Sunday, November 28, 2010

Preparing to Receive the Lord Worthily

Homily, 1st Sunday of Advent, Cycle A
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton, GA

Just before Christmas of 1980, Pope John Paul II said Mass for over 2000 children in a parish in Rome. And he began his homily in this way, “How are you preparing for Christmas?” “By praying,” the children shouted back. “Very good, by praying, but also by going to confession. You must go to confession so that you can go to communion. Will you do that?” And of course, all the children replied “We will!” And then the Pope said, “Yes, you ought to go,” and then he lowered his voice, “The Pope will also go to confession so as to receive the Child Jesus worthily.” (ICG, v1, 1.2)

On this first Sunday of Advent, we are beginning again the liturgical cycle where the story of our salvation is told. During Advent, we anticipate the coming of the Lord, in Christmastime we celebrate his birth, during Ordinary time we study his teachings, in Lent we meditate on his Passion and Death, and during Easter we rejoice in his Resurrection.

And so through this continual liturgical cycle, year after year, the Church reminds us that we live on a time line. We live in the present, we can look back to the past, and we can look to and speculate about the future as we march towards it. Our faith tells us a few things about this time line. There is a beginning, Creation. And there is an end, the end of time. And there are two points on that line which have changed everything for human history, and we live between them: one marks the place where Something Has Happened, and the other marks the place where Something Will Happen. The first happening was the Birth of Christ, the Word made Flesh, God became Man. The second happening is the day when he will come again in glory. (Walker Percy on Canticle in “Signposts”)

You see, in Christianity God comes to us. We speak of Emmanuel, “God is with us”, and sing “God has visited his people.” Other religions may tell you that God is out there, beyond reach, or that he is impersonal or uncaring. And others may try to tell you ways in which you can reach God all on your own. But Christianity is unique in that we believe that God has come to us, on his own initiative because of his great love for us, to end that separation from him caused by our sin. And moreover, he will come again, and we will never be separated from him again.

His first coming was hidden, in a stable in a small town outside Jerusalem. His future coming will be for all to see as he comes with the Heavenly Jerusalem. At his first coming, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger, at his second, he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In his first coming, he endured his Passion, despite its shame, enduring the mockery and humiliation by the soldiers; in the second, he will come in glory, escorted by an army of angels. (OOR, 1st Sun. Adv)

When he came the first time, he sought to teach us his way of love by gentle persuasion, so that we would freely choose him; but when he comes again, the time for learning and choosing and growing will be complete.

But while we are living in this in-between time, this time between his first and second comings, we have the opportunity to learn more about him, to choose him, and to grow in his love. And in this in-between time, he continues to come to us, in a veiled and hidden way requiring faith not sight, in the sacraments, most especially in the Eucharist.

St. Paul says to us today, “You know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.” And he’s simply telling us a simple fact: each hour that passes, we are one hour closer to our eternal destiny. And Jesus gives us the example of the people in Noah’s time, who were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, right up until the time that the Deluge swept upon them. It’s not that those things were bad, we must continue to live our vocation in the midst of the world, but we must live our lives prepared to give an account of ourselves. We cannot live in “carousing and drunkenness, sexual excess and lust, quarreling and jealousy” as if we were not facing the day of judgment.

And that’s the difference between the people in the Gospel: “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal; one will be taken and one will be left.” In each case, both were doing the same thing, but only one was found worthy. Why? Because they were prepared. They lived the goodness of marriage, but not in “sexual excess and lust”; they ate and drank, but not in “carousing and drunkenness”; and they worked in the fields and at the mills, but not in “quarreling and jealousy.” In other words, they lived their lives for the Lord and in anticipation of his coming, by living their vocation, becoming friends with the Lord, and not letting the thief that is sin break into the house of their souls.

And that’s why I told the story of the Pope -- encouraging the children to prepare for Christmas by going to confession so that they may receive the child Jesus worthily and with love. If the Pope can examine his conscience and find reasons to go to confession, then certainly you and I, when we examine our conscience, can find reasons to go to confession. And during this time of Advent, we have a double motivation: not only because its good for us as we await Jesus’ second coming, but also because confession is a way to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming.

And if we can do what Jesus asks, and always be ready, especially through regular confession, then the Lord’s second coming will not catch us like a thief in the night, but instead, we will be able to say to him, “Oh, hi Lord, I was just thinking about you; I was waiting for your arrival; and meanwhile, I was doing what you asked me to do.”

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving to Christ our King

Homily, Christ the King, Cycle C
St. Joseph's, Dalton, Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.

