Friday, May 20, 2016

Why the Gospel Seed Falls on Hard Earth

Cardinal Sarah was recently in the U.S., and gave a bracing speech on how the spread of the Gospel (largely) depends on the life of the family.  We know from experience and even empirical data (yes, statistics) that religious vocations disproportionately come from healthy, devout Catholic homes.  We also know that Christ-centered homes typically produce Christ-centered offspring.  By contrast, in wounded families the grace of God has to follow a more circuitous route.

In his speech, Cardinal Sarah draws heavily from St John Paul II:

"St. John Paul explained: if it is true that the family is the place where more than anywhere else human beings can flourish and truly be themselves, it is also a place where human beings can be humanly and spiritually wounded.  The rupture of the foundational relationships of someone’s life – through separation, divorce or distorted impositions of the family, such as cohabitation and same sex unions – is a deep wound that closes the heart to self-giving love unto death, and even leads to cynicism and despair. These situations cause damage to little children through inflicting upon them a deep existential doubt about love. They are a scandal – a stumbling block – that prevents the most vulnerable from believing in such love, and a crushing burden that can prevent them from opening to the healing power of the Gospel."

To such children, love itself is a lie, a myth, and the God-who-is-love is believed to be equally false.  This reasoning comes from a masterstroke of the Devil, his trump card, and it is his chosen play in our times.  We see the casualties of this battle all the time in the street apostolate, and it is a primary stumbling block for receiving the Gospel.  St. John Paul II wisely observed that, "The future of the world and the Church passes through the family."  In other words, as our families go, so goes the Church and ultimately the world.  Sister Lucia of Fatima fame even prophesied to Cardinal Caffara that "the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family."

Sr. Lucia & John Paul II, a meeting of saints

Along with these warnings, Sister Lucia, John Paul II and Cardinal Sarah all remind us that Christ is triumphant over sin and history (apologies to Marx).  In fact, these three illustrious members of Christ's body are part of God's victory plan, and so are you and I!

I encourage you to listen to Cardinal Sarah's entire speech here.  He begins at the 1:15:00 mark.

African Methodists on Cardinal Sarah

The other night while walking 82nd, I was flagged down by five Methodist ministers from different countries in Africa. They were in Portland, Oregon for the United Methodist's General Conference.  They struck me as kind, upright men--true Christians--and so were excellent representatives from their home nations.  We talked of two things: Wal-mart and Cardinal Sarah.  They were searching for Wal-mart to buy items that were difficult to find in their homelands.  After I helped them with the bus transit down to Wal-mart, we spoke of Cardinal Sarah.  They became animated, and described him as "an honorable man" who is "fighting the good fight."  They were referring to Cardinal Sarah's defense of the divine plan for the family.  You see, earlier in the day they helped to vote down the usual LBTQ proposals at their Conference. Then with smiles and shining eyes the ministers declared Cardinal Sarah "the next pope".  It was a happy thought and revealed that Cardinal Sarah is the pride of Africa.  Africa has been called "Christ's new homeland", and the good men reminded me why Africa is the future of the faith.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Sacred Fountains of Inspiration

Last week I walked the streets for the first time with Felix Barba, a charismatic Catholic who is mature in the faith. He's passionate with bold ideas, and so I joked that he has "the soul of a poet".  He replied that he had a teacher once that used to call him, "The Poet".  We had some interesting encounters (more about that in a different post), though we spent a great deal of the walk lamenting the state of the church in the U.S.  It is a sleepy church, a comfortable church, cold to the burning heart of Jesus in the Eucharist and in the poor.  It is largely indifferent to sinners.  In short, a church of little poetry. Meanwhile, the blood of the martyrs flows in distant continents...!

Sometimes it's necessary to share your frustration so as to be reassured of your sanity (after all it is the world that has gone mad, not us), but I doubt we'll spend much time complaining on future walks.  We know that God has a better use for us, and we know something that Georges Bernanos knew:

"One can only reform the Church by suffering for her; one can only reform the visible Church by suffering for the invisible Church. One cannot reform the Church's vices except by pouring out the example of the most heroic virtue. [...] Can I say--in the hope of being better understood by some readers--that the Church does not need critics but poets? When there is a crisis in poetry, what is important is not to denounce the bad poets or even hang them, but to write beautiful verse, to reopen the sacred fountains of inspiration."

Some readers may marvel at all this talk of 'poetry', but it is something St. Francis and his followers understood. Sometimes poetry can be captured in a photo.  Do you see the poetry in the friars of Toca de Assis?

Or listen to this friar singing Aquinas's classic hymn, "Adoro Te Devote" and witness the Christian brotherhood:

The Brazilian friars of Toca de Assis see God's poetry in service to the poor, in real fraternity, in the tonsure and traditional habit, and in kneeling to receive our dear Jesus in the Eucharist.  They have reached into "the sacred fountains of inspiration", and they have born much fruit.  May they always walk and rest in God's Spirit!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

All It Takes to Win Heaven

One of the hidden gems of the catholic internet is the website,
The author is a youngish westerner teaching in Thailand.  Every day he posts a short spiritual reflection  by a saint or other trusted spiritual writer.  He recently found this outstanding quote from Blessed Charles de Foucauld:

"[God] didn't attach salvation to knowledge or intelligence or wealth, nor to long experience or rare gifts that are not given to all.   He attached it to something within the reach of everyone, absolutely everyone.   Jesus attaches salvation to humility, to the act of making yourself little.   That is all it takes to win heaven."

After his conversion, Blessed Charles always sought the lowest place.  Whether as an anonymous brother in a Trappist Abbey or as a day laborer in the Holy Land.  In this he followed the example of many saints from noble or wealthy families (Sts. Francis and Clare, Ignatius and too many others to list).  Pride, privilege and luxury die hard.  But just as he found a home in his lowliness, God desired to raise him up and glorify him.  He reluctantly began studying for the priesthood and was ordained.  

He discovered another aspect of humility: that humility isn't just simplicity and a love of being unknown or overlooked, but it is also accepting the path that the Lord has set for you.  Many saints found it painful that God had fore-ordained that they stand out as remarkable, or even obvious vessels of the Holy Spirit.  St. Philip Neri was so embarassed by his reputation for sanctity that he would play the buffoon, walking around Rome with his face shaven on only one side.  At holy mass, he was vexed by the divine love bursting from his heart, threatening to break out in mystical flight, so he would interrupt mass to brush his teeth or offer a silly joke.  Poor Blessed Charles is now numbered among the eminent and celebrities.  Recently a letter of his was offered up for auction, alongside letters from Einstein, Picasso, Beethoven and a slew of papers from presidents and famous generals.  The letter sold for $1,300 (commission included).  The priest who was the original recipient of the letter had kept it as a keepsake and wrote a note on the bottom:

"An encouraging letter--and from such a saint!"

Alas, the hardest humility: accepting that God will not give you the lowliness you crave.  Fortunately, I don't think any of us will have to pass that test!

In the spirit of outing priests as holy, listen to my favorite sermon on St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists. The priest is Fr. James Gordon FSSP.  He has a remarkable understanding of the spiritual life for a younger man, clearly a gift of the Holy Spirit.  Two of his brothers also belong to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP).  Contemplative in the Mud has lately been featuring some mind-blowing observations from St. Paul of the Cross.  Here is a favorite:

Blog Maintenance: Lost Comments

I've had at least three people tell me that their submitted comment never showed up on the blog.  The comments never showed up in the moderation queue, and so they must have disappeared into cyberspace.  I've since removed the moderation feature, and so I hope that gets us around the technical glitch.  If your comment was not published in the past, I assure you it was just a website malfunction.