Archive for the ‘Heaven’ Category

A Wonderful Vacation

September 7, 2017

How was my vacation? It was a wonderful adventure! Missouri’s solar eclipse was beautiful; a black circle with white wisps extending over a surprisingly blue background. In the first seconds when the Sun began reemerging from the Moon there was a bright speck and then an expanding light so intense that it could not be looked at. It was like seeing the large stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb on Easter morning at the moment of the Resurrection.

We touched the St. Louis Arch, a structure whose geometric simplicity belies the amazing landmark that it is. Ask yourself, how would you build such a thing sixty-three stories in the air?

In Arizona, I was pleased to providentially cross paths with Clare Shakal from Cooks Valley. I was surprised to learn she happens to work at the parish where a friend from seminary I was visiting is now pastor.

In  Southern California I saw the last line of light from a red Sun be swallowed by the ocean. Pedestrians paused on the pier to watch the Earth eclipse of the Sun (what we call a sunset) but there was nothing like the numbers who gathered for the much rarer eclipse the week before.

One morning, I body-surfed in the Pacific Ocean, and went to bed in Wisconsin that night. While flying home (over a distance it would have taken me months to travel on foot) I gazed down upon the Grand Canyon for the first time. Our pilot never mentioned it.

My trip had many highlights but the part I enjoyed the most and what seasoned all the rest was the good friends I was blessed to share my adventure with.

What makes something wondrous? Things we encounter often feel less precious and usually go unnoticed. If solar eclipses happened daily at noon they would be no less beautiful but they never make the news. Our world is filled with wonders but even when we live in appreciative gratitude we still long for more. This is a sign to us that we were made to live forever; in a loving communion of persons with an infinitely interesting and beautiful God.

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Questions & Answers About My Cat, Leo XIV

July 17, 2017


Why did you name your cat “Leo the Fourteenth?”

So he wouldn’t be confused with Pope Leo XIII—who had the fourth longest papal reign (from 1878 to 1903) and died at the age of 93 as history’s oldest pope. The name “Leo” is Latin for “Lion.”

Why did you want a black cat?

Cats are great, and have you ever noticed cat hair on my clothing? … Exactly.

How does Leo like living in the rectory?

Leo enjoys greeting visitors to the parish offices (he is very friendly) and exploring our house. The dust and cobwebs I sometimes find on him indicate he likes the basement. I predict that Leo will leave a “gift” for me on my bed or office floor someday.

Do you think Leo XIV will go to Heaven?

Even though Leo is a very good cat, I am not certain. St. Thomas Aquinas argued that animals, lacking a rational soul such as humans have, cannot experience the Beatific Vision of God. On the other hand, the Book of Revelation foretells of a New Heavens and a New Earth while the Prophet Isaiah speaks of wolves, lambs, leopards, goats, calves, lions, cows, bears, cobras, and children peacefully living together one day on God’s holy mountain. (Isaiah 11) As I consoled myself when my previous, dear cat, Dexter died; if there is anything eternal about Leo, I trust that Jesus will take care of him. If we reach Heaven and find our deceased pets are not there, upon understanding their loving purpose in the divine plan, we shall thank God for the gift they were and be at peace.

Ghost Stories From Sts. Augustine & Gregory

October 31, 2014

In 398 AD, St. Augustine shared the following story about a probable visitor from beyond the veil in a letter to his friend, Evodius:

“Our brother, Gennadius … told us that he doubted once … whether there was any life after death. As God would not abandon a man of his disposition and works of mercy, there appeared to him in sleep a handsome youth of dignified appearance, who said to him: ‘Follow me.’ He followed and came to a certain city, where he began to hear, on his right, singing of such exquisite sweetness that it surpassed all known and ordinary sweetness. Then, as he listened, he asked what it was and his guide said it was the hymns of the blessed and the saints. I do not clearly remember what he said he saw on his left. When he awoke, the dream vanished and he thought of it only as one does of a dream.

