Sunrise over city

Sunrise over city

Monday, June 26, 2017

Watching For The Harvest

A wise man told me that when something is of God it takes a long time for it to come to fruition.

                                                                          --Fr. Lawrence Carney, Walking The Road To God

Something has changed in the apostolate.  Something has changed in me, and there is movement in Chris, too.  We have entered a more fruitful time after years of sowing.  The hand of God has seemed more present, and even urgent at times.  Now when we go out, I feel like I could walk forever.  Fatigue and stress have faded away, except when the street tops 95 degrees (after all, we are wearing wool!).  We've been staying out on the streets about an hour longer than before because we talk to so many people and have formed so many relationships.   I was once glad to be "done" with the ministry for the day, but now I only turn back in sadness.  I once dreamed of doing the ministry all day, but I wasn't sure what that would look like or even if I could bear with it.  I no longer have such questions, and neither does Chris or Meagan.  We would simply cover a greater portion of the city, and would be glad to do it.

I always thought that the path to union with God was a long, slow, arduous ascent.  That's fundamentally true, but sometimes God just picks you up and tosses you higher up the mountain.  I was thrown up the mountain of God a couple months ago, and it was disorienting.

It was blissful to practice deep mental prayer throughout the day, often holding up those we've met on the streets to God's merciful gaze, but I didn't want to continue in such divine intimacy.  God was too close, and was giving me gifts that I felt unworthy of.  So I finally sabotaged them!  We poor sinners would rather have our comfort zone, our autonomy, than enjoy greater gifts from God.  Thankfully God is patient, and thankfully God put the gifts to some use in our apostolate. So on one occasion I warned Chris that God would be giving him similar gifts, and he shouldn't resist them as I had eventually done.  About two weeks later Chris was at work and the Holy Spirit came into his heart, filling it with consolations.  His person was rapt with the following words:

Share the good news!  People need to know how much I love them.  Announce to them the immensity of the Lord's love, and let them work out how they respond.  There are hearts that are so broken, so discouraged that the idea of a merciful God is unfathomable!

Chris said he was "pretty much worthless" after that at his desk.  He ignored his stack of work and turned the thoughts over and over in his mind, peeking at his co-workers whom Jesus redeemed on the Cross.  Perhaps he was now seeing them with fresh eyes.

I think the faithful--those "deep in Christ"--will see many wonders over the coming decades provided they go forward in apostolic fervor.  These won't be great public wonders, but little miracles in the fabric of life that will convert weary sinners, strengthen the weak and cause the faithful to rejoice.  Fr. Carney makes a similar prediction on the Camino to a devout Spanish woman who glumly declares, "The Catholic faith in Spain is dead."  Fr. Carney counters,

God does not abandon His Church.  He is raising up holy men and women who will receive graces the world has not seen for centuries.  You can become a part of it if you become a woman of deep prayer.

Amen.  May we all answer the call.

Waiting on the Harvest

There was a phrase that struck me from Chris's experience of the Holy Spirit: "let them work out how they respond."  God does not impose himself, but works through attraction, luring those who would be lured.  All we can do is offer an alternative way of seeing and living, one in tune with everything that lasts and has value.  Some of the wounded souls we have met have been deep in scripture at one time or another in their lives.  For example, Tim or "Tobit", who we met a month ago outside a McDonalds, can quote chapter and verse of St. Paul.  Perhaps he studied the Bible while in prison (like Jeff and Toby--two other ex-cons we've met).  Even though Tim has heard the Gospel, he's going south right now.  A month ago he was hale and hearty with a thumping barrel chest even though he was crashing hard from meth with his friend Janelle.  The other day I barely recognized him, as he looked 20 years older and was barely coherent.  We gave him a bottle of Gatorade, and he revived after some hydration, but he seems determined to "keep the party going".  What a miserable party.

Others have never heard the Gospel.  Julian flagged us down yesterday for a free, cold drink.  Though he was tall and muscular, Julian was weak and weary, muttering that he hoped he'd be re-incarnated to a better life.  I told him that God knew him before the world was ever made, that he loved him and sent an angel to guide him who is with us even now. Julian was listening, and with some emotion behind his sunglasses.  Then a tramp stole his bag of cans for recycling that he had put some distance away while he chased us down. Julian ran to retrieve his cans, and the encounter was over. We had similarly "lost" a prostitute, Becky, whom we had given a rosary to, when one of her regular customers pulled up in his car.  Satan was sweating to ruin our labors in the 105 degree heat.

Some of our friends on the street are emphatically weary of the hobo life or the life of an addict.  Some have homes and work and families, but the yearning for heroin rarely leaves them.  Yesterday we met Shane, who is a "functioning" addict who works as an arborist.  He's only been clean eleven days, and he's desperate for spiritual support and friendship.  His addict friends keep coming by the house looking to get "rigged up" because they can't do it themselves. Shane pleaded with us to stand by him and be available to him.  We plan on seeing him today.  It would be easier if we had a Jesus Caritas House where people like Shane, Jeff, Patrick (a former altar boy at St. Stephen's), Tiki and many others could drop by for friendship and support.  I believe we will have such a house one day, though it may be far off.  Our friends face a rough road to true freedom in Christ, but they have the sincere desire.  The other day Tiki had shot-up in the port-o-potty with Sed and wouldn't come out because she was too embarrassed to see us.  We love her and will stand by her, but shame is healthy sign of a person of good will.  Sed was a little sheepish, though not so penitent.  Nevertheless, he looked like a "soldier for Christ" as he was geared up wearing a rosary, a Miraculous Medal and a Sacred Heart badge.  A veritable St. Ignatius of Loyola!  His addiction is no joke, nor are the demons that prey on him, but he once came running after us after hearing that we give out free rosaries.  Our Lady is drawing his heart back to her son, Jesus, the wellspring of life.  Please remember all of our friends in your prayers, and especially during the elevation at Holy Mass.

Monday, June 12, 2017

God Has Made Us Dreamers

A few days ago I finished Fr. Carney's chronicle of his street evangelization apostolate, Walking the Road to God.  I didn't want to finish the book because then the "friendship" between author and reader would end, or at least fade away. Kind of like the bittersweet experience of dropping a friend off at the airport for their long flight home.

