From the Bottom Up

I trust you have been encouraged, challenged and informed by this blog. In the weeks to come expect to find new blogs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

Yesterday my local parish, St. Peter’s in Merchantville, New Jersey, began the annual Forty Hours of Prayer. The focus for this year’s forty hours is “Reparation, Healing and Renewal”—reparation for the evils committed by a handful of priests and bishops, healing for the victims of sexual abuse, and renewal of the Church at the local, diocesan, national and universal Church levels.

At the inaugural Mass at 3:00 p.m. yesterday, my pastor Fr. Tim Byerley gave a homily outlining these three aspects of our prayer focus. I want to highlight his thoughts from the third point: Renewal or reform. Last week Fr. Tim attended a conference in Washington, DC, the NAPA Institute’s Principled Entrepreneurship Conference. Two of the speakers at this conference were Gerhard Cardinal Müller of Germany and Dr. Scott Hahn. Cardinal Müller spoke of the importance of renewing and reforming the Church from the top down. He reminded the attendees how God has raised up saints in the past to call the Church back to holiness, and how at times God has even employed visitations of the Blessed Virgin Mary to speak truth to the Church, for example at Fatima, just over one hundred years ago. We must pray that there will be men and women who will faithfully speak truth to leadership as St. Catherine of Siena did to Pope Gregory XI convincing him to leave Avignon and take his rightful place in Rome; as Saints Robert Bellarmine, Charles Borromeo, and Philip Neri who were instrumental in the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent to restore and reform the Church from within. Who will be that saint or group of saints today?

Dr. Scott Hahn spoke of the importance of the Church being renewed and reformed from the bottom up. This is also very important and Dr. Hahn spoke to the conference as a layman himself. His focus was on the importance of lay Catholics living holy lives. He specifically referenced the need for couples to live out the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and through their sacrament to honor each other, have children and raise those children to love God and the Church who will then became faithful priests, religious, and married couples who will in turn do the same. If Catholics would be faithful to do this, in one generation the Church would be renewed and reformed and the society would be impacted for the good.

He mentioned some specific ways in which married couples could achieve this, and all by God’s grace being poured out into their lives:

  • Lifetime commitment to marriage. What God has joined, no one should separate.
  • Rejection of contraception. Every couple must be open to life and using birth control is not something a Catholic can practice.
  • Rejection of pornography. Pornography is insidious in our culture. Back in 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Today we are so inundated by a culture of pornography that we sometimes struggle to recognize it when it gently laps on our shores, then before you know it the tide has come in and we are completely immersed. It’s time to reset our filters and reject what will destroy us, our marriages and our families, especially our children.
  • Commitment to raise godly children and grandchildren. Our children and grandchildren will not become holy by osmosis. We cannot expect that their education, religious or otherwise, their peers, the media and the culture in general will lead them to God. At best it will be neutral. It is our role and responsibility and God-given commission to “train up” our children and persist in their religious upbringing. We would not leave their nutrition, health, and general education to chance. Why would we put their immortal souls at the risk of hell by not leading them into the way of truth?

Whether you are participating in a Forty Hours of Prayer or not, set aside some time to pray, fast and seek how you may follow after our Lord in this challenging time. This is not something we can take lightly. Our destiny and the destiny of the next generation depend upon our faithfulness to respond to God.

Saints Catherine of Siena, Robert Bellarmine, Charles Borromeo and Philip Neri pray for us!

“That Nothing May Be Lost”

Fr. Paul Scalia is a Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Arlington, VA. He is probably best known as the son of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In fact, Fr. Scalia celebrated the funeral Mass of his father in Washington’s Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Watching the funeral on television gave me my first exposure to him.

At the end of last month, my wife and I attended the “Defending the Faith” Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville (OH) hosted by Dr. Scott Hahn. Fr. Scalia was one of the speakers, and despite connection problems trying to fly in for the conference, he made it on time and gave a memorable lecture on St. Thomas More and his defense of marriage. I was impressed with Scalia’s deep faith, his discreet holiness, and his devotion to Christ and his Church.

After listening to Fr. Scalia, I determined to buy his book that was on sale in the university bookstore. With the title That Nothing May Be Lost: Reflections on Catholic Doctrine and Devotion, it was published in 2017. The synopsis on the page states the following:

Fr. Paul Scalia reveals a scholar’s mind and a pastor’s heart in these inspiring reflections on a wide range of Catholic teachings and practices. Rooted in Scripture, the beauty and truth of these insights places the reader on a path to a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God. While keeping the focus on the theology and teachings of the Church, Fr. Scalia also covers these topics:
–shows the unity that comes from the seven sacraments
–provides a roadmap to a life of grace
–encourages a strong devotion to our Blessed Mother
–provides guidance on how to develop a continuous conversation with God

The book is divided into nine sections, and each section contains short devotional readings that can be ingested in less than five minutes. I look forward each morning to spending those few minutes in a deep dive in “developing a continuous conversation with God.”

