Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Day for Remembering

Today, as Memorial Day approaches, I am thinking of all those memories that I have of Memorial Days past.  I have memories of my life on that small farm just outside of Defiance, Iowa, in the 50’s and 60’s, of how my mother was so dedicated in remembering loved ones who had gone before and were buried in the local Catholic church cemetery.  My mother grew and loved flowers.  Every Memorial Day, she would go out to her flower garden and pick roses, lilacs, peonies, irises, bridal wreath, plum blossoms and anything else she could find on our property, bring them into the house, and begin arranging them in vases in preparation for taking them to the cemetery to decorate the graves of my father, my sister, my grandparents, etc.  The combination of the scents of all these flowers in the house made my head spin, and today, every time I catch the scent of one of these flowers, my head spins all over again.  Then, when the actual day arrived, we would attend Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church after which we would walk to the cemetery behind the church where taps were played and all those local men and women who served and died were remembered with our version of the 21-gun salute.

Ah, the men and women who served and died.  Soon after that experience of my youth, my brother, Rus, was drafted into the army (1967) and was sent to Viet Nam.  My mother was stressed beyond belief.  She sent many prayers heavenward for his safety.  Like a miracle, her prayers were answered.  Rus’s hand was instinctively raised when a commanding officer asked if anyone in the crowd could type.  He spent his year in Viet Nam as a clerk typist, which was probably the safest job any soldier could have.  As for my own story, I had the student deferment, as did Rus, until I graduated from college three years later, 1970, the first year that they randomly drew birthdates to see who would be the first to be drafted.  My birthdate, April 20, was drawn #345 out of 365.  My mother’s prayers were answered once again.  I would not have to serve if I didn’t want to 

Of course, the real story is that of those who were sent into the battlefield in past wars and gave the ultimate sacrifice, which is the reason Memorial Day was instituted.  I knew of one such young man, one I met during my years in 4-H work in my high school days.  His name was Roger Carroll.  I even stayed overnight at his parent’s house once, and ran into him on the campus of Iowa State once or twice.  I later found his name imprinted on the Viet Nam memorial in Washington, D.C.  Of course, there have been hundreds of thousands of others.  I salute them all today for their courage.  The ultimate sacrifice … I can barely fathom it.  I read the autobiography of a fraternity brother who also served, but returned in one piece.  His stories of the battlefields of Viet Nam sent chills down my spine.

The photograph accompanying this post shows a touching memorial.  I discovered it while strolling around the cemetery of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, my daughter’s community in Waukesha, Wisconsin, this past weekend.  I found it on the grave of Sister Mary Angela, someone I met some years ago and taught me some of the faith principles of the community.  I don’t know if she had a family member who served, but regardless, we should all have such a prayer on our lips on this Monday upcoming.  God bless all the men and women currently serving in the military.  Amen!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Miracle of Incorruptibility

Do you know what the “Imprimatur” and “Nihil Obstat” in books written by Catholic authors is all about?  “Imprimatur” is Latin for “Let it be printed” and is found in the front matter of the book typically on the same page as the copyright statement.  It tells us that the content has been examined by a Catholic bishop and, as a result of this examination, has been approved for publication.  The name of the bishop and the date of his approval are given.  The purpose of the approval is to let the reader know that the work has been thus examined and is found to be free of any threat to the faith and morals of Catholics.  “Nihil Obstat” is Latin for “Nothing hinders” and is also found on this page in the front matter of a book.  It tells the reader that the content has been examined by a Catholic diocesan censor for reasons similar to the Imprimatur and has been approved for publication.  Again, the date of the approval and the delegated censor’s name are given.  Both are declarations that the content is free of doctrinal of moral error.

The reason these terms are on my mind today is that I’ve been reading a book titled Exploring the Miraculous by “miracle hunter” Michael O’Neill and, for obvious reasons, I checked the front matter to see if the approvals were given.  They were.  One item addressed in the book is the incorruptibility of the bodies of some saints.  The bodies of these saints, for various reasons, have been exhumed and found to be incorrupt after a period of decades, or centuries in some cases.  For some of his statements, he references another book written by Joan Carroll Cruz titled The Incorruptibles, which I have in my personal library and also has the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat approvals.  I conclude that the stories of such saints found in these books are believable.  The stories include some familiar saints, such as St. Bernadette Soubirous, the young French girl who had the visions of Our Lady of Lourdes, and St. Catherine Laboure, who had the visions of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.  When I visited France back in the year 2000, I was fortunate to have personally viewed the incorrupt body of St. Catherine in her glass reliquary. 

