Today our good friend, Charlie Simon was buried. The following is the homily prepared and delivered by my brother, Bishop Paul Etienne, Charlie's good friend.
Mass of Resurrection; Homily for Charles Simon
November 25, 2010; November 29 Burial
We gather today to commend to God a beloved son, father, brother, cousin, uncle, nephew and friend to many. On behalf of Fr. Barnabas, Fr. Dennis, and the faith communities of St. Paul and St. Pius, we extend our condolences and assurances of prayer to all of you in these difficult days.
We gather today with heavy hearts; grief stricken at Charles' untimely and sudden departure from this life. As we gather today, we have many questions about this mystery that death poses. It is a question and mystery that in many ways, our culture today is unable to answer; and dare I say, even unable to cope with. There are many responses which fall short, such as "Only the good die young." At face value, this sounds comforting, but it fails to recognize that many good people live to a ripe old age. It would also tend to imply that all the rest of us are somehow "bad".
Our grief today is real, as it should be. Grief is a true expression of love. It is a very physical way of expressing loss...not just of a person, Charles, but also what our relationships with him expressed - care, concern, love. What we are doing here, right now, in this space, in this Mass of Resurrection, separates us from the secular world where grief leads only to despair, because without God, the human experience is a dead end...it leads only to the grave and nowhere else.
Life lived without God, and faith in Him, robs the human person of hope, motivation, meaning and purpose. But death embraced with faith opens us up to the broad place where life begins to expand, in the person of Jesus Christ. What we do here is one of the best things we do as Church. We express our faith in Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. The Risen Christ is the only sufficient answer to the mystery of death, because He is the only answer to the mystery of the human person; the mystery of human life. It is only in Christ that any person finds the meaning of his or her own existence.
And so we turn to Sacred Scripture to help us put our grief into proper perspective. Thus, we can say with the author of the Book of Wisdom: The just man, though he die early, shall be at rest. (Wisdom 4:7) We can say with St. Paul that Charles' death was not an early or untimely death, but in the eyes and plan of God, a death that occurred in the "fullness of time". (see Galatians 4:4) In faith, death is not the end of life, not the end of all reality, but the birth unto true and eternal life. Neither death, nor life...nor present things, nor future things...will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)
The loss of a loved one can be a heavy weight to bear. It is a burden the Father knew at the death of His Son, Jesus, even though He knew the tremendous gift being given for the redemption of the world. It is a burden Jesus knew at the death of his friend, Lazarus. And thus, Jesus can say in the Gospel today: Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." (Mt 11:29-30)
Once again, the message is clear; only Jesus can give us true rest for our souls, true food for our journey. He is the only one with the living water to quench our deepest thirst; light and truth to guide our earthly journey. He alone has conquered death and the power of sin. He alone holds the healing balm to ease our pain.
Our journey with Charles, and his with us, has come to an end. We thank God for the many conversations, trips and card games, Simon fests and other parties. We will surely miss the turn of phrase that only Charles could say, such as: "It sure is fun fishing when you catch fish!" or a simple "Hey ole buddy!" when he greeted us. Most of us will miss his occasional phone calls to simply say hello and touch base. We will miss his smile, his jokes his laugh and love for life. He was quite the talker, so much so that very often you hardly got a word in yourself! How many of us benefited from his helping hand and expertise in some kind of home improvement project? Who else had such a memory for names, relationships, birthdates and phone numbers?
I believe each of us manifests a unique image and likeness of Christ that only each of us in our own way can reveal. A simple passage from St. Paul came to mind the other day when thinking of Charles and his disarming personality: Have the same attitude toward all. (Romans 12:14-16) This was one of the unique ways Charles could be Christ to others that only he could be. The friendship and love we enjoyed and shared with Charles was Christ's unique gift to us that only Charles could share. That is my prayer for each of us, that we be the Christ for others, that only we can be.
