Sunday, January 17, 2016

Reflecting on Two Years of Street Evangelization

Two years ago I put on the tunic for the first time and walked the streets.  It was kind of a disaster (as you can read about here), or at least it felt that way at the time. Many things have changed since then (a new baby, many new friends, I've grown deeper in Christ), but the apostolate is largely the same. My approach hasn't changed--even as I've made small adjustments here and there--but they bear greater fruit now. It's not about a technique or a method, it's a matter of becoming a "new creation in Christ", a "man fully alive" (as St. Ireneaus put it).  After all, as the spiritual life goes, so goes the apostolate.

My tunic has held up surprisingly well.  The rain gives it a good wash, and then I shake off the water like I'm whipping a rug.  I was hoping it would last ten years, and I think it will.  I still have an extra tunic to give away, but there haven't been any takers.  Several men have had interest in joining the apostolate, but they have balked at the last minute in deference to other duties or interests.  Happily, I now count them as friends, and so that goal of the apostolate has been fulfilled. Deo gratias!  Josh in Louisville is expecting another baby (his fifth child!), and so he'll have to walk the streets while he can.  That's one thing I've learned: evangelize when the time presents itself, because you never know what's around the corner.

The first time I walked the streets was on January 23, 2014.

As a good Catholic, my imagination is kindled by symbolism, and so I made sure that I hit the streets on the last day of 2015 and then again to begin the New Year.  It was an attempt to sanctify the closing year, and then "Christen" the coming year.  This is especially apt given that we are in the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Please take the Jubilee seriously.  God is always keen to grant graces through his Church, and our forebears once traveled by the millions to observe Rome's jubilees.  St. Philip Neri, the Apostle of Rome, dedicated himself to the material and spiritual needs of some of the two million pilgrims in the 1575 Jubilee.  We also happen to be in the 500 year Jubilee of St. Philip's birth, so visit an oratory to receive extra graces.  St. Philip Neri has become a friend of the apostolate, and I'll write more about him in a future post.

One thing that has changed is that I've begun to bring saint relics with me as I walk.  I became convinced of the efficacy of relics after I had a remarkable experience at Holy Rosary Priory.  It was the feast day of the parish, and parishioners filed in line to kiss the reliquary holding a fragment of the veil of the Virgin Mary.  I was skeptical, but reluctantly followed in line so as not to stand-out and seem impious.  When I knelt and kissed the relic I was instantly overcome with a sweet sorrow, and began weeping.  There was something to this relic stuff!  I shouldn't have been surprised.  It's a tradition--like so many others--that has been largely cast aside even though it dates back to the ancient Israelites (carrying the bones of the prophets, the Ark of the Covenant).  If countless generations were sanctified by such practices, then who are we to think we know better?

Many are embarrassed by Catholic devotion to relics because some of the relics are of dubious origin.  For example, I don't believe I kissed an actual piece of Mary's veil.  In fact, in past centuries it was common for bishops who issued relics to sanction the use of veils from miraculous statues of the Virgin Mary.  Well, God does not stand on historical accuracy, just as a good parent doesn't correct his toddler when the child gives him a flower that "came from heaven".  God seeks to shower his graces upon us through every crack in our lives (that's the topic of a future post!), and sometimes he even uses shabby means like dubious relics, scandalous clergy and great sinners.  God is not proud, he is simply holy and of immeasurable love.

I was hoping to obtain some threads from a cassock of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, and sew them under the Jesus Caritas heart on all of the tunics.  Blessed Charles could then accompany our walks in a material fashion, and frankly, we need his intercession.  A good priest, Fr. Jon Buffington, asked the postulator of the canonization cause if he was still issuing such relics, but alas, he was not.  So then I followed the lead of several good priests I know and took to Ebay to "rescue" some relics.  Unfortunately I still haven't spotted a relic from Blessed Charles's cause, but I now bring with me little relics of Sts. Jean Vianney, Philip Neri, Francis Xavier, etc.  I also bought saint relics after the name-sakes of my children, Clara and Gabriel, to have in the home.  Now our home feels even more Catholic--that subtle sense of communion between heaven and earth.  My only sorrow is that many of these items are for sale because of the loss of faith in Europe--especially from the Low Countries.

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