Let’s call this “Church notes”: a little compilation of observations.
— With all respect, an urgent but virtually unmentioned crisis in Catholicism: homilies. A sermon with deep prayer in preparation and concise organization with a humble interesting personal message that flows with the liturgy (as opposed to a lecture that is academic) has a better chance of gaining the attention of those who have not yet learned to offer up or pray through homilies that are less than engaging. We must be careful not to turn off the less-than-devout, especially the young (potentially devout Catholics), who have been leaving in droves. The prayers of a priest play a huge role in the holiness of the Mass. Saint Padre Pio just about never said a homily, and though his Masses were still lengthy, the pews overflowed. The same is witnessed at places like Medjugorje (where young people flock and want to return, and where the Mass and devotions are strict, direct, and old-school; it is difficult to get into the church during Mass; a suggestion: bring Mary to the liturgy).
— Another suggestion, this time to a particular (and very engaging, talented) prelate, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York: please reconsider your appearance in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade, now that a gay group will be allowed to wave its banners and more are pushing to get in [see here]. Homosexuality is clearly against teachings in Scripture. The parade never denied homosexuals the right to march; it denied waving their banners. (Do heterosexuals?) To celebrate it, as they seek to do, is to celebrate an evil. In 1993, we are told, Cardinal John O’Connor opposed the campaign by the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization for permission to march under their own banner. More than two hundred gay rights protesters staged a countermarch that year and were arrested. “Irish Catholics have been persecuted for the sole reason that they have refused to compromise church teaching,” O’Connor said. “What others may call bigotry, Irish Catholics call principle.” For decades, Saint Pat’s Day in New York has been little more than a drunken fiesta anyhow (we well recall the rowdiness and litter of it when we lived in Manhattan). Perhaps: change the name of the event to “Irish Day Parade,” so as to keep the holy saint out of it.
— The word we all have been taught to use for the priesthood is “vocation.” This is another issue that comes to mind — not exactly a pressing one, but perhaps a matter of some significance. Does it make the priesthood sound a bit like a regular job (something taught in a vocational school)? The term “calling” may fit better than vocation and is true: an authentic priest is called. It grants the dignity the priesthood deserves. (For sure, it’s not just a job.)
The other day we spoke to a priest who had a beautiful story of how he was “called.” It seems that one day, in his early twenties, away attending school, he heard a noise outside his apartment window. It was someone rummaging in a dumpster. He peered out and saw a painfully dressed homeless man looking through the garbage for a meal and finding a couple pieces of moldy bread, some scraps of chicken skin and meat, and an empty jar of mayonnaise, which he scraped with a twig for enough to spread on what became a makeshift (and to say the least unpalatable) sandwich. The young man watched and was horrified enough to take action, quickly gathering groceries into a bag and putting twenty dollars in it, all of which he presented to the homeless man, telling him not to eat the disgusting sandwich. The homeless fellow gladly took the bag.
Soon after, when this young man, a lukewarm Catholic, was back in his room, something made him open up a Bible he’d always kept (though never read; its binding was not even creased). The first passage he opened to? Matthew 25:
“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'” He could only look up and say, “God, You are there! You are real!” It was his call to the priesthood.
— How rich and true and powerful is our Faith? This was in the mailbag from Mary Pettifor, a viewer in the UK. “Through a series of miracles, my husband Richard, a life-long non-believer, converted to Catholicism just forty-five days before his death last year on Saint Valentine’s Day, February 2013,” she wrote. “He had been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. Thanks be to God, the holy priest who brought him into the church, Father Agnellus Murphy of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, also enrolled him in the brown Scapular.
“Two weeks before his death, he had a near-death experience which he said was more real than reality itself. He begged our son to go back to the practice of his faith (I brought our children up as Catholics) telling him that ‘nothing in this life is more important’ and that ‘everything mum’s been telling us all these years about the Catholic faith is absolutely true.’
“In this experience he had been surrounded by people who were trying to get him to do very bad things and who were absolutely furious with him because he wouldn’t do them. He told Father Agnellus ‘They needed my death for their plans and now they’re furious because they know they’re not going to get it.’ Afterwards, he was terrified of committing a single sin, no matter how small. It was as if God had shown him the malice of even venial sins. He also wept bitterly over his former life, lived without God. He told me he’d wasted his life pursuing success and material possessions when all that mattered was that we did good to others. He wanted to warn everyone not to waste their lives as he had.
“All this happened in England, although at the time we were living near Chicago, Illinois, and had only gone back to the UK, supposedly for a week, when my husband was taken ill. God weaved so many miracles together to enable the conversion of my dear husband.
“I have worn a little miraculous medal for many years but if ever we were going out to dinner entertaining business clients, my husband would nag at me to take it off. ‘It makes you look so Catholic, he’d say. The first thing he must have noticed about Father Agnellus was the huge miraculous medal on his habit, which is worn by every member of the wonderful Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.
“The second little miracle relates to the Scapular: Richard wore the Scapular from the day he was enrolled, taking it with him to his grave. If he took it off he would kiss it before putting it back on. Looking through some documents the other day I found his birth certificate and was amazed to see that he had been born at a nursing home called Mount Carmel, in Leeds, Yorkshire. Our Lady had been looking after him right from the moment of his birth!”