The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

In the final moments of one of television’s greatest dramatic series of all-time, “Lost”, the character of Ben Linus finds himself in a situation that sums up our understanding of purgatory very well.

He is just not ready to join the rest and move on into the light. Ben is left on the outside of the group, outside the church and the joyous gathering going on inside.

Most people know that this coming Thursday is Halloween, and many are aware that the following day is celebrated as “All Saint’s Day”, the feast which commemorates all those who have obtained the beatific vision in heaven, and which is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church.

But you may not be aware that it is followed immediately by another very important remembrance day, “All Soul’s Day”, which is set aside specifically for the cause of the entire Church praying for those souls of the faithful who departed this life, but who were not first cleansed of their venial sins and/or separated from their attachment to mortal sins.

These faithful have not been abandoned by God permanently. They have not been damned to the hell of the lonely desolation that will be the eternal separation from His glory, which is the fate awaiting those who have willfully died as non-believers.

These faithful in purgatory may still be helped on to the eternal glory of heaven by our prayers, especially through the sacrifice of Mass, in which numbers of believers join together.

Personal prayer is always beneficial, always powerful. But when our prayers are joined with others, that power multiplies many-fold. This is the importance of attending formal religious church services, to join with others in a prayer community.

On All Soul’s Day later this week, pray for the faithful departed. It is very likely that among them are people who you have known in your lifetime. Family members, friends, work associates, school classmates, neighbors, teammates. People who believed in God, believed that Jesus Christ died for their sins, prayed on their own, attended church services, lived generally good lives. But who, for whatever reasons, continued to live in sin to the moment of their death, and never made that final peaceful act of contrition.

Like Ben at the end of “Lost”, they sit outside the church, separated from the joy inside, incapable of joining their saved loved ones, of moving into the light and on to the happiness in the eternal presence of the Lord. But their cause, like his, is not lost forever.

Your loving memories of them and the positive presence and beauty they brought into your own life, coupled with your sincere intercessory prayers on their behalf, may make all the difference in the ultimate saving of their immortal souls.

World Series 2013: The Best in Baseball

If over the next 2-3 days someone tries to tell you that they have some kind of special insight into who is going to win the 2013 World Series, then they are simply lying. These are clearly the two best teams in baseball, and you’d do well to simply toss a coin to pick a winner.

Most pundits and talking heads, as well as tons of amateurs and partisans, will indeed try to pick a winner. Some will inevitably end up correct. But going into it, these two teams are so evenly matched that legitimate arguments can be made for either.

The 109th MLB World Series will feature the best team, based on regular season record, from both the National League and the American League for the first time since 1999. Both the Boston Red Sox and the Saint Louis Cardinals won 97 games to pace their respective leagues.

Also, each of the two teams will have reached the Fall Classic after having battled through similar paths, first vanquishing divisional rivals, and then arguably the 2nd best teams in their respective leagues. Saint Louis beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and then the LA Dodgers, while Boston beat the Tampa Bay Rays and then the Detroit Tigers.

This will also mark not only the 2nd World Series meeting between the NL’s Cardinals and the AL’s Red Sox in the last decade, but will be a matchup between a pair of franchise’s that have each won two World Series titles within this past decade.

The Red Sox finally vanquished “The Ghost of the Bambino” by sweeping past the Cards in the 2004 World Series, then won again in 2007 when they also swept the Colorado Rockies. The Cardinals blitzed the Detroit Tigers in five games in the 2006 Series, then won a dramatic 7-gamer over the Texas Rangers in 2011.

I am personally rooting for a long, dramatic series featuring the kinds of moments that live on in baseball lore: Don Larsen’s 1956 ‘Perfect Game’, Bill Mazeroski’s 1960 Series-winning homer, Carlton Fisk’s Game #6 homerun in 1975, Kirk Gibson’s Game #1 walkoff in 1988, the Clemens-Piazza bat-throwing showdown of 2000, Chase Utley’s fake-and-throw-home in 2008.

This 2013 version of the Fall Classic features the “Fear the Beard” Bosox coming at you with a multi-dimensional offense and a worst-to-first, something-to-prove chip on their shoulders against the Redbirds, the most consistently excellent organization in the NL. I’m picking Boston, and call it in 6 or 7 games.

Much is made, and rightfully so, of the Cardinals vaunted 1-2 postseason pitching tandem of Adam Wainwright and rookie sensation Michael Wacha. Both of these arms can shut down any offense in the game. If they do it early at Fenway Park, and take each of the first two games in Boston, the Cards could steamroll to victory in the series. But I don’t believe it will happen.

