A popular metaphor compares life to a journey. Phrases that capture the comparison blazon images of daring climbers scaling steep mountain peaks, or ships afloat on the vast expanse of the ocean. The saying that ‘life is a journey’ is the kind of phrase that you might see written at the bottom of posters depicting an exhilarating scene, maybe one of jet plane launching into the open sky. It’s the kind of saying found on pictures that hang in office hallways or doctor’s waiting rooms, taking up filler space on the walls.
The popularity of the metaphor – life and journey – is reinforced by its near universal resonance. Cultures around the globe have embraced the image. “Life is just a journey” was a famous quote of England’s beloved Princess Diana. The title of a popular Chinese TV sitcom translates to English as “A Journey Called Life.” The metaphor is expressed in nearly every language and spread throughout the world.
Obviously, not all journeys take the same path. Few people climb the Himalayas, and sailing is an expensive hobby. Yet, while each life is a unique journey, regardless of the path taken all roads lead to the same spot.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “despite appearances that promise permanency, in this world nothing can be certain except death and taxes.” There are loopholes that allow for some avoidance of the latter, but no one escapes the former. Regardless of who you are, your journey comes to an end at the same place.
The early part of November is a time when the Church devotes particular attention to those whose journey has taken them into the next life. The month begins with the Solemnity of All Saints on Wednesday, a holy day of obligation in which we celebrate the lives of the saints, especially those unknown to us and those without a particular feast day on the Church’s calendar. This year, as something of a liturgical prelude to the solemnity, St. Vincent Ferrer will host an All Saints’ Vigil beginning at 7 pm on Tuesday, October 31st. The vigil is not a Mass (and so participation does not satisfy the obligation), but will be an opportunity to hear some of the songs and writings of the saints. The relics of several saints will also be available for veneration.
All Saints’ Day is followed by the Commemoration of All Souls on Thursday, November 2nd. Christian prayer for the souls of the dead has its roots in early Jewish practices recorded in the Old Testament. One of the ways in which the early Church continued the custom was by setting aside a particular day for the purpose of offering prayers for those whose life on this earth has ended, while the journey to heaven goes on.
Our pastor, Fr. Walter, invited me to write the bulletin letter this week in order to highlight a special program that I will be offering immediately after the conclusion of the Commemoration of All Souls’ Day liturgy that begins at 6:30 pm at St. Catherine of Siena on Tuesday, November 2nd. This program, titled “Into the Light,” is designed to be a kind of informational workshop that sheds light on end-of-life planning from a theological, but practical, point of view. The presentation will discuss topics such as funeral planning, advance care directives, senior care and asset management, etc. The discussion will aim to highlight the Church’s guidance in end-of-life care and offer some practical steps toward preparing for the passage from this life to the next. Joining me for parts of the presentation will be an elder and estates law specialist Michael N. Connors from Connors and Sullivan PLLC and Tommy Kritl from John Kritl Funeral Home. The program will begin at 7:30 pm in St. Dominic Hall at St. Catherine of Siena Priory.
The metaphor of life and journey makes little sense without heaven because without heaven, life would lack a destination worthy of our striving in this life. With the prospect of heaven though, death need not be the end; in fact it becomes what we have been aiming for all along. Join us this month as we turn special attention toward preparing ourselves and our loved ones for reaching that heavenly destination.
May we one day, together with our loved ones, be merry together in heaven.
Wishing you all the blessings that I can give,
Fr. Thomas More Garrett, o.p.
I write you these words about ten days before you read them, but from your vantage point surely will remember September’s horrendous parade of natural disasters. As you read this, millions of people across the Caribbean (3.5 million in Puerto Rico) and the Southern United States are starting all over again. Years ago they built homes and businesses from scratch now, with greater effort, they reconstruct them from out of a colossal mess.
Imagine too those impacted directly or indirectly by the shooting in Las Vegas. They too must build again, even though they can never build back what was.
Many of us sense a regression in our domestic and international political conversation. How do we recover the patterns of civility in affairs we once took for granted?
We have three hospitals in our parish and in each of these patients start over all the time: trying to recover capacities like walking, to which they once gave no thought.
Starting over is always harder, and demands an extra discipline and determination. Consider a domestic, personal example. We decide to get ourselves into shape and then illness or work breaks our new patterns of health. Then ours is the drudgery of making up lost ground. First, progress thrills us and gives rise to a hearty, “Hey, look at me.” Recovering carries the weight of disappointment, even embarrassment, at repeated effort. Stealthy temptations circle those who have lost ground and entice them away from the grunt work of regaining it. How many are the ways we can check out at such a point. Lost ground is despair’s fertile soil.
But faith teaches that this barren place of loss also harbors the seed of new life, waiting to be watered by prayer. After loss, what will give us the incentive to live again, or to pray that those we love will choose to live again? Perhaps it is the realization that rebuilding life means more than just gluing the old pieces back together. What we get back will not be the same: either it will be the battered shell of what was lost, or it will be the familiar transformed by new wisdom, new gratitude, and new humility.
Those who have come back from loss through faith tell us the story of grace. They realize in new ways the value of each day, each relationship, and each opportunity.
Tradition assigns to the Apostle, St. Jude Thaddeus patronage of those who find themselves at the bottom of life and who face the temptation not to start over. Our Dominican Shrine of St. Jude annually organizes nine days of common prayer for those seeking a renewal of hope. Such prayers ask for more than the restoration of the past, they seek the new thriving that actually derives profit from the experience of loss.
In these days when so many look to come fully alive again, the Shrine invites you to share your petitions for yourself or others who need to challenge a dead end with God’s gift of hope. Cards for these intentions will be placed at the statues of St. Jude in each church. You can return them to the church offices, or by leaving them in a basket at the shrines or the collection basket, or giving them to a Friar.
We will pray for your intentions during the days of our Novena from October 20 to October 28. The Novena prayers will be said at each of the Masses celebrated in our parish during these days. At two Masses each day there will be sermon preached for those making the Novena. The preached Masses will be at 1 pm at St. Catherine’s and at 6 pm at St. Vincent’s. On Sunday the preached Mass will be at 10 am at St. Catherine’s and 6 pm at St. Vincent’s. Several Friars will be assisting in the preaching of this novena, and each of them will address the of loss and recovery in the life of faith.
Please consider joining this work of prayer.