My grandfather and namesake, Harry Dale Bruns died 8 years ago today. Today is also the one month anniversary of Grandma’s death. Rest In Peace, Grandpa and Grandma! I love you and miss you!
In your charity, please join me in praying for the repose of their souls today. The 12:05 Mass at St. Stephen Cathedral will be offered for both of them.
Eternal rest grant unto Dale and Wilma Bruns O Lord, and May perpetual light shine upon them. May they Rest In Peace. May their souls and the souls of all of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
I was blessed to be able to celebrate the Rites of Christian Burial for my Grandmother last month. My homily, which talked about the love and life of these two wonderful people can be found by clicking here.
My Grandmother, Wilma Esther (Richards) Bruns passed away on Sunday, January 3rd, 2021. Her Obituary can be found by clicking here. It is an honor to be able to preside and preach at her funeral this morning. My homily can be found below. Please join me in praying for the repose of her soul and the consolation of our family.
Readings for the Rite of Christian Burial of my Grandmother, Wilma Esther Bruns
First Reading: Wisdom 3:1-9
A reading from the book of Wisdom,
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; they shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the LORD shall be their King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.
The Word of the Lord Thanks be to God
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 23:1-3, 4, 5, 6
R/. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. in verdant pastures he gives me repose; Beside restful waters he leads me, he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his name sake. R/.
Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage. R/.
You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. R/.
Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come. R/.
Gospel: John 11:32-45
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John
When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
The Gospel of the Lord Thanks be to God
Homily for the Rite of Christian Burial of my Grandmother, Wilma Esther Bruns
In the 31 verses prior to our Gospel this morning, Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha has fallen ill. So the two sisters send word to the Lord saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” The message gets sent back and forth between Jesus and the sisters, and after a few days, Lazarus dies. Jesus, who had decided to stay in Jerusalem works his way to Bethany where he is greeted first by Martha and then as our Gospel began today, by Mary. Mary comes, she falls at the Lord’s feet and both she and Jesus weep. Mary for her brother who has been dead for four days and Jesus because he sees the pain that sin and death cause in the grief of his friends. Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God came into the world to destroy sin and death. He came to destroy death by dying himself on a tree in the most horrific way possible. And so in death, in the face of the agony, the pain, and suffering caused by the death of a loved one, Jesus weeps. He weeps because the time of fulfillment has not yet come. He weeps because the prison bars of death are closed, as his passion and resurrection have not yet come to pass. He weeps because he feels the loss and pain of losing a friend, of seeing his friends, his loved ones overcome with sorrow, overcome by grief.
My dear family, Jesus stands with us in our grief today at the passing of our Mom, our Grandmother, and he weeps. He weeps with us because he knows our hearts. He knows our pain, our loss. But today is different from that day when he met Mary on the road to Bethany. For today he has been resurrected. Today, he has conquered sin and death and purchased for us an eternity with the Trinity in Heaven forever. He the Way, the Truth, and the Life has made ready the Way, he has given us his truth in the words of the Holy Scriptures, and he has made his promise that we who remain faithful to Him will one day have eternal life. And so we gather today in the hope of that promise for our sister, Wilma.
That promise of eternal life – of union with God – of peace in Heaven was known by Grandma. Because it was instilled in her by her parents Arthur and Esther McFarland Richards and their family as a child. The daughter of a farming family, Grandma must have learned to love God in the midst of his creation. As she grew in the love of God, young Wilma Richards must have decided that she wanted to make that promise a reality. She wanted to receive the promise of Eternal Life, the promise of being baptized into the family of God. So on August 9th, 1932 the young 9 year-old Wilma Esther Richards was baptized at the United Methodist Church in Columbus. On that ninth day of August, 88 years ago, young Wilma Esther Richards died for the first time. As she was plunged into the watery depths of the Baptismal Font, she died to any former attachment to sin as the promise of an eternity with God was given to her. Her body became a temple, an eternal dwelling place of the Holy Spirit as she was claimed by God. As she became His beloved daughter. As she rose with Christ through the waters of the Jordan to the promise of Eternal Life.
And so as we began our prayer today, we reverenced her body one final time with that Baptismal water, that white garment of purity, which opened and deepened for her, that relationship with the God she had come to know, the God she loved. That relationship and promise by God made to Wilma at her baptism of eternal life was a two-way street and Grandma had to reflect that relationship in how she lived, how she worked, how she raised a family. Her promise to God in faith at her baptism became full of more little promises, more moments of grace, more moments to say yes to the Lord.
Grandma and Grandpa first met through a church affiliated organization called “Rural Youth” that they had attended together. They also went to the same highschool. Grandpa must have been quite the young Romeo in the time before telephones as he used to write Grandma letters during their courtship. Aunt Marlene shared with me that he wrote one inviting Grandma to the movies and how he couldn’t wait until that Saturday night!
Their love for one another grew as time went on and on May 14, 1942 the beautiful 19-year old Wilma Esther Richards and handsome 23-year old Harry Dale Bruns made another promise with God, and this time together, at the Barry Methodist Church Parsonage. A promise to have and to hold, a promise through the good and the bad, a promise to be faithful in sickness and in health until death they would part.