The Red Sox lineup is the difference for me between the two teams. Each have excellent hitters, with grizzled, proven veterans and talented youngsters. Each has outstanding starting pitching. Boston will throw Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz in those first two games, and those two are just as capable of shutting down the Cards as vice versa. And the two bullpens seem evenly matched to me as well.

It’s that multi-faceted Red Sox offense that I will give the slight edge to, enough of an edge to win the World Series. Boston can bash you with Big Papi, Mike Napoli, and Jonny Gomes, and they can run you ragged with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Shane Victorino. And those last two are not one-dimensional, as “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” showed once again with his ALCS-clinching grand slam vs. Detroit.

The Cardinals have tremendous run-producing clutch hitters of their own in Matt Holliday, David Freese, and perhaps the best postseason hitter of recent years in Carlos Beltran. But Jon Jay led the club in steals with 10 this season. Running is simply not a part of their game. Meanwhile, Ellsbury swiped 52 bags, Pedroia stole 17, and Victorino took another 21 for Boston. These guys run, and they will challenge the great Saint Louis catcher Yadier Molina at pivotal points of games. His ability to shut them down could be the difference.

An ‘X-factor’ for the Cardinals will be Allen Craig. The 1st baseman who has been out of the Saint Louis lineup nursing a sprained foot is listed as probable, and is expected to DH in the first two games at Fenway. With his bat in the lineup, the Cards have 5 players who each hit at least .296 during the season. They can wear down a pitching staff. But the Red Sox also have 5 such players, at least when Daniel Nava is in left field rather than Gomes.

The pitching matchups have not been announced for every game, but logic and prior use would seem to point to Lester vs. Wainwright in the Opener, followed by Buchholz vs. Wacha in Game #2, both at Fenway Park. Back at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis it should then be John Lackey for Boston vs. Joe Kelly for the Cards in Game #3, Jake Peavy vs. Lance Lynn in Game #4, and then a return to the top of the respective rotations for the balance of the series.

There is not likely to be any edge in the dugout that will decide this matchup. John Farrell in his first year as Bosox skipper has been exactly what his team needed, and Mike Matheny of the Cardinals played in that 2004 Series between the two clubs. Both are talented skippers who have the respect of their teams, and have strong coaching staffs supporting them.

Two storied franchise’s battling it out on the diamond in front of two of the best and most knowledgeable and passionate fan bases in the game. It’s hard to ask for anything more from a baseball purist standpoint. The Boston Red Sox should come out of this with a hard-fought, beard-pulling title. But the real winners should be fans of the game everywhere. Sit back and enjoy the 2013 World Series between two talented teams, the best in baseball.

Sunday Sermon: The most powerful prayer

Give me an army praying the rosary, and I will conquer the world” – Blessed Pope Pius IX

The rosary has been called the most powerful of prayers. In her appearance on May 13th, 1917 at Fatima, Mary herself said that a daily praying of the rosary could bring an end to war. In this month of October, it is an especially good time to review this unmatched prayer experience, since it is also the Month of the Holy Rosary in the Catholic Church.

On October 7th, 1571, the historic Battle of Lepanto took place. In this battle, a vastly outnumbered Christian fleet led by Don John of Austria faced off against and defeated the mighty Ottoman Muslim fleet led by Ali Pasha to halt the Islamist westward expansion in the Mediterranean.

At the time, Christian Europe was being torn apart by internal strife and the Reformation from the inside, and was being threatened by the relentless expansionism of the Muslims from the outside.

The victory in this pivotal naval battle against superior forces was attributed to the fact that on the day of the battle, many rosaries were offered and processions made in Rome to the Blessed Mother for her intercession on behalf of the united Christians. The victory was thus attributed to her, and those rosaries.

In honor of this victory, Pope Pius V instituted the ‘Feast of Our Lady of Victory’, and following another victory over Muslim forces in 1716, Pope Clement XI extended the Feast to the entire Church, making it the ‘Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary’.

In 1883, Pope Leo XIII released the first in a series of encyclicals on the rosary, urging Catholics to increase their devotion to Mary, especially through the rosary, and dedicated the entire month of October to the prayer.

So what exactly is the rosary, how does one say the prayer, and why is it considered so powerful?

The word “rosary” comes from the Latin meaning “garland of roses”, with the rose traditionally being one of the flowers that symbolizes Mary in the Church. The rosary is a devotion in her honor, one in which we are petitioning her to intervene on our behalf, and on behalf of our prayerful intentions, with the Lord.

