You have probably heard of the nineteenth century English author, Oscar Wilde. He is best known for his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a play which continues to be popular, The Importance of Being Earnest. In addition to his literay achievements, the name might rings a bell because Oscar Wilde went to prison for a crime that the Victorians called “gross indecency.” From his trial comes the phrase: “the love that dare not speak its name.” In spite of his fame (or notoriety) few people know that, on his deathbed, his friends called for a priest to give him the last rites.* Oscar Wilde had a lifelong attraction to Catholicism and in the end he received the sacraments of salvation.
No one knows the state of another person’s soul. Still, I believe that Oscar Wilde was like the first son in today’s Gospel, the one who told his father that he would not go into the vineyard, but later changed his mind. Recent biographies** of the great author indicate that he experienced another kind of “love which dares not speak its name.” As a priest I have noticed that many people, especially men, have a very difficult time expressing their feelings about God. In the case of Oscar Wilde, it was not a matter of being tongue tied. He seldom lacked a ready response.*** Yet, he was shy when it came to the subject of faith. Nevertheless, his preocupation with God's judgment broke through in his writings.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, he tells about a man who envies his own portrait because it will not grow old. He wants to remain always young and handsome like a picture. By some unknown power, his wish is granted. Because he is so outwardly attractive, Dorian Gray is able to take advantage of other people, even causing a young woman to commit suicide. None of this appears to bother him; outwardly he stays exactly the same. Then, after many years, he sees the portrait again. While he has remained young, the portrait has grown hideous and distorted. It reveals his inward being, his soul.
Like Dorian Gray we tend to live on the level of appearance. We cannot peer into another person’s heart. Even our heart remains hidden from us. It is hard for us to see the simplicity of our existence. As today’s parable indicates, at every moment we are either saying “yes” or “no” to God. It sometimes seems like, from one day to the next, even from one instant to the next, we can become a different person. That fact can lull us into the sense that we can always change, we can always put things right – even after we die. That would be a fatal illusion.
To explain the seriousness of this life, early Christian writers used a dramatic image. They compared our present existence to a potter molding clay. As long as the clay is moist, it can be formed into almost any shape. But when the potter places it in the fire, it becomes fixed forever. Like me, you have probably visited museums which exhibit ancient pottery. Some of the vases and bowls are over three thousand years old. Yet they retain the same form and, given the right conditions, will continue to do so forever. So it is with the human soul. In this life we can change. Right up to our last breath, we can say “yes” or “no” to God. When we die, though, like a ceramic vase, we are fixed forever. For all eternity we will either look toward God or away from him.
Each decision, no matter how small, has a role in shaping us for eternity. It is like Mother Teresa's face. She always had a beautiful smile for people - even though, as we now know from her correspondence, she suffered what we might call depression (often severe and cronic). In spite of her inner pain, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta will be remembered for the joy etched deeply in her face. Few people realized how fragile was that joy - and that ultimately it did not belong to her, but to Jesus. It required a daily decision and a daily measure of grace. Sadly, we have all seen people fall away and turn bitter. Such terrible changes makes us realize that no one has their final form until the moment of death. Then the soul separates from the constant flux of what St. Paul calls the "corruptible body." That fragility has a plus side. It gives us a capability which angels do not have - the possibility of repentance.
The prophet Ezekiel speaks about the virtuous man who turns away from virtue and dies. On the other hand, he says that if a wicked man turns from evil, he will live. It seems unfair that after an apparently good life, a man could be condemned for one foul deed. Or that after an apparently selfish life, a man could turn to God and gain salvation. But the key word here is “apparent.” We only see appearances. God’s ways seem unfair because we do not see what is in the human heart – often, unfortunately, not even our own. Today’s psalm contains some beautiful and powerful words which we would do well to reflect upon:
“Teach me your paths,
guide me in your truth and teach me
Remember you compassion, O Lord...
The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not,
in your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O Lord.”
*Rev. Cuthbert Dunne, C.P., the priest who was with Oscar Wilde at his death, says that when he arrived, Wilde was semi-comatose. Therefore the priest did not give him Holy Communion, but provisionally baptized him. Fr. Dunne wrote that, once roused, Wilde "gave signs of being inwardly conscious. He made brave efforts to speak, and would even continue for a time trying to talk . . . Indeed I was fully satisfied that he understood me when told that I was about to receive him into the Catholic Church and give him the Last Sacraments. From the signs he gave as well as from his attempted words, I was satisfied as to his full consent. And when I repeated close to his ear the Holy Names, the Acts of Contrition, Faith, Hope and Charity, with [an] act of humble resignation to the Will of God, he tried all through to say the words after me." See: Oscar Wilde, Roman Catholic
**For example, Richard Ellmann's Oscar Wilde and, above all, The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde by Joseph Pearce.
***Some of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes are from his visit to the United States. For example he said, "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between." Evidently Niagara Falls did not measure up to his expectations. He quipped: "it must be the second biggest disappointment on honeymoons." Nothing here, it seems, could match Europe. He stated: "When good Americans die they go to Paris; when bad Americans die they go to America." In spite of such put-downs (or perhaps because of them) Americans turned out in droves to listen to him.
From Archives (for Twenty-sixth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Fr. Brad's Homilies (well worth listening)
Bulletin (Bishop Eusebio, Silent No More at Westlake Park, Exorcism of Emily Rose, San Lorenzo Ruiz - patron of those falsely accused)
William Donohue on the Philadelphia grand jury report:
At bottom, Abraham is a phony. From the beginning, she had absolutely no evidence that would lead her to conduct a massive taxpayer-funded investigation of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia while not similarly investigating ministers, rabbis, public school teachers, abortion counselors, et al. But all of them got a pass nonetheless. Worse, Abraham has the gall to say she wants to tighten the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law yet never states that abortion counselors should be added to the ‘Mandated Reporters’ list. And that’s because her friends at Planned Parenthood would then have to report cases of statutory rape.
Baling Hay on Shaw Island, 2005 (great pictures & reflection by Holy Family parishioner, Mike Fox)
The Embryonic Shoah: Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have found that 85 percent of embryos transferred during IVF fail to live till birth.
from National Silent No More Awareness Campaign:
Let's consider abortion from the perspective of those who have personally experienced it. The Silent No More Awareness Campaign is holding an event in Washington state on Saturday October 1st, 2005 at 12:30 pm at Westlake Park in Downtown Seattle to bring women and men together to share the truth about the emotional, spiritual and physical consequences they have lived with after their abortion. For more information contact Mary Emanuel at 206-853-6874 or firstname.lastname@example.org or go online at www.SilentNoMoreAwareness.org. Many women and men suffer in silence from their abortion experience; it is time for them to know that help is available and they can be set free from their pain.
A nun in full (George Weigel's review of Mother Angelica)
Everett 40 Days for Life
Parish Picture Album
(World Youth Day 2011)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru