All Saints

The Saints Go Marching In: Not Truly Dead, But Alive In Christ

Tomorrow, Catholics celebrate All Saints’ Day and Wednesday is the celebration of All Souls’. The Church knows that there are many holy men, women and children who will never be formally recognized as saints; the celebration of All Saints’ allows us to ponder our own destiny with the multitude of holy souls now enjoying God’s eternal love and presence. All Souls’ Day reminds us that, as Catholics, we never presume that someone is in Heaven, and our prayers for the dead are necessary and good. The Catechism states:

1054 Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.

1055 By virtue of the “communion of saints,” the Church commends the dead to God’s mercy and offers her prayers, especially the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist, on their behalf.


Catholics are often accused of praying to the dead (Ok, we kinda do that. It’s called “intercession.”) or worshiping the dead (No, we don’t.) While we understand that our earthly bodies with die, we know our soul is eternal. It is that soul which God created and has set in place for all eternity, made to be with Him forever.

At the core of the practice of praying to the saints is the belief that the saints are alive in Christ and full members of the community of believers, the Mystical Body of Christ. As St. Paul proclaims:

“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)

When we live a life of grace and virtue, if you “put to death the deeds of the body,” then we will live (Rom 8:13). Yes, every person’s time on this earth must come to an end, but if we die in grace and righteousness, then we’ll live forever with God in heaven. The fact that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – prophets who died a long time ago – can still be declared by Jesus to be the God of the living (cf. Mt 22:32) is proof that the saints are very much alive. [emphasis added]

In 1938, jazz legend Louis Armstrong recorded, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Like many Gospel and jazz songs, the origins of this song are unclear, and there are several versions of it. However, the jazz version remains the best known. It is a “folk version” of our wish to join in the heavenly “parade” of holy men, women and children:

Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in.

We are meant to desire Heaven. Each and every one of us should consider ourselves destined to be saints; it is only our sinful choices that keep us from this. We “want to be in that number:” those who have overcome sin, by the grace of God, and then die in the peace of Christ. Tomorrow, as we begin the month of November, we pause to thank God for the saintly lives we look to imitate, for the men and women we have known personally who strived to be like Christ in their own lives and now have moved on from this world, and to remember to pray for the dead – for we know that they are not truly dead, but alive in Christ.

Below, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis offers his take on the “Saints” hymn. He calls it a song of “revelation and redemption.” It’s not a bad way to kick off the month of November for Catholics, as we pray for our dead, and look forward to joining the saints in Heaven.

beauty brokenness

Finding Blessing In Brokenness

There is not one person among us who is not broken in some way. We carry with us the scar of original sin, which weakens us in every aspect of our lives. It is true that some of us carry heavier burdens than others, but we can not judge another’s trials  for brokenness can be deeply hidden. For some, our brokenness is right there for everyone to see: a woman in a wheelchair or a veteran struggling to walk with a prosthetic leg. But, for others, the woundedness is hidden; the girl standing next to us in the checkout line is reeling from her parents’ announcement of divorce or the dad standing handing out snacks at his son’s soccer game is dealing with a diagnosis of cancer. We can look at every single person that we brush by daily and acknowledge: we all share in this brokenness.

One of the hardest thing that Christians must do is to find blessing in our brokenness. No, our reaction to brokenness is blame: “This would have never happened if he’d only agreed to counseling!” We get angry – at others and at God. We may feel shame: “I don’t want anyone to know my family’s issues; I’m so embarrassed.” So quietly, with great care, we tip-toe through our day – unable or unwilling to not only acknowledge the blessing in the brokenness.

Fr. Henri Nouwen is well-known for pondering questions such as, “How can I possibly find blessing in this mess? In the diagnosis? In this tattered relationship? In this time of loss?”

The great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God is to pull their brokenness from the shadows of the curse, and put it under the light of the blessing … The powers of the darkness around us are strong, and our wold find is it easier to manipulate self-rejecting people than self-accepting people. But when we keep listening attentively to the vice calling us the Beloved, it becomes possible to live our brokenness, not as a confirmation of our fear that we are worthless, but as an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests  upon us … (Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World)

However devastating a situation we may be in, Christ walks with us. Our God is not a distant or far-off god, who  like a child bored with an old toy, has abandoned us. Our God is not a god who favors one person over another, Nor does God, like a beggar at a banquet, try to snatch a bit our happiness to keep for himself.

