Thursday, March 30, 2017

Why St. Francis of Assisi made me Catholic

     My last post triggered in my memory how much of a love and fascination I had with the little brother, the poor friar St. Francis of Assisi.  My fascination with this saint even began in my evangelical days.  It began when I wanted to read a G.K. Chesterton book for the first time and picked up his biography on St. Francis, which I would argue is still the best book he has written.  I had no idea some of the lore that were ascribed to this medieval saint.  He preached the gospel to the birds in the trees, he could communicate with a wolf terrorizing the local town, his donkey shedding tears upon Francis' death bed.  Also, the most mystical and fascinating fact of St. Francis is his vision and reception of the stigmata- the wounds of Christ.  As an evangelical, my mind was perplexed by all the testimonies and accounts of this humble man who gave up all things for Christ and how God blessed others through this man.

     He stuck with me though for the remainder of my Protestant days.  I had been attracted to Christians like Francis Chan and Shane Claiborne at the time, who are the time that frown on rich churches and "Comfortable Christianity".  Yet, I had heard none of these writers talk of him...  I still am shocked as to why.  He was their predecessor, and still was more radical than both of these Evangelical writers.  He should be one of their heroes.  Still, my attraction to St. Francis opened the door to hagiography and my seeking to understand the role heavenly saints play in the Church still.  The writings of Chesterton were helpful in this regard, and surprisingly also the writings of C.S. Lewis.  Even during my tour of Anglicanism did I develop what is now known to me as a devotion to St. Francis, so much so that when I was pursuing my ministry into Anglican orders I already knew that I wanted to found a parish community and name the church St. Francis of Assisi Anglican Church.

     It is clear that he is a saint that is attractive to Christians in every sect of Christianity, yet he is claimed by Catholicism.  This opened the door more for me to look at the Catholic Church.  St. Francis was indeed an open door for me to understanding the Saints in God's Church.  He helped me develop my understanding, and once I was in the Church I discovered a rich bouquet of saints who appealed to me.

Post-Catholic, two major aspects of St. Francis' life still appeal to me.

1. His pascifist approach: I am not a pascifist at all.  I do not think it is practical, yet I get drawn in by the message of peace-seekers.  St. Francis had fought in military and, similar to St. Ignatius of Loyola, got injured in the line of duty.  This is when his deep spiritual conversion began and he renounced his careers and family obligations to go live in the wild.  Francis' whole remaining life was the pursuit of God and peace.  He believed in peace so much, that he thought of a way to end the crusades: to convert the Sultan.  This is such a radical concept.  In today's world, when one is anti-war, that leads them to protest the government, to try to get soldiers to go AWOL, or publicly ridicule soldiers, burn draft records, etc.  Yet, Francis was not concerned with any of that.  He knew there were just reasons to fight in wars, yet he also knew that God didn't want his children fighting.  So what did he do?  He traveled to the Middle East, walked toward the enemy lines, got captured and demanded an audience with the Sultan.  When he met the Sultan, he did not cower his goal.  He admonished the Sultan to convert to the true religion, or face the fires of perdition.  The Sultan was so moved by the bravery and humility of St. Francis, that he welcomed him for further and friendly debate.  By the end, the Sultan was not convinced, but considered St. Francis to be a holy man and let him go.  Would anyone else who believes these things would do something so radical today?

2. Rebuild my church: Francis' mission was sparked by a message he heard from Christ- "rebuild my Church".  At first, Francis took it literally and began physically rebuilding Churches during his time in the wilderness.  Later, Francis would understand that true reform of the Church was to come through the founding of his order.  Yet, while Francis lived humble and in rags, he never felt the Church was to be completely like him.  He was able to separate the life he chose for himself, and the way the Church celebrates liturgy for example.  He said the Church should be using rich elaborite vestments and liturgical items to celebrate the Mass.  This is because of his conviction that Christ truly is King, and King's should be treated as such.

