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Musings from Cicero

November – The Month of the Poor Souls and Thoughts of “the End.”

The colors of fall are appearing as I sit down to write this column for our magazine.  Many of you have mentioned in the GL that you are especially fond of this season because of the beautiful colors of nature.  I too am a big fan of autumn, not only because of the colors, but also because of the cooler temperatures.  Heat and I don’t get along.

Last week, some of the fellows who come to my weekly Bible Study stayed around after the session to commiserate about the loss of the Chicago Cubs to the New York Mets in four straight games.  While I am a White Sox fan, I tried my best to offer my sincere condolences to these diehard fans of the hapless Cubs.  Their grief was compounded by the fact that one of the men had to make the decision to put down his beloved Golden Retriever.  You guessed it; the dog’s name was Cubbie.  The poor dog was no longer able to stand, couldn’t walk, and wasn’t interested in eating.  The veterinarian had tried a course of steroids, but they simply didn’t help.

At the same time, I have been noticing that the various organizations which send out their regular begging letters have been using the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed as a way to get people to donate.  Send them the names of your deceased loved ones, and they will be remembered in a series of Masses for the faithful departed.

Fall colors, the demise of the Cubs and Cubbie, the commemoration of the faithful departed – all three things are reminders that toward the end of the year, we remember the undeniable fact that we will all one day experience an “exodus,” a “passing over” from mortal life to eternal life.  As Shakespeare put it, one day we will shuffle off this mortal coil.  However, the beautiful colors of autumn remind us that this is a “beautiful” thing.  Think about it.  All those lovely leaves are dying before our eyes.  In their act of dying, they give one last shout of glory and praise to our Creator God by their vivid display of color.  Death is beautiful; perhaps fearful, but also beautiful.

When a Catholic dies, the Church gathers around the table of the Lord and celebrates with the Eucharist.  There have been times when I have been asked why we do this.  The simple answer is that the Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s death, his sacrifice on the cross.  He died and rose again.  So too will we.  Our Church teaches us that one day our body and soul will be reunited.  For those of us who have believed in the Lord Jesus and followed the Gospel as well as we can, the promise stands.  So the Eucharist is a sign of our Hope.  As St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans:  For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that sees for itself is not hope.  For who hopes for what one sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.   (Romans 8:24-25)  We cannot see what is in store for us, but we can get a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.  Consequently we celebrate the Eucharist at a funeral.

December – The Month of Waiting

The month of November and thoughts about death and dying is followed by December, the month of waiting for the return of Jesus.  We call that period of waiting Advent. 

No one likes to wait!  If you have ever stood on a street corner waiting for the bus or if you have sat for more than an hour waiting for the doctor to see you, you know of what I speak.  Waiting is perhaps one of the most loathsome of all human activities.  For children, we see this played out as they wait for Santa.  As we grow older, we cannot wait until we get a driver’s license.  This is followed by waiting to be old enough to vote, to drink alcohol, etc.  As we mature even more, we feel our patience wear thin as we wait for the check that’s supposedly in the mail, for the delivery of our new car, for the day when we can retire.  No one likes to wait. 

We hear the prophet cry out to God: “How long, O Lord.”  Perhaps we have used these same words while waiting.  Stop and think for a minute.  While the words might be uttered because of a sense of frustration, they are words of faith.  If we didn’t believe that the bus would eventually come, we wouldn’t be waiting.  If we didn’t believe that we would eventually get a driver’s license, we wouldn’t live in anticipation.  So the words of the prophet who asks “how long?” before the Lord will right the injustices of the world, before God’s people would see the answer to their prayers, before God answers our prayers are really words of faith.  They acknowledge that we wait because we believe.  As we wait for the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, we can use the experience of waiting as a way to nourish our faith.

CUSA and Social Media

With the help of one of our newest members, CUSA has expanded its reach into the world of Social Media.  We now have a “Twitter” account as well as our Facebook page and our internet website.  As I write this column, CUSA’s Facebook page has been “liked” by 1,836 people on Facebook.  Now I know that many of you are not computer users and that Twitter and Facebook mean little or nothing to you.  However, as I am sure you are also aware, social media is the primary way that young people communicate with one another.  So CUSA’s message of “Suffering for a Purpose” has made itself very evident in these arenas.  CUSA has to prepare for the future.  CUSA has to reach out to younger people who suffer from chronic illness or bear the cross of disability.  So we have continued to look for ways to expand our horizons through Social Media.  If you or someone you know uses these social media sites, please “follow” or “like” CUSA, an Apostolate of People with Chronic Illness and/or Disability.