But, on another night, behold, the same youth appeared to him again and asked whether he recognized him; he answered that he did so fully and perfectly. Then the youth asked where he had known him. He remembered what to reply to that, too, and described the whole vision and the hymns of the saints which the other had led him there to hear, recalling them with ease as a recent experience. Thereupon, the youth asked whether he had been asleep or awake when he saw what he had described. He answered: ‘It was in a dream.’ The other said: ‘You remember well, it is true, that you saw all that in a dream, but you must know that even now you see, although you are asleep.’ When he heard that, he believed it was so and expressed it by his answer.

Then the one who was teaching him continued and said: ‘Where is your body now?’ He answered: ‘In my bedroom.’ ‘And do you know,’ said the other, ‘that in that same helpless body, your eyes are fast shut and useless, and that you see nothing with those eyes?’ Gennadius answered: ‘I know it.’ His guide went on: ‘Then, with what kind of eyes do you see me?’ He fell silent at this, finding no reply, and, as he remained in doubt, the youth made known what he was trying to teach by these questions.

He went on: ‘As those eyes of flesh are now inactive and perform no function while your body lies asleep in bed, yet you have eyes with which you behold me and a sight of which you make use, so, when you die and the eyes of your flesh see nothing, there will be in you another life by which you will live and sense by which you will perceive. See to it that henceforth you do not doubt of the life which remains after death.’ Thus this faithful man says that his doubt on this matter was removed, and what was his teacher but the providence and mercy of God?”

In 593 AD, Pope St. Gregory the Great related this story in his Dialogues:

“Bishop Felix…said that he had been told of such a case by a saintly priest who was still living two years ago in the [Italian] diocese of Centum Cellae as pastor of the Church of St. John in Tauriana [on the toe of Italy.] This priest used to bathe in the hot springs of Tauriana whenever his health required. One day, as he entered the baths, he found a stranger there who showed himself most helpful in every way possible, by unlatching his shoes, taking care of his clothes, and furnishing him towels after the hot bath.

After several experiences of this kind, the priest said the himself: ‘It would not do for me to appear ungrateful to this man who is so devoted in his kind services to me. I must reward him in some way.’ So one day he took along two crown-shaped loaves of bread to give him.

When he arrived at the place, the man was already waiting for him and rendered the same services he had before. After the bath, when the priest was again fully dressed and ready to leave, he offered the man the present of bread, asking him kindly to accept it as a blessing, for it was offered a token of charity.

But the man sighed mournfully and said, ‘Why do you give it to me, Father? That bread is holy and I cannot eat it. I who stand before you was once the owner of this place. It is because of my sins that I was sent back here as a servant. If you wish to do something for me, then offer this bread to almighty God, and so make intercession for me, a sinner. When you come back and do not find me here, you will know that your prayers have been heard.

With these words he disappeared, thus showing that he was a spirit disguised as a man. The priest spent the entire week in prayer and tearful supplications, offering Mass for him daily. When he returned to the bath, the man was no longer to be found. This incident points out the great benefits souls derive from the Sacrifice of the Mass. Because of these benefits the dead ask us, the living, to have Masses offered for them, and even show us by signs that it was through the Mass that they were pardoned.”

A Glorious Lady in Heaven

August 15, 2014

Like Dante’s Divine Comedy, C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce takes a first-person tour of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Dante had a next-worldly guide in the Roman poet Virgil, while Lewis had the Scottish author George MacDonald. While on the Plains of Heaven, Lewis beholds the following (abridged) scene:

Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it.  First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever again grow sick or old. Between them went musicians; and after these a lady in whose honor all this was being done. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

“Is it?…  Is it?” I whispered to my guide.

“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of.  Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”

“She seems to be… well, a person of particular importance?”

“Aye. She is one of the great ones.  Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”

“They are her sons and daughters.”

“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”

“Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”

“Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?”

“No.  There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives. It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.”

The Next Life — Monday, 4th Week of Lent

March 31, 2014

Readings:  Isaiah 65:17-21, John 4:43-54

Thus says the LORD: Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create; For I create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight; I will rejoice in Jerusalem and exult in my people. No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying; No longer shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime; He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years, and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed. They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.

