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Holy Family Cathedral » Rector » Father Jovita: November is the Month of Communion

Father Jovita: November is the Month of Communion

by Rev. Jovita C. Okonkwo, Rector of the Cathedral

 

November is widely observed as the month of communion. Some call November “month of the dead,” given that this month we celebrate All Hallows’ Eve (aka Halloween), All Saints, All Souls, Veterans Day, and so forth. However, given the truth of our faith that Christian people do not die – they change, rather – I will refrain from referring to November as the month of the dead. The Preface for the funeral liturgy reminds: “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended.” In essence, we share communion with the loved ones whose lives have changed and not ended. We find it important to celebrate this communion because of the covenant that binds us together with them in the love of the Lord. We share communion with the saints because they are our heroes and heroines who model virtuous living for us.

COMMUNION WITH THE CHURCH SUFFERING
Growing up, my father warned us to beware of making a “C” in exams, saying that such could be likened to finding oneself in purgatory. When one of us made a “C” in the elementary school final class assessment, the local school was willing to promote him to the next class but my father objected. Instead, an agreement was reached whereby my brother would forego our summer pilgrimage to the Holy Land so he could beef up his grades through the summer school program that the elementary school provided. It cost the family more money but cost him the summer vacation. Purgatory taps into the prayer resource of the family of God and causes suffering for the souls therein. When we got back, my brother reported that he regretted missing the trip but was hurt most by the loneliness he felt at home. Yet, that was the price he had to pay for making a “C.” Had he known, he wouldn’t have spent his time of studies playing too much soccer and gadding about with the neighborhood kids. Purgatory is a form of spiritual remedial course for the “C” and “B” students of Christian discipleship. Like my brother, the souls in purgatory will not be thrown out of school (which would be Hell), but will rather forgo their fun trip to the true Holy Land in order to perfect their virtues. As painful as it was for my brother, there was still the joy that came with knowing that after that horrible experience, he would join the family for the next fun vacation.

COVENANTAL RELATIONSHIP
In our ongoing discussion on intentional Catholicism, we have reflected on “voluntary subordination” and “authentic self.” In this edition, we turn attention to “covenantal relationship” as the third behavior to which intentional Catholics are called to prime themselves. Covenantal relationship is a spiritual union through which intentional Catholics learn to engage with, and accept each other with radical equality and as partners in service and discipleship. Our relationship with one another is a covenantal relationship because God’s relationship with us is, too, a covenant. A covenant is a mutual exchange of persons with an oath which binds the parties in an irrevocable bond. Scripture identifies five major old covenants that God cut with people, namely, (1) Adam and Eve (2) Noah and his entire household (3) Abraham and the twelve tribes of Israel (4) Moses and the Israelite nation, and (5) King David. A progression is easily observed: from a couple to a household, a tribe, a nation, and all nations. Because all the old covenants were broken, God entered into a new covenant sealed by the blood of His own Son. This new covenant permanently binds together all peoples – Jews and gentiles – into one universal family: the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church (Hahn). Our covenant with God is not a covenant of equals; although in Jesus, we are promised a share in God’s eternal glory. Our covenant with each other is, however, one marked by shared values, open-ended commitment, mutual trust, and concern for the welfare of the other. According to St. Paul, “in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5; I Cor 12:27). Our covenantal relationship is one that cannot be allowed to stretch to a breaking point or threatened by disagreement or conflict, for we are one body in Christ. Inside the one body, we have saints and sinners, poor and rich, priests, deacons, catechists, religious and lay; all bound by the same covenant. Most importantly, we have our heroes and heroines whose exemplary lives we are called to emulate.

A REAL HERO FOR THE YOUNG
20151110_184857This month of November, our parish will have the honor of hosting the principal relics of St. Maria Goretti. Before I unpack the spiritual benefits that will accrue from such opportunity, allow me to share a story about heroes. In 2008, a class in one local Catholic elementary school adopted me as their priest for the year. It was a program whereby kids in every class were given names of all our diocesan priests so they could adopt one of them for whom they would offer prayers on a daily basis. It was such an honor for me to have been adopted by the class. I made it a point of duty to learn the names of the children in the class and to pray for them. Soon after that, I made out time to visit my class and we shared lunch and some cookies I brought to them. During my discussion with the children, I asked what they aspire to be when they grow up. Several of them said they will become fire-fighters, corps, physicians, and so on (no priests or nuns). However, one of them told me that Brittany Spears was her hero and she aspires to be like her. With her innocent mind, I understood that she meant Brittany the singer, not the notorious club girl. But that also explains the materials to which our children are exposed today. Had she been exposed to the virtues of St. Maria Goretti, maybe she would have sought to be a champion of purity and mercy.

