Thursday, July 21, 2011


The emotional buzz-word supporting the execution of criminals convicted of capital crimes is "closure," in the sense that the families of the victims cannot find "peace" until the perpetrator is dead.

Texas has recently given us a twist on this theme:  the "closure" sought by a victim is rejected in favor of execution.  Why is this?  Whose "justice" is being sacrificed?  What kinds of "rehabilitation" are being rejected?  Why are forgiveness and reconciliation and conversion less important than what might fairly be seen (rightly or wrongly) as state-sanctioned blood lust? 

If the survivor of this rampage was able to find peace and closure through forgiveness, in fact producing in the criminal a seeming change of heart, opening them to the possibility of reconciliation:  what is there left for the State to do, to ensure "justice"?

We are better than this...

Sunday, July 17, 2011


It is hard for me to think of another man whose dedication has spared more bloodshed than any single other person other than Nelson Mandela.  His 93rd birthday is a triumph for the principle of reconciliation and forgiveness in the post-apartheid era of South Africa.  He, along with Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu (and, less famously, Catholic Archbishop of Durban, Denis Hurley),  established the idea that retribution (aka, a bloodbath) was not the way of the future for their nation.  No better recipients for the Nobel Peace Prize could be found.

Here is a vision that could have been turned into hatred during the years of imprisonment he endured; instead, he became a statesman in the fullest and best sense of the term, making a State of his country that people could admire.

Is everything perfect in South Africa?  No--it is not "paradise" by any stretch.  Unemployment, rampant HIV/AIDS and other social ills plague the country.  But it is also the country that created and modeled for the world the "Truth and Reconciliation Commissions" that allowed the people there to side-step the evils of the kind of violence that erupted, for example, in Rwanda (and in a different way in Sudan). 

What Would Jesus Do?" (WWJD) has been a popular mantra for many who (honestly) never had to face a life-threatening challenge to their faith.  Nelson Mandela showed us in practice what Jesus would do:  he led his nation in the ways of the Sermon on the Mount--turning the other cheek, loving one's enemies, going the 2nd mile, doing good to those who persecute; forgiving "70 times 7 times" (yes, I'm aware that this last example isn't from Matt 5-7; it still applies).

Do politics and religion mix?  Should they?  Here's a powerful answer, as well as powerful challenge.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Abbreviations are a part of life—ask anyone who is addicted to texting—and a part of death. There are many kinds of abbreviations to be found in cemeteries: on headstones or monuments, in Roman necropolises and catacombs, and so on.

An abbreviation frequently seen in Roman funerary monuments is DM, Diis Manibus, an invocation to the gods of the lower world, asking for gentleness and mercy for the person whose remains are in this spot (I write in this way because for most of the first centuries after Christ pagan Roman practice typically was cremation). Christians, it turns out, adopted this shorthand as well—evidently it had become so much a standard (I almost said cliché) that its pagan meaning was pretty well dissolved.

Another inscription often seen is DOM, Deo Optimo Maximo—to God the greatest and highest. Originally this was a title for Jupiter in the Roman pantheon of deities. A temple to Jupiter under this title was built on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. This site is very near to the location of the huge white marble monument to Vittorio Emmanuele II, which also bears tribute to the “Unknown Italian Soldier” with its eternal flame and honor guard (much like Arlington National Cemetery).
Again, Christians had no problem adopting this title for the Judaeo-Christian God, and it was sometimes also applied to Christ, when the translation offered was Domino Optimo Maximo, to the Lord (Jesus) as opposed to God in the "pure" sense).

Of much greater familiarity to most of us is the famous RIP, Requiescat In Pace, may he/she rest in peace. In translation it is used as a significant part of the Rite of Commendation in Catholic funerals.

All of this leads me to a slight twist, for this past Sunday I spent a good part of the late morning and early afternoon in cemeteries in Chicago. I always say that visiting here is not typically what I do first, but it is always “Job 1” on my list of things to do. The drill is very simple: I bring flowers, and I go to Fairmount first because it is nearer. There are my Mom’s parents’ and my sister-in-law’s parents’ graves. I trim the grass around the headstones, wash them a bit, place the flowers, and pray commendation prayers for each of them. Then I head to Resurrection, where most of my Dad’s family is buried. But I go to my parents’ and baby brother’s graves. I perform the same ritual, but with an addition: I open up a lawn chair, facing the graves and under a tree, and pray a Rosary for them. And in all the times I’ve done this (six years now) this is the moment of greatest peace for me. And in this sense I live the RIP on the headstones with another meaning—it is the peace promised by Jesus in the “Farewell Discourse” of John’s Gospel, the peace the world cannot give, the peace we are to offer each other before we receive the Lord in the Eucharist at Mass.

In whatever way, I hope everyone can find a special place of peace to rest in sometimes. It is the goal of all retreats, after all, and Jesus understood this need. After the disciples returned from a missionary expedition, He said to them, “Let’s go away by ourselves and rest for a while.” Of course it didn’t work out that way for Jesus (crowds followed), but He understood (and understands) what is important. I am glad that I have such places to go to sometimes, but Resurrection Cemetery is far and away the place where I can best “rest in peace,” even if only for a couple of hours.

This is a "companion piece" of sorts to the post previous; it is also on the "Pastor's Corner" portion of the parish's web-site:  www.oursaviorparish.orgCheck out that site for different bits of writing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


It’s a bit morbid, perhaps, especially on this weekly celebration of the Resurrection, but doing my power-walking in St Mary’s Cemetery in Evergreen Park (where I’ve run/walked for 20+ years in the summers) leads me to reflections on my own mortality (which we all share, needless to say, even when we steadfastly choose to ignore the fact). Driving to and from my sister’s house in Rockford yesterday on the Tri-State Toll-way, I-290, and the Northwest Toll-way only encourages this line of thinking!

Death is the great equalizer, the ecumenicist of existence, the arbiter of ethnic conflicts. In this cemetery, virtually side-by-side, one can find names like Kovacic, Rodriguez, Aylward, Moynihan, Steib, Matusek, or Cavallini. All with headstones marked either DOM or RIP or some other phrase of hope and prayerful love (“Together forever” for a married couple, for example). Some of these graves are full-fledged family mausoleums; others are monuments or simple headstones. And there is an entire section of cemetery-maintained mausoleums, as well.

So: how would I want my remains be dealt with? Or how will they (whether I want it or not) in fact be laid to rest? So many options—
Would I prefer interment or cremation, and why?
Would I want a mausoleum or a grave?
What would I want on the headstone that would mark who I have been and am?
Where would the funeral and burial take place?
Who would come? Who would preside/preach? What would be sung?

Bl Charles de Foucauld had a number of “mottos,” and one especially stands out as appropriate for my meditation: Live today as though you were going to die this evening. Many sacristies have a similar exhortation to priests: Celebrate this Mass as though it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.

Epitaphs are notoriously tricky, but I think that (beyond my name and dates) I would like this quote from St Monnica (yes, that’s how she spelled it; her tomb in Sant' Agostino church in Rome is pictured above), found in her son’s Confessions:
…all I ask is that wherever you may be, you will remember me at the Lord’s altar.

And in the long run, this is really enough, after all.

Enjoy the excerpt from Gabriel Faure's heavenly Requiem...

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Being “World Mission Sunday,” many parishes have guest preachers in their sanctuaries to speak about the history, successes and failures, and prospects of the missionary activity of the Church throughout the world.

Of course there is the traditional 2nd collection for World Missions; some folks think that offering a bit of cash is what is expected of them in this regard. How wrong they (we) are!

The key is language. The Mass ends with the words (in Latin): Ite, missa est. A reasonable translation of this is: Go, it is the sending. Paraphrased: Let’s go—it’s mission-time!

One can easily see that the words “Mass” and “mission” are related in their etymology. We send all kinds of types at Our Savior during Sunday Eucharist: children for “Children’s Liturgy of the Word,” RCIA catechumens (often with candidates), special ministers of Holy Communion to the sick, families receiving the Elijah Cup for prayer for vocations… Then the whole congregation is sent out.

Mass is the time of fueling up in order to be sent out.

We, every one of us, have a mission: to spread the Good News to others by the quality of our lives in Christ. If you like, the overall “mission” of the Church (its reason for existence) is not so much to be a haven for those who are (or who want to be) saved, as some triumphalists would like to think; it is not so much a hospital for the spiritually wounded, as St Augustine described it; rather, it is a training ground for “guerilla warfare” against the only Enemy who really matters. And even if all are not majors or colonels or generals, we’re all (at least) NCOs who have enlisted to defeat this Enemy.

Here is the mission of the Church: to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and at the same time undercut and defeat the Bad News of the Enemy. Again, this is done primarily by “crying the Gospel with our lives” (Bl Charles de Foucauld).

If the words of Jesus are true (“You have not chosen Me; I have chosen you…”), then we are not only sent, we have also beforehand been called. And we have said YES (with one level of enthusiasm/commitment or another)—so we have been given the uniform and are now part of the action.
We don’t have to earn a Silver Star; we just must not go AWOL…

Happy Sunday, fellow-Missionaries!!

Pictured above: the right arm of the greatest of all Jesuit missionaries, enshrined in Il Gesù in Rome).