Sunday, November 18, 2012


32 But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.
33 'Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.
34 It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from his home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own work to do; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake.

35 So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow or dawn;
36 if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep.
37 And what I am saying to you I say to all: Stay awake! [Mark 13]

Why is it that we have moments in our lives when we just know that God is talking to us?  Why is it that in our lives memories are so important?  Why is it that the memories that we have of funerals and weddings and baptisms are the ones that stop us short and make us take time to assess our relationship with the God who loves us so much?  
Well, for one thing they are the three times in life when people really get together and celebrate life in the name of the One who gives it.  These are the times when we all know why we are together.  It's not because we justr got elected to the city school board, or because we received the big promotion at work or even because we won the big $2,000 bingo prize.  No, it is because these are moments when Faith in and Love for God are at the core of the event.  Yes, even at funerals.
It is a memory that came to me yesterday when I first read the Gospel lesson for today.  It is the Gospel quote above from Saint Mark.  [The emphases are mine.]  
The title for this reflection is from the "Ave Maria."  We beg Mary that she intercede for us before her Son so that we can experience a good death.  There was a time when the spirituality of "Good Death" was very strong.  We lived in the anticipation of the day when God would come calling.  We prayed that we would be awake.  To be found awake was considered to be a great gift, the great grace that God would grant to those who believed and lived accordingly.  We prayed for the grace to be counted among the "five wise virgins" about whom the evangelist Matthew wrote so eloquently.  
This was an especially predominant prayer during the month of November, the month dedicated to the memories of our dearly departed. It is at this moment, during this season that we offer a large part of our spiritual life to God in favor of the souls who have gone before us.  It is an opportunity for us to remember our connection to God through the brothers and sisters who enriched our lives while they were on earth.  The fact that they have moved on and changed their form of life does not take them away from us.  They give us the hope for a happy death of our own.  
The memory of these souls pushes us to remember that some of them may still be in need of our intercession on their behalf.  This is our chance to make restitution for our errors and malfeasances by praying for their cleansing before their glorious entry into the full and unveiled vision of God Himself.  When we remember these truths of our faith, we know that the memory comes from God Himself and that by it He makes us better.  Through these memories He urges us to come closer to Him.  Through these memories He shows us what actions He expects of us in our lives here below.  Yes, these are moments of great opportunity given to us as we strive for holiness in preparation for His coming.  These are the Cockcrow of God Himself awakening us and stimulating us to higher levels of virtue.  

These are the thoughts that the memories of my yesteryears brought me.  I leave you with them as I remind you that there is no crying allowed at my funeral.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Sister Claire-Odette Rasoanatoandro, SNDS
See that box?  See how small it is?  There's a missionary in there whose heart could not fit inside.  We are pretty sure that it is safely in the hands of our Holy Mother Mary and Her loving Son.  This lady was one of 11 children who are still in her home country of Madagascar.  Not too long before Sister Claire Odette died, her mother died leaving all the children motherless in a small village of Madagascar.  This is a picture of a person who has litterally left everything on the field.  This is a person who followed the words of God Himself when He said, "... for this reason a man (woman too) leaves his mother and father and clings to the [one he/she loves]..." (Genesis)  Missionaries are that way.  They love God so much that leaving everything behind for His sake is their joy.  Jesus is their Husband.  The Church is their house.
We who haven't done that can do nothing but look on in awe at the tight bond that the marriage of a person with Jesus becomes with age.  We think that it takes a lot just at the start.  It is also clear that it takes a lot more to see it through to the end.  Some do, some don't.  Even those who don't are changed for life by the experience.  I know.
If you want to know more about this funeral and about the spirituality that reigned over it, click here