SAINT OF PURITY AND MERCY
St. Maria Goretti should be a household name in every Catholic home. The story of her life of virtue, her commitment to purity even unto her violent death and her forgiveness of her assailant should be told repeatedly to our children. The moral atmosphere of present day society suggests that purity is an impossibility. This idea is echoed in the battle waged by Satan and his emissaries in our governments, educational institutions, print and social media, and the courts to ensure that children are not taught about virtue, except that of tolerance (of evil). Hence, in place of classical literature, schools feed the minds of little ones with amorous materials that glorify sin and ineptitude. In place of abstinence, teachers and parents are encouraged to provide their children with contraceptives and teach them how to use them. The entire media are awash with different levels of violent and pornographic materials that push for the entrenchment of the kingdom of darkness. Parents will be shocked – or maybe they’ve grown sloppy – at the amount of filth inside the smart phones they provide for their children. I am not simply speaking as a priest to whom some details of the infected minds are at times made open, but research shows that over 68 percent of teenagers and even younger children assess pornography on a daily bases through their smartphones and tablets. The high rate of suicide among teenagers and the young has been correlated to the materials they assess in the virtual world. The cyberspace happens to be the only real world that majority of kids know and live in and to which they have become prisoners. And it will require extraordinary moral and intellectual effort to deliver them from that coarse space or to use it for good.

LIVING THE COVENANT
Amidst this gloom of deviltry, the shining example of St. Maria Goretti can serve as a bright light illumining the darkness. The visit of the principal relics of St. Maria Goretti can be an avenue to start reclaiming the innocence of our children and youth. Though they have been sucked into the present dangers, divine grace and the merits of the saints remain our only hope for reclaiming them. Hence, on the occasion of this illustrious visit of the saint of purity to our city, parents can do a number of things:

  • Join as a family in a pilgrimage of mercy to one of the sites that the relics will be hosted
  • Enthrone a portrait of St. Maria Goretti at the family altar
  • Go to confession as a family and commit to a monthly confession all through the Year of Mercy
  • Embrace forgiveness and commit to forgive any injury done by the other
  • Commit to a life of Christian Discipleship
  • Become a family of intentional Catholics

 

COVENANT OF MERCY AND FORGIVENESS
One of the most touching stories of forgiveness which the world has heard was that of St. Maria Goretti for her assailant. Her last words: “I forgive Allessandro Serenelli…and I want him with me in heaven forever” were words that pierced the heart of not only Allessandro but those that have sought the true mercy of God. In the words of St. John Paul, “Those who were acquainted with little Maria said on the day of her funeral: ‘A saint has died!’ The devotion to her has continued to spread on every continent, giving rise to admiration and thirst for God everywhere. In Maria Goretti shines out the radical choice of the Gospel, unhindered, indeed strengthened by the inevitable sacrifice that faithful adherence to Christ demands.” When Allesandro felt the forgiveness of Maria who appeared to him in prison, he was filled with contrition for his crime. He embraced God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of her victim, and from that point where grace entered his heart he turned a new leaf, repented and converted to a life of holiness, even to the point of seeking and becoming a Franciscan lay brother. Allessandro would later refer to St. Maria Goretti as “My good angel” while the triumph of forgiveness will become exemplified in Assunta Goretti, mother of St. Maria Goretti, who forgave her daughter’s repentant murderer and adopted him as her own son. The point is: God’s mercy should stimulate contrition in us, not a pride parade.

IN SERVICE OF MERCY
A covenant of mercy implies at the same time a covenant of repentance. One can be forgiven, yet remain unrepentant. Scripture admonishes us to be diligent in forgiving one another (Zechariah 7:9-10; Ephesians 4:32). Forgiveness, however, is not a river that flows only one direction; it merges with repentance at the bank of God’s river of mercy. The triumph of mercy is repentance and forgiveness as seen in Allesandro Serenelli. Whoever has only watched or read the progressive media’s interpretation of the “Year of Mercy” or the tidbits from the just concluded Synod on the Family held in Rome will conclude that God or His Church is moving to offer mercy without corresponding repentance. A few days ago, a gentleman approached me at an event that I attended and asked how he could become Catholic. Ask me his reason for wanting to join the Church? He heard over CNN that we have become “lenient” with divorce. Lenient? I grew tearful the moment the synod ended and media pundits were expressing praise of what they saw as the compromise reached to let mercy triumph over unbending rules. On no account should rules triumph over mercy. Nevertheless, we have witnessed, within the past decade, redefinitions that have been forced and used to infect the minds of the weak. Marriage has been redefined, and so has family, love, gender, tolerance, and now mercy. I suspect that this new redefinition of mercy will necessarily turn into a machine for the totalitarian oppression of the remnant of the faithful to whom this new definition would never sit well with; but who would be forced to endure and even conform to the relativized meanings attached to mercy, where its affinity with its sister repentance is lost. The modern person would have thoroughly become, no longer as St. Thomas Aquinas would say, the remedy for the imperfection of the material universe; rather, one, who, as a maker, invests the world with instability and non-being.

May Mother Mary betray all her faithful children to the mercy of her Son, as true captives of Divine Love!

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