What are we to make of this first reading of Isaiah? Has it been fulfilled in the two-dozen centuries since it was written? Clearly not, though just a few generations from now, because of medical and technological advances, people may be living up to 125 or 150 years on a regular basis. Yet what advantage does someone who dies at 150 without God have over someone who dies at 75? And even in a future with longevity and prosperity, there will still be weeping and crying.

I think the Lord gave this vision of a new heavens and a new earth in ancient times to help his people hope in something tangible and relatable: “What is eternal life? Would I really want that? But living a very long life without sadness would be something I’d desire.” In the new heavens and earth after Jesus’ return in glory there will be complete happiness and no death at all (Revelation 21:4.) We should imagine what that will be like; an intimate community of friends, conversation and feasting, sports and play, singing and dancing, and joyful worship; while at the same time realizing that our experience of the next life will surpass all of these earthly things as we know them.

Looking Forward to Heaven — 2nd Sunday of Lent—Year C

March 3, 2013

In Genesis, God promises descendants and a land to Abraham.  However, Abraham and his wife are very old, and Abraham feels uncertainty about whether they will have children. Therefore, God says to Abraham: “Look at the sky and count the stars, if you can. So shall your descendants be.” You may imagine this happening at night, but perhaps God has Abraham look during the day. We cannot see the stars in the daylight, but we know that they are there. Likewise, God’s promises to Abraham will be fulfilled even though Abraham cannot see it.

Like Abraham, we hope in God’s promises about things we cannot see. While Abraham wants to have children so that his legacy continues, we want eternal life. He hopes that his descendants someday get the Promised Land. We hope for the Promised Land of Heaven. I think we should feel hope in these things more.

In the Gospel, Peter is euphoric about seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah and says something very silly. “Master, it is good for us to stay here and build three tents: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” How could Moses and Elijah prefer to live in tents on a mountain top on earth rather than return to paradise? Yet, sometimes we behave like our greatest hope isn’t heaven but to live here on earth forever.

Saint Paul says about sinners:  “… Just think of earthly things. We, however, are citizens of heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body… ” We all have a natural fear of death, and this is healthy and good. And we feel sad when persons depart from us, and this is understandable. But we should look forward to going to heaven. We should feel at least as much excitement about going to heaven as we would in winning an around-the-world vacation.

Have you encountered beauty here on earth? There is greater glory in heaven. Have you felt happiness and contentment here? There is overflowing joy in heaven. Have you known love? Every person loves perfectly in heaven. Which friends and family do you want to see again in heaven? Which saints or angels do you want to meet there? What will it be like to see Jesus face to face? Reflect on these things, and let this hope inspire you.

En el Génesis, Dios promete descendientes y una tierra a Abraham. Sin embargo, Abraham y su esposa son muy viejo, y Abraham se siente incertidumbre acerca de si van a tener hijos. Por lo tanto, Dios le dice a Abraham: “Mira el cielo y cuenta las estrellas, si puedes. Así sera tu descendencia.” Usted puede imaginar que esto ocurra por la noche, pero tal vez Dios ha Abraham mirar durante el día. No podemos ver las estrellas en la luz del día, pero sabemos que están ahí. Del mismo modo, las promesas de Dios a Abraham se cumplirá aunque Abraham no lo puede ver.

Como Abraham, esperamos que en las promesas de Dios acerca de cosas que no podemos ver. Mientras Abraham quiere tener hijos, para que su legado continúa, queremos la vida eterna. Él espera que sus descendientes algún día obtener a la Tierra Prometida. Esperamos que recibimos la tierra prometida de los Cielos. Creo que deberíamos sentir esperanza en estas cosas más.

En el Evangelio, Pedro es eufórico de ver a Jesús con Moisés y Elías y le dice algo muy tonto: “Maestro, sería bueno que nos quedarámos aquí y hiciéramos tres chozas: una para ti, una para Moisés y otra para Elías” sin saber lo que decía. ¿Cómo pudo Moisés y Elías prefieren vivir en tiendas de campaña en la cima de una montaña en la tierra en lugar de regresar al paraíso? Sin embargo, a veces nos comportamos como nuestra mayor esperanza no es el cielo sino a vivir aquí en la tierra para siempre.

