There are a few priests I have met in my life who have a “fool for Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:10) spirit, characteristic of saints like John the Baptist, Francis of Assisi, Philip Neri and Seraphim of Sarov. There’s something untamed (mōroi) about their spirit, though they are fully grounded in reality. Their missions and personalities hold paradoxes, like St. Gregory of Nyssa’s “sober intoxication.” Their off-beat love is doled out with unequaled equality toward both God and humanity, heaven and earth, spirit and mud, time and eternity, angels and birds, the itty and the infinite. They have unshakable joy but can drink to the dregs bitter sorrow without losing hope. They are free of inhibition yet entirely obedient. They are “wholly other” yet too close for comfort. They crack you up and then use that loosened space to let God in. They disorient us to reorient us in-sync with God. They tear down dividing walls by straddling the margins, drawing the edges into the middle, sending the middlers out to the edges (Ephesians 2:14). Fools grab our attention, only to then self-obviate Christ-ward. Their elusiveness discloses their borrowed light. The spontaneity of their love is a sign of divine Wisdom’s playful providence, summed up in the Resurrection (cf Proverbs 8:31; John 20:14-16). They show us that other-worldliness is merely a step-back from this world in order to Shabbat with God, so-loving with His Son the ruins of this very good world, re-creating with the Spirit of the Risen Re-Creator (cf Genesis 2:2; John 3:16, 20:27). Holy fools are friends of the Bridegroom, servants of the wedding of heaven and earth, ministers of the Easter Exutet, which exclaims: “O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.”
These “fools” are what all the Baptized are ordinarily called to be, but in extremis, “in the extreme.”
As I said, I’ve known a number of priests that fall into this category. Just to name three: Fr. Michael Champagne, CJC (Lafayette, LA), Msgr. C. Slade Crawford (Pensacola, FL) and Fr. Stan Fortuna, CFR (New York City). Here I’d like to pause on Fr. Stan for a moment. I have followed his work for 20 years, but I met him for the first time last week at a novena-mission held at St. Ann’s parish in Metairie, LA. He preached a novena of morning-evening talks (18 separate talks!) in honor of St. Ann, whom he referred to as “the mother of the Mother.” Meeting him for me wasn’t an encounter as much as it was an event. He “happened” to me. Grace in your face. He’s a man of wildly diverse gifts: an inner city street evangelist who uses to good effect his edgy New York personality, street smarts, theological wisdom, diverse range of musical styles, poetry, philosophy, mysticism, story-telling, humor and a very earthy appreciation for the good things of life. He’s an author and a brilliant musician, ranging from hip hop to jazz/blues to sacred music. And he’s amazing on the 6-string. My kids love his music. As I listened to him, I could only think of this line from Pope Benedict:
If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.
Let me share with you three Fr. Stan videos. First, I asked him to allow me to record a message for my NealObstat readers. As my older brother said when he watched the video, I was giddy. I told Fr. Stan nothing other than the name of my blog, but I must say what he said in 54 seconds caught brilliantly the core message I work to forefront in all my teaching. Second, I recorded the last song he sang on the last night of the novena. Two musicians, who were at the mission, played with him, though with no practice beforehand. It was nuts! Sorry for the homemade quality of the video, but it does get better after the first 30 seconds. Some other time I will share with you the message he gave my children. Finally, I include my kids’ favorite song of his, about suffering. If you wish to listen, enjoy them all.