November Pilgrimage of St. Therese

st__therese_of_lisieuxSt. Therese of Lisieux is a Doctor of the Church, which means she is a pre-eminent teacher of Christian wisdom. When her death was imminent, her superior ordered her to write an autobiography. Story of A Soul contains her sublime doctrine, applied to herself.

The book recounts that, shortly before Therese entered the convent, she went on pilgrimage to Rome. She went with the Bishop of her diocese, her father, her sister, and other Catholics from her part of France. She was not quite fifteen years old. On November 4, 1887, they departed by train from Paris. They visited Assisi and other towns in Italy. On November 20, they went to the Vatican to see the Pope.

Is this, dear friends, an uncanny coincidence? Your humble servant and his 35 fellow pilgrims will be going to see the Pope on almost the exact same day! (God willing, we will see Pope Benedict next Wednesday, November 19.)

colorfrancis
We do not believe in coincidences. St. Therese is watching over us. This is part of a Plan.

Can we hope that the Holy Doctor Therese has special graces for us pilgrims when we follow in her footsteps AT THE EXACT SAME TIME OF YEAR?

We can hope for this. And you, dear reader, can hope for a share of these graces, no matter where you may be next week. The Preacher and Big Daddy team intends–with the help of Almighty God–to bring the pilgrimage to your computer screen.

If all goes as planned (which is, as we know, a very big IF), we will be blogging from Assisi and Rome. We have brought a trusty photographer on-board for this ambitious project.

Our first stop on pilgrimage will be the ancient hamlet of the Troubadour of Christ, in the heart of the province of Umbria. Did you know that there is a Litany of St. Francis? We will pray it as we make our way to Assisi to visit the tomb of the most beloved saint of all time, after our Lady. May he intercede for us, along with St. Therese. May heaven smile upon all of us!

The Four Last Things

The Resurrection by Signorelli, in the Brizio Chapel in the Duomo in Orvieto
The Resurrection by Signorelli, in the Brizio Chapel in the Duomo in Orvieto
“This is the will of my father, that everyone who sees the Son of Man and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

In the month of November, nature’s life cycle comes to an end. The leaves wither and fall from the trees, and birds fly south for the winter. The night grows longer and longer. The time has come for us to meditate on the Last Things.

There are four Last Things, plus one very important next-to-last thing, namely Purgatory.

The first of the four Last Things is death. Sooner or later, death comes for everyone. Only a fool would refuse to prepare himself for it.

We can thank the good Lord that he has given us our Catholic faith to help us face death with courage and a calm mind. Others are not so fortunate. The inevitability of death hangs over unbelievers like a dark cloud.

We can penetrate the cloud, because the Lord Jesus has taught us what lies beyond death. After death comes the second of the Last Things: Judgment. Jesus Christ, the all-knowing, all-seeing God will judge every human being. He will take everything into account. His judgment will be perfectly just.

When we are judged by Christ at the most supreme of all courts, there are only two possible sentences. The two sentences are the third and fourth Last Things.

If my sins are counted against me and are not remitted by the Precious Blood shed for us on the Cross, then I will be condemned to hell. I will suffer for all eternity. My conscience will accuse me forever, and I will endure the permanent agony of being separated from the only true happiness. At the end of time, my body will rise again from the grave with all the other bodies, and then my torments will only increase.

May it please the Lord, our Lady, the angels and the saints to deliver us all from this!

On the other hand, if we meet death shining with the brightness of Christ, clothed with the grace of His sacraments, outfitted with the virtues that He has lived in us, and provided-for by the merits of His saints, then we will not be condemned for our sins. Our sins will be pardoned.

This means that the sweetest sound we can hear in this life are the words by which our souls are washed clean after a good Confession: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” May we all go to God in a state of grace.

Facade of the Duomo
Facade of the Duomo
If we do go to Him in grace, then everlasting happiness awaits us. We will rest in the infinite truth of God forever, contemplating His beauty with bottomless awe, united with all the saints. Heaven is the fourth Last Thing.

Obviously, heaven is the place of perfect justice, purity, and goodness. Most of us, then, will have to be purified in order to enter heaven.

We do not know the details about the purification of purgatory. We do not know how long it takes or exactly how it happens. What we do know is that 1) it is necessary, and 2) we can help each other get through it.

This is why the month for meditating on the Last Things is also the month for praying for our dead. The least we can do is to try to help those who have gone before us to get to heaven as soon as possible. When we die, and—please God—begin our purification, we will want others to help us get through it.

What can we do to help the souls in Purgatory? Here are four ways to shorten Purgatory for our beloved dead:

1) Have Masses said for them. Every Mass can be offered for a particular intention, including the repose of a particular soul.

Interior of the Orvieto Duomo
Interior of the Orvieto Duomo
2) We shorten purgatory for people by obtaining indulgences. The Church, being a very solid spiritual institution, possesses an enormous spiritual bank account. It is the treasury of the merits of Christ and His saints. This bank has the most precious deposits in the universe, and they are also the most secure.

An indulgence is a withdrawal from this bank, which we can make on behalf of a deceased loved one. It is like a bailout for the afterlife. All we need to do is to renounce all sin and then do one of the pious acts which the Church recommends. One of those acts is to come to church on All Souls Day to pray for the dead.

The third thing we can do to help the souls in Purgatory is to pray for them at any time in any place. Every prayer helps.

Lastly, we can help the poor souls in Purgatory by making sacrifices for them, offering something up for them.

May it please God that we will all be together in heaven someday, with all the people we love!

Laughing our Way into the Month of Death

November is the month of death. There is no getting around it. The leaves wither and fall. The song birds fly away. The night grows longer and longer.

The Church knows that November is the month of death. We begin the month by praying to all the dead people in heaven. The next day we start praying for all the dead people in purgatory. We spend the whole month praying for the dead people in purgatory.

So November is the month of death. The month of death begins on All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween, the night before All Saints Day. Is Halloween a Christian holiday? Yes, it most certainly is.

What happens on Halloween? We confront ourselves with the darkest and most mysterious things: Death. Evil spirits. Putting on a costume poses the most murky question of all: Who am I really?

Then what happens? Laughter and merriment. On Halloween, little children dress up as skeletons, witches, ghosts, goblins—evil, dark things. Then they proceed to run around and giggle.

How is this possible? How is it that on Halloween night, the night when the month of death arrives, the night when darkness appears to conquer the sunlight—how is it that we make merry?

There is one reason. The one reason why we need not fear everything that is evil and dark. Only a Christian people could laugh during the dark night and have fun dressing up like demons. We are not afraid of these things.

Why? Because of Christ. The Light has come to the world, and the darkness has not overcome it. We Christians laugh at all the things before which pagans cower.