As sad as we are to say goodbye to Charles, we are called at the same time to rejoice in the expanding horizon Charles now enjoys. We must not lose sight of our human origins, or our ultimate destiny; God's Kingdom. Yesterday's Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent reminds us: stay awake...you must be prepared...the Son of Man is coming at the time you least expect. (Mt 24:37-44)
In a homily on the mortality of the human person, St. Cyprian reminds us of other basic truths with regards to the Kingdom of Heaven:
Our obligation is to do God's will, and not our own.
We are living here now as aliens and only for a time. When the day of our homecoming puts an end to our exile, frees us from the bonds of the world, and restores us to paradise and to a kingdom, we should welcome it.
We look upon paradise as our country, and a great crowd of our loved ones awaits us there, a countless throng of parents, brothers and children longs for us to join them...O the delight of that heavenly kingdom where there is no fear of death.
So my friends, let us grieve in faith, but let us also rejoice for Charles that his earthly journey has reached its fulfillment and he has taken up his place at the heavenly banquet, the true home of every believer. May the remaining days of our earthly journey be a pilgrimage of faith in Jesus Christ. May we not become too encumbered with the fleeting things of this life, remembering always our true home, with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom. May we strive to please Christ in all things, and desire always His kingdom above all else.
Farewell ole buddy, good friend. You are home. Rest in peace.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Today our good friend, Charlie Simon was buried. The following is the homily prepared and delivered by my brother, Bishop Paul Etienne, Charlie's good friend.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Readings: Is 2:1-5; Rms 13:11-14; Math 24:37-44
The program that I am currently listening to when I’m driving in my car is one from the Teaching Company entitled, "Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century." This course describes the 20th century, the one that most of us have lived the majority of our years in, as the most bloody and violent in human history. It is a century filled with wars, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and dictatorial government persecutions that accounted for around 220 million violent deaths. The 20th century saw more violent deaths than the previous 19 centuries combined. What’s really so frightening about all this is that most of these deaths were caused by individuals who were in pursuit of creating an ideal society, a utopia on earth. Sadly, these perpetrators also believed that to accomplish this ideal society, it was necessary to use, at least temporarily, terror, including executions, as a method to this end (an idea born during the French Revolution). Most of the people who pursued this combination of utopia and terror were individuals who did not believe in God. Instead, they wanted to create a secular ideal utopia fashioned in their own image (National Socialism, Communism, etc.).
How different from that is the prophecy of Isaiah, which we heard in the first reading this morning. Isaiah also has a vision of an ideal society, a utopia, where "a nation shall not raise the sword against another." But his vision is very definitely based upon a belief in a God, who shall give us instruction on how to live: "he will instruct us that we may walk in his paths." In the passage in Isaiah right before this one (a passage we didn’t hear) the prophet spells out what those instructions from the Lord God are: "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean...cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." (1:16-17) It is precisely a society that earnestly seeks to care for the weakest among its own that is one that will come to know true peace. But this needs to be the attitude of all in society, from the leaders to the least: "seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." From all in society, not just volunteers.
This first Sunday of Advent takes us back to the very beginnings of our Christian faith as it is rooted in the moral monotheism of ancient Judaism. Many scholars and writers have often asserted that the religious genius of Judaism was its belief in and proclamation of a moral monotheism: that there is only One God and that God requires moral actions of justice and love from the human beings He creates. If we believe in this one and only God who calls us to "seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow," then we are not free to create our own ideal human society in our image. Way back when I was a theology student, I remember one of the adages spoken often by my Old Testament professors: "Before you can be a Christian, you have to first be a Yahwist." That is, one who believes in the One Lord God of Israel and his moral commands to us.
Living in a religion like the Catholic faith in the 21st century can be a very complicated process. There are so many aspects and areas in the Catholic faith that we can sometimes easily get lost or be overwhelmed by trivial issues. (And there are plenty of trivial issues to sidetrack us.) There are always times when we need to clear the deck and get back to basics. Sometimes a crisis will force us to that and we have no other options. There’s also the possibility that we can to it on our own and willingly undertake a "back to the basics" look at our faith. This Advent season would be a good time for that. And one of the best places to begin would be the prophet Isaiah and his moral monotheism. During the Advent season, we might reflect on these words again and again: "There is no other God besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is no one besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other." (45:21-22) And what does this one God say to us: "seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow."