San Pablo dice acerca de los pecadores: “…Sólo piensan en cosas de la tierra. Nosotros, en cambio, somos ciudadanos del cielo, de donde esperamos que venga nuestro salvador, Jesucristo. El transformará nuestro cuerpo miserable en un cuerpo glorioso, semejante al suyo…” Todos tenemos un temor natural de la muerte, y esto es sano y bueno. Y nos sentimos tristes cuando las personas salen de nosotros, y esto es comprensible. Pero debemos mirar hacia adelante para ir al cielo. Debemos sentir excitación cerca de ir al cielo como ganar unas vacaciones alrededor del mundo.

¿Se ha encontrado la belleza aquí en la tierra? Hay una mayor gloria en el cielo. ¿Se ha sentido la felicidad en la tierra? Hay mas alegría en el cielo. ¿Ha conocido el amor? Cada persona ama perfectamente en el cielo. ¿Lo que amigos y familiares qué quieres volver a ver en el cielo? ¿Que los santos y ángeles te quiero conocer allí? ¿Qué se sentiría al ver a Jesús cara a cara? Reflexiona sobre estas cosas que esta esperanza os inspire.

The Death of Bin Laden — May 3 — Sts. Philip and James

May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Laden has caused the deaths of countless people worldwide, he has spread hatred and division among peoples, and he has exploited religion for these purposes. He has done evil things, and now he is dead. How should we take this news? On Sunday night, some people celebrated in the streets of New York City and Washington, DC. Many people said with unrestrained delight that not a man, but a vermin, or a thing of pure evil, had been exterminated. But what is God’s opinion? What are His feelings on these events? God speaks to us in his words from Ezekiel 33:11: “Answer them: As I live, says the Lord God, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man’s conversion, that he may live.” If God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked, then neither should we.

Our U.S. Special Forces’ successful mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan rightly pleases us in many ways, like in how this achievement may prevent future terrorist attacks or the fact that al-Qaeda is now deprived of their most charismatic leader, but a Christian should not rejoice in the death of a sinner. It should be noted here, that Jesus the Prince of Peace loves peace, but He is not a pacifist. (A pacifist is someone who condemns the use of force in all situations.) Recall that Jesus did not drive out the money-changers and animal-sellers from the temple solely by endlessly asking them nicely. “He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area…” Force, even deadly force, is sometimes just and necessary, as I believe it was in Abbattabad this Sunday. And yet, even in wartime, we must not hate those who hate us, nor rejoice in the death of wrongdoers, not even when it’s Osama Bin Laden. The death of a sinner is a tragedy to the heart of Jesus, whose Divine Mercy and Love we celebrated on that same Sunday.

Perhaps someone might hear this and ask, “What difference does it make whether or not I hate Bin Laden or other people I’ve never met? Or what difference does it make whether or not I hate some of the people I actually know?” This is why it matters. You heard Jesus say to Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” No one comes to the Father, except through Him. Jesus is the way. He is our way to Heaven not just by our saying that He’s our Lord and Savior. Jesus is the way because He is the way we must become. No one comes to the Father in Heaven except they who conform themselves to the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, if you die hating anyone in your heart, when you come to the gates of Heaven, whether the persons you hate are inside or not, you will not enter in; either you will be prevented from entering until your heart is cleaned to be like Christ’s, or you will never enter in, because you will have decided that you do not want Heaven’s ways, Heaven’s truths, or Heaven’s life.

You’re unlikely to hear the message of this homily said anywhere on TV. Imagine how the world would react if someone went on FOX News or CNN and suggested we shouldn’t hate Bin Laden. If you’ve heard anything like this homily since Sunday’s events, it was probably here at Columbus, through one of your teachers. What makes them different from the world is that they have been formed by the Gospel and a Catholic Christian worldview. Our Catholic Faith is the only thing that frees from the slavery of merely being a child of one’s time. It allows us to see the world more through Jesus’ eyes and to conform our hearts to His. This is important, because if you and I want to enter into Heaven someday, we must be converted into Him.

