The Hassle and Blessing of Saints

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During Mass the other day, the presider asked the congregation to add intentions to the Prayers of the Faithful.  I offered a prayer for an ill priest at Blessed John XXIII Seminary here in Massachusetts.  After we all sat down my roommate leaned in and judgingly said, “I think you mean SAINT John XXIII.”  My Catholic embarrassment reached schoolboy-ish highs.  How could I have forgotten???

This moment made me realize that our recent declarations of sainthood involve more work than I would have expected (and not just for theologians and miracle-investigating doctors).  Stoneworkers and Signmakers the world over must be rejoicing over the countless parishes and institutions now in need of their services.   The pastors and finance officers in charge of paying these craftspeople must be fussing over their budgets to find the necessary money to pay them—not to mention the money needed to pay for the accompanying celebrations.

What’s in a name-change?  Clearly a lot of time, money, effort, and stress.

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Moving Away from Miracles

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Miracles were not a topic I expected to surface during our parish mission last month. But Father Tim referenced them with easy comfort.

“I’ve seen so many miracles in my fifteen years here,” he said. “Changes of heart, real conversions.” What, he implied, could be more miraculous?

Which brings us to the subject of canonization.

Supernatural miracles, long required for canonized Catholic saints, have had a storied role in the history of sainthood. Post-death miracles were mandated as a way of verifying that the potential saint was a friend of God and not a fraud or magician, and that her current address was indeed heaven.

In the centuries prior to John Paul II’s papacy, at least four miracles were required for sainthood, but in 1983 the pope lowered the requirement to two: one to be beatified, and a second to become a canonized saint. (Martyrs need only one miracle total.)

Pope Francis has gone still further, lifting the requirement for a second miracle for Pope John XXIII and dispensing the miracle requirement entirely for three other new saints.

Might the Church be moving toward eliminating the requirement for miracles? I hope so, for both theological and practical reasons.

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What Shopping Malls Can Tell Us about the Future of Hispanic Ministry

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In a recent TIME Magazine article, “Mercado of America,” a successful Mexican-American businessman has turned run-down and depleted shopping malls into commercial and cultural centers of activity in the South and Southwest by targeting the local Hispanic population. Beyond stocking his malls with stores catering to that demographic, José de Jesús Legaspi has also targeted culture. Shopping becomes a distinctly familial event, as young and old alike venture to “La Gran Plaza” for the day. In each mall, a Mercado: “[a] three-story bazaar packed with small storefronts selling everything from piñatas to PlayStations.” While parents and children shop and haggle in their native language (often Spanish), older generations will find places in the mall to sit, talk, read, and sleep. And since this place is designed to be a one-stop family shop, a wide variety of needs can be met, which means storefronts containing anything from grocery stores to DMV’s.

Legaspi’s model seems to have successfully resonated with Hispanics in America. However, there are already signs that this cultural reality is changing and morphing into something ever more in-line with mainstream American culture. This change, not surprisingly, is being spearheaded by the youth. TIME notes that “most growth in the Hispanic population in the U.S. is now being driven by children born here rather than by migrants.” This means that young Hispanics are more likely to speak, eat, act, and shop like mainstream American culture. For Legaspi and his business, this means that what is working today in his malls, will not work one day. And that “one day” may be sooner than we realize.

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Jumping Out of the Boat

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I think that one of the best feelings to experience is the joy of seeing a good friend who you haven’t seen in a long time. When I was a senior in high school, an exchange student from Switzerland lived with my family for a year. Sera and I immediately became inseparable, and it was tough to say goodbye when she returned home at the end of the year. Two summers ago, I visited Sera in Switzerland, and when I got off the plane, we couldn’t contain our joy and excitement at being reunited after being apart for a year.

