August 28, 2017

Honoring our Dead: Catholic Funeral Rites and the Consolation Ministry


By Larry Peterson

"Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest"   Matt: 11:28

The Catholic Church has a rich history of respecting and honoring all human life. From conception until death the church considers each person as God's individual creation and therefore, sacred in His eyes. The funeral rites set in place by the church reflect the church's beliefs in these principles.

There are distinct affirmations in the funeral process. The steps taken from the death of a loved one until final committal are all tied together so that besides honoring the departed, we who remain behind, can acknowledge the sacredness and dignity of not only the deceased but of all human life.
The entire Catholic funeral rite is divided into several parts: the Vigil Service (known as the Viewing or Wake); the Funeral Mass; and the Rite of Committal. The Vigil Service is usually at a funeral home of the family’s choosing or in the parish church prior to the funeral Mass. During the Vigil, family and friends gather together to honor the deceased by praying (the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, reading Scripture, etc) and remembering the deceased in quiet conversation among the mourners.

The Funeral Mass is the second part of the process. Church tradition has always involved the celebration of the Mass with the body present. This reflects the honor and respect for the deceased who, during their life, had become temples of the Holy Spirit upon being baptized.

The Funeral Mass begins with the body being received at the church entrance by the priest and ministers. The body is brought into the church and the Mass begins. Select readings and songs, usually chosen by family members, are used during the liturgy. Finally, the body is escorted from the church. (Funeral Masses can now be celebrated in the presence of cremated remains).

The Rite of Committal follows the Mass. The general practice has always been to escort the body to the place of burial at the cemetery. This might be a gravesite, a mausoleum or a columbarium,
which is a place cremated remains are laid to rest. (This is a smaller version of a mausoleum). The Rite of Committal is celebrated at all of these sites and we all follow along as the priest leads us in prayer letting us know that our loved has “gone before us marked with the sign of faith”. We acknowledge that the deceased is now awaiting their resurrection, just as all of us will be doing one day.

Finally, there is the Consolation Ministry. This ministry is not available in many parishes but if yours has one, you are blessed. This is the ministry that will provide immediate outreach to a family and/or spouse upon the death of their loved one. My parish (Sacred Heart; Pinellas Park, FL) does have a Consolation Ministry.

When my wife, Marty died, the parish Consolation Ministry immediately reached out to us. They  helped us pick out the readings and music for the funeral. They were at the church (maybe 25 people) an hour before the service and they prayed the Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy for Marty. They greeted friends and family when they arrived at the church and some even traveled over to the cemetery with us. They organized a reception that was held after the funeral at a local hall. The spread was fantastic. They stayed in touch via phone calls and email. This Ministry provided an unexpected support system and it demonstrated the family presence that exists in a Catholic parish.

Interestingly, our parish Consolation Ministry was the result of one parishioner’s desire to start something that grew and blossomed into a beautiful thing. Rita Belcastro took it upon herself to ask our pastor if she could organize this ministry (there was none). He gave the go ahead and today, several years later, her actions have now grown into a ministry that has managed to affect the lives of countless, grieving people over the years bringing them a semblance of peace and love during very bleak times in their lives.  KUDOS Rita--well done.   

Rita’s initiative is a fine example how one person can change things for so many. You might consider talking to some friends about starting one and then ask your pastor if he will support you. There are pamphlets and booklets available to guide you. (Check with your Diocesan office) You may also become an active part of your Catholic parish family.

                  Copyright©Larry Peterson 2017 All Rights Reserved        

August 14, 2017

(From March,2017) An example of the KKK's hatred against Catholics:An American story about an Irish priest, a brave girl, and the KKK*


By Larry Peterson

Each and every one of us is an individual work of art, crafted by God for Himself. Why would He do that? Because He is Love and wants to share Himself with us. We all are truly special in His eyes. He loves us all, individually and without reservation.

