Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign!

(First Sunday of Advent (B): This homily was given on November 27, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Mark 13.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: First Sunday of Advent 2005]

The Five Man Electrical Band said it well in a song they released back in 1971—a song that went to number 3 on the Billboard Charts: “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.”

In today’s Gospel reading from Mark 13, Jesus talks about his second coming at the end of time. He tells his disciples (and that includes all of us) to watch and to stay alert, because the exact moment of this event is hidden from our eyes. Jesus says, “You do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.”

But earlier in chapter 13 he makes it clear that, even though we can’t know when it will come, we can expect to see some visible signs that the end is near: earthquakes, wars, famines—and even religious deceptions.

This means that the last month of 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005 should probably be referred to as “The Year of the Sign”.

Consider some of the events of the last 12 months: a tsunami that devastated much of Southeast Asia; more hurricanes in one summer than we sometimes encounter over the course of an entire decade; 11 earthquakes 7.0 or greater on the Richter Scale. That’s not to mention the War in Iraq, and the many other armed conflicts that have taken place throughout the world during this time.

But to some extent, signs like these are always around, are they not? They might be more numerous during certain years and during certain periods of human history, but they’re never entirely absent. And they never will be—until the end!

In fact, you could make the very strong case that even in the quietest of times—even when there are relatively few wars and natural disasters—the signs are literally all around us.

Remember again the “prophetic” words of the Five Man Electrical Band: “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.”

Let me give you some examples of what I mean:

Have you read the obituary section of the Westerly Sun today (everyone reads that part of the paper, right?)? If you have, you should understand what I’m talking about, because every obituary—every death notice—is a sign!

Every hair that falls out of your scalp is a sign.

Every lost job is a sign.

Every sickness is a sign.

Every broken relationship is a sign.

Graduating from high school is a sign.

Retirement is a sign.

A child who gets married or moves away from home is a sign.

In a remote sense, all these things are signs to us that Jesus is coming again at the end of time, because they are signs that this life is fragile and only temporary!

Last week I received a personal sign of how fragile this present life is when I was on vacation in Florida with Fr. John Sistare and Fr. Chris Mahar. Most of you know Fr. John—he’s from St. Pius, and is now the assistant pastor at St. Joan of Arc in Cumberland; Fr. Chris is the assistant at Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich.

On Friday, Fr. Chris received a phone call about one of his parishioners: a man who went to Mass at Our Lady of Mercy every morning. He was in his early 70s, and had come home from work on Thursday feeling rather ill. He told his wife he wanted to lay down. So he proceeded to recline on the couch, and to rest the back of his head on her lap.

Together, as was their custom, they prayed the Rosary.

When they finished, he died.

It was that quick. It was that sudden.

Jesus said, “You do not know when the lord of the house is coming.”

As I’ve already noted, that statement applies to the end of the world, when Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. But if we don’t happen to survive on earth until that day (and at least some of us probably won’t), then those words of our Lord will apply to us at the moment of our physical death. For us, that will be our personal experience of the “second coming” of Christ.

We cannot judge anyone, of course; that is for God alone to do. But I will say this: from all external indications, at least, it appears that Fr. Chris’ parishioner was ready for that second coming of the Lord in his life. He was a daily communicant; he had a devotion to our Lady; he took his spiritual life seriously.

Thanks be to God!

Some of the young people in our Confirmation classes have been wondering why we’ve been so tough with them about getting to Mass on Sundays and holydays, and why we consistently challenge them about getting to Confession pronto whenever they need to.

To them I say, “It’s because you do not know when your Lord is coming! And we love you. We care about you, and we want you to be ready for that moment whenever it arrives.”

The Five Man Electrical Band ended the refrain of their 1971 hit with the simple question, “Can’t you read the sign?”

Well for all of us, young and not-so-young, the decisive question isn’t “Can’t you read the sign?” it’s “WILL you read the signs? WILL you CHOOSE to read them?”

The signs, you see, are everywhere; they’re literally all around us. They’re part of the fabric of life. We all can read them; we all have that innate ability. The real challenge is to make the choice to read them, and to reject the choice that many people make to ignore them completely.

May this Advent be a time for us to read the signs God is giving us, and to respond to those signs as the Lord wants us to: by giving our hearts more completely to Jesus, by being faithful to Mass, by receiving the Eucharist worthily, by getting to Confession, and by reaching out to those in need with the love of Christ.

And may God give us the grace to choose to do those things even after Advent is over—until the day that Jesus comes for us.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Focus On What You Have, Not On What You Don’t Have.