I started this reflection by making a comment about the box.  I want to make you aware of my dedication to simplicity in matters of rites of passage.  The very first article that I posted on this blog was based on the futility of extravagant wedding parties.  Over the years I have had the opportunity to tell people that matrimony is just as valid when you put out $100 as it is when you put out $50,000.  I could have said the same thing about funerals.  You're just as dead in a $100 pine box as you are in a $10,000 mansion of a box.  The grave is still going to be 6x4x6. So, put it on paper.  Tell your family that a pine box is good enough.
When EFR Dion died, we didn't go wild with the funeral expenses.  My dead father didn't seem to mind at all.  We didn't care that there were some who made snide remarks about the cheap looking casket.  We knew that in a couple of days we'd never see that particular item again anyway.  I couldn't figure out what their problem was.  It wasn't their box.
I personally am still flipping the proverbial coin about whether or not to have a traditional wake or a burial at sea or a cheap $100 cremation.  I am torn because I know the spiritual value of a wake.  I know that one or two people are going to come to pray for my sorry soul.  I know that more than that will come to be nice to my wife and children.  We're all familiar with that.  People who haven't seen one another in 35 years like traditional wakes.  They get to check out how much older everyone else looks than they do.  Who knows, two people who thought they really hated one another come together, shake hands and wonder why they've stayed so stupid for so long and walk away from the whole thing in peace.  I've seen that happen.  It's easy to do when you look at the dead guy and realize that you could be next.  Then, of course, I know that there will be some who will come to check to see if it is really me, finally.  You know, I don't want to disappoint them.  So a wake is nice.
The other thing is, I wonder if it is true that my soul will be able to check out those who come and those who don't.  I wonder about that because it could be fun to see how they act.  I could check out if they are crying or not.  If they are, I could nudge them and tell them that I told them not to do that.  That would be cool.  I often wonder about that.
If my soul could check that out, I would sure look around to see who is really praying the rosary and who is not.  I could see if my son is really using the rosary that used to belong to EFR Dion some 85 or 100 years ago.  I don't know what I could so about it, but it would be fun, one way or the other.
The BOX?  Oh, yeah, the box.  That's all I want, is a simple box.  I'm only 5'4", so get it measured and save on materials.  It could even be plastic for all I care.  Maybe by the time I die, wood will really be expensive.  So, hey, cheap, make it cheap.  I mean, for what's in it, you don't have to impoverish yourselves.  Like chairs.  For what goes in them, why are they so expensive?  So, whatever you do, don't be felony crazy and go out and spend 30 - 40 thou on a stupid funeral.
I think I've about talked myself into a traditional wake.  Hmmm, that also make me think about something that is absolutely essential to a traditional wake...cigars...expensive cigars...Cubans, gotta have Cubans. Look, if they're too expensive, maybe you could just put me out on a slab and after the wake, just put me in the oven.  That way you could save a pile of scratch because you wouldn't have to have a grave or anything like that.  Just a $25 plastic lined cardboard box.  Then you could have the Cuban cigars that every traditional wake has to have.  Pheew!  I'm glad I didn't forget that.
Hey, just wait one single minute, I got a better idea.  Let's buy the cigars now so I can have one before I die.  That way you'll know that you won't have to cry at my funeral.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Yesterday was a day full of spiritual drama.  On the one hand, good news came telling of the return to stronger health for Father Pat.  On the other, the story of Sister Claire Odette leaving her Earthly abode for the other side.  Father Pat is several years older than Sister Claire.  He is the one who is on the road back to health from a long distance down into the pit.
Furthermore, on the same day I received an email from a family that has a long list of human deficiencies that cause them to exercise a high degree of holy patience along the road of life.  They need our prayers.  The mother and father are no longer young (70 +), the daughter is 40 +  and has been in poor health all her life.  The mother is in the "spare parts" season of her life.  Things like artificial knees, artificial eye lenses to correct cataracts and who knows what else. 

These are the physical challenges that we face.  We don't always put the emotional and psychological sufferings that we endure in the life threatening category.  We know that it is possible to live for a long time with neurological and mental abnormalities.  We also know that it is possible to live a long time with "mechanical" problems like arthritis, rheumatism, Muscular Dystrophy and other such "discomforts." 

