Monday, October 31, 2011


All Souls Day

On November 1st we celebrate All Saints, but November 2 we celebrate All Souls Day. But why celebrate?

“Dare we hope that all be saved?” Asked Hans Urs von Balthasar.

St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone....

“This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.”

God our savior…wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.

This is the good news we live and proclaim. May we continually pray for all people, our loved ones, and, yes, even our enemies.

And we pray for the living and for the dead. And the dead? Yes, even the dead. We cannot put limits on God’s love and mercy. His Mercy endures forever. The Father in Luke 15 proclaims: My son was dead but has come back to life. We must rejoice!

For what can separate us from the love of Christ? Even time and space? God is eternal, so even if a loved one died without a definitive faith, we trust that God, in his mercy, can allow for mercy outside of time and space. For there are those whose faith is known to God alone, and who are we to judge our neighbor and condemn anyone to the flames of hell.

In the words of St. James: “Merciless is the judgment on the man who has not show mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment.”

“Who has directed the spirit of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? (Isaiah 40:13-14). We entrust those who have died to the mercy of God.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he wrote of our hope: “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

“For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.

“But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his Blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath.

“Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:5-11).

Saint Paul prays for the soul of a deceased fellow believer: "May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus because he often gave me new heart and was not ashamed of my chains. But when he came to Rome, he promptly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day. And you know very well the services he rendered in Ephesus” (2 Tim. 1:16-18; 4:19).

Paul ends the letter by stating: "Greet…the family of Onesiphorus” (2 Tim.4:19). It is clear that Onesiphorus has died, and Paul is not only praying for him, but also wants to comfort the family.

As Saint Ambrose said: “We have loved them in this life; let us not abandon them in death.”

Let us proclaim the hope of this faith through our very lives. May we love others into the love of God.

And may God have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

To Mask or Demask? That is the Question....


Should we simply wear masks or should we become saints?
All too often life today seems to be totally focused on the externals, on the attractiveness of someone, their popularity, and someone can now be famous for simply being famous.

Where are the real selves out there? What does it mean to be real in such a plastic world?

Fr. Louis Merton, more widely known simply as Thomas Merton, the Benedictine monk in the Cistercian Abbey at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky wrote at length about this issue in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1966 Merton wrote “Perhaps our society will be wrecked because it is so completely taken up with [the] externals and has no grasp of [the] inner dimension of life."

Dogs and cats, horses, trees and flowers, stars and planets – all of these beautiful creations of God are what they are because they fulfill their nature by being who and what they are and what they were created to be!

The way human beings fulfill their nature and the way we excel in beauty and truth is that we are called to holiness. What does this mean? What does the call to holiness mean? What does it mean to be a saint?

Our sanctity—our holiness depends upon our willingness to be ourselves. Merton wrote that “to be a saint means to be oneself.” Therefore one must first discover our “true self.”

Now we can all wear masks from time to time. But we are only fooling ourselves, aren’t we?

But being holy being a saint being our true selves also requires us to share in the work of God to be co-creators, since we are in fact created in the image of God.

Masks please others—we can make others happy by being someone else or being who they want us to be. But we will be miserable and we won’t be ourselves and others will likely pick up on it.
If we want to be the false self, we may well want to live outside of God’s will and god’s love—though we may not  even realize this.

The Pharisees wanted to be little gods among what many of them considered the poor rabble of Israel and the religious leaders of Jesus’ time believed that they were above the common folk, even though they may have not have even realized it.
Sin is Latin word which means “without”. Think about it. Without what? Without God? Without Truth? Without Grace? Without our true self – outside of reality, living without reality, dwelling in a false world, a false reality, indeed, a false self.

There is a certain danger with the false self. If we get too close to a fire, our mask we wear will likely burn up—catching fire and exploding in our face and burn up.
Prayer is where we place ourselves in the presence of the flame of God’s love? All that is false will be burned off. So if pray—really pray—allow our false selves to be burnt away, letting the mask melt away, letting the glow of God’s Grace shine forth from our face like Moses coming down the mountain, of Jesus himself when he was transfigured before Peter, James and John.

But if we avoid prayer, if we avoid change, if we resist conversion, or perhaps worse, if we pray like some, where we “say” prayers, we merely talk at God and we do all the talking, but there is neither inner change nor a dropping of the masks that we proudly wear or unknowingly wear.
[Merton again writes:] The true inner self must be drawn up like a jewel from the bottom of the sea, rescued from confusion and the trivial.”

Even our discovery of God is an illusion. God discovers us. God comes down from heaven in search of us. God finds us and God wants us for us to remove our masks so that [He can and] we can remove our masks and discover our true selves and then we discover the true image of God within ourselves and allow God to see His Son in ourselves that is true prayer and true conversion.
This self-emptying—this dropping of our false self and allowing the diamond in the rough to be cleansed, transformed and polished by God takes place in prayer and through prayer.

