Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection, Part 4

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Procession to Holy Cross Cemetery

November Rains Grief and Walks Through Wet Oak Leaves, Part 4

 Especially in November, the cemetery reveals the paradox of how our men lived and how they died.

 Fr. Jack showed me in spiritual direction that paradox is real when he told me his story of recovery from alcohol.

As I hold my chalice on many days at Mass, I remember him because he was allergic to the Real Presence of Christ Jesus.

In graduate school I threw clay on a wheel one semester. I gave him my favorite bowl for Christmas. The bowl had one flaw, a chip on the rim.

I hesitantly offered it to him, telling him of the flaw as my eyes fell to the floor.

With the gentlest of smiles, he looked me in the eyes and said, “A Navaho rug is not a Navaho rug unless it has one flaw.” Now there is room for God to work.

I still hold his words in a chipped heart.

He died at high noon on Easter Day.

An academic dean once told me that Fr. Chet, who taught English at Notre Dame, was considered to be an up-and-coming poet in his younger days. I asked Fr. Chet why he gave up writing poetry.

He looked down to the ground and responded to me with a grunt, “I gave it up years ago, and that is all in the past.”

I always wondered what secret he held; about what flaw was his truth.

One time, I read poetry to him at his grave.

Fr. Jim was considered one of the most brilliant writers in Holy Cross. He died after slowly losing his sharp and intelligent mind.

I always wondered if we could find the reason for his decline written on an index card or a scrap of paper tucked away in one of his filing cabinets.

Fr. Bill was considered one of the most influential preachers at Notre Dame in a generation. He died five days after collapsing from encephalitis. He was 50.

His nickname was, “The Silver Fox,” because of his thick, silver hair, and his keen insights. The doctors had to shave half of his head for a surgical procedure to relieve the swelling on his brain. They tried to hide that half of his head in the casket.

Some paradoxes show more than others.

Fr. Tom traveled to Notre Dame from the University of Portland for his first meeting as a Norte Dame Trustee. On his way home, he was killed when an iron poll slid off a truck and slammed through his windshield.

He died at 45.

Jesus was barely mentioned during his funeral homily. I never needed the tenderness of Jesus more.

We all felt the same.

There is one grave that is empty in the cemetery. It is not just an answer to a trivia game.

Fr. Phil was in the process of joining a diocese, so he was buried in another state. His family and his Holy Cross family wanted a visual reminder that he still belonged among his brothers. He died of a long battle with alcohol.

He and I were born in the same year. He was 49.

Fr. Larry taught German at Notre Dame. His emphysema caused by smoking stopped his career after my freshman year.

I never had the courage to tell him… I flunked my second semester of German after transferring from his class.

Fr. Carl coughed so loudly that students could hear him across the campus. He learned the classical guitar in retirement. He played it beautifully, but with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

I can still hear the strings echoing his passion.

Fr. Briedenstein never learned to speak after a stroke only because he was too stubborn and proud. He had been a high-ranking military leader. He was used to barking orders at people. He fed on anger. He medicated with bourbon.

He died only able to speak one complete word. “Too, Too,” was his command to me and to others who cared for him. His red-faced commands echoed down the hallway of the retirement center with various inflections.

I tried to help him mouth the words, “thank you.”

I listen again to the echoes of paradox across the generations of these men who served beyond measure.

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Burial of Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: Prayers of the Faithful

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Sunday November 10, 2019

Let us pray for our Church Universal and all who lead us in faith and service. May our leaders come to understand the real needs of those who follow Christ Jesus.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray to affirm our earthly relationships. May our families rejoice in faith and live at our family tables with respect and dignity.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray to seek God’s love and everlasting encouragement. May our hearts be strengthened in every good deed and be directed to the endurance of Christ Jesus.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for all who carry grief in their human hearts. May God heal the brokenhearted and provide hope in every relationship on earth.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for our children who are struggling to make ends meet. May our loved ones find adequate employment, shelter for those they love, and hope for their families under heaven.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for our loved ones who have died. In this Mass…

We pray to the Lord.