Over the years, my mother has always had a knack for getting her letters to the editor published. For some reason, they really like her down at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Well, years ago, they published a letter of hers in the “Faith and Values” section that focused on the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the personal rituals of many different families. So I thought I’d share with you parts of her letter.

She starts by saying, “My husband of 33 years died from cancer in September of 1995. In my grief, I particularly dreaded Thanksgiving that year because it had been his favorite holiday. I felt an obligation to continue our family tradition of a large gathering of family and friends, but my heart just wasn’t in it. In my despair, I decided on a plan. I bought a small wire basket and placed a pad of post-its and a pen beside it. Every time I had something to be thankful for, I made myself write it down on the post-it and then I tossed it into the basket. Everything that lifted my spirits – simple things like a cardinal at the bird feeder, or answered prayers like the birth of a new grandchild – all were written down and tossed into that basket. By that Thanksgiving, the basket was already overflowing and I celebrated the holiday with a grateful heart. This year, over two years later, I am preparing for another Thanksgiving. In late summer, I married again to a fine gentleman who lost his wife to cancer a year before my husband died [And I would add that he is a fine gentleman, else I would not have let him marry my mother, and I’m a priest and can do that!]. Prominent in the great room where our now combined families and friends will gather is a very large laundry basket filled to overflowing [with little notes of thanksgiving].

My mother learned the necessity and benefit of giving thanks always, of the need to give God praise for all of his gifts. I’m sure that all of you, as well, if you look at your lives honestly, can find so many ways to be grateful. If you are married, thank God for your husband or wife, and if you have children, you already know the great miracle of God’s gift of new life. And if you are a young person, you can thank God for the gift of your parents. We also give thanks to God for everything in our lives: our work, our recreation, the joys and pleasures. But we can also thank him for the hardships, the sufferings, and the sorrows of life, for it is by them that we grow in virtue and character, and come to realize our constant need for God’s protection and strength.

I think one of the problems in our culture today is that we take so many things for granted, and do not realize how gifted we are… Marriages often grow cold because spouses take each others love for granted. Children become rebellious because they don’t realize the sacrifices their parents have made on their behalf. Friendships fall apart because we grow selfish and forget to think of others needs. And because we are so blessed with prosperity in this country, we take our daily bread, shelter, and comfort for granted. This attitude gives us the impression that perhaps we are our own masters, self-sufficient, turning to God only on occasion or as a last resort.

But being thankful for God’s many gifts means more than just expressing our gratitude, it means realizing that we are totally dependent on him, that we can take nothing for granted. And if that is true, then the only authentic response is to totally abandon ourselves to him, accepting his will in each and every situation, so that he is truly Lord and King or our lives. This is hard for Americans to do because we value our independence and freedom. But this should really be a joy. And the reason is simple: Christ earned the right to be our king by dying for us on the Cross. As the second reading says, “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus does not exercise his kingship by lording it over us as worldly leaders do, the strong oppressing the weak. Instead,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

And we should respond in the same way, serving him by totally giving him our lives. His kingdom is not of this world, as he said to Pilate, because he wants to reign first and foremost in our hearts.

One of the ways I remind myself of the need to always be grateful to the Lord for all he has given me, especially my priesthood, is with a picture I keep in my bedroom, the first thing I see on rising every morning. It was given to me by a friend when I was ordained a priest, and it’s a simple sketch of a bishop laying hands on a young man, at the moment of ordination to the priesthood. And at the bottom, it says, “Great is this mystery, and great the dignity of priests, to whom that is given which is not granted to angels.”

And this is referring, of course, to the Eucharist. For in Communion, we receive the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, something which the angels can only adore and wonder at. And I have been given the great privilege of offering the Eucharist. But you, as well, can participate in this mystery by receiving Communion. And in doing so, you give thanks and praise to the heavenly Father, for that is what Eucharist means, “thanksgiving.”

The new catechism says this (CCC 1360): “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits… [it is a] sacrifice of praise by which the Church sings the glory of God in the name of all creation. This sacrifice of praise is possible only through Christ: he united the faithful to his person, to his praise, and to his intercession, so that the sacrifice of praise to the Father is offered through Christ and with him, to be accepted in him.”

You’ve probably heard that the Second Vatican Council encouraged the active participation of the laity in the Mass. But, the Council wasn’t referring to mere externals, it was referring first and foremost to a spiritual thanksgiving in the Eucharist. The Council said this about the laity, (LG 34) “For all their works, prayers and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshiping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.”

