We need saints that aren’t afraid to be different. We need saints that don’t fit some pre-conceived notion of holiness or some humanly orchestrated mold of perfection. We need saints that aren’t afraid to live in the paradox of Christianity, the kind of saints that don’t just pass over suffering, but instead choose to faithfully live through it. We need saints that love their families, however dysfunctional they may seem to be. We need saints that aren’t afraid to be misunderstood or forgotten, and yet understand the pain of Christ when they do feel this way. We need saints who are free to laugh until their sides hurt or to cry until they can’t cry anymore. We need saints who refuse to rob from others the gift of joy or the gift of suffering, the kinds of saints who live faithfully in the mess of a broken humanity won over ultimately by Love Himself. We need saints who aren’t afraid to be weak in the eyes of the world while silently building up the world by their prayers and faithfulness in their everyday lives. We need saints who aren’t afraid to let prayer and play or prayer and work exist as one and the same. We need saints who have their own likes and dislikes, even when they differ from those closest to them. We don’t need another St. Therese or St. John of the Cross, but instead we need the saints that have been created for this time and place in history. We need saints who allow their relationship with the Lord to be the lens through which they see the world, others, and even themselves. We need saints who are simply trying to be exactly who they are. We need saints who are fully alive! …saints who embrace the Sacramentality of the present moment: whether that’s running in the rain, watching the sunrise, eating s’mores, singing your newborn baby to sleep, or simply washing dishes or driving kids to soccer practice for the hundredth time. We need saints who aren’t afraid to learn from children how to see everything as new and beautiful, even the most mundane of activities. We need saints who realize that they stand on the shoulders of giants, constantly being strengthened by the prayers of silent, hidden saints throughout the world. We need saints who are not afraid to be found broken in their weakness. We need saints who are courageous enough to be humble and to offer the gift of themselves tirelessly without ever seeing or understanding the end of such a gift. In all, we need saints who are authentic, who are exactly who and what they’ve been created to be. We need saints who aren’t afraid to be fully human. We need saints.
We need saints who know what it’s like to go through doubt.
Who delight in Chi tea lattes
Who get a thrill out of the first wind-chill of Fall
And who get goosebumps during the national anthem or a good musical score.
We need saints who like the occasional red lipstick, beautiful stationary and ominous clouds
Saints who are giddy to lay in a hammock and read a good novel (Jane Austen) and who really appreciate a good margarita (on the rocks with salt)
Saints who get invigorated by small things like inhaling the air of a good thunder storm.
We need saints who want to live, really live and have a thirst for knowledge and the truth.
We need saints who are adventurous…who jump off rocks and swim at night.
We need Saints who have experienced the strength and freedom of knowing Christ…who stare at the Eucharist for hours and ask real questions, tough questions.
We need saints who think big, who feel big and are not afraid to speak their mind…but also are eager to listen.
We need saints who strive to be humble servants of the truth, whether they like it or not and whether it’s trendy or not.
Saints who are searching, who are at times secure and confident and at other times lost and confused.
We need saints who have been on the brink of despair that comes with loss and abandonment and saints who have experienced the restful peace that comes with being held in the palm of His hand.
We need saints who live in reality, who know themselves. Saints who do not downplay their strengths or exaggerate their weaknesses so as to be “humble” but see themselves as they truly are. Saints who are not afraid to step up when they can and not afraid to ask for help when they need it.
Saints who often curse but more often confess, saints who are sinners but are not defined by it because they know the mercy of the Father.
We need saints who fall…constantly. But know that God will always pick them back up.
We need saints who are terrified to let go and trust but even MORE terrified never try.
We need saints who surrender (sometimes with peaceful joy and sometimes only after they fight, kick and scream).
We need saints who describe their spiritual journey as “a bit of a doozy”
We need saints who finally give in and completely submit to everything life hands them…not in an attitude of defeat or despair…but who live everyday with the knowledge that no matter what life hands them, they are unconditionally loved, uniquely, deeply and truly, by God. And who know that nothing–no amount of suffering or anguish–can take away the joy that comes with fully realizing that truth.