Each of us here knew the love that Grandpa and Grandma had for each other. We’re the product of it. We’re the product of their faithfulness in good times and in bad. We’re the descendants of their love, their union, their marriage. We are here because they were faithful to the promise they made to one another as their love bore fruit in the new lives of their children, Marlene and Larry. We are here because they cooperated with God as he wrote the story of their love, and thus the stories of their lives into one.
However, God wasn’t the only one doing the writing. Grandma did a lot of it too. Birthday cards, Anniversary cards, graduation cards and more. Grandma never missed an important milestone in the life of her family. And usually with them or without them Grandma would write and include a letter. She would write her cursive letters on halved sheets of white copy paper, seldom stationary, and usually both sides. When I turned 18 I began to save the many letters that Grandma would write to me. I wanted to have something to hold onto in the future when she was gone, something by which I could remember her. Her letters like her life were chock full of activities. Little tidbits of her day, what she ate, what she remembered from years past, what she and Grandpa had been up to. The contents of her letters varied, but every letter from Grandma was signed the same way, “love Grandpa and Grandma Bruns”
That love that Grandma and Grandpa shared was always evident in the way that Grandma cared for him. In fact she did so as much as she could until he passed away. In June of 2012, Grandma wrote “Grandpa and I had 6 month check up at the dentist today. He needs a tooth pulled. That is the 3rd one in a row at the back. No wonder he can’t chew meat!” In December of 2012 she wrote more of how she cared for Grandpa saying, “I’m sorry I haven’t written to you before this. I go to see Grandpa nearly everyday. Bring his clothes from home to wash. Then there is mail to take care of.” She commented on how the flu disrupted his birthday party from taking place and how Aunt Marlene and her “were real sick Thursday and Friday.” But “I will go eat lunch with Grandpa tomorrow and we will go to church at 1pm in the chapel there.” Grandma and Grandpa stayed true to their promise of life together. And especially to their promise of faith together. They went to Church together, joining Camp Point United Methodist Church on April 21st of 1946. They prayed together. They lived their lives together for God, the God who so dearly loved them, the God who welcomed them into eternal life.
On March 4th, 2013, Grandma mentioned that her eyes were starting to fail her and she saw a lot of red. But the doctor said not to worry too much about it. Grandma’s life, once so full of vivid color began to darken as her eye sight grew weak with macular degeneration. Yet she was not alone. As the words of our psalm said, “Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” Perhaps Grandma even prayed that God would help her eyesight, I know I did. Her penmanship which was normally quite straight began to slant and move across the pages of her letters. The daughter and wife of farmers, Grandma often wrote about the seasons and growing things. She wrote about the snow and ice in March and that “They like to plant potatoes, lettuce and radishes March 17th, but I’m afraid they won’t this year. Our seasons are so different anymore.” There is a beautiful prayer the priest prays in the preface of the dead at funeral Masses. “Indeed for your faithful Lord, life is changed, not ended.” Grandma’s season has changed. Her life has changed through her death. But it has not ended, because of her faith. Because of her love of the God who loved her and Grandpa so incredibly much.
Every letter that Grandma wrote me after Grandpa’s death always made reference to how proud she and Grandpa were to have his grandsons as his pallbearers. Grandma and Grandpa were always so proud of all of their grandchildren and she would often mention her many grandchildren in her letters, usually in regards to some activity they were a part of or a challenge they were facing, but always with how proud she was of them. She said, “One of Brenda and Casey’s twins, Landon talks all the time. He is 6 years old and smart.” “Ten year old Madison went to St. Louis with her soccer team on Saturday. They played in the morning…they won two games and lost one and got second place.
She referenced her teaching that she did at Church and said, “I taught lots of little kids the Bible and some older ones too.” Grandma was an active teacher in the Sunday school program here in Camp Point as she shared her faith with the next generation. A Grandmother’s faith is often instilled in her grandchildren. And after Grandpa passed, Grandma began to share her deep faith with me even more through her letters.
Death has a way of awakening in us a deeper sense of faith, a deeper sense of the reliance we have on God who is ultimately the one in control of our lives. Grandma would always say that she loved me in her letters, but it wasn’t until Grandpa died that she changed her signature to, “I love you and I pray for you everyday.” I have a feeling that Grandma prayed a lot more after Grandpa died, not only for her family, but as a way of staying connected to her spouse of nearly 71 years. She wrote, “I miss going to see Grandpa, but I am glad he could just sleep away and not lay and suffer.” She wrote of her prayer life, “I’ve been to the Methodist church across the corner here three times…There is a catholic Mass here in the chapel on Saturday. No excuse for not going to Church somewhere.” And she always, always asked for prayers for those in need in the family and community, she said, “Don’t forget to pray for this Bruns family, how healthy we have all been.”
Grandma’s health wasn’t always the best though. And she would sometimes write about the struggles of growing old. “Three weeks ago, I cleaned a spot off the carpet. When I raised up I was dizzy, fell over backward and skinned my elbows, hit the back of my head… Marlene and Joe came and helped me up.” Reading her struggles, and the pain of her aging was always hard for me, being hundreds of miles away at school and unable to do anything. But I always cherished those moments when I would stop by while in town to visit. Grandma would show me photos of the family, tell stories from her past, and always, always cry when it came time to say goodbye. Over the years, when I would call her cellphone or stop by to see her, I often had to remind her of who I was. She wrote, “My only troubles are I don’t remember very long. I am so amazed at the names and other things just pop in my head after a while.” At Grandma’s 96th birthday I was home here for a visit. Those of us who were there know what a good day it was for Grandma. When I got off the elevator, she was sitting in her wheelchair with Aunt Marlene at the Nurses station. I walked over, crouched down next to her chair to give her a hug and kiss, expecting to have to explain who I was. But she saw me coming and recognized me for the first time in years as she said, “Corey, what a surprise. I didn’t know that you would be here.”
Mary and Martha wanted our Lord to be there when Lazarus died. But he didn’t come, because he needed them to believe in who he was. He needed them to know that he was the Lord of both the living and the dead. He needed them to know that souls of the just are in the hand of God, and there no torment shall touch them. For they are at peace.
My dear family, today, Grandma is at peace. Today she with Grandpa, her brother Warren, her family are at peace now with the Lord and we give thanks even in the midst of our sorrow for their lives and their love. This pandemic prevented us from being with Grandma when she died, from being with her over these past 10 months. But she was not alone. She was never alone. For now as she who believed sees the glory of God, she rejoices with her Savior. Because Jesus was with her at her first death in baptism, and he was there with her, holding her in his hands in her death to eternal life.
And so today, Grandma, may you return to Him who formed you from the dust of the earth. May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints come to meet you as you go forth from this life. May Christ who was crucified for you bring you freedom and peace. May Christ who died for you admit you into his garden of paradise. May Christ the true shepherd acknowledge you as one of his flock. May you see your redeemer face to face, and enjoy the vision of God for ever. Amen.
No child should ever die before their Mother. No mother should ever have to witness the death of her Son, yet in horror you watched as they marched Him up the road to Calvary. The scandal of the night’s activities…forever etched into your mind. The roaring vulgarity of the crowd as they had shouted crucify, crucify. The broken, beaten, bloody naked body of your Son draped in purple…mocked by all.
And now, here you were at the foot of the Cross. Perhaps there was some other place you had planned to be, but none of that mattered now. The only thing that mattered was that you were here. Here with your son, being present to Him, watching, waiting, praying. How you wished to make the pain of that cross your own, to take away, His suffering, His fear. And in many ways his pain did become yours. Bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh, the horrific dying anguish of your Son pulsated through your body. Watching him pull himself up to breathe, left you breathless. Watching the blood pour down his face, made your tears pour down yours. His agony and death became yours, your hearts, and lives forever linked. Mother to Son. Son to Mother.
And as you had said, “be it done to me” at his conception, you said it again as his death brought about new birth. “Be it done” you whispered. “Be it done,” you had cried. With each lash upon his back, be it done, with each tear down your face, be it done, with each drop of Sacred Blood running down your Son’s broken body…be it done. Be it done unto Him, be it done unto me. Yes, his death became yours for no son should ever die before their Mother. No Mother should ever have to witness and endure the death of her Son, but here you were. Your yes had brought you joy at his birth, and now, now your yes brought you to this intimate sharing in the Passion and death of your Son. Your heart pierced and broken, how much more could it take?
Stretching out a hand you caressed the rough bloody wooden instrument of pain, wishing that you could simply hold Him again. That you could take him down into your arms and caress his tired, pained face. But you couldn’t so you looked up into his face, your eyes meeting, speaking the message of love between a Mother and her Son. The gasping sound of his blood-filled lungs painfully breaking through the air as he groaned, as he spoke and said, “Woman, behold your son.”
Your mind began to race…What could this mean? How could John ever replace your son? The tears began to pour down your face again, as the whispered-dying voice from on high, spoke again from the cross, “Son, behold your Mother.” You were losing your Son, but in his dying anguish he gave you another. For hope would not die here. No, no, even in death, hope would live. For there had to be some purpose for this suffering. You did not know what would happen, you did not know that in three days he would rise, but you knew now that even in death, he loved and cared for you, for all of you.
And as you turned and looked to John… you saw in his eyes the love and despair of one who had also lost everything, whose hope had been crucified. And in that moment of despair…that moment of abandonment, of loss, you instinctively reached out, pulling him into your motherly embrace, pulling him close. Holding him, holding your Son, sobbing with your Son, hoping… loving… dying… with your Son.
8 years ago today I started Seminary at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary. A lot has changed since then. I’ve come to know who I am as a beloved Son of God, gained some weight 😬😉, traveled through world, experienced the mercy and love of God working in the lives of his people and through me in countless ways, and was ordained a Deacon.
The journey has had its trials and challenges, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Thank you Lord, for calling me to Orders, to my family and friends for always supporting me, to Bishop Medley and my Vocation Directors, priest mentors, and to my Seminary formation staff and brother seminarians who have helped me conform my life more closely to the Lord.
Please pray for me as I start my final, Ninth year of seminary formation at Saint Meinrad this coming week.
In all things, may God be glorified. Immaculate Heart of Mary, set our hearts on fire with the love of your Son.
It’s not often that I get the chance to write “poetry.” It’s even less often than that, that I share what I write with others besides a spiritual director or close friend.
This Fall, I had a rather unfortunate encounter which led me to a beautiful period of prayer. As I sat with the Lord I wrote this “poem.” It’s mostly free verse with a little bit of rhyme. As I start my retreat today, I share it here in the hopes that it too might speak to you in a similar way that it spoke it’s truth, love, and beauty to me.
