Friday, October 23, 2009
In the feedback from the Catholic America Tour, a common recommendation is that more “practical” considerations be woven into the presentation. Many are saying that the history is interesting and the examples are motivating, but practical “methods” are not sufficiently expounded. To make up for the deficiency, some of us religious and layfolk here at the Center got together and jotted down a list. We hope you find it helpful.
• Show the people you want to convert — family, friends, co-workers, etc. — that you care for them. This is done in “little ways” (like St. Thérèse) by showing interest in their interests: their families, jobs, hobbies, joys, sorrows, etc. If what interests them interests you, there is a “communion” established between you. That gives you leverage and credibility. If you show people no interest in any tangible way, how do you expect them to think you are interested in their eternal salvation?
• Remember to be pleasant and cheerful. Dour, sad people do not attract others.
• Don’t offend people needlessly. Always be a lady or a gentleman.
• Remember that your enthusiasm will speak to people of the importance of the Faith. If the Faith is truly important to you, this will show in a variety of ways.
• Make yourself a “helpful” person by volunteering in different religious and civic organizations (your parish, Boy Scouts, pro-life organizations, etc.). In these contexts, you can help to influence people.
• Give good example. Saint Peter himself endorsed this as a means to gaining converts: “Having your conversation good among the Gentiles: that whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by the good works, which they shall behold in you, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
• If you are the mother or father of a family, remember that your family comes first. Living properly the obligations of your state in life is a very effective and practical way to work for a Catholic America — it’s called raising it! Conversely, abandoning the home-base for otherwise noble purposes is sinful and, ultimately, ineffective.
The Soul of the Apostolate
• Live a wholesome Catholic spiritual life, fed on the Church’s sacraments and liturgy, the Rosary, spiritual reading and personal prayer. Ultimately it is holiness you are trying to spread, so work with Our Lord to get it yourself, first. Nemo dat quod non habet. (”No man can give what he does not have.”)
• Make, renew, and live your Marian Consecration according to the formula of Saint Louis de Montfort (Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe also has a good one). You can also consecrate your family to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
• Pray for the person you are trying to convert. Have Masses said. God is interested in what you are trying to do; He might like to hear about it.
• Pray for the grace to be a good apostle for the Faith. Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe’s prayer of consecration to Mary has this intention built into it.
• Pray to the guardian angels of those you’re trying to convert.
• Have “conversation starters” all around. Decorate your house with holy images. Do the same with your desk at work. If there is a rule at your place of employment that you can’t have “religious pictures” in your workspace, then make sure your family pictures have religious images (crucifix, Mary statue, etc.) in them. This is known as being wise as serpents.
• Carry around and hand out Miraculous Medals. Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe called these his “bullets.” (Remember the story of Alphonse Ratisbonne.) You can even leave them with the tip at a restaurant. And make sure it is a decent tip!
• With the knowledge you have of your would-be convert — remember, you’re interested in him, right? — offer him articles on his interests from Catholic sources. (E.g.: “Tom, I know you like U.S. History. Here’s a good article on the diplomat who secured peace with Sitting Bull”. . . and hand him something on Father De Smet.)
• Keep Catholic tracts and/or booklets with you. Hand them out when the occasion arises. (For those who have to be clever as serpents at your workplace, “accidentally” letting these fall out of your briefcase or remain open on your desk can help.
• Be a “public Catholic.” That is, say grace before meals (crossing yourself!), and do other visible acts of faith in a non-pompous manner. Your car can be Catholic, too, in a tasteful way, with a Rosary hanging in the right place, a mini-statue on the dash, and even a side-or rear window holy picture.
• Always show reverence for the Holy Name of Jesus. Bow your head when it is said. Do that and say “Blessed be God” if someone uses the Sacred Name irreverently.
• When someone tells you about his problems, promise him your prayers. You can even have a Mass said. This is a way to show (and act upon) your concern for that individual. In his mind, this will connect your Faith to your practical charity for that person.
