Saturday, May 16, 2015

More Observations from the Streets

When I walked the streets the other day, I had so many diverse encounters that I was struggling to regain my bearings from one moment to the next.  There were spirit-filled conversations, gestures of friendliness and spite, and odd moments where God was using my presence to provoke a choice in onlookers.  There was even a moment where I thought I would have to stop a young street tough from assaulting his girlfriend (the guys at Jiffy Lube were also about to jump in), but the young man wisely fled after he attempted a haphazard slap.

"Where are you going?"

God often uses our presence to prompt a choice in certain people.  It's as if he desires that we stand in for Christ, as part of his mystical body, and our gaze becomes his gaze: a call of return, of coming-to the source of life and love.  I have written about this phenomenon in an earlier post here.  Several times as I walked in a state of recollection, I felt a gentle prompting to look in a certain direction.  Then sure enough, my eyes would immediately meet a face staring intently at me.  It was as though I knew exactly where that person was--even if they were in a crowd of other youths, or behind plate glass in a restaurant.  The person was fixed on my presence, deep in thought, and we gave each other a long look.  God seemed to be asking them a question: "Where are you going?" or "Who do you say that I am?"  I don't know what their answer was, but that is a question we all have to answer many times throughout our lives.

Fr. Willie Doyle SJ, a Holy Chaplain killed in WWI

A couple months ago I read an excellent piece on Fr. Willie Doyle SJ, and was reminded of the efficacy of offering little sacrifices to God as we go about our day.  Thus, before I set out to walk the streets I passed on dessert, and then chose to walk with a pebble rattling around in my shoe.  The pebble had just popped-in, and I was about to take it out when I felt a gentle urging to accept it as a sacrifice.  I resumed walking on the pebble and remembered a saying from the Cure of Ars, "God speaks to us without ceasing by his good inspirations."  These little sacrifices should come to us through a gentle signal, and we shouldn't force things.  God will lead the way and he will present sacrifices to us as he sees fit.

Shortly after accepting the pebble, a young homeless man cavalierly crossed four lanes of traffic to come talk with me. That's happened many times over the last year.  Street people like to think it's their street, and so they act accordingly. He started out by teasing me, asking me if I was the pope.  That is also common: people often tease me before they get around to saying what is really on their mind.  Once the young man decided I was all right, he earnestly asked for my prayers, and said he was battling some things.  I asked him his name.  I've learned that saying and knowing a person's name has a powerful effect--it immediately takes the encounter to a deeper level.  He was embarrassed to say that his street name was 'Casanova'.  I smiled because his appearance had suggested as much.  Not all street people are indifferent to vanity.  Then we shared in spontaneous prayer, and the Holy Spirit seemed to guide my words.  It was a moment of spiritual communion, and then we hastily parted since men can only endure so much intimacy with each other. When I saw him two hours later he was no longer sober.  Please say a prayer for Casanova, and also for a woman named Kelly.

I met Kelly later that day when she and a male friend stopped their car to talk.  The man was very cheerful and friendly and had a dizzying number of piercings and tattoos.  Kelly asked for prayers several times and seemed skeptical that I would follow through.  She prayed that she was on the right path, and that she was faithfully following her late uncle.  He must have been a good man.  Kelly had already mastered the virtue of charity since she insisted that I looked handsome in my tunic.  That's the first time I've heard that!  As soon as they left, I prayed that she would also master the other virtues as well.  I've continued to commend Kelly and Casanova to God in prayer and at daily mass.

The Long Defeat

The Catholic internet is in a buzz over the latest Pew Research showing the continuing de-Christianization of America. Some are convinced that a persecution is looming, but I don't get that sense at all when I walk the streets.  Now a person may get that sense if they spend a lot of time on the internet reading news of scandals and crimes, but it's different in the lived world.  Portland, Oregon routinely ranks as one of the least-churched cities in America, and only a tiny number of those I encounter are genuinely hostile.  Many more are actually welcoming in one way or another.  The only way that we would see a situation like the Cristeros or the Spanish Civil War is if God removed his hand, and so many of our neighbors and co-workers subsequently suffered a "strong delusion" (2 Thess. 2:11).  That's possible, but it's the exceptional case and not the regular order of things.  As Sr. Lucia saw in a vision at Fatima, the sword of justice is regularly suspended by the intercessions of the holy ones (especially the Virgin Mary).  One holy saint from the 6th or 7th century even said that God was sparing the world only because of his prayers and those of another holy hermit.

Another reason a persecution is unlikely is because most Catholics have already been swept away by the spirit of the age (whether of the "progressive" or "conservative" version--really two halves of Caesar's same coin).  Thus, the fervent Catholics can be dismissed or ignored, just as they are in some dioceses and many parishes.  By several different metrics it would seem that there are about one million faithful, serious Catholics in the US (out of 50 million self-described Catholics).  Catholic book publishers have researched the market for faithful Catholic books and have arrived at that number, and polling has also repeatedly shown that only 2% (that is, one million) of Catholics in the US believe all of Church teachings.  Matthew Kelly's group have found that a larger number--some two million or so--Catholics do virtually all of the ministries/volunteer work at parishes.  Though many of that number treat the parish as a social club or part-time charity and have resisted the Church's hard sayings.  Some even do so with the pride of the unrepentant sinner.  I once overheard a couple who are pillars of a parish tell the priest that they consulted a dissident website before they left on vacation in order to find a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage parish to attend while away.

As far as the Catholic findings in the Pew Report, as Sherry Weddell of "Intentional Disciples" fame comments, the falling away of millions of more Catholics was entirely predictable.  In fact, she had predicted it five years before.  (BTW, there seem to be five voices in Catholic media that are distinguished by their reliable judgment: Sherry Weddell, Dawn Eden, Msgr. Charles Pope, Peter Kreeft and Dan Burke).  I tried to offer a gentle warning about this trend a couple of months ago here.  In fact, my greatest concern in starting this apostolate was finding faithful, vibrant parishes for those who wished to come into the Church.  In most dioceses, only a handful of parishes preach Christ's "narrow way", and act as though the liturgy is the meeting place of heaven and earth, the most important moment in the week.  By doing so, these parishes remain open to the full flood of grace, and so are the usual sources of vocations to religious life and of large families.  While every parish has a small number of committed disciples (by God's merciful design), these handful of parishes have many serious disciples and many of them are actually young.  They are the future of the Church, and her best hope for evangelization.

In the coming weeks I will write on what God is asking for in the "New Evangelization", and what he is not asking for.

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