Because There Is Good News

You have heard it said, “it is always darkest before the dawn,” and you have nodded your head in agreement. At least those of you who have ever camped out know this to be true, right?

These have been dark days for our Church. Scandals, parishes and schools closing, doom and gloom, etc. But it is not always so, and no single one of us can see the “big picture.”

Jacques Maritain, writing in 1966 said,

Everything depends on the unforseeable ways of God and his secret graces, together with human liberty, comprised as it is in his eternal plan. What is certain is that the Church will emerge from this crises wonderfully purified; error will not have got the better of her.

So let me share a little good news from the local newspaper in my town. It is about the director of the RCIA program in my parish. Her name is Tanya Belanger and here is her story,

“I grew up knowing a few things: I knew that the Catholic Church was the world’s biggest cult, I knew that the Pope was the anti-Christ, and that Catholic people were non-Christian,” says Tanya Belanger.

Belanger now heads the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults faith formation program at All Saints Catholic Church in West Knoxville.

The program is designed to teach adults interested in Catholicism about the church through weekly Monday night meetings hosted in part by laypeople who want to share their faith. The current program has about 55 people attending classes, Belanger says, explaining one of the common motivators for attendance is having a family member who’s Catholic.

RCIA programs have been a part of the Catholic Church since its formation but, as Belanger explains, it “fell out of favor” for many years until the Second Vatican Counsel brought it back to the Church around 1980.

And it’s through the program that Belanger not only became a part of the Catholic Church, but ultimately ended up in charge of it.

You’ll want to read the rest here.

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Because of Francisco De Osuna and a Minor Miracle

During the Summer of 2007 I read an awful lot of books that led me to join my parish RCIA program in the Fall of that same year. I’ve written about most of my reading program in earlier posts in this series, and I continued reading great Catholic books once my RCIA class started too.

For example, I read Mirabai Starrs’ translation of The Book of My Life by St. Teresa of Avila. It is a fascinating book about prayer by a fascinating woman. By reading Big Terry’s book, I discovered the work of another obscure author I had never heard of who had a big impact on this Doctor of the Church and on me. Here is what St. Teresa says on page 20 of her book that peaked my interest,

On the way to my sister’s village, we stopped in to see my Uncle Pedro. He gave me a copy of The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna. This is a book all about the Prayer of Recollection. In the past year, I had realized what harm my appetite for romance novels had done to my soul, and I had begun to develop a tremendous appreciation for spiritual books. Since I did not know a thing about the practice of contemplative prayer, or how to go about recollecting my senses and my thoughts, I was thrilled to find a book that told me exactly what to do.

I remember thinking to myself, I don’t know what St. Teresa is talking about (contemplative prayer? What’s that?), but if she liked de Osuna’s book enough to give it such a ringing endorsement, then I need to get a copy of it too, post haste! And the “harm of romance novels” comment resonated with me too, as I sheepishly realized how much of my reading time had heretofore been wasted on a lot of superfluous junk. Since this time, my night stand has been cluttered with “spiritual books”, and lots of them, instead. I wonder if she introduced de Osuna’s book to another Doctor of the Church too, you know, her friend and colleague St. John de la Cruz.

It turns out that Paulist Press published this book as a part of their excellent The Classics of Western Spirituality Series and it’s readily available. A visit to Amazon.com, a few clicks of the mouse, and a credit card authorization later, and The Third Spiritual Alphabet was on its way to me.

Within a week it arrived, all 609 pages of it. And let me tell you, de Osuna did not disappoint. I broke out my pencil for underlining purposes early, and often. Here are some examples of his thoughts from a few of the chapter and section headings,

Communion to God is Open to All; As Gifts Increase, So Do Our Debts; How We Should Give Thanks In Adversity; Blindness is Necessary to See God; How We Cannot Know God in Himself While We Live; Imitating Our Lord in the Desert of Recollection.

And here are a few of his thoughts on recollection that I underlined,

p.170: …we note that the devotion is called recollection because it gathers together those who practice it and, by erasing all dissension and discord, makes them of one heart and love. Not content with just this, recollection, more than any other devotion, has the known, discernible property by which someone who follows it can be greatly moved to devotion when he sees another person also recollected.

Having just left the greater Los Angeles area for my hometown in the hills of Tennessee, these words on the next page struck a chord with me too,

p.171: This devotion encourages us to retire from the traffic of people and noisy places to dwell in more secluded regions and to go out only now and then. If we do leave, we find ourselves anxious to return to our retreat to enjoy recollection, and we are just as eager as when we began the practice. We are like an eel that slips around in the fisherman’s hands so it can wriggle back into the water.

He could say that again. He goes on to say,

In recollection news and vain gossip have no appeal, nor do we like to hear anything that does not advise us to withdraw further into our hearts…for (the recollected) only wish is to see God with their hearts.

