Tag Archives: death

Tuesday Night at the Mission

Last night at the mission we thought about death as Jesus faced it and accepted it in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life,” we say at Mass. He accepted death and changed it forever. He will  be with us as our Savior at the moment of our death.

The two most important moments of our life are “now and at the hour of death.”

http://www.cptryon.org/prayer/season/agony.html

Tuesday evening our reflections will be on prayer. We need to pray, especially today. Is it possible to pray? How do we pray?

There are some reflections on prayer on Bread on the Waters, http://www.cptryon.org/prayer/index.html and some explanations of the common prayers we say as Christians.

You can learn to help your children pray at that site too.

The important days of Holy Week are coming up this week. Find out about them at this same site. It’s for adults and children.

Here’s a sample for introducing a child to Good Friday:

On Friday,

(We call it “Good”)

Jesus was nailed

to hard, hard wood.

Beneath his cross,

his mother stood

and cried for what they had done.

“Oh, if I could hold him,” she said,

“Hold my only Son!”

“Father, take me,” Jesus said,

“Take me in your hands.”

And God reached down

and took him,

and held his only Son.

“I am God who raises up,

your life has just begun.

I am God of the living,

no grave can hold my Son.”

Raising Lazarus

John 11,1-45

The wonderful story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus helps us appreciate the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Lazarus belongs to an influential family that welcomed Jesus to their home in Bethany, a village about two miles from Jerusalem. Martha and Mary were his sisters. Jesus stayed with them when he visited the Holy City.
When Lazarus died some days before the Passover, Jesus had left Jerusalem because of threats to his life and was staying in the safety of the Transjordan, the region where John the Baptist had baptized. Notified of his friend’s death, Jesus returned to Bethany, unconcerned for himself.
Death in its many forms was what Jesus came to take away, our gospel wants us to understand, and the dead Lazarus was a sign of what he wishes to do for all humanity. Lazarus was his friend, but Jesus, the Word made flesh, befriends the whole human race.
In the stirring conclusion of today’s gospel, Jesus calls the dead Lazarus from the tomb and “the dead man came out,” bound with the burial cloths that claimed him for death. “Untie him and let him go,” Jesus says. Those powerful, hopeful words are said to us too. We are called, not to die, but to live.
Later, on Calvary Jesus himself becomes our sign. A painful death does not claim him, nor will the grave hold him. He is our hope.
The same hope nourished Paul of the Cross: “ You ask me how I’m doing. I’m more sick than well and full of ailments. I can hardly write this…(but) I find it very good. Bearing the chains, the ropes, the blows, the scourges, the wounds, the thorns, the cross and death of my Savior, I fly to the bosom of the Father, where the gentle Jesus always is, and I allow myself to be lost in his immense Divinity.” (Letter 1925)
Like Martha, the sister of Lazarus, O Lord,
I believe you are the Resurrection and the Life.

Mission: Plainville, Ct April 4

Learning from Jesus Christ

We know Jesus Christ through the scriptures, and one goal of the Second Vatican Council was to promote the reading of scripture in the liturgy and catechesis of the church.

Scholars and believers have brought new insights from the scriptures into our faith and our church.  Our task now is to let the scriptures nourish our prayer and our reflections on our faith.

That’s a goal of our mission this week.

In the morning Masses we are going to reflect on the daily readings for Lent.

In the evening services for Monday and Tuesday we are going to reflect on the part of the Gospel of Matthew called the Sermon on the Mount which is read in the first part of lent. Jesus, our Teacher, tells us how to live and how to pray.

On Wednesday, we will go to another mountain, Mount Calvary, to learn from Jesus how to love.

This morning, the story of the official who approaches Jesus asking that he heal his son who is dying draws our attention to the mystery of death. Why does it happen? What does Jesus teach us about death?

He came to conquer death. “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life, Lord Jesus come in glory.”

The two most important moments of our life are now and at the hour of our death.

Holy Mary, mother of God,

pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

The Sign of Jonah

Jonah himself wasn’t much of a sign, if you think about him. He fled fear-stricken from the mission God gave to preach to the great city of Nineveh, and when  the sailors on the boat from Joppa saw him as the curse that caused a storm and  threw him overboard to drown, he couldn’t stop them. That would have been the end of him  if God didn’t send a whale to swallow him and vomit him up on the shore at Nineveh.

An arrival like that caught the attention of the Ninevites; they listened to this man who came from the belly of whale and responded to his preaching by begging God for forgiveness.

So Jonah wasn’t much of a sign himself. The Ninevites would have ignored him if he just got off the boat from Joppa and preached to them. Instead,  he was someone brought back from death and sure destruction. God made him a sign of life.