So, as we gather to celebrate this Eucharist today, especially as we approach our uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving, we should put everything on the altar, and offer it in thanksgiving, for Christ himself will in turn unite it with his prayer and offer it to the Father. Offer him your family, your friends, your children, your parents, your work, your blessings and hardships, your pleasures and sufferings, your joys and your sorrows. Offer it all to the heavenly Father through this sacrifice of thanksgiving, and ask in return for only one thing: that Jesus be Lord and King of your life.

I look forward to this upcoming Thanksgiving, because my mother has another tradition which we all enjoy. Every year, right before the big meal of the day, she makes everyone gather in a big circle, hold hands. And then we go around the circle as each of us states one thing that we were thankful for from the past year, and then one thing that we would like to pray for for the coming year. Usually, by the time we get to the end of the circle, my mom and all her friends are crying, and the men are fidgeting, trying not to show any emotion. And certainly I have a lot to be thankful for: my new parish, a family that keeps getting bigger and bigger, another year as a priest. But of course, the thing that I will most be thankful for, the gift that gives meaning to all the gifts in life, is the gift of my Savior, Jesus Christ, my Lord and King.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I’d sink the 8-ball in the corner pocket

Homily, 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.

When I in the seminary, we had a community room for our off-time, with a large-screen TV and a pool table. We enjoyed playing pool, and it often was the occasion for many interesting theological questions. One day, one of our friends posed this question to the group: “If you knew that the end of the world was close and that Jesus was returning in exactly one hour, what would you do?” Well, the question went around the table, as each of our friends responded differently. One said he would run to be with his family and tell them he loved them. Another said he would go shout it on the rooftops so that everyone would know. Still another said he’d give everything away (though it was kind of late for that), another would go find his worse enemy and reconcile with him, and yet another said he would rush to find a priest and make the best confession of his life. And then the question got to a friend, who thought for a moment, chalked his cue, and said, “Hmm… I’d sink the 8-ball in the corner pocket.” And he proceeded to do just that.

The obvious point is this: he was prepared at all times for the Lord’s coming, even in the midst of his ordinary life. And the Lord is coming again; we believe this. It is an article of our faith which we recite in the Creed, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”

And so, on this last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church reminds us of Jesus’ second coming in glory at the end of time, so that we will always be ready. For like Malachi says, “the day is coming, blazing like an oven”, and all of us here today will meet the Lord someday, face to face, as a savior and as a judge. On that day either “all the proud and evildoers will be” wiped away, or for those who fear his name, “there will arise the sun of justice (Jesus Christ) with [his] healing rays.” And that day will come upon us either at the moment of death, or “suddenly like a thief”, if we live to the Second Coming.

When I visit hospitals, oftentimes people are faced with very difficult situations and illnesses, and they always ask for the same thing: confession. Why? Because they tell me, whether they've been away from the Church for years or come every week, "Father, I want to be in a state of Grace." You see, if we are to be always prepared for the Lord’s coming, we must be in a state of Grace, in a state of friendship with him. And if we are in the state of Grace, then despite all the trials and tribulations that the Lord promises will come before the end - wars and insurrections, earthquakes, plagues and famines, or our daily trials like sickness, the loss of a loved one, job or family problems - we will have nothing to fear. St. John Chrysostom once wrote to a friend, “There is only one thing to be feared, my dear Olympias, only one trial, and that is sin. (I have told you this over and over again.) All the rest is beside the point, whether you talk of plots, feuds, betrayals, slanders, abuses, accusations, exile, sharpened swords, open sea, or universal war. Whatever they may be, they are all furtive and perishable. They touch the mortal body but wreak no harm on the watchful soul.” (NPNF v9, p289) Like the Lord said, “not a hair of your head will be harmed. By patient endurance you will save your lives.”

And there is the key to remaining in and growing in the state of Grace: patient endurance in the Christian life. And this involves several steps. First, we examine our conscience on a daily basis, and if we are aware of any serious sin, we must confess it in the sacrament of reconciliation. Then we will be able to receive the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which nourishes us on the journey and provides us with the Grace we need to live our vocation. Also, we persevere and grow in Grace by prayer, as the Lord says, “ask and it shall be given you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.” We must look to the Lord for our daily needs, we must seek to know him, and we must let him enter into our hearts, so that he will be with us at all times.