Every year at about this time I find myself reflecting on the mystery of life.  I have done this for a long time.  I was still quite young when I came face to face with the death of a beloved person.  I have written many pages of meditative thoughts about the relationship that we have with the mystery of life and death.  It most often encroaches on my life during the month of November when the Catholic Church celebrates the mystery of life in stark terms.  It starts off with All Saints Day, moves to All Souls Day and moves through the month celebrating those who have gone before us.  We honor them and we pray that they rest in peace.  We also can't forget that we someday are going to be among them.  We know that life doesn't end at terrestrial death.  It just changes form.  The Bible reminds us that it participates in the mystery of the grain of wheat that cannot fructify as long as it does not first die in the ground.  "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." [John 12;24]  We live with that.  We are reminded of it yearly.  We know that the mystery of life includes the mystery of death. 
We respect our earthly life because we believe that an earthly life well lived prepares us for a glorified life in the presence of Almighty God.  We respect life because we believe that it is a gift that only partially belongs to us.  It belongs to God too and He expects it to fructify so that it can become a part of His Eternal Community.  The more deeply we respect life, the happier we are.  The more intensely we live life, the more we come to resemble the Creator who gifts us with it.  The more righteously we live life, the more deeply we come to appreciate the divine mystery that our life mirrors while we are here on earth. 

This is the Catechism of the month of November.  This is the Catechism of Discipleship.  This is the confrontation that Jesus Himself presented us when He said,
"24 ... 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.
25 Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.
26 What, then, will anyone gain by winning the whole world and forfeiting his life? Or what can anyone offer in exchange for his life?
27 'For the Son of man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will reward each one according to his behavior.'" [Matthew 16, 24 - 27]

November is the 12th month of the Calendar that the Catholic Church follows in its prayer life.  December is the first month.  Every year before we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, we celebrate the mystery of our personal 12th month.  We celebrate the end of life as we know it as we stand before the light of the New Dawn.  We stand in awe at the promise of the new life about which we know only through the eyes and the mind and the heart of Faith.  This is what we do every single year.  Every year we Catholics have the privilege of practicing dying and peeking into the mystery of the transition from this life to the one that Jesus promised to those who would not prize the life that they have more than they would come to prize Him.

Get ready.  On the very last Sunday of the Catholic Year, we will hear the story of Christ the King.  On the very first Sunday of the Catholic Year we will hear the story of the end of the world.  Everything that you have read before getting here explains why Catholics do this.  It is the Catechism of life and death.  Earthly life ends and is transformed so that pure spiritual life can begin.   It is the Catechism of the reality of Discipleship.  We are all invited.  Every single year the invitation is made.  Over and Over again, we get invited.  Why do so many choose not to RSVP?

If we really believe this, why do we cry at funerals?



Since this is election time, and since many things come across my email screen I have been given a lot of fodder for my grist mill.  I chose this one because it fits nicely into my philosophy and my Theology (Spirituality).

The saying is one of those juxtapositions of ideas that clash and at first sight seem to make a valid point.  The thing about them is that at second blush, it becomes clear that the two ideas cancel one another out because they are mutually exclusive.  In this case, the humor seems to be quite catchy, but when the reader gets past the humor, the fallout seems to indicate that the sense of it is, that taxes are bad.  That is the part with which I disagree.  It is also not a correct attitude to harbor.  Taxes are not bad.  In practice there are several reasons why we develop resentment about having to pay them, but in concept, taxes are not a bad thing.

If taxes were so bad, it would be normal that the Bible would have something to say about the evil of charging taxes and/or the evil of paying them.  It happens that the Bible does not condemn taxes themselves, the governments who impose them nor those who pay them.  The Bible does not even have anything against honest tax collectors.  It is also clear that those who were paying them in the old days had the same acrimony about having to pay them that we do.  Interestingly enough, every time that the subject comes up in the Bible, God comes down on the good side of taxes.  It is therefore clear that in order to be a righteous person, it is morally obligatory to pay taxes.