Arise, O Sleeper, Awake from your dreamy state
For what’s at stake is your soul
And you have a decision to make
Eternal life or eternal death,
In the end it’s all that’s left
So what will it be?
You are free
To choose to deal with the joys and the strife’s of this life
In two different ways
You can offer up to Him or throw ‘em all away
I know it is hard to hear
And on the ear of the heart its a little tough
But I got the best news for you and that is “God is Love”
“I want you” he says, no this ain’t Uncle Sam
But the Paschal Lamb,
Who revealed Himself to Moses as “I Am who I Am”
The Church who is our Mother
Is calling you my sisters and brothers
To become holy solely out of Love
for the One who was high in heavens
Yet stooped down to the lowly
He is calling the youth
to labor for the truth
To let their mouths be open wide, tongues untied
not to be shy but let flow the Spirit
So that everyone can hear it
And again from the young, it must be sung
The great gift that life is
Whether you pick up trash or work in the show biz
He is calling for authentic families
Moms, dads, grandpas and grannies
to make the home a place of love and of peace
Where the incense of offering smells like bacon grease
From being a cook to reading a book to your kids
Even when you’re tired
and not complaining when you hear
“Honey, change that smelly poopy diaper”
It’s in the little things, the soul loudly sings
The praises of the Lord
Producing a sweet melody
Of a humble fiat of “Let it be”
He is calling for a permeation
A going out to all nations
From the crooks and crannies of society
To even medical doctor’s lobby
Preaching by our lives the mercy of the Almighty
He is calling us all to be bold
The young and the old
To let the story be told
That Christ is Risen
As all the bells forever toll
For this ain’t a matter of going hard or going home
Giving all that we can
In loyal service to the God-Man
Arise, O Sleeper awake from your faint
it’s time to shine Christ’s light, its time to be a saint!
Over the next several days, I am going to give voice to the wonderful and insanely talented seminarians and M.A. students in my class on the “Spirituality of the Laity for the Parish Priest.”
After we spent several weeks carefully reading Pope John Paul II’s masterful magna carta of the lay vocation, Christifidelis laici, I asked them to re-write the popular “We Need Saints” piece that lit up the internet during World Youth Day this summer (though it was mis-attributed to Popes Francis, Benedict and John Paul; see here). Though the original reflection had some really great thoughts in it, I believed it could be improved by my class.
I was not disappointed.
So enjoy each day over the next several their heartfelt and powerful renditions of We Need Saints, their fresh vision of canonizable lay saints that we so desperately need in our Church. I pray that those of you reading these reflections will become the saints my students passionately envision…
We Need Saints for the Modern Age
We need saints for the modern age
A witness on the world’s stage
Knowing their dignity
Rooted in their identity
And willing to live it with integrity
Whether at home, work, school, church, bar
The ones who with friends don’t forget who they are
Those who are the athletes and freaks
those too shy or unwilling to speak
those who have fallen on hard times
or on whom the light always shines
We need saints who are sold out for the Church’s mission
and our faith is not merely a condition
Life that is truly lived, an authentic witness
Becomes the means by which the culture will be blessed
We need saints who recognize life as a gift from above
who the Gospel in faces does not shove
but live it as an authentic, witness of love
which screams a message that the world desires to hear
and hearts receive it loud and clear
It brightens the darkness of sin
and comes bringing the person to change within
The fruit comes from the way they live their life
that like a sharp edged knife
cuts this secular heart of stone
that makes the most passionate a slave, a drone
We need saints from all walks of life
ready and willing to endure the Christian’s strife
Whether man or woman, priest or lay
the world intimately desires what we have to say
Mass Sunday or daily, saint or sin
our Church desires the modern-day Augustine
along with today’s Therese, Frassati, Gianna, or Kolbe
and this is the witness the world needs
because Catholic is not accepted in the public square
the cross for our generation to bear
and live in light of the enemy’s snare
We need saints who mount the cross with open arms
for the one who against us bears arms
The Church ﬂourishes from the martyrs’ blood
because of a Christ who redeemed the ﬁgure of mud
Disobeyed in a garden and the cancer of that fault spread
to all who were born and remained dead
Hope was restored by a man on a cross
but it was not life that was lost
but so much that was gained
and He looks down upon us as He reigns
In Him, we ﬁnd our identity on truth
as we enter into this relationship ever new
We need saints ready and willing to encounter
as it is secularism that we counter
Persons not willing to give into the immature games of this world
like focusing so much on what I can take from this man or that girl
They hunger for truth held by the Church, our Mother
who unconditionally loves sister and brother
no matter what may be their favorite vice,
the fundamental goal remains eternal life.