To facilitate the saying of the rosary, a petitioner utilizes “rosary beads”, a series of beads linked together along with a medal representing Mary and with a small crucifix at the end of the chain. Each bead, the medal, the crucifix, and even some of the chain links are used as placeholders at which a specific prayer is said.

The main prayer said is the “Hail Mary“, which is actually recited 10 times each over a series of 5 ‘decades’, meaning that one who completes the prayer will say the “Hail Mary” some 50 times. One of the beads marks each saying of the prayer.

A person who undertakes praying the rosary will also say “The Lord’s Prayer” (“Our Father“), the “Apostle’s Creed“, the “Glory Be“, and may insert certain other prayers along the route around the full chain. Also, a brief reflection on different mysteries of the faith is done at a handful of points.

Doing so much praying at one time may seem daunting to individuals who are not used to the process. But the fact is that saying a complete rosary takes no more than about 20 minutes for an experienced person.

A great idea when first starting out is to try saying the rosary along with others more experienced, but this is not in any way necessary. It’s 2013, there is indeed “an app for that” if you search on your digital device, and there are many online resources to help guide you.

Rosary beads themselves come in all shapes, colors, and styles. You can find your favorite color if you search around, and can find a theme that fits your lifestyle.

Years ago, I was given an Irish rosary as a gift, complete with green-colored beads, and I use this rosary to pray from time to time. I know that I don’t pray it enough, and saying the rosary more is something that I have begun to incorporate into my personal faith experience.

During a number of her apparitions over the years since it’s institution by the Church, Mary herself has passed along the confirmation of the power of saying the rosary. Among it’s benefits, she promises powerful graces and her special protection.

Mary promises that it will be an armor against hell itself, and that it will destroy vice, reduce sin, and defeat heresy. Among the many other benefits, she has promised to deliver from purgatory anyone who regularly says the rosary during their lifetimes.

In April of 2003, Father Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist, said that during a particular exorcism, the devil himself had said that “If Christians knew how powerful the rosary was, it would be my end.”

All one needs to do is undertake a reasonable Google search, and you will come across hundreds of stories where the saying of the rosary is credited with direct aid and intervention in the most hazardous, dangerous, deadly, and hopeless of situations that humans have encountered.

If you’ve never considered it before, look more closely at the rosary. Stop by a religious store, or go online, and pick out and purchase one for yourself. Purchase or research and print out a short guide to saying the rosary. And then undertake actually saying it a couple of times over a few days.

See what all the fuss is about first-hand. I promise you that you will never feel the same, and you will see a positive change in your life and situation.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The state of modern American political discourse has deteriorated to such a wretched point that there are times where I will hear or read something and feel as if blood is actually going to begin shooting from my eyes.

Even in trying to sit down and type this piece, deciding where to begin, in what direction to take it, the problems are so many and deep that it almost makes me want to stop and just throw up my hands in surrender.

I have said it myself, and I heard it from someone else this morning: American partisan politics have deteriorated to a state of bitterness, rancor, and stalemate. Our nation has reached a point not seen since the Civil War era. We are angry as a people. Mad at the politicians, mad at the media, mad at each other.

There are many culprits, and we can blame those politicians and that media. We can blame lobbyists and special interest groups. We can blame whomever else we choose. But there is another guilty party in this situation. We have reached a point where all of us need to take a look in the mirror and realize that we ourselves have become a big part of the problem.

We all have basic moral, spiritual, and political values developed over the course of a lifetime based on personal experiences. Our internal compass leads us to make the important decisions in our lives, including decisions at the ballot box. We vote for candidates who we believe will best reflect our values. We choose those who we believe will support those values with specific programs and initiatives to further those values.

There is just one problem with our entire line of thinking: it is completely selfish.

Let’s get simplistic for a moment, because tremendously complex problems such as those we are now facing often require getting down to simple basics in order to find some solutions.

We live in a place called “The Village” and we enjoy eating apples. We believe that not only are apples good for us, but they are good for everyone. If more people ate apples, The Village would be a better, happier, more fair place.

Not only that, but we think that oranges are horrible. Furthermore, oranges are at the root of most problems. There seems to us a very simple solution: The Village will grow and eat only apples, and will not grow or consume oranges. All problems in The Village are thus fixed!

But, alas, there is a stumbling block. Some of the people in The Village actually believe to their very core (pun intended) that apples actually are the root of all evil. Apples should be minimized, or done away with.

These people believe that oranges are excellent. Oranges are the answer to a better, happier, more fair existence for The Village.

Huh, imagine that. We all live here in The Village. We’ve all grown up here, been educated here. How did this happen? How could we possibly think and believe so differently?

