Let’s Roll

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 16, 2018)

Isaiah 50:5-9a

Psalm 116:1-6,8-9

James 2:14-18

Mark 8:27-35

“Let’s roll!” 17 years ago on September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer spoke these two final words just before Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. He was on a phone with a GTE operator, explaining to her that their plane had been hijacked. Those on board Flight 93 were already hearing reports that 2 other planes had hit the World Trade Center Towers in New York. They knew that if they just sat by quietly, they too would have a similar fate. So the passengers on board came up with an action plan. It was believed they were going to try and rush the terrorists, break into the cockpit and try to regain control of the plane. It was then that the GTE operator overheard Todd on the phone say, “Let’s roll” as they put their plan into action. Shortly later, Flight 93 crashed into an open field. There were no survivors. The theory was that the hijackers were headed to Washington, D.C. Probably with the intention of crashing the plane into the White House. However, the plane never reached that destination because the brave men and women on board took action.

I thought today’s reading from James was very fitting to be proclaimed in church just a few days after the 17th anniversary of 9/11. In it, we hear St. Paul say, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” He very clearly illustrates this when he says you can’t tell someone, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well” if you know they are without food or clothes as you walk right past them without lending a helping hand. You see, saying one thing, but not backing it up with action is a complete contradiction. Instead, St. Paul logically tells us that people who have a strong faith should also have strong actions that support their faith. For it is in these good actions that we see a faith that is alive.

What does this mean to us and how does it relate to Flight 93? There is so much negativity in the world. Let me ask you this… If you sit around and do nothing at all, do we humans tend to get excited or depressed? We get depressed and lethargic. We tend to go inward instead of outward. We also start to listen to the negative chatter in our minds. I’m sure that the people on board of Flight 93 were frightened. After all, they were starring evil and death right in the face. They could have turned inward and sat there doing nothing. But instead, “Let’s roll” was the battle cry they chose. Unfortunately, in the end, they never made it off that plane. But their actions allowed them to die as heroes because the plane wasn’t able to reach it’s target which would have undoubtedly lead to more innocent casualties.

Now, I’m not asking you to go out looking for a way to die as a hero. I am asking you however, starting today, to take on the battle cry, “Let’s roll” regarding your Christian faith. The time for sitting around and being complacent is over. We as a Church need to rise up and start putting our faith into motion.

People of God… I say to you, “let’s roll” regarding teaching our children and grandchildren the faith. You want a better church a decade or two from now? Then we need to take seriously the task of teaching our faith to the younger generation. I know that Mary Jane has asked many, many people to teach Sunday School catechism because we always seem to be shorthanded each year. I also know the most common reason people turn her down is because they claim they don’t know their faith enough to teach it. That’s an honest and valid reason. But why then don’t we have more adults in the adult formation class Sunday morning? We adults need to take the lead here and learn, or in some cases re-learn, our faith so we can pass it on to the next generation.

People of God… I say to you, “let’s roll” regarding supporting this parish. Studies continue to show that 1/3 of the people attending church donate zero dollars, 1/3 give some and 1/3 donate most of the money used to pay the bills. But it’s not just about money! If you look at the committees, it’s usually the same small group of people that volunteer for everything. To them I say, “Thank you!” To everyone else, I ask you to step out of your comfort zone and volunteer for something.

People of God… I say to you, “let’s roll” regarding participating in the Mass. If you aren’t excited to be at Mass… If you don’t see the value of saying the prayers and singing the hymns as a community… If you don’t do everything in your power to make Mass attendance the #1 weekend priority… then you need to have a serious heart to heart conversation with God and figure out what you are missing. Because God provides so much grace when you are fully here and receive the Eucharist with an open, God-loving heart.

People of God… I say to you, “let’s roll” regarding loving our neighbor. Let me say this loud and clear. Forgive one another. Drop the grudges. Encourage each other to be a better person and always lead with a loving heart. If we learned anything from the tragedy of 9/11 it is that we have no idea how much time we have left on this earth. So why in the world would you want to waste any time at all on negativity and nonsense?

Remember, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Don’t live a life with a dead faith. Instead, choose today to up the game and live out your faith fully with the heart of Jesus.

People of St. Andrew’s… I say to you, “let’s roll!”