The Greatest Vacation — Funeral for Angela Ernst, 88

April 2, 2011

In the summer of 1923, when Angie was just eight months old, the Ernst family embarked for a new life in America. Little Angie traveled simply, but probably quite comfortably, in a basket, a memento that she kept among her possessions for the rest of her life. I think we can easily romanticize what it was like to immigrate to this country back then. We do not think about how intimidating, how daunting, how unnerving it was for people to leave behind what was well-known to come and live in a whole new world. I’m told that Mr. and Mrs. Ernst were not initially thrilled about life on these shores, but eventually they warmed-up to it, embraced this land and its people, and it became home for them.

I’m told that Angie was full of life and fun and love towards her family and friends for all these past eighty-eight years that she lived here in Marshfield. Yet, a wanderlust, a desire for travel, to see new places and meet new people, was always a part of her, whether it was with her brother Joseph, or later with her sister Rose. Angie traveled east to Europe multiple times and visited family in the old country. She traveled out west and backpacked in the mountains. She traveled further west still and enjoyed the beaches of Hawaii. She traveled north to Canada and south to Mexico, and wherever she went she sought out the Lord in His houses, His beautiful churches. Angie lived her life close to Jesus Christ and His Church with a great love for others that is reflected in your love for her. Therefore, I am confident that Angie is now enjoying the greatest adventure of all her travels. Every interesting, beautiful, and friendly place we can travel to on earth reflects something of Heaven, yet none of them compare. The journey to Heaven is the greatest of all vacations.

We all have a natural aversion to death, and that’s a healthy thing. But sometimes this aversion can be too great of an anxiety.  Even with our Christian faith, the idea of dying and leaving behind what is well-known to go and live in a whole new world can feel intimidating, daunting, and unnerving. Yet there is no cause for us to fear or grieve like people who see no hope. Instead let us remember this, if you and I live in Christ, dying shall be the greatest adventure of our lives. Do no be afraid to be comforted by the truth. It’s a wonderful thing to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, as Angie did several times. But how much better must it be to travel to an encounter with Our Lady of Guadalupe herself. It’s fun to visit Jesus in His many earthly houses as Angie liked to do. But how much better must it be to visit Jesus in the Father’s house. I trust that Angie is now fine, “just fine,” as she would say, but just in case her journeying to Heaven continues let us help her with our prayers, especially at this Mass for her.

Set To Heaven — 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 13, 2011

This morning, consider this important question: Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? In this life, we can live like either thermometers or thermostats. A thermometer (as you know) accepts whatever temperature, hot or cold, that happens to surround it. A thermometer acts passively to the world’s influence. A thermostat, on the other hand, does not submit to the world around it. A thermostat is set to an ideal temperature and strives to attaint its goal.  As Christians, we should be as thermostats, and we should all be set on Heaven.

Do you think about Heaven much? Do you ever meditate on what it will be like? I think many of us get so drawn in by the here and now that we fail to give Heaven much thought. Yet, I think we would all be strengthened by meditating on it more; on what it promises and what it requires.

The next life is a mystery about which we can know a great deal. As Saint Paul says, “What God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” For example, we know that there will be no suffering or death in Heaven. The Book of Revelation says God ‘will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order (the way of this world) will have passed away.’

There shall also be no hatred in Heaven. No one with hatred in his or her heart will be able to enter. The Book of Wisdom teaches that God hates none of the persons he has made. He does not always like all the things that they do, but it is His love for each one that continues to hold them in being, and will hold them in existence forever. In order to see God in Heaven, we must become like Him. This is why Jesus forbids not only murder, but hatred in the heart as well. Consider how wonderful it will be to live in Heaven at peace with everyone.

After the resurrection, when our dead bodies are reconstructed from the dust, those who are just will be remade, stronger, handsomer, more incredibly beautiful, than they have ever looked before. Will their perfect bodies have any flaws? If glorified bodies do have “flaws,” they shall be as the wounds that remain in Jesus’ hands and side, beautiful and glorious forever. In this life, the beauty of one’s soul has little relationship to the beauty of one’s flesh; but in Heaven, the holiness of the saints shines out for all to see. 