 

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: Bulletin Column

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November 10, 2019

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Believers in the Christ,

Luke 20:27-38 invites us into a reflection about our relationships after death. Some Sadducees were denying that there is a resurrection and questioned Jesus. Jesus assures them that in the end, all will rise with him. In the end, people will belong to God; there is no marrying or being given in marriage. We are all children of God and all are alive in God.

This gospel finds its place in November as we come to the close of another liturgical year in a few weeks. The liturgy focuses on the end times. Of course we are all worried about who we will belong to in the end. In the meantime, we find our life of prayer so that we will better understand now on earth that we belong to God. We pray now so that we will recognize his face when we get to heaven.

We have reflected already in the past weeks on the end times. On November 1, All Saints Day showed us the vivid faces that the Church lifts up for us. They are examples of people who prayed on earth revealing an example for us to keep our hearts fixed on Jesus. They struggled in life to put their faith in practice. These role models are always available to us so we may find the zeal to keep going, to believe that in the end we will finally rest in God.

We also reflected on All Souls on November 2. We remember with love, with great fondness those who have gone before us. We struggle to let go of our loved ones. We never want to let go of love. Life facing death is never easy. Yet, as Christians, we understand that we belong to God and go back to God. We shall be reunited one day with those who have loved us on earth. Death is never easy.

The liturgical texts, prayers and scriptures all point to the end times during the month of November, culminating in the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe on the last Sunday of our liturgical year. In the meantime, how do we prepare our life for death? How do we pray now so to recognize the face of Christ Jesus when we arrive in heaven? How do we let go of people we have loved on earth as they face death?

Death is formative to us as Christians. Letting go of anything is never easy. We let go of earthly possessions and even our fears. We let go of all the things we thought were important in life as we face death. We let go of all the ways life should have been or might have been. We let go of certainties and opinions. We let go of obstinate behaviors and negative thoughts. We let go of people, places and objects. We let go of health and future. We let go of love and hate. We let go of what has been, what is and we look forward to what will be. How does the Eucharist invite you during the month of November to reflect on the end times?

In peace,

Fr. Ron

 

Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection, Part 3

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November Rains Grief and Walks Through Wet Oak Leaves, Part 3

 Cardinal O’Hara’s body lies inside Sacred Heart Basilica. His remains are protected from lake-effect snows and spring rains. His anonymous friend donated a bouquet of roses to be placed on his grave every Friday afternoon. For decades a dozen fresh, red roses adorned his resting place, which is made of marble.

A freshman classmate came from a poor family and wanted to take a girl from Saint Mary’s to a dance. He could not afford a flower for his date. So I stole three fresh roses from the gravesite on a Friday afternoon and made a corsage for her.

I admit my theft.

I really did not think the Cardinal would mind, since the following Friday a dozen of fresh roses would adorn his place of death.

I believed he kept track, by the dozens, of the campus stories of love.

In the graveyard, there are no fresh roses in winter.

Another bishop lies under the snow. Bishop Paul had been a very heavyset man in his adulthood.

Every time I walk by his grave, I am reminded of the time I strolled by the outside of his Portland apartment one summer while visiting as a student.

A classmate and I tried to look the other way when we noticed three large pizza boxes on top of his trashcan.

There are no pizza boxes near gravesites.

He is enjoying the great banquet of heaven where there are no empty boxes anywhere, where no guilt will be found. I pray he is feasting with delight.

I know of at least another bishop whose remains are tucked under South Bend snow in winter.

Bishop Lawrence Graner had served in Bangladesh. His voice radiated love. When he presided in Sacred Heart Church in retirement, he hardly needed a microphone.

He communicated more than words written in a book. His soul sounded when he stood at God’s altar.

He used his voice deliberately to sooth families, especially mothers; on the day a son was being ordained a priest.

His manner invited calm. The tenor of his voice was balm for fear.

As seminarians, we nicknamed him, “Hands”. In those years, he was invited to ordain most of our men. We all wanted to be under the calming hands of his faithful inheritance, a sure sign of springtime.

He died before I could find myself under his wing.

There are many names written in stone of our men who died overseas. They would have feared the mountains of snow in South Bend for all eternity.

They were used to the brutal heat of serving in threatening governments or serving while the Church was just being born in third world nations.

Their names are protected by the vigilance of Our Lady of Sorrows. She over sees in bronze, the names of many missionaries from her perch on the side of the cemetery.