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Grab Your Walking Stick

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 15, 2018)

Amos 7:12-15

Psalm 85:9-10,11-12,13-14(8)

Ephesians 1:3-14

Mark 6:7-13

 

Jesus sent the Apostles out two by two to preach of repentance, anoint the sick and drive out demons. But did you notice the stipulations he attached to it?

Take nothing for the journey. No food. No money. No sack. No second tunic. Just a walking stick, sandals and the clothes on their backs.

Now we have to ask, WHY? Why the stipulations? The Apostles were sent on a journey. A specific mission. Jesus didn’t want Peter and James messing around on Facebook or to have John video chatting with his buddies back home. He wanted them instead to focus on the task at hand and, more importantly, to rely on others for help.

Now, I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but preaching on repentance isn’t exactly easy. It tends to get people on the defensive when you ask someone to walk away from sin and addiction. Even if it’s for the ultimate greater good… we tend to cling to those negative things in life because they give us false joy and temporary pleasure.

The Apostles, without anything fancy and totally relying on the generosity of others, went out to spread the Gospel. Did they meet with resistance? Yup. But Jesus told them what to do if that happened. Did you catch that in the Scripture passage? Jesus said… if they don’t listen to you or welcome you… you’re supposed to raise your voice, curse, punch, kick and insult them for not seeing things your way!!! Nooooooo!! What he really said was, “leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.”

Jesus told the Apostles to do their best to teach others how to change their attitudes and to turn their lives around, but they needed to simply walk away if the person’s heart was too hard to hear the message. Just walk away. Such a simple concept.

And here’s the truly interesting part. These instructions that Jesus gave his Apostles… don’t take stuff, preach repentance, anoint the sick, drive out demons, walk away if people won’t listen… it worked. Why? Because people were open to changing their attitudes and willing to walk away from sin.

So here’s the take home message from today’s Gospel. If you are struggling with a sin or addiction, if you are angry, if you find yourself walking away from God instead of towards Him, if you are lacking joy in your life… get rid of some of the clutter and allows others to help you. Then focus on what needs to be changed, repent of it and get back on track. If you can consistently do this, you will have fewer negative things around you… I promise.

So grab your walking stick, repent of your sins, set your sights on God and enjoy the journey towards our Father in heaven who is the only source of true and everlasting joy.

Ruth Twaits Funeral Homily

July 23, 2018

Mass of Christian Burial for Ruth E. Twaits

St. Mary’s Catholic Church

Greenville, Ohio

 

Wisdom 3:1-9

Romans 6:3-9

Matthew 11:25-30

 

For those that don’t know me, my name is Deacon Brian Wentz from the Diocese of Lexington, KY. I married into Ruth’s family back in 1999 when I married Ruth’s oldest daughter’s only daughter, Angie (I hope you followed that). Unlike Ruth, I am not a cradle Catholic. I came into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1999 through the RCIA process. During that program, we got to pick a Saint whom we looked up to or wanted to use as a role model. That Saint is then the name we use during the sacrament of Confirmation. I picked St. Luke as my confirmation Saint. I mainly did it because Luke’s Gospel has a unique passage that is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful in all of Scripture. Why? Because it gives us all hope.

Luke 23:39-43 is part of the crucifixition narrative. Jesus is hanging on the cross with a criminal on either side of him. Everyone is mocking Jesus… yelling at him. Everyone except the one we know as “the good thief.” He pretty much tells everyone to zip it. He stands up for Jesus and admits that he and the other criminal are being justly punished for their crimes, but Jesus has done nothing wrong. The “good thief” then turns to Jesus and says, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” To which Jesus replies, “Amen I say to you, this day you shall be with me in Paradise.” BEAUTIFUL. If you truly understand what just happened there, you will see the depth of the love Jesus has for all of us.

No matter our past. No matter our current situation. Jesus is always ready to show us love and compassion. The “good thief” was obviously a sinner and was being punished justly according to Roman law. But in spite of his past and even on his deathbed, Jesus hears his confession and then promises him Paradise.

Now… I’m not implying that Ruth was a criminal or had a “deathbed confession.” I am merely pointing out that Jesus shows compassion to those who are humble, loving and who try their best to live out a good life.

So I wanted to share with you two stories about Ruth that show us what kind of humility and love she really had.

