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St. Bernard, pray for . . . wha?

bee-649952_1280

 

 

Speaking of distraction from prayer, that narthex is where parents of small children often find themselves when they’re fulfilling their Sunday obligation in the most basic way: by being bodily inside the walls, even if we can’t catch more than a second or two of actual prayer time. Our parish is pretty kid-friendly, but it’s only courteous to take a truly bonkers kid out of earshot until he calms down, so the narthex is the place to be; and that is where St. Bernard stands, too.

One mother I know keeps her kid happy by carrying him up to the feet of the statue, finding the bee, making contact, and going, “BZZT!” Kid laughs, forgets to wreak havoc, everyone’s happy. Honey sweet, indeed.

We can draw a few things from this…

Read the rest at the Register. 

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Maria Goretti didn’t die for her virginity

Maria_Goretti

Or she wasn’t canonized just because she managed to remain a virgin, anyway.

Let’s back up. When you think about holiness, do you fall into bathwater thinking?

Bathwater thinking is when you forget the baby — the living, breathing, vulnerable persons in front of you — and instead, you wallow around in that warm, familiar bathwater of your indisputably worthy cause.

Think about St. Gianna Molla.  A good many people believe that this woman’s greatness came in her eager, joyful acceptance of death in order to save her baby.  Not so.  It is true that she was willing to accept the risk of death when she refused the therapeutic hysterectomy that would have killed her unborn child.  And she did end up giving her life so that her baby could live.  But the whole time, she prayed and hoped and longed to live. She wasn’t devoted to being pro-life: she was devoted to her baby.  And she wanted to live, so that she could be with her baby and her husband and the rest of her beloved children.  She was pro-life:  she hoped for life in abundance, including her own.

The same is true, in a somewhat different way, for St. Maria Goretti, whose feast is today.  Over and over, I’ve heard this saint praised as a holy girl who prized her viginity so highly that she was willing to die to defend it.  And she did die as a result of defending her viginity.  But when her would-be rapist attacked her, she pleaded with him to stop because he would be committing a mortal sin, and he would go to hell.  She didn’t say, “Please, please, spare my virginity!” She begged him to spare himself.  

This is what it looks like when someone is close to God:  because they love God, they want to spare the person in front of them.  They are in love with living human beings, not in love with virtue in the abstract.  They are focused not on the idea of morality, but on the person whose life and safety (whether physical or spiritual) are at stake.

In Maria Goretti’s case, she was focused on her rapist — and it was her love for him, and not her blindingly pure devotion to virginity, that converted him and brought him to repentance before he died.  That is how conversions happen.  That is how people are saved:  when other people show love for them.  It’s about other people.  It’s always about our love for God expressed as love for other people.  That’s why, before someone is declared a saint, they have to perform two miracles for people still on earth.  Even after death, it’s not about the cause or the system or the virtue in the abstract.  It’s always about our love for other people.

Ideas like holiness, chastity, humility, charity, diligence, or any other virtue that springs to mind when you think of a saint?  These are bathwater.  These are the things that surround and support the “baby” of love in action.  A bath without bathwater is no good; but a bath without someone to be bathed is even more pointless. God doesn’t want bathwater saints, ardently devoted to a cause or a principle or a movement or a virtue.  God wants us to love and care for each other.  Love for each other is how we order our lives.  Love for each other is how we serve God.

Love for each other is how we imitate Jesus. He didn’t die for the cause of salvation; He died for us, as billions of individual beloved children.

It’s not an either/or: we don’t have to choose between pursuing virtue and showing love. But virtue doesn’t exist in a vaccuum, and the pursuit of holiness doesn’t mean anything unless it’s manifest in love for each other. It’s always about our love for other people. Otherwise, what’s the point?

***

Image via Wikimedia Commons: By Giuseppe Brovelli-Soffredini[1]  (Original source of this reproduction is unknown) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This post was originally published in a different form in February of 2014.

