31 October 2016

Homily - 1 November 2016 - The Solemnity of All Saints

The Solemnity of All Saints

Dear brothers and sisters,

Mother Church encourages us to “rejoice in the Lord, as we celebrate the feast day in honor of all the Saints, at whose festival the Angels rejoice and praise the Son of God” (Introit). As we contemplate this great panoply of heroes and exemplars, we see the wide spectrum of humanity. We see men and women, boys and girls, rich and poor, the famous and the unknown. There are monarchs and peasants, teachers and students, nurses and patients, prisoners and free, explorers and home-bodies, and, of course, the great martyrs. And there is room in their number for you and me.

All Saints from the Laudario of Sant'Agnese, Master of the Dominican Effigies, about 1340
As we gaze upon their wondrous multitude and ponder the stories of their lives, we cannot help but ask what holds this diverse group together. Their lives were all very different from each others, yet now they are bound together in an unbreakable bond of love. Each one of them, like each one of us, was baptized into Christ Jesus so “that we may be called the children of God” and might be made pure, “as he is pure” (I John3:1, 3). Because they grew into a union with Christ Jesus through a death like his, they stand now “before the throne and before the Lamb” (cf. Romans 6:5; Revelation 7:9). We, too, are called to do the same; in fact, our principle duty in life is to grow into a full union with the Lord Jesus, to become saints, but how do we do this?

The great J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, once referred to the saints as “those who have for all their imperfections never finally bowed heart and will to the world and the evil spirit.”[1] Through their struggles and adversities, they maintained their allegiance to Christ and strove to live always in his love.

In the end, they desired friendship with Jesus more than anything else; they stopped at nothing to remain his friends. They remembered what we too often forget, namely, that

God wants [our] friendship. And once you enter into friendship with god, everything in your life begins to change. As you come to know him better, you find you want to reflect something of his infinite goodness in your own life. You are attracted to the practice of virtue. You begin to see greed and selfishness and all the other sins for what they really are, destructive and dangerous tendencies that cause deep suffering and do great damage, and you want to avoid falling into that trap yourselves. You begin to feel compassion for people in difficulties and you are eager to do something to help them. You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on the way to becoming saints.[2]

The saints invite us join their company and they show us the way to never finally bow our heart and will to the Evil One.

Very often, all that separates us from them is our weak desire – our less than fervent desire – for the friendship of Jesus. Thinking holiness too far beyond us, we listen to the temptations of the Evil One. We allow him to magnify our imperfections and then we allow our desire for friendship with Jesus to lessen and fade. We forget that the tempter is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) and so rob ourselves of the Lord’s grace. Even so, the Lord still calls out us to us and stirs our hearts to seek his face (cf. Psalm 24:6).

In truth, holiness is not beyond us. The Lord calls each of us to be holy. He does not ask us to do the impossible, but fills us with his grace each day. If we cooperate with his grace, holiness is very near to each one of us; it is only a confession and firm purpose of amendment of life away.

It might seem strange to say so, but holiness, really, is as easy as one, two, three. This, at least, was the message of the Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI at one of his General Audience Addresses. After speaking of the call to holiness, he asked, “What is the essential?” His answer consisted of three things:

The essential means never leaving a Sunday without an encounter with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist; this is not an additional burden but is light for the whole week. It means never beginning and never ending a day without at least a brief contact with God. And, on the path of our life it means following the “signposts” that God has communicated to us in the Ten Commandments, interpreted with Christ, which are merely the explanation of what love is in specific situations.[3]

The three steps to holiness, then, are these: go to Mass every Sunday and holyday; begin and end every day with prayer; and make every decision according to the light of the Ten Commandments. These three steps, he said, are “the true simplicity and greatness of a life of holiness.”[4]

Holiness really is that simple, but this does not mean holiness is easy. Holiness is simple because it means loving God and loving our neighbor with all our mind, soul, body, and strength. Holiness is simple because it has one focus, but loving in this way is not easy because love always requires a sacrifice.

May we never waver from taking up the Cross or shrink away from it because of its difficulty! Rather, let us always keep the essential before us and hope in the promised reward of seeing God face to face (cf. Matthew 5:12)! May the example and intercession of the Saints help us to desire friendship with God above all else. Amen!

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Christopher Tolkien, 30 January 1945. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Humphrey Carpenter, ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 110.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Catholic School Students, 17 September 2010.

[3] Ibid., General Audience Address, 13 April 2011.

[4] Ibid.

28 October 2016

Hobbits, Franciscans, and the Crucifix

One of our seminarians at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary recently invited me to give a talk for the Theology of Tap program at Marian University in Indianapolis. The talk, he suggested, should focus on something regarding J.R.R. Tolkien and Catholicism.

