Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Don't Run From The Light!

My friend Josh Kusch was the first man to join in this apostolate, and I was glad to send him a tunic sewn by my late mother.  Josh has been graced with a hungry, clear intellect and a heart for the suffering and those far from Christ.    This might seem like a dual call or gift, but it is really the same invitation from the Blessed Trinity to share in the one life in God.  Nowadays it is fashionable in and out of the Church to fudge or set in opposition the relationship between reason/intellect and the compassionate heart of Christ (or dogma/doctrine vs. pastoral practice) but that is nonsense since Jesus is both the Eternal Word (the Logos which is Truth itself) and the One whose side was opened on the Cross to reveal his Sacred Heart.

Paradoxically, when we think about the deep things of God, we should do so with the attitude of a child: innocent, receptive, trusting, and eager to embrace what our Father reveals.  This is how we are given wisdom, which is nothing other than the knowledge of God and his divine order.  In yet another paradox, many of the truly wise are also the unlearned.  Did you know that during the Enlightenment, God raised up many lowly Franciscan saints (especially Capuchins) to confound the intellect of the learned?  I wear a relic of one such friar, Blessed Didacus Joseph, otherwise known as the "Dunce of Cadiz".  Did you know that Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta began her Nobel Prize speech with two cringeworthy (but harmless) errors about St. Francis?  Yet she had more wisdom than her entire audience!

We should read scripture and receive the life of the saints with the same spirit: the spirit of a child and not the "spirit of the world".  The worldly man plays politics, watches public opinion, acts coy, trusts in his cleverness, seeks not to offend even as he offends Truth Himself.  We all have to resist the worldly impulse, that gravitational pull of our wounded nature.  We must be vigilant because we shouldn't tinker with what God has revealed.  As I saw first-hand at the time of my conversion, the wisdom of the world is rubbish.  God and his ways are so different than ours.  God's vision for us is so much grander than we'd allow.  With that in mind, our brother Josh has recently written two excellent articles to defend God's neglected word.  He has reached out and taken hold of two of the "third rails" of our time: divorce and "re-marriage" and the relationship between husband and wife.  Both articles have been enthusiastically received.


Peter Kreeft, a wise and humble philosopher, recently echoed some of my thoughts: "A German cardinal who is very scholarly and often quite wise said one of the worst things I ever heard a cardinal say when trying to justify relaxing the Church's demand to live in chastity even if one is civilly divorced.  He said that the Church does not expect everyone to be a moral hero.  That is exactly what the Church does expect, because her Lord expects it."

Amen!  Thank you, Peter Kreeft.  Also, thanks to Josh, Chris, Felix and all men who aim to be "moral heroes" as husbands, fathers, teachers and street evangelists.  God looks on in delight as you fight the good fight.

Monday, August 22, 2016

An Awesome Responsibility

Chris Huling and I continue to hit the streets, and yesterday we even passed out free Gatorade in the mid-day sun.  Our offering was gratefully received, but our most compelling encounter happened after we emptied our cooler and stripped off the wool tunics in The Grotto parking lot.  A black man in his early thirties approached us, and said that he saw us kneeling in prayer.  He wore a hiking backpack and bore a few other signs of being homeless.  He said that he needed prayer, and asked if we could pray for him.  Chris and I glided past his words and asked whether he needed food or some money.  With a hint of impatience, he corrected us, "No, no, none of that."  You see, by a grace he understood that his greatest need was spiritual assistance--even deliverance from evil.  As far as being homeless and jobless, he said, "I can handle that.  You see, I'm the problem."  We walked over to the statue where Chris and I had been praying, and knelt down.  The statue captures the last moment of the Crucifixion, where Jesus died for our sins before heavenly and earthly witnesses.

The statue at The Grotto

I told our new friend about the figures below the cross, and asked if he prayed to his angel who accompanies him wherever he goes.  He said he does.  Then he painfully described how he's plagued with issues of "self-control".  He said he tries to fight it, but it almost seems like there are two of him--not in the sense of a split personality, but in terms of a struggle in his soul.  He hates how he sometimes hurts people when he loses control, if only he would never lose control again.  Then he prostrated himself before the Cross, just as the angel had taught the little children at Fatima.  By a grace I offered an extemporaneous prayer on Christ's faithful love for him and all his children, and how we ask for Christ's love to heal his heart so he might love others like Jesus, always doing right by them. I joined him in prostration for a few moments of silence.

Afterwards I gave him a rosary that belonged to a recently deceased priest.  I asked the priest (whether he's in heaven or purgatory) to watch over and pray for the young man.  He then asked what kind of place this was, that had such statues in a parking lot.  Chris and I were floored.  The man had no idea that he was at a national religious shrine--he had just noticed the trees and taken cover from the sun.  Only a grace could have led him there!  Then it was time to depart, and the last time we saw him he had tightly wrapped the rosary around his wrist like a bracelet.  On the way home, Chris and I prayed seven St. Michael prayers for him, as well as some Marian prayers.  I ask readers of this blog to offer him spiritual assistance as you can.  The young man's name was "Chris", and he's undergoing intense spiritual combat.  You might also pray for those he's hurt.

Later that evening, Chris Huling sent me the following e-mail about the privilege and responsibility of street evangelization:

"I was sitting home thinking about today and I'm trying to process it and took a little walk and it hits me! Do you have any idea what we witnessed? We were privileged enough to get to see the Holy Spirit in action! It's freaking me out a little in a good way of course. You had prayed that we might be the face of the LORD, I remembered. And here this young man comes out of nowhere and expresses what looked to me like perfect contrition to a statue of his savior! Is that not a textbook definition of grace? Sorry...it just hit me and the power of it is a little overwhelming!"

Yes, it blows the mind.  We're not worthy!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Going Where The Pain Is

Apologies for the sparse postings.  The unexpected death of my mother sucked some of the wind out of my sails. Nevertheless, the street apostolate is still going strong even if I don't find the time to write about it.

Last week I walked for the first time with Chris Huling, a recent revert to the faith who has a military background and love for the traditional practices and expressions of the faith.  Like myself and many other men (often younger than us), he has dived head-first into the new oasis that is St. Stephen's parish.  When I asked him why he wanted to walk the streets, Chris said that he didn't want to be rejected by Jesus at the Last Judgment for ignoring Christ in the "poor, imprisoned, widowed and orphaned".  I was mildly shocked:  "Wow!  Someone who actually takes the words of Christ at face value!" Then Chris told me of an an inspiration from the Holy Spirit: that he should walk the streets on hot days with a rolling ice chest and distribute cold drinks and a prayer meditation.  The meditation is extraordinary.  It's the "I Thirst" meditation attributed to Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, and it is really the Gospel in miniature.  In the meditation, Jesus is speaking directly to his lost children (that is, all of us at one time or another).  Here is how it ends:

"Now matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake.  Come to Me with your misery and your sins, with your troubles and your needs, and with all your longing to be loved.  I stand at the door of your heart and knock...  Open to me, for I THIRST FOR YOU..."

For the people we typically meet on the streets, this message is probably the most shocking words they could ever hear. They would be less shocked if we cursed them or berated them.  But to hear that God intimately knows and loves them and yearns for them?  Unthinkable.  That has never occurred to them, and yet it's at the heart of the Gospel.  You can hear the full meditation by clicking on the video below.  The meditation is read by Fr. John Riccardo, an ascetic priest who always reminded me of Christ Crucified when I attended his parish in Michigan.

Since St. Stephen's parish is located in a trendy neighborhood full of hipsters and the "resolutely unchurched", I was considering going "uptown" and walking amongst the "children of this age".  Perhaps I could be the "Apostle to the Hipsters" since I already live in "FoPo", the hipster neighborhood of Portland.  Then I realized I'd be awful at that, and am better suited to meaner streets, to something more "real".

A cross-section of PDX (Portland) hipsters.  This is not real life, though the pain they try to hide is very real.

If you're looking for real life, watch this movie about the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal living amongst the most wretched among us.  Kyle Turley, my favorite Catholic journalist, has a great write-up of the movie at Catholic World Report.  Apparently one of the friars who ministers to a Honduras HELLHOLE prison is himself an ex-convict.  Hurrah for him!  These men are living the faith that we try to walk.