Friday, September 19, 2014

Kindness and conversion and reform

"A kind-worded man is a genial man; and geniality is power. Nothing sets wrong right so soon as geniality.

"There are a thousand things to be reformed, and no reform succeeds unless it be genial. No one was ever corrected by a sarcasm; crushed, perhaps, if the sarcasm was clever enough, but drawn nearer to God, never.

"Men want to advocate changes, it may be in politics, or in science, or in philosophy, or in literature, or perhaps in the working of the Church. They give lectures, they write books, they start reviews, they found schools to propagate their views, the coalesce in associations, they collect money, they move reforms in public meetings, and all to further their peculiar ideas. They are unsuccessful.


    "Without geniality no solid reform was ever made yet. But if there are a thousand things to reform in the world, there are tens of thousands of people to convert. Satire will not convert men. Hell threatened very kindly is more persuasive than a biting truth about a man's false position. The fact is, geniality is the best controversy. The genial man is the only successful man. Nothing can be done for God without geniality. More plans fail for want of that than the want of anything else. A genial man is both an apostle and an evangelist - an apostle because he brings men to Christ; an evangelist because he portrays Christ to men."

Father Frederick Faber, C.O.

Conference III: Kind Words
Spiritual Conferences
Church of the London Oratory
8 December 1858

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Go on Fr. Faber!

"Kindness, to be perfect, to be lasting, must be a conscious imitation of God. Sharpness, bitterness, sarcasm, acute observation, divination of motives,--all these things disappear when a man is earnestly conforming himself to the image of Christ Jesus."

Father Frederick Faber, C.O.

Conference III: Kind Words
Spiritual Conferences
Church of the London Oratory
8 December 1858

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kind words, happiness and holiness

"Kind words produce happiness. How often have we ourselves been made happy by kind words, in a manner and to an extent which we are quite unable to explain? No analysis enables us to detect the secret of the power of kind words; even self-love is found inadequate as a cause. Now, as I have said before, happiness is a great power of holiness. Thus, kind words, by their power of producing happiness, have also a power of producing holiness, and so winning men to God."

Father Frederick Faber, C.O.

Conference III: Kind Words
Spiritual Conferences
Church of the London Oratory
8 December 1858

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Some words from Chesterton

"Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world."

G.K. Chesterton


Monday, September 15, 2014

Some random thoughts about the cross from the rector

"Here are some random thoughts:
The serpent and the saraph. 'Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.' Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.  It is interesting to me how the instrument of death, the thing that tortured the Israelites, becomes a ubiquitous sign of healing, an almost universal anthropological signification.  The thing that tortures heals. The thing that destroys creates.

"Random thoughts:
Today on the 14th of September I always remember a priest/mentor of mine who died on this day now 18 years ago. He was the priest  the one that said to a timid, spotted young man: You should go to the seminary. You should be a priest. This is the priest that was also a raging alcoholic, but abusive only to himself. This is a priest who was so haunted by his past that he became a great priest in the midst of suffering. His wounds gave him an open heart and he died of a heart attack at the age of 45. I loved him in his woundedness.

"Random thoughts:
I was looking at the opening hymn for last Thursday in the Breaking Bread hymnal. It was 657. My mind wandered over the page. I looked for a minute at 658. And this was the line from 658. 'Fountain of mercy, grace flowing free, streams of salvation, spilling with love from a tree.' Then my mind wandered up to the cross here. Spilling with love from a tree..."

Father Denis Robinson, O.S.B.

Homily for the Feast of the
Exaltation of the Holy Cross

St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel
14 September 2014
Read it all here

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The precious and life-giving cross that takes us up

On this day—September 14—in the year 326, a woman named Helen was tired from a journey.  She had journeyed over 800 miles, from her home in modern-day Turkey to Jerusalem, to the very place where Jesus had died on Calvary, and there she organized a dig. She wanted to find the cross of Jesus.

And she did find that cross, but it took some doing. The diggers uncovered the remains of three crosses buried beneath a pagan temple to Venus, not far from the site of Jesus' death—two for the thieves that were buried with Jesus and then one for Jesus himself.  They couldn't tell which was which—the inscription had faded—but then a sick woman happened to be stumbling by. She touched the one cross, and nothing. She touched the other, nothing. And then she touched the third, and she was healed in an instant.

Whether all that is pious legend or not, I don't know. But I like to think it's true, because it is a  beautiful example for us of this true fact: the cross of Christ has the power to heal us and raise us up.