Readings: Is 63:7-9; Col 3:12-17; Lk 17:11-19
In just about a year we will begin using the third edition of the Roman Missal. Besides the new translation, there will be additional prefaces, votive masses and saints’ days. There will also be a strong encouragement that there be more singing on Sundays and feastdays. They particularly encourage the dialogue parts between priest and people to be sung. They will repeat the suggestion that the priest sing the Preface. But, as you have perhaps noticed over the past ten years, I don’t sing the preface. I’d like to tell you why. It has a lot to do with the theme of thanksgiving, which we celebrate today.
The Preface is the actual beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, that great narration of praise and thanksgiving that, in fact, makes the mass to be a mass. The Eucharistic Prayer is the prayer of the assembled community, of priest and people together. While there are some acclamations from the assembly, the priest recites most of the prayer by himself. But he always prays in the name of the people. The congregation is to listen carefully and make the prayer he speaks into their own prayer, so that we all pray as one. That’s why it’s so important that the priest speak loudly, clearly and slowly—to allow that understanding and interiorization to take place. The Preface forms an essential part of the Eucharistic Prayer; it needs to be heard clearly. From my perspective that’s better accomplished in a recitation voice than a singing voice.
I have a second reason. Christian prayer, especially the Eucharistic prayer, is first and foremost "praising and giving thanks to God"....and that requires time, practice and understanding. Thanking God is not a natural outcome of perceiving the world with an untrained eye. We have to learn that God is the one worthy of praise and thanksgiving. The structure of a Eucharistic Prayer is a narrative, an education about God’s works. It begins with the work of the Father (primarily in the Preface), then the work of the Son (which culminates in the consecration of the bread and wine), and ends in the work of the Spirit (God’s blessings that continue in our day—the prayers for the living and deceased). Recitation of the whole Eucharistic prayer helps us to better see that progression and unity. So, while we pray the Eucharistic Prayer as an expression of our praise and thanks to God, that same Eucharistic Prayer is forming and developing an attitude of thanksgiving within us. The Prayer is shaping our minds and hearts.
It is wonderful that we celebrate the Eucharist on Thanksgiving Day. May the praise and thanks that we express here spill over into the rest of our day and the rest of our lives.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Readings: 2 Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43
Ever since it was instituted as a feast for the universal church in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, the feast of Christ the King has been the topic of much heated comment. To some critics at the time it looked like the Church reaffirming its choice of monarchy as the preferred type of civil government. To still other critics it seemed a reassertion of the Church’s own style of absolutist monarchical government. There may have been some truth in those opposing views. But they were not the reasons specified by Pius XI in the encyclical that established the feast. He wished the feast rather to be a reminder of the benefits of calm order, of harmony and peace that should reign in society and that was so missing in the time Pius was living in. He was, of course, drawing on the image of an ideal king who rules with wisdom, justice and understanding—that was outdated for his time. The pope also wanted a public consecration to the heart of the Redeemer on this Sunday.
That last point brings us a little closer to the enduring value of this feast: that when Jesus Christ comes again in glory, he will judge all people and all things in the light of his own heart. That is so beautifully exemplified by the gospel passage today of Jesus on the cross with the repentant thief: "This day you will be with me in paradise." We miss the whole meaning of the feast if we get caught up in the pros and cons about whether "king" is an appropriate description for Jesus Christ or discussion about monarchy as the best form of government. It’s all about Jesus in his glorious, future coming "to judge the living and the dead." And that judgment will be according to the values shown in the earthly life of Jesus.
In Jesus own teaching, he proclaims a divine judgment on all individuals and groups. We are not free to do anything we want; all people will someday have to answer for the actions of their lives. A judgment by God is real. The early Christians handed on this belief in a coming judgment by Jesus Christ as a clear and unambiguous statement of their faith. "For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil." (2 Cor. 5:10) In addition, they believed that the criteria of God’s judgment on human life were reflected in Jesus’ human life, particularly in his dealings with other people. How people follow the example of Jesus’ actions determines the norms of their own judgment. Thus, the words and actions of Jesus become especially important in the hope we have for that coming judgment.
So I would invite you to relax, close your eyes and listen to these words of Jesus spoken to individuals in his own lifetime, words that will likely be spoken by Jesus from his seat of judgment:
"Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace." (Mk 5:34)
"Take heart! It is I; do not be afraid." (Mk 6:50)
"I do so choose. Be made clean" (Lk 5:13)
"Friend, your sins are forgiven you." (Lk 5:20)
"Do not weep. Young man, I say to you: arise." (Lk 7:13-14)
"Woman, has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you." (Jn 8:10-11)
"Amen, I say to you, this day you will be with me in paradise." (Lk 23:43)
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
The 6th graders and I came across a passage from Scripture...Luke 2:52...Jesus grew in age, wisdom and favor. I keep thinking about that. I think the word that strikes me most is favor. What does it mean to grow in favor? Favor of what...or of whom? For Jesus it was in favor of God and God's people...for us it is the same. Growing in age happens naturally, growing in wisdom happens as we stay open to God in our daily life experiences and being aware of God's presence in our lives as we journey towards our heavenly home. So how do we grow in favor? Another way to look at this is to ask ourselves how we grow in holiness. I asked my students this very question. We came up with a terrific list.
To grow in favor or holiness:
- Above all else we must remain faithful to our prayer life. Our prayers keep us connected to God. We take time to pray the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
- We must strive to hear God's voice in our daily lives and walk in a manner pleasing to our God.
- We seek ways to put God first, others second and ourselves last.
- We are the first to serve the needs of others.
- We stay faithful to the Sacraments and take time for Adoration as often as we can.
- We cultivate peaceful hearts and strive to be kind and gentle with everyone...even ourselves.
- We never miss an opportunity to give God thanks and praise.
- We stay faithful to the 10 Commandments.
- We live the Beatitudes daily.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Recently my students were invited to write an essay on what it means to live a life of faith. I would like to share an essay written by one of my 7th grade students. I am so blessed to have the job that I have! I love teaching...I hope my students learn as much from me as I do from them!
“Prayer Goes a Long Way”
When faced with the question, “What does it mean to live a life of faith,” my mind becomes crammed with numerous answers. To me, living a life of faith means participating fully in my Catholic religion, and helping others do the same. Also, faith is believing and trusting in God, even though he is a complete mystery. In other words, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Another way to view the term “living a life of faith” is to think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary showed great faith in God, even when she was unsure and scared at the situation she was faced with. I cannot even imagine the fright and worry she must have felt when she was asked to be the mother of Jesus. But, because of her strong faith, Mary was willing to say, “Yes.” Faith is participating fully in Catholicism and being willing to “take the first step with God.” Even when we are scared and unsure in life, God will guide us through the rough times. Having faith and living by faith, shows God that we trust and believe fully in his abilities.
Living a life of faith is very important in my life, so that I may grow closer to God, our Father. One way that I live a life of faith is that I make prayer a very essential part of my everyday life. I pray before I eat a meal, before I go to bed, and anytime throughout my day that I see a situation in need of help. When I hear any sort of siren, whether it may be a police car, fire truck, ambulance, or storm warning, I do the Sign of the Cross and say a short prayer asking God to keep everyone safe. On Thursdays, I go to adoration along with the rest of my class. During that time, I can really feel God giving his grace to those who believe in him. As long as we keep our faith in God, he will give us the graces to follow him. Saying prayers often, and always talking to God is a simple way that I live a life of faith. Asking God for help is similar to what Martin Luther King Jr. said because I am putting my trust in God, even though I cannot see him. During the rough times in my life, I know that if I have faith, God will give me the strength and courage to get through them, just as he gave Mary strength through her rough times. Prayer is a very simple way that I live a life of faith for God.