We go into ﬁeld for the smell of the ﬂock
and until ALL come home, the mission doesn’t stop
Liar or thief, rich or poor
A saintly pope said for us to open the door
Cradle or convert, woman or man
At the Celebration we all kneel and stand
Healthy or sick, old or young,
with conversion; the Heavenly Alleluia is sung
We need saints who are willing to be small
The life of a teenage woman for all
The Immaculate Conception
The image of creation’s perfection
See in her an enfleshed example
Her total fiat as a sample
The first disciple of her Son
Crushing its head, she over the serpent won.
She lived her interior life from the start
And pondered all within her heart
But it would be pierced by a sword
As she witnessed the sacrifice of our Lord
She is the model of our lives
As the Incarnation also fuels us from the inside
We need saints of the world that is lived in
but those who are focused on Heaven as their end
Paradox: submit everything in order to be free
And here the world becomes who it was created to be
We need saints who will follow their Good Shepherd afar
So Catholic is not what we do, but who we are!
This past Sunday’s psalm contains a lovely line that’s easy to overlook:
Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands;
serve the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
Joy is such an important and under-emphasized dimension of a healthy Christian life (though see Martin’s popular book), something that is, in many ways, the sign of Christian faith, especially in the midst of trials (cf. James 1:2-4). Joy, as I loosely define it, is the delight of hope in a God who loves us; and who loves us not only as God, but as a man-with-us, walking with us into our darkest dungeons, all the while setting before us His joy (cf. Hebrews 12:2).
I remember that one of the Missionaries of Charity told me once, when I worked with them as a volunteer at an AIDS hospice, “Bring cheer to these men. They have enough gravity in their life already. Your job is to make them feel lighter, to lift them higher so they’re closer to God.”
One of the great patrons of Christian joy and humor is the 16th century Italian saint, fool for Christ, Philip Neri. He was a riot! Whether he was drop-kicking a cardinal’s hat, kicking soccer balls around the streets of Rome in his tattered cassock, or making it known that joke books were his favorite books along with the Bible, Neri believed excessive mirth was a necessary sign of salvation in a Church made overly dour by a heavy piety.
But his joy was not just natural mirth. It sprang from his intimacy with God, whose joy and delight in man burst into the world in Bethlehem. A particular mystical experience in St. Philip’s life highlights this divine wellspring of his joy.
Antonio Gallonio, St. Philip’s first biographer tells us:
It was habitual with Philip to pray each day to the Holy Spirit, and with great humility to ask Him for His gifts and graces. [In 1544], the saint suddenly felt himself divinely filled with the power of the Spirit with such force that his heart began to palpitate within his body and to be inflamed with such love that, his nature being unaccustomed to such a palpitation of the heart, he indicated that he was completely unable to bear it.
According to the testimony of Pietro Consolini, a special confidante of Philip’s last years, Philip saw a ball of fire enter into his mouth and then felt his breast expand over his heart. The sensation of inner fire was so strong that Philip threw himself onto the ground and cried out,
Enough, Lord, enough! I cannot take anymore!
“I cannot take anymore!” I love St. Philip, sign of the ebullient excessiveness of divine love.