One thing that struck me about Fr. Carney is that he is full of beautiful dreams about the future of his apostolate.  Many of the best Christians I know are also dreamers.  Chris dreams of becoming ordained to minister in Iraq (in the Chaldean rite) or in other Middle Eastern lands where Christians suffer violent persecution.  The first Franciscans shared a similar dream, and some were even martyred.  Meagan dreams of opening a home for women on the streets, perhaps because such a home was the means for her returning to life in God.  And Felix is perhaps the greatest dreamer I have ever met!

It is appropriate that we should dream.  First, because we are exiles, and exiles always dream in hope of their homeland. For us, our homeland is the Kingdom of Heaven, and our dreamed-for apostolates are would-be pillars in that kingdom. Let me insist on this point.  Marino Restrepo once said that as he toured Catholic pilgrimage sites he had a mystical apprehension that each site was like a little piece of the City of God come down from Heaven.  In other words, Heaven begins now, and places like Lourdes and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe are little pillars of the Heavenly Jerusalem that bridge Heaven and earth.  So when we dream of our apostolates and the good they can do, we are praying in hope for the Kingdom of God to dwell on earth.

                                       Here is Marino Restrepo's conversion testimony--the best on youtube!

The other reason we dream is because dreaming is the mark of children, and if we aren't spiritual children then we haven't gotten very far in the spiritual life!  Children dream because they have innocence, hope, faith and wonder.  St. Bernadette Soubirous used to dream through her needlework, fashioning fantastic animals and flowers that no one had ever imagined before.  The sisters in her convent suspected that she was making things she had seen in the Kingdom of Heaven.

We know that the essence of our dreams will be fulfilled (and vastly surpassed!) when we reach the Kingdom of Heaven, but will our apostolates take on the form of our dreams?  Blessed Charles de Foucauld dreamed of living as a hermit on The Mount of Olives, and tried to purchase the land (this was still possible 150 years ago), but he was swindled out of his money by a man who held a counterfeit deed.  He also wrote a religious constitution and tried to form a new religious order, but no men came or at least stayed. His beloved Trappist abbot read his proposed constitutions and was "horrified" by their rigor.  The rule was more exacting than even the first Franciscan constitution.  So Blessed Charles's dreams were dashed, at least in his lifetime.

Fr. Carney's Dream: Canons Regular of St. Martin of Tours

Fr. Carney has also written a rule or religious constitution.  The rule envisions twenty-five or even fifty religious evangelizing from their monastery in the very heart of the city.  He calls them “city monks”.  They would evangelize, and then return “for Vespers, a meal with table reading, recreation with the monks and lay men, Compline and monastic silence.”  He writes elsewhere, “We could be canons regular at home and apostles abroad…we could learn to chant the Divine Office Roman style in the morning and evenings, and walk around spreading devotion to the Rosary in the afternoons.  We would need a monastery in the middle of the city where people could walk into church while the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated and Gregorian Chant is prayed from the Roman Breviary.”

It is a beautiful dream, and it might even convert a city.  Much like today's saint (from the old pre-1969 calendar) St. John of St. Facondo once brought divine life back to Salamanca.  There are many such examples since the time of Christ.  Fr. Carney likes to use the example of St. Francise de Sales in Calvinist Savoy: after three years he had no converts, but twenty-five years later he had 70,000!

Fr. Carney walking St Joseph.  Photo by Dougal Brownlie

Our Dream: A Jesus Caritas House, Evangelizing All Day

I share Fr. Carney's dream for my home of Portland, though my vision is one for laymen.  When I was given this apostolate several years back, I sketched out my dream in the giddy hope of the Holy Spirit.  I wrote about that here.  I dreamed of full time evangelists spreading out in groups of two or threes, some would do it for a year (like the FOCUS missionaries) and other's would be hooked for life.  Some would live with their families and other's would live in a Jesus Caritas ("Jesus Loves") House in a run-down part of the city.  We would gather at the house for prayer, Bible and book study, and BBQs.  Maybe it would have a food pantry stocked for the poor from the Oregon Food Bank (something I've been doing for 7-8 years with St. Vincent De Paul).  Those we met on the streets would always be welcome to share a meal in good conversation.  It would be a little structure of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  That's the dream anyway. Whatever happens, we have all been blessed beyond our hopes.  We have had long, heartfelt conversations with so many of the unchurched, especially amongst the poor and addicted.  We have done nothing to deserve such graces. Just today Meagan and I could see Christ hiding in the tiny person of Tiki, a mother of two who struggles with addiction. She felt remorseful, and that God must be far from her in displeasure, yet we could see the light of Christ in her eyes!  It was remarkable, such a humble soul.  Tiki could never dream that she might be favored in the eyes of Heaven, but some dreams come true.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Masterpiece on Contemporary Street Evangelization

Fr. Lawrence Carney has been written about many times as "the walking priest".  If you google his name you will find many edifying write-ups of his adventures evangelizing the streets of St. Joseph, Missouri.  He has just released a book, Walking the Road to Godand it exceeds all of my expectations.  Like Drunks and Monks and Cardinal Sarah's God or Nothing, I had to keep reading it.  As St. Augustine heard,  "Tolle, lege."  Take up and read!

Here is the review I wrote at Amazon:

Fr. Carney's adventures on the street are a testament to the work of the Holy Spirit in the world, provided we are faithful and persevere. In this book he details a hundred or so encounters with people from all walks of life. Fr. Carney shows us the hand of divine providence behind the encounters, and yet he emphasizes that conversions come about by "playing the long game". He's in it for life, and prays that God will send him brother priests to walk with him in a new religious order, The Canons of St. Martin of Tours.

Fr. Carney himself is a delightful soul, and the reader immediately takes to him, wondering at his rare combination of innocence, courage, kindness and dedication to the timeless truths of our ancient faith. He also has a holy boldness in taking people deeper into the supernatural realities of our faith. He trusts in grace, and gently tries to unveil a whole other way of seeing and living that many wounded souls have never considered. He tries to offer them a glimpse (or how ever much they can take) of heavenly realities, and then hopes and prays that they will follow the inspiration to go deeper.