Kyle Maynard

(Thanksgiving 2005: This homily was given on Thursday, November 24, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Luke 17: 11-19.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thanksgiving 2005]

His name is Kyle Maynard.

He was born in 1986 with a rare disorder known as “Congenital Amputation.” Because of it, he has extremely short legs, deformed feet, and arms that end at the elbow joint.

But Kyle Maynard is happy—and thankful.

And he’s refused to let his physical shortcomings hold him back in his personal growth and development. With a deep faith in God—and with lots of encouragement from family and friends—he’s already done things that many people were convinced he could never do. Without the assistance of prosthetic limbs, for example, he’s learned how to eat using regular silverware! (Don’t ask me how, but he has!) He’s also learned how to write—and type. His handwriting, incidentally, is excellent; and I’m told that he can type at the rate of 50 words a minute!

He’s even been involved in sports. In fact, he now wrestles on the University of Georgia’s wrestling team, after having a very successful high school career in which he compiled a pretty impressive record of 35 wins and 16 losses.

I saw Kyle interviewed a couple of weeks ago on the 700 Club television program. During this interview, he made a number of noteworthy statements, but one of the most important was that he refuses to focus on what he doesn’t have. Rather, he makes the conscious choice every day to focus on what he does have—on the abilities and talents and gifts he does possess. So instead of becoming depressed because he doesn’t have two normal legs and two complete arms (which is what many people would do in his situation), he chooses to focus on his faith, and on the ability and opportunity he has to help other people deal with the trials they are currently facing in their lives. His message to them is: “With the help of God and others, I have overcome many of the obstacles that were placed in my path because of Congenital Amputation. You can do the same thing in your life, with respect to the obstacles that you are currently dealing with.”

Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have.

Those who are truly grateful—like Kyle Maynard—do that: they focus on what they possess, not on what they lack.

Consider the leper in today’s Gospel story from Luke 17. On the day he was healed by Jesus, there were many things he didn’t have. That should be obvious. He didn’t have a nice home to go back to. (Because he was a leper, he had been living in isolation with other lepers, perhaps for many years.) He didn’t have a job; and he probably didn’t have many friends—at least he didn’t have many friends among the Jews, since he was a Samaritan. But once he was healed, it’s clear that he wasn’t focused on any of those things.

His focus was on what he did have at that moment: faith in Jesus, and restored physical health.

And so he was grateful.

Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have.

Perhaps some of you are saying to yourselves, “That sounds pretty easy to do, Fr. Ray.”

Well, don’t be fooled! It isn’t easy!—which is precisely why I bring it up in this Thanksgiving Day homily!

In fact, we are currently living in a consumer culture in which we are being programmed—subtly taught—every single day to focus on what we lack, on what we don’t possess!

And this is very easy to illustrate. I ask you: How many advertisements are you exposed to during an average day—on TV, on the radio, in magazines, and on the internet?

Lots of them, right?

And what’s the underlying message contained in 99.9% of these advertisements? Very simply, the message is: You don’t have this!—you don’t have this great car; you don’t have this camera; you don’t have this toy; you don’t have this new video game; you don’t have this super laundry detergent. But you should!

And how about the hedonistic and materialistic messages that come at us constantly, especially in the media?—You don’t have the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse; you don’t have the perfect body like those athletes and Hollywood models; you don’t have as much money as Donald Trump or Bill Gates. You don’t have, you don’t have, you don’t have . . .

No wonder so many people are depressed and dissatisfied these days, even though they have so much! They are programmed to be that way! Or perhaps I should say, they have allowed themselves to be programmed that way.

This, incidentally, is one of the reasons why suffering is not the worst thing in the world. Admittedly, none of us likes to suffer. We’d much rather prosper and have it easy. That’s human nature. But if we reflect on the experience of suffering for a moment, we will realize that it often has a positive effect in our lives. Specifically, it “deprograms” us! That is to say, it stops us from focusing on what we lack, and gets us to zero in (for a change) on what we do have. Think of Kyle Maynard: his suffering certainly has had that effect on him.

Think, too, of some of the victims Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. They also illustrate the point beautifully. After losing their homes and all their earthly possessions, many of those who lived through these terrible disasters have been quoted as saying things like: “I am grateful that I still have my faith;” “I am grateful that I have my family;” “I am grateful that I survived, and that I still have my health;” “I am grateful that I have such caring and devoted friends who are supporting me through all this.”

Their suffering has caused a radical shift in their focus—and has made them grateful.

