Monday, January 9, 2017

Careful, I’m Armed!

                Armigerous, to be more precise.  To honor my fiftieth year on this planet, I adopted a coat of arms.  How all of that came about was nothing short of a spiritual journey, which I will share in a subsequent post.  For the time being, I present my coat of arms for your amusement, and an explanation of the significance of its elements for your edification.  The arms were designed by me and Susi Galloway, and this particular rendition was created by Marco Foppoli.  For those new to the field, the blazon is the official description of a coat of arms in the language of heraldry.


The Coat of Arms of
Deacon Michael Andrew Meyer

Blazon: Per saltire Argent, first and fourth Sable, second Gules three bezants, third Gules a fleur de lis Or; overall a sword in pale Argent hilted and pommeled Or point inflamed proper upwards.

Above the escutcheon is placed a broad-brimmed, untassled galero Sable and the cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Motto: Fides et Ratio

Significance: Deacon Meyer’s coat of arms is composed of a field divided into alternate black (Sable) and red (Gules) quarters.  The dominant features on the shield are the flaming sword and the saltire (X-shaped cross).  The flaming sword is a symbol of Saint Michael the Archangel, while the silver (Argent) saltire is a symbol of Saint Andrew the Apostle.  The flame itself is a symbol of light and enlightenment, the Hebrew word for which is meier (מֵאִיר).  These three symbols together cant (sing) Deacon Meyer’s name: Michael Andrew Meyer.

          Each device on the shield holds several meanings for Deacon Meyer.  The sword signifies the Word of God as described in scripture:  “Indeed, the word of God is alive and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12)  The flame, which appears in the coat of arms of the Diocese of Metuchen, where Deacon Meyer was ordained and serves, is a symbol of charity.  The flaming sword is a symbol of justice and order.  Thus, the flaming sword, in its components and as a whole, reflects the three duties (munera) of the order of deacons – proclaiming the Word of God, exercising Charity, and maintaining order in Liturgy.  The flame also serves as a nod to Saint Lawrence, the patron saint of deacons, who was martyred on a grill over an open fire.

          In the right (dexter) quarter of the shield (the left side from the viewer’s perspective), are three bezants (gold byzantine coins), a symbol of Saint Nicholas on whose feast day Deacon Meyer was born.  The three coins also recall for Deacon Meyer the treasures of the church – faith, hope and love – and the treasures of his life – his wife and two daughters.  In the left (sinister) quadrant of the shield (the right side from the viewer’s perspective), is a gold (Or) fleur de lis.  The fleur de lis, which appears in the coat of arms of Immaculate Conception Church, Annandale, NJ, where Deacon Meyer ministers, is a symbol of the Blessed Mother, to whom Deacon Meyer has a particular devotion.  It is also an ancient symbol of the Levites – the servants of the Jewish Temple after whom the order of deacons is modeled and the tribe from which Deacon Meyer’s wife is descended.

          The colors of the shield hold special meaning for Deacon Meyer as well.  Black, silver and red are the colors of the coat of arms of Saint Thomas More, the patron Saint of lawyers, Deacon Meyer’s profession.  Black, red, silver and gold also honor Deacon Meyer’s parents and ancestors, as these colors appear in the coats of arms of the regions from which they originated:  Rhineland, Germany, Hamburg, Germany, Reggio-Calabria, Italy and County Mayo, Ireland.

          For his motto, Deacon Meyer uses the Latin phrase, “FIDES ET RATIO,” which means “FAITH AND REASON.”  The motto is taken from Saint John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical of the same title, reflecting Deacon Meyer’s firm conviction that “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”  The colors of the shield subtly reflect this motto, with the gold and red light of faith complementing the black and white nature of reason (silver is often depicted as white on a coat of arms).

          The achievement is completed with external ornaments: an untassled. black clerical hat, called a “galero,” representing the diaconate in the hierarchy of the clergy, and the red Jerusalem cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, in which Deacon Meyer holds the rank of Knight Commander.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Epiphanies

Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi, 1423
           On January 11, 1985, I had an epiphany.  My Uncle Jerry had died unexpectedly that morning, and I was feeling sad, angry and confused.  Sitting alone in my room, I had a sudden and profound realization that I had to choose:  I could believe, as I had been taught, that Jesus Christ suffered and died for us so that we could have eternal life with God; or I could live in disbelief.  I knew that there was no middle ground; it was either or.  If I chose to believe, then Uncle Jerry now lived in the peace of Christ, and I would see him again.  If I chose not to believe, he was gone forever.  I chose to believe.  On January 11, 1985, I had an epiphany, just like the magi did in today’s Gospel.  
      
          Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord.  The word epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia (ἐπιφάνεια), which means appearing, manifestation or glorious display.  So on the Feast of the Epiphany we celebrate “the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world.”[1]  On this Feast, the Eastern and Western Churches acknowledge three particular events as epiphanies of Jesus:  His physical manifestation to the gentiles when the magi visit from the East – today’s Gospel; his manifestation as the second person of the Divine Trinity at his Baptism by John in the Jordan; and his self-manifestation at the Wedding of Cana.  Of course, every moment of Jesus’ life on earth was a manifestation of his messianic purpose, and he continues to appear to us as Son of God and Savior of the world every day, inviting us to follow him.  The question, then, is:  How do we respond to these epiphanies?

             The Scottish theologian William Barclay proposes three possible responses to an epiphany of Jesus as the Christ.[2]  With your indulgence, I will add a fourth (not that you have a choice).  We’ll start with mine.  One response to an epiphany of Christ is curiosity.  We see this response in the magi who come searching for Jesus asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”  We also see it in Herod, who assembles the chief priests and scribes to find out where the Christ was to be born and asks the magi to “bring me word” when they find him.  Curiosity is an essential initial response to any epiphany if that epiphany is to have its intended impact.  Without curiosity on our part, the epiphany goes nowhere.  It’s up to us.  So we have to ask ourselves:  Do we question, consider and contemplate the epiphanies in our lives, or do we ignore them or regard them with utter indifference?  Indifference is the response that Professor Barclay identifies in the chief priests and scribes.

           After ascertaining the location of the Messiah’s birth, the chief priests and scribes did nothing.  “It did not make the slightest difference to them.  They were so engrossed in their Temple ritual and legal discussions that they completely disregarded Jesus.  He meant nothing to them.”[3]  They had been told that the Christ had been born.  That’s a pretty big deal.  They determined the place of his birth.  That’s a pretty big accomplishment.  Then, they did nothing.  Pope Benedict comments that “it is remarkable that [Herod’s] Scripture experts do not feel prompted to take any practical steps as a result.”[4]  The response of the chief priests and scribes compels us to ask ourselves:  How often are we indifferent to the manifestations of Christ in our lives?  Are we so caught up in our own affairs that Jesus means nothing to us?

          Professor Barclay next identifies hatred and hostility as possible responses to an epiphany of Christ.[5]  We find this response in the words of Scripture that tell us that “[w]hen King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled and all of Jerusalem with him.”  Herod saw the newborn king of the Jews as a threat to his own sovereignty, so he responded with hatred and hostility, seeking to have Jesus killed.  The people of Jerusalem saw the news of the birth of the messiah as a disturbance in their daily lives that they met with hatred, hostility and even fear, rejecting Jesus from the outset.  The responses of hatred and hostility are particularly evident today as Christians are martyred for the faith or dismissed out-of-hand for asserting beliefs that are founded in Christ’s teachings.  The fact is that “God disturbs our comfortable day-to-day experience.”[6]  Epiphanies do just that.  So we have to ask ourselves:  Will we respond to God’s disturbing epiphanies with hatred and hostility, or will we respond as the magi did?

           The most fitting response to an epiphany of Christ in our lives is adoration.  “[W]hen we become aware of the love of God in Jesus Christ, we, too, should be lost in wonder, love and praise,”[7] just as the magi were.  In the original Greek, “[t]he wise men do a proskynesis before the royal child, that is to say, they throw themselves onto the ground before him.”[8]  You didn’t know you’d be fluent in Biblical Greek after this homily, did you?  Proskynesis (προσκύνησις) is the only homage worthy of a divine king.  So again we have to ask ourselves: When we experience epiphanies of Christ in our lives, do our hearts throb and overflow as Isaiah tells us they will in our first reading?  When we acknowledge the gift of eternal life in Christ, do we accept the stewardship of God’s grace and use our gifts in the service of the Gospel, as Saint Paul did in our second reading?  When we find the Son of God lying in the manger or reposing in the Tabernacle, do we come and adore him?  Do we respond to the epiphanies in our lives like the chief priests and scribes, like Herod or like the magi? 

