Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving -- what's in a ...sign?

I would be happy to let this sign speak for itself but I am not sure what it is saying.  I passed it the other day and had to go back and take a picture.  I felt it was saying something about the current culture of stores open on Thanksgiving and the commercialization of Christmas but in the end I can't say it has a specific message other than -- its all a mess.

This sign makes me thankful that BK is not an option for me on Thanksgiving.  I am blessed to have a "young mom" who is still able to make Thanksgiving dinner.  For 46 years Thanksgiving for me means cream of cauliflower soup, stuffing (dressing for people from other parts of the land) that is uniquely Mom's, turkey, an abundance of vegetables and of course pumpkin bread.  More importantly - my family.  I am thankful that a lonely whopper jr has never been a part of my thanksgiving.  It makes me sad to think that for someone - that is Thanksgiving.  On thanksgiving I remember those whose meal and whose table mates will be found at this banquet.

As a priest, I have accepted the fact that I work on holidays.  It was on the job description. My work on thanksgiving, however, is proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. My job is celebrating the Eucharist (did you know that is the Greek word for thanksgiving?)  Having the obligatory fast-food background on my first job resume, I can't imagine having to go to work on Thanksgiving day amidst croissand'witches and onion rings.On thanksgiving I am grateful that I don't have to support myself under the florescent lights and heat lamps of fast food.

I thought I was "movin on up" like George and Weezie when I set aside my Roy Rogers apron for a Time Square Store shirt and tie but I soon realized the all that glitters is not gold when it comes to retail employment.  There was a time I was proud to wear the Macy's star, but I am grateful it was during a bygone era when "Black Friday" actually meant Friday.  Its good to know that there is a free cup of coffee waiting at Burger King for the weary shopper at 3:18 a.m. I am thankful, however, that I am neither the shopper nor the brewmaster.

As sad as this sign made me, it makes me sadder to know that it is a beacon of hope for the lonely diner, the desperately unemployed and the sufficiently duped Black Friday shopper.  The sign that I only happen to see because of the good fortune of a red light helped me to know I have much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day.  It also challenges me at the depth of my soul to pray for those for whom this sign is a sign of respite, financial stability and an affordable meal.

May we be ever grateful for our abundant blessings.  Whatever our struggles may be, let us always be thankful for the blessings that are ours.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Saints, Souls and Psychic Mediums