Every Christian will enjoy and profit by this book, but especially those who are called to street evangelization. Fellow street evangelists might learn a few tips, but more importantly, the book functions like a mirror on your own efforts: what are you doing right? where have you stumbled for lack of faith? which virtues shine from you and where is there rust? Read the book and find out!

Monday, May 29, 2017

God's Misfits

About a month ago I told Chris about Meagan and her story, and her desire to join us.  Chris smiled and said, "God's misfits."  Josh in Louisville called us a "motley crew".  God has always favored the weak, the fallen, and the outcast.  The Franciscans once sent out little platoons of strange and awkward men.  In the ancient world God gave his favor to Israel, a troublesome and insignificant people.  He could have chosen the mighty Romans, the learned Greeks, the Persians or Egyptians or Babylonians, or even the distant Chinese empire.  But he chose Israel, whom he looked down upon and saw like a castaway infant "kicking and weltering in blood" (Ezekiel 16: 5-6).  God has always favored the unlikely, and often the most committed converts are those who lived in filth and never dreamed of becoming brothers and sisters of Jesus. That was certainly the case for Chris and Meagan and I.  Who ever dreamed of our conversions, except our mothers or Chris's sister?

St. Mariam Baouardy, the "little Arab", had a mystical vision as to why God often favors the most prodigal.  Though she lived a remarkably pure life, dying young in a Carmelite cloister, she wrote:
"In Heaven, the most beautiful souls are those that have sinned the most and repented.  But they made use of their miseries like manure around the base of the tree."  Those are scandalous words to so many good Christians, and yet we remember Jesus' words to Dismas, the Good Thief: "This day you will be with me in paradise."  St. Faustina Kowalska adds her own startling claim: "the more miserable the sinner, the greater claim they have to [His] mercy."  Roy Schoeman explored this idea when he hosted me on his radio show.  St. Paul alludes to this in Romans V: "Where sin has abounded, grace has abounded the more."

St. Mariam Baouardy, one of God's simple souls

On a recent episode of The Journey Home, Jeff Gardner describes the seminal moment of his conversion.  He was an arrogant academic living in Paris doing research with medieval manuscripts.  On his way to a Paris library early in the morning, he passed a homeless man slumped in a subway gutter.  He could tell the man wasn't merely asleep or drunk, but was in dire need of medical help.  But Jeff pressed on, convinced that his career and his manuscripts were more pressing than the person of the bum.  But God wasn't having it.  St. Francis appeared to him in a vision.  Francis was beaten, bloodied and poor.  He was wholly united with his crucified savior, the God who loves the poor.  St. Francis gave the academic a level gaze and warned,

"Remember, God created the world to protect the simple, and to torment the arrogant."

Needless to say, that got his attention.  I'm sure he has since burned to be among the simple.  But some of us are burdened with arrogance, our "thorn in the flesh".

Thanksgiving for Chris

I can't overestimate my gratitude for the gifts of Chris and Meagan to this apostolate.  Whereas God used me to break up the soil, plodding along in prayer and recollection, I was still too ensconced in my interior garden.  Then Chris came along with the idea of bearing gifts as a way to initiate conversations.  We handed out gatorade and prayer cards, then hand and foot warmers for the Winter, and finally rosaries and miraculous medals.  Chris and Meagan have the zeal of new converts which refreshens my spirit, the new wine mixed with the old.  We have become bold in starting conversations, though always friendly and cheerful, respectful of the openings God gives us (and doesn't).  Chris's words to me have often originated in the Holy Spirit, whether as suggestions for the apostolate or in leading me out of bad habits of thought. I believe God can easily speak through Chris because he has a simple heart.  I have been gratified to witness him ascend the "mountain of the Lord" at a deft pace.

About six months ago Chris had a remarkable experience which echoes some of the central themes I have written about on this blog.  It was a "waking vision" in the twilight of morning.  Chris arose in the half- fog of sleep, and knelt on some pillows on the floor to pray.  As he prostrated his forehead to the floor, his mind was narrowed to an interior vision.  He saw before him a clearing in a mountain pass.  He saw a woman seated on a bench with her head bowed.  He knew it was Mary, the mother of our savior, and he saw that tears were falling down her face.  Blessed Mary's posture and dress were the same as her appearance to the shepherd children at La Salette in the French Alps.

Our Lady of La Salette

Chris tentatively approached and gently asked, "How can I help you?"  Mary looked up at him and asked, "Will you drink the chalice of suffering?"  Chris instinctively withdrew, protesting, "I'm too little."  Then the vision ended.

Poor Chris.  He was disappointed by his response, but it was the honest response.  It was the response of one of God's little ones, who feels the bite of his weakness.  That's why he was given the grace of the vision to begin with.  Mary and her son know that Chris's response is "Yes", a thousand times "Yes", even if his lips betray him.  There are so many who are lost, so many who need the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful, and Chris will drink his share of the chalice.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Fun Fact

The other day I was reading one of those delightful old pamphlets that were a common feature of pre-Vatican II piety, and I found something remarkable: a number of recent saints and blesseds all belonged to the "Association of Victim Souls of the Sacred Heart of Jesus".  The association was a movement to awaken the faithful to the fact that the Christian life is a complete offering of the self, in union with Jesus' own perfect offering on the cross.  Amongst those enrolled in the association were St. Pope Pius X, and the following Blesseds: Columba Marmion, Marie-Joseph Cassant, Cardinal Schuster, Jacob Kern and our own Charles de Foucauld. That's quite a list!  Columba Marmion was a Benedictine abbot and a great spiritual writer (his Christ, Life of the Soul is a must-read).  Marie-Joseph Cassant was a persevering young Trappist who died of tuberculosis.  Dom Kirby writes of him and the Association of Victim Souls here.  Cardinal Schuster was a holy Benedictine abbot who was called to steer the archdiocese of Milan during the Mussolini years.  Jacob Kern was a seminarian who was seriously wounded in combat during WWI.  Afterwards he became a monk, though never fully recovered from his combat wounds.  After some brutal surgeries he succumbed at the age of 27.