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So Benedict was the pinko who green lighted Oscar Romero cause

oscar-romero

According to the AP (bold type is my addition):

The monsignor who spearheaded the saint-making process for El Salvador’s slain Archbishop Oscar Romero said Wednesday it was Pope Benedict XVI— and not Pope Francis — who removed the final hurdle in the tortured, 35-year process.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia told reporters Benedict “gave the green light.” Speaking a day after Francis declared that Romero died as a martyr for the faith, Paglia said Romero’s beatification would likely be within a few months in San Salvador.

Paglia says Benedict told him on Dec. 20, 2012, the case had passed from the Vatican’s doctrine office, where it had been held up for years over concerns about Romero’s orthodoxy, to the saint-making office. From there it proceeded quickly, taking a mere two years for theologians, and then a committee of cardinals and bishops, to agree unanimously that Romero died as a martyr out of hatred for the faith.

I don’t know about you, but the narrative I always heard and accepted was that Oscar Romero did good work, but was a little hinky in his leanings, and so the more conservative element in the Church didn’t want to touch his cause for beatification; but Francis is enough of a free-wheeler to cut through that red tape and get this thing moving. I’m not saying that’s what you thought; I’m saying that’s what I thought, without thinking about it much.

Instead, it looks like this is installment #3,908,555 in the story titled “The Vatican works very, very slowly, and most of us know almost nothing about what goes on there” (and installment #598,773 in the story titled, “So, you thought you knew Benedict?”). I’m really looking forward to learning more about Abp. Romero, who was assassinated while saying Mass, apparently for appealing directly to soldiers to stop murdering the citizens of El Salvador.

 

Whew, 2015 is off to quite a start!

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For all the saints (including all the jerks)

A few years ago, Max Lindenman asked “What saints can’t you stand?” The responses are pretty interesting: There are some saints that no one likes, because they were unpleasant weirdos. Then there are some that inspire and enchant some people, while repelling and disgusting others. For me, St. John Vianney is one of these repellant types. Every time I hear a saint quote that makes me go, “WHAT?!?!” it turns out to be St. John Vianney. Oh, well—there are plenty of other saints.

When John Paul II was canonized, all of my favorite people were overjoyed that this holy man was being honored, but some Catholics were dubious, even snotty. Some simply don’t like him (how??), while others had serious doubts about his worthiness. It occurs to me that, when people react differently to the saints, there are three lessons to be drawn.

First is that even saints are a product of their times. Sincere spirituality takes different forms according to fads and culture—that’s just the human condition. And so when Padre Pio threw the lady out of his confessional and refused to speak to her until she stopped selling pants to women—well, he was a man of his times. At the time, selling women’s pants truly was a deliberate assault against gender distinction as it existed in that time. The woman in question probably was doing something wrong, just as a woman from the Middle Ages would have been doing something wrong by showing her bare knees: It’s not because knees or pants are intrinsically evil, but because it’s all about context and intention.

Now, it’s very possible that a Padre Pio alive in 2014 would be just as furious at a female pants-seller of 2014. And there’s our second lesson, which is: Saints can be jerks, too. Saints are not infallible; saint are not flawless. Saints sin. They may say or do t hings which are false, silly or harmful. If a priest today threw a woman out of confession for selling pants, he’d be sinning. He might still be a saint: He’d just have to go to confession for that particular sin.

And the third lesson we can learn is that this variety in saintliness is a feature, not a bug. When I adore Saint Fonofrius, but you think he’s a drippy bore, that’s part of God’s plan. It’s one of those “Catholic with a small c” ideas: The Church is here for everybody. While there are certain things that every single living soul is called to, there is always a matter of proportion. For some saints, generosity is their talent. For others, it’s great physical courage. For some saints, their entire lives tell a story of incredible singlemindedness and purity of intention; for others, God used them as the finest living example of someone who kept screwing up, repenting and trying again.

God is the light, and the saints are various types of lamps: Some produce a lovely glow; some produce a brilliant beam. Some make more heat; others are better for atmosphere. Some are for ballrooms, some are for bedsides, some are for keeping traffic orderly. The light inside is the same, but different styles show that light in different ways. A surgeon wouldn’t use a Tiffany lamp in the operating room—but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the Tiffany lamp. It’s just not the right one for that particular job.

