Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hold Fast To The Cross

Whenever someone decides to join us for the first time I try to ease them into it by choosing a quieter walk.  Thus, when Chris, Jeff and I walked together for the first time we decided to walk SE 122nd since it would give us an opportunity for deep prayer.  Or so I had hoped.  Instead, it was an assault on the senses and it took us nearly two hours to complete our rosary in Latin.  I never did slip into a spirit of prayer, and Jeff was a little stunned, and said, "I can't believe this is Portland.  It's like we're in some alternative universe.  There is just so much pain out here."  Jeff was able to digest the madness (including the motorist who stopped and asked us if priests were still raping altar boys), and joined us again last weekend.

Amidst the dysfunction was a transcendent moment of beauty and even holiness.  As we walked by a little field between two multi-story buildings, our friend Andrew emerged running to greet us.  We had met Andrew a few weeks before in the same spot, and I was relieved that the police had not rousted him from his little hide-away.  I immediately noticed there was something child-like in the way he ran and welcomed us.  Then as he stood before us I couldn't take my eyes off the rosary he wore around his neck.  I had given him the sturdy, full-size rosary the last time we met, complete with large wooden beads and a thick plastic crucifix.  Here is a photo of the rosary.

Only now the crucifix had changed.  The cross had become worn down in the shape of a hand.  I stared at the crucifix struggling for understanding.  Andrew had gripped the cross with such constancy over the last few weeks that he had worn the color off the plastic!  I gathered my thoughts as he showed us some novelty currency he was given: old bills of Ho Chi Minh and other Asian despots.  Then I asked, "Andrew, you're Korean, right?"  He happily nodded.  "And Catholic?"  He smiled and nodded again.  Then I asked if he ever thought about going to mass at the nearby Korean parish.  He gave a gentle shrug with a hint of embarrassment.  I didn't press the issue.  As we took our leave, I left with a sense of awe and even shame.  Andrew leaned heavily on our Lord, holding fast to the cross amidst homelessness and a touch of mental illness.

I have never gripped the crucifix in such a way, and Andrew's dedication blew us all away.  God has often chosen his prophets and saints from men like Andrew.  I joked to Jeff and Chris that I better stay right with the Lord, or God will give Andrew words for me the next time we meet.  I couldn't bear the thought of that correction.  Poor Jesus!

I'm sorry that Andrew is either too embarrassed or uncomfortable to attend mass, but the truth is that the parish needs him more than he needs them.  I pray that he'll find a home at the nearby Church of the Korean Martyrs.  In the meantime, I'm going to have Meagan give him one of the large crucifixes she gets free from this apostolate in Naples, Florida.  Bless the men from Families for Christ for making and giving away these strong, wooden crucifixes.

In the second part of this post, I'll relate the story of Melvin, a homeless man we met on the same walk who could rhapsodize and quote scripture like a revivalist preacher.

In the meantime, enjoy the collage that Jeff made:

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Busy Weekend

This weekend I had the pleasure of walking the streets for three days in a row.  It's given me another taste of what this apostolate would be like if I were able to pursue it full time.  On Saturday, Chris and I walked a a bike and pedestrian path near SE 92nd where there are lots of homeless tents.  We distributed all of our water and Gatorade within 150 yards of entering the path, and many people drank them in sixty seconds or less.  They were truly famished for drink which is typical for people on the streets.  One of the tent sites resembled a bacchanal as an attractive young woman in a tiny bikini frolicked playfully among friends who were mostly drunk or high.  I told Chris. "I'm grateful she's not my type, otherwise I'd be done for."  Later down the path was a giant mural across the back of a Boys and Girls Club.  The mural is shockingly pagan, featuring pre-Christian deities, pagan priests and the Buddha.  In some ways Chris and I felt like St. Boniface or St. Patrick, bringing Christ to the pagan tribes.  Such is Portland, Oregon.  On a happy note, we did give away more rosaries and prayer cards then we ever have before.