Knee Surgery

On February 2, 2016, I will enter the hospital to have a total knee replacement.  The doctor has told me that I will be “down” for a while, out of commission as it were.  I am simply letting you know about this because I will not be able to be as “active” in CUSA’s Central Office here in Cicero.  So if you need supplies (envelopes, writing pads, address labels), please send your requests for them before the end of January.

Of course, as you veterans of CUSA know, February is also “dues month.”  Usually on February 1, I send out a letter reminding everyone that we collect our “voluntary” dues during the month of February.  I will be postponing that until March next year.  If you send a check in February, it will be waiting for me when I get back to the office.  However, don’t expect it to clear the bank before March.  I think it might simply be easier for everyone to wait until March.  As always, I want to stress that our $20.00 dues is completely voluntary.  No one who is unable to make this contribution is expected to do so.  Simply say an extra prayer for CUSA (and put in another for a speedy recovery for yours truly.

Holy Year of Mercy

Pope Francis has declared the coming year, beginning on December 8, 2015, and extending until November 20, 2016, on the Solemnity of Christ the King, to be an extraordinary Holy Year stressing the Mercy of God.  Many of you are already devotees of St. Faustina and the devotion to Divine Mercy, reciting the chaplet of Divine Mercy frequently.  Pope Francis has been pointing us in the direction of God’s Mercy from the first day of his pontificate, building upon the impetus begun by Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  You should all have received a copy of a small booklet to help you observe this Holy Year, published by Magnificat Press similar to the book they published when Pope Benedict proclaimed the Year of Faith.  The booklet contains catechesis, prayer, and meditations about God’s gift of Mercy.  I hope that the booklet helps you observe this special year with the Church.  I also hope that we will all learn from this experience that God’s gift of Mercy is something that is expected of all followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christmas Gifts

You should also have received a copy of a book entitled “Peace in the Storm” by Ms. Maureen Pratt.  This book of meditations is particularly directed toward people who suffer chronic pain.  Ms. Pratt also lectures around the country, writes a monthly column that appears in many diocesan papers, and is the author of several books.  I hope you find it helpful.

Annual Meeting of the Board of Directors

Finally I want to say a few words about the annual meeting of CUSA’s Board of Directors.  The Directors meet every September and consider not only what our apostolate accomplished in the preceding twelve months, but also considers the coming year.  This year’s meeting included the election of two new board members in the persons of Mrs. Virginia Pommer, a lawyer and mother of two boys on the autistic spectrum and Ms. Frances Lachowicz, the director of the retirement and nursing home for the Mercy Sisters here in Chicago.  With their election, our Board now consists of four women and five men, all of whom have some connection to the world of CUSA and chronic illness and or disability.  Also at this meeting, Fr. Robert Sieg, O.F.M., known to some of you as one of our Spiritual Advisors in group letters, was elected to serve as President of the Board. 

The Board continues to look for ways to make CUSA better known and to open the possibility of membership to a wider audience.  In the very beginning stages of development is an initiative to open CUSA to men and women whose first language is Spanish.  Our Board deserves our thanks and our prayers as they continue to work to make CUSA stronger and more vital in the community of persons with chronic illness and disability.

The CUSAN

Finally, I want to remind everyone that our magazine is written for, about and by CUSANS.  Please consider sending your poems, essays, news or reflections to our editor, Ms. Dolores Steinberg.  Tell us about your favorite saints, your favorite devotions, your favorite Scripture passage, about your pets (especially guide and service pets), as well as any other topic that interests you.  If you are interested in it, chances are that our members will also be interested.

The Synod on the Family

Much has been written about the forthcoming Synod on the Family, most of it by people who haven't the slightest bit of understanding about synods or Catholic teaching or even the role of the magisterium.  Pope Francis has asked us all to pray in preparation for the synod, especially for those who will take an active part.  He has written a special prayer for that purpose.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love; to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families, too, may be places of communication and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection, and division; may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth, make us once more mindful of the sacred ness of the family, and its beauty in God's plan.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer.  Amen.