Years ago, 3 of Ruth’s grandchildren (Scott, Mike and Angie) were at Red and Ruth’s house having breakfast. Apparently, there was a heated game of cards the night before between Red and Ruth. As they were still debating the game the next morning, one thing lead to another and Red turned to Ruth and said, “Oh Ruthie, your butt sucks canal water!” It was at that moment, so I’m told, that Scott, Mike and Angie spit out their cereal all over the kitchen table. You see… in that moment, I think most women would have pounced on their husband or, at the very least, had a sarcastic come back. But not Ruth! Nope, she merely replied, “Oh Red” and went on with her day. This shows that Ruth was a very humble, compassionate and loving person for not ripping Red’s head off.

The other story actually involved me. When I decided to begin classes to become Catholic, I was very excited to tell Ruth. After all, she had become my adopted grandmother since all 4 of my grandparents had already passed on. So how exciting would it be to tell my devout-Catholic-honorary-Grandmother that I too was going to become Catholic??? I remember Angie and I approaching her at a family gathering and I simply said to her, “Grandma Ruth, I’ve decided to start classes to become Catholic.” Without batting an eye, she turned to Angie and said, “Well, you’re not making him are you?” After we laughed and assured her I was doing it for me, not for Angie, then she said she was happy for me. This shows that Ruth was honest and really did love people because she wanted them to do things for the right reasons.

Now I’m sure we could go around the room and all of us could each tell a dozen or so more stories that are very similar to the ones I’ve just shared… especially a story about a card game or two! This is because it was so apparent that Ruth had a strong faith and a loving heart. She always made people feel welcome. She always had a smile and a hug to give. She was humble, loving, compassionate and showed us all how to live out the Gospel daily.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” We can now rejoice that Ruth has run a good race. She has made it to the finish line. Her pain has ended. She is at rest.

And although we are sad knowing we will not see her anymore this side of heaven… cling to your faith and visualize her joyfully dancing the night away with our Father in heaven.

“Amen I say to you, this day you shall be with me in Paradise.”

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Mosh Pits, Crowd Surfing and Mustard Seeds

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 17, 2018)

Ezekiel 17:22-24

Psalm 92:2-3,13-14,15-16

2 Corinthians 5:6-10

Mark 4:26-34

This may be hard for you to picture, but back in high school, I had hair down to my chin. Not only was it long, I was that kid who wore a ponytail and had the underneath side of my head shaved. Yes… I was a product of the 90’s. And in case you were wondering, the 90’s produced some of the best music in my opinion. Metallic, Guns n Roses, Peal Jam, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots. Pretty much anything that caused you to jump around or bang your head back and forth was worth listening to back then. I’ve been in mosh pits… I’ve gone crowd surfing… I even have some hearing loss from listening to music entirely too loud.

Along the way, I eventually cut my hair and my taste in music expanded. After moving to Kentucky, I found two Christian radio stations that played music that actually sounded good. Air1 and K-Love. One of the first Christian rock artists that I found and really liked was Jeremy Camp. I remember distinctly going through a rough patch in my faith journey when I heard his song called, “Walk By Faith.” Here are some of the lyrics:

Would I believe you when you say, your hand will guide my every way? Will I receive the words you say, every moment of every day? I will walk by faith, even when I cannot see. Because this broken road, prepares your will for me. Help me to win my endless fears. You’ve been so faithful for all my years. With one breath you make me new. Your grace covers all I do. Well I’m broken, but I still see your face. Well you’ve spoken, pouring your words of grace. I will walk by faith, even when I cannot see. Because this broken road, prepares your will for me.

This song came to mind when I read today’s second reading from 2 Corinthians, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

This scripture verse is a daily struggle to live out. It is very easy to believe in something that you can see and touch. It takes a “letting go” to be able to put your trust into something or someone who you can’t see standing right in front of you. This is where the utmost trust in God can really shine through.

This can be understood more by looking at the mustard seed parable in today’s Gospel. The mustard seed is a tiny seed. The size of a period at the end of a sentence. If left alone, it will do nothing but remain a tiny, insignificant seed. But add water, sunlight and rich soil and it will become a bush large enough for birds to nest in and animals to lay in its shade. With proper care, it will grow up to serve a purpose. And all of that potential was contained in a tiny seed. It just needed a few outside influences to allow it to flourish into something beautiful.

Well guess what? You all are the mustard seeds. God has ingrained into you every possibility imaginable. You contain, within you, a God given purpose. But, just like the mustard seed, you need the right outside influences to allow you to flourish into something beautiful.

On one hand, you can allow the world to stimulate your growth. Television, news, Facebook, gossip… you get the idea. If these are the important things that are cultivating your growth, you will never flourish. You will never be truly happy. You will remain a tiny, insignificant seed.

On the other hand, if you allow God to cultivate you… watch out… Reading Scripture, living out God’s teachings through His Church, receiving the Sacraments from Baptism to Confirmation, helping others, respecting and honoring all of God’s creatures with the love He has shown you… these are the things that will allow us to grow into something magnificent!

Allowing God to have an active hand in our life journey, allows us to “walk by faith, not by sight” a heck of a lot easier. When we have a strong, Godly foundation and hit one of those rough patches, we know God is in control and our suffering is merely temporary. But when we are allowing negative influences to feed us, those rough patches we come across can seem almost unbearable.

So allow God to stimulate your growth. Allow God to nurture you so that you will grow and flourish into something truly magnificent.

What Is Love?

6th Sunday of Easter

Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48

Psalm 98:1-4

1 John 4:7-10

John 15:9-17

When preparing to preach at Mass, in my experience, it is very easy to just skim over the 1st and 2nd readings and even the Responsorial Psalm in order to see what the Gospel message is for the week. Very often the Gospel passages proclaimed at Mass have the “meat” of Jesus’ teachings that can really change our lives when we apply them and live them out. Today’s Gospel from John is no different. It’s message is clear and to the point. Jesus tells us, “Love one another as I love you.”

But in order to better understand this “love” that Jesus is talking about, we really need to go back to the 2nd reading today from the first Letter of Saint John. It would be a shame if we just skimmed over it because I believe it is one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament. It reads almost like a love poem. It is only 4 lines long, but profoundly powerful. So allow me to read it to you again:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:7-10).

 So next time you tell someone that you “love” him or her… I want you to think of this passage. Because all you ever wanted to or needed to know about love, is explained in these 4 verses. Therefore, you really have to understand this passage so that you are sure that you actually mean what you say when using the word “love.”

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” Love comes from one source… God. It’s not a man made emotion. It originates from God who is love. Therefore if you truly have love inside of you, then you have God inside of you as well. Even an atheist, one who doesn’t believe in God, in some way, knows God simply by loving others.

“Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” Therefore if God is love, it would make sense that someone who has absolutely no love for anyone can NOT possibly know God. I would take this even farther and say that love and hate can’t reside in the same person at the same time because of how opposite they are. You can’t on one hand tell your child, a friend or your soul mate that you “love” them but on the other hand hold a grudge or hate against someone else. One expresses the presence of God. The other expresses the absence of God. The two don’t mesh.

“In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.” Here, God reveals to us what is love. God didn’t reveal love through His speech, but through His actions. God decided to show us what love looked like by sending us His Son. To live for us. To die for us. To save us. I personally couldn’t imagine standing by watching one of my children suffer a horrendous death. Even if it was for the greater good, I don’t think I would have it in me to keep going. But that’s exactly what God did. He allowed His Son to suffer out of love for us.

“In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” Love is not in the receiving, it is in the giving. Love wasn’t “created” by us out of thanksgiving towards God… Love was “born” from God when He extended it to us through His Son. This sacrifice is the height… the pinnacle of true Love.

So now you are all experts on “love,” right?? Understanding love is the easy part. But it takes a lifetime to properly put it into motion and probably won’t be perfected until you reach heaven. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try while we’re down here living in the world.

So here’s my challenge to all of you…your homework for the week. Be more aware of the level of love you are expressing towards others in your daily lives.

Meaning… if you have high levels of negativity, anger, gossip, holding tighter to those grudges, eye rolls, having to argue everything, cursing or sin in general… your love is out of balance. It means you are distancing yourself from God instead of walking towards Him.

When these things creep up, because it will happen from time to time, you need techniques to counteract them. Simply recognizing this when it’s happening is a great first step. Then try some deep breathing, meditation, prayer, read some Scripture or take a walk. Just putting a smile on your face will do wonders. And here’s the big one…go to confession. This sacrament can give you more grace and love then you’ll probably ever truly realize. It’s that important… so no more excuses! Go!!

The only way to return to love is to return to God. So when your love is low, turn to God. For He is the source of all Love. The source of all Joy.

