Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

01 October 2013

Of Symmetry and Sanctity

Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She died at the age of 24 from tuberculosis, as a cloistered Carmelite nun who scarcely knew the outside world after entering the order; but her desires to proclaim the Gospel and connect people with Christ's Mystical Body have merited her not only a place in heaven, but the patronage of the Church's missionary activity.

To proclaim the Gospel and to connect people with Christ's Mystical Body: that is the goal of every baptized Christian, and a fortiori of every priest. I recall hearing of St. Thérèse's love for priests, indeed of a kind of holy envy for them--certainly a profound reverence for their proximity to things divine. She offered her life for priests, for which I am most grateful.

Twenty years ago today I signed and mailed my application for seminary studies to the Diocese of Allentown. Today, a priest for ten years and almost four months, I participate in the solemn closing of my parish's Forty Hours Devotion. Much has transpired between then and now: all, I trust, to God's glory and the sanctification of His people.

The sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders are "Sacraments of Communion and Mission" because they orient their participants toward the eternal (and temporal) fulfillment--salvation--of others. I would say, "unlike the other sacraments," but that wouldn't be true. Every sacrament orients its participants toward the salvation of others, and thus to their own salvation.

Now, vowed religious life is not a sacrament, but there are real parallels between the purified and elevated commitment ("consecration") of the priest and the spouse, and of vowed religious. Perhaps the details of comparison are best left to the theologians and canonists.

I preached on the readings of the day as they relate to the life of the Little Flower. Zechariah foretold an eager response to the message of salvation among the Gentiles, who until his time were not roundly expected to repent and convert. Notice the palpable excitement ascribed to the nations: " of every nationality...shall take hold, yes, take hold of every Jew by the edge of his garment and say, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'"

Perhaps in this light we can salvage some worth from the enthusiasm of James and John, who express their disfavor of hostile Samaritans who would not welcome Jesus and company along their Holy Land Tour. Apparently the journey to His passion and death should encounter a sort of sneak preview along the way.

"Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven and consume them?" As if Jesus couldn't do that Himself if He wished! But He wanted to move on, though not without offering a rebuke. Now we are not privy to the precise words of that rebuke, but here is my script:

"Don't presume to know My mind concerning this situation. Don't you remember the account of Shimei, who cursed David and his officials on their way to Bahurim? How David made excuses for the man, even suggesting that the Lord Himself told him to curse the king? Let him go--mentally as well as physically. There are places to go, people to see," etc.

Jesus Himself spoke of a desire to "set the earth on fire" (Lk 12:49). One religious brother suggests that we not impede the Holy Spirit who wants to inflame our hearts with holiness and mission. This inflammation precedes and accompanies the Church's missionary activity.

Once again today we hear that Pope Francis has conducted an interview, this time with an atheist Italian journalist. Questions abound as to the accuracy of the translation (Traddutore, traditore--"The translator is a traitor--the Italians say), and a number of bloggers fear the implications of this interview. ("This isn't magisterial-level teaching!" "Too many people will misunderstand the Pope's words!" "He is watering down the uniqueness of Christ's Person and Sacrifice!") Others are encouraging people to relax and realize that the Holy Father (in imitation of Jesus) is an equal opportunity disturber.

St. Thérèse used to disturb me, too. (She still does, but she used to, too.) Too photogenic and photographed for being a cloistered Carmelite. Too pious, too impetuous--too bad! She's a saint, Chris, and you're not. Maybe you can learn something from her!

After I celebrated the 12:10pm Mass, I exposed the Blessed Sacrament to continue Adoration until the close of 40 Hours tonight at 7pm. After the usual incensation and genuflection, I noticed that the monstrance and tabor (the stand that elevates the monstrance) were not lined up just so with the Crucifix. I prepared my chalice for the next Mass and returned to the sanctuary to retrieve the Lectionary and other items, though not without stopping to reposition the tabor just so.

Then a voice came to me: "Are you more interested in symmetry than in sanctity?"

The voice of God? The late Mel Allen of "This Week in Baseball" used to say, "You make the call."

I think God was saying something to me. Upon sending out this post I shall obey His voice by donning my cassock and going down to the Church--not only to get a few more things ready for tonight's solemn closing, but also to make a visit and pray for the conversion of everyone on every side of these interviews, myself included.

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