Jesus is Lord!  Jesus is everything.  He is the desire of the everlasting hills. By contrast, Psalm 95 tells us, "All the gods of the gentiles are demons."

On Sunday, Jeff, Chris and I did our usual walk from The Grotto along NE 82nd.  A kind woman named 'Virginia' who completed RCIA a few years ago was anxious to talk to us, and snapped the photo below in The Grotto parking lot.  She asked for our prayers to warm her son's heart, so that he might come back to her and share the joys of his tiny children. The son's name is Peter Joseph, and he prefers to focus on his work and his little family while more or less ignoring his mother.  Please pray that he re-unites with his mother, Virginia.  We then had the usual walk along 82nd, though it was 95 degrees and the street people were all hiding at Montavilla park under trees or in their sweltering tents.  Some asked where we had been, since we have been away walking other parts of the city.

Today I walked with Meagan up Burnside past the archdiocesan chancellory office.  We walked by the archdiocesan headquarters as a kind of lark since Archbishop Sample had asked why we don't walk closer to the city center.  Well, here we are, just like you asked!

I have several compelling stories to share from our time on the streets, and I hope to write about them in the coming weeks...

Yours truly, Scott Woltze, with Jeff and Chris at The Grotto

Friday, August 18, 2017

News And Notes: Meagan Has A Blog!

I am continually surprised and gratified by Meagan's resilience and whole-hearted devotion to the faith.  She has planted herself firmly and tenderly at the side of our Lord in the Eucharist, and is healed and renewed each day at mass and adoration.  When she's not in church, or street evangelizing, or taking college courses, or taking care of her two year-old son, she is creating a website and blog.  It's now up and running, and I encourage you to check it out.  She's posted her conversion story and will write about her street evangelization adventures and life in the faith.  Her life story is so compelling, and so many need hope for their own children lost in addiction and crime, that we'll try to get her on The Journey Home television program.

Meagan taking a selfie (ha ha) before the image we wear

The image of the Sacred Heart that we wear was popularized by the Vendees in their revolt against the demonic French Revolution.  Blessed Charles de Foucauld embraced the image as his own, and he was very proud of France's history as the "eldest daughter of the Church".  He desired nothing more than for France to rise up and reclaim her faith, the faith of Sts. Joan of Arc and King Louis, and he would even invoke Charlemagne.  Or so he wrote in a private letter that I read that was up for auction last year.  In that same manly spirit, Cardinal Sarah has issued his own summons for France to rise from her filth, and become "spiritual Vendeans" against "the lie of atheistic ideology."  It is a rousing homily to say the least.  If you've somehow missed it, please read it now!

Our own St. Stephen's parish is hoping to bring in Fr. Lawrence Carney for a parish mission.  I've written about Fr. Carney on several occasions, and I even sent his street evangelization book to Archbishop Sample.  It should be arriving today, along with a note asking for His Excellency's blessing for the mission.  Our pastor thinks his blessing is important, and upon reflection, I believe it will guarantee the mission's success.  After all, this apostolate only took off after I knelt before Archbishop Sample and received his blessing for myself and the apostolate.

A couple of days ago I celebrated the 100th anniversary of the death of military chaplain Fr. Willie Doyle SJ at the Ypres front during World War I.  Here is a wonderful website dedicated to him, and you can read a quick article about him here by K. V. Turley.  It boggles the mind that he has not been beatified.  Here is a short anecdote by his brother (also a Jesuit) who recalls how Fr. Doyle's holiness shown out from his face, intriguing those who passed by.  I can't think of a better way to evangelize than by simply radiating the divine life of Christ.

"Willie and I were dining at Melrose one evening.  I arrived first, and I was looking out of the drawing room. when I saw Willie coming up the drive.  I can still see his face as he came towards the house.  It had an expression of sweetness, brightness and holiness that was quite astonishing.  During the last time that he was on leave from the Front, he came down to Limerick where I was stationed.  We went for a walk together.  Coming home, we met a number of people walking...As each couple or party came near us, I noticed all eyes became fixed on Willie with a curiously interested and reverential expression.  I stole a glance at him.  His eyes were cast down, and upon his face was the same unearthly look of sweetness and radiance I had seen on it that evening years before at Melrose."

