Sunday, November 4, 2007

Choose Life!

Resurrection Day N° 3

The other day on the Solemnity of All Saints (Nov.1) my friend Marion came beaming out of the chapel after Mass. She greeted me saying, “Well, Father, today is the Third Feast of the Resurrection: Easter, the Assumption, and now our day, All Saints!” She stressed the singular purpose demonstrated in the lives of the saints, their longing to be with God and to share life with Christ in the glory of the Resurrection.

On All Souls Day the breviary reading from St. Ambrose struck me in an extraordinary way. Starting from a St. Paul quote (in shorthand: “Life for me is Christ and death is so much gain”), in that homily the great archbishop of Milan urges, among other things, to keep the thought of death a constant part of our life so as not to be carried away by the illusion that life to the full is to be found this side of the grave. I asked those at Mass that morning not to lose the opportunity that day or at some point during the month of November, in which we pray for those who have died while yet in need of the refinement that only the “fuller’s fire” of Purgatory can provide such that they can come before the Lord as pure gold, to share their devotion for the Poor Souls with some young person or child. Even after a millennium and a half St. Ambrose is still capable of inspiring people to realize what is at stake if you or someone you love sells out to “virtuality” or gets lost in the virtual world, whether of the internet or TV or the magazine rack.

Yesterday the Church celebrated St. Martin de Porres. When you think about it, this saint is an eloquent witness for us today. He was born of a forbidden union between a Spanish conquistador and an Afro woman of slave descent. What many might have considered a powerful disadvantage, to say the least, in Martin became a point of contact for him and a supernatural inspiration for the lowly and the “powers that be” whose lives he touched, because of his great humility and unbounded charity, both of which were fueled by his passion for Jesus Crucified and for the Holy Eucharist.

Last evening I made a futile attempt to watch Mel Gibson’s film Apocalypto, but I soon switched it off because I found his art too close to life and what he was saying about the “culture of death” (to use an expression of Pope John Paul II) frightfully insistent. Even the brief encounter inspired some thoughts however.

I remembered what people told me back in the late 1990’s in Bonn, Germany about the elderly people from Holland who had fled almost like refugees to the neighborhood of Kevelaer in Germany for their retirement, to escape the devastation of the Dutch Catholic Church and in the Marian Shrine at Kevelaer find something closer to the religion of their youth. They also fled in fear from Holland’s euthanasia laws, not trusting the State, their children or other relatives who might be tempted to “put them to sleep” should they lose consciousness for a moment. What started in Holland has spread to many places around the globe.

The Holy Father made headlines the other day in a talk to pharmacists by urging what the papers referred to as conscientious objection or civil disobedience by pharmacists in the face of the push to impose what is commonly referred to as the “morning after pill” as a part of emergency room protocol for rape victims. The Aztecs tried to maintain hegemony over a vast region by sacrificing their neighbors, tearing out their hearts, ostensibly to assure that the sun would rise and the rain would fall. An unreflective cross-section of humanity would choose the death of the unwanted child or elderly person to assure their own continuance, sanity or comfort. You can be sure that St. Martin de Porres would have no part of such an approach to life and neighbor.

Two Halloween stories have come my way. The first is from the rector of Sacred Heart Seminary in the old city center of Detroit, Michigan. He told me they were expecting 4,000 children at a Halloween party which has remained popular for years in an inner city where tension and conflict are everyday affairs. We seek safety, life and celebration; we intuitively seek community and all things good, especially for our children.

The other story is actually told by my Mother! Her neighborhood has become the Halloween place to go for parents with small children in that town. Whether the treats are better than elsewhere in Hutch no one is saying. What seems to be true is that people find safety and society in likeminded numbers and wish thereby to assure their children a nice Halloween experience.

When given a chance, be it in the inner city or in a small town environment, people choose life and community. Perhaps because they are caught in a world of illusion they may not get beyond providing for a nice Halloween experience for their children, a Merry Christmas and a series of great getaways or vacations in the course of the year. Nonetheless, the will to life and happiness is there.

St. Martin de Porres could perhaps have openly decried, condemned or explicitly abhorred the injustices and cruelty both toward himself and others in his day and time. He chose to focus on Christ and find nourishment in the Eucharist. Martin was so satisfied by the love of God which came to him in prayer that he had love and strength for doctoring, serving, counseling and loving others whether they loved or respected him or not. “Martin, the charitable” brightened and transformed his world. He was not a victim but rather a protagonist in God’s plan for the salvation of the world.

The “red carpet” Aztecs of our own day and time would love to sell us on the salvation procured through the cutting and pasting done to their bodies by their Beverly Hills plastic surgeons and the seemingly lifelike glow bestowed by their tanning experts. Personal training schemes seem to be more and more the order of the day. Neither have they found the fountain of youth nor can we share their joy over the removal of loose skin, the tightening of that chin or whatever else it is that they have had done to themselves and at a price. They fool themselves and no one else in ignoring Saints Paul and Ambrose: life for me is Christ and death is so much gain.

November is a Catholic month with a mission as we beg the Lord to purify our loved ones and other poor souls in Purgatory for the fullness of life and light in the Resurrection. As you visit your parish church or local cemetery with this intention, see if you can’t free a little hand from the mouse, the joystick or the channel changer which holds them bound and take him or her along on an adventure into freedom and into life, real life which has no end.

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