Out of over 17,000 Roman Catholic parishes in the US, about 800 are considered to be predominantly African-American. Our 12 noon Mass today is an opportunity for our parish community to celebrate National Black Catholic History Month – thanks to the initiative of our St. Martin de Porres Society. I am very happy to welcome Reverend Gerard C. Marable, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Galloway, NJ, as our presider.
When we recite the Creed on Sundays, we profess our belief in the “communion of saints.” The Book of Revelation 7:9 says: “I saw a huge crowd After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” This reminds us that the holy ones in heaven are diverse in terms of nationality, race, color, or language. One takeaway we can learn about the National Black Catholic History Month is that there are over 100 saints from across the African diaspora. Currently, though there are no African-American saints, the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) has advanced beatification and canonization causes of six inspirational African-American men and women: Venerable Pierre Toussaint, Servant of God Mother Mary Lange, Venerable Henriette DeLille, Venerable Augustus Tolton, Servant of God Julia Greeley, and Sister Thea Bowman. You can read more about these holy men and women in our bulletin this month.
The “communion of saints” reminds us of another celebration: the commemoration of our departed brothers and sisters. The special Memorial Mass we celebrated on November 2nd evening was a very touching and meaningful liturgy. One of the emails I got stated: “Because we could not be in NJ for the remembrance mass, we were thankful that St. Matthias live-streamed it. We could be present for our mom along with all of those families who lost their loved ones as well.” Yes, we do miss our departed dear ones and we continue to lift them up to God.
But this month is also meant to remind us of our own death – a topic that we rather not discuss or even think of. So it may sound strange to hear that there is a revival of an ancient practice called “Memento mori” or “remembering one’s own death.” Even before the Roman empire, meditation on death and the last things was a common practice of ancient philosophers like Plato. The phrase and the practice were then incorporated into medieval Christianity. “Memento mori” was such a popular religious theme in this period that it inspired a genre of art, music, and literature.
The difference for the Christian is not only remembering our own personal death which of course will happen as there is an end to this earthly life, but Jesus has transformed our death into a new life of glory through his own resurrection. St. Benedict said to keep death before your eyes daily. St. Francis of Assisi had made peace with his own mortality, going so far as to call death his “sister.” Someday Sister Death will greet us and we will go home to our God who created us, loves us, and redeems us through Jesus our Savior. So this commemoration of the dead is not to make us scared but hopeful of our own future life of bliss with our dear ones in the Lord.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Abraham Orapankal