I am hoping she will not forget my name even though I have never been in our mission countries.

She protects me even now. I have to believe that.

Only the priests and brothers who served in the military have a different mark on their gravesites. I admire their service, but in that cemetery, another marker is not necessary.

We are all Holy Cross religious. When it snows, we are even more the same.

No other marker is seen under the drifts of memory, loss and belief and most of all because we are all soldiers for Christ.

These are the peace terms I have inherited.

As seminarians we always kidded and joked about dying during the Christmas break. There would be no one to welcome our bodies since our classmates would all be home resting and filling up on blood-family time.

Brother Clarence would not be able to dig a new grave. The heavy drifting snow wrapped around the previous grave marker would not allow for such a task.

There would be no other religious in the seminary to mourn us.

Our bodies would have to wait for the spring thaw to be lowered by the community into a dark grave.

Only once do I remember, in my day, a seminarian dying during Christmas break.

John Cross died on Highway 24 in Cascade, Colorado, walking back from Holy Rosary Chapel to the novitiate.

He was in the novitiate in the class after me, even though he was older than me.

This year, in 2019, it will be exactly 40 years since his death on December 30.

He was 26 years old at his death.

I will remember him here in Cascade on that day, no matter how much snow is on the mountain.

I know there will be no seminarians near the cemetery because of Christmas break from school.

In my heart, I will traipse through the drifts of memory and pray for all of our dead when the snows are deep. The hope for spring melts fear away.

Under the Holy Cross marker, lie many men, even one whose last name is Cross.

I wait for the healing spring rains.

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Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection, Part 2

 

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Holy Cross Cemetery at Notre Dame 2019

November Rains Grief and Walks Through Wet Oak Leaves, Part 2

Brother Clarence dug the graves of our priests and brothers for decades. He never admitted to such a task during lunch at the seminary.

We were kids whom only carried books and avoided shovels. He served with love.

I never found out who dug his grave. I do know it was filled up with a holy man.

Brother Marcellus quietly clipped grass from around the concrete crosses. He must have prayed in rows.

His one shoe squeaked when he walked the long hallways in the seminary.

The rhythmic and often annoying sound was actually a reminder to us seminarians that he had been walking among the dead. I was always grateful.

Brother John served as administrative assistant to the provincial for 50 years.

I can imagine some people want to dig up his casket because the secrets he carried to his grave must be somewhere.

I remember hearing stories about how the elite of Holy Cross, the provincials and leaders, were buried in separate rows in the early days of the cemetery.

I am not sure of the exact date when all of that changed.

I am grateful that death treats us all the same.

I also remember hearing how some of the caskets of those leaders at the head of the line slid into the lake in the early days because of the weak soil.

We tried to hide our seminarian smirks.

We never laughed when we walked in the areas of the cemetery that put our brothers on one section and our priests on the other.

We got rid of at least one boundary in the Church.

Charlie was a character. He was the priest who invited Fr. Henry Nouwen to Notre Dame in the 1960’s to teach.

He admitted to me that because Henry wrote lots of books, everyone new Henry.

Charlie said to me one day, “Ronnie, but nobody knows me!”

I can’t help but laugh at Charlie’s grave.

He would want everyone to do that.

Jerry retired as the CFO at Notre Dame. He lived in the seminary at the same time as Charlie.

Fr. Jerry was the kindest man I have ever known.

He not only dealt with financial bottom lines, he also consoled hurting priests across the country.

If a priest were in trouble, Jerry would disappear for a couple of days. He would hurry to the airport and fly to his side and comfort him in his vocation.

Jerry never spoke of such a thing as he ate only milky grits for breakfast in the seminary.

However, we all knew.

Father Peter was another live wire. He spoke English with both German and Spanish accents.

He bantered endlessly with us novices. His skin was tough from wars and conflicts, in Germany and Chile.

In the end he would laugh at our shenanigans.

His brilliant laugh echoed off the marble at Marigreen Pines.

Father James served as rector of the seminary when I was in college. He taught sociology at Notre Dame.

He had a way of reading our needs.

When I served people in poverty in Portland, Jim heard confessions on Mondays. He also served coffee in our hospitality center.