    I am thankful for St. Francis Assisi's life, and I'm sure the prayers he prayed for me.  What a truly magnificent saint in our Holy Mother Church.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Key Aspects of Redemptorist (Alphonsian) Spirituality

     Catholicism is like the greatest glass of wine you ever had.  A single sip of wine encapsulates so many different flavors and inspires the senses.  The same can be said for Catholicism.  One of my favorite aspects of Catholicism is the vast array of spiritual approaches that exist inside of such a society.  My journey in the Catholic Church has been a path of discovery to these various approaches to ancient Christian spirituality.  

     Before becoming Catholic I had an immense fascination with St. Francis of Assisi and his Little Brothers.  In fact, down the road I should add to my series with how St. Francis made me Catholic.  Then upon entry in the Catholic Church I became interested in Benedictine Spirituality and their influence on the historical spiritual development in the British isles.  I also have had an attraction to Ignatian spirituality, which would scandalize many of my Anglo-minded friends.  Now I am seeking to understand the elements that make up Redemptorist spirituality.  

     The Redemptorists were founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori.  St Alphonsus is not only a saint, he is a Doctor of the Church.  He is the patron of moral theologians (and arthritis).  As I discover more aspects to his spiritual approach I will post more, but for now I wish to post a few elements of Redemptorist spirituality.

"Those who do not pray are not saved."

     Many orders in the Church have mottos, for example the Benedictines have "Ora Et Labora" or the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta is "I thirst".  This was one of the mottos of St. Alphonsus.  While the Redemptorists are not a full-fledged contemplative order, it contains elements of it.  St. Alphonsus was a big proponent of practicing mental prayer.  Similar to St. Francis De Sales, St. Alphonsus prescribed his readers and followers to practice mental prayer over every other devotion (outside of the mass) if they were able.  Yet, it simply was that St. Alphonsus rightfully believed that you could be assured that if you were not praying, your were not seeking the Lord.  So when people wanted more assurance of their St. Alphonsus told people they needed to pray.  St. Alphonsus also emphasized Christ's presence in the Church.  He encouraged his followers to also pray before the Blessed Sacrament and to attend Adoration and Holy Hour.  

Mercy and Charity

     One of the reasons St. Alphonsus is the patron of moral theologians is that he was (while certainly not the first) was a big proponent of thinking and talking on moral theology through the lens of mercy and charity.  He advised priests to be loving and kind in the confessional booth, and not to be too rigid with souls seeking reconciliation.  St. Alphonsus also had a heart for the poor.  One of the missions of the Redemptorist order was outreach to poor communities.  They would found Churches in these areas to minister too.  All this boils down to the love of our Holy Redeemer.  St. Alphonsus wanted to preach for everyone to see the world, their neighbors, with the love of Christ.  

God through the Arts

   This one involves a little intuition on my part.  I have not seen anything this explicit that describes Redemptorist spirituality as having an artistic component, yet I think it is true.  St. Alphonsus was studying to be a lawyer before he became a priest.  He was quite fond of the opera and the arts.  St. Alphonsus painted portaits, such as the portait of Christ Crucified.  He composed hymns and Christmas carols.  He wrote over 300 works on spirituality.  So St. Alphonsus expressed his love of God through writing and the arts.  

I hope to continue this post in another part later.

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Pray For Us.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer

At the time I am writing this blog I have been inducted as an Associate Member of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer at Golgotha Monastery on Papa Stronsay Island, Scotland.  Previously, I had been discerning the Benedictine Oblature.  Through the previous year of discernment I had concluded that my spirituality did not completely align with the Benedictines, as much as I love their order.

I discovered the Sons' order through the work they are doing in Scotland reviving devotions and living out their Catholic culture so boldly.  The spirituality, as established by St. Alphonsus Liguori, being a later Catholic spiritual writer way after St. Benedict, is a bit more rounded to include Marian devotions on top of liturgical prayer.  I very much appreciate that aspect to their devotions.  In time perhaps, Lord willing, I will be a full third order member.  I ask for your prayers in this time for me.  Thank you to all my readers.