Be A Good Shepherd

4th Sunday of Easter (April 22, 2018)

Acts 4:8-12

Psalm 118

1 John 3:1-2

John 10:11-18

We’re all supposed to imitate Jesus, right? When preparing for this homily, I read the first line of the Gospel, stopped and then just laughed to myself. It reads, “Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd.’” Why does this make me laugh? If we’re supposed to be like Jesus, then we’re supposed to also be good shepherds. In picturing me as a shepherd, for some reason, I thought of what happens right after the final song at Mass. And I mean right after the priest has walked down the aisle and the dismissal song has ended. At that point, I usually gather up my things, tell my family to head for the van and then off we go… after genuflecting of course! Within a few minutes, I’ve said my goodbyes, given Fr. Al a hug at the door, walked outside and just start to feel the sunshine on my face when I realize… I’m all alone.

You see… my wife is still in her pew talking with her friends. Laura is running around giving out hugs to everyone she can find. Oliver is still picking up papers that dropped out of his Sunday school folder while trying to put on his jacket. Jacob has taken off outside like a bolt of lightning with his buddy (cough… Luke Coleman). And Owen and Zach are somewhere in the foyer talking with their high school friends about “teenage stuff.” So apparently I’m not a very good shepherd because I can’t even get 7 people from our church pew to our van in under 20 minutes.

After reading the rest of the Gospel passage, I then realized that herding your family from church in an orderly fashion might not necessarily be what Jesus is meaning when he talks to us about the “good shepherd.” So in order to better understand what we are to learn from this Gospel passage from John, let us first look to Ezekiel 34 in the Old Testament. It reads:

1 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. 6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.”

In this passage from Ezekiel, God is upset with many of the leaders of the church. They were being very selfish by putting their needs above the people. This led many of God’s people to have a weak faith or to completely leave the faith behind. Reading this in light of today’s Gospel passage, we can now see that Jesus didn’t just randomly refer to himself as the “Good Shepherd” because it sounded good. No, he’s letting the people know that He is not like the shepherds they have read about in Ezekiel. He is not going to lead them astray or cause them to scatter. He is going to feed them with the Bread of Life and ultimately… He’s going to lay down His life for them.

Now remember… we’re supposed to be imitators of Christ which means that we are supposed to also be Good Shepherds. How does that look in our day-to-day lives? Very simply… we put the needs of others above our own. Instead of holding grudges… we hold out a helping hand. We turn the other cheek and help each other heal and move on. We spread the Gospel rather than gossip. We put a smile on our face and go out into the world and actually act like we are Christians.

You see… a good shepherd doesn’t motivate the flock by herding them. A good shepherd leads the flock by example. People want someone to inspire them… To motivate and encourage them to be better. They don’t need more negativity. The world throws plenty of that at us on a daily basis already.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He laid down His life for us, the flock, so that we can have a chance to spend eternity with His Father in heaven. We too can help out the flock by taking His lead. By helping others. By putting the needs of others above our own.

Be a Good Shepherd. Inspire someone. Put yourself out there and enjoy the life that God envisioned specifically for you.

Stop wondering around aimlessly like a lost sheep. Follow Christ. Our Good Shepherd.

Heaven and Fairy Tales

5th Sunday of Lent (March 18, 2018) Year A

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Psalm 130:1-8

Romans 8:8-11

John 11:1-45

Death can be a very scary thing to talk about. But first, let me clarify. As Christians, there are two types of death we often refer to. The first is dying to sin and being reborn in Christ. This is what happens in the sacrament of Baptism. It’s exciting to know that there are several among us at St. Andrew’s that will be born again in the waters of Baptism at the Easter Vigil this year. They will be further strengthened in their new Christian life that same night when they also receive the sacrament of Confirmation AND receive our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time ever. This is the fun type of death that we can talk about all day long and get those warm and fuzzy feelings because the people who “die to sin” are still with us afterwards.

The second type of death… well…let’s just say… there are not so many warm and fuzzy feelings. I’m obviously referring to the type of death where we lose a loved one, have a funeral and then mourn for days, weeks, even years after their passing.

But the question I’m posing today for your consideration is… WHY? Why do we get so excited to see someone die to sin and be born again into God’s family through Baptism… but so sad when a faithful Christian dies to this world and is granted eternal life with God?