When love burns so much it hurts.
The fires of love they burn within this vessel made of clay.
Baked hard and fast with flames of pain, heartbreak, doubt, sadness, hurt, and loss.
This vessel though hard and strong, tried and true feels weak, chipped, lost, abandoned, alone, broken.
The achilles heel, the pressure point, the vessel could not hold.
Stretched, stressed, politicized, berated, worm down by violent use.
This vessel seemed a simple shell, a lonely shell, of what it once had been.
And yet within deep down inside the vessel knew it well.
The loving hands which had taken it, molding it from clay.
It felt the potters hands of love, the tender, gentle hands.
It felt the softness of the hands, the tender touch of care.
It remembered the beauty He saw in it, the joy He had taken in its creation.
It remembered the look of the Fathers eyes, the piercing beauty of His love.
It remembered too the callous hands, scarred, bruised, and torn.
For the Fathers hands were broken too with pain, heartbreak, hurt and loss.
The Fathers hands…the potters hands were the same hands of love.
And in the midst of sadness, hurt, pain, doubt, and loss…
The little vessel remembered the love with which he had been created…
The love for which he had been created…
The hope for which he had been fashioned.
For the vessel was not broken, nor was he even chipped. He had been cast in the fire of the Potters love, so that he might emerge new, beautiful, and strong.
The Father’s love was the fire in that kiln. It was the fire, tried, and true.
The fire which burned so much it hurt, for it was making all things new.
We had the following words from Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor’s Ordination Homily in 1990 for our Catechesis and New Evangelization Class at the Seminary this week. They’re powerful, powerful words. And have been wonderful to reflect on and pray with. It’s a quick read. I encourage you to read it!
Ordination Homily, 1990 John Joseph O’Connor, Archbishop of New York (1920-2000)
I look at you as my 18 sons. I look at you as 18 bridegrooms whom I am about to give in marriage to your bride, the Church. You hav e spent many years in preparation. You have prayed, you have prepared yourselves as well as any bridegroom could to enter into your marriage. Now let us speak of this bride whom you take this day.
She’s younger than springtime, but she counts her years in centuries. She’s a startlingly beautiful bride, but she is deformed, disfigured with the wounds, with the scars of Christ Himself. She is weary with the centuries, ugly to those who do not know her as you know her.
She will be to you a gentle, patient and loving bride but she can be to you stubborn, unyielding even harsh. She will be faithful to you and yet at times, she will seem to turn away from you, even to betray you. She will be a consoling and a comforting bride, but she will be an extraordinarily demanding bride. She will lay down her life for you, but she will demand your life in return.
For this bride that you marry today is not the Church triumphant. This is the Church of this world, the Church of God’s people. God’s people who are strong and holy, God’s people who are weak and sinful. God’s people who are good and generous. God’s people who are selfish and demanding. God’s people who will love you beyond any love you ever imagined, but God’s people who, at times, will seem to you to hate you and to be resentful of you and to be spiteful toward you. God’s people, your bride, will give you ind escribable p leasure and i mme nse pain, unut ter able jo y and p rofo und sorrow . These a re God’ s people, not yet a fully risen people, not yet a perfect people. And these are the people that you take unto your own as their bridegroom, as their priest.
As your bishop, I give you but one mandate: love our Church, love God’s people. Love them for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Love them until death, after which both you and they will be transfigured in glory.
You will share intimacies with your people, but the intimacies will be your administering to them the Holy Sacraments of the Divine Bridegroo m. You will h eal, yo u will reconcile, y u will pour ou t love upon them. You will baptize their children, you will gently anoint the pained, the suffering, the dying. You will bury the dead, and above all you will enter into that most intimate of intimacies with your bride, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass you will lay down your life as Christ laid down His. Your body will be broken, as His body was broken. Your blood will be poured out as His blood was poured out. “Greater love than this no one has, ” and truly you will lay down your life for your bride, the Church, God’s people. And never, never will you find God’s people wanting in generosity, wanting in sacrifice, refusing to lay down their lives for you.
Love God’s people, be kind to them and gentle. Urge them to be what God wants them to be but forgive them when they fail to become what God wants them to become, as they, your bride, will forgive you for your sins, for your weaknesses. And if you love your bride, if you lay down your life for your bride each day, then you will find that your love will grow deeper and stronger as the years go on, just as we are told at the marriage feast at Cana, the bridegroom has saved the best wine until last. In the silver and the golden years of your priesthood, despite the sufferings you may have endured, the temptations you may have experienced, the pressures, the conflicts, the loneliness, the solitude, despite the fact that there will be days that you will ask, “Is this really what God wants of me?”– despite all of that, you will find that indeed, your love of God’s people and your priesthood will be richer, sweeter than even on this day of ordination.
My final word to you my brother priests: preach the truth always. God’s people deserve nothing less. There are ears itching for new teachings, as St. Paul tells us, but we have the teachings of Christ, of the gospel, of our Holy Father, of the bishops. Preach and teach courageously. Serve God’s people truly as their servants, never as their masters. Above all, love the Church which today you have taken as your bride.