No: our God calls us Beloved: you. Me. That kid picking  his nose on the bus. The snooty waiter at the coffee shop. The mom struggling with a toddler and a grocery cart at the store. We are all Beloved. And it is this quality alone (this gift, this grace!) from God that allows us to drag our brokenness into light from darkness. We show it to everyone, and they allow us to see theirs. We acknowledge our sinfulness, the part we play in our brokenness and the brokenness of others. Then, our brokenness no longer frightens us or brings shame. Why? Because our brokenness – which has been known by God for all eternity – was carried on His back and nailed to that cross as He suffered and died or His Beloved. It was redeemed both in beauty and brokenness, and that redemption is ours by our heritage, by baptism and by living a life worthy of the Beloved Children of God.


4 Reasons To Have A Crucifix In Your Home

We are used to seeing crucifixes in church and that seems “normal,” but why have a crucifix in our homes?

(By the way, there is a difference between a cross and a crucifix. A cross is a simple reminder of the instrument the Romans used to execute criminals. A crucifix is a cross with a corpus, or body, of Jesus on it.)

  1. We should have a crucifix in our homes because the saints have set this example for us. Prayer in front of a crucifix is encouraged as a means of focusing contemplation on Christ. Many of the saints practiced this, both in everyday prayer and also when they were suffering. Catherine of Siena was known to look upon a Crucifix for hours each day and when Joan of Arc was martyred, she asked a member of the clergy present to hold a crucifix before her.”
  2. It reminds us not to run from the tough stuff. Jesus relied on his twelve Apostles for so much. The night before He died, He begged them to stay with him throughout the night, and they all fell asleep. On the day when He needed them most, only John stayed with Him, choosing to remain with the Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross. John didn’t leave, and we should try and emulate that.
  3. Our home is a “domestic church,” and it is a holy place. Think about it: your home is inhabited by people who belong to God through baptism, are confirmed in the Holy Spirit, sanctified through the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage and fed with Christ’s Body and Blood. It is a place where forgiveness is taught and sought, where our faith is passed on from one generation to the next and Christ’s love is exemplified (though imperfectly.) Our home should reflect all of this with a prominent sign of Christ’s sacrificial love: the crucifix.
  4. The crucifix is a constant reminder that Christ has conquered sin and death, and ultimately conquered evil. We are surrounded by evil. Sometimes, it seems as if evil has the upper hand. That is not so, and Christ’s death on the cross is proof. Simply have a crucifix to gaze upon in our homes is a reminder of this, and a way to strengthen us for battle. The traditional hymn, Lift High the Cross tells us: Come, brethren, follow where our Captain trod, our King victorious, Christ the Son of God. Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore his sacred Name.

If you’ve never had a crucifix in your home, consider getting one. Ask your priest to bless it (it only takes a moment!) If you do have a crucifix, consider putting more in your home: in the bedrooms, for example. The crucifix ix a sign of God’s overwhelming love for us; who doesn’t need a constant reminder of that?


Easter 2016: Death, Sorrow, Resurrection

The Easter of 2016 will likely be remembered for the usual things: beautiful liturgies, family get-togethers, sharing of food – both spiritual and traditional. The Easter of 2016 will also be remembered for death, sorrow and resurrection, but perhaps not in the usual way.

Of course, the Church celebrates the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil) as a way to enter into Christ’s Passion and Death. Then, on Easter, we joyously sing out “Alleluias,” joining the whole world in proclaiming the Resurrection of Our Lord.

This year, there were other deaths that were noteworthy and both, in their own way, give us insight into the Easter miracle.

First, Mother Angelica, the Poor Clare nun who was the founder of the Catholic media outlet EWTN, passed away at the age of 92 on Easter Sunday. Mother Angelica seemed an unlikely candidate for religious life, let alone becoming the founder of a Catholic TV station. She grew up poor and rather tough, raised by a single mother in Canton, OH. Her faith was nominal, perfunctory, until she was healed of a stomach ailment. In 1944, she entered the convent.

Despite the fact that Mother Angelica was a cloistered nun (see an example of cloistered life here), she was a highly requested speaker. By 1978, she believed God was calling her to start a Catholic television studio, where she could reach out to thousands of people. It was, by all accounts, an outrageous idea. First of all, as a Poor Clare, she had taken a vow of poverty. When she told others of her plan, they tried to dissuade her, thinking no one would want to watch a nun talking on tv. However, she trusted God, and in her rather folksy way, reminded others to do the same: “These are the kinds of things, honey, that prove God’s Providence. We never know where the next penny’s coming from. That’s what I’m trying to get through people’s heads: This is an act of God.”