In a way, I believe this is the question Jesus is asking us through today’s Gospel from John. It’s a long passage so I won’t read it again to you. But basically, Lazarus has died and everyone is in mourning. Many of the people blame Jesus for not being around to save him from death. You see… they believe Jesus is the Son of God, but they still don’t yet understand the resurrection since Jesus hasn’t been crucified yet. But Jesus knows. He fully knows what’s to come and has been preaching to His followers that they will have new life in God in this life AND the next.

But still, the people blame Him while they mourn the death of Lazarus. One of my favorite parts of this passage is where Jesus shows us His human side. We read two times that Jesus is “perturbed.” Yes, even Jesus got upset and irritated at people! He is perturbed because people’s faith in His teaching on heaven and the afterlife is very weak. Rather than celebrating Lazarus’ new life with God, they mourned his death and blamed Jesus for not saving him. I can see Jesus’ eyes roll, hand on his forehead, as he gets perturbed and says, “Fine, I’ll give you one more sign but then that’s it! You really need to start believing in what I’m telling you!” Then he turns to the tomb and cries out, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did.

Now, I acknowledge that we mourn over someone’s death because we won’t see them anymore. I get that. It stings greatly. Trust me, I know. But I think we struggle with death and mourn so intensely after losing a loved one because, deep down, our faith might be a little weak when it comes to heaven.

I can see someone get baptized. I can see someone receive the Lord’s Supper. I can see someone get confirmed. But I can’t “see” what happens to someone’s soul after they die.

Death is that one moment where our faith is put to the ultimate test. We are told that we will stand before God right after our bodily death. So death is the moment that we as Christians realize if this whole “Jesus, Church, Bible” thing is true or just a nice sounding fairy tale. And I think that scares us. I know I’ve struggled with this concept for a long time. I would like to think I’m a faithful Christian who tries my best to follow Christian teachings. But I still wonder if at the moment of my death, I’ll be confident in my faith or “hold my breath” (so to speak) as I wait to see what REALLY happens after I die.

I had a very real, very concrete experience that happened to me recently that has strengthened my faith regarding heaven that I wanted to share. We Catholics pray for the “repose of the soul” of someone after his or her death. It’s a very common practice that dates back to the early Church. It’s based on the teaching that people sometimes need to go to purgatory after death, before entering heaven. Purgatory being a final purification stop on the way to heaven. Think of it as a car wash. When we pray for the repose of the soul of someone, we’re asking God to speed up the process, if possible, so they can enjoy life in heaven sooner. After my mom’s death in October 2017, I’ve been praying for the repose of her soul often.

Well… I was at Mass at the Christ the King Cathedral in Lexington this past February. Angie and I were there assisting with the next class of future Deacons. I had just received communion and returned to my pew to kneel in prayer. With eyes closed and hands folded, I prayer, “Lord, I offer up this Eucharist for the repose of the soul of my mother, Joan Wentz.” And then I froze for a few moments. After that feeling passed, I picked up the hymnal and started to sing the communion hymn… but only got 3 or 4 words out and then I froze up again. Still on my knees, I put the hymnal down and closed my eyes again. I couldn’t move… I couldn’t speak. It was at that moment that I felt my mother’s arms around me. It’s as if she was kneeling to my left, giving me a side hug with her head on my shoulder. It was very real and I just kneeled there… enjoying the hug… as I cried silently. A few minutes later, she was gone. I’m not sure if that’s the moment she left purgatory and entered heaven or if God just knew I needed a hug from my mom that day.

I’ve reflected back on that incident a lot since it happened. I have even kneeled down at Mass after communion and tried to “re-create” the incident to see if it was just in my mind. But I’ve had no luck. I truly feel that God allowed my mom to visit me that day for a brief moment. Since then, I’ve had a better sense of peace that my mom is with God in heaven. I decided to tell all of you about it today because, honestly, I think we all could use a little encouragement when it comes to death and the afterlife. Many of us have lost loved ones this past year.

So yes, don’t be afraid to mourn for those that have passed away. But as we approach Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday… really pay attention and allow all of your senses to be flooded with LOVE. Because it is with LOVE that Jesus offered His body to us on Holy Thursday. It is with LOVE that he died for us on Good Friday. It is with LOVE that He overcame death and opened the gates of heaven for all of us on Easter Sunday. And if you can see with open eyes what Jesus did for us on those Holy Days… then you will absolutely realize just how much He loves YOU. And that love WILL continue into the next life because it is NOT just a fairy tale.