He will forgive each and every one of us for anything we might do to offend Him. All we have to do is admit it and ask Him for his forgiveness. However, that great interloper called "Pride", oftentimes places for many, immovable roadblocks to humility, everyone's needed ally on their path to Love.
Father James Coyle circa early 1900s  en.wikipedia

What follows is an "American" story about a Catholic priest and a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It is about love and hatred in America. This is not about present day. This happened in Birmingham, Alabama in the year 1921.

Father James Edwin Coyle had been born and raised in Ireland and, at the age of 23, was ordained a priest in Rome. The year was 1896. That same year he was dispatched to the Diocese of Mobile, Alabama to begin his ministry. Father Coyle served eight years in Mobile. While there he also became a charter member of Mobile Council 666 of the Knights of Columbus.

Birmingham was rapidly growing and was turning into one of the primary steel-making centers in America. Thousands were flooding into the area and Bishop Patrick Allen assigned Father Coyle to be pastor of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham. This was in 1904.

In 1915, inspired by the silent film, "Birth of a Nation" , the second generation of the Ku Klux Klan rose up (the link can explain the first and third generations). These folks were not only anti-black they also hated Roman Catholics, Jews, organized labor and foreigners. They started the use of the "burning cross" as their symbol. By the mid 1920s, there were over 4 million klansmen nationwide.

Father Coyle was a passionate priest who loved his faith deeply and this love was infectious. He taught and inspired his parishioners about the beauty and importance of the Mass and Holy Eucharist and he held a deep devotion to Our Blessed Mother.

As the Catholic population in Alabama grew, virtual hysteria on the part of the Ku Klux Klan began to permeate daily life. The Klan was spreading rumors and innuendo about Catholics kidnapping protestant women and children and keeping them imprisoned in convents, monasteries and catholic hospitals. The Klan even spread the narrative that the Knights of Columbus was the military arm of the Pope and that they were stockpiling weapons for the upcoming insurrection.

One of the leading Catholic haters of the day was a klansman by the name of Edwin Stephenson. Stephenson lived about a block or two away from St. Paul's Church. His daughter, Ruth, at about the age of 12, had become fascinated by the coming and goings of the Catholics at St. Paul's every day. One day she walked down to the church and Father Coyle was outside. They began to talk. Her father saw talking to the priest and, screaming at his child, demanded she go home immediately. Then he had a few choice words to say to Father Coyle. He then went home and beat his daughter.

Young Ruth was undeterred and over the next several years even managed to secretly take instruction from the nuns at the Convent of Mercy. She was baptized a Catholic on April 10,1921. She was 18 years old. When her parents found out their wedding gift to her was the worst beating she had ever received.

On August 11, 1921, Ruth Stephenson, of legal age, was seeking full emancipation from her parents. She did this by marrying Pedro Gussman, a former handyman who had worked at the Stephenson house several years earlier. The priest that performed the wedding was a reluctant Father James Coyle.

Later that afternoon, Mr. Stephenson loaded up his rifle and began walking to St. Paul's Church. He had just found out that it was Father Coyle who had performed the wedding. His heart was not filled with love. Rather, with hatred spilling from his eyes, he walked up onto the porch of St. Paul's where Father Coyle was sitting down reading. and shot the priest three times. The final bullet went right through Father Coyle's head. He died in less than an hour.

Stephenson turned himself in and was charged with Father Coyle's murder. The KKK paid for the defense, the judge was a klansman and the lawyer who defended Stephenson was Hugo Black, the future U. S. Supreme Court Justice. Although not a Klan member at the time of trial, Black did become a member afterwards. The verdict took only a few hours to come in. It was "Not Guilty".

Father James Edwin Coyle was a Catholic priest who loved his God, his Faith and his Church. He was hated and murdered because of it. May he forever rest in peace.

 *This article appeared in Aleteia on March 17, 2017

                ©Copyright Larry Peterson 2017 All Rights Reserved

August 12, 2017

The Piano Farewell: My Wife’s Passing is Now Complete yet the Music Lives On*


By Larry Peterson

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
St. Thomas Aquinas

Aleteia first ran an  article  about my wife, Marty, in January of 2016. By that time she had gone through four years of chemo treatments for Lymphoma, developed serious heart issues and had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. She was also still recovering from a severely broken ankle which occurred in July of 2014.