Fr. Scalia often grabs my attention with a story; this one opened the devotional entitled “Drawn”:

Little Lucette was inexplicably drawn to the man on the cross–inexplicably, because she had no idea who he was or why he was crucified. Her parents had banished from her life any knowledge of or reference to God. But a gift catalog had slipped through their defenses, and Lucette found in those pages a little crucifix. By an interior grace she knew that he had died for others–for her. She secretly tore out the page and would often gaze devoutly–and covertly–at the man on the cross. Over the years her devotion matured into love. She learned Who the Man on the Cross was, and she gave herself to Him in religious life, dying not too long ago as Mother Veronica Namoyo of the Poor Clares.

As I reflected, I thought about the fact that Lucette saw a crucifix in the catalog, not just an empty cross. It was the man on the cross who drew her in. Inexplicably she found Jesus!

“A Gift for You!”

Over the two months after my mother-in-law’s death and my commitment to fully understand her faith I found myself treading in deep waters. I read books from a Catholic perspective, listened to and read testimonies of men and women who had been lifelong evangelicals and had come into the Catholic Church. The story of Scott and Kimberly Hahn in Rome Sweet Home was particularly powerful. The best way to describe what was going on in me is to revisit my prayers and writings found in my journal from that time.

December 27, 2013–Feast of Saint John the Beloved
This morning my mind needs to refocus and take in your glory and the majesty of your grace in our lives. I look to you and trust you to show me the way you would have me to go. What’s your plan and purpose for me? I have no desire to cling to something, especially a role or a position that causes your kingdom to stall. Holy Spirit, I ask you for wisdom and illumination so that it will become clear to me what it is you are calling me to. Either these thoughts and readings are the direction you are leading me or they are a distraction to your original call for me. Spirit of God, make that abundantly clear to me. Either lead me unswervingly into the bosom of the Catholic Church or deeper and more committed to where I am with a greater appreciation for what you are doing on a larger scale. I recognize that this is a process and there are questions you want me to ask and allow you to answer. I do ask that in this process you enable me to look to you, to gaze on your face and live in your grace and do all to the glory of God.

Recognizing that moving away from what I had always known would cost me my vocation (pastoral ministry), my reputation (possibly), and my livelihood, later that same morning I wrote:
Father, I humbly come into your presence and ask you to reveal truth to me. I have desired you all my life. I don’t want anything to keep me from fully and faithfully loving or serving you. You know what is happening in my world and how my spirit is restless in this search. I don’t want to go where I shouldn’t, but I also don’t want to resist where you are leading me. I sense deep in my being that you are calling me “home” to the beauty and fullness of the Catholic Church. That feels strange and uncomfortable on one level to say, but on another level it feels like truth and the natural and logical next step. So Holy Spirit, you are the One who leads into all truth. I come to you and ask you to lead me. Point me to Jesus my Lord, my Savior, my God and my King! You know my heart and my wholehearted desire to obey you. I have always desired that. Make your will for me very evident.

About 20 minutes after I prayed that prayer I went downstairs to get the mail. What I found in the mailbox was either an answer to my prayer or just a coincidence. Allow me to explain. In those days of searching I used a membership I had to to help get books at no cost. One of the books I had requested arrived that morning, A Catechism for Adults. There was nothing unusual about that. However inside the white paper wrapping was not only the book I ordered but a card and another package wrapped in Christmas paper from a woman in Lexington, Kentucky, whom I did not know. The card had these words: “What’s in the package is a gift for you!”

Inside the package were two books I had of course not ordered: Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth: The Catholic Church and God’s Plan for You and The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic: How Engaging 1% of Catholics Could Change the World.

I wrote: Honestly, I can’t take this as anything less than the beginning of the answer to my prayer. Even as I write this I feel scared and a little warm. O God, show me the way!

Last week I wrote to the woman in Lexington and asked her about the package she sent me. Since it came by media mail it had been on the way several days before I asked God to give me a clear sign as to what He wanted in my life. She wrote back and said she was prompted to do so because someone else had sent her some gift-wrapped books. God only knows why she chose those specific books to send me. I thanked her for being an instrument that God used in that part of my journey.