Monday, May 29, 2017

God's Misfits

About a month ago I told Chris about Meagan and her story, and her desire to join us.  Chris smiled and said, "God's misfits."  Josh in Louisville called us a "motley crew".  God has always favored the weak, the fallen, and the outcast.  The Franciscans once sent out little platoons of strange and awkward men.  In the ancient world God gave his favor to Israel, a troublesome and insignificant people.  He could have chosen the mighty Romans, the learned Greeks, the Persians or Egyptians or Babylonians, or even the distant Chinese empire.  But he chose Israel, whom he looked down upon and saw like a castaway infant "kicking and weltering in blood" (Ezekiel 16: 5-6).  God has always favored the unlikely, and often the most committed converts are those who lived in filth and never dreamed of becoming brothers and sisters of Jesus. That was certainly the case for Chris and Meagan and I.  Who ever dreamed of our conversions, except our mothers or Chris's sister?

St. Mariam Baouardy, the "little Arab", had a mystical vision as to why God often favors the most prodigal.  Though she lived a remarkably pure life, dying young in a Carmelite cloister, she wrote:
"In Heaven, the most beautiful souls are those that have sinned the most and repented.  But they made use of their miseries like manure around the base of the tree."  Those are scandalous words to so many good Christians, and yet we remember Jesus' words to Dismas, the Good Thief: "This day you will be with me in paradise."  St. Faustina Kowalska adds her own startling claim: "the more miserable the sinner, the greater claim they have to [His] mercy."  Roy Schoeman explored this idea when he hosted me on his radio show.  St. Paul alludes to this in Romans V: "Where sin has abounded, grace has abounded the more."

St. Mariam Baouardy, one of God's simple souls

On a recent episode of The Journey Home, Jeff Gardner describes the seminal moment of his conversion.  He was an arrogant academic living in Paris doing research with medieval manuscripts.  On his way to a Paris library early in the morning, he passed a homeless man slumped in a subway gutter.  He could tell the man wasn't merely asleep or drunk, but was in dire need of medical help.  But Jeff pressed on, convinced that his career and his manuscripts were more pressing than the person of the bum.  But God wasn't having it.  St. Francis appeared to him in a vision.  Francis was beaten, bloodied and poor.  He was wholly united with his crucified savior, the God who loves the poor.  St. Francis gave the academic a level gaze and warned,

"Remember, God created the world to protect the simple, and to torment the arrogant."

Needless to say, that got his attention.  I'm sure he has since burned to be among the simple.  But some of us are burdened with arrogance, our "thorn in the flesh".

Thanksgiving for Chris

I can't overestimate my gratitude for the gifts of Chris and Meagan to this apostolate.  Whereas God used me to break up the soil, plodding along in prayer and recollection, I was still too ensconced in my interior garden.  Then Chris came along with the idea of bearing gifts as a way to initiate conversations.  We handed out gatorade and prayer cards, then hand and foot warmers for the Winter, and finally rosaries and miraculous medals.  Chris and Meagan have the zeal of new converts which refreshens my spirit, the new wine mixed with the old.  We have become bold in starting conversations, though always friendly and cheerful, respectful of the openings God gives us (and doesn't).  Chris's words to me have often originated in the Holy Spirit, whether as suggestions for the apostolate or in leading me out of bad habits of thought. I believe God can easily speak through Chris because he has a simple heart.  I have been gratified to witness him ascend the "mountain of the Lord" at a deft pace.

About six months ago Chris had a remarkable experience which echoes some of the central themes I have written about on this blog.  It was a "waking vision" in the twilight of morning.  Chris arose in the half- fog of sleep, and knelt on some pillows on the floor to pray.  As he prostrated his forehead to the floor, his mind was narrowed to an interior vision.  He saw before him a clearing in a mountain pass.  He saw a woman seated on a bench with her head bowed.  He knew it was Mary, the mother of our savior, and he saw that tears were falling down her face.  Blessed Mary's posture and dress were the same as her appearance to the shepherd children at La Salette in the French Alps.

Our Lady of La Salette

Chris tentatively approached and gently asked, "How can I help you?"  Mary looked up at him and asked, "Will you drink the chalice of suffering?"  Chris instinctively withdrew, protesting, "I'm too little."  Then the vision ended.

