I've enjoyed getting back into the rhythm of walking the streets now that life has settled down at home. On one of the walks I ran into one of the local Sisters of Reparation, a small order founded by an opera singer. It's always encouraging to see a religious sister in habit walking down the sidewalk. That was once a normal part of Catholic life, but what was once the rule has now become the exception (did you catch my pun? :-)
On one of my walks I was out after 11pm, even though "Nothing good happens after midnight". For those of us who were once thugs or night clubbers or bed-hoppers--or all of the above!--it's hard to argue with that proverb. Demons seem to think that the night belongs to them, but then God's grace keeps getting in the way of their plans. While I was out late I met two young black evangelicals with the Victory Chapel Outreach. The young men were looking for prostitutes, addicts and other vulnerable people who were ready to make a radical break and join their program. Victory Chapel offers housing, job training and work, as well as extensive Bible study, in order to re-shape the habits and identity of those under their care. It's a very disciplined, regimented program, and so it really only appeals to those who are returning to the Father with empty hands, like the prodigal son.
One of the Victory Chapel evangelists was a remarkably bright, eloquent speaker. In fact, he would have made a formidable Dominican. While he talked I thought, "He must be a pastor. He will go places in life. I wish I had his gift!" Then after a while I realized he was just talking at me, and I no longer envied his gift. I recalled that God had called me to this ministry even without the gift of eloquence. In fact, listening can be even more powerful than speaking, and a more sure foundation for a deep-rooted evangelization. The readiness to listen presumes a certain equality between parties, a willingness to learn or come to know the other person, the very building blocks of friendship. The ancient Greeks often wrote on friendship, and they understood that some recognition of equality was necessary for a profound relationship. I trust the talented young man will learn this lesson as he grows older. Before we parted he kindly offered to pray with me.
Blessed Charles wasn't much of an orator, and in fact he is well known for preferring the silent, "hidden life" of Nazareth. He even began as a Trappist, those great listeners of God, where he took the name "Brother Marie-Alberic". Blessed Charles wasn't born a great listener, but he became one as he increased in humility and charity. Humility, because he assumed his opinion was not always worth hearing, and charity because he assumed that others might have something better to say. It's only been in the last few years that I've acquired the faculty of listening. Before that I was the insufferable student and professor that always had something to say. Now I cringe when I recall those days. Blessed Charles, ora pro nobis!
The other day I heard an enlightening talk that proposed that the saints continue on with their life's work after death. This idea was present in the early Church, and we have heard recent saints express the thought as they neared death. Sts. Padre Pio and Therese of Lisieux each prophesied that their earthly life was only a foretaste of their work to come. But what struck me is that the saints' intercession and communion with us is far more personal or autobiographic than we ever could have imagined. It goes far beyond fostering their unique charism and role in the Body of Christ, but it runs even to things like personality traits and life experiences.
Thus whenever I seethe at the worldly spirit in the Church and begin to get carried away, I remember Blessed Charles's reaction to papal liberalization of the Trappist diet. He was scandalized that the Trappists would now be granted a little butter or oil with their bread! A good laugh always puts things in perspective.
I've also been comforted to reflect on Blessed Charles's penchant for grandiose dreams. He once paid a land merchant for the title to the Mount of the Beatitudes in the Holy Land so he might make of it a hermitage and chapel. Imagine the Mount of Beatitudes all to himself! But he was swindled out of his sum through a false title. Before that he had composed a thick Rule for a dreamed-of religious community--The Little Brothers of Jesus. His friend and spiritual director, Abbe Huvelin, replied, "The Pope hesitated to give his approbation to the Franciscan Rule; he thought it too severe; but this rule! To tell you the truth it terrified me!" Once again, Blessed Charles saw his great dreams come to nothing.
All of this is a comforting thought as I have been chastened by my own grandiose dreams for this apostolate. As I laugh at my own presumption, I know that Blessed Charles is laughing with me. Two fools marveling at God's trust in us.