As my Third Theology Classmates and I prepare to petition for and God/Bishop-willing be ordained to the Transitional Diaconate this school year, pray for us that we might love our Bride, love our Church, and give our lives completely to her.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land…” Thus began my scripture passage I had found during my Lectio time the morning we began our journey to the Rio Grande Valley aka…the Border Trip.
For those who don’t know, I was blessed to spend 2 weeks with my Second Theology Classmates in San Antonio, Texas completing a workshop and cultural immersion on Hispanic Ministry in the 21st Century at the Mexican American Catholic College (MACC). Our time in San Antonio was extremely blessed and I truly treasure those memories and the bonding experiences my classmates and I had there. Besides our 5ish hours of class each day the middle of the trip included a visit to the Rio Grande Valley, known as the Border Experience Trip.
We began our journey to the border with a morning of reflection with one of the MACC faculty members on immigrants, refugees, and the experiences she had working in refugee camps for a very long time. We read and reflected on Scripture passages…one of which was that poignant passage from Leviticus that had graced my morning prayer time. After lunch we packed up, boarded the bus and drove south to the Basilica Shrine of our Lady of the Valley, where we would stay in their pilgrim hotel for our few nights there.
I am a huge fan when traveling of not judging others, their culture, their experiences, and the experiences I have while there with thoughts and preconceived notions from back home. I like to immerse myself in a place and experience life as a “local” of sorts. So, I prayed. Thanks to the great idea of my classmate, Brother Simon, OSB, we had a Holy Hour on Wednesday evening to pray for our experiences. And so we prayed!! I prayed that the Lord would bless this experience, that he would bless my classmates and I with open hearts, eyes, and ears, that we might listen to what the Lord was asking of us on this trip and that we would be able to leave the largely politicized language, and stories of the Border behind so that we could see what it truly was like. As I shared that Levitical text on my Facebook and Twitter, it so happened that President Trump was on his way down to the Valley at the same time and that our time there would overlap. Sure enough, I had a group of folks who began to comment and reply back about “pro-wall this” and “that.” As I responded to some of the claims being made, I found that I had to remind myself to be patient…quiet…kind…and to not let my ideas and pre-concieved notions get in the way. That was hard. My german-blood pressure was rising and I wanted to speak, but instead I chose to be silent…mostly.
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Each of us no matter our walk in life, our relationship with the Lord, etc. is in need of daily, personal conversion. I experienced a conversion of sorts at the wall, and since that’s the point of this post, I guess I should get to it!
We had what I would call five “main” experiences at the Border. The first consisted of home visits with ARISE, (a group of immigrant women or others assisting them and working to make better, safer, and cleaner communities there in the Valley), several visits to pray and visit the Border wall, volunteering at a Respite Center, Mass at the Basilica, and a conversation with Bishop Daniel Flores, of Brownsville Texas.
The Arise visit gave us the opportunity to hear from local immigrant families about their experiences and lives in both the USA and wherever they came from in South/Central America. My home visit brought me back instantly to my time in Guatemala. I got to practice my spanish, enjoy the wonderful hospitality of an Abuela, and hear of the struggles, joys, and faith of a woman who was deeply invested in her new home, city, and country. It was a wonderful experience.
We also got to hear from a young woman who was a DACA recipient about her journey, the fears of being brought as a young girl to this country by Coyotes, the fear of losing her family…we cried with her as she shared with us the pain of not being able to go home for her Grandmothers funeral, her Uncle’s funeral, not being able to see family members who were instrumental in her young life ever again. I can’t begin to imagine what my life would be like if my parents had taken me and my triplets siblings as children to run to a foreign land just so we could have food on the table and a chance at a life of peace and joy.
When we went to the Border wall, I was struck by how unnatural it was. I was struck by the fact that beyond the wall was a beautiful texan/dessert America at times for several miles, but I as an American couldn’t go there because the wall prevented me. I was struck by the humor and the kindness shown by those we encountered there, the border agents getting into their vehicles to go home to their families after a long day. The ones who waved at us and smiled. This dichotomy of welcoming, hospitality, and refusal, denial was stark. The fence was cold. It was concrete, metal, and the top was covered in freshly installed barbed wire. It felt surreal. Almost like a war zone of sorts. I couldn’t wrap my mind around all of the emotions and feelings that I was experiencing. It just didn’t make sense.
As we saw a ladder fashioned crudely out of 2×4’s on the American Side of the fence, I thought of and I prayed for whomever used it the night before to climb the wall and come to America. I prayed for their family, for their peace, safety, for their faith. As we continued our walk around the border wall I couldn’t help but be grateful. Grateful for the life I’ve had, the privileges (and believe me… they are privileges) I enjoy as an American, grateful for being born in the family I was, in the land I was, the faith I was given. Let there be hope. Hope. HOPE. We just celebrated the birth of our Savior at Christmas into the world. We remembered the message of love of hope that he brought. For those families we visited with the USA stands still as a beacon of light, of freedom, of safety, of peace, and the one thing EACH person said: “of HOPE” for them, for their loved ones, for the world. And Hope I felt. Hope I encountered in the women working at ARISE. Hope, I encountered in the girl crying as she shared her story of seeking freedom. Hope, was found in the Stations of the Cross we prayed our first night at the Basilica. HOPE, was found in almost every moment, because our HOPE was not based in just our country, in just our world, but in the Hope of a Life eternal, where there will be no division, no sadness, no pain, no fear…a future of Hope, as Isaiah the prophet spoke. Christ, Jesus Christ brought, was, and IS that Hope.
