All Saints Day

 

 

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When we think about saints, we usually think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, apostles like Peter and Paul, or extraordinary individuals like Mother Teresa. True friends of God.

The Feast of Saints reminds us that, besides saints like them– shining lights of faith– there are unnumbered others in God’s company. In a vision of heaven, St. John saw “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” {Revelations 7, 9-13} We hope to be with them one day.

Our hope rests on a promise Jesus made. Remember it, the same apostle says:

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are…
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” (1 John 3,1-3)

How shall we reach that place where we’ll be revealed as children of God? Jesus said to follow him and live as he taught. He gives us the way in his Sermon on the Mount, our gospel reading for this feast. He will be the way, the truth and the life.

We haven’t seen yet that life we hope for or what God intends us to be. We haven’t completed our lives yet. This feast invites us to trust in God’s promise and hope for the day it’s revealed.

The extraordinary saints we honor are not the only ones in heaven. There will not be only a few. Countless others are in God’s company: saints who were unnoticed here on earth; saints with little to show; saints who were sinners. People like us.

As we celebrate this feast, St. Bernard says:

“Rise again with Christ and seek the world above and set your mind on heaven. Long for those who are longing for us; hasten to those who are waiting for us, ask those who are looking for our coming to intercede for us. Desire their company and seek a share in their glory. There’s no harm in being ambitious for this. No danger in setting your heart on such glory.

“Remembering the saints inflames us with a yearning that Christ our life may appear to us as he appeared to them and that one day we may share in his glory.”

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Reading Churches

door cologne

We hurry through doors, because we want to get inside. But cathedral doors are not ordinary doors; they try to slow you down and get you ready for what’s inside.

cologne apostles

The apostles stand at the western door of the Cologne Cathedral. Peter and Paul are nearest the door itself. Above them is the scene of their martyrdom under Nero. They’ve given their lives to the truth that’s told here, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was sent from above, and by his death and resurrection he calls us to follow him to glory. They’re teachers of faith who invite us to believe. You might call this door a version of the Apostles’ Creed.

cologne rulers

Earthly rulers, like Charlemagne, stand at the door too, witnesses of another authority. The faith is to be lived on earth as well as heaven.

The images of prophets, teachers, martyrs and saints on the outside and within the cathedral echo the same promise. The Cologne Cathedral was an important church that welcomed pilgrims from other parts of northern Europe and so, besides the Three Kings, images of the popular saints honored at other shrines along the pilgrim routes of Europe, like St. James of Compestelo, are found there. It encouraged a common vision of life that made the various peoples one.

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In days when people couldn’t read, they read the cathedral’s stained glass, paintings and sculpture. With them can we see the building’s reach into the heavens pointing to a world above, a world where the promises of God will be fulfilled?

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I took a picture of a stained glass window of the Last Supper in the Strasbourg Cathedral. Jesus hands a morsel to Judas, who then goes out into the night. How beautifully the artist captures the sadness of the Lord.

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The Three Kings

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The Three Kings who visited the Infant Jesus are honored at a shrine in Germany’s Cologne Cathedral, where their relics were placed after being brought there in the 12th century from Italy. Images of the kings appear everywhere in this part of Germany; the rich gold reliquary holding their remains is one of the cathedral’s treasures.

 

“The purported relics,” our guide told us a few weeks ago, as if settling the matter.

But suppose we ask : “ Why were relics of the Three Kings brought there in the first place?” That invites some speculation.

The earliest Christian churches often traced their faith to those who brought it to them. Rome, for example, looked to the apostles Peter and Paul. Greece honors Peter’s brother Andrew for bringing the faith to their land. Other parts of the Christian world claimed other apostles, like Simon and Jude.

I wonder if Cologne, the Roman colony along the Rhine, at the “limes,” the end of the world, saw the Three Kings as appropriate patrons for their church so far from the land of Jesus as well as from the early churches first blessed by his gospel. Late in receiving the faith, did this land see the Three Kings as the bearers of the faith to them? They were not left out.

“Go out to the whole world,” Jesus told his disciples.