My father gave me this lesson when I was fourteen years old.  I got my first "official" paycheck in life in July of 1951.  I got it for working on a tobacco farm in Connecticut.  I think it was for something like $18.00.  It also had deductions for Social Security and Income Tax.  That didn't make me too happy.  My father stepped in and explained the facts of life to me.  You know, the "birds and the bees" stuff about "life in the real world."  I remember that he had a very positive attitude about taxes.  I also remember that he was a staunch Republican.  A staunch Catholic Republican who practiced the rythm system.  There are about as many jokes about that reality as there are about taxes.  Actually, my mother and father were lucky, they only had five children.  See, it worked.

Meanwhile, back to taxes.  Let me start with the attitude that  the Bible has about them.  I like the teaching of John the Baptist to the Publicans:  "...And he said unto them, exact no more than that which is appointed you. (Luke 3;13)  This, of course was before the invention of the withholding tax and the IRS.  This was also during the time of the Roman occupation of Palestine.  People were paying the half shekel tax according to the Law of Moses: "A bekah for every man, [that is], half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one that went to be numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty [men]. (Exodus 38;26)
Of course, they were also paying the Roman Emperor for his comfort and for him to maintaing the occupying force in Palestine.  Sweet deal, right?
Yet we we all know what Jesus had to say about that arrangement.

This does not recount the oldest tax law about which we know.  The Egyptians paid taxes.  We do get a glimpse into the Egyptian tax law when we hear the story of Joseph and the reform that he instituted in the Egyptian tax law.  " And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, [that] Pharaoh should have the fifth [part]; except the land of the priests only, [which] became not Pharaoh's. (Genesis 47;26)  Joseph exempted the priests, somewhat like we do these days.  We don't know much about China in the pre-history times, but it is safe to think that they had taxes too.  Where else would they have found the resources to build beautiful bridges, nice roads, maintain an efficient courier system, build temples and the like?

To the old saw that says that death and taxes are the two surest things to befall humans in life, I add that they are also "what makes the world go round."  Without taxes the human community would have nothing to sustain the social nature of life which is natural to us.  We are gregarious animals.  We need common assets to survive and to thrive.  Like other life forms, we look to the alpha types of our kind to help us thrive.  We know, by our very nature, that there are some things that we cannot dominate by standing alone.  Taxes are part of an economic system that allows us to maintain independent freedom from constant presence in the flock, while being assured that there is an element of singularity that binds us together.  Taxes are a tangible link to one another because they set up an economic relationship of indebtedness between all the individuals in the community.
Yes, taxes are an external sign of an internal need to be united.  Taxes are an extension of the spiritual element in all of us.  Taxes are what make community life take on a quality of security and peace.  There are many communities of humans who maintain their stability by putting all that they own and earn into common ownership.  These communities are generally religious in nature and are composed of a group that maintains a very highly focused spiritual unity of purpose.  They are living proof that civil societies cannot generally achieve this high level of communitarian focus because the individuals who belong to such highly specialized communities do so voluntarily and constantly strive to channel much of their drive for self-determination into the defined purpose of the religious group.  The success of such communities provides us with living proof that Spiritual Communism works, but Civil, Secular Communism does not.

It is therefore my conviction that taxes are not evil.  What bedevils most citizens of any given country is the misuse of the tribute that is collected.  That misuse of the trust funds that taxes are is what causes civil wars to break out.  That misuse is a violation of the human bond of trust and security that taxes are meant to construct.   That misuse, sad to say, is perhaps the true "oldest profession" known to humans.  That doesn't make taxes evil.  It makes those who govern fall into evil ways.  Sadly, even God has not found a way to cure the propensity that His people have of taking advantage of one another, rather than providing one another with the peace and security that taxes are supposed to help create.

That, my brothers and sisters is a topic for brighter humans than I to confront.  The fact that I have come to that realization should keep you from crying at my funeral.