One of the best things about being Catholic is that you’re not alone. Regardless of your personal family situation, you’re part of a much larger family. That’s really been brought home to me (in a manner of speaking) these last few days, when I’ve been in NYC on business. There is a Catholic church right around the corner from my hotel, and right on the way to where I’m working. It’s been easy to stop in for Mass, and it’s remarkable the diversity of people who are there: the business executives, the Fordham students, the young married couples with small children, the homeless man huddled in the back pew…all here. All part of this crazy family.
And the family isn’t just here in this particular church building, or the one we attend back in Michigan, or anywhere else. All of us are only one slice of the family; the saints who’ve gone before us, and are now in heaven, are the older brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles we’ve heard so much about and are looking forward to meeting again. And especially during this month, we’re praying for the souls in purgatory, that they can be speeded along their way to that family reunion as well.
I think it was James Joyce who said the best description of the Catholic church is “Here comes everybody.” And it’s hard to think of a pair of days that illustrate that better than November 3 and 4 do. Today is the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, one of the most prominent reformers at the Council of Trent. He grew up in the aristocracy, became a cardinal archbishop at the age of 22, and his uncle was a pope. He lived a life of outstanding holiness, and cleaned out many of the abuses in the 16th century church. And yesterday, November 3, we celebrated the feast of St. Martin de Porres — a contemporary of Charles Borromeo, but living in a social situation which couldn’t have been more different. He was the illegitimate mixed-race son of a Spanish nobleman and a young black freed slave in Lima, Peru. He grew up in abject poverty, and lived a life of austerity and menial labor (which he regarded as a tremendous blessing, because all work is a participation in God’s own creation).
November 3 and 4. Two men, alive at the same time, on different sides of the world, in entirely different circumstances…and yet both are my older brothers who I admire and who have a lot to teach me.
I posted the following video some time back, but it somehow seems especially appropriate to recommend it again today: