Saturday, October 28, 2017

Knowing, and being known

While waiting in a checkout line, I noticed the t-shirt of a man at the neighboring register.  Its starkly printed message was: “The great thing about science is that it is true whether you believe it or not.”  I chuckled mildly and said aloud, “the great thing about truth is that it is true whether you believe it or not.”  I realized that my mind had already gone someplace the t-shirt wearer probably did not care to follow, so I grinned affably and turned back to my cashier.
But how common it is to conflate science with truth.  That is a bridge too far, a claim that science would not make for itself.  Science is the pursuit of accurate description and prediction.  Accuracy presumes, but is distinct from, truth.  The accuracy of description is based on observation; witness how much science has been changed by modes of observation, such as the invention of the microscope and telescope.  The accuracy of prediction what is tested by experimentation, the fundamental work of empirical science.  Science is challenged when a situation or result is encountered that does not fit the prediction, and new theories must be proposed and experiments undertaken.  Science changes when tools change what we are able to observe accurately, and when our mind changes how we associate and understand our observations.
Witness, for example, how Newtonian physics worked perfectly well, for a while.  Then phenomena were observed that did not comport with Newtonian predictions, and Einstein had to come up with his theory of relativity to explain them.  One of the best explanations of this process by which science changes, and possibly advances, is Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Even if you have not read it, you probably recognize some of the concepts it introduced, such as paradigm shift.
The sad thing is that so many people think that the Church is opposed to science, that faith and reason are an either-or proposition.  The funny thing is that in many ways both practical and historical, science has been dependent upon not only generic “faith” but Christian faith and even Catholic faith in particular.  For a quick experiment, look around and see how much scientific development, not simply discovery but implementation and expansion, occurred in non-Christian societies.  Compare it to the growth and development of the West, that is, Christian civilization.
In his letter Fides et Ratio, Pope Saint John Paul II pointed out:  Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth - in a word, to know himself - so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.
To give a clue as to what about the Faith makes scientific exploration and discovery possible and even common, he ruminates: Whether we admit it or not, there comes for everyone the moment when personal existence must be anchored to a truth recognized as final, a truth which confers a certitude no longer open to doubt. 
There would be no purpose to exploration and experimentation if there were no truth, no reality, and no order.  There would be no quest for understanding and explanation if we human beings were not convinced that we possess the ability to discern and know what is authentic, accurate, and even true.  Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s self-revelation, in which man perceives his own nature as well as the nature of “all things visible and invisible.”  From this toe-hold, we leap to observe, to question, to know, to understand, to describe, to predict, and thence, to bring about desirable results, such as air travel and nuclear medicine.
Saint john Paul goes on to reflect, One of the most significant aspects of our current situation, it should be noted, is the "crisis of meaning." Perspectives on life and the world, often of a scientific temper, have so proliferated that we face an increasing fragmentation of knowledge. This makes the search for meaning difficult and often fruitless. Indeed, still more dramatically, in this maelstrom of data and facts in which we live and which seem to comprise the very fabric of life, many people wonder whether it still makes sense to ask about meaning. The array of theories which vie to give an answer, and the different ways of viewing and of interpreting the world of human life, serve only to aggravate this radical doubt, which can easily lead to skepticism, indifference or to various forms of nihilism. 
The sainted pontiff also famously believed, Jesus Christ is the answer to every human question.  Here is the remedy to skepticism, indifference, and nihilism.  The great thing about truth is that it is true whether you believe it or not.

Monsignor Smith

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Getting to work

Earlier this year, I mentioned how frustrating it is to see people – modern, learned people – struggling to respond to death.  They gather at night on lawns and pavilions, holding candles and swaying together in large numbers; they pile up flowers and teddy bears and notes that will never reach their addressees.    They put decals on their vehicles, erect crosses by roadsides, and find any number of ways to “honor” the dear departed.
But Christ has given us a more excellent way to respond when death robs us.  More than “honor,” we pour out love, and prayer is the form of love that pierces the veil that veils all nations (cf Is. 4).  Yes, prayer is the one work of love that is not thwarted by the separation at death.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the prayer that destroys the web that is woven over all nations, that is, death. 

Nothing any of us does, and nothing any of our beloved dead did, is enough to “win” eternal life in heaven.  Only the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Holy Cross accomplishes that.  He does this not for Himself, of course, but for us, so how are we to partake?   The fruit of this “tree” in the garden of Gethsemane is the only antidote to the deadly fruit of the tree in the center of the garden of Eden, and that sweet fruit of the Holy Cross is His life-giving Body and Blood laid upon the Altar at Mass.
We who remember, and still live, are able to apply this saving work to the benefit of our beloved dead by offering our participation in the Holy Mass for the happy repose of their souls.  It is particularly beneficial and powerful for the priest celebrant, who stands before God in persona Christi, to offer his intention in their behalf, as the priest does, for example, at a funeral Mass.   These are powerful tools in our hands; powerful works of love.
The second day of November, Thursday this year, at 7:30 in the evening, we will offer a Requiem Mass for the souls our parish has commended to the mercy of God over the past twelve months.  Looking at the list of names of the ones we have lost over just this past year, I was amazed at how many of these people were prominent members of the parish, well-known and loved.  Read through it yourself – it’s printed in the bulletin – and see if you don’t know several of them, or their family members here.  Then come, join us and their families at the altar in prayer for these souls.
Come do something for the ones who no longer can choose or do anything for themselves; the ones you love, or remember, who have died, and await their liberation.  The music will be from Gabriel Fauré’s sublime setting of the Requiem Mass, “requiem” being Latin for “rest,” as in, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.”  Jesus’ death and resurrection has left us great power in the face of death, and we should not leave that power untapped.