• Chances are, the person you are speaking with has a Christian name. Tell him about his patron saint. (If there are multiple candidates — which Saint Andrew? — pick one for him!) You can direct him to a good book on the saint, and encourage him to pray to his patron.
• Put Catholic messages on your mail, e.g., “Saint Anthony Guide.”
• Get people to be regular readers of our web site. Send emails recommending particular articles. Put a link to the site on your email signature. If you use Facebook, post articles from our site and Catholic “status messages” on your wall.
• If you read the local paper and see good letters to the editor on hot-button moral issues, send the letter-writer a personal note with kudos and a recommendation to read something Catholic on the same issue (e.g., pro-life, pro-family).
• Study as part of the Saint Augustine Institute. Your studies, however modest, will inform your conversations about the Faith, and make you a better apostle. If you organize a study circle — a very good personal apostolate — you can invite people to learn in a group setting.
• Joining the Third Order of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary helps in many ways. For example, by working together at our own sanctity, we assist each other in becoming saints; and by remaining a school of thought with a common sense of purpose, we present a “united front” to the Church and the world. This can make us an organized force for the conversion of America.
“My brethren, if any of you err from the truth, and one convert him: He must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Thursday, October 15, 2009
He was probably in his seventies, a frail little man, maybe five feet-four inches tall or so. Always wore a suit and tie, he did — the same suit coat, every day, the shoulders overlapping his own, the sleeves ending half way down his fingers, and the hem of it almost reaching his knees. It may have fit him, more suitably, when he was younger but he would have had to have been a lot huskier, too.
His name was Giuseppi. I’ve long since forgotten his last name, as it was thirty-seven years ago that I knew him. He was the porter at the religious house where I was staying during the one year I spent studying in Rome. I don’t remember if he had any other duties; if he did it may have been as a dispatcher for the community’s phones, for there were about ten priests living in the house at the time. The system would have had to have been very simple because Giuseppi was a very simple man.
Every morning, at the same time we were saying Matins in the chapel before Mass, Giuseppi would come into the back of the chapel and drop down on his knees and proceed to say in alta voce the beginning of the Our Father in Latin, then he’d slip into Italian for the rest of the Lord’s Prayer, which he completed in sotto voce (almost in a whisper). Then, he’d intone in the very same manner the Hail Mary: “Ave Maria, gratia plena,” he’d bellow, continuing on with the prayer in more subdued Italian. That was about it for his prayers, and he was off to his office by the front door.
Giuseppi was always flashing his gold tooth with his perennial smile. He loved to greet us American students and we were always using him to test our conversational Italian. We would say: “Parla lungo, Giuseppi, lenta prego,” and he would accommodate us with the most affected, slow enunciation just to please us.
We had a tutor for some months who would stop by almost every day to teach us Tuscano Italian. She was a native Roman, a well educated matron, about Giuseppi’s age, and she would always chat with him before she left. She was a good woman and I remember how she was so courteous to the little porter who was always delighted to see her. I’ll call her Maria.
Giuseppi had such a good heart; his biggest joy was to greet us, even if it was just a passing “hello” and “goodbye.” He did not get along with the other employee, a younger man, who served in the refectory; his name was Gilberto, and with his occasional snide remarks — covertly delivered, of course — he let us know that he was more than a bit anti-clerical.
As I said, Giuseppi loved to talk to us. After a few weeks, he started to greet us with this endearing salutation: “Good morning, my dear.” And we would reciprocate: “Good morning, my dear,” with a chuckle. Giuseppi didn’t know why we found the greeting so funny. You see, to impress us, he had been listening to “Learning English” cassettes in his office. The speakers played the part of a husband and wife, and, in Italian, carrissima means “dear one,” so to Giuseppi we were all “my dear.”