This great feast of St. Francis leaves any and all who wish to say something meaningful about this saint with a bit of paralysis. Where to begin, and how to capture a saint of such magnitude with a spirit so elusive? G. K. Chesterton, in his brilliant and must-read biography of St. Francis, best captures this elusiveness in his description of Francis living iconography of the Gospel:
He was a poet whose whole life was a poem. He was not so much a minstrel merely singing his own songs as a dramatist capable of acting the whole of his own play. The things he said were more imaginative than the things he wrote. The things he did were more imaginative than the things he said. His whole course through life was a series of scenes in which he had a sort of perpetual luck in bringing things to a beautiful crisis.
Clearly, our present Pontiff made the ground-breaking decision to take St. Francis’ name in order to assume the momentum, as so many already have, of Il Poverello’s foolish reform-model. More specifically, Pope Francis appears to have not only taken up Chesterton’s portrait of St. Francis as God’s dramatic minstrel, but as God’s mad artist bent on splashing the Christian and non-Christian imagination with flying globs of brightly hued paint absconded from the Gospels. In fact, when someone recently showed me the video of an artist wildly painting an indiscernible portrait (click here), I thought: That’s Francis! What’s he doing?!
There’s way too much to say, but I will bite off a minuscule portion of this art, prayerfully chew on it a bit and share here some of the cud. Mmm.
Miserando atque Eligendo
Pope Francis has clearly proffered himself as a “pope of mercy” (see John Allen on this), and (like his pastoral/PR style or not!) he’s determined to challenge the Church, and especially her ordained ministers, to unleash copious amounts of mercy’s perfumed oil on the still-suffering feet of Jesus’ pilgrim Body — “…the desire of our people [is] to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it.” (Francis’ Chrism Mass homily)
In the first of his two (one, two) recent, wildly controversial, off-the-cuff interview, Papa Francesco made the percipient point that the Church and her ministers must place mercy at the forefront of their God-given mission:
How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organizational reforms are secondary—that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.
Francis’ “pure Gospel” reform is a reformation of mercy that, Samaritan-like, compels other-Christs to daily descend toward fallen humanity, pressing near the dirt to hear each victim’s tale of being felled by robbers, attending to their mortal wounds, and traveling with them to the Field Hospital to ensure they are attended to until they reach full health.
This Samartian-esque descending is clearly what the “world’s parish priest” is trying to do daily and dramatically from Vatican hill.
Fair enough. But in our tradition, mercy must always be placed side by side with justice, or mercy simply becomes mere indulgence, right?
A few rough definitions. in Christian thought, mercy can be fittingly described as love encountering evil and overcoming it, while justice might be described as rendering to each what is his or her due. Though in the real world there can be dramatic and seemingly insoluble experiences of tension, mercy and justice need each other. Justice illumines, exposes and brings to just judgment the unjust and the evildoer, while mercy, grounded in justice, goes far beyond the demands of strict justice in its will to not simply expose and mete out to sinners what they justly deserve, but rather seeks to heal, pardon, reconcile, raise up humanity, even when that means that the mercy-giver has to himself fall victim to the criminal’s crimes. The Roman Canon makes this “over-riding mercy” point so eloquently when it asks God to look at our just “merits,” but to look on our supine state in mercy, “not weighing our merits, but granting us your pardon.”
Germain Grisez concisely phrased this Christian vision: In Jesus, mercy is the justice of God’s Kingdom.
While justice rightly calls out evildoers as justly banished exiles, mercy prodigally calls out to evildoers and invites them home. But even more than that — in Jesus’ supremely extreme version, mercy not only calls out but welcomes into itself the full-force of evil’s destructive and hateful fury as the necessary price of an intimate encounter (an insight I once shared in this blog that still sticks with me).
St. Francis’ extraordinarily successful ecclesial/social reform flowed from his own lived proclamation of a Gospel that inextricably entwined, after the pattern of Jesus Crucified, God’s all-pure justice with His all-messy mercy. Through St. Francis’ itinerant-beggar ministry, the image of a God dressed in rags, wandering about in the hovels and graveyards of the earth earnestly pleading with rebellious humanity to return to Him, tends to catch the eye.
