Monday, July 7, 2014

Catholics and Death

The Butterfly is a symbol of the resurrection and new life
During my vacation the patriarch of one of the leading Catholic families at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta died.  The funeral was on a Saturday before my return, but I was still able to accompany the family in their grieve by attending one day of the "Novena por Los Disfuntos" ... nine days of prayers held in the home of the deceased after the funeral.

Every culture, sub-culture and people honor the dead in different ways and with different customs.  Even among Catholics the rituals around funerals vary from one area to another and from one country to another.   The one thing Catholics hold in common is the Mass of resurrection, which is the funeral service that celebrates the deceased loved one hope of new birth into heaven.   Our funerals are not sad events, even through sadness is very much present.   We focus on celebrating the life on earth and more importantly on the New Life in Heaven with Jesus.   We recognize our personal separation and loss of the loved one, but in hope, celebrate the loved one new life free of pain and suffering.  As the book of revelations tells us, in the final days, there "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the older order has passed away."  (Rev. 21:5)

Yet, each culture and region has some rituals that are uniquely theirs.   In rural Minnesota, where I grew up, the wake was normally three days after the death and the funeral was the next day, almost always at 10 a.m.   The wake was a more somber event with visitations most of the afternoon and evening.   The evening would  close with either a rosary or short Scripture service held at the funeral home. If there is a eulogy it is normally at this event.  The next day we would gather at the church.   The coffin would be sprinkled with Holy Water remembering the baptism of the  person.   Then a white cloth, called a pall, is draped over the coffin much as one does a flag for a soldier's funeral.   This white cloth represents the new robe for a new life just as we receive a white robe or cloth upon our earthly baptism.   Alleluias are song.   Hope and comfort is preached to those gathered.   A Easter Candle is light, again just like at baptism.   Catholics view death as our baptism into every lasting life with Christ in heaven.

The funeral  is followed immediately by burial and then everyone returns for lunch prepared by the local chapter of the Catholic Council of Women.

In East Tennessee, it is a bit different.   Here the viewing and funeral are the same evening.  Most viewing and funerals are in the funeral home, with only a few in the church itself.   The next day the immediate family and close friends gather for the burial.

Now the Catholic Mexican tradition adds a few other things to the remembrance of a loved one.  For instance, once they arrive at the funeral home they will stay through the night and not leave until the funeral Mass.  Usually the funeral Mass is held at the Church.   Then in a more traditional burial, they would often lower the casket themselves into the grave and fill in the hole themselves.   This last act is a sign of love for the departed.   It is a last act of generosity and service to the person.

This is followed by the Novena por los disfuntos (nine days of prayers for the dead).  

The man who died was married for almost 60 years to his wife.   Eight of his ten children live here in Tennessee.   Every evening they gathered in front of a memorial altar (usually a photo of the deceased and flowers) for a half hour of prayers.  In this way, they share their grieve with each other and God.   Their mother is not alone.   She is surrounded by love, in this case, by the fruits of this love:  her children, their spouses, their children and grandchildren as well as neighbors and friends.   Two important supports are offered: family and faith.  With family and faith we can get through the  toughest situation.   On earth, not much is tougher than the death of a loved one.
An example of a memorial altar

Yet, there is no need to fear death if you believe that Jesus lived, died for our sins and rose on the third day.   There is no need to fear the death if you understand that it is a painful birth into new Life:   a life free of pain and suffering, surrounded by love and peace in heaven with Jesus, Mary and all the Saints.  The pain of losing a loved one in death is real and is really tough.   Yet, with hope, family and faith, we understand that our loved one is free from pain and that one day we will be reunited in heaven.

Paul writes:   "What will separate me from the love of Christ?  ... For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. " (Romans 8:37-30).

