The Little Flower

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When I went to Costa Rica and then Peru as a missionary with my wife and family I had to learn a new language—Spanish. In the early days of language school I found myself so frustrated because I could not express myself. In a matter of weeks I had gone from being the pastor of a congregation who could say what I needed or wanted to say with a good deal of fluidity and flexibility. I could use synonyms and really didn’t have to worry about verb tenses. The only issue I had was when my Michigan congregation would laugh at my Hoosier vocabulary or accent. What did they know?

This became my experience another time in my life when after 33 years of pastoral/missionary ministry I entered into the field of health insurance. Overnight I had a whole new vocabulary and way of expressing my work thrust upon me. It was like learning a new language with a lot of technical terms you don’t use in general conversation outside of work. Yet I got to the place where I could do a credible job communicating.

Perhaps the most impactful change in my life as been the learning curve that has come my way in becoming Catholic at the tender age of 59. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe I’m not such an old dog after all. I have truly enjoyed discovering the ancient and ever new faith that I find in the Catholic Church. There are some differences in vocabulary of course, “prayer requests” become “intentions”, a “call” becomes a “vocation”, etc. Bigger shifts have come in the Sacraments, going from two—baptism and communion—to seven in the Catholic Church, and coming to understand the Communion of the Saints.

Even before coming into the Church, learning about the saints and their role in the Church Triumphant was such a blessing and encouragement to me. How much I appreciated seeing the seamless tapestry that is Christ’s Church in the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering and the Church Militant.

One of the saints that early on became significant to me was Thérèse of Lisieux, the French saint that lived from 1873 to 1897. Today she is not only canonized (1925 by Pope Pius XI), but was declared to be a Doctor of the Church in 1997 by Pope St. John Paul II. We know a great deal of her life and desire for holiness through her autobiography The Story of a Soul, a spiritual memoir. There we learn about the “Little Way of Love.”

I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts (elevators) instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. […] Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.

One other quote of St. Thérèse that stood out to me as I was coming into the Church and praying for God’s will to be done in my life and in the life of my wife Charlotte was, “I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth. I will send a shower of roses.”

In February 2015, there was no doubt in my heart and mind that I was to follow God’s leading to enter the Catholic Church. At that point though Charlotte was not ready or willing. I assured her that I would not do anything until she was ready. I would wait (and pray). I decided to pray a novena (a nine-day prayer) asking for the intercession of St. Thérèse about next steps and that Charlotte would have clarity of heart, mind, and spirit. The novena ended in the final days of February. On March 1 Charlotte woke up in the middle of the night (winter in New York City) to an overwhelming smell of roses that lasted but a few seconds. As she tells it, she knew immediately that she was to respond to God’s call to come home to the Church of her childhood.

On this the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, I say “thank you” and ask her to pray for others who need to take the next step in obedience to Jesus Christ.

image from YouTube

Keep It Local

One of the bloggers I follow faithfully is Fr. Dwight Longenecker, parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Yesterday I read his blog called “The Sex Abuse Crisis: Get Real.” It’s worth reading. I want to make reference to his final point that applies to my blogging as the crisis in the Church deepens and sides are taken.

“I’m not saying, ‘Well now that we’ve all had a big family shouting match, let’s just go home and get on with life as it has always been now and forever Amen.’ I’m not advocating passivity. If your vocation and calling is to keep pushing for reform in the church and holding bishops, cardinals and the pope accountable please go for it, and may God bless you in battle.

However, if that is not your calling, roll up your sleeves, get on your knees and do what you can with what you have where you are.”

Reality is always local. Get real.

There are many people who already have a “dog in the fight” and can and will do a much better job at bringing attention to the present state of things. Before I go any further, let me share with you some of those whom I follow that help keep me informed and aware of how I should pray.

So for the time being I am going to take Fr. Dwight’s advice. Why? Because I don’t think reform is possible? Not at all! What I do know is that for now I will leave the public fight to those who are better equipped to handle it. For now, I will roll up my sleeves, get on my knees, and do what I can with what I have where I am.

I will continue to blog, but I will try to focus, as much as I can on what you and I are called to do where we are. No doubt one of the most important things we can do is pray.

I leave you today with a beautiful and powerful prayer from John-Paul and Annie Deddens of Pray More Novenas:

Prayer for Honesty, Purity and Forthrightness in the Lives of the Clergy

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Father in Heaven, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Holy Spirit, comfort us, give us clarity, and bring light to this darkness and evil.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

  • St. Charles Lwanga and St. Monica, pray for the abused, the survivors and for justice.
  • St. Peter, pray for the Church, that it may be rebuilt, healed, and made holy.
  • St. Catherine of Siena, pray for reform and restoration of the clergy.
  • St. John Vianney, pray for the holiness of priests and bishops.
  • St. Benedict, pray that this evil be cast out of the Church.
  • St. Anthony, pray for us to find the way forward.
  • St. Paul, pray for the bishops that they may be fearless in confronting other bishops.
  • St. Augustine, pray for true repentance and transparency.
  • St. Dymphna, pray for consolation for the heartache, depression and anxiety this evil has caused.
  • Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!

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

Let’s pray for our Church and for each other! Amen.