I can only imagine what it must have felt like for the disciples to be reunited with Jesus after thinking that he was gone forever. My favorite story in the Bible takes place after the Resurrection. The disciples are in the fishing boat, and they fish through the night, unable to catch anything. Just as dawn breaks, they see a figure onshore, who tells them to cast their net into the sea on the other side of the boat. They reluctantly do so, and when they pull it up, they find the net teeming with fish. My very favorite part of the story comes when Peter realizes that it’s Jesus onshore, and he is so filled with joy that he simply cannot wait for the boat to get to shore to see him—he jumps into the waves and swims toward Jesus.

Peter’s joy is so full and unbridled that he allows it to overcome him. His joy outweighs his concern about getting wet, or any worries that the waves might drown him, and he swims toward Jesus with the single-minded determinedness of one who will do whatever it takes to get to the one he loves. In a world so full of problems and suffering, we must allow ourselves to be overcome with a joy that overpowers any fear that stands in the way of us being with God.

Not everything God is calling us to do will be easy— we will have to to serve and sacrifice and deny ourselves. The sea will not always be smooth for us; there will be waves that threaten us. But we are driven forward by the joy of knowing that the one we love and who loves us is waiting on the shore for us, and he will not allow us to drown.

When we are like Peter, who will do whatever it takes to get to Jesus, the burdens we bear seem small in comparison with the happiness we feel knowing that we are heading straight into the arms of our Savior. Like Peter, we must have the courage to jump out of the boat. We all have our own boats, made up of the things that are familiar, easy, and comfortable for us. We are all sometimes reluctant to venture into the unknown; we often prefer to stay where we are comfortable. But what is waiting for us onshore is so much better! Peter had to leave the safety and familiarity of the boat in order to remove the space between him and Jesus. Likewise, we have to venture away from what is comfortable and be willing to face head on whatever challenges life has in store for us, propelled forward by the pure joy of knowing that God is there waiting for us with open arms.

I love to think about what it must have felt like, after a long, dark night of fishing and catching nothing, to see the sun finally rise, and to realize that one you thought was gone has come back for you. Just as we must not be afraid to allow ourselves to feel pain and sadness, we also must not be afraid to allow ourselves to feel pure happiness, because we are loved completely and unconditionally. Even when the night is dark and the waves are high and the water cold, we rejoice and jump out of our boat, because love is waiting for us onshore, and we will allow nothing to separate us from it.

Patristic Voices: Augustine on Human Unity

There is no doubt that, whatever their day to day lives were like, women in the patristic era did not even have a theoretical equality with men.  The text we quoted from Augustine last week is an example of this.  Such was the time, the history, the culture, the philosophy, the understanding of Scripture and of human nature that questions like, “Will female bodies be raised as male ones at the Eschaton?” were not outrageous to ask.  Augustine cites two scripture passages that were used by proponents of the male only resurrection theory, Ephesians 4:13 and Romans 8:29.  We would probably not interpret these passages that way, and neither, in fact, did Augustine.  Instead, Augustine’s view of women was ahead of his time, but not up to par with our time, and yet timeless too.

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Guest Post: The Day I Became Catholic

Today is Easter Sunday, and my first full day of being Catholic. At the Easter Vigil last night, I received the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Looking back on last night and the previous days, weeks, months and years of my own faith formation, I can recall a wide range of emotions along the way. As my own relationship with God has unfolded, I have felt so much gratitude, both towards God and towards my beloved family, friends, and mentors who have offered me so much guidance and patient support. I felt humility before the outpourings of love from my loved ones and God, and of course I have also felt joy, sorrow, regret, and peace.

One particular emotion that seems to stand out is fear. For those fortunate enough to have been baptized into the church at a young age, it may be difficult to imagine the fear that accompanies joining the Catholic Church as an adult (or just a large child, in my case).

From an objective standpoint, fear is a strange thing to feel. Many people fear death or retribution or aggressive geese. Why would somebody fear life in God, forgiveness of sins, and boundless compassion? Why would somebody fear freedom from sin and worldly desires, the peace of God and knowing that death has been conquered? Like all great writers, allow me to defer to someone else. Specifically, the scriptures.