Skeptics question the validity of claims of incorruptibility, as you might expect, often calling incorrupt bodies "mummified."  In the introduction to Cruz’s book, she addresses these questions and discounts any claim of artificial means of keeping the bodies from decay.  Indeed, in some cases, there was absolutely no attempt at such artificial means, as temperature control, embalmment, or environmental control.  These were simply human beings who lived such virtuous lives, who interceded with Christ to cause miraculous phenomena (or they would not have been declared saints), and who found such favor with God that He demonstrates to us his almighty power though their incorruptibility.

These occurrences of incorruptibility should be enough to fully convince anyone of the existence and power of God.  How else could the phenomena be explained?  Yet, people go about their daily lives as if there is no God.  People give no thought of the existence of a higher power and potential disaster of disbelief.  It reminds me of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.  The rich man wanted Abraham to ask God to have someone rise from the dead and warn his five brothers of the consequences of their actions.  Abraham’s response is classic:  “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”  (Luke 16:31).  The modern response might be this:  “If they will not listen to Jesus Christ and his Church, neither will they be persuaded if a deceased saint’s body remains incorrupt after death.”  My prayer for today:  Please, Lord, grant the gift of faith to those who ignore you so that they may be given their heavenly inheritance on Judgement Day.  Amen.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Is Christ the One Mediator Between God and Man?

Today I’m thinking about the disagreement between the Catholic faith and some other Christian faiths regarding whether Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man or whether we can ask each other and/or the saints in heaven for intercession.  The non-Catholic position on this is derived solely from the following passage from Scripture:  “For there is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, the man Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.”  (1 Tim 2:5-6).  On the surface, it would seem that St. Paul is telling us that if we want help in praying to God, we only have one option and that is to use Jesus Christ as a mediator, an intercessor. 

The problem is that immediately prior to writing that statement in the letter to Timothy, St. Paul writes this:  “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone … .”  (1 Tim 2,1).  In other words, he is asking us to pray for others, thus using us as a mediator.  One might think that the two passages are in conflict.  Thinking of the two passages together, I think we can all agree that he is asking us to pray while not thinking of us as a mediator, i.e., still using Jesus as the sole mediator in the process.  Yes!  The Catholic position, then, is that it is okay, and even encouraged, to ask others to offer prayers of petition and thanksgiving for us.  And, of course, Catholics take this to also mean that we can ask the saints in heaven to pray for us as well, with the understanding that they also use Jesus as the sole mediator.  This opens it up for us to be able to ask, for example, the Blessed Mother, St. Peter, St. John, and all the saints (even St. Paul), besides our friends and relatives, to pray for us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states it as follows (excerpt taken from CCC paragraph 2635):  "Since Abraham, intercession – asking on behalf of another – has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy.  In the age of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ’s, as an expression of the communion of saints."  Christian intercession participates in Christ’s!  That's it!  That's the answer!

Recently, a friend of mine stated that he does not pray at all, for anything, not even if others, such as a grieving widow, were to ask for his prayers.  He gave no apology or any reason for this.  I was left to believe that he has no thought of a higher power that may help him and others through the earthly journey.  And, yes, I pray for him that one day he will come to know Christ, God, and discover the power and the value of faith and prayer.  Amen.

The photograph shows Catholics praying before the tomb of St. Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, asking for his intercession in union with Christ's.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The 100th Aniversary

The month of May has traditionally been a month dedicated to the Blessed Mother in the Catholic Church.  As April showers give way to May flowers, altars and grottoes come alive when the faithful decorate and pray with a zeal comparable to that of the original disciples of our Lord two thousand years ago.  Catholic school children everywhere process to said altars and grottoes carrying a crown woven with these flowers and place it on the head of a statue of the Blessed Mother while singing Marian hymns, such as On This Day Oh Beautiful Mother, Immaculate Mary, and Ave Maria.  The event is referred to as the “May Crowning.”

I have vivid memories of these days.  One especially comes to mind.  My father died suddenly in a farming accident on May 5, 1958 (tomorrow being the 59th anniversary).  I was ten years old.  As you might expect, I missed school for a few days, perhaps as much as a couple of weeks, to come to grips with what happened.  I returned on the very day of the May Crowning.  Though I had not completely healed (I felt that all the eyes of my classmates were upon me), I was comforted by this moving ceremony.  As the hymn says, “Oh beautiful mother, on this day we give thee our love.”

This year, the month of May is even more special.  May 13, 2017, a week from Saturday, is the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of the Blessed Mother to the children of Fatima in 1917.  The story of Our Lady of Fatima has been accepted by the Catholic Church as an authentic story of a miraculous appearance.  Though many so-called appearances of the Blessed Mother are deemed as fraudulent or mistaken (one has the image of the Blessed Mother “appearing” on a sandwich), only a very few that have successfully undergone the extreme scrutiny of the Church are deemed authentic.  Fatima is one of them.

So I wish the Catholic Church, all Catholics, and all human beings everywhere a rousing “Happy Anniversary” on this very special occasion.  Amen!  Alleluia!