Poor Chris.  He was disappointed by his response, but it was the honest response.  It was the response of one of God's little ones, who feels the bite of his weakness.  That's why he was given the grace of the vision to begin with.  Mary and her son know that Chris's response is "Yes", a thousand times "Yes", even if his lips betray him.  There are so many who are lost, so many who need the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful, and Chris will drink his share of the chalice.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Fun Fact

The other day I was reading one of those delightful old pamphlets that were a common feature of pre-Vatican II piety, and I found something remarkable: a number of recent saints and blesseds all belonged to the "Association of Victim Souls of the Sacred Heart of Jesus".  The association was a movement to awaken the faithful to the fact that the Christian life is a complete offering of the self, in union with Jesus' own perfect offering on the cross.  Amongst those enrolled in the association were St. Pope Pius X, and the following Blesseds: Columba Marmion, Marie-Joseph Cassant, Cardinal Schuster, Jacob Kern and our own Charles de Foucauld. That's quite a list!  Columba Marmion was a Benedictine abbot and a great spiritual writer (his Christ, Life of the Soul is a must-read).  Marie-Joseph Cassant was a persevering young Trappist who died of tuberculosis.  Dom Kirby writes of him and the Association of Victim Souls here.  Cardinal Schuster was a holy Benedictine abbot who was called to steer the archdiocese of Milan during the Mussolini years.  Jacob Kern was a seminarian who was seriously wounded in combat during WWI.  Afterwards he became a monk, though never fully recovered from his combat wounds.  After some brutal surgeries he succumbed at the age of 27.

Perhaps there is a holy monk or nun amongst us who will revive such an association today?  These kind of movements and sodalities largely disappeared after Vatican II based on the ignorant enthusiasm of the 60s and 70s, but the association was an expression of an ancient truth.  As St. Ignatius of Antioch writes in 108 AD in his Letter to the Magnesians, 

"Unless we are ready through his power to die in the likeness of his passion, his life is not in us."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"Are You Going To San Francisco?"

We've been busy the last few weeks: walking with new evangelists (Meagan and David), making new friends on the streets and seeing some old ones, handing out lots of rosaries and prayer meditations.  Just this morning I filled a page from a yellow legal tablet with all the names of the people I've met on the streets.  I offer prayer and little sacrifices for them by name, but there are now too many to remember!  So I wrote their names down in what I hope will be a little "book of life", the life of God in their soul.  As I've often said to Chris and Meagan after we're done chatting with someone "You see what this apostolate is?  We're collecting souls.  God is giving us these people, and entrusting us with their spiritual care.  We have to uphold them through prayer and sacrifice since there may not be anybody praying for them."

Sometimes we also uphold them with gatorade and cheeseburgers...

As the work has piled up, I was once more reminded that this has to be a local apostolate.  I simply don't have the time to help would-be evangelists in other cities (the exceptions being David in Eugene and Josh in Louisville).  As I wrote to Felix the other day, St. Paul Street Evangelization has a genius for getting lots of people up-and-running in evangelization.  They have excellent resources and are backed by the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit.  They have all you need.  Sometimes I can be of help, like last weekend when David joined us on the streets before he sets-up St. Paul Street Evangelization  in Eugene.  He is always welcome to join us up here, and I hope to join him on occasion down there.  David liked our tunics and is thinking of sewing a simple shirt with the Jesus Caritas heart and cross.  It sends the perfect message when you're evangelizing in public.

And yet there seems to be one other place where the Lord keeps calling me: San Francisco.  I don't mean I'm moving there--absolutely not!  It's not my town and I don't have any particular affection for it.  But God keeps signaling that I'll be called down one day to set up a little crew of evangelists.  This even erupted into the open yesterday after I happened upon Fr. Illo's blog from Star of the Sea parish in the Richmond district of Frisco.  I started reading through many of his past posts since I hadn't known he kept a blog.  At one point he was lamenting the contrast on any given weekday between the busy streets and his empty but open church.  He thought he should just stand outside the doors with his cassock and welcome the passers-by.  At reading this, my soul involuntarily leapt and I said the words, "Don't worry, we're coming soon!"  I surprised myself by this cry, not least because we're no answer to a pastor's prayer.  We're good at planting seeds and "confirming the brethren", but we won't fill up a pew with converts.  Well, maybe one day.  In any event, I have little doubt that one day I will be called down to Frisco to greet some waiting evangelists.  I'll bring an armful of tunics because Frisco is a city that would respond to the Jesus Caritas approach.

This may have to wait for five years...because that's what our Lord usually means when he says "soon"!

I snuck this photo of the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa last time I was in the Bay Area.  Young nuns at the old Latin mass!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Some Local Press

Sarah Wolf of the local Catholic Sentinel wrote a nice piece on street evangelization.  She took this photo of Meagan and I walking along SE 82nd, with one of the main "quickie motels" in the background.  A great photo.  Meagan and I are praying the Litany of the Sacred Heart as we go.  Go and read Sarah's article here.