Our visit with Bishop Flores was one of the highlights of the trip. He is a captivating speaker, doesn’t mince words, and was great at challenging us as future pastors to speak for those in need in our midst. He said many challenging things to us, two of which stood in my mind:
“The Church does not ask for legal documentation because Christ did not ask for it before helping the stranger. She asks Are you hungry? Are you cold? Do you need shelter? She asks and she provides care. She asks and she acts. She asks and is the feet and hands of Christ”
“Your job as future pastors is to invite to the Eternal Banquet everyone, in a society which sadly prefers to eat alone.”
I’ll reflect on these in a couple paragraphs at the end…
After our visit with the good Bishop, we headed to a Respite Center to volunteer. This center was opened by Catholic Charities to assist those who have come into the Rio Valley seeking asylum with food, showers, clothing, and help in boarding their bus to wherever they are headed. Each person (except for the children) has a tracking device locked around their leg. That was unnerving. I understand the reasons the Government had placed it on them, (so that they could make sure they show up for their immigration court date) but it seemed cruel, cold, and inhospitable.
As I walked at the back of the line through the old Nursing Home turned respite Center I came outside the back door where my classmates were walking around handing out “carritos” “Hot-wheels” and stuffed animals to the little children. I started to cry. Seeing these men, my brothers many of whom don’t speak a lick of Spanish besides “Hola” reaching out and encountering these people filled my heart with such joy. I remarked later to them that in that moment I saw them each as priests and I was filled with such joy thinking of the good they were going to do in the future as pastors to a world so in need of the Lord’s love and mercy.
I met a gentleman who was my age. MY age. 24 who had brought his 4 year old son from Guatemala…left his wife and daughter behind so that he could live without fear and danger with the hope of one day having them reunite and be able to live in peace. We laughed. We joked with one another. And we reflected on the beautiful country and family he was pained to leave. I spoke with several other gentlemen there about life in the states, their lives and families they left behind, and gave them weather updates for where they were going. One of them asked me where I learned to speak Spanish. I explained my summer immersion in Guatemala. With tears in his eyes he thanked me. He a non-Catholic (who was quite surprised when I said I didn’t have a girlfriend or wife) thanked me for taking the time to learn his language so that I could share with him the love of God in that moment and bring a moment of peace and joy to him and the others there.
That made my entire summer worth it. To encounter one man and be able to listen, to joke, to share with…That made my entire summer experience and the struggles of learning Spanish incredibly, wholly, worth it.
I prayed for those folks every day I was in Texas and I still pray for them now. The words of thanks on their lips to Catholic Charities for reminding them of their dignity, of their creation in the image and likeness of God, of sharing compassion, food, comfort, with them broke my heart. Listening to children…little children under 8-11 years old tell you thank you for a hot wheel car, tell you how glad they are to have food, warm clothes, and to be with their families in a warm place after being detained in the giant “refrigeradores” (refrigerators) for days touches you and it moved my heart with pity and love. Misericordia, the sorrow of the heart was felt. But yet, there was HOPE. And for that I am grateful.
At Mass on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Rector invited some of my brothers who are instituted Acolytes to assist with the distribution of Communion, after the Prayer after Communion, welcoming us again, he and the parishioners and visitors applauded for us as they promised prayers for our Vocations, and the communities we will one day serve.
Is there a solution to the Border?
You might be wondering what my thoughts on the Wall and the border and immigration are. I’d like to go back to the two comments Bishop Flores made that stuck with me:
Bishop Flores reminded us of our job as pastors is to invite ALL to the Eternal Banquet table. I don’t get to choose who I invite to the Heavenly Banquet. I as a future priest of Jesus Christ HAVE to serve ALL. Specifically, like Christ, I have to serve those in need. I, like the Church do not ask for legal documentation before helping someone in need. I ask, what do you need? Food? Shelter? Clothing? And I strive to meet that need. No questions asked. Why? Because my job is the care of souls. I am called daily to make Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross my own. I am called to deny what I want, for what Christ asks of me. I am called to daily conversion. Which for me, includes welcoming the stranger and seeing them as friend. I am called to be the hands of Christ to a broken world, to help each person to know that they are loved, that they are valued, in whose image they have been created, and by who’s blood they have been purchased and redeemed.
My job, my role, my calling is to welcome the stranger-for in the Church, ALL have a home. Not just a select few. Not just those born in this land. Not just those with a passport or green card. Not just those who have a job. ALL. EACH and EVERY person has a home and is welcomed in the Church as if they’re Christ-himself. Because… they ARE. Our Theologies of Incarnation, elevate the human person. Because Christ, the living-God humbled himself and became man, he raised our human flesh to the dignity and honor due to God. We are the people he has claimed as His own. And because of that we MUST strive to always uphold the dignity of every person.
It’s common knowledge that we have a broken immigration system. It is under-funded, under-staffed, and does not always honor the dignity of each human person. At the same time, neither does our healthcare system, education system…the list goes on and on. For us…this side of Heaven we have to strive to build up a better world each day. That means a lot of reforms. Our country is incredibly blessed and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but…but that doesn’t mean that we still can’t and still shouldn’t do better!
