Catholic evangelisation

Catholic evangelisation

Michael Brown, who is a sort of ‘Catholic Matt Drudge’ has a new article which is certainly worth reading, if not heeding. Its title says it all: Evangelize, evangelize! If Jehovah’s Witnesses can go door to door, what about us Catholics?

First disclosure: the idea of knocking on doors and speaking to strangers about Jesus Christ makes my blood run cold. This is a gut reaction which I’m conscious could well close me off from the Holy Spirit. I’m happy to be reasoned with, so if you think door knocking strangers is a good idea, please make your case. I promise a fair hearing!

I’m not against all “street evangelisation.” Marcus Goulding and Trevor Tibbertsma, friends of mine from the seminary, had a positive experience of a street evangelisation initiative in Soho, London. Moreover, walking around in a clerical collar presents me with an occasional opportunity to engage in spiritual conversation with strangers.

But none of this, I think, relates to the main task of evangelisation. If “charity begins at home,” shouldn’t evangelisation follow suit? It seems to me that the most effective evangelisation occurs within established relationships — especially loving relationships. It consists primarily in pursuing deeper, more meaningful conversations with friends and relatives. And secondarily, in challenging them to deepen their faith — by means of a good book maybe, or inviting them to Mass, or adoration, or (eek!) confession.

In some ways, this sort of evangelisation requires greater courage than random door-knocking. But it’s also more natural, and for all that, more effective. It’s the sort of evangelisation we see in the New Testament — especially in the calling of the apostles.

As I am wont to do, especially when I get started on the apostolate, I’ll finish with a quote from St Josemaría:

The Christian apostolate — and I’m talking about an ordinary Christian living as just one more man or woman among equals — is a great work of teaching. Through real, personal, loyal friendship, you create in others a hunger for God and you help them to discover new horizons — naturally, simply. With the example of your faith lived to the full, with a loving word which is full of the force of divine truth.

Second disclosure: though it’s long been on my to-do list, I have never read Pope Paul’s Evangelii Nuntiandi. That’s my homework for this week.

(H/T Marcus. Great picture!)

A Jesuit pope!

A Jesuit pope!

Habemus papam! A Jesuit pope, no less! Despite the Society of Jesus being the largest order of priests for many centuries, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to be elected pope.

The Jesuits have bequeathed the Church many great saints. Heroic priests who were giants of their generation. Three of my favourites Jesuits — apart from St Ignatius Loyola I mean — are St Francis Xavier, Fr William Doyle, and Bl Miguel Pro. Perhaps Pope Francis will one day number among these great Jesuit saints. In the meantime, they will be praying for him!

By all accounts, our new pope is a holy and prayerful man, steeped in the Ignatian tradition. At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is a tried and tested discernment of spirits, good and evil. That puts our Holy Father in good stead, I think, to navigate the treacherous waters ahead.

Perhaps his first task will be to act on the “secret report” on the Curia which Benedict commissioned and received, and which reportedly exposes a treacherous web within the Vatican. Perhaps.

The pope is not like a president or prime minister, who win office on a specific mandate to which he is held account. Pope Francis is accountable to our Lord, not to the cardinals who elected him. And he will exercise the office according to his own discernment, not according to a preconceived agenda.

A lot of people whom I spoke to in recent weeks had favourite papabile. A cardinal whom they backed and wanted to win. I hope they don’t feel like losers today; I hope they’re not disappointed in our new pope. That’s the danger, I think, in treating the conclave like a political campaign, and getting drawn into the “horserace coverage” which sells newspapers.

St Josemaría spoke to a group of Opus Dei men during the sede vacante of 1968. His words can be expanded to all of us. He reminded his listeners that a Catholic’s filial devotion to the Pope is not a cult of personality. It’s an esteem and affection for the office. That’s why he encouraged people to pray for the pope even before they knew who he was.

Having adopted Cardinal Sepe, I had my hands full until today. But now I will be able to follow Josemaría’s advice, and offer all my prayers and sacrifices for Pope Francis.

I would like to speak to you once more about the upcoming election of the Holy Father. You know, my sons, the love that we have for the Pope. After Jesus and Mary, we love the Pope with all the strength of our soul, whoever he may be. Therefore, we already love the Roman Pontiff who is to come. We are determined to serve him with our whole life.

Pray, and offer to our Lord even your moments of relaxation. We offer even this for the Pope who is to come, just as we have offered the Mass during all these days, just as we have offered even our breathing.

Spiritual communion and “sacramental fasting”

Spiritual communion and “sacramental fasting”

An interesting diversion has occurred in the comment thread below my post on Christian Unity.

In a discussion on the sacramental communion of non-Catholics, the issue of spiritual communion was raised. St Alphonsus Liguori’s traditional formula was quoted:

Lord, since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.

My personal favourite is a Piarist formula, taught to St Josemaría Escrivá when he was a child, and since popularised by Opus Dei:

I wish my Lord to receive you with the purity, humility and devotion with which your most holy mother received you; with the spirit and fervour of the saints.

Spiritual communion is an old Catholic devotion which, like “the visit to the Blessed Sacrament,” has receded in recent times.

(The late Frank Devine was once waiting in the foyer of a large Catholic school when he indicated to the secretary that he’d “pay a visit.” That’s traditional Catholic speak for spending a few minutes in front of the tabernacle and making a spiritual communion. But as he made for the chapel, the secretary called out to him. “Mr Devine, you’re heading towards to the chapel. The toilets are the other way!”)

