Hermits for a Season

Rejoice while you have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor. (I Peter 1:6-7)

St. Peter’s words to us. Rejoice in your trials, because they test your faith, like fire tests the purity of gold. [Spanish]

thomas mertonDoes everyone know that the Church of Christ has a “vanishing center?” A mysterious, invisible heart. Who lives there? Christian hermits.

In the 20th century, Father Thomas Merton gained fame among Catholics by seeking this total solitude. And many of us love St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, for the same reason.

A Christian hermit devotes his or her entire life to praising God and fostering the world’s salvation. How? By separating him or herself from human society, in order to live a life of pure prayer and penance.

Christian hermits manifest the interior aspect of the mystery of salvation. Personal intimacy with Christ. A hermit lives hidden from other human eyes and preaches the Gospel silently. By surrendering absolutely everything to God in the desert of silence, the hermit finds the glory of Christ crucified.

All this comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 920 and 921. Maybe it sounds all too familiar right now. We could re-word the Catechism sentences like this:

Living as a Catholic during the coronavirus epidemic manifests the interior aspect of the mystery of salvation. Maintaining a spiritual life during isolation involves personal intimacy with Christ. The Christian staying at home on Sunday morning for the sake of public health finds in the desert of silence the glory of Christ crucified.’

st_therese_of_lisieuxMay God give us strength and insight. By His invisible power and grace, these weeks can deepen and intensify our spiritual lives.

May we co-operate with His grace! May we find the discipline we need. The real hermits will be the first to tell us: when your home and your church are the same little building, and you never leave, you either get holier. Or you lose it altogether.

On the other hand… We read something else in Sunday’s readings at Mass: They devoted themselves to the communal life. All who believed were together. (Acts 2:42, 44)

The Lord has not called us all to live as Christian hermits forever. By no means.

What should we be doing as a parish right now? We should be having First Communions, with the kids in their white suits and dresses. And big Quinceañeras. Cakes after Mass. Weddings with string quartets and trombones. Processions to the Virgin’s grotto. Mexican dances with tambourines and somersaults. Candles, chants, incense.

After all, Catholicism doesn’t mean just, “here come the hermits.” Catholicism means: “Here comes everybody.”

Now, you know me as a man of stone-like stoicism. I find my own personal emotions so uninteresting that I consistently ignore them–so that they will leave me alone.

But you will see me cry. When we come together again in church. Before I can even make the sign of the cross to begin Mass, I guarantee you: I will be crying for joy like a daggone baby.

The Corrupt Generation

After Jesus rose from the dead, He filled St. Peter and the other Apostles with courage. Then they declared to the world the resurrection and the triumph of Jesus. Some who heard the news, and believed it, asked them: “What must we do, then?”

Card Newman
John Henry Newman

St. Peter answered: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation…Repent and be baptized in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Save yourselves from this corrupt generation. Now, what exactly does this mean? Should we translate it loosely as, “Run for your lives!” Maybe not exactly.

Is this particular generation more corrupt than any other? We might wince at the thought of the things they did at Woodstock, or during the reign of the Roman Emperor Caligula. But all of human history bears witness to the deeper meaning of this phrase, “corrupt generation.”

The corrupt generation is: Us. Mankind as a whole, the entire kit and caboodle; lock, stock, and barrel. The late, great Cardinal Newman put it like this:

We must each become a new creature; love, fear, and obey God; be just, honest, meek, pure in heart, forgiving, heavenly-minded, self-denying, humble, and resigned. Yes, man is confessedly weak and corrupt. But the Bible enjoins us strictly to be religious and unearthly.

Christ, risen from the grave, can make us serious. Serious about eternal life—the life He Himself now lives. He pours that life out upon us, through His manifold gifts. Jesus can make us holy. Then maybe we can eat a couple pieces of Easter candy and have some wholesome, uncorrupted fun.

Immoderate Evangelical Zeal

Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening. (I Samuel 3:10)

Today we pray and fast for the success of the New Evangelization in our diocese, the venerable diocese of Richmond, Virginia.

The New Evangelization. Similar to the evangelization we have always had. Jesus lives.

pentecost_with_maryCan’t we well imagine that plenty of well-meaning individuals encouraged the Apostles to tone down their emphasis on this one particular person?

‘Okay. Sure he was a great guy. Worth remembering. Worth celebrating. Like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. No doubt. But don’t go too far with this one individual. Makes you look immoderate. After all, you are just simple fishermen. You don’t want to look like kooks. In Rome they have a beautiful temple for all the gods, and everybody accepts that we really don’t know anything for sure. Back off all this zealotry about Jesus of Nazareth.’

The Apostles, we can imagine, thought to themselves, while listening to all this well-meant advice: ‘But we saw Him after He had risen from the dead! We received from Him the divine Spirit of love. He cleared away every ounce of worldly nonsense from our souls and showed us the blessed face of God. He lives! He pours out His grace from heaven. Life isn’t worth living without Him. He demands nothing less than total submission, religious submission, and in return He gives us the freedom of the children of God. Why would we not surrender ourselves to Him? Everything else seems like so much straw and folderol by comparison.’

And the well-meaning calm-downers reply: ‘You know, you Apostles appear drunk. You carry on like inebriates. There’s no other reasonable explanation for your quirky vivacity and mysterious joie de vivre. You have nothing. You live hand-to-mouth with no creature comforts. You stare down death with a mocking smile. You must be a bunch of drunks. You’re quite out of control.’

PantheonRomanExteriorThe Apostles think to themselves:

‘The joy of Jesus! He had nothing. He slept in the cold, on the hard ground. He made His pilgrimage with no comforts but prayer and friendship. With fearless generosity, He stepped toward death. People called Him a drunkard—because He loved and sat with people, no matter who they were. The soul of Jesus is the happiest and most blessed soul the world has ever seen. Our joy is His!’

The old evangelization, the evangelization that made it as far as us: Jesus is Lord. Jesus gives life. God is real, and Jesus is His Son, and eternity beckons, the eternity of love. Real love, crucified love.

The New Evangelization means all this, too. All this, in this very day and age, knowing full well that the world would crucify the Christ in AD 2014 just as surely and cruelly as we crucified Him in AD 33. And knowing that He would gladly die here and now, today, for all the lost souls, all the souls who have no horizon higher than what Google can reach. He died for every soul living on earth in 2014, when He died on Golgatha.

Jesus is Lord. Well-meaning calm-downers might get in our faces and whisper at us to moderate the zealous desire for all to be saved in Christ. But we can’t moderate that.

Hopefully we can moderate our own personal defects, which get in the way of the Gospel—with God’s help, let us try to moderate those.

But we cannot moderate our zealous desire that everyone know and love Jesus Christ the Lord. Because that zeal in our hearts comes from the Heart of Christ. And the Heart of Christ is on fire.