Words of Encouragement in the Midst of Suffering

“He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the Levites, refining them like gold or silver, that they may bring offerings to the LORD in righteousness.” (Malachi 3:3)

This verse puzzled some women in a Bible Study, and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.  One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.

That week the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work.  She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond the process of refining silver.  As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up.  He explained that in refining silver, one need to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought of God holding us in a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says: “He will sit refining and purifying silver. . .”

She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.  The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he also had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire.  If the silver was left for a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.  The woman was silent for a moment.  Then she asked the silversmith “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?”  He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy. . . when I see my image in it.”

If today you are feeling the heat of the fire, remember that God has His eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you.

-          Sr. Mary Magdalene Loughrea (submitted by Sr. Gemma Parisi.)

Colossians 1:24-27

CUSA takes a part of its inspiration from the writings of St. Paul, in particular, from the Letter to the Colossians 1:24-27.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God's stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.

Rejoice in suffering?  Can this actually be possible?  Don’t we all try to avoid pain, mental anguish, frustration, conflict?  

Many people have also expressed difficulty in understanding how anything could be lacking in the afflictions of Jesus who died on a cross to save us from our sins.  

In order to understand St. Paul, we must have a little understanding of Greek philosophy.  The ideas of the Greek philosophers are the underpinning of much of St. Paul's theology.  One such idea concerns the "birth" of something new.  Here they are not referring to something that is new in the sense that it has never been used, such as a new pencil or a new box of chocolates.  When the philosophers speak of something new, they refer to something that has never existed before, something totally new.  Take for instance what St. Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians: 

For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace.  (Ephesians 2:14-15)

When St. Paul speaks of a new person, he is not referring to a new born baby.  Rather he is speaking of a totally different kind of humanity, a humanity that exists without the walls that exist between people of different races, ethnicities, creeds, genders, or countries of origin.  The peace of which he speaks is not simply a “cease fire,” but rather a peace that has never been known on earth before.

Using the image of a woman in labor who is about to give birth, the Greek philosophers proposed that anything truly new is preceded by a period of tribulation, disturbance, turmoil – all words that connote a certain amount of suffering.  In this context, a "new age" or a completely new idea would only come about after a period of tribulation or great suffering.  Taking the image just a little further, they also proposed that there was a prerequisite or predetermined “amount” of suffering established for each new event or manifestation.

Schooled in the philosophy of his time, St. Paul applied this idea to the teachings of the Church.  In our Creed we profess to believe that Jesus will return at some time in the future, often referred to as the "end of the world."  By returning again, Jesus would usher in a new age, a new type of existence for human beings.  We refer to that new age as the "parousia" or the "eschaton."  The Scriptures report that when Jesus returns, it will be preceded by a time of great disturbance:

Jesus said to them in reply, "See that no one deceives you.  For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Messiah,' and they will deceive many.  You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place.  All these are the beginning of the labor pains.  Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name.  And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and deceive many;and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold.  But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come.  (Matthew 24:4-14)

Notice that even Jesus uses the imagery of a woman giving birth when he speaks of the beginning of the labor pains.

So when St. Paul says that he rejoices in his sufferings, he draws upon his Greek philosophical background with its image of a woman giving birth who, even though she is in great pain, rejoices because she is about to give birth to a baby.  I have heard several women say that once they hold their baby for the first time, they cannot even remember the pain anymore.  St. Paul uses that image in his Letter to the Romans:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.  (Romans 8:18)

He goes on to say that he is filling up what is lacking in the "afflictions" of Christ, once again referring to the fact that he believes that a predetermined amount of "affliction" must happen before Christ can return.  He maintains that we all do this when we suffer affliction, that we all hasten the day when Christ will return and will reveal the glory that is to be ours, that we all add to what is lacking in that predetermined amount of suffering.  He does this as an apostle, as one sent by God, to minister to the Church.

Although we find it difficult, CUSANS, like St. Paul, strive to rejoice in our sufferings.  We want to hasten the day of Christ's return, to hasten the day of glory.  One of the Eucharistic Prayers for Children says it so beautifully:

Jesus now lives with you in glory, but he is also here on earth, among us.  One day he will come in glory and in his kingdom there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more sadness.  We thank you and sing, "Glory to God in the highest."  (Eucharist Prayer for Masses with Children III)



Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.