Bigger than Death

lio grave

Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died. (John 6:49)

Seems a little rough to have so many explosions in the news in one week. We pray; we pray.

Better to pray and read the Word of God than to watch too much t.v. or spend too much time on the internet. Better to set a specific amount of time per day for “keeping up with the news,” and stick faithfully to that allotted amount of time as a maximum.

I mean, not to be morbid, but…

We pray. Of course, we pray for the repose of all the souls of the dead. For healing for all the sick and wounded in this world. For consolation for all the grieving and broken-hearted…

speed bump reaperThe fact is, though: the world is literally full of dead people. In every city or town there are numerous fields full of people’s moldering bones.

Why fret this week more than any other that, “we live in a violent world?”

Damn straight this world is violent: No one survives. Everyone winds up dead. Life on earth is fatal 100% of the time.

If I don’t die in an explosion, does that mean I am going to live forever?

Um, no. If I don’t die suddenly today, I will still be dead relatively soon anyway.

The Ethiopian asked Philip, regarding the Holy Scriptures:

About whom is this written? (Acts 8:34)

Good question, brother!

Who is the drama of salvation about? Who is the Bible about? Who is the life of Jesus about? Who lives the mysteries of quiet, humble, submissive death and eternal life in glory? Who has been made—not just for a short, frustrating, and fragile life punctuated by sessions on the couch—but for a noble, heroic life that looks the Grim Reaper squarely in the face and says, ‘Bring it on, little boy! I’m a child of God Almighty, and you are nothing but a little gnat in my face!’ Who was made to say this?

We were. Us. The Bible is about us. Christ lived for us. Heaven is for us.

Yes, the devil will have his day. May God have mercy and help us. May God comfort us and give us fortitude.

But, after all: Our ancestors have lived through tumultuous wars with explosions left and right every day. Our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world have to live that way now. Death comes. One way or the other, it comes.

But we are so much bigger than death. May God help us to see just how much bigger than death we really are.

Malice (and not), April, the Race

President Abraham Lincoln uttered quite a few memorable sentences. My favorite is from his second inaugural address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all…let us strive on.” With malice toward none.

A couple old friends of mine crossed the finish line yesterday. I myself crossed it on Patriot Day, 1995.

Anybody else? Been there at Copley Square? Or anywhere along the route? Or at any other marathon or organized footrace?

running feetWhat I am getting at is: If there is any situation here on this beleaguered earth; any human atmosphere where we could honestly say, “the people here are gathered with malice toward none,” this would be it.

You go to a marathon, to run or to watch; you root for everyone and against no one.

In 2004, I ran 26.2 miles through every borough of New York City wearing a t-shirt that read, “100% Pro-Life.” Dozens, if not hundreds, of dyed-in-the-wool Gloria-Steinem-style Manhattan Democrats cheered for me, even though they did not know me, yelling “100% PRO-LIFE!!!”

My point is: As anyone who has ever been at a marathon knows, it is one of those truly rare human occasions where everyone is for everyone and against no one. It’s emotional; it’s genuinely wonderful; it’s one of the most fun things in the world. It is beautiful.

Hence, the bitterness of the tears.

May the Lord comfort. As the Cardinal of Boston put it: Let’s turn to the light of Christ. Because we need it. Life in this world hurts.

I ran the Boston marathon with four fellow Jesuit Volunteers. As we ran up ‘Heartbreak Hill,’ with the easy spring sun shining on us, we had one of our ‘pain check-ins:’

“Ok. Right now: My left knee. My right heel. And my entire back.”

“Check. For me, it’s a blister on the ball of my left foot, and the sweat is burning my eyeballs.”

“Check. I can’t breathe, and I’m really thirsty.”

The fourth just shook it off. Couldn’t talk for the pain.

t-s-eliotWe need Christ. Spring springs in April. Buds blossom. It’s great to be alive.

But, as T.S. Eliot put it, “April is the cruelest month.”

VA Tech shooting—April. Columbine—April. Oklahoma City—April. Statistics show that, of all months, April tends to turn depressed souls to violence. Usually it’s violence against themselves. More suicides in April than in any other month.

May God rest the souls of the dead. May He heal the wounded and comfort the grieving.

I’m not much for psychoanalyzing people. But maybe one reason why April’s sweet air and long sun, it’s soft, breezy comfort—one reason why this provokes souls darkened by despair is: This month bears so much resemblance to the peace of Eden. Yet we do not have that peace.

The most ancient teaching holds that God created the heavens and the earth on March 25. This means that the coming of April coincided with the first sabbath day.

Also, as we celebrate annually, the Lord gave us the mysteries of eternal life at this time of year, by the Resurrection and Ascension of the Passover Lamb of God.

In other words, April does indeed have a special whiff of eternity to it. Which makes the fact all the more painful: this is still the same fallen world. Same fallen world, full of sin, twelve full months per year.

Let’s turn to Christ. He endured the mystery of evil on a beautiful spring day. He endured it so that we might be redeemed, so that He could raise us on the last day. On the Day of the Lord, springtime will arrive, and it will never end.

May He comfort our troubled hearts now, and give us hope, so that we can run the race.

Forty Days

caravaggio_incredulity_st_thomas1Lent was forty days of penance. But now…

After He rose from the dead, the Lord Jesus remained on earth for forty days. He interacted with numerous people, revealed many mysteries, taught His Apostles many things.

Those forty days were probably the most precious period of time in the history of the world. They are the greatest gift God has ever given–when He walked the earth as an immortal man, revealing our final destiny to us.

adam-and-eve-in-the-garden-of-eden-giclee-print-c12267346These forty days were a new beginning for the human race.

The Lord “walked” in the Garden of Eden, looking for Adam and Eve, but they were hiding themselves in shame. After He rose from the dead, Christ walked the earth as the new Adam, with the shame of human sin taken away.

Through the Sacred Liturgy of the Church, we can share in the original forty days of the Resurrection. All you have to do is go to daily Mass from now to Ascension Day!

…T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month.” (In my opinion, “The Waste Land” is his best poem, even though he wrote it before his conversion.)

T.S. ELIOTAnyway, April would seem to be the cruelest month for me. Four years ago on April 2, Pope John Paul II died. Three years ago on April 27, my father died.

And now I have just buried my first pastor. (By the way–I was not an easy parochial vicar to deal with, but I did not give him his heart attack.) His date of death: April 9. Three fathers, three guides, mentors, intimate role-models–all dead in April.

The good thing is, I love death. I love caskets, funerals, cemeteries.

It is natural for priests to love death. We wear black because we are consecrated to the reality of life beyond this world. Death is how we get there.

Fr. Lee Fangmeyer said in Fr. Finch’s funeral homily: “It is easier to talk to people when they are dead than when they were alive.” I rely on my dad and the Holy Father (J.P. II) now more than ever, and I know Bill will help me, too.

May Father Bill Finch and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in the peace of Christ.