Bulletin (February 24, 2002)
Monday is my day to catch up on news. When I visit my brother, he has the TV tuned to channels like CNN, Fox News, CNBC, etc. His very favorite channel is C-Span which probably explains why he never got married. He would treat a girl just fine, I am sure, but she would be bored out of her wits. My brother is patient about explaining to me the intricacies of recent events like the Enron scandal. For example, who Ken Lay is, who Robert Rubin is, as well as any of the minor characters.
Last Monday there was a rather macabre news story about a crematorium down in Georgia. Apparently the operator just stashed away bodies and instead of “cremains,” gave fireplace ashes to mourners. One lady carried false ashes in a locket around her neck, thinking they were the cremains of her beloved husband. The news networks also reported on a funeral home in California that sold bodies to a local university rather than cremating them. Those funeral homes are hardly typical, but the stories do point out a difficulty with the widespread practice of cremation. The family has less certainty that the remains they receive actually are those of their loved one.
Now, I know that all this can lend itself to humor. Two of the most serious things in life are sex and death, but they have incongruities which sometimes make for humor. Good-natured humor should not blind us to the sacredness of the human body. In baptism it actually becomes a Temple of the Holy Spirit. For that reason – and because we believe it will be raised up on the last day – we show reverence to the human body even when it becomes frail in sickness and eventually dissolves in death.
As Catholics one of the important ways we reverence the human body is the Mass of Christian Burial. The rite underscores the importance of having the body presence, even if it will be cremated afterwards. It is an additional cost, but what constitutes a better outlay of money? Of course, best of all is to have a funeral Mass followed by burial of the body in a cemetery. That way one can place a marker and return to the spot where a loved one is buried with the assurance that the person’s mortal remains are there.
I saw an example of the importance of this when I visited Lakeview Cemetery here in Seattle. A number of famous people are buried there, including Bruce Lee. His grave had several bouquets of flowers from fans who visited from across the country and from other nations. It was important for them to come the actual site of his mortal remains. If fans can do that for a celebrity who they never met personally, should we not do the same and more for those we loved and who care for us?
We have yet another motive to remember the deceased: the Communion of Saints. When in the state of grace, we are joined not only to our brothers and sisters here on earth, but also to those in heaven and purgatory. We constantly say to our fellow Christians, “please pray for me,” or “I will pray for you.” It is only natural to do the same for deceased loved ones. Of course, those in heaven do not need our prayers. They are in glory and no suffering can touch them. However, except for the canonized saints, we do not know for sure if a loved one is in heaven. Perhaps that person is in purgatory and needs our prayers to complete their final cleansing.
And we can suppose that they pray for us. I don’t think that the souls in purgatory and the saints in heaven follow our lives as if they were watching soap opera. When you think about it, the details of our lives are pretty boring in comparison to the vision of God. It would be like the difference between Niagara Falls and some muddy little creek. While the details of our lives such as health and finances, are not likely to be of great interest to our departed loved ones, they would be concerned whether we are making the decisions required for salvation. It makes sense to believe that God allows those who have died to pray for the souls of those of us still on earth. That is why we speak of a Communion of Saints.
For me at this moment some real saints are those who faithfully support Holy Family. Our bookkeeper, Vicente Bolisig, gave me a list of parish donors. Over seven hundred are on the list. Still, I am concerned that some name has been inadvertently left off and that someone who wishes to receive envelopes is not receiving them. For that reason I have placed the list on the bulletin board in the vestibule of the church. Please check to make sure your family is listed. If not, simply call Monica, our parish secretary, at 206-767-6220 and she will make sure envelopes are sent to you. The envelopes are mailed bi-monthly, so we do ask your patience. Also if you have any questions regarding church support, please contact Monica or Tom Weber at the same number.
I mentioned last weekend that we rely on our regular donors to continue the work of our parish. We have an extensive program of religious education and sacramental formation. Dedicated volunteers do much of the work, but we do need a parish staff to coordinate that effort on behalf of our children, young people and adults. A major apostolate of the parish is our elementary school which of course is not a money making proposition. The support of our parish school was evident when we had the Listening Session on January 24. The other big area of need is maintenance and repair of our four main buildings (church, school, Ailbe House and rectory). As I mentioned, we were able to replace the lights in our church with ones more energy efficient. It not only enables people to read their hymnals, but will also save us some money in the long run.
To return to the topic of news, last Sunday I made available copies of the National Catholic Register. It has an easy to read format and covers world and national news that one may not receive through the ordinary media. There are a lot of things happening which can make one discouraged, for example all the recent scandals in the Archdiocese of Boston. The Register reported on those sad events and tried to give a more in-depth approach to help a person put it into a broader context.
The Register also tries to spotlight people whom we can be proud of as Catholics. A recent example is actor James Caviezel. In an interview with the Register, he spoke about the importance of his faith, including the fact that he prays the rosary every day. Caviezel, who was born in Mount Vernon, WA, is currently starring in The Count of Monte Cristo. I have not seen the movie, but understand it is quite good. To order a subscription to the Register for less than one dollar a week, please call 1-800-781-0382.
A movie I did see and highly recommend is Lord of the Rings. I was please to see that it was nominated for best picture and a dozen other awards. It was based on a novel by J.R.R. Tolkien who was a devout Catholic. In fact from age 12 a priest named Father Francis Morgan raised him and his brother. Although Lord of the Rings contains no explicit Christian references, Tolkien imbued his elaborate myth with a profound vision of Divine Providence at work in the struggle between good and evil. (That "design" is summed up in today's second reading.) The novel tops several lists as the greatest book of the twentieth century. It looks like the movie trilogy will likewise rank very high. The fantasy appeals not only for its technical excellence, but also for its vision. It centers on a beautiful golden ring which gives great power to the person who possesses it. But the power corrupts and becomes irresistible. Everything depends on the ring being taken to the one place it can be destroyed.
Although Tolkien was not writing an allegory, his fantasy describes our predicament. He shows the face of evil in its starkness. It ensnares quite ordinary folks, not just those on the fringe, like serial killers and pedophiles. It requires no great effort to spot evil in others, harder to see it in ourselves. It takes work to recognize the parasitic nature of evil, that it lives off the good - and that only the good possesses true substance. In his magnificent myth, Tolkien exposes that truth. In today's Gospel of the Transfiguration we glimpse the ultimate triumph of goodness.