The choice, it seems to me, should be pretty clear at this point: If you choose to focus on what you have, you will develop an attitude of gratitude in your life.

On the other hand, if you choose to focus on what you don’t have, you will simply develop an “attitude”!

Dear Lord, help us—as you have helped Kyle Maynard—to have the right focus!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Many Risks Of Rita Rizzo

(Thirty-third Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on November 13, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Matthew 25: 14-30.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-Third Sunday 2005]

Her name was Rita Rizzo.

She was born in 1923 in a poor Italian neighborhood of Canton, Ohio—the only child in a very dysfunctional family. Her father was physically and verbally abusive, and eventually abandoned her (although he did seek reconciliation with her later in his life). Her mother was emotionally unstable and suffered from suicidal depressions. Other relatives were unkind and unsupportive, leading Rita to wonder why God would allow a little girl like her to grow up in such a miserable family.

Given the constant emotional stress, it’s not surprising that during these early years of her life she suffered from severe abdominal pain.

Although she went to Catholic school, Rita wasn’t especially religious, until she met a local mystic. Through the prayers of this woman—and the intercession of St. Therese, the Little Flower—her terrible stomach ailment completely disappeared.

She began to take the power of prayer seriously, and eventually discerned a call to the religious life. Despite the objections of her mother and other members of her family, she entered a Poor Clare Monastery in Cleveland.

After nine years in the cloister, she took her solemn vows—although her health was failing once again. In fact, her legs and back were so twisted at one point that she could hardly walk. To deal with the problem she was forced to wear a body cast. She begged God to allow her to walk again, and promised him that if he granted her this favor, she would build him a monastery in the southern part of the country. Her purpose would be to serve the poor black population living in that area.

Eventually she had back surgery, and her health greatly improved. So she followed through on her promise, and received permission to build a monastery down in Birmingham, Alabama. To pay for the building, believe it or not, she and her fellow sisters ended up going into the fishing lure business! (She got the idea from a magazine advertisement that she happened to see one day.)

And she was very successful. In fact, her talent as a businesswoman even got noticed by the people at Sports Illustrated, who gave her an award in 1961 for her “special contribution to a sport”.

As you might imagine, building a Catholic monastery in the deep south (especially one that would serve the black community) wasn’t very popular with some of the locals. So it came as no surprise when one of them literally took a shot at her—with a loaded gun—and barely missed.

Then came 1978: the year she walked into a TV studio out in Chicago. That’s when she received the inspiration to get one of her own. When she was told that the studio cost “only” $950,000, she responded, “Is that all? I want one of these.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the former Rita Rizzo is the woman we all know today as Mother Angelica.

I tell her story this morning because it ties in beautifully with the message of this Gospel parable from Matthew 25.

The parable is about the necessity of using our God-given gifts in this life to serve the Lord and our brothers and sisters. And I say “necessity” for a reason. As one of the footnotes in the New American Bible puts it, this parable reminds us that “Faithful use of one’s gifts will lead to participation in the kingdom, lazy inactivity to exclusion from it.”

In other words, heaven is on the line here!

But the underlying message in the story is that using one’s gifts faithfully involves taking risks—personal risks.

That was the difference between the first two servants and the third, was it not? The first two took risks in trading with the talents they had been given. The third took no risk at all, and out of fear buried his master’s money in the ground.

In order to do God’s will and follow his call in her life, Rita Rizzo/Mother Angelica took many risks. To enter the Poor Clare Monastery in Cleveland, for example, she risked losing whatever remaining support she had in her severely dysfunctional family. She also, no doubt, risked losing some of her personal friends. (That can easily happen when you enter religious life or the priesthood. Some of your more worldly friends may want nothing to do with you afterward.)

Time and time again—both before and after establishing EWTN—she risked failure as she attempted to carry out God’s plan as she understood it. Let’s face it, the fishing lure business could easily have flopped! And there were many times along the way when it looked like her dream of starting a television network would never become a reality. And there have been many times since the founding of EWTN when it’s appeared that this incredible dream couldn’t be sustained any longer. Needless to say, paying the monthly bills has not been easy! If you watch EWTN, you know that!

But because Rita/Mother was willing to take these and other risks for the Lord, great things have been accomplished in his name—and many souls, no doubt, have been saved! Amazingly, in establishing a worldwide Catholic presence in the media, this woman (who has only a high school education) did what the highly-educated Catholic bishops of this country—and several millionaires—were unable to do!