Perhaps there is a holy monk or nun amongst us who will revive such an association today?  These kind of movements and sodalities largely disappeared after Vatican II based on the ignorant enthusiasm of the 60s and 70s, but the association was an expression of an ancient truth.  As St. Ignatius of Antioch writes in 108 AD in his Letter to the Magnesians, 

"Unless we are ready through his power to die in the likeness of his passion, his life is not in us."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"Are You Going To San Francisco?"

We've been busy the last few weeks: walking with new evangelists (Meagan and David), making new friends on the streets and seeing some old ones, handing out lots of rosaries and prayer meditations.  Just this morning I filled a page from a yellow legal tablet with all the names of the people I've met on the streets.  I offer prayer and little sacrifices for them by name, but there are now too many to remember!  So I wrote their names down in what I hope will be a little "book of life", the life of God in their soul.  As I've often said to Chris and Meagan after we're done chatting with someone "You see what this apostolate is?  We're collecting souls.  God is giving us these people, and entrusting us with their spiritual care.  We have to uphold them through prayer and sacrifice since there may not be anybody praying for them."

Sometimes we also uphold them with gatorade and cheeseburgers...

As the work has piled up, I was once more reminded that this has to be a local apostolate.  I simply don't have the time to help would-be evangelists in other cities (the exceptions being David in Eugene and Josh in Louisville).  As I wrote to Felix the other day, St. Paul Street Evangelization has a genius for getting lots of people up-and-running in evangelization.  They have excellent resources and are backed by the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit.  They have all you need.  Sometimes I can be of help, like last weekend when David joined us on the streets before he sets-up St. Paul Street Evangelization  in Eugene.  He is always welcome to join us up here, and I hope to join him on occasion down there.  David liked our tunics and is thinking of sewing a simple shirt with the Jesus Caritas heart and cross.  It sends the perfect message when you're evangelizing in public.

And yet there seems to be one other place where the Lord keeps calling me: San Francisco.  I don't mean I'm moving there--absolutely not!  It's not my town and I don't have any particular affection for it.  But God keeps signaling that I'll be called down one day to set up a little crew of evangelists.  This even erupted into the open yesterday after I happened upon Fr. Illo's blog from Star of the Sea parish in the Richmond district of Frisco.  I started reading through many of his past posts since I hadn't known he kept a blog.  At one point he was lamenting the contrast on any given weekday between the busy streets and his empty but open church.  He thought he should just stand outside the doors with his cassock and welcome the passers-by.  At reading this, my soul involuntarily leapt and I said the words, "Don't worry, we're coming soon!"  I surprised myself by this cry, not least because we're no answer to a pastor's prayer.  We're good at planting seeds and "confirming the brethren", but we won't fill up a pew with converts.  Well, maybe one day.  In any event, I have little doubt that one day I will be called down to Frisco to greet some waiting evangelists.  I'll bring an armful of tunics because Frisco is a city that would respond to the Jesus Caritas approach.

This may have to wait for five years...because that's what our Lord usually means when he says "soon"!

I snuck this photo of the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa last time I was in the Bay Area.  Young nuns at the old Latin mass!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Some Local Press

Sarah Wolf of the local Catholic Sentinel wrote a nice piece on street evangelization.  She took this photo of Meagan and I walking along SE 82nd, with one of the main "quickie motels" in the background.  A great photo.  Meagan and I are praying the Litany of the Sacred Heart as we go.  Go and read Sarah's article here.

Sarah Wolf/Catholic SentinelAn ex-convict and Catholic revert, Scott Woltze has walked the same route every week for three years, wearing his wool tunic, marked with the Sacred Heart of Jesus symbol. He and friends like Meagan Montanari who walk with him have had amazing experiences. “It’s really a matter of God putting you in the right place at the right time,” he says.
Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Meagan's Story

I received an e-mail from Felix Barba of St. Paul Street Evangelization introducing me to a woman, Meagan Montanari, who was interested in joining us.  My initial thought was, "Uh oh, we are a group for men.  A way for men to walk in Christ's footsteps and form the kind of guy-friendships that are so needed in today's Church."  Then I read a little bit about Meagan, and the confirmations from the Holy Spirit began to flash across my mind.  You see, In the last month I've taken a great interest in the opioid epidemic sweeping the country, even praying regularly for a local school teacher, Brynne, who made national headlines by getting busted at her elementary school with heroin and meth.  I know Brynne's mother, a very kind and successful restauranteur.  Even loving parents have to endure the hell of a child with addiction.  Which brings us back to Meagan.

Meagan had attentive, loving parents though she was largely raised without any faith.  For most children that's enough to get them going in life (at least for a time).  But not for Meagan.  As far back as she can remember, she was always saddled with a sense of incompleteness and malaise.  It quickly turned to despair, and at the age of thirteen she began cutting herself and fixating on suicide.  Meagan was especially made to need God as the locus of her identity, and without Him she became unmoored from her self.  In high school she gravitated toward the "bad kids", the kids who reacted against their own alienation by engaging in drugs, alcohol, casual sex and petty crime.  Meagan continued to slide further and further, trying everything to escape from her pain, even trying the occult.  She "graduated" to more serious drugs, and notched some jail time and probation for minor felonies.  She moved frequently, thinking she'd be happier with a new change of scene, but her pain always moved with her.  Sometimes she was homeless, sometimes she could hardly believe the things she had done.  She says of that time, "I truly was like the walking dead."

Meanwhile her mother began to pray for her, having turned to God as the only hope for her child.  God would answer her prayers, perhaps because her mother had stepped out in faith while enduring a troubled pregnancy.  The doctor had urged her to abort tiny Meagan, but she refused.  But Meagan's mother began to despair of prayer, and she was ready to give up just as everyone else had done.  Then one day while driving, her mother experienced an intense blinding light, and an angel appeared next to her saying, "Don't worry about Meagan, Meagan is going to be okay."  Then the angel intoned, "Pentecost, Pentecost, Pentecost" and disappeared.  She called Meagan in a heap of tears and hysteria, repeating "It's all real.  Jesus, angels,'s all REAL!"  Meagan was given the grace to immediately believe her mother's vision.  Perhaps she believed because she had once witnessed a crowd of demons surrounding her in a seedy motel.  That had been a glimpse into Hell, but now Heaven!  Meagan and her mother eagerly investigated the word 'Pentecost'--what did that strange word mean?