After soliciting suggestions from members of The Tolkien Society, I have decided to title my talk (which is still percolating in my mind), "'Joy Like Swords'": Hobbits, Franciscans, & the Crucifix."

To help with the advertising of the event, I sent this brief sketch of the talk, which should match up with my final text:

After Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee listened to a minstrel sing of the deeds of the Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien explains that “their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.” These words often strike the reader as something of great profundity, even if they do not quite understand their full meaning.

Thomas of Celano wrote that “joy and sorrow were intermingled” in Saint Francis of Assisi. By exploring the Professors’ phrase “joy like swords” in light of the stigmatization of the Seraphic Father, we can approach the reality of joy and sorrow even as God’s merciful love floods our wounds when we embrace the Cross.
The talk will be given on November 10, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. in Alumni Hall on the campus of Marian University. It is open to the public and there is, as I understand it, a small admission fee depending on your choice of beverage (something like $5 with alcohol or $2 without).

25 October 2016

Holy See: The ashes of the faithful departed MUST be buried or entombed

The Holy See released today the Instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo "regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation." The instruction is issued "with the intention of underlining the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the preference of the burial of the remains of the faithful and to set out norms pertaining to the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation" (1). Before we take a look at the provisions of the document, we should first consider what an instruction is.

The Code of Canon Law states that instructions "set out the provisions of a law and develop the manner in which it is to be put into effect" (canon 34 § 1). To put it perhaps more simply, an instruction tells us how to carry out a law already in force. Ad resurgendum cum Christo seek to clarify how Catholics are to honor the remains of the faithful departed.

From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have buried their dead. This is one of the things that set them apart from the pagans who normally cremated their dead. Ad resurgendum cum Christo explains why burial is preferable for Christians:
In memory of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.

The Church who, as Mother, has accompanied the Christian during his earthly pilgrimage, offers to the Father, in Christ, the child of her grace, and she commits to the earth, in hope, the seed of the body that will rise in glory.

By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity. She cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the “prison” of the body.

Furthermore, burial in a cemetery or another sacred place adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through Baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit and in which “as instruments and vessels the Spirit has carried out so many good works [St. Augustine, De cura pro mortuis gerenda, 3, 5: CSEL 41, 627]" (3).
Moreover, Christians bury their dead in cemeteries to encourage prayers for the dead, to foster devotion to the saints and martyrs, and because "Christian tradition has upheld the relationship between the living and the dead and has opposed any tendency to minimize, or relegate to the purely private sphere, the event of death and the meaning it has for Christians" (3).

While the Church prefers and encourages the burial of the body, she "raises no doctrinal objections" to the practice of cremation provided that it "is chosen because of sanitary, economic or social considerations" and if cremation does not "violate the explicitly-stated or the reasonably inferable wishes of the deceased faithful" (4).

It should be noted and remembered that while the Church allows cremation, she "continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased" (4).

When cremation is chosen, "the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the competent ecclesial authority" (5, emphasis mine). The Church insists on this because "it prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect" and because "it prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices" (5).

The instruction explicitly states that "the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted" and that "the ashes may not be divided among various family members" (6). Moreover, "it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects" in order that "every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided" (7).

Lest there be any question as to the authority on this instruction, it is noted that "the Sovereign Pontiff Francis, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect on 18 March 2016, approved the present Instruction, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation on 2 March 2016, and ordered its publication." The instruction was published "from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 15 August 2016, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary." Why the text is only now being made available to us is not explained.

As we approach the month of November when we remember our beloved dead in a particular way, please be sure to read the full text of Ad resurgendum in Christo (it is not very long).

Though it may useful, precisely why this instruction is needed is unclear to me. The General Introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals says, "for the final disposition of the body, it is the ancient Christian custom to bury or entomb the bodies of the dead" (19). That seems clear enough. The same paragraph also says, "cremation is permitted, unless it is evident that cremation was chosen for anti-Christian motives."

Moreover, the Introduction to Appendix 2 of the Order of Christian Funerals for rites involving the ashes of the faithful departed is clear to say that "the cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come" (417). The Introduction goes even further:
The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping the cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition the Church requires (417).
Because Catholics routinely ignored and violation these directions, the Holy See felt the need to repeat more clearly and to explain why the Church requires what she does. 

That said, might I suggest another instruction should be written, namely one on the use of eulogies at funeral Masses.

The Introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals states quite clearly:
A brief homily based on the readings is always given after the gospel reading at the funeral liturgy and may also be given after the readings at the vigil service; but there is never to be a eulogy (27, emphasis mine).
Regrettably, this is also routinely ignored and violated, which can deprive the departed of needed prayers. I hope such an instruction will be forthcoming.