Remember, there’s no “Catholic Bishops’ Television Network” out there on the airwaves; there’s only EWTN!

But what about us? What about you and me?

Today, ask yourself this question: What am I willing to risk in order to do God’s perfect will in my life?

That’s a question that needs to be considered seriously, prayerfully and honestly—because, as this parable reminds us, the answer we give has eternal implications!

In order to do God’s will, am I willing to risk losing the support of certain members of my family and some of my friends (as Rita Rizzo was)?

Am I willing to risk looking foolish to others (as Mother Angelica was)?

Am I willing to risk losing time—specifically some of my precious free time? The fact is, doing God’s will and reaching out to those in need can very often take a big bite out of your leisure activities. Just ask those men and women—and young people—who volunteer so faithfully here in our parish and in our local community.

Some of them have very little time for themselves.

It’s very interesting to contrast what people are willing to risk to do God’s will, with what they’re willing to risk to get ahead in the world.

As we all know, for earthly profit many people are more than willing to risk their money and their personal assets (through investments and even sometimes through activities like gambling). To climb the corporate ladder or to buy a bigger home, some put their marriages and their families at risk (by working too many hours or by taking too many business trips). Some are even willing to risk their health and their future for worldly gain (just ask the athletes who take steroids, or the fashion models who are anorexic or bulimic).

But to do the perfect will of God in their lives, some of these same people aren’t willing to risk very much at all.

Taking risks to serve God and others is not easy. In fact, it’s quite difficult. That’s one reason, incidentally, why we don’t have more vocations.

In recent decades there have been many men called to the priesthood and religious life—many men called to put their gifts at the service of God and the Church—who have said No because they weren’t willing to take the risks.

And how do I know that?

Because for a few years I was one of them!

Thankfully, by the grace of God, I overcame that fear and I entered the seminary at the age of 25.

What am I willing to risk in order to do God’s perfect will in my life?

May the example of Rita Rizzo inspire all of us to risk more in the future than we have in the past—so that on the Day of Judgment Jesus will say to us what the master said to the first two men in this Gospel parable: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Do Catholics Believe In ‘The Rapture’?

(Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on November 6, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Matthew 25: 1-13.)

[For the audio link to this homily, click here: Thirty-second Sunday 2005]

Have you ever heard this scenario before? This is from a book by Catholic author Robert Baldwin:

One day soon . . . Jesus will rapture his Church. All true believers will be caught up in the air with [Jesus] and taken to heaven, while all non-believers are left on earth to suffer the torments of the tribulation. The seven years of tribulation will be worse than anything the world has previously seen. Terrifying signs will appear in the skies. The sun will be darkened and earthquakes will spread devastation throughout the world. Stars will fall from the sky and lakes will turn to blood.

During this awful period, a man described in the New Testament as the "Antichrist" will arise as a powerful political leader. He will appear at first to be wise, peace-loving and benevolent and will win the hearts and minds of most of the world's people. But with the help of a religious "False Prophet" he will later seek to control the entire world and will set up his political headquarters in the Jewish temple at Jerusalem. His number will be 666 and these three digits will control the lives of the world's masses. The number will have to be worn or even tattooed on one's forehead in order to buy or sell anything. Those who resist his authority will be put to death. During his reign, many persons will realize what has happened to the Christians who disappeared at the rapture and will long to be in heaven with them. Many, including large numbers of Jews, will be converted to Christ and will await his final appearance as the Messiah. But before he comes, the terrible conflicts of the tribulation will culminate in the mightiest military battle the world has ever seen.

The Battle of Armageddon will be fought on the plains of Megiddo outside Jerusalem. Some 200 million soldiers commanded by the Kings of the East . . . will prepare an assault on Jerusalem. But at the decisive moment of the battle, Christ will return to earth with the believers who were raptured. Leading his army in the bloody fray, Jesus will vanquish the invaders. The Antichrist and his False Prophet will be cast into the lake of fire. Satan will be bound in a bottomless pit and the long-awaited millennium will begin. For a thousand years, Christ and the raptured Christians will reign. Wars will cease and the world will know true peace for the first time since the fall of Adam. The lion will lie down with the lamb and the people will beat swords into plowshares. As this blissful millennium draws to a close, God will allow Satan to come out of the pit and tempt the believers who accepted Christ after the rapture. A portion of them will prove to be backsliders and God will cast them, along with Satan, into the same lake of fire where the Antichrist and the False Prophet had been thrown a thousand years earlier. All of them will remain in the lake of fire for an eternity of constant torment. After that, the earth will be consumed in fire and will be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth where those redeemed by Christ will live with him forever.
(From Robert Baldwin, “The End of the World: A Catholic View,” Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1984, pp. 35-37.)