Fr. Willie Doyle.  I love you, my brother.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

God Is Strange And Funny

At the inaugural mass of the Sacred Liturgy Conference, I was overcome with a sweet zeal to evangelize the streets, especially amongst the most neglected.  I felt I had to begin as soon as possible, starting with the streets of Medford in the downtown park.  The desire was so pure and otherworldly, that it was a taste of the Holy Charity that St. Francis reverently spoke of.  Or perhaps it was like the call of the priests who joined the foreign missions.  Yet I never did walk the streets of Medford, nor was it God's plan that I do so.  Then when I returned from the conference I brought back bed bugs with me. Then I vomited a gallon of water and bile from my bad stomach.  For the next three weeks I hardly evangelized as I battled acid reflux (made worse by two GI surgeries from ten years ago) and various family commitments.

What a strange series of events.  Jesus had incited me with a holy invitation to walk after him, and then took it away. What a tease!  I suppose he did the same to the Little Flower and many other saints, kindling a passion for the missions and then inviting them to find His peace at home.  Perhaps that's why the Little Flower is always smiling, a jokester like her Heavenly Father.  Whenever I see her statue in The Grotto chapel I have to suppress laughs, and the thought of her always makes me smile.

St. Therese was not syrupy and sentimental, but very funny.

The unpredictability of God, and the myriad ways in which he humbles us and reworks us should elicit our humor.  From our perspective--with our limited knowledge--God is often bizarre.  He has unlimited power, and yet stays out of sight letting our mad world run it's course.  He lets the "good and the great" (politicians, academics, scientists, artists, celebrities, financiers, tech tycoons) defame Him and his holy ways, and yet He preserves His silence.  He prefers to work through nobodies, and even the most wretched.  The Twelve Apostles were essentially regular guys except John, whose brilliance was obscured by his youth.  Only the Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul, was the greatest student of the greatest rabbi (Gamaliel).  I have written here and here how God used an ex-con drug dealer and a drunk to "school me" in my spiritual life.  God is strange like that.

The saints are strange because they are conformed to Christ.  Recently there has been a movement to emphasize the ordinariness of the saints.  That is to be expected in a democratic age where all distinctions are leveled out.  But the saints are not ordinary, and in Heaven they will be glorified far beyond us, and yet they will be our intimate brothers and sisters.  The saints were extraordinary because they felt naked without their cross, because they recoiled from praise, because they were gratified by criticism and trials.  That is about the furthest thing from ordinary!  St. Crispin of Viterbo, a holy Capuchin brother, thanked God for a cranky nun who always abused him with words.  Everyone else in Orvieto and beyond revered him, including popes and bishops, but he wanted none of that.  He would say of the nun, "Praise God that there is one woman in Orvieto who knows me and treats me as I deserve."

The saints didn't mind being humiliated, and the first Franciscans even sought out opportunities to be humiliated.  Saints are mindful of their faults and often play them up and keep their weakness ever before them.  By contrast, we go through life like it is a job interview.  We hide and downplay our weaknesses, and perhaps even lie about them.  Meanwhile, we exaggerate our strengths and talents and present ourselves as competent and in-charge.  But that's no way to get anywhere in the spiritual life, and it's a farce to our God who sees right through us.  It is better to be forthright and laugh about our child-like dependence on God.  We are dependent, whether we know it or not!

My favorite Jesuit, Fr. Hugh Thwaites SJ was once crossing the Channel on a boat with priests to lead a retreat.  It was time to turn in for the night, and Fr. Thwaites went one way and the priests went another.  Two of the priests took to joking about Fr. Thwaites in their cabin, and the ribbing went on for over an hour.  They mimicked his lilting voice, and joked about his mannerisms and the way he'd spent large sums of money to give out rosaries in grungy Brixton.  Unbeknownst to the priests, Father Thwaites lay in his own cabin just to the back of their cabin, serenely listening to every word.  The following morning Fr. Thwaites's cabin-mate tore into the two priests and they went shame-faced to confession with the one they had mocked (though they mostly mocked in good humor).  Fr. Thwaites listened to the confessions with perfect disinterest and remarked, "Well, I suppose I am a bit silly."