I once met him walking down the street after he exited a nearby church. “Comé sta, Giuseppi,” I asked. “Bene, bene, grazie a Dio,” he replied. Then I said something that seemed to really upset him. I was young and it just slipped off my tongue without my thinking how such words, even though said half in jest, might affect someone as humble as Giuseppi was. I told him that I thought that God must love him very much — that much was fine — then I said that I considered him to be a saint.
“No, no,” he protested indignantly. “I am a miserable sinner. I have committed many, many sins.”
We were going in opposite directions, so he just kept walking ahead shaking his head, “No, no, not me, not me.” There was nothing I could say.
Giuseppi quickly forgave me for canonizing him, or he just forgot about it, because every day he continued to give me, and all the young Americans, the same unfeigned smile and the same hearty greeting. Every now and then he’d throw in a new word that he had learned, anxious to see if he understood its meaning correctly, and was pronouncing it right.
One day during Advent he couldn’t wait to talk to me. He was so excited and his face was beaming. He told me that he was taking a train to Florence to see his daughter during his Christmas vacation. Then the tears began pouring from his eyes: “I have not seen her since she was a child,” he said. “It’s been forty years. She is a nun in a convent.”
It was hard for Giuseppi to speak, his voice was choking so, and it was hard for me to understand what he was trying to explain. Somehow, during the World War, while he was stationed in Ethiopia, it seems that his wife and daughter were separated from him. I asked him why he could not find them when he returned home after the war. And this is where I could not understand his answer. Nor did I want to press him about it, for the pain, long buried in his heart, was not looking for words; it had found its escape in tears. All I could get from him was, “They were gone, they were gone. No one knew where they were.”
Well, at some point the daughter must have located her father, for he was going to see her for the first time in forty years. And she was a nun. He was so proud, so happy. “God bless you, Giuseppi,” I said. “You will surely have the most joyful Christmas of your life.” I don’t remember if I got choked up at the time, but if I am so now, just thinking about it, I must’ve been so back then.
When our diminutive porter returned to work sometime after Christmas he told us all about his bambina: “She is a nun, now,” he kept saying; “She’s all grown up, and very happy.” As he spoke he kept blessing himself over and over. But I don’t remember that he cried this time. He was perfectly content; he had received the answer to all those prayers that he offered for so many years, going from church to church (and Rome has one on every block) and stopping by one more church after work on his way home.
Home? Giuseppi didn’t have a home, a family to go to; he lived at a nursing facility for the elderly. It was about a half-mile away. One would have thought that he could’ve slept over at the monastery, at least during bad weather, for he did have a cot in his office on which he would take his daily siesta. Apparently, he never asked for this favor from the abbot or the prior, nor was it offered, as far as I know.
A few weeks later Giuseppi developed a bad cough. Each day it got worse. He tried to hide the fact that he was not well and he forced himself to be there at the door to say “hello” when we would come in from classes. There was no one on the first floor in the house to hear the worst of his fits. We were on the second floor, and there were a few priests on the third floor, but no one on the first. We knew that he must have had a bad cold, but the fact that he was up and about, at least when the doorbell rang, quieted any concerns that “maybe this old man has pneumonia.”
Maria was very upset when she came in to give us our lesson that week in Italian. “Don’t you realize that this man is gravely ill,” she chided us. “He belongs in a hospital.” She did not leave without telling the prior that Giuseppi needed a doctor right away.
He never got to see a doctor. In fact, he completed his usual work day, and then, around six o’clock, headed out into the night winter air for his half-mile walk to the hospice. And what about us students and seminarians? After our Italian class that day we had gone upstairs to our rooms for study period. Maria had spoken to the father in charge and, good man that he was, we assumed that he had heeded her admonition. I’ll never forget how upset she was that Giuseppi was working at all.
The next morning the prior told us that Giuseppi had collapsed against a wall on the way to the hospice and that he had died. It was a secluded spot where he fell, no streetlights, and, especially in the freezing cold, no strollers. His body wasn’t discovered until the sun rose.