Meagan sought baptism in a protestant church and began reading the Bible. While her life was calmer on the surface, she was still addicted to drugs and fell into promiscuity.  Pentecost hadn't come to completion yet, something was missing in the faith she had found.  She signed up for a methadone program to get a safe, legal high and had two children amidst the dreary march of daily methadone fixes.  This went on for five years, until she gave in to a craving for the real thing: intravenous heroin.    She began shooting heroin and was soon homeless on the streets of San Francisco.  She became pregnant a third time.  Her first child, a son, was adopted, and her second child, a daughter, lived with her parents.  This couldn't continue!  She sought help at a protestant church and they directed her to a home for pregnant women run by St. Mother Theresa's sisters.  She was accepted into the Queen of Peace Shelter, and regularly joined the sisters in the daily Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  She gradually became intrigued by the sisters' joy and peace.  It was clear they actually knew Jesus by the way they talked about Him.  They had the real thing, and Meagan wanted it.  She went through RCIA and was received into the Church on Easter Vigil 2015.

Meagan began to take daily communion and witnessed in delight as all of her old chains fell away.  Jesus mixed with her body and blood through the eucharist, and she no longer desired drugs or sexual attachments.  She even threw away her cigarettes and anti-depressants, and started eating healthy for the first time in a decade.  Jesus in the eucharist was what she had been yearning for ever since she was a child, and she no longer had to wonder why there was a hole in her heart.

Today Meagan continues to go to daily mass, often with her children.  I can attest that Meagan's a woman of uncommon strength, like her favorite would-be saint, Mother Angelica.  To know Meagan is to witness the immense healing power of Jesus, the Son of God.  It is to know that miracles do happen.  She now offers healing to others on the streets and at the abortion clinics.  She's good at it because she has the courage and credibility to speak from the heart.  She's currently working on a psychology degree, and hopes to one day start a Catholic women's shelter.  Uphold her in your prayers. Though while strong, God will perfect Meagan in her weakness.  That is our path to union with the Son.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Peas In A Pod

Steve Dawson, the founder and director of St. Paul Street Evangelization, gave a rock solid interview the other day on The Journey Home.  I was amazed and consoled by our common experiences, and that we share the same basic "mental architecture" (by no means a given in today's church!).  Steve had his share of juvenile run-ins with the law, and then transitioned to the usual party scene of girls, booze and drugs.  But God gave him the grace to be utterly miserable without Him, and he was further blessed with an eros for knowledge--a burning desire to find Truth.  Meanwhile his mother and several eminent priests (Fr. John Hardon SJ, Cardinal Burke) were praying him into the Church.  After his conversion, God shielded him like a nestling, only releasing him to temptation once he had gained sufficient strength. Steve started out on the streets by spending many hours witnessing for 40 Days For Life, then he transitioned to year-round evangelization in what became St. Paul Street Evangelization.

That's basically my journey (minus the bank robberies, prison and endless years in academia).  It's also the journey of Meagan, the latest person to walk with us, but I'll tell Meagan Montanari's story in the next blog post.

Steve evangelizes because life is a distorted caricature of itself without God.  God makes all the difference, though many can carry on "fine" without God.  For so many others, they become wrecked on the shores of modernity, and end up as statistics as prison inmates, addicts, the homeless, labor market drop-outs, crime victims, aborted babies, childless marriages, and children of divorce.  Steve understands that the West is fractured, living off the salt and light of her Christian past, and the only means of restoring her is through a wave of conversions.  Steve has also come to see that apologetics is only a tiny piece of the puzzle.  Conversions usually depend more on prayer, personal witness and relationships.  St. Paul Street Evangelization is up and running in Portland again (thanks to Felix Barba's stewardship), and I hope they attract many more members and conversions.  It's truly a work of God.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ten Years A Catholic, Ten Things I've Learned

The path of the just is like the passage of  dawn;
it grows from first light to the full splendor of day.
So that in all things we may grow into Christ who is our Head.

                                                       Office of Readings, February 9th

This April marks the tenth anniversary of my sudden and unexpected conversion.  Deo gratias, what a blessing!  The last ten years have been the happiest and most fulfilling of my life.  They haven't been smooth sailing, and I have very little to show for these years in terms of a career or impressive projects, but I have stayed close to Jesus and have enjoyed the blessings of family and friends.

In the spirit of the early (and more edifying) days of Catholic blogs, I thought I would offer the dreaded Top Ten List of the most important things I've learned (and re-learned and re-learned) in that time.

1.  It's Not About You

In the years following my conversion I spent a lot of time navel-gazing.  In particular, I flirted with a kind of "survivor's guilt".  I kept returning to the same thought, "Why me?  What about all of the other people I know who suffer from separation from God?  What have I done to receive truth and hope?"  God had reached down, and in a sovereign act had set my life along a radically new course by lifting the veil separating the natural and the supernatural.  It was a gift too awful to bear.  Then I finally understood that it wasn't about me, but that I was just one little part God's great plan.  I kept coming back to a bowling analogy.  God is a perfect bowler, and I am merely a pin that he has lovingly struck so that I might then move a few other pins.  This was a liberating realization.

2.  Become A Living Sacrifice

If God has reached down and plucked us from our misery, it is because we exist for the sanctification of the world.  Just as Jesus died for the world, he asks us to "die" in our own way for those he puts before us.  Jesus asks us--as he asked the apostles--to Follow Him, and he invites us to mirror his own life in our person.  God the Father has given us faith in his Son because he has called us to be "another Christ, a little Christ".  It is easy to protest at such an awesome dignity, and I know I resisted this core of Christian truth for some time.  Nevertheless, Christ will only come to completion through us, his Body.  It is scandalous given our weakness, but St. John Eudes writes, "He intends to perfect the mysteries of his passion, death and resurrection, by causing us to suffer, die and rise again with him."  What a vocation we have been given!  If only we cooperate and welcome His life into us.  As St. John Vianney beautifully states,  "We are each of us like a small mirror in which God searches for His reflection."

