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Archives: August 2015
A few years ago one of our priests delivered one of his strongest homilies ever using only a minimal number of words. After proclaiming the Gospel he walked down to the communion rail and demonstrably closed the bronze gates thus separating the sanctuary from the nave of the church. Standing in the sanctuary behind the closed gates he said. “This is who we used to be.” Then he opened the gates as wide as he possibly could and walked into the nave saying “This is who we are today.” Without another word he walked to the celebrant’s chair and sat down. In response, the congregation stood up and burst out in applause. Now, I am not a great lover of homiletic props but in this rare case it worked and I will never forget the message.
The profound desire for an inclusive church expressed in this homily and echoed by our community was once again affirmed this week by Pope Francis. During this Wednesday’s general audience at the Vatican he referenced his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” saying: “No closed doors! No closed doors! Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community.” And alluding to the Gospel of St. John, chapter 14 he continued: “The Church is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone.”
In her short story "Revelation" Flannery O’Conner went even a step further turning our pre-conceptions about church membership and salvation upside down. Mrs. Turpin, the main character has a frightful and disturbing vision of heaven. In it she sees the redeemed souls wind their way to heaven. To her dismay the souls who arrive first are those whom she has always considered unworthy. She is shocked to see herself and her “proper” Christian friends at the very rear of this colorful parade of souls. Though she does make it to heaven she clearly is not happy that those she always considered unworthy made it there too. Worse, they made it ahead of her.
Maybe salvation is not as clear cut as some of us desire it to be and participation in the church is not as exclusive as some of us believe it to be, for indeed we are a colorful bunch.
We are a poor, we are rich and everything in between;
We are over-educated, we are under-educated and everything in between;
We are conservative, we are liberal and everything in between;
We are young, we are old and everything in between;
We are differently able;
We are male, we are female, we are gay, we are straight;
We are single, we are couples, we are families;
We are native-born, we are immigrants;
We have black skin, we have white skin and everything in between;
We are strong in our faith, we are weak in our faith and everything in between.
We are an extremely diverse tapestry of humanity in search of salvation. We are the church on a shared pilgrimage in unity, not uniformity. We welcome one another. We dialogue with one another. We help one another forward on this Christian journey of ours. The doors are open. All are welcome and who knows who will be first in heaven. Like Mrs. Turpin, we might end up being surprised, very surprised indeed.
This past Memorial Day weekend one of my cousins organized a group of cousins to meet on Saturday morning at Calvary cemetery in Anoka to clean up the gravesites of our various relatives. All the branches of the Bauer family were represented by at least one cousin, so there was quite a group of us. All told, among the Bauer’s—and the in-laws from various families—we cleaned up twenty-six graves. And with each grave we told stories, sometimes shed a tear or two, took a picture to send to the cousins who couldn’t make it, and remembered each individual with love and gratitude.
Tending to graves has a long history in my family. Back in the early 1930s my mother’s parents lived in Roundup, Montana, where my grandparents owned the general store. My mother had one sister and one brother. She was the youngest. Unfortunately, my uncle died of Spotted Mountain Fever when he was about twelve or thirteen years old. It was a devastating loss for my grandparents. The loss was compounded by the fact that as a result of the Great Depression people couldn’t pay their bills and my grandparents lost their store. They had to move to Minneapolis where my grandfather was able to find work—leaving behind the grave of their only son. Until her death my grandmother would send money every year to a friend in Roundup so her friend could “fix up” my uncle’s grave.
Now, my grandmother had a deep and great faith. She was not afraid of death, and in fact I think she looked forward to what came next. She truly believed in Christ’s promise of eternal life. The reason she wanted my uncle’s grave “fixed up” each year was not because she didn’t believe that he was in heaven. Rather, I think it was her way of remembering him, as well as reminding her grandchildren that he was a part of our lives and our heritage even though we never had the chance to meet him.
There is something consoling about visiting a cemetery or cleaning up a grave site. It reminds us that the person(s) who died, while no longer physically with us, still has a place in our lives and in our hearts. Our memories of them remind us how important they were and still are to us.
Remembering the dead, praying for them, visiting their graves and perhaps shedding a tear for them does not diminish or negate our Christian faith. In fact, I would argue that it is part of our Christian faith. It reminds us that those who have died are still a part of our lives. They live on in our minds and hearts, in our memories and feelings. We also believe, though, that they live on in the presence of our eternal God. Wonderful as this is, though, there is even more. For we also believe that if we follow Christ in this life, so we too will come to share eternal life with all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
Tending to a grave is, I believe, an act of faith. It gives us consolation in the face of death, comfort in our loss, and hope that one day we too will come to share eternal life.
