Monday, April 25, 2016

This Is How To Do It

I'm always eager to share the little seeds or little works of the Holy Spirit wherever I find them.  Whether they are unexpected conversions, grace-filled stories or fledgling institutes and apostolates.  I was recently edified by reading about the St. Thomas Aquinas House in inner-city Detroit.  It's a community of young men who live together, chant parts of the office, share catechesis and training in the old mass, and engage in door-to-door evangelization.  They are religious brothers (called "canons") who take vows, and there is the opportunity to study for the priesthood for those who are called.  I know the area they serve, as I returned to the faith in 2007 through a church they serve at, St. Josaphat's.

Now that's what I call a church!

If the Canons of St. Thomas Aquinas had been at St. Josaphat's back in 2007/2008 I might have tried to join them, or at least I would have followed them around like a lost puppy.  You see, in the first years after my conversion I was basically on my own.  I felt God's closeness, but I never found a priest who could take me under his wing, nor did I find any peers to share the labors in the walk with Christ.  Perhaps I was meant to be alone so as to cling ever closer to Jesus, but that's not God's usual plan.  Since heaven itself is fellowship and union, God intends for us to walk in faith together here and now.  But this is especially difficult for young men, who often have an independent spirit and don't see their place in graying parishes with few of their peers.

Yet there are few things more considerable than a band of young men joined together in a common purpose.  I learned this lesson in a maximum security prison where I witnessed dangerous convicts brought together in peace (more or less) under the "convict code": a shared worldview of discipline, justice and brotherhood.  The convict code made prison bearable and safe (at least for those who adhered to the code), and it laid the groundwork for deep friendships.

God desires to bring young men together, and for a higher calling than mere convict justice!  I've noticed that a hallmark of many saints is that they served as a magnet for other young men.  There are the obvious examples: Sts. Francis and Dominic, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Philip Neri in devastated Rome, and then lesser known examples like St. Paul of the Cross or St. Clement Hofbauer at St. Benno's in Warsaw.  Even as the founders became elderly (like Philip Neri and John Henry Newman) they continued to attract dedicated young men.  These fellowships produced many other saints since "iron sharpens iron", and the effects of their friendships even resound to our own day.

The Canons Regular of Thomas Aquinas on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land

I'm grateful that the archbishop of Detroit and other good bishops have welcomed new communities and new approaches to evangelization.  So long as they are deeply rooted in the Church and her wisdom throughout the centuries, they will bear fruit.  Some are unconventional like Fr. Jacques Philippe's Community of the Beatitudes or the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles (which I wrote about here) or even this little apostolate.  The Church has many great needs today, and in many places she is looking out upon a "Devastated Vineyard" (to borrow the title from a Dietrich Von Hildebrand book).  Now is not the time to get in the way of the Holy Spirit!

The Canons of Thomas Aquinas have the right approach to re-seed the vineyard.  They offer the wisdom of a deep understanding of our faith, the courage to evangelize, the charity and solidarity of brotherhood, and the heavenly beauty of our ancient liturgy and arts.  May the face of Christ shine upon them!

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