We find that in the bible, fear is indeed a very real, natural, and common response to an encounter with the divine. When Joshua is commissioned by the Lord to engage in his military campaign to take the land of Canaan, a land with hostile nations with military superiority, he must have been terrified. And yet, we find that God is continually encouraging Joshua, imploring him to “be strong and courageous, [to] not fear and [to] not be dismayed.[1]” When Manoah and his wife, parents of Samson, discover that the man they were speaking with was actually an Angel, they “fell on their faces on the ground.[2]” We find that when Daniel encountered Gabriel, the people around him were so terrified that they ran away, hiding themselves. Daniel “grew deathly pale, and [he] retained no strength.[3]” And truly, when the Angel arrives in Matthew 28 to announce the news, the wondrous, glorious, incredible news of Christ rising, the guards are knocked out cold and his first words to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are “Do not be afraid.[4]”

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Hesitation, Silence, and “Huh.”

Photo by Drew Herron, used with Creative Commons License
Photo by Drew Herron, used with Creative Commons License

You know what’s confusing? When you might have a vocation to religious life and you’re the only one who’s excited about it.

Over the past year, I’ve told a lot of people that I’m considering religious life. Their response is, at best, measured.

They choose words carefully and hesitantly. “Wow, you’re doing a lot of thinking.” “Huh.” Maybe a follow-up question. Sometimes just silence.

There are plenty of good reasons for some restraint. People close to me don’t want to unduly influence my decision. People unfamiliar with religious life are unsure where to direct the conversation. Acquaintances feel it’s not their place to give feedback on such a deeply personal matter. I get it.

But the aggregate result is unnerving. When no one encourages you about a vocation, and then people hesitate to respond when you do say something, you start to think you’re a little crazy.

I’ve wondered if I’m a terrible fit for religious life and everyone sees it but me, or if everyone else knows that women’s religious life is dead and I’m just too naïve to realize it.

It’s like I’m dating someone and everyone thinks I could do better but is too polite to say so, discretion thinly covering their internal disapproval.

I didn’t realize how deeply this all had affected me until last November when I met up with Father Tim, who has known me since he was a young parish priest twenty years ago. Father Tim is a raging extrovert, a charismatic guy whose ideas, thoughts, and emotions bubble out with unrelenting enthusiasm, and he was in full force that day.

“You should do religious life!” he said excitedly. “Not because it’s better than everything else, but because I think it would make you really happy.” I almost cried with relief. No one had ever said that to me before, and I’d started to think it wasn’t true.

Since then, his unbridled and continuing delight at the idea of my going into religious life has given me the freedom to consider it as a legitimate, and legitimately cool, option.

Granted, this says something about my own discernment; if I were leaning strongly toward marriage, I might find Father Tim’s clear preference pushy or intimidating.

Something like that happened to a friend of mine. His family and parish priest pushed him toward priesthood from a young age and never let it go, even after he clearly said he wasn’t interested. Being saddled with the expectation of priesthood created a deep resentment toward the idea that remains firmly in place 20 years later.

So I don’t know what the “right” response is, exactly. I do know that I have appreciated when people have kept the conversation going, particularly when they have shared their own stories of discernment, stories which I increasingly crave.

And I hope that people won’t be afraid to say this simple sentence (judiciously and only if accurate), to me and other discerners:

“Religious life is a great option, and I think you’d be fantastic at it.”

The Most Jarring of All Facts: Resurrexit Sicut Dixit

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 And he saw and believed.

People of God: see and believe!

We have seen the betrayal of Holy Thursday, known the despair of Good Friday, and felt the loneliness of the quiet tomb on Holy Saturday. During this past week, we remember the betrayal, despair and then eerie quiet that surrounded Marathon Monday in this city just a year ago.

But now, on this Easter Sunday, in this very place, we may see and believe that tomb is empty – empty not because someone has moved the body – but rather empty because the Lord is risen!

