Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Something To Die For Is Something To Live For

There was a recent article in the Philadelphia Enquirer (one of a series of articles) about a closed Catholic Church that has become a "shooting gallery" for heroin addicts.  We are given the image of a once majestic church full of self-drugging drop-outs from life.  It is a sign from God about the inevitable ruin of a society when it builds apart from God. Aside from this stark contrast, there were two things about the articles that were remarkable.  Firstly, the fifty or so addicts spanned all classes, and many described themselves as coming from good, loving homes.  Secondly, social service workers recently visited the church, and not a single addict came out to accept their offer of help.  Not one.  By contrast, if we had gone in there with our little tunics, we would have talked to at least half the addicts, given out forty or so rosaries and miraculous medals, and heard many life stories and pleas for liberation.

Why would we be welcomed while those who offer social services are not (in Portland we are happily received week after week)?  Why are young people from stable, loving homes and communities (like our own Meagan) choosing drugs as a means of escape?  The answer to both questions is the same.  The West does a good job of meeting the needs of the body and providing every form of entertainment and distraction, but it does a poor job of meeting the deepest needs of the soul.  Put another way, there is a crisis of meaning in the West, something Max Weber predicted a century and a half ago (I wrote about that here).  That is why so many young families at my daughter's school have already disintegrated, or are starting the process of divorce.  That is why so many young people have gravitated toward the great aching need and brief fulfillment that comes with heroin addiction.  They have a great aching desire in their soul--union with their Creator, whom they are hard-wired to desire--and don't know how to fill it,  So they turn to heroin.  And yet they have the sacred sense not to shoot-up in the main body of the church...though there are hypodermics in an old holy water fount.  Lord have mercy.

Unfortunately the Catholic Church deserves a healthy portion of the blame as the Holy Mass has often been celebrated in a mundane, ho-hum manner in the past decades, and there was a crisis of poor teaching in most places.  I was reminded of this yesterday when Meagan and I went to daily mass before walking the streets.  The celebrant was a visiting priest from an distinguished religious order that has precious few vocations.  From the first moment of mass I wondered whether the priest believed the faith.  There was no sense that something stupendous and transcendent was occurring amongst us, the re-presentation of the greatest act in the history of the universe.  The poor priest's homily re-hashed the typical revisionist "scholarship" that God did not send plagues on the Egyptians and drown their charioteers because a loving God wouldn't commit mass murder.  Well, that priest and thousands of priests like him have been complicit in the mass murder of souls by offering a false, de-sacralized and ultimately shallow gospel.  It would be better if he piled hot coals on his head in penance than continue on his present way.  His eyes were so dull, so bereft of supernatural light.  Very sad.

Two Young Men

God is faithful even if his minister's are not.  He is always calling young men and women out of the world, like Sts. Francis and Clare 800 years before.  Oftentimes he calls great sinners (please go read this convert's blog now!).  St. Francis of Assisi always insisted he was a great sinner, but at the very least he was a great dreamer.  God gave him the grace to sense that there had to be some grander reason to life, some great calling, and so he dreamed of becoming a knight and going on a dangerous crusade.  In fact, he went off to do battle in a local dispute and was promptly captured.  We can laugh about that now, but many of us are hard-wired to need something worth fighting for.  It is a paradox that when we have a cause worth dying for it gives us a reason to live.

