NO CRYING AT MY FUNERAL

NO CRYING AT MY FUNERAL

Monday, April 20, 2015

SEEING IS BELIEVING

Be ready for you know neither the day nor the hour...
Yes, you're looking at a clock, believe it!
Dear brothers and sisters:
May these simple words find you in peace and joy.  I have have to tell you about s conviction that I have been nursing now for the last 15 or 20 years.  It has to do with a Gospel character who has become very dear to me.  I have to tell you that I have come to the personal conclusion that this individual is laboring under the effects of a "bad rap."  You all know him well.  He is the one a who is hardly never quoted as the tough character who was not afraid to say,  “Let us also go to die with him.” (John 11;16)
It's been a long time that I have been admiring him for his ability to stare death in the eye and not be afraid. So this year, during the Holy Week and Easter season I have been spending a lot of time reflecting on the strength of faith and it's victory over doubt as we see it in the Bible.  
May I start with Sarah and Abraham?  Of course Sarah is the one who giggled.
Then I have to jump to Peter on the water.
Then we see the eleven disciples in Galilee where Jesus had told them to meet him, and we read the words of Matthew:  "The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.  When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted."
This was after Mary Magdalene wondered if the body had been stolen.
After the apostles ran to the tomb to check it out.
After the two disciples from Emmaus had their theophany.

I say that we cut Thomas a little slack and admire him for the courage of his convictions.  This man is brave and humble at the same time.  Who among us can imagine standing in front of our community of love and fraternity and stand our ground?  Furthermore, who among us has the strength and courage to accept our doubt in humility and love and atone for it?  
The man who had the courage to "...go to die with Him" also had the courage to go and live the way that the Master directed,  
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28;18-20)

Yes, Thomas is a big hero of mine.  I never call him "Doubting" because it is not fair to single him out from among the other doubters, many of whom still populate today's world.
Keep what I have said here in mind if you are ever slightly tempted to cry at my funeral.

Monday, April 6, 2015

LOVE IS INFINITE AND ETERNAL

SERVANT KING by Melinda Gallone (www.melindagallone.com)























It was Holy Thursday.  My wife and I had celebrated our priesthood at the Chrism Mass on Tuesday evening.  It was the perfect introduction to the Sacred Triduum.  The immense church was filled and every person there seemed to be deeply engaged in the Sacrament.  The homily was very good, but stopped, rather than ended in what the French call "a fish tail."  It was a well-crafted 1,000 word effort.
Wednesday was a day of prayer, organizing the work area and preparing to spend a day or so at home, including Holy Thursday and Good Friday. You can tell by the lovely watercolor that this is about Holy Thursday, in a way, but, as the saying goes, "you really had to be there..."
So, let's go there.
After a lifetime of hearing Holy Thursday sermons and homilies about humility, service, the glories of the ordained priesthood and the role of the priesthood infused at Baptism, etc. I heard one that got my attention and sent me away the richer for the experience.
It turns out that it was the personal testimony of the Vietnamese Priest at the altar, young pastor of a relatively small parish in San Diego, part territory and part "national/cultural."
He started by telling us that the Sacred Triduum is a celebration of boundless love.  Jesus enveloped in a towel and washing the feet of the disciples is a picture of infinite, eternal love brought to us from heaven.  Now the parable part of the story.  (Not a quotation; a paraphrase)

You have heard parts of my life experience and you are living a part of it with me now.  You know that I escaped from Viet Nam with my brother and sister.  I was ten years old.  We got to a refugee camp where we lived for two years.  I was miserable.  My brother and sister did what they could for me.  Then one day a priest appeared.  A big white man who was a powerful presence in the camp.  He arrived there from Australia.  He was kind, but there was not much, if anything that he could do for me.
His presence there was a mystery to me.  Why would a person such as he come from a rich, comfortable country like Australia to a refugee camp?  How could a person such as he be happy in such a place as this?  Yet, there he was, always calm, always happy, always available, always kind, always more than anything, he was filled with love for everyone..  He was THERE.
It was he whom God used to convince me that I should be a priest.  Now I am not in a refugee camp any more.  I am no longer miserable.  I can't do much for anybody except to be present.  I can't do much for anyone except to love, just like Jesus, just like the priest in the refugee camp, be there in love.
I am comfortable with that, and here is why.
The priest could do small things for us, and he did.  Of course, it was never enough.
I can do small things for you and of course, they would never be enough.
When we give something to someone, or do something for some one, it always has limits.  We only have one thing that we can do that doesn't have any limit.  That is to give our loving presence.  Loving presence is a spiritual gift that has no bounds.  Love is infinite and it is eternal.  Love that is brought to the world, to those who need it, by our presence is God's infinite and never ending gift to them.  That's what Jesus brought to His disciples.  It is what Jesus brings to us.  It is what we can bring to others by being present.  It's what we will bring with us to heaven too, by the way.
When Jesus wrapped the towel around His waist, what He was giving is infinite, eternal love and it remains with us now and forever.