And finally, we remain in and grown in Grace by responding to God’s Grace in our lives by serving others and performing works of charity. For as Jesus says, “You will be brought to give witness on account of it” – the grace you have received. Our faith must express itself in action, as St. James says, (James 2:26), “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

And so through these steps, examining our conscience, receiving the sacraments, prayer, and good works, we stay in Grace, and we grow in Grace. And why is that important? Well, St. John of the Cross put it this way, “How joyful would a man become if he were to be told, ‘The king is coming to stay in your house and show you his favor!’ I believe that he would not be able to eat or sleep at all. He would be constantly thinking about his preparations for the royal visit. Brothers and sisters, I say to you on behalf of the Lord God that he wants to come into your souls and establish his kingdom of peace… He comes in love, receive him in love.” (ICG, v5, 7.3)

Jesus will come again one day in glory, and he is about to come to us in a special way in the Eucharist. Are you prepared to receive him?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Martyrs for the Truth

32nd Sunday, Ordinary Time, Cycle C
The Woman and her Seven Sons from II Maccabees 7.
Sermon by St. Augustine

Brethren, a wonderful sight is set before the eyes of our faith. We have heard with our ears, we have seen in our minds a mother, who, with a mind differing by far from that of ordinary human nature, wished her sons to leave this life before her. For all men wish to depart from this life before their children, not to follow them: she wished rather to die the last. For she did not lose her sons, but sent them before her. Neither did she consider the life they were ending, but that which they were beginning. They ceased to live a life which at some time must end with death; and they began to live one which is everlasting. The lesser wonder is it that she should watch them die; rather should we marvel that she encouraged them. Her valor was more fruitful than her child-bearing: seeing them contending, she herself contended in all those struggles, and in the triumph of all she herself conquered.

Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, "Martyrdom, the exaltation of the inviolable holiness of God's law":

91. In the Old Testament we already find admirable witnesses of fidelity to the holy law of God even to the point of a voluntary acceptance of death. A prime example is the story of Susanna: in reply to the two unjust judges who threatened to have her condemned to death if she refused to yield to their sinful passion, she says: " I am hemmed in on every side. For if I do this thing, it is death for me; and if I do not, I shall not escape your hands. I choose not to do it and to fall into your hands, rather than to sin in the sight of the Lord!" (Dan 13:22-23). Susanna, preferring to "fall innocent" into the hands of the judges, bears witness not only to her faith and trust in God but also to her obedience to the truth and to the absoluteness of the moral order. By her readiness to die a martyr, she proclaims that it is not right to do what God's law qualifies as evil in order to draw some good from it. Susanna chose for herself the "better part": hers was a perfectly clear witness, without any compromise, to the truth about the good and to the God of Israel. By her acts, she revealed the holiness of God.

At the dawn of the New Testament, John the Baptist, unable to refrain from speaking of the law of the Lord and rejecting any compromise with evil, "gave his life in witness to truth and justice", and thus also became the forerunner of the Messiah in the way he died (cf. Mk 6:17-29). "The one who came to bear witness to the light and who deserved to be called by that same light, which is Christ, a burning and shining lamp, was cast into the darkness of prison... The one to whom it was granted to baptize the Redeemer of the world was thus baptized in his own blood".

In the New Testament we find many examples of followers of Christ, beginning with the deacon Stephen (cf. Acts 6:8-7:60) and the Apostle James (cf. Acts 12:1-2), who died as martyrs in order to profess their faith and their love for Christ, unwilling to deny him. In this they followed the Lord Jesus who "made the good confession" (1 Tim 6:13) before Caiaphas and Pilate, confirming the truth of his message at the cost of his life. Countless other martyrs accepted persecution and death rather than perform the idolatrous act of burning incense before the statue of the Emperor (cf.Rev 13:7-10). They even refused to feign such worship, thereby giving an example of the duty to refrain from performing even a single concrete act contrary to God's love and the witness of faith. Like Christ himself, they obediently trusted and handed over their lives to the Father, the one who could free them from death (cf. Heb 5:7).

The Church proposes the example of numerous Saints who bore witness to and defended moral truth even to the point of enduring martyrdom, or who preferred death to a single mortal sin. In raising them to the honour of the altars, the Church has canonized their witness and declared the truth of their judgment, according to which the love of God entails the obligation to respect his commandments, even in the most dire of circumstances, and the refusal to betray those commandments, even for the sake of saving one's own life.

93... Although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice. Indeed, faced with the many difficulties which fidelity to the moral order can demand, even in the most ordinary circumstances, the Christian is called, with the grace of God invoked in prayer, to a sometimes heroic commitment. In this he or she is sustained by the virtue of fortitude, whereby — as Gregory the Great teaches — one can actually "love the difficulties of this world for the sake of eternal rewards".

