A Day That Reminds Me Always of Change.

This past week I took my leave of you for the first time as pastor for two consecutive weeks! I have never once been away that long (even though I did pop in for a full day of office work in between those weeks!) It was both refreshing and frightening at the same time! I used my time away to be with my wife and family in Connecticut, visit with long lost friends and family members I don’t see very often from my hometown of Erie, savor the sun of the Keys of Florida, and I even managed to get a little work in as I married another couple on the beach of Key Largo! In that same time, Pope Francis has opened the door to women deacons and married priests. Wow, huh? Some eight years ago we welcomed the first woman deacon in our church, and it went without one note of disdain or concern. We also continue to welcome single, married, gay and straight, celibate and not, priests, brothers and deacons. All has been well.  Why? Because we keep our eye on a life of service, not creating an atmosphere of pathology or interfering with God’s call with our limited human sight. God is God and God calls; we serve. That is how it will ever be until we transition like so many to behold Him face to face.  

The Solemnity of All Saints & Souls we honor this week is a celebration of those who have died and attained Heaven, as well as the living, those saints we hold so dear that continue to serve. They have made their transition after a life of service. My favorite definition of a Saint is ‘an ordinary person that does extraordinary things’! We all have that within us, if only we set our first to serve.  

To begin to understand these solemn days, it is necessary to understand what is meant when we refer to the Communion of Saints. The “Communion of Saints,” is at its most essential meaning, the sharing of the grace of Jesus Christ with and among His family members, the Church; all the members, living and dead that dwell with God. Those who have departed this life are alive. Blessed Mary, and all the saints in heaven, are alive, and are members of His one body. They continue to share in all ways, as St. Paul taught us, except their suffering is over and they see God more clearly than do we on earth who see only partially. And they remain intercessors on behalf of the Church not yet in Glory, doing as we all are urged to do, to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all men and women, that they may live a godly and peaceable life. Now that is worth celebrating!

In a very moving, personal reflection on his imminent death, back in 1996, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago wrote in, “The Gift of Peace”, several weeks before his death occurred:

“Many people have asked me to tell them about heaven and the afterlife. I sometimes smile at the request because I do not know any more than they do. Yet, when one young man asked if I looked forward to being united with God, and all those who have gone before me, I made a connection to something I said earlier in this book. The first time I traveled with my mother and sister to my parents’ homeland of Tonadico di Primiero, in northern Italy, I felt as if I had been there before. After years of looking through my mother’s photo albums, I knew the mountains, the land, the houses, the people. As soon as we entered the valley, I said, “My God, I know this place. I am home.”

Somehow, I think crossing from this life into eternal life will be similar for me; I will just finally be at home. That is why this entire next couple of weeks at Saint Miriam will actually be all about them, the dead we honor and the living we serve, and the changes we need to continue to grow and serve even better. We know that there is no greater corporal act of mercy that a Catholic can do then to honor the dead. However, what we believe, but much more importantly, what we do, demonstrates the importance of family and the communion of saints, both living and dead. That is why my time away has brought new depth to our continued life together in service to others. I am excited to bring these changes to us, and to allow God to transition our hearts to a deeper communion of service and love.

We can’t know for sure where our beloved deceased are, so when in doubt, we pray for them, and we hope they pray for us. I will never forget that bitter cold January day when I buried my dad in Erie. The snow was so cold and the depth so high at the cemetery, we were not even sure we could hold his funeral, but we did. If ever I was to believe, that was the day. No, it did not happen all at once, but it did come to me – God came, finally – and I believe now more than ever. I know my dad intercedes for me; I know I would not be here today if it were not for his intercession. I pray all the Saints pray for our life together here at Saint Miriam.

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