Shakespeare weights in
As an aside, I have always found Shakespeare’s description of the mercy-justice dialectic in Portia’s Speech from the Merchant of Venice to be an apt expression of the Gospel-vision St. Francis sought to make known:
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.
In an effort to keep this blog mercifully short, and to avoid further temptations to wander aimlessly, I will leave you with two stories that highlight what mercy as a pastoral strategy might look like — one’s taken from the “flowers” of St. Francis, and the other from the Acts of a sainted African desert father, St. Moses the Black. Hopefully they make my point.
The first story occurs at the end of St. Francis’ life, when he is weak, going blind, and still bearing the painful and bleeding stigmata in his flesh. He is brought into a town to encounter in the public square a priest who is well known for his sexual exploits. In front of the righteously angry crowd, Francis is carried near the priest and, falling to his knees, reverently kisses the priests hand, saying,
All I know and all I want to know is that these hands give me Jesus…if it happened to me to meet any saint coming from heaven, and also a poor priest, I would first go kiss the priest’s hands, and would say to the saint: Holy saint, abide a while, for the hands of this priest have handled the Son of Life, and hath performed a thing above humanity.
This gesture of reverence, as the story goes, brought the profligate priest “at once” to his knees in tearful repentance and calmed the crowd’s ire.
Even as much as this story is a sign of Francis’ reverence for the dignity of sacarmental priesthood, it also bears a pastoral strategy of mercy that evinces a divinely naïve hope that every human being, no matter how far they have slumped into miry pit of evil, desires mercy — “divinely naïve” in the tradition of St. Catherine of Sinea’s image of God’s “mad and crazed” (pazzo d’amore, ebro d’amore) love for fallen man that seems, Catherine says, to be unaware to just how wicked, hard-hearted and ungrateful man is.
The other story from St. Moses, who entered the monastic life after abandoning a life of gang violence, alcoholism and crime, is a story dearly cherished in the wastelands of Egypt.
One day a monk had been caught in a particularly heinous sin, and the abbot asked St. Moses to come to the church and render judgment. He came reluctantly, carrying on his back a leaking bag of sand. When he arrived, the brothers asked him why he was carrying such a thing. He simply said,
This sand is my sins which are trailing out behind me, while I go to judge the sins of another.
At that reply, the brothers forgave the offender and returned to focusing on their own salvation rather than the sins of their brother.
As we find ourselves stirred, inspired, shaken and disturbed by Pope Francis’ messy interviews and off-script interactions, needfully sorting critically through the finer doctrinal and moral distinctions Catholics must always make (which the Pope, self-proclaimed sinner, would welcome!), keep in mind his canonized namesake’s imaginative and erratic methodology, as well as that of his Master, the “glutton and drunkard, friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
I will end by approvingly quoting a NY columnist’s recent take on Papa Francesco:
Francis sees the human within the theological, the person within the religious, the living, breathing, confused, confusing man or woman within the moral law.
As I recently had the privilege of offering to the seminarians a series of simple reflections on the “little way” of St. Thérèse, I was overwhelmed with new personal insights from my own talk preparations.
Please indulge me as I share some of that insight here.
At the heart of Thérèse’s little way is a twofold theological intuition: (1) human beings are inescapably weak, fragile, fractured and flawed to the core, and (2) the essence of God’s relationship with fallen humanity is marked by a fearsomely tender and restorative mercy that transforms our seemingly desperate plight of imperfection into the very occasion and means of our ultimate perfection.
I just love how God enjoys subverting evil by inverting its broken paradigms!
No Power, Know God
Let me allow Thérèse to express this with her characteristically direct and vivid language:
If God wants you to be as weak and powerless as a child, do you think your merit will be any less for that? Resign yourself, then, to stumbling at every step, to falling even, and to being weak in carrying your cross. Love your powerlessness, and your soul will benefit more from it than if, aided by grace, you were to behave with enthusiastic heroism and fill your soul with self-satisfaction.