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Praying for the Dead

Homily, All Souls Day
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.

My favorite saints are St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica, who lived in the 5th century. Augustine was a wayward youth, and Monica prayed fervently for his conversion. She was kind of like the mother of the prodigal son. And indeed, he did convert to become one of the greatest scholars in the history of the Church.

Well, a couple of weeks before my father died, I read to him the famous passage from St. Augustine’s “Confessions” about the death of his mother. As she was approaching the end of her life, they were having a discussion about heaven, and he says they wondered what it would be like, as he says, to “share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man.” And he goes on, “We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of [the Lord's] heavenly fountain, the fountain of life.” And his mother said, “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world...” And as she is dying, she makes one request of her son, who is a priest and a bishop, “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.”

In other words, she was asking him to pray for her after shed died, especially at Mass. And as she had prayed so many years for his conversion, so now he prayed for her after her death. (cf. HPR Nov. ’97) “O god of my heart, I do now beseech Thee for the sins of my mother. Hear me through the medicine of the wounds that hung upon the wood [of the Cross]. May she, then, be in peace with her husband. And inspire, my Lord, [all those] whom I serve [with voice and heart and pen] to remember your servant Monica at the altar.”

Well, I read that story to my father, and I promised him that I too would remember him at the altar, especially when I celebrate Mass everyday.

But why do we pray for the dead? Especially those whom we consider to be saints, those who lived heroic lives and certainly went straight to heaven, what good does it do? We know that this is a common practice from the earliest days of the church, especially when the early Christians venerated the martyrs who died in the Roman persecutions. But what does it mean?

Well, we know we can do good works for others while we are on this earth. According to the tradition of the Church, based on the Scriptures, we can perform the Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; visit the imprisoned; bury the dead.

But, we can also perform what are called Spiritual Works of Mercy: convert the sinner; instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; comfort the sorrowful; bear wrongs patiently; forgive injuries; and finally, to pray for the living and the dead.

In other words, praying for the dead is a work of mercy. But how does it help them?

I think St. Catherine of Genoa summed it up best. She said, “No one is barred from heaven. Whoever wants to enter heaven may do so because God is all-merciful. Our Lord will welcome us into glory with his arms wide open. The Almighty is pure, however, and if a person is conscious of the least trace of imperfection and at the same time understands that Purgatory is ordained to do away with such impediments, the soul enters this place of purification gladly to accept so great a mercy of God. The worst suffering if these suffering souls is to have sinned against divine Goodness and not to have been purified in this life.” (ICG, v7, Nov2)

Just as we can help each other on our path to heaven while on this earth, we can also help those who have died and are being purified in Purgatory. While we are separated from them physically, we are not separated spiritually, so we can offer them spiritual works, which would include our prayers, sacrifices, and acts of charity. All of these acts of mercy, when done through, with, and in Christ, are of great benefit to those who have died and helps them as they are being purified. And this happens especially here at the Mass, at the altar where St. Monica wanted to be remembered. For in the Mass, we are transported through time, as it were, to the foot of Calvary, where we look up at our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross and say with the good thief, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And so it is here that we can say, “Lord, remember our loved ones who have died, and bring them into your kingdom.”

And certainly our prayers for the dead are never wasted. I remember the story of an elderly monk who was found praying fervently at the altar by one of the younger monks. And the younger one asked him, “What are you praying for?” “I’m praying for my grandfather.” “Well, certainly he is in heaven by now.” To which the older monk replied, “Ah yes, but it is the prayers I am saying now, the prayers I have said, and the prayers I will say that helped get him there.” Our prayers in union with Christ are always effective, and we can’t put limits on them.

But our prayers for the dead remind us also of our own need to prepare for death. I think a lot of people live their lives on earth doing the minimum requirements to get into heaven, as if they were shooting for purgatory. Certainly God is merciful, but my only worry about living this way is simple: What if you miss? The saints will be the first to tell you that we begin our heaven now, and this is the best time to begin the process of purification. For now, we can actively seek to purify ourselves, while in purgatory, we can only rely on the prayers of others. And the way we purify ourselves now is through growth in holiness. Through sincere repentance and penance for our sins, through prayer and sacrifice, through active works of charity for others, we grow in holiness and God’s grace purifies us as we use this life to prepare for eternal life.

