Another Celebrity Death

Did the news of Prince’s death shock and sadden you? Over the last few months several celebrity deaths have been in the headlines. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Natalie Cole, Glenn Frey, Harper Lee and Patty Duke are just a few familiar faces who have passed. Whenever another famous person dies, television and social media are flooded with the news and career retrospectives. Flower memorials pop up and grow in front of the deceased person’s homes. We post our favorite of their music or movies or books on Facebook and Twitter. We shake our heads and feel as if we’ve lost a close friend. Of course most of us never knew any of these good folks personally, but we feel as if we did. We feel as if they were a part of our lives in some way and we grieve at the shock and sorrow of their deaths.  

But I would argue that a great deal of that shock and sorrow we feel is misdirected emotion. I believe what upsets us the most is the fact of death itself. And, on a deeper level, the reality that each one of us is going to die. When a celebrity dies, death has the audacity to make the news. It interrupts our binge-watching and our instragramming and our selfie-posting. Death comes along and reminds us that not only does everyone die, but that “everyone” includes us. Maybe our celebrity grief helps us from dwelling on that fact very much. Heaven forbid we sit in silence and contemplate the state of our immortal souls and where we’re gonna end up when we die. Of course, in our culture, everyone who dies immediately goes to heaven. And I guess we assume that’s gonna be true for us, too. So we grieve and post and bow our heads and then we get right back to the noise of the world. Until the next celebrity goes. I don’t mean to belittle the feelings of loss when a beloved figure dies. I just question how we tend to over-feel for someone we don’t know while we often fail to take proper and prudent care of our own journey to that same mortality.

Do we know what Christ and His Church teach us about our souls and the reality of immortality? Or do we just have some vague beliefs and hopes about heaven and hell? Have we ever sat down with our pastor and talking about death and dying? I’m wondering how seriously we think about our deaths, in light of how we react as a culture to the deaths of public figures.  

We Catholics have had almost 2000 years to study the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church on death and our salvation. We’ve been given the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Confession and Anointing of the Sick—each a vehicle of God’s saving grace. And yet, even among some Catholics, I fear that we can be just as neglectful of the state of our souls as anyone else. We become sort of like zombies, going through the motions of life, but asleep to our sins. This is not God’s plan for us. He desires us to be fully alive in Him, living with joy and hope and sharing His mercy and love with others. We can’t be the person God created us to be unless we are alive in Christ. When we live in His joy, our lives and our deaths have purpose and meaning. By embracing that purpose, we’ll come to know the peace of mind and heart that only the Lord can give us. In that peace, we share the challenges and losses of life in the company of a loving Savior. We live, and die, in His friendship. We find our true identity in Him, not in the passing things and celebrities of the world. 

“Whenever we fear death, we need to remember that Jesus is the Bread of Life.”

         –Father Matthew P.  Schneider 

Whom Are You Looking For? 

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? “(John 20:15). Mary Magdalene has gone to Jesus’ tomb and found Him gone. Her friend was dead and she felt lost and alone. They had killed Him and now they’d even taken His body away. There was nothing she could do now but weep for her lost Savior and her lost hope.

 When was the last time you felt like everything you loved was lost? All of us have been where Mary was that morning. We’ve all been so devastated by a loss that we didn’t anticipate and couldn’t see our way through. Maybe we lost someone to death. Or divorce. Or abandonment. Our dream job was “downsized.” Our usually-healthy body was laid low by an accident or a serious illness. We’ve been betrayed by someone we trusted with our whole heart. Mary Magdalene had put her faith in Jesus and His promise of new life. She had hoped in Christ. Now, in His tomb, she wept because it was all gone. In that moment for her, hope was nowhere to be found. And that’s when Christ asks her: “Whom are you looking for?” You see, Christ was there with her all the time. He was there in the midst of Mary’s despair and hopelessness. He saw every tear and heard every sob. No one knows abandonment like Jesus. His friends fell asleep in the Garden and ran away into the night when the soldiers came for Him. He knows what it feels like for friends to leave you alone. He knows what it feels like to be betrayed by a friend and sold out. He’s been there. His closest friend denied even knowing him and not once, but three times.

 When we’re in a tomb of loneliness and we feel betrayed and abandoned, the question Jesus asked of Mary is the one we need to ask ourselves: “Whom are you looking for?” We want acceptance and affirmation. We want to be valued. We want to feel needed and cherished. We want the wounds of our childhood and past relationships to be bound up and healed. We want to feel good enough. We want to be loved for the person that we are. We want to be needed because we’re valuable and unique. We want to be treated with dignity and respect. We need to feel like we matter to another person. We need to be affirmed and supported in our decisions and choices. And yet most of us are disappointed. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have the experience of Mary Magdalene. In those moments before she recognized the risen Christ speaking to her, Mary was at the lowest point of her life. We’ve all been there. Lost, alone, disappointed and hopeless. It’s the moment Easter was made for.

Easter says to us: “You are loved just the way you are, with all your sins and wounds and shortcomings. You are My unique and priceless child, formed by My own hands. I made the universe for you. I put the sun and moon and stars in place, just for you. You’re the reason I left heaven, to be born as one of you, to live and die on a Cross so that we can be together forever. You are the reason for Good Friday. You’re the reason for Easter morning.” When Mary Magdalene heard Jesus call her by name, she recognized Him at last. Jesus knows you by name, down to the number of hairs on your head and the DNA of your cells. He knows your joys and your fears, all your hopes and every one of your sins. And He came that “you might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). This is the promise of Easter, fulfilled by the empty tomb Mary found that morning. So…..Whom are you looking for?

