Thursday, March 3, 2016

Pray Constantly!

Ascribing the dramatic decrease in the number of people who come to Sunday Mass, the worrisome decrease of vocations to priesthood and the religious life in many parts of the Catholic world, notably in "old" Europe, almost flippantly to demographics (READ: "With only one or two children, mom and dad don't want a priest but a lovely daughter-in-law and grandchildren." : True or False) is dishonest. Sadly, we can't seem to get beyond an almost indefatigable hankering for something characterized as "progress" or "development", say "self-promotion or realization" if you will, but which is no more than a caricature. 

Years ago, my boss came back from a visit home subsequent to the death of his mother when he and his brothers and sisters had gone about the heart-tugging business of breaking up household and dividing Mom's keepsakes among them. The prize he brought back was the New York med school graduation poster of his father; I'm sure today that it dates back a hundred years. Apart from the pictures of each new grad, with his name, and the date for commencement exercises, what was interesting for me was the poster's artistic background, symbolizing a bright future and progress. Today's graduating class might have chosen a seascape or a nature scene for their background, but back a century, it was a factory with countless fuming smokestacks which formed a medical faculty's statement on hope for the future.

My point? Much of what young people rush after today would be no less off the mark than a glorification of the industrial revolution and its iconic smokestacks. Political correctness, gender ideology and the dictatorship of relativism are no less poison, no less empty promise than a huffing, puffing, heaving factory. Lent calls us not only to repent, to turn from sin, but to turn toward the Lord, our source of light and consolation.

One of the saddest side effects or counter indications of the post-conciliar period has been an abandonment of personal prayer in the lives of many Catholics. We stand in need of renewal again today as did the Church in other times. You might say we need another penitential preacher like St. Vincent Ferrer: 

"The charismatic power of Vincent’s sermons and humble life were abundantly apparent in his final mission, to the duchy of Brittany in 1418– 19. Even thirty-five years later, witnesses at the Brittany canonization inquest recalled the striking image of the old, feeble friar, who walked with a cane and supported by companions, who became so animated and sprightly while preaching that, when he came down from the pulpit, “it seemed he was not the same person who had preached.” They testified to the effectiveness of Vincent’s sermons: blasphemy and gambling ceased; those who never had known how could now say the Pater Noster and the Ave Maria and make the sign of the cross. And above all, they recalled Vincent’s asceticism and his kindness. He never ate meat until his final illness, when at the bishop’s command he took some broth made from meat. He never slept in a bed but instead lay on a hard pallet on the floor. He greeted others humbly, with a bow and with kind words." (Smoller, Laura Ackerman (2014-01-21). The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby: The Cult of Vincent Ferrer in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Kindle Locations 289-296). Cornell University Press. Kindle Edition.) 

As eager as I am personally for an end to liturgical abuse and a genuine renewal of the liturgy, I see that renewal always as a jewel set in the mounting of a Christian life lived, a life proceeding from the liturgy and at the same time hastening to Divine Worship. Purifying and restoring Holy Mass in continuity with the tradition is essential, but nothing is gained if families at home are not renewed in their focus on the glories of the Cross and Christ's victory over sin and death.

We need to promote and sustain the reform preachers of our own day. With our tiniest children at home, basic Catholic prayers have to become a frequent and natural embrace of the Lord Jesus, His Blessed Mother and all the angels and saints.


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