          I’ve been blessed with many epiphanies of Christ in my life, but I can’t say that I responded like the magi did every time.  Certain epiphanies stand out as particularly profound and transformative, though.  I’ve found Christ manifest in the order and beauty of the cosmos on a crisp, star-studded night in the Catskills.  I’ve felt Christ truly present in the Eucharist as I’ve elevated the chalice at Mass.  I’ve seen the passion of Christ played out in the sunken eyes of a beggar woman in Bangalore India.  I suspect that I might have disregarded all of these epiphanies, or maybe even greeted them with hostility, if it hadn’t been for the epiphany I experienced some thirty years ago.  On January 11, 1985, I chose to believe that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and my life has been all the happier for it.




[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church 528.
[2] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) at 34-35.
[3] Id. at 35.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth:  The Infancy Narratives (New York, Random House, 2012) at 105.
[5] Barclay at 35.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI at 103.
[7] Barclay at 35.
[8] Pope Benedict XVI at 106.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Morning


                It’s amazing to think how much Christmas morning has changed during my lifetime.  From the lyrical tiny tot with my eyes all aglow of my earliest Christmas mornings, to the whiny snot with my eyes all a-glare of my skeptical, present-hungry teenager years, from my first Christmas with my wife, where every gift seemed to be an ornament emblazoned with “Our First Christmas,” to the lump-in-the-throat blessing of watching our own small children explode with excitement at the sight of their presents under the tree, it seems like every Christmas morning of my 51 years has been somewhat different. 

                Some things about Christmas mornings have been constant over the years, though.  I’ve been fortunate to have been “home for Christmas” every year, no matter where home may have been at the time.  I’m blessed with family and friends who, though not always physically present on Christmas morning, always extend their Christmas greetings via cards, phone calls and now texts and social media postings.   Last, and certainly not least, I have received socks and chocolate every Christmas for about as long as I can remember.  My family obviously knows me well as a heavy user of both – dark chocolate, if you’re taking notes.  All of these things, of course, could change, so I cherish them every year while they last. 

There is one thing about Christmas morning that will never change – the unwavering feature of every Christmas since the first:  On Christmas morning “a child is born, a son is given: and the government shall rest upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called  Wonder Counselor, mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”  (Isaiah 9:6)  Every Christmas morning, God’s Word is made flesh and dwells among us to share in our humanity so that we may come to share in his divinity.  Every Christmas morning, indeed, every day of our lives, the birth of the Christ Child offers us a new dawn, a new beginning, a second, third or even fourth chance.  In short, the birth of the Christ Child offers us hope. 

          My wish for you and your families on this Christmas morning is that the hope of the Christ Child may always be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.  Have a Blessed Christmas Morning, now and all the days of your life.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Mourning

                While skating through various social media outlets, I found several posts nestled among the eggnog recipes, glittery angel babies and videos of tiny tots with their eyes all aglow that didn’t fit the typical holiday mold.  They were sad posts:  posts about missing loved ones, holiday depression and dreading Christmas.  It seems like 2016 has been particularly hard on people for lots of reasons.  It seems like a lot of people are dealing with Christmas mourning.

                From the commercials, to the decorations, from the parties to the caroling, everything about Christmas tells us that we’re supposed to be happy.  But life can be tough, and the challenges of life don’t go on holiday just because it’s Christmas.  I’m sure we’ve all experienced Christmas mourning at one time or another:  perhaps the first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, or during a persistent illness; maybe when we couldn’t afford Christmas gifts because money was tight, or a time when we spent Christmas alone.  The fact is, Christmas isn’t necessarily the “Hap-, Happiest Season of All” for everyone.

                So what do we do about Christmas mourning?  Well, a good first step is to acknowledge that Christmas mourning is real.  People really suffer – even on Christmas – and it’s ok not to be jolly every second of the day from Santa’s arrival in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade until the Magi depart for their own land on Epiphany.  Whether self-imposed or foisted upon us by the well-meaning chap at the company holiday party who can think of nothing better to say than, “Cheer up; it’s Christmas”, the expectation to be happy only exacerbates our woes.  We need to give ourselves and others a break and accept that it’s OK to mourn every once in a while, even if that once in a while may fall on Christmas.

                Second, we should honor our Christmas mourning.  When I was in Deacon School, we were taught that we need to honor every emotion because every emotion is legitimate.  If you’re mad, be mad; if you’re sad, be sad; give each emotion its due.  We take the time to honor our emotions so we don’t repress them in an unhealthy way.  Honoring our emotions, whatever they may be, helps us to deal with them, put them in proper perspective and not allow them to dominate our lives.  Christmas is no different, and in my experience, there’s nothing more therapeutic than having a good cry while the choir sings Silent Night during Midnight Mass!  