So, when you hear that I have died, don't buy a plane ticket for me, go visit someone who needs your presence, not in tears for me but with a smile on your lips and love in your heart.

Promise.












Monday, March 30, 2015

SUFFERING-PUNISHMENT? SACRIFICE?

Yes, Jose, not just Filipinos but MANY others
This is Holy Week.  This is the time when we will relive the passion and death of the most famous martyr of all, Jesus Christ, Only Son of the Almighty God, Creator of all.  We will relive this experience of His because both He and His Heavenly Father commanded us to do so.
His Father first, just before He was about to lead His Chosen People out of Egyt where they had been held as slaves for three plus centuries. (Exodus 12)  Then His Son, just before He was about to lead us away from the slavery of sin where we had been held for inumerable centuries.  Both gave us first the ritual and then the everlasting command, "You will do this in perpetuity/You will do this in memory of Me."

It is to be noted that neither time was an invitation to relentless comfort and easy living.  Both times we were pointed in the direction of the harsh realities of life, adversity of many kinds through which we must pass on the way toward the eternal reward. It is also to be noted that from about page 3 or 4 of  God's message to us(Genesis 3), we travel though one hardship (sacrifice) after the other.  We only have to absorb the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Naomi, Deborah, Gideon, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the thousands of others who have followed them in obedience to the call from Jesus to "pick up your cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9; 23-24)

So often I hear or read words of blame aimed at God. "Why do I or anyone else have to suffer so much?  If God loves me that much, why does He make me suffer?  The answer to that is not too difficult to find.  We suffer because we are no better than He.  He, in and through His Son suffered.  He, in and through His loving, sinless creature, Mary, suffered.  If beings at that level of perfection suffered, should I expect to be any different?  No, of course not.  They suffered out of a sense of sacrifice, of pure offering as a life lesson to us all.  If we deserve it, so be it.  Make it a sacrifice no matter what.  If we don't "deserve" it, then we join Jesus and collaborate in His Passion for the eternal good of the Communion of Saints.  We must go through life side by side with the God who requires that we collaborate with Him out of obedience to His Will.  He knows and we know that our calling as His collaborators guides us through some tip-toeing through tulips and some hacking through the briars.  Like the great saints who have gone before us, let's do it and stay happy that what we do is for a divinely ordained reason.

So, when you look at what is left of me as I lay there in a pine box, don't waste your time crying because you'll know that I, like everyone else got to be there the hard way, just like everyone else.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