Included among my archives in Aleteia are probably ten different articles about our journey together with her illness and cognitive decline. Some of those articles were about her and her piano. You might search them out if you like. I mention this because this will most likely be my last article about Marty. She passed away this past March and her piano remained behind. It was part of her, an extension if you will, for no matter how much of her memory vanished, every day she would still manage to play that piano.  The last few months of her life she probably sat, playing it,  two to three hours a day. It followed that after she was gone the piano stayed right where it had always been, the only difference being the silence resonating from it. 

                         Marty's Piano--The Music Lives On
The presence of her piano had extended the grief process for me. When you come in my front door it is right there, waiting to be brought to life. It was silent but when I looked at it I could see Marty sitting there playing. At times I could even hear the music. When I did it was so clear and vivid that at times I just had to leave the house. I even thought I was “losing” it.

After several weeks I covered the piano up with a large blanket. I placed a few knick-knacks on top and did my best to ignore it. The camouflage worked just a tiny bit but it was better than nothing. What to do? What to do? Here is where my faith comes in. Here is where I opened myself up and "let go and let God".

I thought of selling the piano but that thought evaporated quickly. There was no way I could "sell" Marty's piano. I wanted it to go to someone who could not afford one and who would be able to play. So I contacted my parish and after two or three weeks of "nothing" I forgot about it. So I just kept praying and waited.

Hospice had a bereavement group that had begun on May 10. I decided to attend. We met once a week for six weeks. I had discussed the piano with them. When we had finished our meetings we exchanged (there were only three of us left) our email addresses and phone numbers. On July 27, I received a facebook message from Sue, who was part of the bereavement group. She wrote that the music director at the Anona Methodist Church (who was also a piano teacher) might know a family that could use a piano.

I phoned the music director. Her name was Sandy and she told me that she knew a lady named, Sarah, who had a seven year old boy who was learning to play. They only had a keyboard as the family could not afford a piano. It was a perfect scenario. I asked Sandy if she would have Sarah call me and the next day she did. She was thrilled at the opportunity to get this piano for her son. And herein is when I fully understood  how God was in charge of this entire piano saga.

Marty began playing a piano at the age of six or seven. Sarah's son has begun playing at the age of six or seven. I thought about it and realized that it is possible that maybe 70 years from now, an older man might be playing a piano somewhere. He would have learned to play on the same piano that a woman named Marty played her last song on 70 years earlier.  In essence, the music coming from that piano had never stopped and now spanned four generations. And yes, the possibility exists that it may continue well after he is gone. Who knows, right?

 I have absolutely no doubt that this was "meant to be" and  here is why; the piano will be picked up and delivered to its new owner on August 10. That is the Feast Day of (this only happens once a year) St. Lawrence, who is my patron Saint (talk about messaging).  Having Faith (as quoted by Aquinas above) is a beautiful thing. My prayers were, without a doubt, answered. 

One final thought; I can see Marty looking down with that great big smile of hers stretched from ear to ear. She is watching as a little boy sits at her piano and fingers the very keys she had fingered only six months earlier.  And, as is God’s way of things, life goes on. On occasion, so does His music.
  *This article also appeared in Aleteia on 8/11/2017
                          copyright©Larry Peterson 2017

August 5, 2017

Saint Anna Schaffer---Bedridden and in Constant Pain from being Burned, She Gave it all to Jesus


By Larry Peterson

The number of saints in the Catholic Church numbers in the thousands.  In fact, the exact number is open to question.  Among these are many saints most of us have never heard of. These saints  are the obscure spiritual gems whose stories can take your breath away. Say "hello" to  Anna Schaffer.

Anna Schaffer was born into a simple, hardworking family in Mindelstetten in Bavaria on February 18, 1882. The third of six children, Anna was a fine student who studied hard and received good grades. When she was a small child she had felt a deep calling to the religious life but circumstances sometimes hurl themselves into your path changing your destination.