The cathedral reliquary (above) portrays Jesus in glory as Teacher and Lord. On the bottom left is a scene of the Three Kings paying homage to the Child on Mary’s lap. They come from the ends of the earth. On the bottom right, Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan, sanctifying not only the waters of that river but the waters of the Rhine as well. A simple portrayal saying everything: All nations are called to the promise of his life.

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Saints Simon and Jude

Simon Rubens

St. Jude  LaTourSaints Simon and Jude, whose feast we celebrate today, are mentioned only a few times in the New Testament list of apostles,  tenth and eleventh respectively. (Mark 3,13-19, Luke 6,12-16)

Simon is called  `the Zealot,’ either because he was zealous for the Jewish law or because he was a member of the Zealot party, which in the time of Jesus sought the overthrow of Roman domination by force of arms.

Some of Jesus’ followers, as the Gospels indicate, were hardly advocates of non violence. Peter was ready to use his sword in the garden of Gethsemani when the temple guards came to seize Jesus, and James and John told Jesus to call down fire from heaven on the hostile Samaritans whom they met on one of their journeys to Jerusalem.

Simon, therefore, may have thought of a revolution when he answered Jesus’ call .

Jude, called `Thaddeus’ to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot, may be the brother of James, the son of Alphaeus, according to one interpretation of the Gospel. If that’s so, he’s also a relative of Jesus. He may be the author of the Epistle of Jude in the New Testament.

Early Christian traditions – all difficult to prove historically – locate the ministry of these apostles in places as far apart as Britain and Persia; one important legend from 3rd century Syria says they were apostles to Syria. If so, we can ask their intercession for that troubled place today.

The little we know about  Simon and Jude may be a good thing, because then we have to look to their mission to know them –they were apostles.

The mission of the apostles was to follow Jesus. “ ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ Jesus says in the Gospel of John. He also said “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”

God made his will known to them  in due time. They did not decide what to do and where to go by themselves. They knew God’s will day by day, as we do.  So often, it was unexpected, and perhaps not what they planned.

“Your will be done,” we say in the Lord’s Prayer. That’s the prayer of an apostle. We try to make it our prayer too.

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St. Christopher, Pray for Us

Christopher

“The Vatican said recently he doesn’t exist,” our guide informed us as we visited Cologne Cathedral in Germany a week or so ago and looked up at the imposing statue of St. Christopher near one of its entrances. Then, we passed quickly on.

Afterwards, I told him the Vatican didn’t say Christopher never existed, but as of now there is no historical evidence for the popular saint who carries the little child on his shoulders. For one reason or another, no historical evidence exists for a good number of our early saints.

But does that mean there is no Christopher? Actually, If you look at what he’s doing, there have been–and still are– many Christophers. (Bearers of the Christ Child) His type of holiness is mostly unrecognized, but very real. He’s there in the men (and women) who day after day carry children on their shoulders, getting them where they must go and keeping them from the dangers little children face.

Not much glamor in that job, but children need carrying, especially today.

I was going out for supper with a couple the other evening, and they told me to take my own car because the back seat of their car was taken by safety seats for their two grandchildren. Modern Christophers.

On the flight back from Europe a number of Dutch teenagers were watching a video of big bare-chested Vikings flailing  each other with their swords in non-stop violence. Was the Christopher in the Cologne Cathedral a sign to generations past that masculine strength is more than swinging a sword? You’re strong when you serve the weak.

We need you today, St. Christopher.

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30th Sunday: Pope Francis’ Synod

 

To hear the audio of today’s homily please select the audio slider below:

“Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus says. The question then is: How do we love God and neighbor in the world we live in, for example, in our families? That’s the question the recent Synod of Bishops considered, the synod convened by Pope Francis who invited church leaders from around the world to join him in looking at the times in which we live, “the signs of the times,” and see how we can adapt to the changing conditions of society.

For two weeks in Rome, leaders of the Catholic church studied reports they received previously from all parts of the world, shared their reflections and made some preliminary recommendations. Now, the pope asked them to bring their reflections home to be discussed by their local churches and then return to Rome to continue the process with him next year.

It’s a long, extended process, over two years; it’s not finished yet.

You can read about the synod in your diocesan paper or online, and I hope you do, because it gives us an interesting look at family life in all parts of the world. You can find the working paper from the synod on the Vatican website.