In Jesus, a greater than Jonah is here. The mystery of his death and resurrection is at the heart of his mission, his great word, his message of hope, his sign of love for us.

The Sign of Jonah was a favorite theme early Christians used to decorate the places where they buried their death. The whale of death, monster of the sea, would not destroy humanity but deliver it to another shore, where a kingdom was waiting.

Can Haiti Help Us?

I’m reading these first days of Lent a book by Fr. Rick Frechette: Haiti: The God of Tough Places, the Lord of Burnt Men. He’s a priest, a doctor, a member of my community, the Passionists, who has been serving the poor in Haiti for over 20 years.

When the recent catastrophic earthquake struck on January 12, 2010 he was the  director of a 150 bed pediatric hospital for poor children near Port-au-Prince and was responsible for setting up some street schools for poor kids in the slums of the city and a program for bringing clean water into the slums by truck.

All of those projects came to a halt or suffered severe damage in the earthquake that killed over 230,000 people. Fr. Rick is rebuilding now. Not only is he rebuilding, he hopes to do more.

His book,  a compilation of reflections about his work in Haiti over the years, is more than a picture of what he’s doing. It’s more a story of God’s grace shining through human misery. Haiti is a tough burnt land, but God wisdom and beauty are there in a place its people call “Calvary’s Hill.”  God’s grace is always there where a cross is set up.

Frechette’s book, instead of making you ask  “What can we do for Haiti?” makes you ask rather “What can Haiti do for us?”.

What can we learn from the place that most of us don’t want to look at?

When Fr. Rick built his pediatric hospital for the poor, he made it the best children’s hospital in Haiti, because he said the poor deserve the best. That’s not the way we think in our part of the world, is it? With us, the poor more likely get the worst.

We believe in success and think we have a right to it. We can be successful if we try hard.  We  can be winners and we like winners; we don’t like losers.  We like the stars, the celebrities, not the failed and the broken. We grow impatient with intractable problems. We turn away from them. “You’re fired,” we say to them.

The wisdom Jesus teaches is different, however. “Whatever you do to the least, you do to me.” And he told us to bear our cross and to share the cross that others bear.

Fr. Rick’s stories are about beauty and grace in the least and God who reveals himself in the mystery of the Cross.

The ultimate human failure, of course, is death.  And here again, Fr. Rick has  some of Haiti’s wisdom to pass on to us.  As a doctor,  he heals, but as a priest he buries dead as well. The grace of God pursues us even to death.

A few weeks after the earthquake, Fr. Rick’s mother died. He was able to get to her bedside and celebrate her funeral in Wethersfield, Ct and this is what he said.

“My mother was diagnosed with cancer about 8 months ago.  Over these months she had time to think about her life and death, about all those she loved, and about her God.  With the care of the best physicians and nurses, with the full devotion of her husband and children, she met the end of her life in a beautiful way. Slowly dying during mass at her bedside, dying shortly after my sermon on the merciful presence of the Blessed Mother who is with us “now and at the hour of our death”, she died during the consecration of the sacred bread and wine.  I later asked my father, since mom died so soon after my talk, if he thought my words were lethal, and did mom in!  He replied quickly, “your sermon darn near killed us all.”

Imagine, the earthquake caused the death of 100,000 to the present count.  The death of these people was so different from the death of my mother.  Instead of 8 months to prepare, they had 34 seconds.  Instead of constant attention and affection from loving families and skilled doctors, buildings fell on them, trapped them, crushed them and isolated them.  Instead of being honored with a beautiful coffin, the precious white pall, the wonderful incense, they bloat and rot and make you turn your head and vomit.  Instead of being laid tenderly in the grave as we will do to my mother today, they are lifted from the street by backhoes and front end loaders and dumped into huge trucks..  It is so different, so tragic, sad beyond words.  Life has to end for everyone. But the way that life ended for Gerri Frechette is a cause of thanksgiving and joy, and our gratitude should make our hearts burst with zeal, to want to right the wrong for those whose death is a humiliation and a disgrace.

On January 6th as I came home from Haiti to stay with mom to the end, the Archbishop of Port au Prince, Joseph Serge Miot, asked me to let him know when mom died.  He wanted to come and officiate at her funeral.  On January 12th ,  just 6 days later, he was dead.  Within 34 seconds the earthquake threw him from his 3rd floor balcony to the patio below, and the chancery fell on top of him, and the cathedral fell on top of the chancery.  I tell you this for two reasons. First, to remember and pray for this kind pastor and bishop during this mass. And second, as an example of a simple reality.  Did he ever expect to be dead before my dying mother?  What are your expectations of your death?  How secure are you sitting here at the funeral?  Will you still be here in 6 days?  Or maybe will you also be gone, with 34 seconds to prepare?

