Thursday, March 30, 2017

Re-Branding Catholicism

A few days ago Chris and I had a good talk with a tall, young pentecostal named "Edgar" on one of our evangelization routes.  Edgar hailed from Mexico, but now spoke perfect English.  Edgar had two great hopes that sprung from his sense of Christian vocation: he prayed to meet a faithful, virtuous woman to be his bride, and he hoped to do missionary work--particularly in Muslim countries.  Edgar didn't just want a "good woman", as any Catholic man would hope for, but he wanted a woman who had set her face against "the world, the flesh and the devil".  A rare woman indeed!  Moreover, when I warned him that missionary work in some Muslim countries would land him in jail (like Saudi Arabia) he doubled-down and insisted that his preference was to be a missionary in Muslim lands.  In this he sounded like some of the first Franciscans--martyrs and would-be martyrs for preaching Christ Crucified in muslim North Africa.  In short, Edgar was the personification of zeal, and everything he said was Catholic (probably unbeknownst to him).  After we parted I remarked to Chris: "Edgar probably grew up Catholic, but abandoned it because it was lame.  The usual safe, lukewarm stuff we all grew up with.  He wanted a serious faith.  Part of what we're doing out here is to re-brand Catholicism.  Show people that it's a burning faith."

It seems to be working in its small way.  I've run into numerous Christians--some Catholic, some not--who are surprised and edified by what we are doing.  I've also met many non-believers who are intrigued by our presence (such as Eon).

Three Priests Doing Great Work

I've recently read about three different priests who are each "re-branding Catholicism" in their own mission field.  A reader of the blog sent me a delightful write-up of Fr. Lawrence Carney, who evangelizes the streets most days in St. Joseph, Missouri.  He's hard to miss in his full-length black cassock and traditional soutane, carrying a crucifix and rosary.  As he walks along, the curious are drawn to him, and he wins unlikely friends and admirers.  His sense of humor certainly helps his evangelism; he describes his efforts as "fishing".  A fellow priest describes his unusual appearance as "a visible image or icon of the Church" and notes that in Fr. Carney's walks he "sees, talks and prays with those that the average parish priest doesn't have a chance to encounter."  Fr. Carney hopes to attract more priests to the charism, and form a society of priests committed to street evangelization.  I find it significant that Fr. Carney is chaplain to the much-admired Benedictines of Mary as well as friends with many FSSP priests.  It seems to me that both of these orders have been raised up by God to help re-build the Father's House.  As iron sharpens iron, God often clusters saints together in time and place so that they might strengthen each other.  Here's praying that Fr. Carney is the start of something big.

If I'm ever in his area I'll go out of my way to meet him.  His experiences are largely our experiences, especially the initial trepidation at starting off alone.  In the meantime I will read his book, due to be released at the end of the year.

Fr. Carney fishing for souls

Fr. Jason Cargo is another priest who has taken to the streets, though in his case he sets out with other Catholics in the form of a daily rosary procession during Lent.  The group walks local neighborhoods in prayer, and is led by a medium-sized crucifix.  The crucifix is a powerful sacramental when prayerfully used, and mystics have testified that it puts demons to flight by making the crucifixion present again (since God and spirits exist outside of time).  Processions can have a remarkable impact on by-standers, especially when accompanied by music and the Blessed Sacrament.  I wrote of Phillip Trower's conversion here; he was always touched by the Walsingham processions in England while he was still an atheist.  At the close of the Sacra Liturgia conference in New York, Daniel Marengo writes of the procession along Manhattan streets:

“I HAVE LIVED IN NYC ALL MY LIFE and never participated in such an outward Eucharistic procession of this kind.  All of NYC, including the police, pedestrians and the stunned commercial and residential onlookers from the buildings along the way, watched in awe and silent wondering as the canopied Blessed Sacrament meandered its way through the cavernous streets, touching the lives of countless secular and hard bitten New Yorkers.” Daniel Marengo, NYC

If you'd like to hear more about Fr. Cargo's rosary processions, his diocese has put out a short video here.

Finally, I'd like to direct you to the remarkable story of Fr. Fames Mawdsley FSSP.  Fr. Mawdsley became a human rights activist in his youth, and was even imprisoned in Burma for more than a year. His time in solitary confinement began to re-direct his life to a higher calling--toward "the peace that surpasseth all understanding".  There is something brutally jarring and finally suffocating about solitary confinement.  I've seen it drive hardened cons a little wacky (though they straighten out within a few days or weeks of their release).  I fought the suffocation of "the hole" with beauty--wandering in tight circles reciting the hundred poems I had come to memorize while in prison.  Fr. Mawdsley found a beauty much greater than poems from Keats and e. e. cummings.  He continues to pursue and witness that beauty in the sacred liturgy because he has learned the most important lesson: "Without God, we can do nothing."

Fr, Mawdsley with Archbishop Schneider

No comments:

Post a Comment