One of my friends is truly a classy act. She stays on top of all the latest fashions and is very generous in sharing her knowledge and advice with others. Once in a while she even contributes to the stylistic improvements of her friends. To that end she recently gifted me with a new pair of reading glasses. They are nothing fancy yet they are elegant in an almost over-the-top European way.
When I did not immediately wear them my friend inquired about my hesitation. Did I not like them? Were they too much? Had I become a conservative dresser? I told her that I would wait till the following Sunday to wear them. Somewhat bemused she asked me why. Not knowing if she would understand I told her that it was simply something I did, despite the fact I had my clear reasons for doing this.
Growing up it was instilled in us that whenever we received a new article of clothing or an accessory they had to be worn on a Sunday first. The same held for new tables cloths, crockery, cutlery, etc. No reason was ever given. We just knew that new items were first worn or used on Sundays. And “Sunday best” was our shopping norm. When we saw something we liked we would not buy it unless it passed the “Sunday best” test. I remember my grandfather’s disapproving reaction vividly when I appeared at Sunday dinner in my first pair of store bought corduroys.
I truly loved Sundays. The anticipation actually began on Friday when the whole house was readied for Sunday. On Saturday my mom had her weekly appointment at the beauty parlor. In the afternoon we went to the market where we bought all the ingredients for the next day’s meals.
I loved Sundays. Dressing up has never been a hassle for me, on the contrary. Also, we did not do any work on Sunday, not even homework. Stores were closed except for the bakery as one just had to have freshly baked bread on Sunday. There was hardly any traffic. The streets were quiet. There was a deep sense of peace.
I loved Sundays. Even as a young boy I enjoyed Sunday Mass. That was a good thing since there was absolutely no excuse for missing Sunday Mass safe maybe for an emergency trip to the hospital. I can almost hear our church bells calling us to worship. We left our home as soon as the bells started to ring. As we walked there we were joined by our neighbors who also made their way to church. From a young age I got involved in the ministries, first as a server then as a lector..
I loved Sundays. After Mass we went home for a family breakfast followed by a visit to my one grandmother. Then it was on to lunch at my other grandmother’s home where we dined with the aunts, uncles and cousins. The afternoon was spent playing in the garden or inside, always careful not to soil our “Sunday best.”
Things are very different today, even in my small hometown. Stores are open, the streets are filled with cars, one can barely hear the tower bells and hardly anyone goes to Mass anymore. Our Catholic customs are competing with many, many distractions. But maybe the greatest impediment of all is our inability to simply stop and rest for a moment, either physically or spiritually. We are the victims of our obsession with doing things and getting things done.
Though I love Sundays, I neither want to glorify my pious past nor give in to a boost of nostalgia, yet I do think we can take something away from this cherished memory of celebrating Sunday in ages past. I will leave it up to you to decide what that might be. By now you may have noted that I truly love Sundays and I hope you do too.
Now I wish I had told my friend the reason why I wanted to premier my new glasses on Sunday. Maybe I will send her this blog or better yet, sit her down for a conversation proudly sporting my new glasses.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
Our Gospel this Sunday is once again taken from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel which is known as the Bread of Life discourse. In the section we read today Jesus told the Jews: “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” The people responded by saying: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Clearly their familiarity with Jesus had blinded them to believing that he could be anything other than what they knew him to be. Jesus, though, challenged them to believe that he was sent by God and that “whoever believes has eternal life.” Jesus also told them that: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
We have grown up with the belief that Jesus is the Bread of Life given to us in the Eucharist. This would have been an entirely new concept for the people of Jesus’ time. It shouldn’t surprise us then that they struggled to understand it.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the first Book of Kings. In the section we read this Sunday, Elijah as fled into the desert. As he rests under a broom tree and prayed for death, “an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water……………………strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.” This story is a prefigurement of what the Eucharist does for us. It strengthens us and sustains us on our journey of life.
Our second reading this Sunday is again taken the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians. Paul reminds the Ephesians that they must be “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. What is your first memory of the Eucharist?
2. Have you ever felt the Eucharist strengthening you to do something?
3. Where do you need to forgive, as you have been forgiven?