Fr. Thwaites SJ, a silly soldier for Christ

Recently someone whom I respect but have never met characterized me in conversation as "The guy who made his own habit".  Ouch!  It was a wry remark, and who knows if it was intended as a criticism.  My immediate reaction was to defend the tunic we wear because it is not a habit and it is indispensable to the ministry.  We only mix in the worst places and can talk to prostitutes any hour of the day because we are obviously not participants in whatever criminal activity is around us. It is not a habit, but a uniform solely for evangelization.  It simply announces who we are: a public sign of the Church and an apostle of Christ's love. Once my zeal cooled I came to see the remark as funny and useful.  It is ridiculous to make a tunic and wear it about town.  Once at Drinks With Dominicans (Theology On Tap), I gave a short speech about the apostolate, hoping to recruit other men. When I held up my tunic Fr. Stephen Maria Lopez OP jumped in his seat with his eyes in dismay.  The tunic seemed longer than it actually is since it wasn't worn across my large frame, and Fr. Lopez saw it as an imitation "habit".  Fr. Kelber, the prior at Holy Rosary, immediately placed his hand on Fr. Lopez's hand and gave a quick shake of the head for him not to interfere.  I've since wondered at the immediate conviction of Fr. Kelber, especially since he would be the first priest to stop laymen from confusing clerical roles.  It had to be a work of grace.  In any event, I now joke about myself as "the guy who made his own habit."

We have fun on the streets in our ridiculous way.  I recently pulled a prank on some "beautiful people" who were being a bit too cute about our rolling cooler with the "Free Drinks" sign.  They sat in their car waiting for the light to turn, and kept interrupting my conversation with Sheila, an emaciated meth addict.  Sheila was telling me about the Morning Offering prayer that she and her friend Joe make, while the "beautiful people" mock-pleaded, "Can I have a free drink?  Can I have a free drink?" Finally I said, "You don't need any of our drinks, you're all dressed up and in an air-conditioned car."  They whined, "Oh c'mon, c'mon" clearly feeling superior to us fools in tunics.  Then I flatly declared "Are you going to The Grotto for a wedding." They turned white in shock, stammering, "How did you know that?  How could you know that?"  I triumphantly bellowed, "Because I'm a PROPHET brother!"  Then they sped off, still in dismay.  God had shaken them up and given them something to think about. He was having a bit of fun with them.  Obviously I'm not a prophet, but I only made an educated guess based on seeing other "beautiful people" at The Grotto setting up for a wedding.

Later in the day we walked into Burgerville to get some food for us and our homeless friends.  A young cashier stood at the back counter with her manager, and gave us an icky look of disapproval.  She said, "I'll let YOU, wait on THEM."  The middle-aged female manager came up to the counter, weathered beyond her years, probably once homeless or an addict.  I cheerfully stepped forward and asked, "Do you serve freaks here?"  She laughed, and replied, "I hope so.  Half my employees are freaks."  The young cashier looked non-plussed with her pink hair and skin covered in tattoos.

Perhaps my favorite moment at the Sacred Liturgy Conference was sitting at a table with Meagan and Marie Barzen shortly before it was time to drive back to Portland.  We all surrendered to infectious laughter, marveling at what pathetic lives God has given us, yet He has left us so greatly blessed.  We each spend our precious free time amongst the most miserable people around: women going into Planned Parenthood, amidst homeless and prostitutes, sometimes in abandoned drug houses.  Yet we are exactly where we should be.  It is bizarre, and the bizarre often makes us laugh, especially when it is accompanied by a deep realization that we stand on solid ground.  We have joy because we are in Christ, and nothing else matters save our own cooperation with the Father's plan.