Thursday, November 24, 2016

Glory and Praise for God vs Help for the Poor

Thank you for your patience.  In the two weeks I was “gone,” I traveled to Italy with a pilgrimage group lead by Fr. Dan Guenther of Cherokee, Iowa.  While there, a bus took us to many Catholic sites (and other sites) in Italy in the cities of Venice, Padua, Florence, Assisi, Siena, Rome, Pompeii, and Sorento.  The sites included the magnificent Basilicas of St. Mark, St. Anthony, St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major, and St. John Lateran, among others.  In addition, we saw the famous artwork of Michelangelo in Florence and Rome.  The photograph accompanying this post is of the interior of the Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museum) adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome where there are many such valuable treasures.

All of the famous artwork and ornate structures in these basilicas and other buildings reminded me the common complaint that the Catholic Church owns all of this and doesn’t pay enough attention to the poor.   Indeed Scripture is full of verses and stories that tell us how very important it is that we help the poor and share our wealth.  Jesus said this:  “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a man who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God."  (Mat 19:24).  Jesus also told the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).  The rich man refused to help a poor man (Lazarus) who lay begging at his door while on earth.  Upon the rich man’s death, he was refused entrance into heaven and lay in torment in the netherworld while Lazarus was seen by the side of Abraham in God’s Kingdom.

But also in Scripture, there is also story of the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive perfumed ointment contained in an alabaster jar (e.g., John 12:1-8).  This was one time when honor and glory for Jesus took precedence over help for the poor.  Responding to indignation from his disciples (because the ointment was expensive), while approving of the woman’s act, Jesus said this:  “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”  It seems clear to me that honor and glory for God is at least on equal footing with helping the poor.  The Catholic Church commissioned the artists to sculpt statues (e.g., statues of David, Moses, and the Pieta) or create beautiful paintings (the Sistine Chapel) and has been the caretaker of these for centuries.  They, of course, are priceless treasures that people of all religious stripes have been enjoying for years.  They give glory and honor to God and cannot be liquidated and sold on the world market for what they are worth.

People may also cite the use of golden vessels for chalices, ciboria, tabernacles, and the like.  These vessels also give glory and honor to God because they are used to contain the consecrated bread and wine during and outside of Mass.  The richest material on earth is quite an appropriate material for such a function because we are talking about the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord and Savior.

Jesus said we will always have the poor with us.  You know, I experienced this in Rome as well.  We encountered the homeless asleep under blankets in the corridor leading from the parking garage to to St. Peter’s Square early one morning.  And, yes, there was human waste on the floor and yes, the stench was awful.  Yes, the poor will always be with us and they will be all around us, even in the corridor leading to one of the most revered places on earth.  So, let us continue to give glory and praise to God, but let us not forget the poor.  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.  Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Future of our Country

What?  Two "My Thursday Thoughts" posts on the same day?  Yes.  This one is to inform my dedicated readers that I'm taking some time off from blog-writing.  I'll return on Thanksgiving Day, November 24.  In the meantime, I provide the accompanying photo to remind you of what is the most important consideration on election day, November 8.  In the name of unborn children everywhere ... PLEASE vote for pro-life candidates.  The lives of these future Americans, and indeed the very future of our country, depend on it.  Thank you!

The Saints in Heaven

On Tuesday of this week, November 1, Catholics celebrated the solemnity of All Saints, or “All Saints Day,” as it is traditionally called.  It is a “holy day of obligation,” which means that Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on that day and refrain from unnecessary servile work, if possible, just as on a Sunday.  What is the big deal about this special day?  It is a day set aside to commemorate and honor all the saints, both known and unknown.  November 1 was the day Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica to “all the saints” back in the eighth century.

What do I mean, both known and unknown?  Saints are human beings who have died and gone to heaven.  It is that simple.  It is known that some human beings from our past are in heaven because it is known publicly that they have lived a virtuous life and died in the state of grace because miracles are known to have occurred as a result of their intercession.  Such holy persons have been declared to be saints by the Catholic Church through a process known as canonization.  There are numerous such persons who have been so recognized in recent years, including Saint Pope John Paul II, Saint Mother Teresa, and Saint Father Junipero Serra, not to mention thousands of others through the years since the dawn of the Catholic Church back in the time of Christ.  Presumably there are scores of others who have passed from this life and entered heaven who are not publicly known.  We often hear the phrase “My mother was a saint.” and it is possible that indeed she is!  It is just that it is not publicly known and she has not been formally canonized.  In any case, All Saints Day is that special day that honors all of them.

I recently googled the question “When was St. Paul canonized?” and learned that the process of canonization began in the Church in the year 993 and so he has never been formally canonized.  This also means that possibly hundreds of other saints, such as all the apostles, St. Augustine, etc., were never formally canonized.  Rather, they were declared saints by “popular acclaim” and not by canonization.  It is interesting to note that church structures are named after saints, both those who are saints by popular acclaim and those who are formally canonized, and both Catholic churches and Protestant churches.  This indicates that sainthood is not just a Catholic thing.

The Catholic Church honors saints in another way, and that is by venerating their relics.  I refer you to the following Web site for an explanation of this practice:  Relics come in three different classes, first-class, second-class, and third-class.   Besides items associated with the life of Christ (manger, cross, etc.) first-class relics are the physical remains of a saint’s body.  I am fortunate to have a first-class relic of St. Mother Teresa in my home – a strand of her hair (see accompanying photo under the words "your love").  I know it is authentic because it was given to me by a friend who knew some sisters from her community.  The question of authenticity is important, of course, and this is discussed in the above Web site.   Second-class relics are items that a saint owned or used.  Third-class relics are items that were touched to a first- or second-class relic.  I am fortunate to have a third-class relic of St. Maria Goretti in my home.  It is a crucifix that was touched to the reliquary containing her body when it toured the United States recently.

I pray today to all the saints mentioned in the post, Sts. Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Fr. Junipero Serra, Paul, all the apostles, Augustine, and Maria Goretti that they might pray to God for us as we navigate through our life on Earth, and especially for their intercession next Tuesday as we vote for our elected officials.  And I pray to your mother (if deceased) and mine for the same.  Amen.