In his final encyclical, Pope John Paul II urged Catholics to reclaim the practice of spiritual communions:

It is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. This was the origin of the practice of “spiritual communion,” which has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life. St Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you.”

Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 34.

St Thomas Aquinas and St Alphonsus Liguori – like St Teresa, Doctors of the Church – agreed that spiritual communion can be as great as sacramental communion. In both instances, if Jesus is welcomed with love, and given due attention, abundant grace flows.

Clearly, then, it’s advisable to make frequent spiritual communions. There is no limit to spiritual communions – we can make as many as we like, unlike sacramental communion (no more than twice in one day).

But what about spiritual communion as an unnecessary substitute for sacramental communion? What if you’re at Mass, you have no mortal sins you need to confess, but when it comes time for communion, you have no desire to join the queue? What if the idea of sacramental communion is nothing short of repugnant? Not because God is repugnant – you still came to Mass, after all – but because scruples or acedia or a sincere and profound sense of humility compels you to maintain a reverent distance from God. What then?

A case could be made for a sort of “holy abstinence” from the Eucharist. Insofar as it increases one’s reverence and piety, abstaining is a good thing, and making a spiritual communion instead is advisable.

But I’m not convinced. I imagine that our worthy reception of the Eucharist is a source of great joy to the Lord. He wants communion with us not only because it’s good for us, but because he loves us and wants to be close to us. So we receive communion not only for our sake, but for his sake too. It pleases him.

If I’ve got nothing against a mate, but I just don’t want to see him, and so I then refuse to see him, despite his objections … How is that not an act of selfishness?

Therefore, if we truly love Jesus, we will put aside our own feelings and dispositions when approaching the sacrament. If there is no objective reason to abstain, we should always make a sacramental communion.

St Josemaría Escrivá and me

St Josemaría Escrivá and me

Today was the feast day of a saint who is very dear to me. In St Josemaría Escrivá I see an inspiring model for current-day priests, engaging with a secular and in some respects ‘post-Christian’ culture.

Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?, since I am a member of Opus Dei. But that’s confusing the cart and the horse. I was attracted to Opus Dei only after reading and coming to love St Josemaría.

When I left home at 18 to study in Melbourne, I was both idealistic and sceptical. At 18, who isn’t? I was attracted to Christ and his Gospel, but I was disillusioned with a Church which was bereft of authority. The scandal of clerical abuse and its cover-up was in the headlines and on my mind, and lacklustre liturgy and preaching didn’t help either.

My Catholic identity was tenuous. I may have been easy prey for the evangelical Christians on campus, except that my childhood love of the saints — St Thérèse especially — had not left me. The distant figure of Archbishop Pell also commanded respect, if only because he spoke boldly and against the tide, and he had been chaplain in my first years at primary school. Still, I did not know personally any priests, nor did I want to. I doubt I’d ever have changed denominations, but I was probably on track to become a “mere Christian,” cultivating a personal spirituality and private prayer life, independent of “organised religion.”

Nonetheless, one’s first year at university is a time to explore everything. I attended the meetings and functions of all sorts of clubs and societies, from the fickle (the Chocolate Appreciation Society; the Free Beer Society) to the radical (the Socialist Alliance; the Citizen’s Electoral Council). I watched the Students for Christ debate the Humanists, and I joined an evangelical Christian book club. An invitation to dinner at an Opus Dei study centre was just one more function to add to the list. I was supposed to attend a preached meditation (whatever that was), but I was running late, and arrived just in time for Simple Benediction. The presence of a fully fledged chapel in a suburban house — not to mention the unfamiliar sight of a priest in cassock and the alien sound of Latin (the ritual concluded with the Salve Regina) — quickly convinced me that I had encountered a cult which was far removed from mainstream Catholicism. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the conversation and debate at dinner, which covered such diverse topics as the best imported beer, the Australian wheat price, and the cultural influence of Peter Sellers. Much to my surprise, religion wasn’t mentioned at all.

Subsequent invitations to meditation and dinner were gladly accepted, and I was impressed by the spiritual content of the preaching, and the easygoing warmth of the rest of the evening. This stood in stark contrast to my encounters at the evangelical book club, which were terminated after my Catholic background was discovered, and I was forcefully and repeatedly subjected to anti-papist rants.

Still, I sustained a polite disinterest in Opus Dei until I was given a copy of The Way, a small book of spiritual maxims which made “Father Joseph Mary Escriva” famous decades before anyone had heard of Opus Dei. Several weeks passed before I picked it up, but when I did I couldn’t put it down. Its insights startled me. It was as though Josemaría had read my heart and mind, and spoke directly to me. Moreover, there was a warmth and attractiveness to his style which had me looking for more.

It all happened quite gradually of course, but looking back, I think it’s fair to say that St Josemaría taught me to love the Church just as I already loved Jesus Christ. Thus this video — which I had not seen before today — is a very apt illustration of that style:

I think it’s also fair to credit St Josemaría with my priestly vocation. Years before I thought of becoming a priest, I thought of becoming a saint. That has its roots in my discovery of St Thérèse’s “Little Way” at eight or nine, and Mum’s assurance that God calls us all to be saints. This is St Josemaría’s message too, and I was able to discern a priestly calling only after adopting the sort of prayer life he recommended for lay apostles.

There Be Dragons is an average movie of uneven quality, but it does a very good job depicting St Josemaría’s vision. I’m proud and humbled to call myself one of his spiritual children.