"Zeal for your house will consume me" (Ps 69:9)

Thoughts of a parish priest…


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Our Citizenship is in Heaven: Celebrating All Saints and All Souls day

I was once told that each year during Easter our late Holy Father, Blessed Pope John Paul II would have the third book of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” read to him. I don’t remember who told me that or even if it is true, but regardless, what a wonderful spiritual tradition to practice.

Probably best known for the first of the three books, the “Inferno,” the Divine Comedy, written by Dante Alighieri in the early part of the fourteenth century, traces Dante’s decent into hell (Part 1, Inferno), his ascent through purgatory, (Part 2, Purgartorio) and finally his entrance into the heavenly realm of paradise, Part 3, Paradiso).

It is this great literary work in addition to so many other pieces of art, such as the scene of final judgment found in the Sistine Chapel, from which we have developed our own personal understanding of what the afterlife is like. However, these are merely artistic expressions and not dogmatic truths. For example, whether or not the devil has horns and a pitchfork in hell or if we will see chubby cherubs playing harps while walking on clouds in heaven are up for debate, the reality of there existence is another matter.

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Unlike the first two books of the Divine Comedy which focus on the author’s assignment of certain historical figures to different levels of hell or purgatory, (a judgment the Church never makes, because we can never grasp the depths of God’s mercy), the final book is a more theologically accurate account.

Whereas the Church has never declared anyone to be in hell, even the most evil of sinners (Dante list Brutus, Cassius and Judas Iscariot as the three worst), the Church does infallibly declare that there are certain people in heaven; we call them, “saints.” In the Paradiso, Dante describes his encounter with the great saints that he meets in the heavenly kingdom.

So much of what we think of heaven has been shaped by literature, art and cinema. Some of this might be very advantageous in that it inspires us to think of what God has prepared for those who love him. Sometimes however, it can mislead us into thinking and believing something that is inaccurate. For example, have you ever heard a song or watched a movie that gives the impression that we become angels when we die? This would be incorrect; angels are different beings altogether.

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But art, literature and music not only inspire us, but also evoke certain questions from us. What will heaven be like? Will we see our loved ones who have gone before us? What will it feel like? Again, like so many other existential questions, we cannot give a detailed description of the heavenly kingdom.

The Catechism addresses this point, “This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (CCC 1027).

I once asked a very holy priest if he ever wondered what heaven was like. His response has always stuck with me. He began by first making it clear that he was more concerned about getting there than what it will be like. But he went on to say that in our current human condition, scarred by sinful tendencies, it is impossible to comprehend. In his explanation to me, he was not only talking about the reality of heaven, but also touching upon the concept of purgatory.

This weekend, we celebrate two very important feasts- All Saints day on Saturday and All Souls day on Sunday. These feasts focus our attention on those faithful who have already received their eternal reward the heaven, the saints, and those who are in Purgatory, still being cleansed of their sinfulness before their entrance into the heavenly kingdom.

It isn’t just this weekend that we are reminded of Heaven and Purgatory, however, but the entire month of November is dedicated to praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. We are reminded that the greatest thing that we can do for someone who has died is to pray for them, which is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.

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Many anti-Catholic cynics criticize the concept of Purgatory because the term is never used in the bible, but the Catechism clearly and beautifully explains why it makes perfect sense and is really among the most merciful of the Church’s teachings. “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1031).

The main point is this – would heaven really be entirely perfect if we were still plagued with sinful tendencies of selfishness, lust and pride? Heaven is standing before God with an undivided heart, without any other impure or imperfect desire or thought. Purgatory is where we are purified of these sinful tendencies so that we can enter the Kingdom of God perfectly.

Purgatory is not a state of everlasting punishment like hell, but one in which we are made clean of any stain of sin. The image of gold being purified in the furnace is perhaps most helpful. The fire is not one that damages or hurts the object, but removes all impurities from it. This is what happens to the souls in purgatory, they are in a state of final purification before entrance into the heavenly kingdom.

The main point is this: our citizenship is heaven! God created us to be with him forever. We are reminded of this at funeral Masses when we hear the words of our Lord:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way. Thomas said to him, Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way? Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father” (John 15:1-7).


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SAINT Pope John Paul II

I have waited a long time for this day, 9 and half years to be exact! This morning I celebrated Mass on the Feast Day of SAINT Pope John Paul II. He was canonized by Pope Francis earlier this year (Divine Mercy Sunday), and today is the first time his feast day is celebrated. Oct 22 commemorates the day he was installed as the 264th Successor of St. Peter! On this great feast, I would like to share a personal reflection.

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I will start in summer of 2002. I was preparing to head to Toronto for World Youth Day. I can’t begin to express how excited I was to finally be able to see Pope John Paul II in person, the man who not only had such a tremendous impact on me personally, but in fact on the entire world.

I had heard so many stories of people who had the blessed opportunity to be in the presence of this saintly Polish Pope, of how it had changed their lives and moved them to become better Catholics. Now it was my turn to see the pope. Even frail and barely able to walk, he still had the capacity to captivate the crowds and preach the Gospel with such vigor and enthusiasm.