Love your powerlessness! That’s a phrase that requires prayerful reflection and an orthodox interpretation.
Let me offer seven of my own mulled-over perspectives on this quote that will hopefully refract some of the beauty of Thérèse’s challenging vision:
1. All is grace. Our existence at every moment is sustained by God’s choice. Think on that in a quiet moment some time. When I was a small child, for whatever reason, I used to think frequently about God as Creator and then suddenly feel deep inside that I was on the precipice of non-existence (though I would never have said it that way, obviously). It was just a deep intuition that, I believe, was a grace that made me feel at once grateful for existing and timorous that the precipice was there at all. I remember the first time I read these words Jesus spoke to St. Catherine of Siena (in Capua’s biography) , I said, “That’s it! That’s exactly what I felt as a kid!”
My daughter, I am He Who Is, you are she who is not.
This truth also means that any good we do, any desire we have to pray during the day, any resolve we muster to repent or forgive, or any ray of hope that awakens us is but a response to God’s grace ever at work. In this sense, “loving our powerlessness” is simply a concrete existential reminder of the “contingency of being,” i.e. that any independence we enjoy is first grounded in our utter dependence on God.
2. Trust in God. Self-reliance, which here means making oneself to be the primal anchor of strength, achievement and security, is the mortal enemy of the spiritual life. On the other hand, acknowledging one’s deep-seated powerlessness is the beginning of trust in God; a trust calls forth from God the same outflow of redeeming power that rescued the Israelites from slavery, that healed the woman with the hemorrhage, and that raised Jesus from the grave.
3. It’s not about me. The self-absorbed and self-reliant person can only find in their weaknesses and sins an occasion for white-knuckled grasping, desperation or anger, while the self-less who “let go” of the need to control and manipulate reality and “let God” resolve their painful limits, find in their weaknesses and sins a joyous occasion for surrender, resignation or love. It’s the mindset that prompted St. Philip Neri to laugh as he exited the Confessional: “If I sin again, redemption again!” O felix culpa.
4. Humility. If powerlessness is inextricably entwined in our reality, and humility is truth, then embracing our powerlessness is an expression of, and impetus toward, growth in genuine humility. That said, for Thérèse such humility concomitantly gives rise to a startling boldness before the “good God,” who finds the childlike confidence of His little ones irresistible. In her words:
There is only one way to force the good God not to judge at all, and that is to present one’s self to Him with empty hands. When I think of this word: ‘I will soon come and I carry My reward with Me to give to each one according to his works’, I say to myself, He will be very embarrassed for me because I have no works. Well, He will have to give me according to His own works.
5. Reality. Christians are to be supreme realists, unafraid to stare harsh reality straight in the eye and call it what it is. And while it is God’s Truth that gives us the ruthless clarity of vision to peer with brutal honesty into reality, it’s God’s Mercy that gives us the prodigal trust to believe that in every wasteland is to be found a seedbed of hope. In fact, in the awful “dark night of faith” that Thérèse suffered near the end of her life, she wrote that God allowed her to eat the “bread of pain” at the “table full of bitterness where these poor sinners eat;” and to taste the real pain of the atheist’s blackest despair. Like Jesus himself, she, in a co-redemptive act of self-offering to divine mercy, consented to do what St. Silouan the Athonite once said was the supreme sign of holiness: “Keep your mind in hell, and despair not.” Thérèse was a Christian realist driven by the same love that drove God to the Cross.
6. To be forgiven much is to love much. Those who can surrender their sins and weaknesses into the embrace of God’s mercy are left with nothing but mercy. Hence, they have nothing left to offer others save that selfsame mercy. On this point, I recommend you read again some time the post I wrote on a woman who discovered what receiving mercy in this way really means; really costs.
