We were deeply saddened to learn that Father Paul Keenan passed away today, June 10, 2008 -- three days before his
62nd Birthday. He has been a dear friend and wise and compassionate columnist for Soulful Living for six years. Father Paul was a generous, loving soul who always had a kind, healing word of encouragement to share. He will be deeply missed.
As he wrote in this article, which is his final column for SoulfulLiving.com, life is for celebrating. So let us celebrate and remember his soulful life,
which he devoted to God and helping others, through his service as a Catholic priest for over 30 years, and through his radio ministry and his many books.
Father Paul was a great light in our lives. And his work and legacy live on in the many people he has inspired. We grieve, yet we know he is in Heaven, smiling upon us.
Celebration of Life
The English word “celebrate” comes from a Latin word meaning “to frequent in great numbers” or “to assemble to honor.” This seemingly dry scholastic fact actually gives us an important clue about the nature of celebration and of celebrating life. It
tells us that to celebrate life is something we do with others. It is essentially a communal activity.
The other day, I received a voice mail message giving me two pieces of very good news. Of course, I was delighted with the information I was receiving. The moment I hung up the phone, I emailed a friend sharing my good news. It was impossible for me to
keep it to myself. I could not truly celebrate it until I had shared it with someone.
In the world of religion, liturgy or formal worship is often referred to as a celebration. As a Catholic priest, I celebrate Mass and in Catholic parlance we refer to the “celebration of the Eucharist.” In Catholicism, a central point of our
understanding of the sacraments (e.g., Baptism, Matrimony and the Eucharist) is that it is an act of the entire community, and we speak of “celebrating” these sacraments. This is true even when a sacrament is celebrated “privately.” For example, a Catholic goes to
confession to a priest and is in the confessional or reconciliation with only that person and the priest present. It is done very privately, yet it is a celebration of God’s forgiveness on the part of the entire faith community. It is a sacrament, and it is thereby a
The same is true on a larger scale for Sunday Mass. In Catholic teaching, the Sunday Mass celebrated in a parish is an act of worship performed in spiritual communion with the entire faith community throughout the world. We are united with each other
and we pray for each other, even though we may be an entire world apart.
A celebration, then, is something done communally. When we celebrate life, we naturally want to include others in our joy. I have a friend who, when he and his wife were expecting each of their children, made a recording of the baby’s heartbeat in the
womb. He happily brought the recording to work and shared his joy with his colleagues. As I write this column, we are anticipating a visit of Pope Benedict XVI to New York. I have already had two communications from friends who have been given tickets to attend one of the
events of the papal visit. They couldn’t contain their joy and had to share it with me.
When it comes right down to it, celebration is an antidote for isolation. What is it like when we do not feel like celebrating? We are sad, we keep to ourselves, we do not want to answer the phone or talk to anyone. We stay aloof and alone. When we
celebrate, we break out of our isolation in our desire to be with others and to share our happiness.
When we hear the word “celebration,” we often think of a party, but celebrations can be quiet and can even be associated with feelings of sadness. When bad news comes our way, we may share it with those who are close to us, and in so doing we celebrate –
somberly and quietly – the gift of friendship. At a funeral we celebrate the life of a loved one and his or her entry into the next life. The key to celebration is not what we are feeling but rather that we are feeling it in conjunction with others.
There is virtually no aspect of life that cannot lend itself to celebration. Yes, even life’s trials and tribulations. Times of suffering can be times of great learning and great compassion and they can give us opportunities to receive important gifts
and to grow in our understanding of others. My forthcoming book, Why We Love Them So, for example, will help those who are suffering from the loss of a beloved animal companion to grow in a sense of being understood and cared about as they grieve and give them a sense
of knowing how to cope with their painful loss. In difficult times, we can celebrate the importance of those who understand our situation and who help us to deal with it. It’s not the same as a party, but it is a celebration nonetheless. It’s great to know that we are not
alone when life is difficult.
Celebrating life, then, has many faces, and common to them all is a sense of being together. Celebrating, we are consciously part of the human family, deliberately aware of the spiritual ties that we share. To celebrate means not to be alone. What a
wonderful gift that is!
© Copyright 2008 Father Paul Keenan. All Rights Reserved.
Read Father Paul Keenan's Past
Winter-Spring 2008 - "Authentic Power"
Summer 2007 - "Friendship"
Winter 2006-'07 - "Life's Deeper Meaning"
Summer-Fall 2006 - "The Many Faces of Courage"
Jan-Apr 2006 - "Five Life Lessons"
Oct-Dec 2005 - "Having, Being, and Stillness"
July-Sept 2005 - "The Spiritual Law of Gravity"
April-June 2005 -
"Spiritual Spring Cleaning"
Father Paul Keenan is the author of six books, the most recent of which are “Elisha’s Jars” and “Beyond Blue Snow,” both from Illumination Books. He hosts a daily radio program, “As You Think,” Mondays through Fridays from 9p.m. – 1 a.m. ET, on The Catholic
Channel/Sirius 159. www.fatherpaul.com.