3.  We Are The Obstacles To Grace

As many mystics and Doctors of the Church have affirmed, a single Holy Communion is sufficient to sanctify us, and yet most of the graces slip through our fingers as we cling to our own ways and protect our own prerogatives and wounded hearts.  In particular, I know several serious and long-time Christians who have made scant spiritual progress in the last ten years.  Perhaps they have even regressed.  The problem seems to be that they don't truly believe in their heart of hearts that they are lovable.  At some deep level they still believe the painful lies they were told as a child by unsound parents, or other more recent lies of the devil.  Perhaps their pride cannot reveal their wounds to a God who already knows them anyway.  Perhaps they value a sense of control and resist surrendering to the King of Kings.  God yearns to heal them, but they guard their wounds.  For my part, I have been meditating in church on the scene where Christ is stripped of his garments.  I beg Jesus to strip me down, too, remove all those layers of resistance that separate me from Him and from my neighbor.  We must have the courage to lay ourselves bare to be made into His image.

4.  God's Plan For You Is Probably Not Your Plan

After my conversion I knew that my life would take a radically different path, but I wanted to direct that path along the career path I had already taken.  So I thought, "Okay, I can still finish my doctoral dissertation even though I now think half of it's wrong, and I can still work as a professor, albeit at a small Catholic college."  But Jesus had other plans.  Then I thought, "Okay, I have a great conversion story.  Maybe I'm supposed to write a book about it and be one of those Catholic apologist/conference speaker/radio types.  Then I could still put my years of education to use!"  Fortunately Jesus spared me from the speaking circuit--probably because a friend once tellingly-described me as a "peacock". Peacock's want attention--unless it is the wrong kind of attention.  But that's just the kind of attention that Jesus had in store for me.  He gave me this apostolate and a tunic which would attract some jeers and many bemused eyes.  It's kind of like the way St. Philip Neri would mortify the pride of his well-born and macho young men: he'd have them walk a dainty little dog all around Rome.  That provoked lots of laughs!  So much for the peacock.

The apostolate also seemed a bad fit because I'm someone who prefers to be detached and alone with my thoughts.  I always jogged and hiked alone.  I spent more than a decade in quiet with my nose in philosophy and literature.  But what was God's plan?  To toss me out onto the streets and into all kinds of face-to-face encounters with complete strangers! And it's worked.  It's a testament to God's all-knowing providence, to his transformative grace, and a rebuke to demons who only see our faults and weaknesses.

5.  Watch The Road, Not The Signs of the Times

The Christian soul and the Christian life should be one of harmony, with everything receiving it's proper place.  Things go sideways when we treat secondary things as primary, or when we give an outsize role to to a smaller duty.  For my part, I wasted a great deal of time and focus on discerning where we are in salvation history: is this the Great Apostasy, is there now a likely candidate for the Man of Sin (the final anti-christ), are we in the Last Days or just another great upheaval?  Every Christian should consider these things (Our Lord commanded it), and I especially recommend Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World and Blessed John Henry Newman's Sermons on the Anti-Christ.  But this can easily become a draining and distracting quest, especially as it is usually accompanied by reading lots of news and commentary on the state of the Church, politics and economics.  I could have decreased my consumption of news and audio sermons by 90% and still have done my due diligence, but alas, this stuff is titillating.  I suspect many of us have given up pornography, video games (well, mostly) and our sports obsessions, and have replaced them with online news and commentary.  It is immensely more fruitful to focus here and now in the "sacrament of the present moment".

To Be Continued...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Re-Branding Catholicism

A few days ago Chris and I had a good talk with a tall, young pentecostal named "Edgar" on one of our evangelization routes.  Edgar hailed from Mexico, but now spoke perfect English.  Edgar had two great hopes that sprung from his sense of Christian vocation: he prayed to meet a faithful, virtuous woman to be his bride, and he hoped to do missionary work--particularly in Muslim countries.  Edgar didn't just want a "good woman", as any Catholic man would hope for, but he wanted a woman who had set her face against "the world, the flesh and the devil".  A rare woman indeed!  Moreover, when I warned him that missionary work in some Muslim countries would land him in jail (like Saudi Arabia) he doubled-down and insisted that his preference was to be a missionary in Muslim lands.  In this he sounded like some of the first Franciscans--martyrs and would-be martyrs for preaching Christ Crucified in muslim North Africa.  In short, Edgar was the personification of zeal, and everything he said was Catholic (probably unbeknownst to him).  After we parted I remarked to Chris: "Edgar probably grew up Catholic, but abandoned it because it was lame.  The usual safe, lukewarm stuff we all grew up with.  He wanted a serious faith.  Part of what we're doing out here is to re-brand Catholicism.  Show people that it's a burning faith."

It seems to be working in its small way.  I've run into numerous Christians--some Catholic, some not--who are surprised and edified by what we are doing.  I've also met many non-believers who are intrigued by our presence (such as Eon).

Three Priests Doing Great Work

I've recently read about three different priests who are each "re-branding Catholicism" in their own mission field.  A reader of the blog sent me a delightful write-up of Fr. Lawrence Carney, who evangelizes the streets most days in St. Joseph, Missouri.  He's hard to miss in his full-length black cassock and traditional soutane, carrying a crucifix and rosary.  As he walks along, the curious are drawn to him, and he wins unlikely friends and admirers.  His sense of humor certainly helps his evangelism; he describes his efforts as "fishing".  A fellow priest describes his unusual appearance as "a visible image or icon of the Church" and notes that in Fr. Carney's walks he "sees, talks and prays with those that the average parish priest doesn't have a chance to encounter."  Fr. Carney hopes to attract more priests to the charism, and form a society of priests committed to street evangelization.  I find it significant that Fr. Carney is chaplain to the much-admired Benedictines of Mary as well as friends with many FSSP priests.  It seems to me that both of these orders have been raised up by God to help re-build the Father's House.  As iron sharpens iron, God often clusters saints together in time and place so that they might strengthen each other.  Here's praying that Fr. Carney is the start of something big.

If I'm ever in his area I'll go out of my way to meet him.  His experiences are largely our experiences, especially the initial trepidation at starting off alone.  In the meantime I will read his book, due to be released at the end of the year.

