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What's A Mother To Do?

Dealing With Feuding Sons

Q: I am a mother with two sons who do not speak to each other. One son threatened to take the other to court because he was procrastinating as executor of their grandmother’s will. When there are family functions, neither one will attend because each does not want to be in the other one’s presence. What’s a mother to do?

A: You are obviously in a very difficult situation and have my prayerful support as you deal with this conflict between your sons.

If I were dealing with this, I would want to communicate to them a few key ideas. First, the conflict which began involving only one son is now about recognizing each other as members of the same family—a much more serious matter. Their refusal to attend family functions has an effect on all family members deprived of their presence at significant family events.

If both sons have children, your sons are communicating to them that adults deal with conflict by avoidance and bitterness. You might point out to your sons other sibling disputes in your extended family which have been resolved more amicably (if any exist).

After all, life is too short to allow such conflicts to dominate a family’s life. Would they maintain this animosity if the other one was diagnosed with cancer or was seriously injured in an accident? Better to mend fences now than try to do it in the midst of some crisis.

Allow me to suggest that you summon a face-to-face meeting with them together—with a request that neither one speak until you have finished. Then you will be ready to listen to each one.

If they won’t do that, try separate face-to-face meetings with them with the same request and promise as above. In the last resort, send them identical letters communicating what you would say face-to-face if that were possible.

Keep in mind your efforts may not succeed. You will, however, be able to live with yourself more easily once you have formulated and carried out a reasonable plan to dislodge this conflict from its current stagnation. Good luck.

Gregorian Masses

Q: The subject of Gregorian Masses was brought up the other day among us women. Some never heard of them, but one said she still believes in them. Do these 30 Masses help persons shorten or skip purgatory?

Why are they not spoken of more today? Is there still such a practice?

A: The custom of Gregorian Masses still exists. Even before Gregory the Great (pope from 590 to 604), some people or groups would have Mass celebrated on 30 consecutive days for a person who had died. In his Dialogues, however, Gregory tells of having Masses said for 30 consecutive days for his deceased friend Justus. After the last of the 30 Masses, Justus is supposed to have appeared to his brother, Copiosus, to announce he had been delivered from purgatory, and Gregory is believed to have been given the same assurance. After Gregory, it became popular in Europe to have 30 consecutive Masses said for others who had died.

While the custom has been approved by Church authorities, and confidence in it called pious and reasonable, there can be no guarantee of its efficacy. The deliverance of the departed depends on God’s mercy and pleasure.

I believe priests do not speak much of Gregorian Masses for several reasons. The custom does not pertain to the essence of faith but rather depends on private revelations.

Further, it is very difficult for most priests to fulfill the requirement of celebrating Masses 30 consecutive days for the same intention. Pastors must, by law, say certain Masses for all their parishioners. And in most American parishes there is a long list of Masses requested by different people for their own particular intentions.

When Gregorian Masses are requested, they are often sent to monastic communities or mission offices such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association for distribution to missionary priests.

Mary's Tomb?

Q: A recent ad for travel to Israel includes the phrase, “You can visit Mary’s tomb.” This bothers me. We are taught by the Church that her body was assumed into heaven. Why then would she need a tomb? Is it empty?

A: A structure known as the Tomb of Mary is located just east of the Old City of Jerusalem and literally a stone’s throw from the Church of All Nations (Gethsemani). Everyone agrees that this tomb does not now contain the body or bones of Mary.

In 1950, when he proclaimed the dogma of Mary’s Assumption, Pope Pius XII did not say whether Mary died or not; he said that she was assumed bodily into heaven.

One reason for not making this part of the teaching is that the Eastern Churches (Orthodox and Catholic) speak of the “dormition” (sleeping away) of Mary. According to one tradition, Mary actually died, was buried and soon the faithful found flowers instead of her body in that tomb. According to another tradition, Mary spent her last years in Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey.

Greek Orthodox monks staff the church where the Tomb of Mary is located, but this shrine outside Jerusalem is open to everyone.

Patron Saint of Miners?

Q: Who is the patron saint of underground coal miners? Also, is there any book that lists all the saints that Pope John Paul II has canonized thus far?

A: Several books on saints list Saints Barbara and Piran as patrons of miners. The story concerning St. Barbara is that her father was struck by “fire from heaven” after he cut off her head for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. She has then become the patron of all who handle explosives—including miners.

Piran was a sixth-century hermit in Cornwall and is especially invoked by tin miners. I found no listing for a saint especially associated with coal miners.

You can find a list of those whom Pope John Paul II has beatified or canonized in the most recent Catholic Almanac, published by Our Sunday Visitor. In 1998, they also published John Paul II’s Book of Saints (368 pages, $19.95), listing the over-300 people he has canonized and the 700-plus people he has beatified. Short biographies are offered for most of them.

Why is St. Anthony Holding Jesus?

Q: I have been a devoted fan, respecter and lover of St. Anthony of Padua since my elementary school days. I am now 68 years old. I do have a question, however. Why is he always seen holding the Child Jesus?

A: According to one of the early accounts of the saint’s life, toward the end of Anthony’s life Jesus appeared to him in the form of a child, allowed Anthony to embrace him and touched Anthony on the forehead. A certain Count Tiso witnessed this event but was sworn to secrecy during the rest of Anthony’s life. The count told the story after Anthony died.

In fact, Anthony is sometimes pictured holding not the Child Jesus but a book, representing the Gospels which Anthony so zealously preached. The Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua has two such paintings; a museum in that city has a painting of Anthony with a book in one hand and a lily (symbol of purity) in the other.

Judgment Now or Later?

Q: My sister died recently. I believe in my heart that she is with the angels. But when I go to Mass, I begin to wonder about this.

I thought the Church taught us that at the Second Coming we all would be raised from the dead. I thought we waited in our graves until then. Even the Creed tells us that. Then why Easter? Is it right to say when you die you go to heaven or hell or do you wait until the Second Coming?

A: Your sister may already be with the angels; I hope so. The question you raise is one of the main reasons that St. Paul wrote his First Letter to the Thessalonians, perhaps the first New Testament writing to be completed. Chapter four, verses 13-18, speaks to this.

Easter celebrates Christ’s victory over sin and death; it completes Jesus’ saving act (passion, death and resurrection) on our behalf. The Catholic Church speaks of the particular judgment (as soon as you die) and the general or last judgment (the end of the world). At death a person is immediately judged; his or her soul is assigned to heaven, hell or purgatory.

Easter, however, celebrates a bodily resurrection. For that we must wait until the general judgment when body and soul will be reunited in heaven or in hell. For people living at the end of the world, the particular and the general judgment will be the same event. For everyone else, these will be separate events. Purgatory ends with the last judgment.

I encourage you to continue to pray for your sister. No honest prayer is ever wasted.

To “How did the fish get to be a Christian symbol”?: The Greek word ichthus (“fish”) contains the first letters of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.”

The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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