And Fray Francisco doesn’t pull any punches on what it takes to get from A to Z in the practice of this devotion. These are his thoughts from p. 175 that maybe only a Marine Corps Drill Instructor can appreciate,

You should also remember that no one masters any art without arduous practice, and the more one practices and becomes accustomed to something, the more quickly he masters it. Do not be so foolish as not to respect in this devotion and art the two things we observe in all occupations. First, learn it so that you are its master; do not be content to remain a beginner all your life like stupid, listless people who are forever learners, never attaining the science of truth because they are insufficiently attentive to their tasks. They are like the one in the gospel of whom it is said, “This man began to build and could not finish( Luke 14:30).”

How ignorant is the man who starts to build a house but does not concentrate on finishing it as quickly as possible so he can enjoy it soon! …If you wish to build the house of recollection for your souls, brother, you will profit immensely by remembering your intention. Plan to finish it.

Aye, aye sir! Now that I’ve given you a taste of my pal Fr. Francisco, I promise to share more of his thoughts in future posts. I can assure you of this because of the minor miracle that I will briefly describe for you now.

You may not have noticed that I’ve been blogging here for just over a year and this is only the second time that I am writing about my friend Fr. Francisco. I mentioned him briefly in the YIMC Book Club discussion of Mere Christianity when we were reading C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on pride. The principal reason for me keeping Fr. Francisco hidden from view is simple: I misplaced his book!

I had searched up and down my house, and my office, for it too. I reckon that it has been missing from my shelves for well over a year. Miraculously, and admittedly this is a minor miracle, not a supernatural one, the book reappeared in the back seat of my car last night. Here is the story.

Our family attended a Christmas party last night, see, and we took two cars because my wife had to go early to help set up. She took my eldest son with her to help her carry things. In Marine Corps jargon, her and my son were the Weathers “advance party” to the event. I followed in trace with the “main body” which included myself and my two younger children.

With the advent of cellular phones, this “advance party(AP) – main body (MB)” jargon makes sense to me because the AP called the MB about five times between the time the AP left and the MB crossed the line of departure. The message traffic went sort of like this,

AP to MB: “Could you bring my make-up bag? I left it in my other purse. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do.”

AP to MB: “MB, MB, could you stop by the ATM and get some money so we can buy some raffle tickets? I’m out of cash. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do. Over.”

AP to MB: “Could you bring XYZ with you? I just realized I forgot it. Over.”

MB to AP: “Negative AP, we are enroute and only 5 mikes (minutes) from your location. Over.

AP to MB: “OK then, disregard. Over and out.”

Granted, my wife and I don’t really talk like this on our cell phones. But really, isn’t this the way these AP to MB conversations go? Surely you have experienced this too. After that first exchange about the makeup bag, I found that bag and took it directly to the back seat of my car. I know what is of vital importance to a mission being successful or not, and a missing makeup bag would have been unimaginable. I absolutely did not want to forget that, thus I put it right there on the empty back seat of my car and walked away knowing that all would be well.

The MB arrives at the party and finds it well attended and packed to the gills with people enjoying themselves immensely and noted a long, snake-like, slow-moving, line of people waiting their turn for the food. I tracked down my wife, who was busy helping out, etc. I informed her that I had the makeup bag in the car and to let me know when she needs it and I’ll go get it. She said, “why didn’t you bring it in?” and discretion being the better part of valor, I turned tail and went and got it, ASAP.

As I approached my car, unlocked the doors, and rounded the rear bumper to open the passenger door on the side of the car where I had deposited the make-up bag, I was shocked to see Fr. Francisco’s book sitting there pretty as you please. When I unlocked the car, the dome light comes on automatically and I just stared through the window at that book for probably 15 seconds before I opened the door. I was thinking to, “where did you come from?” That seat had been empty when I threw the makeup bag there less than an hour earlier.

I was happy though, and thanked the Lord that it reappeared. It turned out that my youngest son had somehow noticed that something was bulging in the pouch on the back of the front passenger seat. He may have thought that I was hiding a Christmas present in there or something. I’m sure he was disappointed when it turned out to be one of his Dad’s dog-eared and well worn old books. So he just tossed it onto the seat and never said a word.

Sometimes that is how minor miracles work themselves out. Regardless, I’m just glad Francisco is back and I look forward to sharing more of his thoughts with you in future posts.

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Because I Believe in Miracles

Feast of St. Peter Claver

When I was startled into wondering if I could become a Catholic, one thing really stood out to me as a proof of the legitimacy of the Church—the miracles. The Catholic Church believes in miracles without flinching. They even have a standard operating procedure in place to prove or disapprove miracles.

Before I converted, I was a Christian. But I was also a child of the modern age. A rationalist. As a Christian, I believed in miracles and the power of prayer. But it always seemed that this was something to speak of only in hushed whispers. I can only speak for myself here, but the idea of believing in miracles was a bit unseemly.

Old miracles long since accomplished and cataloged in the Bible? No problem there. Sing those long and sing them loud. But modern day miracles seemed to a) not be discussed, b) be explained away or c) just keep that on the q.t., you know, very hush-hush. In contrast, the Catholic Church embraces miracles, past, present, and future.