Click here to listen to the final movement of Fauré's Requiem, the "In paradisum"

You should also be preparing your own list of names for your All Souls intentions.  Add to your roster any of your family and friends whom you have lost this year, and maybe some others as well, such as names you pick up from the news – people you may not know personally, but whose tragic or heroic deaths moved you.  This is something you can do for them, now that they can do nothing for themselves.  You can put it in your envelope with your offering at any time from now on; it will rest on our altar with those provided by everyone else in the parish, and receive the intention of one Mass each day throughout the month.
How often do you see the inscription “Never forget” associated with the memory of people who have died?  On all Souls Day, November 2, we Catholics not only remember the dear departed, but we also do something for them. 

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Revelers great and small

It seemed to me last weekend that suddenly there were more, newer small people at Mass than I had seen previously.  It’s hard to get a count, but distributing Holy Communion and greeting folks at the doors, I saw more babies in bundles, or in buckets, some of whom were not bigger than a loaf of bread.
When visitors come to our church, it is rare that they do not marvel at the number of children and young families here.   Even regular parishioners often find occasion to remark on how loud it was at Mass on a particular Sunday, what Fr. Nick used to call the “chirping” of our small parishioners. 
In our day there are few public places left where entire families mingle freely with people of every age and state of life.  Our society has specialized, and stratified, in a way that make it rare for people to rejoice together in the full spectrum of human life in all its rambunctious glory.   Spaces are set aside for kids just like parks are designated for dogs, though perhaps not as many; and more and more other places and events operate on the expectation of “adults only.” 
This weekend, Jesus presents yet another of his parables that involves a wedding, in this case, the King’s wedding feast for his son.  Like in last week’s Gospel, there is much drama and even violence to distract us from the setting of the feast in question.  But over and over, from the time of His first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana in Galilee, Jesus associates Himself and what He brings, the Kingdom of God, with a wedding.   Both indirectly and directly, He repeatedly refers to Himself as “the Bridegroom.”  Who, then is His bride?  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:2).  His bride is the Church!
Christian marriage is a microcosm of the reality of salvation through Christ in the Church.  Saint Paul states it plainly that when a man and woman undertake marriage, they are giving their flesh to the loving exchange of the Bridegroom Christ and His bride.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church (Eph 5:31-32).  Marriage is not simply one of the seven sacraments, but is in fact foundational to the Church herself.  In some ways, a timeline could be so constructed that the sacrament of Matrimony precede Baptism, as the Christian family formed when a man and woman freely and mutually promise one another permanent love, forms the necessary home for the new life, both earthly and eternal, that their physical union brings about.
Every once in a while, somebody shows up on the grounds of the parish and asks whether they can get married in our church.  Under some circumstances, that can work out.  But our church is not just another “venue” for somebody’s “special day.”  Rather, it is the banquet hall for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, to which Christ Himself alludes this weekend, and at which He provides His very flesh as food for the feast.
So it has been a source of delight for me this year that we have seen an unusual number of weddings here for parishioners who have grown up here, or spent significant portions of their lives here, participating in this holy and glorious banquet.   Some of the bridal couples have included people I have known since childhood; perhaps not since their parents brought them here in bundles, but a very long time nonetheless.
This why we, Catholics, marry in the “banquet hall of the Lamb;” in the church, and not on a beach or on a cliff or in our backyard or in a courthouse or in a garden or while skydiving or under water.  God who created us and called us to be made new, that is, re-created by the life-giving sacrifice of His Son, also calls us to offer the sacrifice of our lives to our life partners, our spouses, before Him in His dwelling place.

It is no wonder young parents can be a little self-conscious about the squawks and cries of their little ones!  But no, it is not inappropriate for them to be here in the Holy Place, to be frolicking under the tables at the King’s banquet.  Marriage makes possible new life.  As our heavenly marriage to Christ the Bridegroom in His bride the Church gives us eternal life in the Spirit, so do our earthly espousals bring about new life in the flesh. 
So it is true, good, and beautiful for couples who have already marked their 40th, 50th, or even 60th wedding anniversary to worship close by folks who are still waiting to reach their 60th day of fresh air and sunshine.  In fact, both groups have much to offer one another in this life, and on the path to glory, where we all hope to be together in the same “hall filled with guests.”  For that is no ordinary wedding reception, and this is not just another “venue;” our King’s wedding feast for His son is not for “adults only.”

Monsignor Smith