Friday, May 17, 2019

What's Heaven Like?

Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, Saint Paul tells us, what God has prepared for those who love him.

And while everyone from comediens to advertisers for toilet paper have painted a picture of pearly gates, clouds, and half-naked harp playing cherubs, the scriptures and the liturgical tradition paint a quite different picture of our last and permanent occupation. 

But we get a glimpse from the vision Saint John had in the Book of Revelation today.  Three things we can say about heaven.  First, that it’s new.  

Nothing is the way it used to be.

To those of you who are crying now, rejoice!  For every tear will be wiped away.  Every tear: the tear of the mother burying her baby, the man abandoned by his spouse, the grandmother whom no one comes to see, the toddler lost in the supermarket, the lady in the bed moaning in pain.  Every tear will be wiped away.

For there will be no more wailing or pain, or even death. No more saying good bye after 66 years of marriage, no more letting go after 2 years with cancer, no more wondering whether you have the strength to walk from the grave to the car.  No more wailing or pain or death, no more, ever again.

For the old order will have passed away, and the One who sits on the throne will say: ”Behold, I make all things new.”

Second it is perfect.
Now we see as in a dark mirror, Saint Paul helpfully informs us, but what we shall later be has not yet come to light.  What we do know is that the chosen shall be in their glorified bodies, risen from the tomb and clothed in light.

Our bodies will be like the risen body of the Lord, a body not ultimately left for corruption, but destined for eternity in a state which is beyond the laws of biology and physics in “a new condition, a different one, that we do not know but which is shown in the fact of Jesus and which is a great promise for all of us: that there is a new world, a new life, toward which we are on a journey.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Good Friday, 22 April 2011)

Third, it means being with God.

And where shall these perfected persons dwell?  We know that from the Lord’s merciful prophecy to the good thief hanging there beside him: “today you shall be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) The definition of being in heaven is being in the presence of God: apud Deum, ante Deum, cum Deo, ad coram Dei. Before God, in front of God, with God, among those who dwell in his presence.

Over and again we will hear this theme echoed from the psalms and in the Sacred Liturgy: 

Come and show us your face, O Lord, who are seated upon the Cherubim, and we will be saved. (Cf. Ps 79: 4, 2)

Of you my heart has spoken: Seek his face. It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me.

Let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice; turn to the Lord and his strength; constantly seek his face. (Entrance Antiphon for Weekdays in Lent)

Such are the people who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. (Entrance Antiphon for Weekdays in Lent)

Which leads us to one of the most puzzling lines in the Roman Missal.  It’s in the Second Eucharistic prayer in the commemoration of the dead, and what we pray for them is that God “admit them to rejoice in the light of your face...”

It’s an ancient image of heaven, standing before the face of God, which is resplendent in invincible light.  We first hear it in the Aaronic Blessing that God “make his face to shine upon you.” (Number 6:25)  We hear it in Saint Ambrose’s hymn, splendor paternae gloriae: Jesus, the incarnate image of the Father’s glory is resplendent in light, as one transfigured on Mount Tabor, as one radiant in glory.

And finally, it is a place and a time of Praise.
We are made for praise, and that is our destiny in the Kingdom of God, an occupation echoed in the Isaihan Sanctus which is sung at the end of the Preface of every Eucharistic Prayer, a prayer that transcends the boundaries of time and space.  The moment of Christ’s death on a hill outside Jerusalem is about to become a moment in this morning’s Mass.  The voices of the choir and the three seminarians in the back row are about to be blended with the choirs of angels and the saints.  In the Sanctus the Kingdom of Heaven is already, but not yet, and the Lord Jesus returns to us in his Body and Blood.  Just as he will at the end of time.

So what’s heaven like?  Clouds, harps and white bearded Apostles?  Not quite.


It is the full number of the nations, gathered together in Christ, being transformed into his one people and made perfect in his Kingdom, a place of perfection in his presence amidst eternal praise.  Of such is the Kingdom of God, the fulfillment of our hopes and our final destiny.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Mother's Day Prayer


Loving God, as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children, so you watch over your Church. Bless these women, that they may be strengthened as Christian mothers. Let the example of their faith and love shine forth. Grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them always with a spirit of profound respect. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

                                      - From the Book of Blessings.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Neither Greek nor Jew: From Antioch to Worcester

 

The boat which Saint Paul took on his first missionary journey arrived in what is modern day Turkey, from which he traveled about a hundred miles up the river valleys to the city called "Antioch of Pisidia.” But, as you heard in that first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, his first try at establishing a Church there did not go so well.

I suppose he chose Antioch because it was, by far, the largest city in the region and the center of the Roman government. With four roads leading into the city, it was home to people from everywhere: Jews, Phrygians, Greeks, and Romans.

But what seems to have attracted Paul most to Pisidia’s was its large and well-established Jewish community.  Trained as a rabbi of good Jewish stock, Paul saw in each of his kinsmen a prospective convert to Christianity, this new brand of Judaism.

And so, when the Sabbath arrived, he went immediately to the synagogue and, after the law and the prophets were read, responded to an invitation to preach.  And preach he did, giving a real barn burner of a sermon, the longest recorded in the scriptures.  He began by recalling God’s faithfulness to Israel throughout the centuries, ending with the establishment of the Davidic Kingdom.  But then, he threw them a curveball.  On the heels of the story of King David, he told them bluntly: “From the descendants of [David] God brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, just as he promised.”

No sooner had the words flown from his mouth then the city was divided into two groups: a sympathetic group of Jews and Jewish converts who “invited Paul and Barnabas back] to speak on these subjects the following sabbath;” and a second group “filled with jealousy and violent abuse [who] contradicted what Paul said.”

One week later, we are told, the whole city was there to hear Paul and Barnabas make the divisions even worse by telling the Jews who would not accept Jesus that ‘now we turn to the Gentiles,’ at which all those who were not Jewish rejoiced and converted, and the Jews drove Paul and Barnabas out of town.

So here’s my question: What was going on in the minds of those Jews who drove Paul and Barnabas out of town?  Why would they not accept what he had to say about Jesus?  What stood in their way of accepting the faith?

One factor, I would suggest, had to do with the city of Antioch Pisidia, which at that time was filled with immigrants: Greeks with their strange new language, their different customs and way of life. And then there were the Phrygians, this Balkan people, who worshipped the great “Mountain Mother,” Cybele, all while wearing funny hats and costumes at their festivals.  But the ones who most frightened the old Jews of Antioch were the Romans, who came in like they owned the place.  They had taken over the Temple in Jerusalem and barely a decade later sent 4,000 soldiers to build a base in Antioch Pisidia.

Antioch was changing, and the Jewish community resented it.  Because change is always hard and learning to live with all these new and exotic tribes is the hardest thing of all.

But if only they had been parishioners of Saint Paul’s Cathedral they would have understood.  For from our first days, Saint Paul’s has been the home to new and different groups from all over the world.

It was on May 29th, 1884 that my maternal great grandparents, Nora Lynch and Stephen Loughlin were married here at Saint Paul’s by Father O’Sullivan. The Church had been dedicated just ten years earlier, the same year they were just getting off the boat from Ireland.  

They were part of the second wave of Irish immigrants, that followed the building of the Blackstone Canal some fifty years before that. Drawn to these rows of smokestacks which marked the new factories along the canal in the last decades of the Nineteenth century were “potato” Irish and Swedes.

These “new Irish” came to live in the North End, especially since they weren’t so well accepted by the old more well established Irish who had spread from the Green Island shanties to the tenements of Grafton Hill.  The Swedes settled most famously in Quinsigamond Village, but then spread up Vernon Hill.

And so it is today. Where, according to the latest census Worcester’s largest immigrant communities hail from Ghana, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Albania and Brazil, each facing the same challenge of Saint Paul in Antioch Pisidia.

And so we, the sons and daughters of the Apostle to the Gentiles, are left asking: “How do we preach the faith to a new world, so different from the one we knew as a child?  How do we come to love peoples so different from ourselves and accept them from God as his special gift, a new revelation of his love for us, and a new glimpse of his face.

That is the challenge and the opportunity which stands before us in this Cathedral Church. To be Christ’s Church in Worcester in the first quarter of the twenty-first century.  Not clinging to a past which is no more, nor longing for a future not yet within our grasp, but in the words of Saint Paul, striving, groaning and aching for a Church where there is “no longer Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female. But where all are all one in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.” (Galatians 3:28)


So like Paul in Pisidia, Father Power watching his church be built, or Nora and Stevie walking down this very aisle, let us seek Christ together in the rich mosaic of which  God has made us a part.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

With the Help of Saint Paul, and Clare Leighton!

I’ve begun work, recently, on a video on the life of Saint Paul, as recounted in the windows of our great upper church.  As you may know, the windows were commissioned by then Bishop John J. Wright, the founding Bishop of the Diocese of Worcester. Bishop Wright chose an English artist, then residing in Maine, who was a famous fabricator of wood engravings.  

Clare Leighton was born in London in 1898 and sketched landscapes, lower-class workers, and rural life in her early years.  She emigrated to the United States in 1939, first living in Baltimore, where she became friends with H.L. Mencken and later joined the Department of Art, Aesthetics, and Music at Duke University.

She illustrated numerous books praising the virtues of the countryside and the people who worked the land, including wood engravings for a 1952 edition of the Old Testament books of Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, several of whose illustrations appear on these pages. Notice their similarities to some of our windows, all of whose renderings were produced at roughly the same time as her wood cuts.  

As the summer progresses, you will hear more about Clare Leighton and her magnificent windows, both at the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Worcester, Massachusetts and the Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Mary the Virgin in Worcester, England. In the meantime, let us be joined in grateful prayers for the beauty with which God had graced us in our Cathedral Church.

In the Lord,

Monsignor Moroney

Rector




Tuesday, May 7, 2019

With the Help of Saint Paul...Online....

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We live in an age dominated by social media. Indeed, as our Holy Father reminds us in his message for World Communications Day, “today’s media environment is so pervasive as to be indistinguishable from the sphere of everyday life.”

From a positive point of view, social media is “a source of knowledge and relationships that were once unthinkable.”  You can receive daily tweets from the Pope (@Pontifex), the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston (@CardinalSean) and even your Rector (@msgrmoroney)!

On the other hand, social media can  “threaten the search for, and sharing of, authentic information…[exposing us to] disinformation and to the conscious and targeted distortion of facts and interpersonal relationships…”

The antidote to disinformation is to rely on proven sources of information, like the Catholic Free Press (https://catholicfreepress.org) and even your Rector’s own blog (http://msgrmoroney.blogspot.com), where you will find all of my homilies and news of recent Cathedral events.

The internet is, indeed, a part of our lives, as we check our tweets, blogposts and Instagram accounts.  Let us pray that through the intercession of Saint Isidore of Seville, patron Saint of the internet, these new means of communications will draw us closer to Christ, who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.

In the Lord,

Monsignor Moroney

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Spring has sprung!

The youth group spent this evening planting flowers in the Bishop Flanagan Park, and they look wonderful. A combination of annuals and perennials remind us that the spring has sprung and soon we will be observing regular parish gatherings in this wonderful space!


Gathered around the Throne of God...

San Pietro al Monte, Civate, 12th century fresco
There they are: countless angels, gathered around the throne of God, singing a hymn to God’s glory:

"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain 
to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength,
honor and glory and blessing.”

It is the last scene, God willing, we will see, the precursor of our eternity, joined with the angels and the saints in one grand chorus of joyous praise to the Lamb upon the throne, the Alpha and Omega, the one who was and is and ever will be, the Lord.

Such is the glory of God.  It is a glory we can see even now, as we stand this side of heaven. The glory of a Creator, reflected in his creation, in all the wondrous complexity and beauty of the springtime, of plants and animals newborn and overflowing with life.  It if the glory, the beauty of the face of God I saw the first time I witnessed the birth of a child.

It was unforgettable, as I heard the first gasp of air and the first muffled cry of this little human being, so gently cradled in the hands of the obstetric nurses. I remember seeing the child’s eyes open for the first time, scanning the room to see what this world had to offer. And the look in the eyes of his mother and father as they gazed upon this miracle of life which they had brought into the world for the first time. It was the most glorious things my eyes had ever beheld.

And that child’s cry, the overwhelming wonder of that new life is but an obscure reflection of the infinite beauty of the glory of God, which we will see face to face at the “the consummation of the ages” on the last day when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.

Indeed, each day of our lives is but an unfolding of the glory of God, as we come to know him bit by bit in the wonders he place before us. For God created time, and all time is ultimately his creation, made to mark the passing of all the days and nights of our lives. (Cf. Sirach 43:2,6.)

Such time marks the history of the world and the history of each one of us as we are guided by the hand of the Lord through the pilgrimage of life toward the glory of God which is the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Sacred Liturgy, the Holy Mass which we celebrate today, opens a door into that Heavenly Kingdom.  For what we do here “intersects time and space, history and the cosmos,” giving us a glimpse of the perfect sacrifice which has been offered on the Altar of the Cross for our redemption.  Thus, in the words of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council: “in [this] earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy….” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 8. ) That is why we pray at this Mass that “from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice be offered to [his] name.” (Third Eucharistic Prayer, cf. Malachi 1:11.)

That’s how the Liturgy directs us away from a certain self-centeredness, and focuses our eyes on God.  That’s why the Altar is placed at the center of every Catholic Church, the Altar we venerate with a Kiss and a bow, just as we venerate Christ. And that’s why just above it hangs the cross of the crucified Christ, the Cross which is the Altar upon which the great High priest offered the perfect sacrifice of praise which is our hope and our salvation.

For this is what we were made for, and this is what heaven is going to be.  Not puffy clouds with angels playing harps, but perfect joy, pure love and praise in the presence of the glory of God.  Listen to the description of heaven in the Book of Revelation:

Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Rev 4: 8b.)

A great multitude of saints and angels, like the roar of Niagra Falls or the snap of a peal of Thunder, praising the glory of the Lord for all eternity, as day and night they sing: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.” (Rev. 4:11)

This is what we were made for, to be, in the words of Saint Peter, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, announcing the praises” of him who called us out of darkness into his own wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

The Hebrew word for this is Shekinah, gazing upon the face of God. No longer through a cloud of incense, a Pillar of Fire, a Burning Bush or a blinding light, but face to face, reveling in the …of his face.

May we be found worthy of that heaven which eye have not seen and ears have not heard, but which has been prepared for us, that Heavenly Jerusalem where we will hear  “the voice of many angels around the throne…and the number of them [who were] myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev.. 5:12)  For ever and ever.  Amen.

Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, Saint Paul tells us, what God has prepared for those who love him. And while everyone from co...