Third, and most importantly, we need to remember that we’re not alone.  Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation of the Christ – the moment in history when God humbled himself to share in our humanity, to prove that he is “God with us.”  In Jesus, God shares the fullness of the human experience:  mourning, weeping, suffering, pain and death included.  We’re never alone in our suffering, not just because others are suffering too, but because God himself suffered for us and with us in Jesus Christ.  What a blessing it is to have a God who loves us so much that he joins us in our suffering.  Aligning our suffering with Christ’s passion and death turns our attention to the glory of his resurrection – our sure hope that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

I'm not in a proverbial “bad place” this year, but I know a few people who are.  To them I say, I understand, but God understands perfectly.  Rest assured that a certain poor deacon will be offering his Midnight Mass for your Christmas mourning and may even join you in a good cry while the choir sings Silent Night

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:  come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.  Amen

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Personal Invitation

          In the best-selling novel The Shack, by William Paul Young, Mack Phillips goes for a walk with Jesus.  Along the way, Mack awkwardly comments that Jesus isn’t quite what he had imagined.  He thought Jesus would be, well, better looking.  Jesus laughed and said, “Once you really get to know me, it won’t matter to you.”[1]  Jesus extended a personal invitation to Mack to really get to know him.  Today’s readings teach us that Jesus offers that same personal invitation to each one of us, too.

          In our Gospel passage, John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he’s the Messiah, the one who is to come.  Jesus doesn’t offer a simple yes or no answer – he never does.  Rather, he invites John’s disciples to listen to his words and watch what he does so they can decide for themselves.  Each disciple must come to his own conclusion about whether Jesus is the one they’re waiting for.[2]  So Jesus extends to each one of them a personal invitation to really get to know him, to enter into a personal relationship with him. 

          The human experience can best be described as a journey.  We’re always seeking:  seeking truth; seeking justice; seeking peace; seeking love.  In other words, we’re always seeking God.  Whether we admit it or not, “[t]he deepest desire of the heart is to be connected with God,”[3] because it’s only in God that we’ll find all of these things in their perfection.  When we accept anything less, we’re dissatisfied, and we keep on seeking.  But when we enter into a personal relationship with God, we find exactly what we’re looking for, which is exactly what we need.  That’s what Saint Augustine meant when he said, “Our heart is restless until it rests in Thee.”[4]

          God never stops extending a personal invitation to each one of us to enter into a personal relationship with him – to really get to know him.  So much so that he came to us in human form (albeit apparently not a very good looking human form).  God came in human form so that we could better relate with him and through that relationship share in God’s eternal life.  “Eternal life is a relational event.  Man did not acquire it from himself or for himself alone.”[5]  In the incarnation, humanity and divinity are joined in perfect relationship.  “Through relationship with the one who is himself life, man too comes alive.”[6]  As our first reading and Gospel tell us, through relationship with Jesus, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap and the mute rejoice in joyful song.

Now, it’s true that God personally invites each one of us into relationship with him, but God doesn’t force that relationship on us.  Whether or not we accept that invitation is our choice.  Our challenge is that a relationship with God through Jesus today is necessarily a spiritual relationship– it’s not physical or tangible.  We don’t have the benefit that the Apostles had of seeing Jesus with our own eyes, hearing him with our own ears, and touching him with our own hands.  So God can seem distant; Jesus, mythical; and the Holy Spirit, ethereal.  In the absence of concrete evidence of God’s presence in our lives, we look elsewhere, and we wander.  We wander into the mistaken belief that truth is found only in libraries and laboratories, justice in the courthouse, peace in the halls of government, and love in a puppy, and we’re never satisfied.  Unless and until we take that proverbial leap of faith, unless and until we enter into personal relationship with the one who never stops inviting us, we will never know true happiness.  

So how do we enter into a personal relationship with God?  Well, the first step is to move beyond the images and stories that form our basic understanding of God and invite God into every corner of our lives.  We need to include God in every conversation with our neighbor; thank God for every blessing in our lives; lean on God through every hardship; rejoice with God in every triumph; lead God into the deepest, darkest recesses of our lives and let him carry us out freed from every burden, cleansed of every sin and filled with his everlasting love.  When we consciously invite God into our lives, we’ll soon realize that he’s been there the whole time; we just weren’t paying attention to him.  Like every relationship, building a relationship with God takes time and patience, as Saint James warns us in our second reading.  But I can assure you, the rewards are out of this world.