Should we have a wall? I honestly don’t know. Part of me says yes. Part of me says no. I don’t think it is my place to get into that argument in depth here. If you want to know, feel free to ask me my mixture of thoughts in person. However… as a Seminarian and God-willing future priest I think, I believe, I know that the Church has the ability, authority, and mandate to speak on the basic topics of immigration and immigrants. Her job is to safe guard and help us recognize the dignity of others.So what does she say? The Catechism lays out two main points on this topic meant to balance each other.
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.
“So, the Catholic view is thata prosperous nation such as ours should be generous in receiving immigrants, especially refugees and the poor, but that there are legitimate limits the nation can apply. In particular, the receiving nation has a right to expect things of immigrants: that they follow its laws, respect the country’s way of life, and contribute to the shouldering of civic responsibilities. (A nation also has the right and duty to defend and promote the common good of its citizens — see CCC 1910.)”
Mons. Charles Pope
Yes, that’s right it’s the good old Catholic “Both-And.” Nations have the right and duty when able to assist those in need, to require something of them, and to defend themselves. It’s a balance and truthfully, it will be very hard to find a solution that fits both perfectly. But we must try to do such.
Monsignor Pope puts it well in the above linked article:
“Do you want the wall to be built? Fine, but be sure that your support is based on national security and the common good of our citizens rather than a rejection of the generosity required of a prosperous nation such as ours.
Do you oppose the building of the wall? Fine, but be sure that you can articulate the conditions on the right to immigrate so that “the common good” is protected. Be certain that your plan ensures that immigrants fulfill their “duties toward their country of adoption” (“respect[ing] with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, … obey[ing] its laws, and … assist[ing] in carrying civic burdens”).”
My experience at the Border was one of joy. One of sorrow. One of hope. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. There’s a lot of humility that needs to be received by both sides of the discussion. And there’s a lot of conversion of our hearts that needs to take place…mine included! May the Lord bless us with the grace to welcome the stranger, the immigrant, those in need as if we were welcoming himself…the Christ child, into the world on that Christmas night. May he, the child of immigrants, who showed us in his lowly birth how he came for ALL, help us to serve all, to love all on this walk of beauty, so that at the end forever we might be with Him in Heaven.
We’re all on this journey together. The immigrant walking their own way of the Cross to a better life. The natural born citizen walking toward racial equality. The woman walking toward equal pay. The man walking to find a job to put food on the table for his family. Our life can be a living set of the Stations of the Cross if we let it. If we let Christ in… If we let Christ walk with us… IF we let Christ lead us to Calvary with him, will we have the courage to stand up, to speak peace, love, mercy, and forgiveness as he did? Will we have the courage to defend the widowed, the orphan, the stranger, the naked, the hungry? If we won’t be the hands and feet of Christ on this walk of ugliness, of sin, but yet of beauty, of human fleshiness, of messiness, who will?
It’s up to us as future pastors to deal with the care of souls. To welcome all to the Eternal Banquet of Heaven, to build community among a culture which prefers to be detrimentally-individualistic, and to help others to see the face, the hands, the feet, the heart and body of Christ in each person we encounter.
“Everything that the church gives you to sing, every prayer that you say in and with Christ and his Mystical Body, is a cry of ardent desire for grace, for help, for the coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer.”
– Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain
The Seven Story Mountain is definitely my favorite of Thomas Merton writings. The above quote popped up on my Facebook Memories this morning from a few years ago. I think that it highlights these final days of the Advent Season in a beautiful way.
Currently, at Mass and Evening Prayer we are hearing/singing/chanting/praying the “O Antiphons”, (See my post from a few years ago here.)today we heard O Clavis David…Key of David. These ancient titles for the Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer connect us with our Jewish roots and with principal titles for the Messiah and what he will/has/does come to do for us.
This evening, we joined our dear Contemplative/Cloistered Passionist Nuns in Whitesville for a small social gathering, music, a very creative/funny skit, as well as to pray Evening Prayer in their beautiful chapel. The Sisters, like those of us at Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology have the privilege of chanting the various hours of the Liturgy of the Hours in common. The Nuns used a beautiful tone for tonight’s Magnificat Antiphon:
O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.
As the Nuns tend to chant in a higher register than we men (it tests my Tenor voice at times) I was struck particularly during the chanting of this Antiphon with the quote I had reread earlier in the day. As the nuns chanted higher, I envisioned that Royal Power of Israel, the one who commands death and life coming from the heights and leading us forth into freedom from our sin, from our false sense of selves, from the weight of the culture’s-lived-out idea of Advent…
“Everything that the church gives you to sing, every prayer that you say in and with Christ and his Mystical Body, is a cry of ardent desire for grace,for help, for the coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer.”
– Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain
To me this evening, that antiphon spoke light into the semi-dark corners of my spiritual life and helped me to see just a little bit more clearly how much more I needed Christ in my life. How I needed the Key of David to come and unlock the chains that still bind me, how I needed the Key of David to lead me into a deeper sense and lived experience of freedom.