Through my prayer and the effects it has had on me, I have learned many things about God. I have learned that God is a mystery and remains unseen, but he is always standing right beside me, trying his best to help me in my times of need. I have also learned that if I have trust in God and I am thankful of his generosity, he will bless and strengthen me in return. God’s love is everlasting, and he will always listen to me with an open heart. I know that prayer helps me grow closer to God and his kingdom. Knowing these things will benefit me in the future. I can use what I know about God and prayer to help me so that in times of sorrow or in the scary times in my life, I can turn to God to guide me through them. Since God is always listening, I know that I can ask him for his help whenever I need it. Overall, praying and living a life of faith makes me feel better as a person because I know that they help me grow closer to God. Next time that you’re confused or scared, be sure to pray because it can go a long way.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The soup kitchen was a great experience for me and my classmates. Mrs. Buckley drove Sam, Lynn and me down town to the Cathedral. When we first got there we saw a man who was sleeping on a trash bag right outside the door. Right then I thought of how fortunate I was to have a roof over my head. We went inside and got started serving. I was a little nervous at first but then I saw that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Afterwards, I was glad I went because I was helping those in need and it helped me realize and be thankful for the things that I have because some people aren’t as lucky as I am.
Monday, November 8, 2010
I didn’t know what to expect when I was heading to the food pantry. I thought I was just going to give food to people who didn’t have any, but what I really did was make somebody’s day. Some of these people didn’t have any food at all, and this was their only meal for the whole day. Others were sleeping on the ground when I walked in. I thought all the people there would be sad, but they were all happy. This surprised me very much, considering these people have nothing. This experience is an experience I won’t forget because it taught me to be thankful for what I have, and how lucky I am to have food, a house, and family.
When I arrived at the Cathedral Soup Kitchen I thought it was a good way to get out of class. I never thought I would take away from it as much as I did. The people that came through the line of food were often silent. I felt sad to see people that had to depend on others to get their food. Some of the people would be singing, others would ask how I was doing. I was happy to see people have good optimism on life even when it is difficult, scary, and sad. Every day I have bad optimism on something. How it is that fortunate people like me can be mad because I didn’t get the dinner I wanted, when people that don’t have homes can be happy with nothing? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that I will start being more grateful for the things I have and think about serving at the Cathedral soup Kitchen every time something doesn’t go my way.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Readings: 2 Mac 7:1-14; 2 Thess 2:16-3:5; Lk 20:34-38
The month of November started off as it usually does with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Appropriately that leads into a month-long consideration of our Catholic belief in the last things, which culminates in the feast of Christ the King—that feast which symbolizes the second and glorious coming of Jesus Christ. This concludes the whole cycle of the Liturgical year which celebrates all the major mysteries of Christ’s life. Then we start over again with Advent.
On this and the next two Sundays the scripture readings will be concerned with topics of the last things—broadly considered as death, judgment, heaven and hell. But actually it includes a much broader array of topics like resurrection, purgatory, limbo, beatific vision, second coming, and so on. Today’s readings all touch upon the issue of "life after death." The reading from the second book of Maccabees (written around 150BC) is one of the earliest expressions in the biblical tradition of a belief in an afterlife. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians refers to the "everlasting encouragement and hope that God has given to us." And Jesus, in the gospel passage, speaks clearly of "the age to come" in which the "dead will rise." So the issue today is clearly that of a life after death. But what will that "life" look like?