          That’s what Mack discovered during his walk with Jesus.  Once Mack accepted God’s personal invitation to really get to know him, he realized that what he  knew about Jesus was only an icon, an ideal, an image through which he tried to grasp spirituality, but not the real person who loved him with God’s eternal, boundless love.  By entering into a personal relationship with Jesus, “Mack felt more clean and alive and well than he had since . . . well, he couldn’t remember when.”[7]  God is inviting you into a personal relationship with him, too.  Will you accept?

Readings:  Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5: 7-10; Matthew 11: 2-11


[1] Wm. Paul Young, The Shack (Los Angeles, Windblown Media, 2007) at 120.
[2] John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: On Earth as It Is in Heaven, Matthew, Year A (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2004) at 37.
[3] Id. at 40.
[4] Augustine, The Confessions, Book I, Maria Boulding, trans. (New York, Random House, 1997) at 3.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week:  From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2011) at 84.
[6] Id.
[7] Young at 122.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thank God!

          A few years ago, Peggy asked to meet with me.  Life had taken a bad turn, and she needed to talk.  When we got together later that day, Peggy explained what was going on and told me how mad she was at God.  With anger in her voice, Peggy recalled how her family faithfully attends Mass every Sunday, sings in the choir, and volunteers in several church ministries.  “What more do we need to do?” she shouted.  “Where is God now when we really need him?  I feel like God just left us to deal with all of this alone.”  Pausing to dab a tear from her eye, Peggy sighed and said, “Well, thank God we have our friends.  They haven’t left us.  They’ve been so good to us during all of this, bringing us food, driving us to doctors and spending time with us.”  After a moment of awkward silence, Peggy turned to me for my response.  I said, “Thank God, indeed.  Who do you think sent them?”

I feel so blessed to live in a country that sets aside a day to give thanks.  There’s no shortage of things to lament about in our lives, so it’s especially important to take a moment to focus on what we’re grateful for.  Gratitude isn’t just saying thank you every once in a while.  Gratitude is having a positive attitude about a benefit we’ve received.  It’s an immediate, crystal clear sense of how fortunate we are.  As jazz great Lionel Hampton once said, “[g]ratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.”

You know, there’s a reason why the word thanks, thanksgiving and related words appear in the Bible over 150 times[1] – gratitude is downright good for us!   Studies have shown that people who express gratitude experience deeper levels of happiness, fulfillment and well-being.  Gratitude reminds us of the positive things in our lives.  Every time we’re grateful, we relive the benefit we received over and over again.  Gratitude helps us discover the good that always seems to arise out of bad and reminds us of what’s important in life. 

The key to experiencing the benefits of gratitude is making the conscious choice to be grateful.  It’s all too easy to cling to the negative things in our lives because to some extent we find a little comfort in them.  A “woe-is-me” attitude often attracts the sympathy and attention we seek.  But after a while, that attitude gets old.  Like the Saturday Night Live skit, people ultimately run away from the Debbie Downers in our lives.  It’s a survival instinct.  Grateful people, by contrast, have the opposite effect.  We flock to them and can’t let them go.  Grateful people bring God’s blessing and grace into our lives, and when we’re grateful, we do the same for others.  When we’re grateful, people want, no, need to be around us.

Choosing to live a grateful life begins and ends with God.  All good things come from God – our lives, our family, our friends and everything we need to live a happy life – so we owe God our unending gratitude.  As the German theologian Meister Eckhart so aptly put it, “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”  I’ve personally found that beginning my day with a small prayer of gratitude – usually as simple as, “Thank you!” – is just what I need to face life’s challenges armed with a glass that’s at least half full.  And I’m a happier person for it, because “[y]ou cannot be simultaneously grateful and unhappy.”[2]

That’s what happened to Peggy.  On hearing my words, Peggy froze and stared at me intently.  I didn’t know if she were going to slap me or hug me.  Slowly, a wry smile graced the corners of her mouth like a phoenix rising from the ashes.  She said, “I guess you’re right.  God hasn’t left us after all.  Thank God!”

Happy Thanksgiving!



