Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 16, 2014

Think back to your days in high school or junior high. One day, your English teacher announced to you that you were going to be studying one of the plays of William Shakespeare. At that point, you and your classmates probably let out a collective groan. Even if you thought it might be interesting, you soon got bogged down in Shakespeare’s writing as you tried to read it. You may even have wondered when someone was going to translate it into English.

That image came back to me a few years ago when we were told that we were going to get a new translation of the Mass. Some weeks ago, I wrote in this column that I may at times bring back some of the thoughts I had on the new translation when I first wrote about it at Nativity Parish. This new translation would be more literal, more faithful to the Latin than the translation we had been used to. As a result, some have found it rather refreshing, but many have discovered that it can be something of a challenge. The former language was more of a free translation, trying to put the general ideas into language we are familiar with. So this current translation sounds less like the English we are familiar with, and thus the complaint that the Liturgy we are more distant from the action in the sanctuary. Why not leave it in and English that is accessible to the twenty-first century congregation.

As I was struggling with the new translation, I thought of my first experience with Shakespeare in junior high. The more we listen to Shakespeare, really trying to get the whole sense of the action, then the more we get from the beauty of his Elizabethan language. In the liturgy, we are moving into an entirely new realm. Part of the issue is that we are trying to keep a balance. Our faith teaches us the power and majesty of God, but we can never forget that Christ’s Incarnation bridges the chasm and allows us to approach the otherwise unapproachable God. So our liturgy should be both mysterious and familiar, both challenging and comfortable. In the theater, the language helps us get the feel that we are visiting England in the time of the Globe Theater. In an even deeper sense, the Liturgy truly makes present to us the events of 2,000 years ago. A more formal language, as challenging as it might be, helps us set aside the distractions of the modern world to allow us to be present at the Last Supper and to be caught up into heavenly realities.

For me as a priest, I have found that I have to be more attentive to how I can express the message of the printed words. As I gradually get more familiar with the new translation and less dependent upon the book, I am becoming more comfortable with the language. There are some parts that are more challenging than others. For instance, I have not been using the First Eucharistic Prayer nearly as much as I had in the old translation. But others prayers I am coming to see with a new sense of the beauty inherent in the Church’s liturgy. So I invite you to take some time and enter into the mysteries of God through the language of the liturgy. It is a challenge, but it can bring us closer to the mysteries we are celebrating.

                                                                                                                                     Father H    

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica - November 9, 2014

In our seminary days, many of my classmates had similar memories about today’s feast. When we first heard of “St. John Lateran,” we wondered who he was and why he had such an important day. Eventually, we learned that there was no one by that name. The St. John, in this case, refers to both St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. The Lateran refers to a section in the city of Rome where there is a major basilica dedicated to both of those great saints who share the name John. The site of the Lateran Basilica was originally the palace of the Laterani family. They were a very influential family in pagan Rome until the emperor Nero accused one of their members of conspiracy and confiscated the palace. The buildings eventually came under the control of the emperor Constantine. When he converted to Christianity, he gave the palace to the Church. In 324, Pope St. Sylvester I dedicated it as the Cathedral of Rome under the patronage of Christ Our Savior.   

Of course, a building that is almost 1700 years old must have gone through extensive renovation, and it has been rededicated twice. At those points, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist have been added as co-patrons. The Lateran Basilica remained as the residence of the Pope until the fourteenth century, when Pope Clement V moved the seat of the papacy to Avignon, France. When the papacy returned to Rome later in the fourteenth century, the Lateran Basilica was no longer the papal residence. But it is still the Cathedral church of Rome and is thus “the Pope’s Church,” and it is the seat not only of the Diocese of Rome but of all the Church throughout the world. As we are in communion with the Holy Father, so the Lateran Basilica becomes a sign of our unity in Christ. That is why this feast is important enough even to displace the regular Sunday readings and prayers. This church’s importance can be summed up by the words engraved on the main door of the Basilica, in Latin, Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput. In English, that would be, “Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and the head.”
Today’s feast is important even to those of us who have never been to Rome and have never seen the Lateran Basilica. For the Eucharist that Pope Francis celebrates at the altar of the Lateran Basilica is the same Body and Blood of Christ that I celebrate at the altar at St. Malachy. We are united, not by a common setting but by the Person of Jesus Christ, in the sacraments.
As we honor the Pope’s Cathedral in today’s feast, we also pray that we will see ourselves as part of a larger reality, the Church that unites us with all the Faithful, including the saints in heaven and all our departed sisters and brothers in Purgatory. May we come to see that unity most clearly in the Kingdom of Heaven.
                                                                  Father H


Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls Day - November 2, 2014

 Some things are so much a part of our tradition that we cannot imagine that others could find fault with them. Throughout the year, but especially on this All Souls Day, we Catholics make it a special point to pray for the dead. Yet there are those who do not agree with our prayers for those who have died. We start with an understanding that we are never perfect in this life, but that heaven is nothing but perfection. We are forgiven, but God must bring us to the fullness of what he made us to be. So purgatory is not a state in which we wait to see how God will judge us. Rather, those who are in purgatory know that they will be in heaven, but they first need to be prepared. There may be suffering, but it is the pain that comes from making a change which we know needs to be made, such as when we were children and our parents had to take out a splinter or put some antiseptic on a scraped knee. I also suspect that part of the suffering is similar to that which we felt as children when we knew that Christmas was close. Those in purgatory know that their greatest source of happiness is coming, but the waiting seems interminable.

I have always particularly liked C. S. Lewis’ description of this purification. Lewis said, “Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’ - ‘Even so, sir.’”

Certainly God could take care of the purification without our prayers. But He created us to help one another, and so He allows us to contribute to the souls’ purification by our prayers. I quote again from C. S. Lewis, “Of course I pray for the dead.  The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him?”

So this All Souls Day is for those who have died, but it is also for us who still live. It is God’s gift to us to be able to assist in some way in God’s task of perfecting our loved ones. Let us pray for all who have died, that they may come to the fullness of God’s glory in the kingdom of heaven. And let us also comfort ourselves with the realization that they will be praying for us, that we may come to share in that eternal glory with them as saints who share the glory of the Risen Christ.

                                                              Father H