As providence would have it, my being able to see Pope John Paul II in Toronto was not meant to be. The week of World Youth Day was the same week that one of my closest friends from college was having his fifth open heart surgery. He was given a thirty percent chance of survival. Even though this could be my only chance to see the pope, I knew where I needed to be. In case you are wondering, my friend made it though okay and was actually ordained a Franciscan priest last summer.

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As providence would also have it, I was in fact able to see the Pope the following summer. It was late August of 2003 and I had just arrived in Rome to begin my seminary studies. The first Sunday in Rome my classmates and I traveled to Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence. I remember the feeling that overcame me as he was brought to the balcony. He was in a wheelchair and his physical health was continuing to decline, but there was so much life in him and those gathered were well aware that they were in the presence of a living saint.

Almost exactly a year later, I was able to travel to Castel Gandolfo again, this time with my bishop who was in town for his Ad Lima meeting with the pope. This time, we were able to be brought into the residence and meet the pope personally and where I was able to kneel before him and kiss his ring. I remember thinking of how unbelievable it was to be in the presence of the Vicar of Christ on earth and the leader of the universal Church. What made it so much more special was that I was there with our Bishop, the leader of our own local Church at the same time. I remember thinking to myself, here I am just a kid from Fall River and now I am kissing the pope’s ring.

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It has become a papal tradition that those meeting the pope receive a rosary from him. Every time I pray the rosary with those beads I remember those wonderful few moments that I was able to be in the presence of a saint! I wouldn’t normally carry those rosary beads with me out of fear of losing them, but they were with me on the night that John Paul passed from this world into eternal life.

I remember it like it was yesterday. My friends and I were standing in St. Peter’s square that night the pope died. We all knew that this moment would eventually come, but it was a reality that we didn’t want to face. You have to remember that my classmates and I were all born after his election in 1978 and he was the only pope that we knew. Saying farewell to him and seeing a new pope was not going to be easy, though Joseph Ratzinger being elected his successor made it much easier!

Shortly after 9:30pm, the lights went on in the papal apartments that could be scene from St. Peter’s square and a bishop came into the square to announce that the pope had died. At first, there was a tremendous silence that came over the huge crowd that had gathered in the square to pray for the pope. It was like time had stood still as the “death bell” began to toll. All of a sudden, a huge eruption of applause broke out. It all made sense – the applause was a sign of both our gratitude to God for giving us such a faithful and holy leader and also an expression of faith that God had called home his good and faithful servant.

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The days leading up to his funeral were also most memorable. The streets were packed with people from all over the world, young and old, Catholic and non-Catholic who wanted to see Pope John Paul one last time as he lay in state in St. Peter’s Basilica. People waited in lines for upwards of 16 hours just to pass by their beloved pope for just a few seconds.

Huge video screens were set up along the street so that those waiting in line could watch video clips of John Paul’s extraordinary life and papacy. I remember sitting there on the curb watching scenes from different parts of his pontificate. There were images of his early days as pope when he was young and energetic. There were other images of his final years, unable to stand and struggling to speak. The same thought kept running through my mind – what an incredible man this was!

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Pope John Paul II provided us a great example and a tremendous witness to hope. He showed us how to live holy lives, he explained the faith to us and brought it to all corners of the world, and he showed us how to place our trust in the Lord, especially in the midst of suffering. May we never forget Saint Pope John Paul the Great!


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Pilgrimage to Italy and Spiritual Renewal

Forgive me for not having posted in several weeks! Lots of changes and busyness has kept me from regular blog posts!

In late June, priests transfers brought a new pastor and another assistant to the parish where I was assigned and then after the unexpected death of another priest, I was asked to become the temporary administrator of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in New Bedford, MA. Needless to say, when changes come our way and when things get busy, the order and routine of our lives can get messed up, sometimes even our spiritual lives.

Just this past week, I returned from a pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi and Sienna! I led a group over for the diaconate ordination of one of our diocesan seminarians! As most pilgrimages are, it was a time of great spiritual renewal for me personally! God blessed us with so many wonderful experiences (and lots of great food).

Walking the streets of the Eternal City, praying and celebrating Holy Mass at the tombs of great saints, recalling the history and rich traditions of our Catholic faith renew me spiritually in so many ways: my conviction of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, my desire for greater personal holiness and my love of the Catholic Church!

Now that things have settled down a bit, I hope to get back into the routine of more regular posts!

Here are a couple of pictures from the pilgrimage! Let me know if you are interested in joining me in future pilgrimages (I think Portugal and Spain are next).

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An Altar dedicated to Saint Pope John Paul II in the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia
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Celebrating Holy Mass at Santa Maria alle Fornaci

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St Peter’s Square for the Wednesday Audience with Pope Francis

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Celebrating Holy Mass at Santa Maria dell’Angeli in Assisi

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 Mass at the Tomb of St. Francis of Assisi