Last month I met a young man named 'Troy' who was dressed in business casual and mixing with some young addicts.  After distributing our usual Gatorade, rosaries and prayer cards I turned to Troy and asked, "So what's your story?"
"I just decided to come live out here."
"Yeah, I quit my job and packed some clothes.  I'm just done with it all."
"So you're homeless by choice?"
When I warned him that living homeless in the Winter is more miserable than he could imagine, he quickly changed the subject, and pointed to our tunics, saying, "I used to teach Bible study, mostly to children."  Troy was raised as a non-Catholic Christian.  Suddenly lights of understanding began to go off in my mind.  "Have you heard of St. Francis of Assisi?"
"Yes" he quickly replied.  "'Preach the Gospel always, sometimes use words'".
I blinked in shock.  I knew God had given me a rare bird here.  I ventured, "Well, there have always been Christians who have left everything behind to live a more radical Gospel.  It's always happened.  You have St. Benedict fifteen hundred years ago--he was the founder of Western monasticism, St. Francis 800 years ago, men and women from five hundred years ago, and even today.  It goes back to the time of Christ."  He was devouring all of my words, hearing something he had needed to hear.  I spoke more of St. Francis and then launched into a description of the life of St. Benedict Joseph Labre.  Now Troy was really hooked.  Perhaps because Benedict Joseph chose to live homeless in the city rather than a hermitage, or perhaps because he was more proximate in time.  Troy nodded vigorously when I described how St. Benedict Joseph would give away whatever alms he had been given to those who were even poorer than him.  "Yes, that's what I'd like to do!" Troy exclaimed.  I was gratified that he was discovering the allure of the saints, our little models of Christ.  Troy assured me that his faith was strong, and that he didn't suffer from any addictions.  One of his street friends, Jessica, later told me in amusement that Troy would rather shiver through the night then share her body heat by sleeping next to her.  I wasn't surprised.  Troy valued charity and chastity.

St. Benedict Joseph Labre, Pray for us!

At one point I said to Troy, "I like what you're doing.  You've chosen the better part.  When I was young and felt like you did, I robbed banks."  What was unspoken between us was that Troy was in a crisis of meaning and purpose.  God has stirred him up to leave everything behind.  This was a grace, not madness.  He didn't leave a child or wife behind, and he wasn't running away into addiction.  I hope we become good friends and he joins us.

A few days ago Chris and I met another inspired young man while we were walking SE 122nd.  We had ventured into a field to talk with a homeless Asian man named 'Andrew' when the young man snuck up on us.  Andrew was happy to accept a rosary and three bottles of Gatorade since the homeless and addicts often live in a perpetual state of dehydration (some go a whole day without urinating).  When we turned to go we were surprised to see the young man just behind us.  He fumbled into his pocket for money and said, "I know what you guys do out here--why you're out here.   I'd like to help."  He handed me $30 while keeping a few dollars for himself.  I said, "Are you sure?"  He strongly nodded. Though we didn't need the money, I knew that it is gracious to accept a gift, and so I didn't push the matter any further.  I told him we'd buy more Gatorade with it.  Then I invited him to join us.  He laughed and said he had plans tonight.  I shouted after him, "I meant you should join us some time in the future!"  He smiled and drove away in an old beat-up Saab.  He didn't have much money, but the young man had zeal, compassion and a deep sense of purpose to life.

I am gratified and hopeful because God is stirring up good young men like these.  What a blessing to meet them!

Monday, July 17, 2017

More Thoughts On The Conference

There are those who build up the City of God, and there are those who build up the City of Man.  The conference was crowded with those whose passion is to build up the City of God.  In fact, I became so accustomed to seeing supernatural hope and joy in others, that when I stopped for dinner on the drive home I was shocked at the people I saw.  It was at a Subway in Salem, and everyone was weary and withdrawn (save one old lady--bless her!).  Where was the supernatural hope and charity, where were the people who had been regenerated through life in Christ?  Well, many of them were at the conference...

When Cardinal Burke processed in at the first mass in simple attire, everyone turned in expectation, and there were audible gasps and muffled sobs.  The Body of Christ present in the Church, heaved and sighed as one at an honorable prelate who has been chased out of two jobs for living the faith "once handed down".  Later in the conference, Cardinal Burke had to fight back tears whenever his speech briefly touched on the devastation in the Church.  That was my impression as I sat ten feet away.  Later when he visited our parish (St. Stephen's) to offer mass and sit with us for lunch, I noted the joyful twinkle in his eye.  He loves as Jesus loves, and he is loved in return.  Some long time parishioners at Holy Rosary received communion from Cardinal Burke alongside their son with muscular dystrophy (I believe that's the affliction), and afterward the tired and grateful husband leaned his sobbing head against his wife's shoulder.  A rare display of emotion from a very stoic man.