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Missionary Priesthood

Fr. Aaron final English Mass at JP II with Fr. Steve
This past month has been a deep reflection on the meaning of missionary priesthood.  I had the  privilege to celebrate 25 years of priesthood on May 20th. Fr. Aaron, after just two short years, is moving on to his next assignment. These two events combined have allowed a month to reflect on what it means to be a missionary priest in the community of Glenmary.
Sharing a moment together after the Baptism
Graduates at BTC

There are many aspects of missionary priesthood that appear the same as any priest:  we offer Mass, administer the sacraments of baptism, communion, confession, matrimony and the anointing of the sick. We accompany folks through all sorts of challenges and joys.   So what makes this missionary call different from others? It is where, how and what of sharing Christ with others
First Communion


Our missionary priesthood is shared in rural areas of the United States only.   Three years ago neither county had a Catholic worshipping community.   Three years ago, many of the people now regulars at Sunday Mass, were not even Catholics or were not practicing on a regular bases.  Three years ago, no one in Union County,TN would imagine that three ministers from other Christian churches and the Bishop of Knoxville would gather in the downtown park with over 200 quests to celebrate a Catholic Mass of thanksgiving.   Three years ago, no Catholic priest ate lunch with High Schooler's in Grainger County or Middle Schoolers in Union County.

25th Anniversay, Fr. Steve's Parents in front
Pastor Ryan and the Bishop at the 25th Anniversary
Fr. Aaron hanging out with the youth

The fact that two priests have been in two counties where a priest never lived before does make a difference even if it is for just a few people.
Fr. Aaron's Appreciation Day

The how of priesthood is very focused on the people.   Every one has a spiritual journey, whether Catholic, Baptist, or of no faith.   A missionary priest listens, encourages and where necessary challenges.  A missionary priests engages people in their every day lives, going to sports event, visiting people in homes, talking to folks in the stores and businesses.   Every thing is done with the hope that by your presence folks encounter a loving Jesus who wants to be not only their Savior, but also, their brother.
Sing to the Lord

The how means trying to promote the reign of God in the full community beyond the Catholic church walls.  Thus, time spent in helping feed the poor, promoting immigration reform, and searching for ways to help people avoid addictions, especially to drugs and alcohol are part of the life.  The how is any way in which being a friend, a guide or a healer for another can be done in the Spirit of Christ, we will try.

Food for those in need
What we bring is no different than what any one else brings, except for one factor.   We bring the Word of God and the joy of a life lived for Christ.   We share the sacraments and our Catholic tradition.   So, too, however, does every minister, lay, ordained or religious.   The one factor we bring that no else can bring is the  person.  I bring Fr. Steve and Fr. Aaron brings himself.  We are different individuals from different families, different histories, and different journeys.   The gift of who we are with our strengths and weaknesses is what we bring.   A friend once told me that they only common thread among Glenmarians is that there is no common threads.   We are a community of unique individuals, with strong personalities, unafraid to be ourselves, happily creative and willing to take a chance in order to give all we got for the sake of Jesus, the Kingdom of God and the folks we encounter.
Dancing with Mom
Texting Mom?

So I am very grateful for the gifts of missionary priesthood Fr. Aaron brought to Union and Grainger County.  Likewise, I am grateful for 25 years of service of priesthood in Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee as well as various places beyond.  I am grateful for the Glenmary community.   Most of all, I am grateful to Jesus Christ for loving me, dying for me, forgiving me and saving me.   Hey, what could be greater?

Friday, May 2, 2014

He is Risen

Happy Easter!!
I know Easter is almost three weeks past, yet, I am still celebrating the blessings of Holy Week and what has followed.   I really tried to make a slide show of all the beautiful pictures of that special week but was unable to figure it out with my limited computer skills.   Therefore, my faithful reader, you will just have to savor the few that I will post.
Fr. Aaron on Palm Sunday at BTC