[1] Robert Emmons, Thanks!:  How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) at 95.
[2] William J. Byron, S.J., “Gratitude, the Most Essential Virtue,” The Catholic Spirit (April 10, 2014) at 20.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Persevere in Faith - A Homily for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the classic novel, The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, the worldly-wise old demon named Screwtape writes letters of advice to his nephew, a novice demon named Wormwood.  Wormwood is charged with securing the damnation of a particular young man’s soul.  In one letter, Screwtape warns his nephew that the Satan’s cause is never more in danger than when a human, who no longer has the desire to do God’s will, still obeys God even when he finds no trace of God in the universe.[1]  This perseverance in faith that’s so frightening to Screwtape, is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do in today’s readings.

Today’s readings are tough.  Wars, earthquakes, famine, plagues – these signs mentioned by Jesus have been observed in every age since Jesus walked the earth.  We even see people carrying signs demanding our repentance because the end is near.  But Jesus was right:  all of these things have occurred, but the end hasn’t come yet.  It was tempting to come up here and give a fire and brimstone homily, but that would miss the point entirely. Jesus’ message isn’t about damnation and death; it’s about salvation and life. 

In our Gospel, we find Jesus in the Temple for the last time.  It’s the end of his teaching ministry.  He has spent the last three years preaching about the Father’s Kingdom, and teaching us, by word and example, how to live the Kingdom here and now.  And his last lesson, the words we hear today, is to persevere no matter what.  Jesus isn’t trying to frighten us – he’s warning us of events, some of them horrific, that might distract us from living the way he taught us to live.  He’s encouraging our unyielding faith by assuring us of two things:  first, that he will be with us throughout the trying times; and second, that salvation is the reward for our perseverance in faith.  All we have to do is live in faith to the end. 

A few months ago we were reminded of a wonderful example of this unyielding faith with the canonization Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  Mother Teresa was hailed in her lifetime as a “living saint” for her tireless charitable work for the poor and the dying.  But only after her death did we begin to learn exactly how difficult her life was.  She was very ill through much of her adult life.  She was harshly criticized for the conditions of the hospitals and orphanages she ran and for not using enough of the money she raised to improve their conditions.  She was even criticized for baptizing the dying.  And in recent years, we’ve learned that for some 30 to 40 years, she suffered the “dark night of the soul”– she experienced a spiritual emptiness, a feeling that God had abandoned her.  Not long after she heard the voice of God calling her to her ministry of charity, not long after she experienced the ecstatic joy of having found her true vocation, Mother Teresa sank into a world from which God had appeared to have vanished.  She even questioned the existence of God. 

This spiritual darkness, this profound sense of absence, continued for the rest of her life.  For forty years she felt like God had abandoned her.  So what did she do?  She pursued her new calling anyway.  She kept on ministering to the poor and to the dying.  She built hospitals, hospices and orphanages.  She lived the life that Jesus taught us to live.  In her time of emptiness, faced with squalid conditions, extreme poverty and harsh criticism, she persevered in faith when she had no sense that there was anything to have faith in.  By doing so, she became the greatest threat to Satan’s cause, and she made the world a little better. 

I admit that I struggle with today’s readings.  Life can be very difficult, and it’s easy to give up under the weight of life’s tragedies and the emptiness we all feel from time to time.  I also know that our brutal election cycle has left many people feeling bitter, frightened and anxious about the future of our country and the world.  But our response to these challenges shouldn’t be to retreat into our own sullenness, to gloat or to lash out at others and certainly not to incite violence against our neighbor.  What good does any of that do?  Our response should be to persevere in faith.  If we truly want a better world, if we want to experience the Kingdom of God here on earth, we have to push through the tough times and live as Jesus taught us:  we need to live each moment as if the Kingdom of God were at hand.  We should greet our neighbors with a smile and a helping hand, without regard to their immigration status or for whom they voted.  We should clothe the naked feed the poor, give shelter to the homeless, and visit the sick and imprisoned.  We should respect and honor the God-given dignity of every human being, even when their opinions differ from ours.  Sound familiar?  That’s Jesus’ message in a nutshell. 

Now I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I’m no Mother Teresa, but she didn’t think she was either, and look what she accomplished.   Just think of the good we all can achieve if we simply persevere in faith.  If we live our lives in faith to the end, we will make the world kinder, gentler and safer.  More importantly we’ll earn the gift of everlasting life.  If we persevere in faith, we’ll be Screwtape’s worst nightmare.



[1]C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001) 40.