I couldn’t deny one thing for sure, and that is little ol’ Frank does not know everything. I am not omniscient. Just because I haven’t personally seen something that is documented as having happened, doesn’t mean it didn’t. And I cannot stop God from performing miracles because their explanation is inconvenient either. Besides, hadn’t I thought there were miracles happening all along? Uh-huh, minor miracles of the Websterian variety happening constantly.

Now there are a lot of miracles to consider, and they all are amazing. Eucharistic miracles, apparitions of Mary, miraculous healings, incorruptible bodies of deceased saints, etc. The one type of miracle that really “got me” was the stigmata, aka the wounds of Christ manifesting themselves on a person. St. Francis of Assisi received the Stigmata (see portrait above), as did my favorite Catholic widow, Blessed Marie of the Incarnation. And most recently, in the 20th Century, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (see photo below) did.

The kicker? All of these miracles, of every conceivable type, occured to Roman Catholics on what seemed to be a pretty regular basis. Enough for me to think that there is really something to them. A little voice in my head said, “embrace the Mystery,” and I became a child again and did.

A little book I found recently is all about miracles in the Church. It is The Question of Miracles written by G.H. Joyce, S.J. I’ve put Father Joyce’s introduction to the book below.

The Christian religion has ever professed itself to be a religion of miracles. Its early documents assure us that a series of miracles ushered in the life of its Founder, and that His public ministry was marked by the continuous exercise of supernatural power. We are told that He pointed to these works in confirmation of His teaching: and, further, that He made special appeal to a crowning miracle—His own Resurrection—which should be for all time an irresistible attestation of the truth of His claims. To that event the Church has ever pointed as the foundation of her belief. Moreover, if the New Testament writings are to be believed, He endowed His apostles with similar powers: and these they exercised in a manner which leaves no doubt as to their reality.

The miraculous element in Christianity is in accordance with its internal character as a religion. For the Christian revelation is no mere ethical system. It claims to be nothing short of a vast inrush of supernatural forces upon the human race, elevating man to a new plane of being, and conferring upon him an altogether new destiny. According to Christian belief, by the Incarnation and the Atonement, man is raised to sonship to God: his soul becomes the seat of a divine indwelling: and through membership in Christ’s body he receives the pledge of an eternal beatitude to which his nature gives him no claim. Thus Christianity as a religion supposes that God has superseded the natural order on man’s behalf. And considered in the light of these truths, external miracle appears but the congruous expression of the tremendous spiritual transformation.

Such, speaking historically, is the relation of the Christian faith to miracles. At the present day, however, the claim is made to hold a “non-miraculous Christianity”—to profess Christianity and at the same time to dispense with all belief in the miraculous. This attitude may be said to be one of the leading characteristics of liberal Protestantism. Among German Protestant theologians it is almost universal. Those who, like Zahn and Seeberg, still hold the historic reality of the New Testament miracles are few indeed—rari nantes in gurgite vasto.

In England the movement has been less rapid; yet every year sees it find more and more support among Anglican and Nonconformist divines. It is the standpoint of some of the writers both in Contentio Veritatis and in Foundations—books admittedly representative of certain aspects at least of Oxford thought. In Contentio Veritatis we are told that to admit a suspension of natural law “would destroy all the criteria both of scientific and historical reasoning.” And in both works we find belief in the bodily resurrection of our Lord rejected on the ground of its miraculous character. Mr. Thompson’s Miracles of the New Testament did but put in plain language what others expressed with somewhat more reserve.

We need not be at a loss to account for this development. The last two centuries have been marked by the rise of several schools of thought, which, notwithstanding their many differences, have at least this in common, that they one and all hold the universe of experience to be a closed system, admitting of no interference from without. With all of them it is a postulate that the chain of causes and effects which experience reveals is never broken. The Deism of the seventeenth century, the Transcendental Idealism of Kant, the Positivism of J. S. Mill, the Scientific Materialism of Tyndall, and the more recent forms of Neohegelianism are at one as regards this. Each of these philosophical fashions has had a wide influence on the thought of the day. And just in so far as a man adopts any one of them, the idea of supernatural interference becomes impossible. Miracles must go. They must go, not because of any new light upon the evidence, but on grounds that are purely metaphysical.

These tendencies have found no foothold within the Catholic Church. In her teaching there is no hesitation or ambiguity. She points, as she has ever pointed, to the miracles of Christ as one of the firmest grounds of our belief in His claims. And she asserts with confidence that the age of miracles is not past, but that God still manifests His power by such events. Nevertheless, since the denial of the miraculous is so wide-spread among our Protestant fellow-countrymen, it appeared to the present writer that there was room for a work on this subject. His effort in the following pages has been to show how untenable are the objections urged against miracles and how overwhelming is the evidence for their actual occurrence.

You can find this book in its entirety on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

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