Easter Sunday doesn’t wipe away the death of Jesus: it doesn’t wipe away the pain and suffering that we have felt in our own lives either – it doesn’t bring back lives lost – but it does show us all that even in the darkest shadows of death, the light of Christ summons us back to a world that isn’t perfect, but still filled with the loving embrace of God’s love. This love is found in the care of our family, friends, neighbors, and please God, our Church too.

Easter – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – transforms Jesus’ existence. He lives, no more to die. And so too it is with us: Easter doesn’t guarantee us happiness; but it does promise us salvation.

The Good News of Easter is that the promise of salvation isn’t pushed off into some distant time: no, our salvation is the experience of God among us right now. It’s in the form of the Eucharist that we will share in just a few minutes; it’s in the form of forgiveness, compassion, and mercy. It’s in the form of each other – you and me – when we take others down off their crosses so that they can rise again.

The Easter event is not something that just happened once, as if it were simply dot on the map history. The reason we celebrate Easter is not because of one event in history: we gather here to celebrate Easter because the Spirit of the Risen Christ lives in each one of us in our hearts, minds, and our actions too. This Spirit resides in each one of us because someone, at some point in our lives, loved us enough to bring us to be baptized, so that we might become part of the Body of Christ.

As the sun rises this morning, we recall that there are days in our lives that are filled with the light of life, and yet, at the same time, there are days filled with darkness. Our lives are lived between light and darkness: sometimes it is our own fault, sometimes we’re innocent by-standers, and still other times we don’t even know what has happened – we’re just left to pick up the pieces of our lives.

But – Easter stands out as God’s great yes to all of us – to all humanity. The sun fades each day, but the light of Christ does not: the light of the Son – the Son of God – shines on each of us precisely because Jesus, God’s Son, has risen from the dead.

Today, by coming here, we have taken the same journey of Mary Magdalene: hoping against hope that the events of Good Friday could be reversed. We have taken the same journey as Peter, running toward the tomb, not daring to hope that God could be as good as to raise Jesus from the dead.

Brothers and sisters: the question asked of us today now that we are here in the same place as Mary and Peter is what are we to do? What are the things that we’ve buried in the tombs: is it shame, anger, grudges, lack of mercy, or refusing compassion? What are those things that we have sitting in the tombs of our lives, perhaps out of sight, but not out of mind, thinking that they aren’t weighing us down? We all have them: maybe we cannot bring ourselves to say I’m sorry; or perhaps we cannot say, “I forgive you.” Maybe we’ve let our relationship with a friend, a sibling or a spouse go cold – perhaps even we’ve lost touch with God.

Whatever these tombs are located – the forgotten slights or the old wounds — today we remember that Mary and Simon Peter and all of us too – still go running to the tomb to find the most jarring of all facts: the tomb is empty, death has been defeated, the Lord lives no more to die: Christ is risen, Alleluia!

 

 

 

 

Patristic Voices: Hieratikon – The Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom

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By: Thomas Palanza, Jr.

Have you ever thought that God wasn’t all that fair?  You probably have, but if not then you probably should.  The psalms certainly do (see psalm 10).  Fair is not, however, an appropriate word to ascribe to God.  Fair means “agreeing to what is thought to be right or acceptable” (Merriam-Webster).  Since God – in his very being/essence/nature – is goodness, beauty, and truth then he does not agree to what is thought to be right, he simply is what is right.  So when we find a situation where God doesn’t seem to be fair, perhaps we should ask ourselves if this is simply because we don’t see what is really right.

This “unfairness” of God takes two obvious forms: we either think he is being too generous or too harsh; sometimes both at the same time (see Mark 4:25).  Easter is one of those moments of unfairness.   We might not think this at first, but let’s take a look at St. John Chrysostom’s Easter homily and see if we can begin to see Easter as a time of “unfairness.”

1

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.

If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.