He soon developed memory loss. That was a death by inches that I still grieve.

A couple of years ago, there were four men named “Ron” in the community. Three of them are now deceased.

One Ron died after doing his laundry.

Another Ron died from years of drinking and living sober.

The third Ron died of giving his life to the sick.

His funeral gathered one of the largest crowds of South Bend parishioners ever at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Holy Cross needs to accept more guys named, “Ron.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rev. Robert Pelton, CSC: Priest and Prophet

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READ THIS ARTICLE FROM NOTRE DAME MAGAZINE

A great priest died yesterday. He was a servant of the poor. Not just in his local neighborhood but around the world. He was an academic and servant of the Church. He was 98.

I saw him in April praying at Mass at Saint Mary’s College. I greeted with him with admiration. As ever, he held out his hand and looked into my eyes and into my soul. Students at Notre Dame could encounter him riding his bike on campus.

I always felt like a naive freshman around Bob. I could never get the words out of my mouth for how much I appreciated his work in Chile. He taught generations about the importance of living our faith in the world. He was not shy about Jesus and how love needed to be implemented when dealing with violent governments, people in need of peace, shelter, clothing and hope. He was a man of the Church.

He helped nations implement Vatican II. He served the rights and needs of farmworkers and students. He knew Oscar Romero and wrote books on his life. In his old age, he prayed quietly at Masses where dozens of people still came to him for advice. He also was constantly thinking of how he was called to improve the situations of people living in poverty in various nations.

Bob also walked to our cemetery to bury his many friends. I will miss processing from the Basilica down the road in the next few days to bury a man I deeply admired. Someday I will find the words of appreciation and the prayers of love. In the meantime, I lift up another Holy Cross priest in death and in life who inspired lives across the globe.

 

Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection

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Holy Cross Cemetery at the University of Notre Dame. Photo from summer of 2019.

November Rains Grief and Our Walks Through Wet Oak Leaves

I walked into this sacred ground of dead priests and brothers for the first time in 1974. Forty-five years of stepping among my dead brothers.

As a freshman, I prayed here often. I loved the quiet.

I carried caskets along with my classmates when family members were only faint memories of our dead brothers.

My classmates and I giggled at many priest funerals when a priest eulogized another dead brother by saying no other religious really knew him. Yet, his Marian devotion was real.

Worn beads are always wrapped in the hands of dead Holy Cross confreres.

Perhaps Mary is an only friend.

Most of them loved to go fishing. They won’t say that at my funeral even if they stretch the truth.

The stone crosses line up as a choir across the green lawn in summer.

I hear the many voices still after death. Ironically, some men who were professional enemies are buried next to each other. I can almost hear the chatter.

In the Midwest winters, the names of the men carved on stones are lost in snow drifts. That is when I fear I will be buried. I hope someone kneels to view my name in spring.

Our Holy Cross Cemetery will house all of the present living members. If we need more land, the field next to the retirement home can be filled in so the caskets will not sink into the lake.

I pray my window in the retirement house will not face the cemetery. I do not want to see in November caskets floating across Saint Mary’s Lake.

Always in November our priests, brothers and seminarians process with candles aside the cross into the cemetery during the damp and cold early evening in order to remember. I am not sure how they pray. I suspect they say something like, “I am sure glad I will not be buried next to him! Thank you, God.”

I have missed processing to the cemetery from The Basilica of the Sacred Heart for many of my friends. I do so in my imagination and prayer.

I miss their voices and faces the most, their bodies wrapped in vesture. I captured their integrity when they presided at Mass.

The priests are always buried in Mass vestments. I am consoled by that identity.

I hold a deck of funeral cards in my aging hands today. November comes so quickly with another ten in hand.

Especially in November, the deck seems stacked when the younger die first.

I still see their faces on one side and a list of the institutions in which they served on the other side of the thin prayer card.

Nowhere on the card does it say they knew Jesus.

In this blustery month of November, I remember again the reasons why each man lived here on earth. I carry them to the place of their body memory, the altar table here on earth.

I am happy to stand where they stood. I remember again this November without having to travel back to campus and peel wet leaves off my shoes and shield my face from the cold rain.