What began as a tiny tv studio became EWTN, carried by more than 220 cable systems and viewed in more than 2 million homes worldwide, and includes a radio and social media presence. Mother Angelica’s own show, “Mother Angelica Live” was a viewer favorite for years. Mother Angelica never spoke in lofty theological terms, but she understood theology. Her manner was almost quaint, but right to the point. She once said, “I’m not afraid to fail … I’m scared to death of dying and having the Lord say to me, ‘Angelica, this is what you might have done had you trusted more.”

The other death that comes to mind reportedly occurred on Good Friday. Fr. Thomas Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest was exectued by ISIS. Fr. Uzhannalil had been kidnapped during a raid in Yemen at a nursing home run by the Sisters of Charity. Four of the sisters were killed then, along with 16 other workers, and the priest was taken captive. Efforts to obtain his release failed, and the priest was apparently crucified on Good Friday.

In some ways, these two deaths could not be more different. One an elderly nun, surrounded in love by the sisters with whom she shared her life. The other, an Indian priest, alone and afraid, murdered by terrorists. One cloistered, one serving in the world. One an unlikely media mogul, one a simple priest.

Despite the differences, we can learn something from both these deaths that occurred over the Easter holiday. Both Mother Angelica and Fr. Uzhannalil wholly devoted their lives to God. Yes, they served in completely different ways, but both of them were willing to abandon the world in order to serve Jesus Christ. Both are outstanding witnesses to us that God sometimes asks us to do things the world judges as, well, crazy. Both knew that they had to set aside their own wills and desires to follow Christ. And both stand as witness to what it means to be holy, and that holiness can take on such different faces.

Good Friday is all about sorrow and death. Fr. Uzhannalil died a martyr’s death with only his faith to accompany him. Easter is a day of joy and resurrection, new life and triumph over death. Mother Angelica spent her life spreading the joy of the Gospel. Yes, the Easter of 2016 will be remembered for the death of these two. Many mourn them, but we also must trust completely in the Easter message. St. John Paul II, quoting St. Augustine, liked to say,  “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!” Life is not all gladness and light; we know sorrow as well. But as Catholics, we must never forget the joy of Easter morning, the empty tomb, the triumph over sin and death. Mother Angelica and Fr. Uzhannalil knew this and lived this.

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they, and all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.

[Update: While the Associated Press and the Washington Times have reported the priest’s crucifixion, Catholic News Service is saying they have indications he is still alive. We continue to pray.]


Heading Into The Tomb

During the season of Lent, we are acutely aware of death, it seems. The readings seem to have a sense of foreboding to them; we know we are getting closer and closer to Good Friday. In some of our churches, the holy water fonts are empty. The decor changes: instead of fresh flowers, there are cacti or simple, empty pots or even stones. We limit our feasting; we are on watch for death. We are, in a sense, headed for the tomb.

Catholic writer Heather King, in her book Redeemed: Stumbling Towards God, said this,

… I remember a homily that Father Jarlath at St. Thomas the Apostle once gave about the time Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead: he said we all have things in us that are from the tomb – old rotting resentments, griefs, sorrows – and when it is time to look at them, it’s a good idea to bring Jesus in with us.

Lent is about heading into the tomb. It is certainly about Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection (the Paschal Mystery, the Church calls it) but it’s also about acknowledging our own tomb. As King puts it, we all have that place in us where things are left to die. Maybe it’s a relationship that should have been mended a long time ago. Perhaps what is dying in us is our faith; life has worn us down and we wonder if God has forgotten us. Our tomb may be a place where we struggle with an addiction; we’ve buried our true self behind the rocks of alcohol or drugs or pornography.

Many people choose to remain in their tombs. They become embittered, they lose faith, they “die,” in a way. Some of us want to get out, but we don’t know how. After all, who can roll that huge stone out of the way so that light can stream in?

The only way out of the tomb is through Christ. He alone has conquered death and sin. He alone can raise us – as He did for Lazarus – from the grave. For some of us, it may be a matter of simply recognizing this and falling to our knees in thanksgiving. The vast majority of us need the Sacrament of Reconciliation to acknowledge our own sinful part of the tomb. And some of us will need professional help (a psychologist, a spiritual director) in order to sort out how we ended up in the tomb and how we can live our lives outside that tomb.

In John 11, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. When Lazarus’ sister Martha expresses some doubt about Jesus command to remove the stone from the tomb’s entrance, He says, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”

A tomb can be a frightening place. But if we bring Christ with us, we will see the glory of God. Jesus promised us, and so it will be.