Anna made her First Holy Communion  on April 12, 1893. At that time she had a profound encounter with Jesus. She had not spoken to anyone about it but she wrote a letter to Our Lord telling Him to "do with me as you want...I want to atone and become a sacrifice to atone for all dishonor and offenses against you." She was 11 years old and was giving herself over to Christ.

Anna's dad passed away at the age of 40. The year was 1896.  Anna, now 14, had already been working part time for a household in Regensburg but now her family was thrust into poverty. She had dreamed of one day entering a religious order but circumstances now forced her to give up thoughts of any more schooling and find full time work to help support the household. She acquired several positions and finally landed a job in a pub called the  Gameskeeper's Cottage in nearby Stammham. Part of her job description included doing the laundry.

The Victorian era washing machines they were using were designed to have a fire underneath and the rising heat would boil the water in the tub above. These "machines" had galvanized metal smoke stacks to vent the smoke outside the building. The stack on the machine Anna was using came loose from the wall. She was sure she could fix it.

Anna climbed up on the edge of the tub to force the pipe back into the hole. As she stretched up to reattach the pipe she slipped and fell into the boiling, sudsy water. In a flash she was up to her knees in the bubbling cauldron having her legs boiled. The date was February 4, 1901. Anna was 19 years old and her life had been changed forever.

St. Anna Schaffer
Anna was rushed over to the nearby hospital. Everything they tried to do for her failed to help. They operated over thirty times and every time the pain was excruciating as they had to scrape dead skin away and re-bandage the poor girl's legs. She was given up as a “lost cause” and the experts assumed she would die from infection. Skin grafts would not take and Anna became immobilized.

However, for some unexplainable reason, Anna stabilized and three months later was sent home.
The local doctors, unable to help Anna, several times sent her to the University Clinic of Erlangen for treatment. But this brought her nothing but anguish as the "experts" experimented with various "new" treatments in their quest to help her. They even forcibly broke the joints in her feet several times to free them up from their immobility. The pain she endured must have been horrific. Her mother became her caregiver and would care for her daughter until the end of her life.

In 1898 Anna had seen a vision where Jesus appeared to her as the Good Shepherd and told her the suffering that was going to be hers before the age of 20. Jesus’ prediction had now come to pass and there was nothing anyone could do to help her.  Anna embarked on a journey of having to endure unimaginable pain every day as her legs would never heal. Open, festering wounds would always be present. But Jesus was in her life coupled with her deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. Anna Schaffer was about to inspire many more than just those in her local community.

Anna admitted in a letter that it took her two years to recognize God's will in her life as she had offered it to Him on her First Communion Day. She embraced God’s will fully and Jesus appeared to her saying, "I accepted you in atonement for my Holy Sacrament. And in the future when you receive Holy Communion you will feel the pains of My passion with which I have redeemed you."

On October 4, 1910, Anna received the stigmata. From that day forward Jesus would feel Anna’s pain as Anna felt His.  She wrote that she had the intense pain of the passion which increased on Thursday, Fridays, Sundays and on Feast days. She became a beloved person in the town and people began coming from everywhere to hear the gentle and comforting words she spoke. Every day she drew closer and closer to Jesus and the Blessed Virgin as Jesus united her suffering with His own.

In 1925 Anna developed colon cancer and, at the time, there was nothing anyone could do for that. On October 5, 1925, Anna was given Holy Communion. She opened her eyes wide and said, "Jesus, I live for you." Then she closed her eyes and journeyed home with her Lord.

Since 1929, Over 15.000 miracles have been attributed to the intercession of Anna Schaffer. In 1998 alone 551 miracles were recorded through her intercession (many of these have not yet been validated by the Church). Anna was beatified by St. John Paul II in1999 and canonized a saint by Pope Benedict in 2011.

Saint Anna Schaffer, please pray for us.

                                 ©Larry Peterson 2017 All Right Reserved