The point is a simple one.  We cannot escape death.  We should learn everything we can about it.  This mass, this earthquake, should be a profound school of learning for us.  To die the right way we have to know the right way to live.  Right living is the preparation for right dying – even a death  that comes in 34 seconds.”

For more on him, see www.thepassionists.org

Ash Wednesday and Mystical Death

An excerpt from a letter of St. Paul of the Cross about mystical death may help us celebrate Ash Wednesday.

“Life for true servants and friends of God means dying every day: ‘We die daily; for you are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God.’ This is the mystical death I want you to undergo.

I’m confident that you will be reborn to a new life in the sacred mysteries of Jesus Christ, as you die mystically in Christ more and more each day, in the depths of the Divinity. Let your life be hidden with Christ in God…

Think about mystical death. Dying mystically means thinking only of living a divine life, desiring only God, accepting all that God sends and not worrying about it. It means ignoring everything else so that God can work in your soul, in the sanctuary of your soul, where no creature, angelic or human, can go. There you experience God working and being born as you mystically die.

But I’m in a hurry, and this note is getting too mystical, so listen to it with a grain of salt, because we don’t get it.”    (Letter, Dec 28, 1758)

On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on our foreheads in the form of a cross and some simple words are said: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

A reminder we will die. Yet, so much more is said in this brief symbolic act. A daily mystical death is also taking place within us. Our physical life will end, the ashes tell us;  the day and hour are unknown. But ashes in the form of a cross tell us Jesus Christ changes death. “Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life.” Jesus Christ has made his risen life ours. Though his gift is hidden, we will experience it when we enter his glory.

Meanwhile, the mystery of his death and resurrection is at work in us now. Share this mystery mystically,  St. Paul of the Cross says in the letter quoted above. Daily, deliberately, attentively turn to God working within you. A new life is being born in you, though you may not see it.  Desire it, accept it in whatever God sends, without worry. God is working within through the mystery of the Lord’s cross.

Yet the saint, like the rest of us, has to hurry off to something else. He’s going somewhere, or has something to do, or someone to see, and he tells his correspondent that you can’t think about deep things too long. It’s a mystery beyond us.

And so, we only glimpse this mystery as ashes are placed on us. Still, may we hear the Lord’s voice in the day’s readings and in the signs of the liturgy. Ash Wednesday is an ambassador sent by God reminding us of his work for us; he will send his graces through the days of Lent and Easter. Yes, through all the days of our life.

Let us embrace his cross each day and die mystically and be born anew.

If you’re interested in more on Ash Wednesday and Lent, go here.

A Funeral in Wethersfield

Just returned from the funeral of Gerri Frechette at Corpus Christi church, Wethersfield, CT. She was the mother of Fr. Rick Frechette, CP, the director of St. Damien children’s hospital in Haiti.

He was attending his dying mother when the earthquake struck Haiti last week and at her urging he returned to help in the disaster. He returned to her bedside a few days ago and as he and his family were celebrating Mass around her bed, she died.

In his homily, Fr. Rick said how grateful he was that as a priest he was able to offer his mother to the Lord as part of the great offering Jesus makes in the mystery of the Eucharist. A woman of great faith, she knew the significance of her death at this moment.

Fr. Rick commented on how different his mother’s death and burial were from what thousands experienced in the Haitian earthquake. Her death was expected; she prepared for it; all the funeral arrangements for her burial were carried out with great care and dignity. The Haitian dead died unexpectedly;  they had no warning; the bodies of many of them were dumped unceremoniously in mass graves, unaccompanied by loved ones and signs of respect and faith.

A number of Fr. Rick’s Haitian associates attended the funeral. He will return with them to Haiti and their relief efforts tomorrow.

Fr. Rick expressed the hope that the world will be a place where people could live their lives, like his mother, in dignity and respect and pass to the Lord in confidence and with a sense of fulfillment, as she had done.

May she rest in peace, and may all those who have fallen asleep, rest in the peace of Christ.

Holy Souls

Before the altar in our chapel in this month of the Holy Souls, there’s a large stack of names sent in to be remembered at Mass. Just names written on paper. No eulogies, no lengthy description of who they are, what they did, or anything else about them.

In one sense, they represent us poor mortals as we are in death. We have nothing, except hope in the mercy of God. We are in God’s hands.

We place the names of our dead before the altar and great crucifix that hangs over it because of  the promise of Jesus Christ:

“And this is the will of the one who sent me,

that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,

but that I should raise it on the last day.”

Our prayers at Mass say the same thing; we don’t earn eternal life, it is a gift to us. “All life, all holiness comes from you, through your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit.”

God blesses the bread and wine with the presence of his Son, and he blesses the world he loves so much.