In Heaven, in this midst of this overwhelming beauty, no one shall lust and none shall exploit another. Lust and exploitation go hand in hand. There is a good reason for the expression “to lust for power,” for lust is about manipulating another for one’s pleasure. Instead of lust, everyone in Heaven shall desire the true good of one another from their hearts.

In this life, temptations will come whether we want them or not, but remember that temptations in themselves are not sins—it is only when we say “yes” to temptation, when we choose to sin as temptations suggest, that we can be guilty of a sin such as lust. Until we can refuse temptation’s invitations, until all lust is driven from our hearts, we are not yet ready for Heaven. This is why Jesus teaches not only against adultery, but against lust in the heart as well. How wonderful it will be to full of love for all, purely, from our hearts, and to receive that same overflowing love in return.

Our lives on earth we are full of questions. But in Heaven, every question which has answer will be answered for us. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a [cloudy] mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” Heaven is a place of transparent truth. There, the barriers to communication disappear. In Heaven, we shall know others fully, and be fully known ourselves. No lies nor concealments are possible there, “for there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.” Until we are free of lies, until we are people whose ‘Yes’ means ‘Yes,’ and whose ‘No’ mean ‘No,’ we are not yet ready to live in Heaven.

If we die in God’s grace and friendship, we may still have some attachments to sin, and be unprepared for Heaven. But, thanks be to God, there is Purgatory, to clean us up and make us perfect, so that we may enter the Father’s house and join the feast of Heaven. Though there is Purgatory, we must always aim for Heaven. If you shoot a bow and arrow and aim carefully for the bull’s-eye, you will probably miss but still hit the target. If you shoot only aiming at the target in general, you will probably miss and hit the ground. So aim for Heaven, lest any of us miss entirely.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So let us not default to world’s standards. Do not be a thermometer. Set your thermostat to the perfection of Heaven. Meditate on it and strive for it, and you will experience the joys and blessings of Heaven beginning in this life.

Fear of Death — Friday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time—Year I

January 28, 2011

God permits us to feel a natural aversion to death. This is healthy and for our good. (Imagine what the world would be like if everyone were completely indifferent as to whether they lived or died.) However, for faithful Christians, there is no reason to be terrorized by a fear of death.

If you remain close to the sacraments and rooted in daily prayer you have no reason to be afraid. Maybe you feel ill-prepared to die, but like the seed that grows without the farmer understanding how, God is preparing you for the unending life of Heaven in ways you don’t even perceive. Like the mustard seed, we may go into the ground as seemingly small and weak human beings, but we will rise with a greatness and power that even delights and blesses the angels of Heaven.

A natural aversion to death is healthy, but for Christians a fear of death is out of place. For, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.”

The Sound of Heaven — Monday, 34th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

November 22, 2010

What do you think Heaven sounds like? In the first reading, St. John describes it for us. “I heard a sound from Heaven like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.”

The sound of Heaven that John describes is powerful and beautiful. It is like the onslaught of a tidal wave or a thunder burst, yet it has the harmony, clarity, proportion and perfection of supreme beauty. What John is hearing is the sound of worship in Heaven.

In the Gospel, we hear another sound, neither great nor gorgeous in itself: the quiet chinking of two small coins. Yet, this simple sound has echoed for two-thousand years and millions have been drawn to it. When Jesus Himself heard the sound of the faithful, poor widow’s generous gift, He was moved to speak words in praise. Despite its subtlety, it reminded Jesus of a sound He knew well; it reminded Him of the sound of Heaven.

In our own simple ways, with unending joy, let us echo on earth the song of the angels in Heaven as they praise God’s glory for ever.

The Saints & Us — 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

November 5, 2010

 
Brothers and sisters, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, we have approached Heaven even as we remain on earth. Though we are dust and sinners, we stand before Jesus, the eternal Father, and the Holy Spirit. We draw near to each other and they invite us to share more deeply in their friendship. And they are not alone. They are surrounded by countless angels and by a multitude of men and women whom they have made perfect in goodness and love. We have a name for these “holy ones” who live with God in Heaven. We call them “saints,” and Jesus invites us to share their friendship, too.