Human beings have been trying to answer that for thousands of years. If we go back over two thousand years before Christ, we find the ancient Sumerian and Egyptian cultures expressing their belief that the future life is going to be a great deal like the present one we are living in. That’s presumably why they were buried with their favorite clothes, foods, pets, games and even servants (who unfortunately had to be killed to be buried with their owners). That was the simplest description of the future life. Later descriptions were sometimes much more extravagant. In the future life we will be like angels, or like stars in the sky, of some other fantastic concoction. This same kind of imaginative thinking continued in Christianity. The church father Origen suggested that we would all rise from the dead as little balls, because the sphere was the perfect shape in Platonic philosophy. And St. Gregory of Nyssa worried about, in cases of cannibalism, which one would get the "matter" in the resurrected life. There’s still a lot of bizarre thinking like this in some contemporary Catholic writers. They give very exact descriptions of what life after death will be like. These are usually based on a very literal reading of the book of Revelation in the New Testament and some private visions of individuals. But there’s a problem with too much exactness.
This difficulty is clearly recognized in official Catholic teaching. Consider this quote from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter on Certain Questions concerning Eschatology (1979). "Neither Scripture nor theology provides sufficient light for an exact and proper picture of life after death. Christians must firmly hold the two following essential points: on the one hand, they must believe in the fundamental continuity, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, between our present life in Christ and the future life.....; on the other hand, they must clearly be aware of the radical break between the present life and the future one...." (p. 6) So we will be able to identify ourselves, but our condition will be completely different. That’s about all we have to go on.
The prayers of the liturgy are pretty sober about expressing "life after death." I like especially the opening prayers of the last two Sunday liturgies, prayers that we heard several times during the weekdays: "May we do with loving hearts what you ask of us and come to share the life you promise." And last Sunday’s: "God of power and mercy....may we live the faith we profess and trust your promise of eternal life." That says it sweetly and sharply. We believe in a future life because of God’s promise. So when my time comes, I say: "Surprise me!"
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
When I served in the soup kitchen I went there just for service hours but when I got there I realized how hungry these people were. When I was there I learned to look past all of the bad stuff and see a person just like me. As I was serving food I noticed how polite the people were. One really important technique I used while I was there was teamwork. Teamwork was really important because if one of us messed up it was really likely for all of us to mess up. I also learned that some people are nicer than others, but even if somebody isn’t nice they are still a person.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Each month, Anne, a lay apostle, receives a message from Jesus. This is the message for November. To read more about the locutions Anne receives from Jesus and His Blessed Mother click on this link: Direction For Our Times.
Dearest apostle, be assured of My good will toward you. At times, I see that you forget that you have a beloved and constant friend. I am a friend who never finds you tiresome or difficult. I am with you during your calm periods and during your storms. I find you a precious companion regardless of your disposition in any moment. Think of someone whose companionship you crave or whose companionship you craved in the past. Just the thought of spending time with that person could bring you consolation. With that person, you felt comfortable, safe and there was joy. You could be yourself and felt that you fit well with this other. Dear apostle, for you, I am that other. For Me, you are that other. We fit together. When you are with Me, you are with the one who completely understands you and completely loves you. My love for you is sympathetic, understanding and unchangeable. My love for you will weather any strain or pain, any mistake or any emotional storm you experience. I will never leave you. I will always love you and welcome you in My heart. Your answers and your clarity will be found with Me. Sometimes, dear apostle, you fear that I am not giving you the answers you require. This is not true. If you need an answer from Me, you will receive it. If a course correction is necessary, I will direct you to it. Your prayers are instantly at home in My heart and I rejoice that you have come to Me with these requests. It is not possible that a beloved apostle will be rejected. Do not think that I ignore your pain or that your pain leaves Me indifferent. You, dear apostle, have shown Me that you are interested in My pain which will always involve the pain of humanity. This moves My heart to the greatest generosity. I answer your prayers in a mystical way. Some day you will see that I answered your prayers in the most beneficial way possible, given the intention. Many unnecessary calamities are avoided because of prayer. The greatest mercy flows down to your loved ones through your prayers, even though you suffer terribly when you see your loved ones hurt or when you must be separated from them, particularly when you do not expect to be separated from them. I am the merciful Christ in all of these situations. Understanding will come, dear friend. Believe in your prayers. Believe in My merciful presence with you. Believe in the impact of your service and believe in the gratitude I have for you, even when you do not feel it.