7. Compassion. Thérèse is absolutely, unambiguously clear: those who have truly drunk deeply of the bitter dregs of their own wretchedness, and then taste the new wine of God’s infinite mercy, are the most compassionate and patient of all with the sins and faults and weaknesses of others. In the face of evil, their desire is not to damn, but to pardon; not to condemn, but to redeem; not to put to death, but to die for; not to wish suffering, but rather to suffer for and with.
I love Thérèse!
Let me leave you with a final gem from her autobiography:
It is needful to remain little before God and to remain little is to recognize one’s nothingness, expect all things from the good God just as a little child expects all things from its father; it is not to be troubled by anything, not to try to make a fortune. Even among poor people, a child is given all it needs, as long as it is very little, but as soon as it has grown up, the father does not want to support it any longer and says: “Work, now you are able to take care of yourself”. Because I never want to hear these words I do not want to grow up, feeling that I can never earn my living, that is, eternal life in heaven. So I have stayed little, and have no other occupation than of gathering flowers of love and sacrifice and of offering them to the good God to please Him.
As I was preparing the reading list in July for a class I was to teach at the seminary, Spirituality of the Laity for the Parish Priest, what became even more clear to me was this well-known truth: at the core of the lay vocation is the call to translate the vision of this world found in Catholic Social Teaching into the exigencies of life in every nation. This revivified insight made me wildly aware that these future priests, and the laity they will be called to love, must be deeply formed in this teaching.
It is at the heart of Vatican II’s teaching on the laity that the essence of the lay vocation/mission is to govern the ‘temporal order’ according to the will of God, which means that the core-path to holiness for the laity is to be wholly engaged in the ‘temporal duties’ secular world. Hence, the Council could even make so bold as to say that “the Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation” (GS 43).
Lay saints rejoice in the endless variety of mundane activities that characterize life “in the world,” and see in their faithful execution a “liturgy of life” by which all things around them can become a living sacrifice to God. The drudgery of work, the struggles of being an active part of a an increasingly non-Christian culture, the daily challenges of marriage and family life, the burdens of economic hardship, as well as the innumerable joys of sharing in the celebration and creation of the good things in one’s social/cultural world all constitute, for the lay Christian, the substance and summit of sanctity. The combined forces of heavenly faith and earthly labor together serve to crush both wheat and grape, preparing this world as gift to be taken up into God’s transforming Fire.
This means that if my participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy at my parish on Sunday does not lead me to discover in my weekday cubicle at work, or my kitchen at home, a glorious Cathedral, then I have failed to “discern the Body of Christ” in its fullness.
The laity’s spiritual keynote is found in the last phrase of the Mass of the Roman Rite, Ite, Missa est, ‘Go! Be sent.’
Or we might translate that Latin more accurately as Jersey friend of mine used to say it to me, ‘now git outta here and do’s somthin’ ’bout it!’
Solar Plexus Punch
As I was reading the endless articles and books written on Catholic social teaching and the lay vocation, I happened on an especially striking quote by Fr Robert Barron which I will share here to end my musings with a punch that knocked the wind out of me. And it fits perfectly with today’s Gospel:
Thomas Aquinas teaches that ownership of private property is to be allowed but that the usus (the use) of that privately held wealth must be directed toward the common good. This is because all of the earth and its goods belong, finally, to God and must therefore be used according to God’s purpose. Pope Leo XIII made this principle uncomfortably concrete when he specified, in regard to wealth, that once the demands of necessity and propriety have been met, the rest of what one owns belongs to the poor. And in saying that, he was echoing an observation of John Chrysostom: ” If you have two shirts in your closet, one belongs to you; the other belongs to the man who has no shirt.
I was reading this a.m. an article about the work of my favorite Eastern Father of the Church, St. Maximos the Confessor. He’s a ridiculously awesome theologian, monk, philosopher, ascetic, mystic and all-around serious saint. Had his tongue cut out and his right handed chopped off by command of a Christian Byzantine emperor for his defense of Christ’s full humanity, and in his trial he witnessed to the most remarkable (Thomas More-like) clarity, charity and serenity. So any and every time you honor the majesty of the full humanity that God made His own in Christ, thank St. Max for giving his hand and his tongue in service to the Truth-made-flesh.