Have you ever had the pleasure to introduce your friends to each other; people who already know and enjoy you, but who have never met each other? I think you’ll agree that it’s a very special joy when your friends to befriend each other. When your friends befriend each other do they love you less because of it, as if their affection has been divided or diluted? No, the love between all of you is greater for being shared. So it is with Jesus, the saints, and us. Some Christians fear that befriending Jesus’ friends in Heaven will lessen our love for Him. They fear that talking to them and honoring them will distract us from Christ. But these are silly fears. Love increases by being shared.

When someone asks you, “Would you pray for me,” or asks you to pray for one of their heartfelt concerns, what do you say in reply? Do you refuse, saying, “Why should you ask me to pray for you when you can go directly to God?” Nobody says that. Instead, Christians say, “Of course I’ll pray for you.” Christians ask each other to intercede for them not because they have lost hope in Christ, but because they have it, and because Scriptures tell us, “pray for one another.” Asking our friends and family in Heaven to pray for us is no different than asking our friends and family on earth, except that the prayers of the saints are offered by souls perfected in love and divine intimacy.

What about the objection that honoring the saints distracts from Christ? Today’s Gospel shows that Jesus does not think that sharing honor with His saints detracts from His own preeminent glory. He has said to them, “My friend, move up to a higher position. Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.” By giving seats of honor to His saints at His heavenly wedding banquet Jesus invites us to esteem them. In honoring them, we honor Him.

Remember that our circle of closest family and friends is not limited to earth. We have brothers and sisters in Heaven; saints and angels who know us, love us, and want to help us arrive at our true home. Let us remember to take the opportunity to make their acquaintance and grow in their friendship.

Strive to Enter — 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

September 2, 2010

The Emmy-winning Servant of God, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, once said that in Heaven we will have three surprises: 

  1) We’ll see people there that we didn’t expect to see…

  2) We won’t see people there that we did expect to see, and…

  3) We’ll be surprised to see ourselves there!
 
 
In today’s gospel, someone shouts out from the crowd, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus answers Him, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Instead of giving the man a figure, Jesus gives him more valuable counsel, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for whether or not you will be saved depends (in part) on you.” Yet we are still left wondering, “Will the number saved be many, or only a few?”

On the one hand we have John’s eyewitness testimony from the Book of Revelation. When he say the worship of the saints in heaven he saw  “a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” (Note that this ‘countless multitude’ is much larger than 144,000 which had just been counted.) It is as the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah in our first reading, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.” Based on this we can say that many will be saved.

On the other hand, in the Gospel of Matthew, in the parallel passage to today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” The ‘few’ who find the narrow gate certainly sounds like less than the ‘many’ who don’t. Based on this we can say that many will not be saved.

My purpose in raising this topic is not to frighten you, for Jesus said, over and again, “Do not be afraid.” But I believe it is with Jesus’ heart that I urge you not to be complacent. To be complacent is to be self-satisfied and unaware of possible dangers. Jesus urges us to, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate” for many will not be able.

There is no way to know, but something in me suspects that the man who called out to Jesus assumed his own salvation to be a certainty; he was merely curious if many others would be joining him.  Jesus warned him not to be presumptuous, and this gospel has come down to us today because it’s a message meant for us too.

All of us come to church, and that’s a very good thing, but coming to church every Sunday does not guarantee our salvation. In the parable that Jesus told, the master of the house arises like the judge of our world at the end of time. People knock on the locked door and say, “Lord, we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” We eat and drink in Jesus’ company too, and he teaches in our streets. We eat and drink with Him here, at the Eucharist, and whenever the Scriptures are proclaimed, Christ speaks. Being a disciple of Christ, a true friend of Christ, means more than just coming to church.

We must strive to enter the narrow gate. We must pursue and embrace holy discipline for our lives, as we heard from the Letter to the Hebrews: “…Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines…. At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.  So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”

What in your life needs holy discipline? Do you pray every day, or is God only a bedtime afterthought? Do you pray with your spouse and your children, besides at mealtimes? Do you read and watch things that feed your soul? Do you fast and give alms? Do you treat every Friday as a day of penance and every Sunday as a day of joyful rest? What good habit do you need to begin? And what persistent sin do you need to fight, like a life-threatening cancer, for indeed it is. If you were to look back on your life someday from your deathbed, what would you most regret having left undone?