I DON'T DEFEND MY FAITH, I WITNESS TO IT

I never thought that I would be in a position to laugh at a Catholic publishing house.  I guess I had to come to California to have it happen.  I am still wondering how the house got away with this.
"How to defend the faith from the Bible"
It's been over a month now and I am still shaking my head.  I was cleaning the work area where my spouse and I produce most of our presentations and plans.  As I was shuffling around getting things in order in two major categories: Trash and File, I came across this gem.  It is a small 40 page compilations of Bible parries that are meant to counter the thrusts of the attacker, thus the "defender" language.  This is the style of Catholicism that I think is the most insulting to our Catholic life.  
I am totally befuddled by the "defend your faith" concept.  I don't have to defend my faith.  I don't have to defend your faith.  I know that there is nothing that you can do to destroy my faith.  Others (many) have tried and failed.  What makes you so cock sure that you're any better than they?  I know that you can't do it because your first and only approach is to desecrate the Sacred Scriptures in order to do it.  Your whole approach of attack by quoting out-of-context verses is blasphemous in it roots.  I don't need to protect myself from that.  
If you call answering the attack by a counter-attack from the Bible defending the faith, then you're not talking about my faith.  My faith doesn't reside in the ability to thrust and parry from Bible verse to Bible verse in order to win a human debate.  My faith resides in a loving relationship that I have with the Trinitarian God and His Spouse, the Church.
So the first thing that turned me away from this little rag was the whole concept of defending my faith.
The second thing was a language usage "thing."  I was piqued to quasi total disgust by the expression, "How to defend the faith FROM the Bible."  Ohhh, really.  May I ask what it is in faith that has to be defended from the Bible?  Is the Bible attacking faith all of a sudden?  That certainly is a strange turn of thought.  I am under the impression that in the whole thrust and parry pas-a-deux that it is the Bible that is being attacked by the blatant invincible ignorance of well developed hermeneutics and exegesis.  So are we talking about the Bible defending itself from itself?  I think that it is important that the Bible should be able to defend itself, or at least find some strong protectors who can assure its safety.
The danger to the Bible comes from Catholics as they try to engage non-Catholic "Bible Christians"  About six weeks ago a Catholic friend of mine and I engaged in a discussion about prayer and the indwelling of God in His Creatures.  This was all on the Internet.  The discussion dragged on and from the beginning I told my friend that I would not abide by "proof texts" since they are out of context babblings that have no real theological meaning because of the detachment from the body to which they belong.  He persisted in "proof texting" and I resisted at every syllable.  Finally, about two or three weeks ago he quoted a text from the Old Testament.  It was so out of context and so execrably out of logic in its lack of germane context, that I didn't respond for about three days.  
On about the fourth night, we saw one another at the Bible study.  I asked him the name of the person whom he had quoted. He didn't know.  I asked him if he knew where the person might be from.  He didn't know.  I asked him if he had read the entire book.  'No, not yet' was the response.  I asked if he knew the outcome of the person whom he had quoted at the end of the book.  No.  I told him never to proof text me again.  I told him that all the proof texts he has in his head don't amount to a hill of beans detached from the context of the whole book and the whole canon of Scripture.  
His last words to me were, "You're crazy."  I have been comfortably and silently crazy since then.

YEP, I am certifiably crazy when it comes to the FAITH.  Knowing that makes it easy for you not to cry at my funeral.

I DON'T DEFEND MY FAITH, I WITNESS TO IT [2]

21 Coptic Orthodox Christian Martyrs
"The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."  This saying from an old tradition dating back to the extremely early days of Christianity can serve us well these days.  Over the last few years we have seen more Christians put to death for their faith than were killed during the period of the Roman persecutions.  These days we have martyrs in many places all over the globe.   
While most often we think of martyrdom as dying for our faith, and rightly so, there is a part of martyrdom that doesn't always include violet death.  There is a part of martyrdom that kills the spirit. There are many places in the world where life as a Christian is so difficult that death would be a welcome alternative.  But it doesn't always come.  Life continues in an endless stream of threats of death and of constant and cruel marginalization.  Living life under those conditions and not surrendering is a true defense of faith.  Under those conditions being able to recite a list of proof texts is not going to get you anywhere.  The apologetics of real life suffering and perseverance is the modern equivalent of the Maccabees in the Bible and the early Christian converts that we know about in Palestine and Rome.  
We have to ask ourselves the question about how we would behave under such circumstances.  We must ask ourselves just what it is that we understand when we say that we want to defend our faith. The defense of the faith is much more challenging than being able to trade proof texts with someone of a different opinion.  The defense of faith is complete and total dedication to the God in whom we believe.  It is the result of selling all that we have and giving the proceeds to the poor.  When we have defended the faith bravely, we just may not be around to celebrate the victory here on earth.  I suggest that you read the book of Revelation to see the role that martyrs play.
To make a final point, I will dare to say that in this country (USA), and in others around the world, the defense of the faith may come to require us to break away from the attachments that we have to government benefits.  There may come a day when we will have to stop taking government grant money to our schools and hospitals if we are to continue as Christian caregivers of education and health care and other activities.  Are we ready to do that?  Will we ever be ready? What if these institutions will be taken away from us?  Are we ready?  There are countries in the world today,and we know them well, where the Church has lost a lot of privileges and property.  That too is a kind of martyrdom and we have to be ready to confront it.  Are we?  

Finally, I say that the defense of the faith is a spiritual strength that comes from the Holy Spirit.  This strength is promised to us by God through His promise to Isaiah in chapter 41 and by Jesus Himself when He told His apostles "... 10"And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him. 11"When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." (Luke, chapter 12)  On that day, and it comes to all of us in one way or another, at one time or another, from someone or other, the defense of the faith resides in the strength of the Holy Spirit not in the verses that we have memorized from our apologetics experiences.  
The best way to prepare to defend the faith is to maintain an very, very close relationship with our loving God and His sweet and tough mother.  
True enough, we may not ever have to die for the faith, but that's not a sure thing.  Stay ready.

When you hear that I have died, don't cry, just thank God and add a little prayer that I am indeed with Him.  In any case, I insist on having a dry-eyed funeral.