Well, in any event, we need to try to fix this problem. So we decide to get a couple of the brightest, fairest, nicest leaders in the “orangers” and “applers” camps here at The Village together at a main table and work it out.

So down the leaders sit at the main table. But problems begin to surface early in the talks. Orangers think apples cause all the problems. Applers think oranges cause all the problems. Orangers want no apples grown, or just a small amount. Applers want no oranges grown, or just a small amount.

Gridlock. Welcome to modern American political discourse.

Maybe we applers can just ignore those darned orangers. After all, there are more of us than them. We know that apples are good and oranges are bad. We know it! They are simply wrong. They are, in fact, crazy people for liking and wanting oranges over apples. We’ll simplyl ignore them, do what we want, what we know is right, and the hell with them!

But then someone in our little appler community points something important out: sure, there are more of us than there are of them. But it’s pretty darned close. Anything could tip the scales the other way in a hurry. A little disease outbreak on our side of the camp. Maybe a few applers move away. Maybe the orangers have more children than we do over the next few years. They begin to outnumber us. What do we do then?

It’s happened before in The Village’s past, after all. Those demographic shifts. So it likely will happen again. If we ignore them today, they will ignore us tomorrow, and we’ll be forced to live in an “orange” world. That would be unacceptable to us. We cannot let it happen. What to do? Where do we go from here?

The answer is as simple for the people of “The Village” as it is for we the people of the United States of America today. We need to stop being selfish.

We need to stop demonizing one another. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as simply “applers” and “orangers”, as “Democrats” and “Republicans”, as “Liberals and “Conservatives”, and begin to accept that we are all Americans.

You will not think like me at all times. You will not believe in all of the same ideals that I believe. I will not feel as you do on many issues. That does not make you evil. It does not make me crazy. It simply makes us different.

You must get some of the things that you want. I must get some of the things that I want. You will have to give up, or delay, some of the things you want. I will have to give up, or delay, some of the things that I want.

So where do we go from here? It’s up to us. It’s completely up to the people. Who do you like and support in the political world? Who don’t you like in politics today? Barack Obama? John Boehner? Harry Reid? Eric Cantor? Nancy Pelosi? Pat Toomey? Bob Casey?

Who cares? They are not nearly as important as you are! Those politicians only have the power that you give them. Pick up the phone, pick up a pen, tap on your keyboard. Tell all of them, including those on “your side” that you demand compromise for America.

American politics cannot be allowed to continue on as a ‘zero sum game’, a competition with winners and losers. If we are not all winners in some substantive way, then America is not working properly.

That doesn’t mean our government should give to everyone every single thing that they want. It means that all of us need to be concerned for, and substantively work to ensure, the rights of every single American citizen, regardless of political backgrounds.

Where do we go from here? Every society in the history of the world has been forced to answer that question at one point or another. Every democracy or monarchy, every socialist or communist or religious state.

Most of those societies reacted to those points in their history, including right here in America, with civil war or some other bloodshed as the catalyst for movement or change. I pray that our nation can avoid that most inhumane, illogical, deadly of choices this time.

The great American writer and thinker Walter Lippmann believed, and I happen to agree, that a major problem with people’s participation in political issues is that they make up their minds before they define the facts.

They do so rather than gathering information and analyzing those facts before reaching their conclusions. We need to be more educated as individuals. That is one area that we certainly need to go: inside ourselves, to our own education, and our own moderation of expression until we are so educated.

If we fail to become more educated, fail to embrace the humanity of our fellow Americans, and continue to allow ourselves to be played as puppets, then we will end up as Lippmann warned:

The private citizen, beset by partisan appeals for the loan of his public opinion, will soon see, perhaps, that these appeals are not a compliment to his intelligence, but an imposition on his good nature and an insult to his sense of evidence.” 

We are being insulted, and we are insulting one another. Let’s begin here, by stopping those things.

Sunday Sermon: Two things about bad things

There are two things that we can absolutely say with certainty about bad things: they will happen to good people, and good people will do them.

The questions that all who want to believe in a loving, benevolent, saving God ask at some point in their lives often revolve around these two ideas. Those questions, of course, are:

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why do good people do bad things?

In looking at the first question, we need to examine what it is that we are actually asking – what is the allegedly “bad” thing that is happening to the allegedly “good” person. Let’s assume the second part of the equation here, that you or whomever you are asking about is indeed a “good” person.

So what is the “bad” thing that has happened? Has someone been injured in an accident? Is someone suffering from a debilitating illness? Has someone become the victim of a crime? Is there some major misfortune being dealt with, such as a house fire, a natural disaster, an inter-personal relationship gone bad? Has someone died?