The secret they have taken to the grave is that Jesus loved them, until the bitter end. For this hidden gift, I am so grateful for cemeteries and crosses and names all in a row.

Someday, I will take my own place, buried next to the one Holy Cross religious who dies before me.

Amen.

 

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time: Prayers of the Faithful

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November 3, 2019

Let us pray to seek the person of Christ Jesus. May we model our search after Zacchaeus, who sought a new perspective, welcoming Jesus into his home.

We pray to the Lord…

Let us pray to seek love and not pride, to search for divine mercy and not earthly wealth, to be open to divine wisdom, and not possessions that becomes moth eaten. May our search discover God’s tenderness.

We pray to the Lord…

Let us pray to seek a new vision of hospitality. May we welcome the lonely, the stranger, and the unexpected guest into our hearts and churches. May fear melt away as we realize the dignity of all people.

We pray to the Lord…

Let us pray to seek hope in our lives. May we let go of negativity, our anger about how life has turned out, and seek new joy and wonder in Christ Jesus.

We pray to the Lord…

Let us pray to seek a new perspective on family life. May we realize the treasures we have among the people we love. May we reach beyond our circles of care to people who most need tenderness, forgiveness and peace.

We pray to the Lord…

Let us pray to seek our new home in heaven as we grief the loss of our loved ones. In this Mass…

We pray to the Lord…

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time: Bulletin Column

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November 3, 2019

Dear Followers of Jesus,

Zacchaeus had to stretch to see Jesus in today’s gospel, Luke 19:1-10. He was short in stature and a tax collector and wealthy man. From his position in life, seeing Jesus was not easy because wealth and power are not the perspectives in the gospel in which we naturally find a person who is searching for what Jesus brings. Something brought Zacchaeus to this point. Perhaps he was just fed up with how he was living his life. Something inside him knew to seek out Jesus.

I love how Jesus sees him in a tree. I wonder what brought Jesus to look for him. Jesus sees all of us who are searching for him as well. Jesus invites Zacchaeus to come down from the tree. This simple line delights me. Zacchaeus comes down from the tree and Jesus received him with joy. I love the fact that joy was the beginning of this encounter with these two men. There was no judgment or regret or apprehension or shame. There was only joy. I love that.

So Jesus invites himself to the home Zacchaeus. That seems sort of daring. Then we read that in fact it was daring for Jesus to come to the home of a sinner. Gossip is like fire. Jesus doesn’t seem to care. Jesus feels right at home at the table of real people. Zacchaeus makes all these promises immediately.

Zacchaeus decides he will give money away to lift up the poor. He knows that he has exhorted many people and makes promises to fix those situations. I want to go back and interview him and find out what exactly happened to him. I want to know what brick wall he found himself against in order to change. Or was it what he heard about Jesus? Yes, that must have been it! He heard that Jesus was a religious figure that did not travel with judgment in his soul. His eyes were filled with hope as he listened to the stories of people marginalized by sin and destructive behavior. Jesus offered tenderness and did not point his finger in shame. Jesus reputation was one of healer and kindness drifted along his path.

In the home, Jesus offers Zacchaeus salvation. I would love to have seen the look on Zacchaeus’ face. Can you imagine that after all his years of creating shady tax deals; he gets the real deal with Jesus presence and his mercy? Zacchaeus must have stood tall! He must have left his tea to get cold at the table. Zacchaeus found his real self that day in his home in the encounter with Jesus. He was lost and is now found. His empty soul becomes filled with hope. I wonder if there were other sentences and even paragraphs from this story while Jesus was sitting with them. How could it be so easy?

Change is easy when we are ready to find Jesus. His love waits for us no matter what we are preoccupied with, no matter how our souls have wandered away, no matter the distractions of our hearts. I want to hear more from Zacchaeus. I want him to tell us more about that moment in which he finally felt his heart’s desire in the person of Jesus. Imagine for your self such a scene. I wonder if it could happen to you?

Peace,

Fr. Ron

 

Solemnity of All Saints 2019: “On Our Journey To The Kingdom”

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Solemnity of All Saints 2019 “On Our Journey To The Kingdom” Painting by Ronald Raab, CSC 2019

Responsorial Psalm  Ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6

R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.