“Now let the heavens be joyful. Let earth her song begin: Let the round world keep triumph. And all that is therein; Invisible and visible. Their notes let all things blend. For Christ the Lord is risen. Our joy that hath no end.”

             —Saint John of Damascus

He’s Thinking About You

Imagine that every day of your life began and ended with prayer. And imagine that every moment in between, from the second you woke up until the instant you fell asleep was a prayer to the Lord. Your every thought, every feeling, every action was a living conversation with God. How would that change the quality of your life? What impact would such a prayerful, God-centered existence have on how you lived? On your happiness? On your hopefulness? Well, here’s a newsflash: every moment of your life IS a living conversation with God. The question is, what is your life telling Him? And are you listening to His responses? 

We might think that such a contemplative life could only be lived in a monastery or cloister. Not true. We are all contemplatives. It’s what or Whom you contemplate that shapes your heart and calls you to your destiny. As Christians, we are called to become more like Jesus. If we’re serious about that calling, then our joy and our fulfillment comes in contemplating Him. We can look to the lives of the saints as examples of how this conversation with Jesus can be lived in daily life. 

Saints read the Gospels. Not just on Sundays or not just for their Scripture study meetings, but every day. They read them, they prayed them, they absorbed them. They thought about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ the way some of us think about the news, or music, or politics or the stock market. In many ways, what you think about becomes the reality of your life, good or bad. St. Paul’s advice seems written for our time, “Whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phillipians 4:8). Read the Gospels. Think about Jesus.

And then what? Then listen to what He wants to say to you. You can’t listen to God if you’re watching television or talking on the phone. It’s hard to hear that “still, small voice” (I Kings 19:12) of the Lord while you’re texting your friends or updating your Facebook status. Saints give God their full attention. They listen. They wait. They focus their hearts and minds on Christ and then, they are still and silent and open to hear Him. In the silence of an open heart, a saint finds two persons: themselves, and Jesus Christ. Not like a thunderbolt of revelation, but more like the gradual lifting of a mist. They make small discoveries, hear tiny whisperings, and these little steps, over time, bring them into an intimate relationship with the Savior of the world. Being quiet and still in the presence of God is a radical departure from the way most of us live our lives. And yet, it is what God most longs for. He craves our open and listening hearts. His love for us can overwhelm the noise of the world, if we allow Him. Your life is already a prayer—what are you praying for? And to whom are you praying? Start out small. Ten minutes a day in a Gospel and five minutes afterwards of quietness, just thinking about Jesus. He’s already thinking about you. He has been since the beginning of time.  

“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. 

God is the friend of silence. See how nature–trees, flowers, grass —grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…We need silence to be able to touch souls.” —Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997)

Jesus and Time 

I think about time a lot these days. Maybe because I’ve lived through a lot of years. But also because the idea of time and how we’ve come to understand it has always fascinated me. When I was a kid, I’d search out our library for books about time-travel until the librarian got tired of me asking for new ones. Over the years, I’ve read as much as I can understand about how modern physics explains time and space. But, like many of us I guess, it’s easier to think of time in simple terms, like a river that flows on forever. We step into that river on the date of our birth and we cross out of it on the other side when we die. Our life flows along with the years as we ride down that river of time. We imagine that time had a beginning on that first day of creation in that time will have an ultimate end when Christ returns. 

God created time and He holds time in existence. But God Himself exists outside of time. Without a beginning or an end, God exists in all times, in a kind of perpetual “now.” Imagine a timeline from creation to the end of time laid on a huge, long table. God sees all of time in a single glance. Past, present, and future are all “now.” He sees all of eternity and He sees the entirety of your life, from your conception to your death. And yet, the God we serve isn’t a disinterested observer who watches us from the heavens. God loves us so much that He chose to enter into time and become one of us in the Incarnation. Eternity met time in a Bethlehem manger. Our all-powerful Creator became an infant and lived within a family. And with His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, God changed time forever. Through His life, death, and resurrection, time itself was redeemed. The perpetual “now” of God has infused human history with His presence in ways we might rarely imagine, but through which He continues to reveal Himself to us.  

Jesus, as the second person of the Holy Trinity, has always existed. Jesus became a child in Bethlehem. Jesus exists always as the infant born to Mary, and the child in the Temple, and the young man at the wedding in Cana. Jesus is always calling His disciples to follow Him. He is always curing the sick and raising the dead. He is always celebrating the Last Supper and being abandoned in the Garden. Jesus is always being stripped and beaten, and carrying His Cross. He is always suffering and dying for us, just as He is always rising in glory and appearing to those who love Him. Jesus is always ascending to His Father, always reigning in heaven. His eternal presence in time is yet one more way that He extends Himself and offers His love to us, at each step in our own earthly journeys. Because He became one of us in all ways but sin, His life among us shares all our earthly joys, our hopes and fears and sufferings. Through His life, through His time as a man on this earth, Jesus opens the door to eternity for us. Through His life, we see the face our merciful God and by His Cross, we find our hope. Whenever we prayerfully read the Gospel, we can experience the “now” of Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection. The mystery of our salvation is at once an historical fact and, at the same time, as immediate as the air we breathe. And even more essential to life.  

Physics tells us that time and space are a mathematical function and it uses the language of math to describe it. All of that is beyond my meager skills. But I know that Jesus hears me when I pray to Him as the baby in the manger. I know that He hears me when I pray to Him as the child at His mother’s knee. I know that He hears me when I pray to Him as the young man at Cana, the rabbi in the Temple, the weeping friend at Lazarus’ tomb, and the suffering Savior on the Cross. I know that every moment of His historical life is an opportunity for me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. In Christ, all time and eternity meet—and He invites us in, to be with Him.  

“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” 

           —–St. Augustine