Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Canon fodder
Selections from Father James Martin's answers to readers' questions

Father Martin's writings during yesterday's Dawn Patrol stop on his "Saints in Cyberspace" tour are too good to languish in the comments section. Here are some highlights:

Dawn had asked me, by way of leading off, to talk about a wonderful quote by St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, whose feast day we celebrate on June 26. ""The world admires only spectacular sacrifice, because it does not realize the value of sacrifice that is hidden and silent."

I couldn't agree more! In fact, one chapter in my book My Life with the Saints is called "Hidden Lives," and speaks at length about the "hidden life" of Christ, and, also, of St. Joseph, whose life still remains mysterious to us. Joseph, who is given no lines to speak in the whole New Testament, leads a life of hidden holiness and sacrifice. And yet it was one of the most important lives in human history. Though we know next to nothing about Joseph, we know that Jesus must have learned much from his foster father, when Jesus was a young boy, and as the two worked together in the carpentry shop at Nazareth. Along the way, Jesus must have learned from his foster father much about what it meant to be a good person, what it meant to be a good Jew, and what it meant to worship and serve God the father. As one theologian said, in Nazareth, Jesus becomes the "instrument most needed for the salvation of the world." Joseph was a big part of that fashioning of that instrument.

As St. Josemaria says, these humble ways of being holy--the mother or father who cares for their children, the son or daughter who cares for their aging parent, the priest who cares for his parish--are often not celebrated by the world.

But I believe that for their very humility, and for their hiddenness, they are all the more valued by God.

* * *

[On what the saints can teach us about the value of chastity:]

Well, the saints who lived lives of chastity, including priests and religious, have a lot to teach the larger community--not just priests and religious--about chastity. One of my favorite examples of this is Pope John XXIII. Now here is a person who has lived his entire life as a chaste man, yet was one of the most loving men you can imagine. Here was a man who, by the end of his life, was almost universally loved as a sort of kindly grandfather. His life, and the lives of so many of the saints, show that chastity, which is really about the right use of our sexuality, in whatever state of life we are, is all about love. And whenever people doubt the value of chastity or celibacy, or say that it makes you into a cold person, I always point them to Jesus. Was there ever anyone as loving?

* * *

[On why saints' statues have been removed from many churches:]

You know I wonder about that, too. I think the lack of statues is a reflection of a kind of post-Vatican II misunderstanding of the saints as more or less irrelevant to our lives. But as I've discovered in my own life, and by speaking with others, they are among the most important parts of the rich tradition of the Catholic church. So I'm all for more statues.

Funny story: I came across a statue of a saint in a church who I didn't recognize. I asked the pastor who it was, and he said, "Oh it's really St. Francis, but we needed a St. Dominic so we painted him over in a Dominican habit!"

As for the candle, one of my favorite spots in Lourdes are the booths for candles, where carved into the metal shed it says: "This flame continues my prayer."

* * *

[A reader asks how to be a good witness to his parents, noting, "I don't want to merely win the debate - I want to inspire them."]

Actually, I think you’ve already put your finger on the answer in your question. You probably won’t be able to win this “debate” question with them, especially if they are suspicious of religion, or at least of your own expression of your faith. Best of all, as I mentioned to another reader, is to follow St. Ignatius Loyola's advice that “Love shows itself in actions more than words.” (Or the more ancient expression, "See how they love one another.")

Of course remember that it’s a holy desire to want to inspire them, but it also needs to be said that if you are 1,000 miles away that might call for more creative ways of inspiring them. So for example: long-distance support when they are in trouble; thoughtful notes and gifts for special occasions; always being open to the possibility that they may become over time more disposed to hearing your message. St Ignatius also used to say that one needs to “Go in their door, and come out your door.” Meaning to speak to them in ways they will understand, which may be, in this case, small acts of charity.

But most of all trust that God is working within them through you--even though it may be slowly and gradually. Also trust that God will--even in ways that you are unaware of--inspire them through your faith.
* * *

[A reader writes: "I'm struggling to make a decision about my job which has been at war with my conscience for a long time now. Is there a saint you could recommend that I could maybe read about to help me make my decision?"]

I would suggest reading even a short biography of St. Thomas More, the English martyr, who struggled mightily with questions of conscience. (Richard Marius's biography is especially good, but long). Or read the Trappist monk's Thomas Merton's "Peace in the Post-Christian Era." (Before anyone objects: I know he's not a saint!) In the introduction is the story of how Merton too struggled with his conscience after being silenced by his superiors when he wanted to write about nonviolence and peace. In the end, Merton obeyed his superiors and remained silent: his book was published posthumously. But his discernment is very moving.

Finally, best of all, read the story of Jesus in the Temple at Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30), also "The Rejection in Nazareth." To me, that's a story not only of Jesus's self-revelation, but also one that shows that he preached the truth even when he knew it would get him into trouble. He did it anyway! It's one of my favorite stories to help us embolden ourselves to speak the truth boldly.

MORE: Check out the rest of Father Martin's answers in the comments section of my post welcoming him.