While Cardinal Burke was the headliner, Fr. Gerard Saguto FSSP nearly stole the show.  As I've repeatedly said, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) have the best priests and men around.  They are like the Jesuits of Ignatius's time, or God's Dogs for our time.  When Fr. Saguto took the podium, he looked lean and boney in a worn cassock, and looked every bit the Sicilian.  I leaned over to Tom and said, "He looks like St. Charles Borromeo."  About halfway through his impassioned and luminescent speech, I turned back to Tom and said, "That IS Charles Borromeo!"  Afterwards many conference attendees rushed to place an order for the conference's talks and homilies.  Not bad for a speech on the Offertory of the mass!

Fr. Saguto is in the center

Since we live in darkening times, let me urge everyone to find out which saints God has given you for your care, because we need their strength.  The saints are united to Christ in His Body, and just as Christ imparts his life to the soul, so do the saints "live" in us--especially saints who are our special friends.  When I went up to receive communion from Cardinal Burke, I was conscious of the presence of Blessed Charles within me as I kneeled.  I found it embarrassing, and was worried that Cardinal Burke would discern it and think, "What is this?"  Thankfully he passed along without a pause. Another time I showed Meagan and Dave our brochure, which features a popular image of Blessed Charles.  Afterwards they remarked, "That's neat you put your photo there."  I was taken aback, "What?  That's not me, that's a photo of Blessed Charles de Foucauld!"  Now it was their turn to be taken aback.  I think God briefly clouded their vision so that we could all understand that we should be mistaken for another Blessed Charles, for we are walking in his steps, the footsteps of Christ.

This is NOT me.

Our Spiritual Battle

All of my friends at the conference had trouble sleeping.  One night I simply began my day at 3 am after turning in at midnight.  It was hard to welcome sleep given the graces at work in the conference (gifts of friendship, beauty and understanding), but much of it was from spiritual attack.  The Devil knows his enemies, and the Devil knows his "friends" (or unknowing dupes).  At the conference, both Archbishop Sample and Mother Miriam lamented to me that they discern a palpable demonic gloom over Portland.  Apparently Fr. Michael Gaitley MIC said the same thing when he flew in for a "Morning Glory" conference.  Obviously I've chronicled this phenomenon on the blog when I first began walking the streets.  But I no longer feel under siege.  We are an advancing army breaking through enemy lines.  We have seen the work of God in the most wretched places, and in the most unlikely faces.  We have stood so close to the work of the Holy Spirit, that Chris and I have recoiled in awe, lest we touch the Ark of the Covenant and become obliterated like Uzzah (obviously our sweet Lord wouldn't do that!).

Yes, we live in troubled times.  Pope Emeritus Benedict just implied that the Church seems "to be on the verge of capsizing".  Cardinal Burke seconded his remarks at the St. Stephen's luncheon.  But God is raising up new saints who will invigorate the Church with their zeal and with their transcendent vision, grounded in tradition.  I have chronicled many of these young men on this blog over the years.  There are also young women like Mother Marie of Lourdes or even our own Meagan Montanari.  The Church will regain her beauty and spiritual power even as the world around us slips into a genteel barbarism.  God has known this before the inception of the world.  We live in interesting times, but they are times of great grace.  God has even given us an anointed in our midst.  He foreordained that a little boy in rural Guinea, Africa would one day become pope, and restore the supernatural vision of Christ's Bride.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Conversations From The Sacred Liturgy Conference

The conference is in full swing, and I think I've talked more in the last two days than I normally do in an entire week!  So many conversations with old and new friends.  I haven't seen so many priests and bishops in one place since I was in Rome on my honeymoon.  While I didn't come down here to talk about the apostolate, that's what I've been doing.  I talked to Todd Cooper from the archdiocese about developments since we last talked and he invited me to the annual meetings on both prison and homeless ministry.  Meagan should also probably join me given her background.