Placing ourselves in the hands of God, becoming holy does not involve first the externals, but an inner rebirthing – being born again – as Christ told Nicodemus (Jn. 3).
What is that—to be born again? To once again become our true selves—a new, fresh start and the false self – die and the mask must be removed and discarded.

Paul Tillich wrote: “The courage to be” is in direct opposition to us trying to be this that or being this person or acting like so and so.
Do we really need titles?

I have a degree, but big whoop. I do not demand that you call me “Master” or “Professor”.
I am a teacher, but do not demand that my students call me “Rabbi” or “teacher”.

I am the father to my sons, but I do not demand that they call me “Father”.
St. Paul called himself the father of many Christian communities, but he didn’t demand to be called “father”.

There is only one who is Master, Father, Rabbi, Teacher: God.
So what’s the point? That is the point.

We humble ourselves and God will exalt us. If we empty ourselves God will fill us with life.
If we remove our masks, then God will reveal to us our true selves.

And we will no longer need masks, for we will have become our true selves.
We will become who we are called to be.

We will be happy.
We will be Holy.
We will be saints.  

We will simply be.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Huckleberries in our Midst October 23, 2011

He looked like Huckleberry Hound, to be honest.  He was an unshaven character and his five o’clock shadow looked well past midnight, the loose skin of his jaws drooping and dangling. His clothes were shabby, shoes well-worn on the heels and in the toes; he always wore a ratty sports coat; in the winter his wraps made him look like a character from a Charles Dicken’s novel; and he had an unusual smell of mold.
I also knew this man from Church. He was a faithful mass-goer. In fact, he went to daily mass. As a young boy we began each school day with Mass and I had seen him for years at church. He would come into church, bless himself with the holy water, make his way down the aisle, genuflect, kneel and lean forward on the pew as if he was crawling into his heavenly Father’s lap and hugging him around the neck. His faith was visible. And when he came forward for communion, he always received communion on the tongue and returned to his pew and devoutly prayed, the intensity of his thanksgiving obvious. This man seemed to live his life as an alien among his fellow man.

He was also a regular customer at the Pancake Palace. He drove an old blue two-door 1967 Chrysler that was rusty along the fenders and underside; the tires were underinflated and the left turn signal was always on, eternally stuck and it blinked red wherever he went, even if he was going straight or turning right. You could see him coming down the street, he leaned to the left in his driver’s seat and he never broke 20 miles per hour; traffic behind him was bumper to bumper as he cruised into the Pancake Palace parking lot. With his eternal left turn signal on, it was a good thing he always turned left into the parking lot. He’d creep through the parking lot and usually park in the last parking slot on the south side of the building.
He smoked a cigar most of the time when he came into the restaurant. He always sat on the last stool at the counter. He ordered decaf coffee and then usually ordered the blue plate special of the day. He didn’t bother anyone and made no nuisance.  However, I never knew his name. We just called him Huckleberry Hound. He would speak to me as I was sweeping the floor or cleaning a table or washing the windows, and let me know I was doing a good job, but that was about it. That and his usual nod with the words, “God bless.”

In today’s first reading from Exodus, God is clear that we “shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt…. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you do wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cries.” I know there are times when I just feel like this world is such an alien place and not my true home. And I know that still, today, we are all aliens here, for our true homeland is in heaven.
But aside from spiritual alienation, many of our ancestors were aliens in the U.S., weren’t they? Mine were. We can think of the tens of thousands of Irish, German, Italian immigrants who came here in the 1840s through the 1900s. America would not be such a great nation if they had been rejected or turned away then.

So whatever became of Huckleberry Hound? Well, it turns out that he was the son of German immigrants who had come to the states in the late 1800s. But he was very eccentric and chose to live very simply, perhaps so affected by the depression era that he lived with a very conservative view of money and the like. He certainly did not put on airs — or deodorant.
What we do know is that when he died at the age of 90 in the late 1980s, much to the surprise of many in town, he was identified as an entrepreneur of the prominent business and it was revealed that he was a millionaire. He was a widower and had no children. In his will he left a lot of money to charitable organizations and he left at large sum of money to the Church.

I was an altar server when he died. I recall his funeral. There were very few people who came. But I was glad I was there. And I have never forgotten him or what he taught me: never judge by appearances.
This man was the face of God obscured by his unshaven face and smelly coat. Yet he was an alien in our midst, a man with a story that was unfortunately never heard—at least until now. He died alone and was buried in the shadows of the cemetery, although he was a faithful Catholic who no doubt had heard the gospel and tried to live it in the best way he could everyday of his life.

I never heard him judge another human being; he loved God with his whole heart and soul, and his final act of gifting the church was so that others might know the love of God that he had known.
And even though others may not have loved him, let alone even known him, he was loved by God.

And so are you.

May we learn to give as generously as did this little man who looked like Huckleberry Hound.