And finally, another beautiful thing about praying for the dead is that it reminds us of what Jesus said, that God “is not the God of the dead but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

What a great consolation it is to know that we can still be united with those who have died. Knowing that they are with the Lord, whether enjoying eternal happiness or in the process of being purified, and that we can still talk to them, pray for them, and even make amends with them, if necessary, saying those things we didn’t get a chance to say… knowing that is a cause of great rejoicing. For one day, we will be united with them again, where there will be no more sin, no more sorrow, no more tears, and we will never be separated from each other by sin or death again. And, in that place we care called to, the Kingdom of Heaven, “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lilies and Roses, Daisies and Violets

Homily, All Saints Day
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.

One of my favorite stories from St. Therese of Lisieux is when tells how she came to thinking of herself as a “little flower” in the garden of the Lord. She found herself pondering one day how it was that “God has his preferences”, seemingly favoring one person over another - giving one person extraordinary gifts, another only painful sufferings, and still others no visible gifts at all.

Well, she explains it this way: “Jesus has been gracious enough to teach me a lesson about this mystery, simply by holding up to my eyes the book of nature. I realized, then, that all the flowers he has made are beautiful - the rose in its glory [and] the lily in its whiteness do not rob the tiny violet of its sweet smell, or the daisy of its charming simplicity. I saw that if all these lesser blooms wanted to be roses instead, nature would lose the gaiety of her spring-tide dress - there would be no little flowers to make a pattern over the countryside.”

She goes on, “And so it is with the world of souls, which is [The Lord's] garden. He wanted to have great Saints, to be his lilies and roses, but he has made lesser Saints as well; and these lesser ones must be content to rank as daisies and violets, lying at his feet and giving pleasure to his eye like that.” And she concludes, “Perfection consists simply in doing his will, and being just what he wants us to be.”

Throughout the year, the Church honors all of the great Saints who have witnessed to Christ in so many ways over the centuries. We honor the martyrs, who gave their lives for Christ by being thrown to the lions or burned at the stake; we honor the doctors of the Church, who wrote great theological works with deep insight into the mystery of God; we honor the apostles and disciples who built the Church in its early days; and we honor countless heroic Saints known for their great works of charity or preaching, or their witness to poverty, chastity and obedience.

But today, on All Saints day, we honor all those Saints whom St. Therese may have called the “lesser Saints”, the little flowers – the lillies and daisies, those who have reached heaven by living lives of holiness in the midst of the ordinary. People who have lived in the midst of the world, confronting its daily challenges with joy, charity, love, and patience; the Saints who sought the will of God in their lives and then acted upon it, in whatever way he called, be it in the midst of the family, the workplace, a life of service to others, or a life of joyfully accepting the Crosses the Lord sends.

And by honoring them today, we recognize two things: first, that we are not separated from them, for we are united with them in Christ and we pray for them in the Mass, and they pray for us from heaven; and second, that the goal they have reached is our goal as well: eternal life in heaven.

La misma cuenta en español (Santa Teresita):

Durante mucho tiempo me he preguntado por qué tenía Dios preferencias, por qué no recibían todas las almas las gracias en igual medida. Me extrañaba verle prodigar favores extraordinarios a los santos que le habían ofendido, como san Pablo o san Agustín, a los que forzaba, por así decirlo, a recibir sus gracias; y cuando leía la vida de aquellos santos a los que el Señor quiso acariciar desde la cuna hasta el sepulcro, retirando de su camino todos los obstáculos que pudieran impedirles elevarse hacia él y previniendo a esas almas con tales favores que no pudiesen empañar el brillo inmaculado de su vestidura bautismal, me preguntaba por qué los pobres salvajes, por ejemplo, morían en tan gran número sin haber oído ni tan siquiera pronunciar el nombre de Dios...

Jesús ha querido darme luz acerca de este misterio. Puso ante mis ojos el libro de la naturaleza y comprendí que todas las flores que él ha creado son hermosas, y que el esplendor de la rosa y la blancura del lirio no le quitan a la humilde violeta su perfume ni a la margarita su encantadora sencillez... Comprendí que si todas las flores quisieran ser rosas, la naturaleza perdería su gala primaveral y los campos ya no se verían esmaltados de florecillas...

Eso mismo sucede en el mundo de las almas, que es el jardín de Jesús. El ha querido crear grandes santos, que pueden compararse a los lirios y a las rosas; pero ha creado también otros más pequeños, y éstos han de conformarse con ser margaritas o violetas destinadas a recrear los ojos de Dios cuando mira a sus pies. La perfección consiste en hacer su voluntad, en ser lo que él quiere que seamos...