During Lent we prepared for Easter with the Way of the Cross which included praying this on two pieces of land that will host our future church buildings.  On Good Friday this was done as a living way of the Cross.
Way of the Cross on the land in Rutledge
Practice and Prayer of Way of the Cross in Rutledge
Good Friday Way of the Cross at Central Point
Jesus falls the first time
   Prior to this was Holy Thursday which reminds us of the great gift of Jesus in His Body and Blood.   The washing of the feet and then the adoration of the Eucharist are deeply moving moments.   When we take communion, the Body of Christ, we become that body of Christ.   Therefore we are to serve Him and His Kingdom.  This is worth time spent in adoration and reflection before the Real Presence of Christ reserved in the tabernacle.
Adoration Altar for Holy Thursday at JP II
Holy Thursday Adoration at BTC

The Easter Vigil was tremendous.   I celebrated at St. John Paul II (formally known as Blessed) where Forest became Catholic, two more adults received confirmation, and four children where baptized, three which became full members.  Fr. Aaron celebrated the Vigil at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta where over 14 people received sacraments, this included infant baptisms, adult baptisms, and conversions to the Catholic Faith.   We were really blessed by many acts of faith.
The Easter Light
Waiting for Baptism

These two were confirmed
The Blessing of the Easter Water
Forest is Confirmed and becomes Catholic

Now Easter Continues with new life and new blessings.   The Month of May will be one of many celebrations and many new developments.   Hopefully, you will not need to wait a full month to discover them.  

This family were baptized, confirmed and three received their first communion
Thanks for your patience with the tardiness of this blog and may these photos remind you of a precious week passed.

Volunteers teaching folks how to make rosaries
Volunteers help the week after Easter

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lent Continues

Lent is a time to grow, to change and to discover.  In these five weeks many silent blessings have been poured upon our small communities of faith.  Here are four events which due to planning them has delayed my "blogging".
Listening to the word of God

We continue to make plans for a future church building for both missions.   Saturday March 29 we blessed the property at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission in Maynardville, followed by our third meeting.  Also, in the afternoon we planned to do a Rosary March around the property of Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge, but the weather said otherwise.   Therefore, we prayed under a tent and in the car; yet, the land was blessed.

Blessing of Land for Blessed Teresa of Caclutta
Rosary and Blessing of Land for JP II














On Thursday, April 3, the ninth anniversary of the death of our Beloved Blessed John Paul II, we held a day of adoration.   All the Catholic Churches of the Five River's Deanery have been host a day of Adoration in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  This was a beautiful day with parishioners spending time with the Lord in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Adoration

Adoration at JP II
On Saturday, April 5, the Bishop came to Blessed John Paul II and confirmed two youth and offered communion to one Adult.   There was to be another adult present for confirmation, but he was celebrating of birth of Child # five.   I think that was an very acceptable excuse!!  Bishop Stika is very supportive of our mission efforts here.   He has provided financial help, approved the purchase of our new properties from the foundation, and was extremely supportive of the folks at Blessed John Paul II.
Greeting Guadalupe before making his First Communion
Amy from BTC and Shannon from JPII for confirmation
Bishop Stika with ministers and those who received sacraments

Finally,  we just completed a three day ecumenical revival entitled "That They All May Be One."   It was a beautiful experience.   We  began at Rutledge Baptist Church with the Methodist preacher providing the message and the Catholic Choir providing the music.   The second night folks came to Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission with our Spanish Choir providing special music and the Baptist preacher providing the message.   The third night was hosted by Rutledge Methodist Church with the Baptist's providing the music and I presented the message.   The unity that the Spirit revived in each of our churches was beautiful.   It was a wonderful way to prepare for Holy Week.
Pastor Ryan praying at the Catholic Mission
Socializing after the Mission
Pastor Chan of the Baptist Church praying
Fr. Steve reading Scripture
Baptist Choir singing at Methodist Church

Next week at both churches several people will be baptized, receive their first Holy Communion and be Confirmed.   Look for more sharing on this great event later.   For now, as we conclude, please offer a prayer for all those coming into the Church this Easter Vigil.   May you, my faithful reader, have a very blessed Easter!!
Some of those preparing to enter the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil