 

Saint Andrew

Today is the feast day of Saint Andrew, Apostle and martyr.  I was surprised when I did a Google search for Andrew that one of the results was a blog post that I wrote on his feast in 2011.  It actually wasn’t bad!  It makes me wonder if my ability to put words together on a page (or screen) isn’t less than it once was.  Old age isn’t for sissies!

Anyway, I thought it might be worth while, on this first Monday of Advent, to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit Saint Andrew.

A quick word-association:  What do you think of when you hear Saint Andrew‘s name.  Hopefully you think “Apostle” or “martyr”, buy if you’re like me you probably think “Simon’s brother”.  Even the Ordo, the Church’s book of daily prayers, mass readings, and other helpful stuff for clergy says “Andrew, + 1st c.; brother of Simon Peter“.

 

We  can learn a lot from Andrew.  All of us live in someone’s shadow.  Whether it be a spouse or a sibling, someone in school or someone at work, there always seems to be someone who gets more recognition, more respect than we do, at least in our own minds.  Think of Andrew.  He’s the one who brought Simon to Jesus.  Yet, Jesus always seemed to favor Simon in spite of the fact that he was constantly messing things up.  It was Simon who Jesus called “Satan”.  It was Simon who cut off the centurion’s ear.  It was Simon who denied Jesus three times.  In spite of all his failings, it was Simon who Jesus put in charge of His new church.

What about Andrew?  He did his job.  He spread the Gospel just as Jesus had called him to do.  And he suffered a martyr’s death.  Twenty centuries later we remember Andrew, but primarily as Simon Peter’s brother.

It’s appropriate that Andrew’s feast day falls within Advent.  As we pray and reflect in preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s birth we can compare Andrew’s life with our own.  Who are the Simon Peters in your life?  More important, how do you interact with them?  Are you jealous or are you glad to have them in your life?  Are they positive role models?

Like I said yesterday, God made each of us to be unique individuals.  Rather than envy someone else’s accomplishments, embrace them and learn what you can from them to make yourself a better you.  I have four grown-up children.  Each of them is a unique individual.  Each one excels in different things.  I’m sure that at one time or another they’ve all felt like they were living in one another’s shadows.  But the reality is that each one is the wind beneath the others’ wings.

Today’s challenge is to think about the people in your life who seem to get all the attention.  What can you learn from them?  More important, how can you use the gifts God has given you to be a better “you” instead of an imitation “them”.

After 2,000 years we may think of Andrew as Simon Peter’s brother, but the thing is we’re still thinking about him.