But it was a particular Maximian insight that really stirred me today, one I have written of before, and I thought I would let you in on it (again!) as well.
Maximos has a marvelous vision of the uniqueness of each human person. He sees in each personal vocation the call to manifest a unique and infinitely beautiful facet of God’s human face — Christ! For Maximos, my life is as unique as the snowflake, marked by all the specific contours and colors, cracks and fissures that constitute my own life story. For Maximos, without each of our ‘vocation stories’ — i.e. our tiny part in the epic battle for the redemption of all creation — God’s glory is impoverished and the God-willed joy of the new creation is diminished.
There is, for Maximos, a marvelously creative tension that arises between the unity of the one God and the innumerably diverse appearances of his infinitely rich Being in each human life that exists for the praise of His glory. This is our “priestly” mission, to refract into the world the hidden splendor of the Creator, only then to turn back toward the Creator to offer Him that same world, now transformed by our labors, as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. For Maximos, humanity effects this sacrifice of God very practically and particularly by means of the virtues (e.g. humility, justice, mercy, charity) lived out by each person in their daily life’s specific circumstances, and by means of the Divine Liturgy, that nuptial nexus of divine and human co-laboring wherein we sweep the whole created order up to the glory and honor of the Creator, through-with-in Christ, in hands muddied by life’s toilsome work of tilling God’s unruly Garden.
But only what is offered back to God endures. All that we clutch and grasp in selfish, disobedient or desperate control will perish.
Treasure in Heaven
How astonishing is our dignity, how exalted is our calling, how hope-filled is our vision! Our faith reminds us that no small deed done in faith, no hot tear shed in hope, no drop of blood shed in love will be forgotten or wasted, but all will be gathered up on the Last Day by Christ and we will “find them” again. . .
For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: “a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.” On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower. Gaudium et Spes #39
Today is the feast of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, affectionately known by all his devotees as Padre Pio.
I have always loved Padre Pio, and was especially taken with him after reading C. Bernard Ruffin’s biography that allowed Padre Pio’s earthy naturalness to shine through the wildly celestial supernatural that so marked his life, and especially marked his body. Fr. Pio could be rough and tender, had a buoyant joy and sense of humor, and experienced intense stretches of inner darkness. On that latter point, Pio was insistent that the extraordinary mystical graces he received were tightly bound to the Cross; that the light of faith was for him a “dark ray”. He was a “a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity” whose ministry of reconciliation was contingent on his willingness to receive into his soul and body the dying of Jesus. He was extremely averse to receiving attention for the divine and diabolical “fireworks” that went on around him almost continually, and would insistently remind those who came to him seeking “signs and wonders” that the sweet spiritual food Jesus wishes to grant us is also “hard bread”:
In order to attract us, the Lord grants us many graces that we believe can easily obtain Heaven for us. We do not know, however, that in order to grow, we need hard bread: the cross, humiliation, trials and denials.
Okay, so there’s just too much to say about the sainted Padre, so I will share with you one of my favorite quotes of his:
Oh, how precious time is! Blessed are those who know how to make good use of it. Oh, if only all could understand how precious time is, undoubtedly everyone would do his best to spend it in a praiseworthy manner!
How true! A priest-professor I had for Spiritual Theology, whom I have quoted here before, put it to me this way once:
In eternity we will see, either with joy or sorrow, that, because of the Incarnation of God, all time is potentially pregnant with God. All that’s required is our daily, hourly, minutely fiat to conceive and give birth to Christ in this world. There in Paradise we will see that nothing in this life was without meaning and purpose when it was impregnated with divinity, filled with God through our free and repeated ‘yes.’
But without that ‘yes,’ in the face of our ‘no,’ all is lost. And that must truly be hell — eternal loss.
So daily, hourly, minutely turn your heart to God and simply say in prayer with Mary, the God-bearer, Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, ”Let it be to me according to your word.”
But watch out, we know what happens then…
Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis. (John 1:14)