As we have come to the end of the school semester and my mind has been bogged down for the past few weeks with finals, papers, and readings, Advent hasn’t been all that “peaceful.” Tonight, that changed. Tonight I entered a bit deeper into that peace, that quiet waiting with joy, hope, and expectation for the coming of the Messiah, our Redeemer. Tonight, in my heart, in my soul, I was able to cry out in song, chant…for grace…for help…for the coming of Emmanuel…God with us.
May you have the opportunity to sit a while, rest in the silence, the peace, the quiet waiting of these coming days so that we might join the Angels, Singing in Exultation as Christ comes not only in the manger of Bethlehem, but into the mangers of our hearts. May we make him room!
The Feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as an antidote to secularism, a way of life which leaves God out of man’s thinking and living and organizes his life as if God did not exist. The feast is intended to proclaim in a striking and effective manner Christ’s royalty over individuals, families, society, governments, and nations.
Today’s Mass establishes the titles for Christ’s royalty over men: 1) Christ is God, the Creator of the universe and hence wields a supreme power over all things; “All things were created by Him”; 2) Christ is our Redeemer, He purchased us by His precious Blood, and made us His property and possession; 3) Christ is Head of the Church, “holding in all things the primacy”; 4) God bestowed upon Christ the nations of the world as His special possession and dominion.
Today’s Mass also describes the qualities of Christ’s kingdom. This kingdom is: 1) supreme, extending not only to all people but also to their princes and kings; 2) universal, extending to all nations and to all places; 3) eternal, for “The Lord shall sit a King forever”; 4) spiritual, Christ’s “kingdom is not of this world”. — Rt. Rev. Msgr. Rudolph G. Gandas
CHRIST THE KING AS REPRESENTED IN THE LITURGY
The liturgy is an album in which every epoch of Church history immortalizes itself. Therein, accordingly, can be found the various pictures of Christ beloved during succeeding centuries. In its pages we see pictures of Jesus suffering and in agony; we see pictures of His Sacred Heart; yet these pictures are not proper to the nature of the liturgy as such; they resemble baroque altars in a gothic church. Classic liturgy knows but one Christ: the King, radiant, majestic, and divine.
With an ever-growing desire, all Advent awaits the “coming King”; in the chants of the breviary we find repeated again and again the two expressions “King” and “is coming.” On Christmas the Church would greet, not the Child of Bethlehem, but the Rex Pacificus — “the King of peace gloriously reigning.” Within a fortnight, there follows a feast which belongs to the greatest of the feasts of the Church year — the Epiphany. As in ancient times oriental monarchs visited their principalities (theophany), so the divine King appears in His city, the Church; from its sacred precincts He casts His glance over all the world….On the final feast of the Christmas cycle, the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, holy Church meets her royal Bridegroom with virginal love: “Adorn your bridal chamber, O Sion, and receive Christ your King!” The burden of the Christmas cycle may be summed up in these words: Christ the King establishes His Kingdom of light upon earth!
If we now consider the Easter cycle, the luster of Christ’s royal dignity is indeed somewhat veiled by His sufferings; nevertheless, it is not the suffering Jesus who is present to the eyes of the Church as much as Christ the royal Hero and Warrior who upon the battlefield of Golgotha struggles with the mighty and dies in triumph. Even during Lent and Passiontide the Church acclaims her King. The act of homage on Palm Sunday is intensely stirring; singing psalms in festal procession we accompany our Savior singing: Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit, Rex Christe, “Glory, praise and honor be to Thee, Christ, O King!” It is true that on Good Friday the Church meditates upon the Man of Sorrows in agony upon the Cross, but at the same time, and perhaps more so, she beholds Him as King upon a royal throne. The hymn Vexilla Regis, “The royal banners forward go,” is the more perfect expression of the spirit from which the Good Friday liturgy has arisen. Also characteristic is the verse from Psalm 95, Dicite in gentibus quia Dominus regnavit, to which the early Christians always added, a ligno, “Proclaim among the Gentiles: the Lord reigns from upon the tree of the Cross!” During Paschal time the Church is so occupied with her glorified Savior and Conqueror that kingship references become rarer; nevertheless, toward the end of the season we celebrate our King’s triumph after completing the work of redemption, His royal enthronement on Ascension Thursday.
Neither in the time after Pentecost is the picture of Christ as King wholly absent from the liturgy. Corpus Christi is a royal festival: “Christ the King who rules the nations, come, let us adore” (Invit.). In the Greek Church the feast of the Transfiguration is the principal solemnity in honor of Christ’s kingship, Summum Regem gloriae Christum adoremus (Invit.). Finally at the sunset of the ecclesiastical year, the Church awaits with burning desire the return of the King of Majesty.
We will overlook further considerations in favor of a glance at the daily Offices. How often do we not begin Matins with an act of royal homage: “The King of apostles, of martyrs, of confessors, of virgins — come, let us adore” (Invit.). Lauds is often introduced with Dominus regnavit, “The Lord is King”. Christ as King is also a first consideration at the threshold of each day; for morning after morning we renew our oath of fidelity at Prime: “To the King of ages be honor and glory.” Every oration is concluded through our Mediator Christ Jesus “who lives and reigns forever.” Yes, age-old liturgy beholds Christ reigning as King in His basilica (etym.: “the king’s house”), upon the altar as His throne.
Excerpted from The Church’s Year of Grace, Pius Parsch.