Sarah Wolf/Catholic SentinelAn ex-convict and Catholic revert, Scott Woltze has walked the same route every week for three years, wearing his wool tunic, marked with the Sacred Heart of Jesus symbol. He and friends like Meagan Montanari who walk with him have had amazing experiences. “It’s really a matter of God putting you in the right place at the right time,” he says.
Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Meagan's Story

I received an e-mail from Felix Barba of St. Paul Street Evangelization introducing me to a woman, Meagan Montanari, who was interested in joining us.  My initial thought was, "Uh oh, we are a group for men.  A way for men to walk in Christ's footsteps and form the kind of guy-friendships that are so needed in today's Church."  Then I read a little bit about Meagan, and the confirmations from the Holy Spirit began to flash across my mind.  You see, In the last month I've taken a great interest in the opioid epidemic sweeping the country, even praying regularly for a local school teacher, Brynne, who made national headlines by getting busted at her elementary school with heroin and meth.  I know Brynne's mother, a very kind and successful restauranteur.  Even loving parents have to endure the hell of a child with addiction.  Which brings us back to Meagan.

Meagan had attentive, loving parents though she was largely raised without any faith.  For most children that's enough to get them going in life (at least for a time).  But not for Meagan.  As far back as she can remember, she was always saddled with a sense of incompleteness and malaise.  It quickly turned to despair, and at the age of thirteen she began cutting herself and fixating on suicide.  Meagan was especially made to need God as the locus of her identity, and without Him she became unmoored from her self.  In high school she gravitated toward the "bad kids", the kids who reacted against their own alienation by engaging in drugs, alcohol, casual sex and petty crime.  Meagan continued to slide further and further, trying everything to escape from her pain, even trying the occult.  She "graduated" to more serious drugs, and notched some jail time and probation for minor felonies.  She moved frequently, thinking she'd be happier with a new change of scene, but her pain always moved with her.  Sometimes she was homeless, sometimes she could hardly believe the things she had done.  She says of that time, "I truly was like the walking dead."

Meanwhile her mother began to pray for her, having turned to God as the only hope for her child.  God would answer her prayers, perhaps because her mother had stepped out in faith while enduring a troubled pregnancy.  The doctor had urged her to abort tiny Meagan, but she refused.  But Meagan's mother began to despair of prayer, and she was ready to give up just as everyone else had done.  Then one day while driving, her mother experienced an intense blinding light, and an angel appeared next to her saying, "Don't worry about Meagan, Meagan is going to be okay."  Then the angel intoned, "Pentecost, Pentecost, Pentecost" and disappeared.  She called Meagan in a heap of tears and hysteria, repeating "It's all real.  Jesus, angels,'s all REAL!"  Meagan was given the grace to immediately believe her mother's vision.  Perhaps she believed because she had once witnessed a crowd of demons surrounding her in a seedy motel.  That had been a glimpse into Hell, but now Heaven!  Meagan and her mother eagerly investigated the word 'Pentecost'--what did that strange word mean?

Meagan sought baptism in a protestant church and began reading the Bible. While her life was calmer on the surface, she was still addicted to drugs and fell into promiscuity.  Pentecost hadn't come to completion yet, something was missing in the faith she had found.  She signed up for a methadone program to get a safe, legal high and had two children amidst the dreary march of daily methadone fixes.  This went on for five years, until she gave in to a craving for the real thing: intravenous heroin.    She began shooting heroin and was soon homeless on the streets of San Francisco.  She became pregnant a third time.  Her first child, a son, was adopted, and her second child, a daughter, lived with her parents.  This couldn't continue!  She sought help at a protestant church and they directed her to a home for pregnant women run by St. Mother Theresa's sisters.  She was accepted into the Queen of Peace Shelter, and regularly joined the sisters in the daily Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  She gradually became intrigued by the sisters' joy and peace.  It was clear they actually knew Jesus by the way they talked about Him.  They had the real thing, and Meagan wanted it.  She went through RCIA and was received into the Church on Easter Vigil 2015.

Meagan began to take daily communion and witnessed in delight as all of her old chains fell away.  Jesus mixed with her body and blood through the eucharist, and she no longer desired drugs or sexual attachments.  She even threw away her cigarettes and anti-depressants, and started eating healthy for the first time in a decade.  Jesus in the eucharist was what she had been yearning for ever since she was a child, and she no longer had to wonder why there was a hole in her heart.

Today Meagan continues to go to daily mass, often with her children.  I can attest that Meagan's a woman of uncommon strength, like her favorite would-be saint, Mother Angelica.  To know Meagan is to witness the immense healing power of Jesus, the Son of God.  It is to know that miracles do happen.  She now offers healing to others on the streets and at the abortion clinics.  She's good at it because she has the courage and credibility to speak from the heart.  She's currently working on a psychology degree, and hopes to one day start a Catholic women's shelter.  Uphold her in your prayers. Though while strong, God will perfect Meagan in her weakness.  That is our path to union with the Son.