“Remember those who have died in the peace of Christ, and all the dead whose faith is known to you alone.”

Even though others forget, a merciful God remembers.

Morning Masses during the Mission

The Mass texts for March 30th, 31st, April 1st and 2nd  can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/  , the site of the US Catholic Bishops. It’s a good site to bookmark for the future because, besides the readings, it offers daily reflections and podcasts.

For Monday March 30th, I’ll be using the 5th Sunday readings for the RCIA (the raising of Lazarus) instead of the regular daily readings.

John 11:1-43
Here’s a reflection on raising Lazarus:
The blind man sees, Lazarus lives. John’s Gospel links these two figures closely because of the gifts they receive from the Word of God, Jesus Christ. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people.” John 1:4

Light touched the blind man, as the Word of God enlightened his spirit along with the gift of physical sight, and he believed in Jesus.

And Life came to the tomb of Lazarus, as Jesus, “the resurrection and the life,” raised him from the dead.

More is known about Lazarus than the nameless blind man. Most likely from an influential family, he and his sisters, Martha and Mary, were friends of Jesus, whom they welcomed to their home in the village of Bethany, a little under two miles from Jerusalem. Jesus often stayed with them when visiting the Holy City.

Jesus was not there, however, when Lazarus died some days before the Passover. Threatened by Jerusalem’s authorities, he had left the area, traveling down the ancient road to Jericho, then to the safety of Transjordan where John had baptised.

Once he heard the news of Lazarus’ death he returned up the same road to be with his friends.

John’s account describes a typical Jewish burial. Wrapped in linen strips, Lazarus’ body was buried the same day he died; his tomb a cave, sealed with a stone, outside the village. His sisters, Martha and Mary then began the customary 30 days of mourning at home, receiving the condolences of their friends and neighbors.

By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus was dead four days, the point the rabbis claimed no trace of the soul remained in the body. Decomposition had set in.

Hearing that Jesus was coming up the road, the two sisters left their home to express their grief. “And Jesus wept.”

Then, deeply moved, he went to the tomb and ordered the stone removed. Looking up to heaven, Jesus prayed to his Father and in a loud voice cried, “Lazarus, come out.” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with linen bandages, his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said, “Loose him; let him go.”

The raising of Lazarus, which John’s gospel places immediately before Jesus’ passion and death, made the Jerusalem authorities finally decide to put Christ to death. It is an irony like others the evangelist makes. Jesus, bringing life, is put to death and placed in a tomb.

His death and resurrection are life-giving, the church’s faith proclaims. Dying and rising from the dead, he brings hope of eternal life to all who, like Lazarus, must die. That hope is realized in the sacrament of Baptism:

“Are you not aware that we who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. If we have been united with him through likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-5)

Lazarus was only a sign of what the Savior of the world, the Resurrection and the Life, would do for all humanity.

Lord,
like the traveler
lifting the fallen one
on the Jericho road,
healing all his wounds,
you went to Lazarus’ tomb,
and would not let him die
but loosed the bonds of death,
so great was your love for him.

Savior,
we believe
you weep at every death,
and pray at every tomb,
for all the dead
whose faith is known to you alone.

Like Lazarus,
call us your friends,
stay in our company,
share what we have,
come to our aid when we call.
and grant us eternal life.

Healing Grace

In Mark’s gospel, after his baptism and gathering disciples, Jesus immediately begins a ministry of healing.  After curing the man in the synagogue convulsed by an unclean spirit,  Jesus goes on to cure Simon’s mother-in-law,  and then the whole town comes to the door of Peter’s house with their sick.

The healing he brings is not just for bodily life on earth; his healing is a sign of the kingdom that is to come, ‘where Christ will raise our mortal bodies and make them like his own in glory.”

Above, all, we look for that healing, that ultimate healing that takes away our fears before death and helps us make our way to the life promised us.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and political activist, died a few days ago. David Brooks in his column in the New York Times yesterday wrote about the priest’s bravery in face of death.“ Some years ago, Neuhaus had a near death experience that gave him a certain grace before that reality we all must face…
When he wrote about his experience later, his great theme was the way death has a backward influence back onto life: ‘We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already under way.’

“It also made him almost indifferent about when his life would end,” Brooks writes. “People would tell him to fight for life and he would enjoy their attention, but the matter wasn’t really in his hands, and everything was ready anyway.

In his final column for First Things, a magazine he edited, he wrote.
“Be assured that I neither fear to die nor refuse to live. If it is to die, all that has been is but a slight intimation of what is to be. If it is to live, there is much I hope to do in the interim.”

We are having an Anointing of the Sick today here in our chapel.  May the Lord bring his healing to our house.