Every Mass, at the Memento for the Dead, I still pray for Giuseppi. I should be praying to him. “For him,” “to him,” he knows what to do with the prayers. He was, by his own admission, “a miserable sinner.” And miserable sinners, when they are as humble as Giuseppi, make great saints.
Email Brian Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
(Note: This was written on the occasion of the death of Brother Hugh, M.I.C.M. (+ July 11, 1979), one of the founding members of our Order, who went to his reward on July 11, 1979. The piece introduced From The Housetops No. 18, which featured the life of Saint John Bosco. Brother Hugh was a real giant of a man who left a deep impression on many souls, and was an intrepid leader at Saint Benedict Center during very difficult times. Brother Francis loved him deeply, and has cherished his memory all these years. We thought it fitting, on the thirtieth anniversary of Brother Hugh’s death, to publish this small tribute in our newsletter. It is especially so inasmuch as its author is now very close to entering eternity himself, where, we hope, he will join his old confrère in beatitude.)
The great apostle of youth in modern times, Saint John Bosco, whose inspiring and most exciting story is the feature of this issue, may be styled “The Saint of Enthusiasm.” But as I present the breathtaking epic to be narrated in the following pages, it is my sad duty to announce to our readers the death of another apostle of enthusiasm, our Superior, Brother Hugh MacIsaac, M.I.C.M., whose last cherished project on earth was to plan this very issue of our magazine, From The Housetops.
Brother Hugh is the one responsible, after God and our protectress in heaven, the Immaculate Mary, for the restoration of this magazine after twenty-five years of interruption; an interruption caused by the Liberal forces within the Church — the very forces that now seem so successful in effecting the demolition of faith and tradition.
Brother Hugh was also our most effective leader in our apostolate to bring the message of faith to all our cities and towns throughout the United States. One wonders how many hundreds, or even thousands, were waiting to meet him on his departure from this vale of tears in the early morning of July 11 of this year — souls who might owe their eternal salvation to the loving and enthusiastic challenge given to them by Brother Hugh during his long apostolate of over thirty years.
“When I go to heaven,” he said recently with his characteristic humor, “after I meet the Holy Family and my patron saint, I’ll ask to see Henry.” Henry was an industrial magnate in Chicago whom Brother Hugh met and sent back to the sacraments a few days before Henry went unexpectedly to meet his Creator.
Another person I am sure was there to welcome him is Professor Augusto Bersani, a leader of the Waldensians [also called the Waldenses]. Brother Hugh labored “with the patience of Job” for twenty-five long years before achieving the conversion of this brilliant man who somehow had wandered into the poisoned pastures of heresy. Professor Bersani finally sent for a priest on his deathbed, and made his peace with God.
I would like to bet that Brother Hugh holds the record for the number of miles on this great country’s highways and byways that he traveled on his own two feet, and also for the number of persons in all walks of life that he confronted with the message of salvation “eyeball to eyeball” (to use one of his favorite expressions) in, one might almost say, every city and town of the United States.
The Waldensian conversion forms another bond with the Italian apostle of enthusiasm, Don Bosco, the hero of this volume. The great saint also labored for the souls of the Waldensians in northern Italy.
And another bond that may be mentioned here is Saint John Bosco’s famous concern for the English-speaking world, the United States in particular. We have always known that in aiming at the conversion of America, we could count on the patronage of Don Bosco; now he will be assisted by his humble devotee, Brother Hugh, a Slave of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
We have been referring to that shining virtue common to these two Catholic apostles under the name of “enthusiasm.” But on the supernatural plane, that virtue should be called “zeal”.
The whole world has been talking about the fiery zeal of Saint John Bosco, and we feel confident that the world will one day be talking about the fiery zeal of our Brother Hugh.
And it is through such zeal, which we think will henceforth become infectious, that we hope to convert America.
“Who is the happiest man? He who loves God most.” — Brother Hugh, M.I.C.M.