Jesus says to us in this present age, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Are you asking, are you seeking, are you knocking? Strive for holiness while the door remains unlooked, and be encouraged, for Jesus is also striving after you. In Revelation He says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, (then) I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”

Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts, minds, and souls; in our feelings, thoughts, and deepest desires. If we open our doors and welcome Him now, and strive with Him for holiness, Jesus will open for us the door to Heaven and welcome us inside.

A Veiled Beauty — The Assumption

September 2, 2010

Consider this reflection by the servant of God, Bishop Fulton Sheen:

“Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting. Furthermore, suppose that you had the infinite power to make your mother anything that you pleased, just as a great artist like Raphael has the power of realizing his artistic ideas. Suppose you had this double power, what kind of mother would you have made for yourself?

Would you have made her of such a type that would make you blush because of her unwomanly and un-mother-like actions? Would you have made her exteriorly and interiorly of such a character as to make you ashamed of her? Or would you have made her, so far as human beauty goes; the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you but even to your fellow men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood?”

Now if you who are an imperfect being and who have not the most delicate conception of all that is fine in life would have wished for the loveliest of mothers, do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother? If you who hate selfishness would have made her selfless and you who hate ugliness would have made her beautiful, do you not think that the Son of God, who hates sin, would have made His own mother sinless and He who hates moral ugliness would have made her immaculately beautiful?”

Fulton Sheen thought that Mary was, in every respect, the most beautiful woman who had ever lived. However, if we had been travelers walking through the small town of Nazareth during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, I’m not sure that we would have recognized God’s greatest creature as we passed by her. I imagine that her face may have looked quite ordinary, apart from her beautifully, loving smile. Her Son, was the all-beautiful God become man, yet it seems that Jesus was not the most handsome man alive. As the prophet Isaiah says of Him, “There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.” (Is 53) Perhaps Jesus and Mary had ordinary physical features on earth because having extraordinary appearances would have impeded their missions.

Yet now, invested with heavenly glory, Jesus and Mary possess a beauty greater than anyone in history. The perfection of love, goodness, purity and virtue within them shines through their exterior in a way that captivates those who behold them. Jesus told St. Faustina to commission a painting of how He appeared to her. When Faustina saw the artist’s quality work she dissappointedly lamented, “[Jesus,] Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?” The young visionaries at Fatima and Lourdes we struck by how very beautiful the mysterious lady was. And when St. Bernadette visited the grotto for the last time she remarked, “I have never seen her so beautiful before.” There is more to a beauty of this kind than natural appearance.

Why does the Church celebrate Mary’s Assumption? Because this solemnity not only celebrates her, but points to Church’s future. Virgin Mary is the icon, the image, of our Church. Jesus Christ’s Church is Marian. What she did, we are called to do; and where she has gone, we are called to follow. What Christ has done for Mary, He shall do for His Church on the last day. My previous reflections on the ordinary, appearances of Jesus and Mary probably had on earth only goes to show that external appearances can veil the true reality of things. 

Men judge by appearances, and they often misjudge. Many will drive past this building this hour without realizing the wondrous beauty of what is happening here inside. Many fail to see the beauty of Christ’s one, Catholic Church, for which this world was made and through which this world is saved. Many people see the beauty of exterior flesh, but not the beauty of the soul. Yet after the Last Judgment, everyone will see the most homely saint become radiant with beauty, and the most attractive sinner become repellant.

Mary is the first and greatest member of Jesus Christ’s Church. At the end of her unassuming life on earth Jesus lifted up her up body and soul into Heaven and gave her a beauty unmatched in history. He will do the same thing for His Church someday, and He desires to do the same for each of us. You and I are called to follow Mary in following Christ; to imitate their love, goodness, purity and virtue. Despite any appearances to the contrary, in this veiling and deceptive world, we are called to share in a beauty and glory like theirs.

C.S. Lewis on Our Immortality & Potential Glory

August 14, 2010

From The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere Latitat [Latin, “truly hides”]—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.