I also briefed Archbishop Sample on our efforts as well as the revival of St. Paul Street Evangelization.  I was happy to pass on the news that street evangelization in Portland has more than doubled in the last year, in terms of people doing it as well as hours spent on the street.  Thanks be to God!  When he pressed me on why I don't evangelize downtown, I explained that we largely evangelize where we live (NE and SE).  Then I joked that I'll be evangelizing for thirty more years and I will eventually get to downtown.  He laughed and said that he'll be bishop here even longer, "Thirty two years till retirement age!"  I assured him "No, you'll get kicked upstairs."  He rolled his eyes and replied, "Not with what's going on in the Vatican."  I countered, "Pope Sarah will promote you."  He gave me a weary look as if to say, "We won't be so blessed."  Needless to say I didn't tell him that I had a prophetic experience of that fact a couple years ago.  If I told him that he would have marked me out as a loon!  Well, God bless the loons!

Then I gently lobbied Archbishop Sample (with the help of a wonderful Catholic psychiatrist) for him to extend an invitation to Mother Miriam (the former Rosalind Moss) and her sisters to re-locate to Portland.  Mother Miriam had e-mailed me a day or two before the conference to say that she was coming to the conference and that Portland was her "first choice" to re-locate her Daughters of Mary.  My friends and I were thrilled at the prospect, and we quietly sent word out for everyone to storm heaven with prayers for a favorable resolution.  The charism of Mother Miriam's community would be perfect for Portland.  They work to strengthen the Christian family, and they are active on the streets in their long flowing Benedictine habits.  We know many prostitutes and others who would be delighted to spend time with the sisters. I've been incessantly bugging their patron, St. Francis de Sales, to tickle Archbishop Sample's ear.  Mother Miriam is hopeful, and the signs are favorable.  Actually, she took an e-mail from me was a sign, because out of the blue I notified them that a reliquary of St. Francis de Sales would be arriving from Belgium.  I sent the e-mail right before she was slated to come here to Portland.  She thought, "Wow, that can't be a coincidence".  Well, I hope God is using me without my knowledge!

Mother Miriam holding her vows

The Daughters of Mary have promised to pray for all those we meet on the streets, and so have the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa.  I first met them five years ago in San Rafael, and now again at the conference.  I'm sure they will remember to pray for our friends on the streets, because I gave their Mother Superior a relic and the postulator general's document of her namesake: Marie of Lourdes, that is, St. Bernadette Soubirous (Bernadette's religious name was Sr. Marie Bernard).  Only providence could have made me bring the items to the conference, and only the Holy Spirit could have convinced me to surrender it.  It's all in a good cause.  Relics freely given away are twice as powerful as relics kept for one's own devotion.  Mother Marie of Lourdes did urge us to commend our most difficult cases (the heroin addicts) to Mary, our Mother in Heaven.  I think Chris and Meagan have been doing that all along, zealously handing out Miraculous Medals and rosaries.  I was too dull-minded to fully grasp that until Mother Marie mentioned it.  Thanks be to God.  I featured the Marian Sisters in a photo in this old blogpost.

I enlisted yet more help in prayer by talking to Tom, a spiritual "son" of Blessed Charles de Foucauld.  I first met Tom at the Catholic Men's Conference last December.  I wrote in this blogpost how divine love gently burst from the relic on my chest when I saw Tom kneeling after communion.  Tom is drawn to the apostolate, and I practically begged him to offer prayers for our friends as he attends daily mass.  Tom also shared a heartfelt story of finding reconciliation with his parents before they passed on.  They had been estranged from each other for some time, and by God's grace the wounds were able to be bound up.  There's a lesson there for all of us.  Division is always of the Devil, and we must ruin the Devil's work.  It doesn't matter where the fault lies in a split.  The Christian must always be the peacemaker, even if they absorb more blows while making peace.  For my part, I regret the times in the past when I've been distant from my own father.  My three siblings have distanced themselves from Dad since Mom's death last year.  I'd sooner jump in a pot of boiling oil than join them in that split.  I love my siblings and we get along great, but Mom is not pleased with their separation as she rests in Christ.