So, the grumblers against John Paul II wish he had been a better administrator? Me too. But it wasn’t his particular talent. They wish John Paul II had been more canny, more suspicious of Maciel? Me too, and can you even imagine how much he must have wished it himself. But that wasn’t his particular talent.

When he trusted Maciel, it was a mistake committed because he was a product of his times (nearly everyone trusted Maciel; the Legionaries were apparently bearing wonderful fruit; and false accusations of pedophilia were a common tactic in his home country). It’s also possible that he committed this mistake because of personal flaw: He was Pope, and should have been more careful. (That is absolutely not for me to say—but this is a man who went to confession daily, so he clearly thought he was a sinner.)

But let’s not forget the third lesson: A saint is someone who does the most he can with his particular gifts from God. John Paul’s particular talents were an incredible strength and courage, a contagious joy, a spectacularly original mind, and an unprecedented ability to reach out and draw people to Christ. All of his works were works of love. And that’s why he was declared a saint: He used what God gave him to reflect his share of the light of Christ.

*****
[This post originally ran in a slightly different form in 2011.]

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For All the Saints (That I Don’t Really Like)

Today is the feast day of Josemaria Escriva. He is not one of my favorite saints, in the same way that Vegemite is not one of my favorite ways of delighting my mouth. Yes, I have tasted it — yes, more than once. And I stand firm in my statement that it is not one of my favorite ways of delighting my mouth.

 

 

PIC Vegemite

I’m not saying that nobody should like Vegemite. I’ve heard it’s very nourishing, if you don’t have to fight past the gag reflex. It’s just that I don’t like it, I don’t need it for my own kind of balanced diet, and I’d just as soon put my hands in my pockets, turn my head, and whistle a happy tune in hopes that the person who offers it to me will go away quickly.

What I’m trying to say is, happy feast day, St. Josemaria. Thanks for being the kind of saint who is so good to so many people who aren’t like me; and thanks for being a reminder that God is good, because He gives us so many different kind of saints.

PIC thousands of saints

 

 

p.s. I didn’t even brush my hair today. Ha ha!

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He’s #1! *sob* He’s #1!!

Wellity, wellity, wellity.

Look who’s the number one bestseller in Catholicism (and a number of other categories) on Amazon with Saints and Social Justice:  A Guide to Changing the World.  BRANDON VOGT, the young upstart!  And all because

(a) he had the wonderful idea of putting together a book about what Catholic social justice really means, and the saints who lived it; and
(b) he’s introducing the e-book for only $3.19.

Brandon says on his blog:

[A]s a Protestant college-student bent on changing the world, I discovered these teachings [about Catholic social teaching] and they blew me away. I read the relevant encyclicals, studied the principles, and saw them lived out in people like Mother Teresa, John Paul II, and Dorothy Day. They ended up playing a crucial role in my conversion to Catholicism.

Yet since becoming Catholic, I’ve discovered just how controversial Catholic social teaching can be. Whenever I express excitement about these teachings I’m often met with nervous glances or heavy sighs. Thanks to years of distortion and confusion, many Catholics literally cringe at their mention.

Oh, yes.

The book aims to reclaim Catholic social teaching and unveil it through the lives of the saints. It’s framed using the seven major themes of Catholic social teaching, as defined by the U.S. bishops, and for each theme I highlight two saints who especially embodied it.

The resulting book is a narrative packed with stories, from those saints and others in the sidebars, of people putting these teachings into action.

My hope is that the book imitates stained glass windows throughout the world, using the saints as conduits of light, allowing these brilliant social teachings to shine through them with new vividness, splendor, and truth.

Brandon Vogt has a special talent for putting his finger right on the question that people are asking right now, and answering it in a clear, profound, accessible way.

I wants one. I will be the first to admit that I am confused about what social justice really means, and I definitely need an upgrade on my education on the saints, beyond what I learned in 57 Saints for Girls and Boys. You can pre-order the e-book for a limited time for $3.19.  Before long, you will have to pay a normal old reasonable price of $9.99.  My goodness, you have $3.19.  Get it while it’s crazy cheap!