Have you heard this scenario before?

If you’ve read any of the “Left Behind” books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (which, incidentally, are best sellers); if you saw the movie “Left Behind” with Kirk Cameron (who many years ago starred in the hit comedy series “Growing Pains”. Remember him?); or if you’ve listened to evangelical or fundamentalist preachers on radio and TV from time to time, then you’ve no doubt encountered this scenario before (perhaps with some slight variations).

And you’ve wondered whether this is something that Catholics also believe.

Well, today I will clarify the matter for you in this homily.

First of all, does the Catholic Church teach that there will be a “rapture” before Jesus comes again at the end of time?

The answer is No!

The key biblical text for those who believe this false doctrine is the one we heard in our second reading today—this passage from 1 Thessalonians 4. There St. Paul says, “Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with the word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.”

The authors of the “Left Behind” books—Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins—and those who believe as they do—would say that this text refers to the “rapture of the church,” which will take place before the “tribulation” and all those other events that Robert Baldwin describes in that writing I shared with you at the beginning of my homily.

The Catholic Church would say that this passage of the Bible does not refer to a “rapture” at all; rather, it refers to the end of the world—the parousia—the second coming of Christ, which will take place at the consummation of human history. St. Paul is making the point that those who happen to be alive when Jesus comes again (and who are living in the state of grace) will have no advantage over those who have already died in that state. According to Paul, all those who end their earthly lives in a condition of friendship with God will witness the second coming and will live forever with Jesus in his kingdom.

Neither does the Church believe in a literal thousand year reign of Jesus here on earth: a reign which will come after the rapture and precede the end of the world!

This erroneous belief—which the Catechism calls “millenarianism”—is rooted in a misinterpretation of biblical passages like Revelation 20, verses 1-3, where we read, “Then I saw an angel come down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a great chain. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and tied it up for a thousand years and threw it into the abyss, which he locked over it and sealed, so that it could no longer lead the nations astray until the thousand years are completed. After this, it is to be released for a short time.”

Revelation 20 goes on to speak of this thousand years as a time when Christians—especially Christian martyrs—will rule with Jesus here on earth.

The Catholic Church, following the thought of the great St. Augustine, teaches that this “thousand year reign” of Christ on earth that we read about in Revelation 20 is actually a symbolic reference to the age of the Church (the time we’re living in right now!): that is to say, to the period of time between the “chaining up of Satan” (which occurred at Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over the devil and the forces of evil), and the end of the world. During this long period of time (which has already lasted almost 2,000 years) Christ’s faithful people actually do “reign” with their Lord here on earth—through baptism and a life of faith. In other words, by the power of the risen Christ, they conquer temptation and sin and evil in their lives. A convert said to me a couple of weeks ago: “Fr. Ray, ever since I was baptized last year, my life has been so different. I deal with my problems in a much better way than I did before I knew Jesus and became Catholic.”

This man said that because he is currently “reigning” with Christ on earth as a believing member of the Church. His faith is helping him to conquer his anger, his impatience, and all those other emotions that used to get the better of him before he was baptized.

Every Catholic is supposed to “reign” with Jesus here on earth in the very same way.

Let me end my homily this morning by briefly outlining for you the Catholic understanding of death, judgment and the end of the world (because all of these ideas are tied together).

The Church teaches, first of all, that when we die, our souls are separated from our bodies. If we’re in the state of mortal sin, our souls go to hell; if we’re in the state of grace, our souls go either to heaven (if they’re ready), or to purgatory, where they remain until their final purification is complete.

At some point in the future, Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”—as we say in the Creed every Sunday. This is the event St. Paul is talking about in our second reading from 1 Thessalonians 4 (as I mentioned a few moments ago). It’s also the event that Jesus is referring to in the parable of the 10 virgins, which we heard in today’s Gospel reading.

This second coming of Christ will take place at the end of human history. No one, of course, knows when this end will occur. But we do know that before it happens, there will be some kind of final trial that the world will have to undergo. (On this point we agree with our fundamentalist and evangelical friends.) Among other things, this trial will involve some type of religious deception which will be orchestrated by the person the Bible refers to as “the Antichrist.”