Fr. Carney fishing for souls

Fr. Jason Cargo is another priest who has taken to the streets, though in his case he sets out with other Catholics in the form of a daily rosary procession during Lent.  The group walks local neighborhoods in prayer, and is led by a medium-sized crucifix.  The crucifix is a powerful sacramental when prayerfully used, and mystics have testified that it puts demons to flight by making the crucifixion present again (since God and spirits exist outside of time).  Processions can have a remarkable impact on by-standers, especially when accompanied by music and the Blessed Sacrament.  I wrote of Phillip Trower's conversion here; he was always touched by the Walsingham processions in England while he was still an atheist.  At the close of the Sacra Liturgia conference in New York, Daniel Marengo writes of the procession along Manhattan streets:

“I HAVE LIVED IN NYC ALL MY LIFE and never participated in such an outward Eucharistic procession of this kind.  All of NYC, including the police, pedestrians and the stunned commercial and residential onlookers from the buildings along the way, watched in awe and silent wondering as the canopied Blessed Sacrament meandered its way through the cavernous streets, touching the lives of countless secular and hard bitten New Yorkers.” Daniel Marengo, NYC

If you'd like to hear more about Fr. Cargo's rosary processions, his diocese has put out a short video here.

Finally, I'd like to direct you to the remarkable story of Fr. Fames Mawdsley FSSP.  Fr. Mawdsley became a human rights activist in his youth, and was even imprisoned in Burma for more than a year. His time in solitary confinement began to re-direct his life to a higher calling--toward "the peace that surpasseth all understanding".  There is something brutally jarring and finally suffocating about solitary confinement.  I've seen it drive hardened cons a little wacky (though they straighten out within a few days or weeks of their release).  I fought the suffocation of "the hole" with beauty--wandering in tight circles reciting the hundred poems I had come to memorize while in prison.  Fr. Mawdsley found a beauty much greater than poems from Keats and e. e. cummings.  He continues to pursue and witness that beauty in the sacred liturgy because he has learned the most important lesson: "Without God, we can do nothing."

Fr, Mawdsley with Archbishop Schneider

Monday, March 13, 2017

Christ In The Poor

The other day Chris asked what route I wanted to walk, and then half-jested,"Are you looking for Christ hiding among the poor?"

To most of us, it seems an unlikely place.  Most of us flinch and inwardly groan when we watch the poorest of the poor: the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicts and the prostitutes.  I had known many hobos and wounded men from hardscrabble backgrounds when I was in prison, and few of them seemed admirable.  The one's I admired as a young man in prison were the strong, the bosses, the "solid cons" who basically ruled the "joint".  They seemed like they had it together, and few of them had any use for Jesus.  When I got out of prison and swam around in academia for more than a decade, I continued my contempt for the poor, or at least for Karl Marx and his followers who "fetishized the poor".  Marx and his progeny didn't truly know the poor; they made the poor into an idol, a strange god.  That was true enough.

Yet we know that countless saints have met Christ in the poor, sometimes quite literally, like St. Martin of Tours.  The holy deacon, St. Lawrence, gathered the most wretched together and declared to the Roman persecutors, "Here is the treasure of the Church".  Mother Theresa was blessed with mystical experiences of Christ, but then he was silent for four decades.  She pursued him among the sick and dying in Calcutta, lovingly searching their faces for the Divine Author. Jesus himself famously tells us, "Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me."

A Chronicler of the Poorest

Now one of the "rich", a former Wall Street trader and PhD in Physics, is encountering God as he documents the lives of the poorest of the poor.  Chris Arnade has left Wall Street, and now spends his time getting to know the most wretched. He assumed they would share his atheism since they know more than others "how unfair, unjust, and evil the world can be."  Yet they are all believers in some way or another, "steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore." They wear rosaries and crosses, and testify that God has never left them amidst abuse, addiction and prostitution.  One couple totes their picture of The Last Supper from place to place as the heroin drives them onward.  The wretched have now challenged his atheism, and he concludes that "atheism is an intellectual luxury for the wealthy".  He once cheered on the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, but now he finds them to be "so removed from humanity".  Chris Arnade has discovered that the "poor" are not as poor as they seem, nor the "rich" as rich as they seem.  In other words, the way we see the world is often upside down--just as our Christian faith tells us.  The most wretched are often the most receptive to grace, the most hungry for the life of Christ in the soul.  Chris and I have seen this over and over.

In truth, the world is upside down.  God showed us this when the very Creator of life and love, beauty and majesty, was born and walked amongst us only to be trodden upon and murdered.  The Messiah became the weakest.  Now in Heaven, many of the weakest will be the strongest. May Chris Arnade connect all the dots and make the full journey home.

Takeesha was raped at 11 and pimped out at 13.  She now has six children.  Her mother was also a prostitute.  She testifies, "Whenever I got into the car [of a john], God got into the car with me."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Prayer and Cheap Talk

The other day after mass, I had a fascinating conversation with two aspiring priests.  Neal, who went to Ireland on Friday to interview for seminary, was lamenting the fact that few believe in the power of prayer today.  Jeff, who has been discerning the monastic life, agreed and said that whenever he offers to pray for people they kind of give him a look, as if to say, "Umm, thanks." or "Yeah, whatever."  I reflected on why that might be.  On the one hand, many people are skeptical of prayer because they lack a truly supernatural outlook, but it is also true that offers of prayer are often "cheap talk".   They can be empty gestures, a part of the well-meaning dynamics of conversation or good will gestures on Facebook.  But are the offers backed up with something more than a quick petition or remembrance?  God is probably still waiting to receive many of the prayers that have been promised on Facebook...

When I taught World Politics, we used to distinguish between "cheap talk" and "costly signals" in the relations between states and other international actors (like OPEC, the United Nations etc) .  Political and economic players engage in "cheap talk" every day in order to pursue their interests, but it doesn't tell you much about where they really stand because they're not incurring much of a cost in whatever they are doing.  But if they do something costly, then they've signaled who they really are and what they really believe.  Jesus refers to a similar dynamic in the parable of the "Widow's mite" (Luke 21: 1-4).  Jesus watches the rich offer their gifts at temple but he is unimpressed because their gift is "cheap talk", it flows from their abundance and doesn't disrupt their lives in any way.  By contrast, the poor widow gives two small coins that she will miss in her poverty, but in doing so she has sent a "costly signal" about where her heart is. Jesus is impressed and gratified, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them."  She alone was justified.