If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense.

2

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.

If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.

If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.

If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.

If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.

3

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first;

He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.

He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first;

To the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.

He both honors the work and praises the intention.

4

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!

O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!

You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!

The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!

The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!

5

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

6

He that was taken by death has annihilated it!

He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!

He embittered it when it tasted His flesh!

And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed:

“Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.”

7

It was embittered, for it was abolished!

It was embittered, for it was mocked!

It was embittered, for it was purged!

It was embittered, for it was despoiled!

It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

8

It took a body and came upon God!

It took earth and encountered Heaven!

It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!

9

O death, where is thy sting?

O Hades, where is thy victory?

10

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.

11

To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.

Amen.

Indeed, John portrays a very “unfair” God.  A god who is much, much, much too generous for our human palates.  John Chrysostom was not an easy going person.  He was continually at odds with the wealthy and powerful and was exiled twice mainly due to his uncompromising uprightness.  Yet here, we see him inviting to the great Easter Vigil not just those who have done well observing the practices of the Church, those who have given alms, who have fasted, and who have been steeped in constant prayer.  No, here we see John inviting – even more emphatically – begging people to come to the Easter Vigil to celebrate.  We can see this most clearly in paragraphs 3 and 4.  John alludes to the parables of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24), and the Workers in the Vinyard (Matthew 20:1-16), all of which portray a God who is unfair – unfair because he is far too generous!

What does this mean for us?  First, we must ask ourselves, what kind of Christian am I?  Am I the kind that believes they are worthy of going to Church and celebrating the Great Feast?  Am I the kind that sees all of the “Easter Lilly Christians” and judges them as less worthy than myself to participate at the Lord’s Table?  If we identify with this kind of Christian, then John’s message to us is clear – “The Master is gracious and receives the last EVEN AS the first!”  Or am I the kind of Christian that does not think they should be at Church this Easter?  Am I the kind of Christian who is afraid of the judgment of other Christians?  Am I the kind of Christian that is longing to meet God, but afraid to do so at the same time?  If we identify with this kind of Christian, then John’s message is equally clear – “Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward!

To all kinds of Christians, John is telling us to joy in the glory, the goodness, the grace of God!  What matters is that you come to the feast ready to be joyful – for the only thing that can ruin the feast is if you do not participate in it joyfully!  Everything else that you are, that you have done, none of that matters on this night.  One thing alone matters, that you answer the Master’s call joyfully, honestly, lovingly.  If you come to the Easter celebration in love with God then you come to the Easter celebration doing all that God asks you to do.

On Light Shows and the Light of Christ: A Reflection for the Easter Vigil

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I think most people would agree that Disney World has nothing significant to contribute to the spiritual life, and if it does, that something is certainly not in any proportion to the astounding cost one pays to walk its suspiciously happy streets.  Having visited there recently with some dear friends, however, I am less inclined to poopoo the spiritual possibility nestled therein.

As far as my people-watching skills could tell, there were really two sorts of people present during my visit.  The first was far more common:  they were the folks that–well aware of  how much they paid for their families–were at Disney World to be entertained.  They paid for a product and demanded a very damn good one in return.  I do not blame these people in the slightest, and suspect very many of them go home frustrated.

The second sort of person seeks less entertainment than they do an imaginative experience for themselves and their families.  They go to Disney (paying just as much money, I should add) seeking entry into a world that is otherwise – one where perhaps magic, princes, princess, and evil sorcerers may exist.  Especially during the Magic Kingdom’s nightly light show, this sort of person, the one who desires to be elsewhere, can actually achieve their goal of feeling like they are in a different world.   In a mind-blowing use of high-tech projection, Disney’s master artists bring Cinderella’s Castle to life, making it seem like its bricks were falling from the sky, changing colors, and being rebuilt to the heavens.  It was not only stunning, but also almost made a believer out of me.  Their use of light was playing on deeper, more magical sensibilities deep within me.

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