You know, we're constantly told to “take up our cross.” That's the mantra. It'd drilled into us. I'm reminded of a wise monk at Meinrad (Fr. Jonathan Fassero, OSB). He once said that while we all know that command of Christ well ("take up your cross"), it is also true that the cross takes us up.

And that's what we celebrate today on the Exaltation of the Cross. That is, the cross saves us, heals us, and gives us life. It takes us up.  Catholics on the other side of the globe actually have another for this feast day: they call this the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross. A mouthful, but I like it.

Precious and life-giving, that is what the Cross is.  The Israelites in the first reading knew that.  They were dying left and right, and then God tells Moses to make a cross and hold it up, and to announce that anyone who looked at that would be saved.  It was a cross he lifted up, and it was a cross that saved them.  For them, it was truly precious and life-giving. Even life-saving.

It is the same for us. The cross saves us all. With Christ, our crosses—or better, our chunks of Christ's cross—save us.  They heal us.  They raise us up.

Here's an example of what I mean.  Just a few days ago, I was watching NBC News. There was 17 year old young man by the name of Michael Brannigan. (Watch the clip here.) His most visible cross is his autism.  He didn't start talking until he was 6. He would run into walls when he was learning at a late age how to walk.  And yet that young man, because of his cross, that is, his autism, can run. He can run a mile in 4 minutes and 7 seconds. He can run faster than all but a small handful of high schoolers in the world. Hundreds of colleges are after him. He hopes to run in the Olympics. He said he is so very happy in life, and you could see it on his face—and not least because of running.  The reporter noted how autism makes one focus on goals, almost to be point of obsession, and then she flat-out asked him, “Do you think your autism has made you a better runner?”  His response brought a tear to my eye.  He said, “My autism has makes me a better person.”

What I love about his story is that this young man has learned not only to endure his cross, but to love it, because he knows that his cross—it has made him a better person, transformed him, his friendships, his school, and yes, his running. His cross raised him to heights no one could have ever imagined, especially that he could have ever imagined for himself, and to a happiness beyond his own dreaming.  That's not to say his life is happy happy joy joy. It is not, but there is a joy in him, a joy in knowing that without his cross he would not be who God intended him to be, and without that cross he wouldn't have the life he has within him.

That is the power of the cross.

What about our crosses, or, better, the pieces of His cross that are ours to carry?  They are precious and life-giving in the same way.

Just consider:

It is often those with very little money, who carry the cross of poverty, who have a closeness with their family and friends better than all worldly riches
It is often the lonely, who carry the cross of loneliness, who find in their loneliness a rich and life-giving relationship with God that rarely comes to the popular and perfect.
It is often those who carry crosses of feeling inferior on account of their appearance who come to realize the beauty that resides within them, a far more important beauty
It is often those who carry crosses of feeling not smart enough or not well-read enough or whatever-enough, who are first to learn the important lessons in life
It is often those with crosses of horrible decisions made in their past who have the brightest futures
It is often those with crosses of rejection who become the most hospitable people in the world
It is often those with jobs they never wanted who end up being the best in their trade
It is often those with the greatest ailments who offer the world the most love—in phone calls, letters, and prayers uttered at odd hours of the night

God gives crosses to us because he loves us—actually, he gives us little pieces of his cross—and tells us that if we embrace them, if we reverence them, they will bring us healing and life, and they will save us. As surely as they saved the Israelites. As surely as they saved St. Helen and that dying woman who came to recognize Christ's cross as his when it healed her. As surely as they saved that boy with autism.

When St. Helen found the true cross 1,688 years ago today, it was in pretty shabby condition, not like the polished and shiny crosses we have in our churches and kiss on Good Fridays. After all, Jesus had bled and sweat and died on it, and then it was chucked into a ditch where it was subject to mold and bugs and all the elements. It was not pretty.  Helen, however, upon finding that cross, kissed it. She embraced it. And it saved her. Because to her, it was beautiful. Precious. Life-giving.

How about the Cross as we find it in our daily lives? Maybe we didn't ask for it. Maybe it seems horrible and ugly, too much to bear. But if we embrace it for the precious and life-giving thing that it is, it might just heal us, and give us life, and even bring us eternal life.

And that—eternal life—that is the promise of the Gospel, which tells us that Jesus, he who was lifted up on a cross, through the cross lift us up, both now and eternally.  Praise God for that.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Given at Holy Family Parish in New Albany