In a similar way, our lives are always signaling to God where our heart is.  Are we revealing ourselves to be cold, lukewarm or full of divine love?  We want our prayers to be costly, because by the sacrifice we signal to God that we believe He is worth it, that we don't take Him and his offer of salvation for granted.

Some Costly Forms Of Prayer

There are many ways of engaging in costly prayer, and different practices suit different people.  Here are some ideas: praying the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours each day, a daily rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet, fifty-four day novenas, praying on your knees on the hard floor, praying cruciform standing or face down on the bare floor, late night vigils or "keeping the watch" (perhaps at an adoration chapel).  We should always unite our prayers with whatever sufferings God has given us, and gently accept those sufferings.  We should also bear the burdens of others in our hearts, truly "compassionating" with them.  I've often done this while doing the street ministry and it is very heart-rending.  In particular, I recall Becky, a young Canadian woman who went from university life to a series of bad boyfriends and then to addiction and prostitution in a matter of five years.  The saints allowed themselves to be wounded by compassionating with the fallen of their own time, out of love for God and poor sinners.  Another good practice is to consistently pray throughout the day, offering thanks, supplications for all those we meet, and returning to God in mental prayer.  It is nothing other than inviting Jesus to walk alongside of us as we go, but it does take dedication. Jeff, who I mentioned above, has another good practice.  He prays for two hours each morning, usually before the tabernacle at St. Stephens.  Now that's dedication!  Jesus knows where his love is.  Lately Chris and I have been praying rosaries and chaplets as we do long loops in our tunics around a local Planned Parenthood (the last one here that still performs surgical abortions).  It is usually after dark, cold and wet and so there is some sacrifice involved.  Chris hopes that it will crumble like the Walls of Jericho, but I'll settle for just one woman embracing the child that is within her.  She too would be wounded by love one day, the love for her child.  May it be so.

St. Teresa of Avila wounded by love

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Finding Your Place

A few months back Chris and I had a memorable encounter with a young man named Taylor King.  We first encountered Taylor as we were leaving the Grotto parking lot to begin our "route".  He was a little agitated and asked us, "Hey, is mass going on right now?"  We said 'Yes' and then we went our separate ways.  I thought that Taylor looked like an unlikely candidate for Sunday mass given his neck tattoos and disheveled appearance, but I shrugged it off and looked forward to slipping into a spirit of prayer on our walk.

Chris and I walked our long loop and were eager to hop back in the car and call it a day.  But God had other plans.  We bumped into Taylor again just outside the Grotto, but this time he was with a friend.  Taylor's face was strained, almost tearful, and he wanted to ask us a question.  "If you have an experience of God, and still have doubts, does that make God mad?  Will God be upset with me?"  We quickly assured him that God is very patient, and that doubts and questions are a normal and even healthy part of growing in the faith.  I stressed that the most important thing is to speak honestly and plainly to God, rather than be coy or play games.  It was evident that Taylor was in the throes of something, and so I was eager to find out what it was.

I asked, "Did you have an experience of God?  Like a supernatural encounter?"

He barely nodded and stammered out a "Yeah".  It was clear by his alternating looks of shock, confusion and joyful gratitude that Taylor had experienced a Burning Bush moment.  He struggled to put his encounter with the Good God into words (who doesn't!?!), but all that mattered was the Author of Beauty and Truth and Love had deigned to lean down from Heaven to call him into a new life.  Chris and I confirmed Taylor's experiences with our own conversion stories, but all the while his friend grew restless.  Taylor's friend was embarrassed by all the "God talk" and kept trying to deflate the moment with sarcastic asides.  Taylor repeatedly brushed him off, saying "Don't listen to him.  He's a snake."  Taylor said it with simple conviction but without malice.  As a young Protestant pastor friend joked to me, "Taylor was given clarity."  Yes, Taylor had clarity, and things were what they were, and his friend really was a snake (In fact, the friend was trying to hock a very large Russian ruble banknote of Catherine the Great issued before the Russian Revolution.  We assume he stole it.).

As the conversation winded down, Chris gave Taylor his rosary.  Taylor tried to reciprocate by giving Chris a necklace with a precious memento of his dead mother, but we protested that idea.  Finally, I offered Taylor one of our meditation cards. With that same matter-of-fact clarity Taylor replied, "Oh, I already got one.  Man, I balled my eyes out after reading that.  I just sat in the church balling."  Then he reached in his pocket and produced one of our crumpled cards.  Chris and I looked at each other dumbfounded.  By what crazy act of providence had Taylor acquired one of our "I Thirst" meditations?!?  God never ceases to amaze...

Here's the prayer card we hand out, front and back.  

In the past few months I've often thought of Taylor.  God had blown his world wide open, just as he had spun me around almost ten years before.  Nothing would ever be the same again even though the "snakes" would do their best to trip him up.  I've wondered if Taylor has found a spiritual home, a healthy parish where he can bond with fellow-believers and grow in the faith?  It's often difficult for young men to find like-minded peers in today's Church.  According to the latest numbers, only 7% of young Catholics actually practice their faith, and the youth hastened their exit during the aggressively secular Obama years.  Even the devout of the parish (usually a generation or two older) don't know what to do with someone freshly dewed by the Holy Spirit.  At least that was my experience.

Chris and I would love to meet up with Taylor again, or any of the people we've come to know through street evangelization, but often it's a "one and done" encounter.  Is that God's plan for them or are we failing them in some way? What is our role here?  Are we to follow St. Philip Neri and his "oratory" and help gather together spiritually hungry men for robust fellowship and growth in the faith?  Or are we merely the sowers of God's seed, lonely men of prayer and sacrifice like Blessed Charles de Foucauld?  Obviously we would prefer the first scenario (and St. Stephen's parish already has the beginnings of an oratory), but we are resigned to God's will so long as we do what is expected of us.