Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Baking of the Bread

For my family growing up, it wasn't a meal without bread. And it wasn't a holiday meal without two kinds of bread.

One kind was the loaves made by my grandmother, who'd been up half the night kneading and waiting for the first and second rises, then baking into the early morning. Then my grandfather would get all the packages of two or three loaves each, and start driving all over the region to the children's, aunts' and cousins' houses. The bread was still warm when he came to our back door. But Papa couldn't stay; like Santa Claus, he had a lot of homes to visit.

The other kind was the blessed bread we got from church the morning or evening before Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Its quality wasn't as good as my grandmother's (disclosure: we called her Mommy J, as her name was Josephine), but bringing a remnant of church into our dining room gave the meal a solemn feel. That, and the blessed candle on the table, lit only during those meals (and during thunderstorms).

Today with my own family, bread remains essential for the table, especially this week. By the way, try this best bread recipe you'll have find, for perhaps the best bread ever to come out of your oven. Make your own -- it's easy!

While both grandparents have gone home to heaven, I'll drive to our church for Mass Thanksgiving morning. I might even be so fortunate to have a loaf blessed by our pastor.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A compassionate take on suicide

In our office we subscribe to most Catholic publications from around the United States. For some reason the Dialog, newspaper of the nearby Diocese of Wilmington, Del., is always gone before I get a chance to read it. Last week was an exception.

Thanks to the Dialog staff, the paper ran a commentary by Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser on the topic of suicide. It was the most compassionate take on the topic I've ever read. And timely, too.
A few days later, the owner of a prominent car dealership in my area had committed suicide.

Over coffee and sad eyes ever since, many folks have been discussing the man. Many of them had bought at least one car from him and his family over the years, my dad and myself included.

There was a lot of sympathy for him and his family. Everyone recognized this as a tragedy. Maybe they'd even spend a little more time with a loved one who is in a difficult period, to provide a hopeful word. That is my hope anyway.

The real questions and fodder for long conversations, however, was that the man received a Catholic funeral. Older Catholics thought that was improper, based on their understanding of Church teaching from their youth. Younger Catholics didn't see anything wrong with a Catholic funeral, but didn't know Church teaching precisely on the matter.

In short, the teaching from the Catechism that "the Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives" (2283) seems a compassionate response to families dealing with the loss. Here is the full Church teaching on suicide from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.
2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.
2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law. Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.
2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

To this eminently reasonable teaching, Father Rolheiser adds an emotional summation: "we need to give up the notion that suicide puts a person outside the mercy of God. God's mercy is equal even to suicide."

Read his full article or, if time doesn't permit, digest this closing gem:

"The Christian response to suicide should not be horror, fear for the person's eternal salvation, and anxious self-examination about we did or didn't do. Suicide is indeed a terrible way to die, but we must understand it for what it is, a sickness, and stop being anxious about both the person's eternal salvation and our less-than-perfect response to his or her illness.
"God redeems everything and, in the end, all manner of being will be well, beyond even suicide."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

One week: a new champion, a new president, a new era

What a week it was, which explains the dearth of posts to this space.

Within the span of a week, the Philadelphia region saw history made twice, with street parties in spades. The Phillies won their first World Series in a generation, and an African American man was elected by his fellow citizens to lead them as president of the most powerful nation in the world.

The first was a long time coming, and it prompted shrieks of joy among millions around these parts. Who can forget the smiles and high-fives, and the parade?

The second, the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America, was profound for two reasons. Certainly, all Americans witnessed the immense pride felt by African Americans who saw one of their own elected to the highest office in the land. The descendant of those brought in chains from Africa three centuries ago -- Obama himself is the son of a man from Kenya -- stands today as an example of what any person can achieve in this country through hard work and a strong family. No wonder the tears of joy, the hugs of solidarity.

Now is a new era. Now is also no time to forget the fundamental challenges to our nation. Can the president-elect, after he is sworn in, be persuaded to protect the lives of the defenseless, especially the unborn? Will his family's example of a loving husband and wife, with young children, affirm for all the necessity of supporting marriage and family life? Will he be able to provide compassionate help to the poor, health care for those without and economic oppportunities for more Americans? Will he use the nation's vast military strength wisely, and chart a prudent course through a litany of daunting challenges, including climate change, foreign relations and economic distress?

The American people have chosen one man, Barack Obama, to lead the country toward resolving these issuses. Regardless of how Catholics or other Americans voted on Tuesday, come January 20, 2009, each of us must salute the new occupant of the office of president. Encouraging him always, praising or confronting him when necessary, Catholics especially must advocate for our highest priorities as faithful American citizens.

We'll do so in due course. For now, everyone should appreciate the gravity of this milestone in American history.