Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 25, 2015

This past week I had the interesting experience of taking a first grade CCD class on a tour of our church. To me the church is such a common sight that it is always refreshing to look at it through the eyes of a child, as a place filled with wonder. After all, it really is a wondrous place. So I thought I would take an occasional opportunity to look at the church with you. And as I was planning this column, I got to thinking of the words we use to describe these area.

We start with the sanctuary, where the Altar and the ambo and other liturgical items are. I remember once when I overheard a CCD teacher telling her class that the word “sanctuary” means a safe place, for people used to “seek sanctuary,” a protected place, when they were on the run. I told her aside privately that her explanation was not quite right. The word comes from the Latin Sanctus and means “a holy place.” When fugitives would look for a place where they would be immune from arrest, they would enter the church sanctuary. Their pursuers would wait them out rather than desecrate a holy space. The point for us is that we want to see the sanctuary as a sacred space. When we enter it, we do so with reverence and always keep in mind what goes on there. With the Altar, where the Eucharist becomes a reality, and with the Tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, it truly is a sacred space.

Outside the Sanctuary is the nave, the place for the congregation. Nave comes from the same root as “navy.” A ship is a longstanding image for the Church, and some church buildings are designed so that the interior of the roof looks like the hull of a ship (albeit inverted). The image is that we are on a journey to heaven though the stormy seas of this world. Thus the Church protects us from drowning in our secular world. I hope that also gives us the sense of being part of the “crew.” As the sanctuary is not a “stage,” so the people in the nave are not just an audience. As we all worship together, so we all help one another across the seas of this world. For those who belong to the Church, it is “all hands on deck.”

Finally, we often refer to the space just inside the doors as the “vestibule.” In a church, it is actually called the “narthex.” We see it as a gathering space to mark the transition into our holy place. Originally, the narthex was a place walled off from the nave where those who were not yet fully initiated – the catechumens – could gather apart from the community. Likewise, we hope to see the narthex as a place where we can gather and exchange pleasantries, though always respecting the silence of anyone at prayer in the nave. We see it as a welcoming place so that our parish can always be a welcoming community.

                                                                          Father H                  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Before getting down to my main point, let me take this opportunity to offer a word of thanks to everyone who did so much work to make our parish Nationality Festival a big success. Thank you to the leaders of the committee and the booth chairs, to those who worked, to those who got things in shape and who cleaned up. Thanks also to those who simply came to enjoy a good meal and to support the parish. Now on to other matters…

There are weeks when I sit down at my computer, unsure of what to write about in this column. Sometimes the topic comes to me in an unusual way. This week I was wondering what to say when I got a call from the hospital. There was a patient whose family was facing some very difficult decisions regarding the patient. I helped them as best I could, though they admitted that they had almost hoped I would say, “This is what you have to do” and make the decision for them.

End of life decisions will never be easy. The teaching of the Church begins with the value of human life, so we are required to preserve that life by all ordinary means. It is the word “ordinary” that can make things difficult. Ordinary means include food and water, normal exercise and medical care. Where the difficulty comes in is when the means of preserving life are extraordinary. If a person would have to undergo a difficult procedure that will itself cause undue pain, such a procedure would be considered extraordinary. If a person cannot process food or nutrition in the normal way, then a feeding tube may be considered extraordinary if withdrawing the nutrition would not be the direct cause of death. We can morally avail ourselves of extraordinary procedures if we wish, but we are not obliged to do so. If the treatment becomes unduly burdensome to the patient or only prolongs suffering, then that patient has the right to refuse it. Notice that this is not euthanasia or “assisted suicide.” We cannot do anything that would cause someone’s death. Furthermore, we need to remember that a certain amount of suffering is not only unavoidable, it can also be salvific if we join ourselves to the sufferings of Christ on.

Often a patient who is in such a position is not able to communicate his or her wishes. Many people have “living wills,” in which they state what they do or do not wish in such a case. The problem is that it is difficult to cover all the possibilities, particularly when medical procedures advance at an amazing rate. It is much better to consider an Advance Directive with Durable Power of Attorney. In that case, we designate someone close to us to make decisions we are incapable of making, trusting that this person shares our Catholic understanding.

Finally, let me end this column on a lighter note. There was a piece going around the Internet in which a man wrote, “I told my family that if I am ever totally dependent upon liquids and machines to keep going, unable to communicate, they should pull the plug and let me die. So my wife poured out my beer, took away the TV remote and turned off the football game.”
                        Father H                 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 4, 2015

Every so often, someone will comment that we don’t hear much about some particular topic these days. Someone recently said something to me along those lines, and I realized that she was right. I also realized that it was something we should hear about, and I soon realized that I had my column topic for this week. The comment that caught my attention had to do with the requirement that we fast before receiving Holy Communion.

When I was a boy, my mother would never allow me to snack when dinner time was drawing near for fear that it would “spoil my appetite.” Obviously, if I ate too many cookies, I wouldn’t be hungry for the good food she served for dinner. Even if I claimed I wouldn’t eat enough to spoil my appetite, Mom told me that I would appreciate my dinner more if I didn’t eat now. That latter argument particularly relates to the Eucharistic fast. If we refrain from bodily food, we can concentrate more completely on the spiritual food we are going to receive.

The Eucharistic fast is not meant to be burdensome. Before the 1950s, Catholics could not eat or drink anything from midnight until after receiving Communion. Some people even refused to brush their teeth on Sunday mornings for fear that they might accidentally swallow a drop of water and not be able to receive Communion. Pope Pius XII changed that rule to require a fast from food and drink for three hours, and the new rules stipulated that water did not break the fast.

Today’s rule is even less burdensome. In 1964, Blessed Pope Paul VI gave us the current rule that we have to fast from food and drink (except water) for one hour before Communion. If we consider that we do not receive Communion at the beginning of Mass, then it is hardly burdensome. Furthermore, it is important to note that medicine does not break the fast.

There are other exceptions as well. People who are elderly or sick, particularly those who are homebound or are in a hospital, should try to fast for at least a quarter of an hour. This exception recognizes the difficulty of balancing the scheduled visit of a Eucharistic Minister along with home nurses or other caregivers. We cannot always schedule these visits down to the minute, and we do not want such people to miss out on the Eucharist. For most of us, however, we know more or less when we are going to Mass and when we should consider it to be within an hour.

The Eucharistic fast is just one element in what could be a larger discussion of our reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament. For today, though, it is enough to say that if we fast before receiving Communion, we will not spoil our spiritual appetite.
                                                                       Father H