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20140626_instrumentum-laboris-familia_en.html#Difficult_Pastoral_Situations

http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2014/10/13/0751/03037.html

Let me mention a few things from the working paper for the synod. As you might suspect, it reflected on the family from the perspective of the bible and church tradition, but then in Part II it takes up the challenges a family faces today.

One is a perennial challenge: lack of communication in families. Husband and wife not talking to each other, children not talking to parents. Where there’s no communication in a family, there’s a loss of meaning and an experience of love. (64)

Families can also be torn apart by violence and abuse, an abuse that can be psychological, physical or sexual. Families can be damaged by addictions to alcohol and drugs. The synod then mentions some dangers today from the social media and the internet, particularly pornography. (66)

Let me quote from its document: “… Television, smart phones and computers can be a real impediment to dialogue among family members, leading to a breakdown and alienation in relationships within a family, where communication depends more and more on technology. In the end, the means of communication and access to the Internet replace real family relationships with virtual ones. This situation runs the risk of leading to not only the disunity and breakdown of the family but also the possibility that the virtual world will replace the real one.” (68) The people on television, video games, become more real than the people in your home.

The economy and work also influence families. Let me quote again: “The pace of work can be fast and sometimes even exhausting…and increasingly hectic life leaves little opportunity for moments of peace and family togetherness…Increasing job insecurity, together with the growth of unemployment and the consequent need to look for work elsewhere, have taken their toll on family life. “ (70)

There’s a need for governments and businesses to make sure there are decent jobs and just wages, as well as programs that assist families and children. (71)

I think you can see from these few examples that the synod is looking at real life situations.

The 3rd chapter of the synod document gets most attention in the media. “Difficult Pastoral Situations.” The first difficult situation it mentions is the increasing number of couples, particularly in North America and Europe who are living together, without getting married. They do this for different reasons, the surveys say. Sometimes its because of “financial need, unemployment and lack of housing.” Sometimes it the “fear of making a commitment and the idea of having children. They don’t want to make definitive decisions or have responsibilities that come with marriage. The leaders of the church are asking–and we all have to ask– how can we help young people enter into the long term relationship which is marriage? (82)

Another difficult situation, “especially in Europe and across America is the very high number of people who are separated, divorced or divorced and remarried.” Because of their situation, many of them can’t receive Holy Communion. The questions being asked is what can we do to help these people and how can we make them and their children feel at home in the church?  (86)

The final difficult situation is about same sex marriage. The synod is rejecting the view that homosexual unions are the same as the traditional union of man and woman. “Yet, at the same time, we need to make clear that men and women with homosexual tendencies ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.’” (110)

There’s an opposition, then, to “redefining” marriage between a man and a woman through laws permitting a union between two people of the same sex. We’re trying to find a balance between the Church’s teaching on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude towards people living in such unions. (113)

I began with the simple words of Jesus, “You shall love God and your neighbor. Not easy in a complex world, but we’re called to do just that.

When Pope Francis called for the synod he asked the bishops to consult their people and listen to them. He asked for transparency in discussing these issues. He recognizes there will be different ideas and different solutions concerning these challenges. He said we are on a journey. It’s a unique process the pope has begun and I hope we all can enter into it.

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The Passion of Christ

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Monday on the Feast of St. Paul of the Cross we launched a new website on the Passion of Christ.

http://passionofchrist.us/

The website has a commentary on the Passion Narratives by Fr. Don Senior, CP, and information on Passion sites, devotions, prayers, spirituality and recent studies.

In recent studies, for example, there’s a review by Fr. Paul Zilonka, CP. of Bill O’ Reilly’s recent book “Killing Jesus.”

It’s a work in progress. A lot more material will be added in days to come, so drop in every once in awhile. The Passion of Jesus is at the heart of the mission of the Passionists, the community I belong to. It’s a mystery that can feed your soul.  I would be grateful for any suggestions you may have.

The site will play on any computer, iPad or smart phone. We hope eventually to develop the website into a multi-lingual site that will literally reach the whole world.

I’m very grateful to the person who did such a beautiful job in formatting the site. A work of art in itself. A special grace brought this site about.

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