In the midst of this turmoil, God will intervene through the second coming of Jesus, and the world as we know it will come to an end. The dead will rise and be reunited with their bodies, and the Final Judgment will take place. (This, by the way, will not be a “second chance” for those who were condemned to hell when they physically died. For them, God’s declaration of damnation will simply be reiterated.)

When the Final Judgment is complete, the damned will go off to eternal punishment in hell, and the just will go to heaven—soul and body—to live with Jesus forever. And purgatory will cease to exist (because no more souls will need to pass through it.)

That’s the Church’s teaching on death, judgment and the end of the world, given to us in the name of Jesus himself. It tells a story that we will all be a part of at some point in the future. By the grace of God, may we be like St. Paul and the 5 wise virgins in today’s Gospel parable, so that for us the story will have a happy ending.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Saints: God’s Art Gallery

The North American Martyrs (all members of God's Art Gallery): St. John de Brebeuf, St. Isaac Jogues, St. Gabriel Lalemant, St. Anthony Daniel, St. Charles Garnier, St. Noel Chabanel, St. Rene Goupil, St. John de la Lande.

(All Saints 2005: This homily was given on November 1, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3: 1-3; Matthew 5: 1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: All Saints 2005]

Dr. Fritz Wenisch is a professor of philosophy at URI. He’s also a committed Catholic. Recently he was having a conversation with his friend Tom. Tom is an evangelical Christian who loves Jesus, but doesn’t understand very much about Catholic beliefs and practices.

The discussion began when Tom showed Dr. Wenisch a newspaper headline which made reference to the fact that John Paul II might be canonized a saint in the near future.

Tom said, “Look at that. Soon you’ll worship him as a god.”

Dr. Wenisch tried to help Tom understand that Catholics don’t worship saints (no one is to be worshipped but God alone!). Rather, we venerate (that is, honor) them because of their faithfulness to Jesus. We hold them up as good spiritual role models, because they reflected the light of Christ in their lives, as the moon reflects light from the sun.

That clarified the issue of worship for Tom, but he still didn’t agree that it was a good thing to venerate the saints because (and here I quote) “the way you Catholics relate to the saints distracts from God’s glory.”

Dr. Wenisch then compared God to the great artist Rembrandt. He said to Tom, “Imagine Rembrandt taking a friend through his studio. Instead of looking at any of the paintings, the friend keeps his gaze fixed on Rembrandt until [finally the artist] asks impatiently, ‘Don’t you want to look at any of my works?’ The friend defends himself, ‘I am afraid that looking at your paintings will diminish my appreciation of your greatness as a painter.’”

Dr. Wenisch then said to Tom, “This would be silly, would it not? Through admiring Rembrandt’s paintings, the friend gives honor to Rembrandt. Similarly, the saints are God’s most wonderful creations; by admiring (that is venerating) them, we give glory to God who made them.”

Today, on this Solemnity of All Saints, I would ask you all to reflect on what Dr. Wenisch and others would call “God’s Gallery”his art gallery of saints.

How much time do you spend in it?—that is to say, how often do you contemplate the lives of saints and draw inspiration from them?

A lot? Sometimes? Never?

When was the last time, for example, that you read a book or watched a movie on one of the great saints of the Church?

Be honest!

If you have children or grandchildren, how often have you brought them into this gallery of the Lord?

Have you tried to help them, in other words, to find a favorite portrait or two?—a saint or two from whom they can draw inspiration in their lives?

Please hear this: If you don’t spend time in this gallery, you will spend time in others.

And if you don’t help your children and grandchildren to spend time in this gallery, they also will spend time in others!

Thus they will draw their inspiration in life from the role models of the world who inhabit these other galleries: actors and actresses, for example, who’ve been divorced more times than they can count on their two hands; pop singers who can’t manage to sing a song without 25 vulgar words in it; athletes who will do anything to win—even lie and cheat and take steroids.

We are human beings. By nature, we are social creatures. As such, we quite naturally follow the example of other people whom we admire.

The Church tells us—for our own good—that we should admire the saints and follow their example, first and foremost, since they were faithful to Jesus here on earth, and now share his glory in heaven.

You see, my brothers and sisters, when all is said and done, it’s either God’s Gallery or it’s the others. We either spend time in the Lord’s Gallery, draw our inspiration from those in it, follow their example—and then become part of that gallery when we leave this life; or we spend our time in the others, model our lives on the mixed-up, immoral people we find there, and then spend eternity with the one who owns and who operates all those other galleries.

And I don’t think I need to tell you who that is.

All you saints, pray for us, that we will someday join you in God’s Art Gallery, where his greatest works are on display now and forever.