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.
Hebrews 12:1-2a
November is a liturgical month of remembrance, beginning with the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls.  The month of remembrance concludes with the end of the church year, the Solemnity of Christ the King.  Our personal remembrances throughout this month, are seen through the lens of our celebration of the gift of eternal life lived by the saints and the proclamation of Christ’s victory over sin and death as priest, prophet and king.  As the quote from the Letter to the Hebrews teaches, we live our lives knowing that we are surrounded by the witness of those who have gone before us and we commit ourselves to living with our eyes fixed on Jesus and the victory he has won for us. 
But what is our relationship with those who have gone before us who are not canonized saints?  First and foremost we live in hope that they are amongst those having received the gift of eternal life.  Our prayerful hope is that our loved ones are indeed among the saints.   The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified, live forever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see him as he is," face to face. (1023)
We also know that anyone of us may die not in a state of grace but still bearing the stain of sin.  Therefore, the Catechism also teaches:
All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. (1030-31)
Our relationship with those who have died is either one that asks for their intercession or prays for their ultimate joy of eternal life with God in heaven.  Our remembrance of the departed during this month and throughout our earthly pilgrimage is one that acknowledges the unbreakable bond of love and expresses our faith in the hope of the resurrection.
As we begin this month of remembrance I want to share with you some other thoughts regarding our relationship with our departed brothers and sisters, specifically as it relates to the cultural popularity of psychics and mediums.  The attention given to a celebrity medium in our community is what prompted me to address this issue, but these words are not intentionally directed at anyone in particular.  They are meant to share with you what the church teaches in this regard and to do so with charity.  Let me begin by once again quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church
God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it.  (2115)
All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. (2116)
What is the church trying to teach in these words?  First that such a reliance on “psychic” abilities is a rejection of God’s providence.  One seeks the wisdom of a medium because one is unwilling or unable to entrust their loved one to God, but must instead have a “confirmation” of what one would otherwise trust in faith.  Second, this teaching speaks to the danger of accepting a particular “power” that a person has over another person.  In this relationship a person who seeks the guidance of a medium is granting that person power over them.  That is to say, that unless one hears of their loved one through the medium, he or she cannot have peace.  The concern is also one that speaks to the perceived power the medium has over God.  If the medium speaks with surety, what need is there for faith in the eternal love of God?
A further reflection on this matter could also point to the fact that some who have purported to have psychic abilities are fraudulent.  Like any illusionist, they have developed their skills of deception and do so only for profit and entertainment.  Accepting that as fact, I would also propose that some may genuinely believe that they have a particular ability that allows him or her to be aware of this “great cloud of witnesses,” and desire to only help people with their “gift.”  Such people may not see themselves as attempting to have power over another or God.  What harm or objection is there to this attempt to “do good?”
In a very limited way, I would like to share with you three examples, in which the experience of psychic mediums is in conflict with the Christian life.  The first example is an absence of our fundamental belief in salvation through Jesus Christ.  The typical content of a psychic reading is earthly; whereas it focuses on personal history, the events surrounding death or a desire for the well-being of those who are left behind.  The message of the departed does not typically express thanksgiving for their salvation, nor do they ask for prayers longing for salvation.  Is this not problematic for us who profess a belief and hope in eternal salvation?  What is more hopeful, hearing that a passed loved one knows that we loved and cared for them, or a profession of faith expressing trust that the loved one is seeing God face to face?  As Catholic Christians we profess a belief that we are pilgrims on an earthly journey that leads us to heaven.  We cannot hold fast to any message that does not acknowledge either God’s kingdom or a longing for it.  A failure to acknowledge the role of Jesus Christ in one’s salvation is devoid of truth.
A second conflict for Catholics is that any attempt to “conjure spirit” is an act of opening ourselves to conjuring the Spirit of Evil and the Prince of Darkness himself.  Throughout salvation history, it is God who calls and bestows gifts of wisdom and insight.  The church does in fact recognize the gift bestowed upon mystics who have experienced wisdom from those who have gone before us, a recent example would be Saint Padre Pio who had a vision of the souls in Purgatory.  He received this vision so that prayers and sacrifices might be offered for those souls who longed for purification and eternal life. A vision that longs for the salvation of others is authentically Christian.  God calls but we do not conjure, for to conjure is an attempt to control or to seize divine power on our own.  Such attempts are what Satan himself is known for.  Moreover, spiritual gifts given by God are freely shared not used for profit.
Finally, the psychic medium phenomenon often presents a false teaching with regard to the soul.  Sometimes there will be a professed revelation of “past lives” or a medium will declare that the soul of a loved one lives on now in someone else.  Neither of these statements is consistent with our professed Catholic faith.  The soul is created by God and becomes a living human body as a unity of spirit and matter in one nature. (CCC 365) The soul is immortal; it does not perish at death but separates from the body to be reunited with that body at the final Resurrection.  In addition to being in direct conflict with our faith, a profession of reincarnation lacks any consolation or hope.  The last thing I would want to hear about a departed loved one is that they are still living here in this imperfect world, only to die again.  My hope and prayer is that they are with God, not dwelling in someone else.  Such a notion also lacks a respect for the individual that the soul is now purported to live in.  Imagine being told, you are not really you, but a deceased relative.  As Catholics we cannot accept any message that denies the unique nature of the soul and the explicit purpose of that soul to live in eternal union with God.
I hope that these words of reflection help each of us to understand how we relate to those who have gone before us.  We trust in God’s love and mercy for them.  We wait in hopeful expectation for our reunion with them.  We believe it is God alone who calls us and gifts us with a surety that allows us to profess that, “the souls of the just are in the hands of God.”