Finally, we have some manly bishops at this conference.  Both Archbishop's Vasa and Cordileone communicate real strength and solidity by their very presence.  You can't fake that and you can't manufacture it.  They are simply men "who will not be moved", as the old Baptist hymn has it.  I expect both Archbishop Sample and Archbishop Cordileone will be cardinals in the next ten years.  Deo Gratias!  When I saw Cardinal Burke process into mass the other day, I was worried that age and work had caught up to him.  But he was merely jet-lagged and regained his vigor as the conference wore on. He is such a humble man, and one who is completely misunderstood by a hostile press.  As I watched him walk far behind the train of priests and bishops, as if a man forgotten, I was reminded of a passage from St. Paul:

"For it seems that God has put us apostles at the end of the line.  We have been made a spectacle to the entire world, both angels and men."  I Corinthians 4:9

Meagan and the great Marie B. from 40 Days for Life with their hero, Cardinal Burke.

Monday, July 10, 2017

On The Road Again & An Ave Maria

This week is the Sacred Liturgy Conference in rural Medford, Oregon.  I'm delighted that Archbishop Sample chose beautiful southern Oregon for the conference site.  I'll be in attendance, and I urge anyone who reads this blog to flag me down if they see me there.  Meagan will also make her way down there, perhaps with Marie B. from 40 Days For Life. The conference has sold out twice (the second time after they secured more conference space), and Chris wasn't able to get a ticket.  Aside from such headliners as Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Vasa, and our own ordinary, Archbishop Sample, I've heard that other luminaries will be present (Archbishop Cordileone, Mother Miriam OSB and the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel's Hope).  I have a feeling it will be a tremendous crowd of faithful Catholics.  Prepare to be blown away!

I'll be a little late to the conference because I'm stopping in Eugene (the home of the University of Oregon) to do a little street evangelization with Dave.  Eugene is Oregon's least-churched city, so it should be interesting...

A photo of Meagan talking to Dave. Felix is in the background.

We will be manning a display table again at the upcoming Catholic Men's Conference in Mt. Angel in October. Thanks again to the organizer, James Thurman.

For those who wonder how traditional liturgy intersects with street evangelization, let me share a brief anecdote.  The other day Chris and I wanted to walk a quiet area so we could pray for all of the people we've met, and so we could replenish our souls with prayer.  In truth, we were hoping to avoid running into anyone, but God had other plans of course. As we walked a backstreet praying the rosary in Latin (yes, we are funny), we stopped to chant the last Ave of the decade.  Somehow we didn't see a woman walking her dog across the street.  After we finished she surprised us by remarking how beautiful our harmony was.  She talked of how her late mother loved Latin, and learned the language to aid in her study of botany (plant names are codified in Latin).  She recalled how sad her mother was, when in her 90s, her Latin began to fail.  Then she told us of how her Catholic husband (she is Episcopalian) had died of liver cancer four months before at the age of 52.  The priest from Christ the King parish (just down the street) had visited the home to anoint him.  She happily accepted a rosary, and shared with us her beautiful, strong reflections on sorrow and coping with death.  She described how her husband had taught her what real Christian love is.  She has a deep faith, and a Catholic one in all the little details.  Unfortunately, her deceased husband's children (from his wayward youth) descended on the house in his last days and stole many things--including his ashes!  Please pray for her, her name is Heather.  Also, please pray for the adult children, one of whom is a heroin addict (very common nowadays).

It is doubtful that we ever would have met Heather if we had not been singing in Latin.  It was also evident that Mary had sent us as a little gift of consolation to Heather.  Heather really needed someone to talk to that day.  This is what we were chanting:

Finally, please pray for Chris who is discerning changes to his occupation and housing situation.  He needs the peace that comes from being lifted up in prayer.

Also, you might offer a quick prayer that I find my relic of Blessed Charles de Foucauld.  It has gone missing, and I haven't a clue.