Sunrise over city

Sunrise over city

Friday, June 30, 2017

Why I Prefer The Poor

I used to be a snob.  In high school I ceaselessly engineered my rise as a "Somebody", or at least as someone every one knew.  I relished walking down the halls and overhearing: "Woltze's having a kegger on Friday" or "Woltze's looking to fight so and so."  You get the idea.  I wanted all eyes on me, but I also wanted to be above the crowd.  I was also a snob in prison, running with the "solid cons", but I was wise enough to know I'd never be a big shot in the Big House.  After my release, I yearned to be among the intellectual elites, writing books, op-eds and maybe even appearing on Fox News (I was a secular conservative at the time, now I'm just a tradition-loving Catholic).  It seemed like it all might happen as my academic laurels multiplied.  I even tried to dress the part of an "Important Person", wearing Armani, Zegna and Prada (Prada was usually too small for my frame, but I liked tight shirts), and I was a runner and gym rat.  I drank $80 bottles of small batch bourbon and often went out for sushi and fine cuisine (usually with a pretty girl).  I wanted to be one of the "beautiful people".  But it was an illusion in many ways, not least because it was purchased on credit cards!

Here's a photo of me in St. Peter's Square in 2008 wearing designer everything.  How times have changed.  That outfit cost over $1,000 (including the shoes), but you can't buy the peace that Jesus has given me.

That used to be me


So what changed?  Maybe it was slowly understanding that our "elites" (on both right and left) had gotten most things wrong.  After all, if you don't really believe that Jesus and His Kingdom are the "one thing necessary", then you will get most things wrong because "His ways are not our ways".  Maybe it was seeing a vision of a deceased Ted Kennedy on the day of his funeral in horrific shock and melting pain upon receiving his particular judgment.  His giant celebration of a funeral mass (crowded with elites) stood in stark contrast to the truth of his situation.  Maybe it was witnessing a "false sun" moving across the sky, and knowing that nearly all of our mover and shakers were complicit in that false kingdom of God, a lying kingdom of individualism, hedonism, sexual liberation, materialism, scientism, and a shabby peace without the Cross.  Maybe it was noticing that some bishops and cardinals were complicit in that false kingdom, whether through silence, a wink and a nod or even through advocacy.

Maybe it was noticing how my own arrogance and skepticism were the greatest stumbling blocks to divine charity and supernatural hope.

Let me confess that I used to loathe those heterodox priests who proclaimed that the poor were "my people", and always made a show of it even as they sought to liberalize some of the very things that have destroyed the poor (divorce, cohabitation, abortion, narcotics).  Now I pity them as fallen soldiers in the field of spiritual warfare.  They didn't seem to believe in sin--especially the sexual kind--though they definitely believed in their own righteousness and progressivism. Many Jesuits and Paulists (and other dying orders) specialize in this particularly sterile gospel.  May God have mercy on them because we all deserve the true Gospel, especially the poor.  If it weren't for God's overflowing grace into my formerly tight little heart, I would have been an insufferable neocon Catholic.  That's not the Gospel either, as God is so much more interesting than our compromised world views.  I would have greatly wept one day at my particular judgment. I'm sure I will still weep.

If I love the poor it is because Christ has put that love into my heart, but there is a good reason that Jesus loves them.  He loves them because many of them have true contrition and regret even as they fall again and again.  He loves them because they are painfully aware of their weakness, and so often forgive the faults of others.  Jesus loves them because they are real.  They don't put on airs or consider themselves of some account.  We meet them, and ten minutes later we've heard the whole ugly truth of their life story: the tragedies they endured and the sins they have committed.  "Respectable" people wouldn't dream of showing complete strangers their wounds.  In fact, they often go to great lengths to hide or justify their vices.

Some of the poor have given in to hardness of heart, but they are not the poor I am speaking of.  They are fewer than most people imagine, as many poor initially offer a tough exterior.  But the rough facade smoothes out and you realize that the poor "in spirit" are many.  I am not interested in canonizing them.  We often watch in veiled amusement as the "poor in spirit" will occasionally offer a half-hearted lie, but what is that compared to the searing truths they have just offered up?  I confess that I now prefer the poor, something that would be a shock to those who knew me in past decades.

Plenty of those who are not poor are also easy to love, and have a spirit of humility and forgiveness.  But they are not the object of neglect and even derision.  Lately we've gotten plenty of ugly and skeptical looks for literally "eating with poor sinners".  But maybe God is more welcome in an abandoned house in a field, full of heroin "zombies" than he is amidst the hardened hearts of some of their respectable neighbors.  Maybe some of the addicts hate their addiction and yearn for God and his freedom in a way that would make us blush.  Maybe their abandoned house is surrounded by wild flowers, and they are mothered by a warm, ex-biker chick named 'Cindy' who keeps a ready dose of Narcan.  Maybe angels watch over them, and know how the addicts were serially abused, and how they got high for the first time when they were eleven at their mother's prompting.  Maybe that angel looks on in compassion at their charge who was given much less than a talent of silver according to the Most High's Gospel story.  Maybe the angel also looks at Chris and I with compassion because we have been given a vault's worth of talents and Jesus will make a full accounting of us.

These aren't speculations but well-grounded truths.  We know that the "first shall be last, and the last shall be first". Jesus said so, and you can bank on that.

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!