If any of those things are the supposed “bad” thing then the answer is fairly simple: welcome to the real world.
Welcome to life. At it’s most basic, we need to understand that this life is not heaven. It is not paradise. When an innocent baby is born, and if that baby is destined to live a full, natural life span to about 80 years of age, they will experience a lot of hurt and pain. It is normal.

That pure, innocent child hasn’t hurt a fly. He or she has never done a bad thing to anyone, has never had a bad thought run through their minds. Once receiving Baptism and having ‘Original Sin’ released, they have no sin on their souls. They are, to use an old saying, “pure as the driven snow.”

So why does this baby not get to enjoy a life full of happiness, peace, joy, friendship, family, and love?

Well, again back to the most basic fact in life for the answer: they do. Every one, including those born with disease or illness, is going to experience love, joy, and happiness during the course of their lives. The most beaten down of us has experienced joy, just as they most blessed has experienced heartache.

The question of why bad things happen to good people is actually one that we shouldn’t really even be asking. Just as we hope for and expect to experience good things, we should expect to experience the bad in life. We can live a good life, treat others well, and pray – and we will still experience hurt, loss, and ultimately we will all experience death, usually having to deal with the death of dozens of family and friends before our own.

When the bad things come along, we find out how strong we are as people. Our relationships are tested. Our faith is tested. To say that this life is a “test” would be simplistic, but it clearly is an adventure that God calls us to experience in different ways. We all learn from one another, and especially we learn from the way in which those around us deal with the misfortune that comes to them and their loved ones.

We are spiritual creatures living a physical experience here on Earth, not the other way around. Of course we hope to experience as much joy and as little suffering during this physical stage of our existence as possible. But we all need to understand, accept, and live for the longer term of that spiritual existence. Eternity is far longer than a few decades.

Just as those bad things will happen, in many cases they happen because some good person committed a bad act, or allowed one to happen. This is the easier of the two questions to answer for believers: human beings are sinners. Since the Garden of Eden, men and women have taken shortcuts, yielded to temptations, given in to weaknesses, taken advantage of one another. We have treated one another, including people who we genuinely love and care for, in ways that are not very loving.

Should we just throw up our hands and accept it every time someone hurts us or injures someone we love, or commits some crime or heinous act, or when we allow ourselves to continue in sin, and just say “Oh well, I’m only human” or “Oh well, they’re a good person, they’re just being human.” No, of course not.

However, clearly those of us who are believers are called to forgive. In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter asks Jesus point-blank: “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus’ reply is just as pointed: “Seven? Hardly! Try seventy times seven!

For those who may have forgotten their multiplication, here is the Jesus math: 70×7 = 490.

Is Jesus telling us that we must forgive one another, at least our loved ones, 490 times during our lives? Of course not. He is making the point that forgiveness has no limits. He is calling us to simply do it. And he didn’t just talk the talk, our Lord walked the walk. While hanging on the cross, after being mocked, scourged, tortured, and left to die, Jesus called out to God: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

This life is our preparation for the next. It is meant to be lived for the Lord, for His glory. We are all called to manage our lives in a manner that will not only glorify Him, but that will demonstrate what His love is all about to our families and peers. You are called to live a certain way. Not to do as you have had done to you, but instead, as Christ taught, to “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

We will fall short. We will cause pain. We will feel pain. We will sin. But we are not to give up, never to give in to despair. Never to surrender to fear. Never to accept our own sins. God calls on us to be fighters against our own sin, against evil wherever we find it in this world. He calls us to do so with a heart never bent on vengeance, but full of forgiveness.

You should cherish the love you have in your life. Enjoy every moment of happiness, peace, and joy that God gifts to you during this life. In fact, you are called to do all you can to bring as much of that love, peace, and joy into others lives as you can while you are here on this Earth. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” The new commandment given by Jesus to all of us. That is how we are to try and conduct our lives.

When you think at times that you are being personally challenged, either by your own sins, or by someone hurting you, or by some negative circumstance – in other words, when some bad thing comes into your life, or some person, good or bad, causes you pain, remember this: God sent his only Son to suffer and die an excruciatingly painful death. He did this for you, to take on the weight of your personal “bad” things, even though you have sinned against him repeatedly. God has forgiven you, a sinner.

NOTE: This is a continuation of the “Sunday Sermon” series that has appeared and will continue to appear regularly on Sundays throughout the years. To visit the other articles in the series, simply click on that below ‘label’.