Birth/Death, Michael D. O’Brien
WITHIN only a week of his elevation to the Seat of Peter, Pope Francis I has already given the Church his first encyclical: the teaching of Christian simplicity. There is no document, no pronouncement, no publication—just the powerful witness of an authentic life of Christian poverty.
With nearly every passing day, we see the thread of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s life-before-pope continuing to weave itself into the upholstery of Peter’s seat. Yes, that first pope was just a fisherman, a poor, simple fisherman (the first threads were mere fishing net). When Peter descended the steps of the Upper Room (and began his ascent of the heavenly steps), he was not accompanied by a security detail, even though the threat against the newborn Church was real. He walked among the poor, the sick, and the lame: “Silver and gold, have I none, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rises and walk.” cf. Acts 3:6 So too, Pope Francis has ridden the bus, walked among the crowds, lowered his bullet-proof shield, and let us “taste and see” the love of Christ. He even personally phoned to cancel his newspaper delivery back in Argentina. www.catholicnewsagency.com
My brothers and sisters… we are being shown again the marvelous and unmistakable footprints of the Carpenter of Nazareth, that Son of Man who had no where to lay His head. But they are not to be gawked at, but walked in. Through this refreshing authenticity, we are being shown the path that the Church, that we must follow. Yes, the Church must become poor again. How many times have I sensed the Lord saying that, particularly here in the West, we have no idea how far we have fallen from our first love. Rev 2:4-5 The contamination of the world is so pervasive, so extensive, so subtly entrenched in the modern Church, that the world no longer sees Christ in us, nor do we see Christ in one another. The world is lonely because we cannot find Him for whom we long! And so all of us… all of us… have gone looking for Him elsewhere, whether in pleasure or false comforts, and we are left hungry and poor. Indeed, Mother Teresa purportedly once said that, had she known how spiritually poor and hungry America is, she would have come there instead of Calcutta.
The Church is heading into a Great Storm—into her own Passion, as the Body follows Jesus, her Head. Pope Francis has not only taken the helm of the Barque of Peter, but he is sailing her directly into the heart of the Storm. When it was time for Jesus to suffer and die, He walked straight into Jerusalem. So too, the Holy Father by his example and his faithfulness to the truth, will arouse the jealousy and hatred of the “Sanhedrin” and worldly courts of opinion. The question now is, will we follow… or jump ship?
PREPARING FOR PENTECOST
There is a “Pentecost” coming upon the Church, and Jesus beckons His people, His Bride, to “come out of Babylon,” come out of the materialism which has gripped so many parts of the world and His Church.
Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues. (Rev 18:4)
Jesus wants to pour out spiritual riches upon us, but if we have filled our hearts with the passing riches of this world, we will miss it. This time of preparation, then, is not so much a bracing for chastisement, but for the coming of the Holy Spirit. When have you ever heard our Blessed Mother tell her children that they should be gripped in fear as the proper response to her messages? Satan wants us all distracted and worried and anxious about tsunamis, earthquakes, the economy, or this and that to the point where people can’t even pray or function. Hollywood has been “inspired” by dark apocalyptic scenarios which leave little hope and often serve only to terrify rather than call us back to repentance. By now, I hope you recognize that Satan’s pawns are using very similar “prophetic” language to that of the authentic voice of the Spirit, but which leads to solutions which are “antichrist.” I have much, much more to say about this in the future.
For now, the most important thing is to live the Gospel of Jesus. That you begin again and humble yourself, seeking forgiveness from God and those whom you’ve offended. That you enter into the great adventure, which is prayer, and simply do the duty of the moment with docility and surrender. Be joyful, despite everything, yes, rejoice always!
And seek to have, like Our Lady, a true spirit of poverty. For the degree to which you are emptied of “self”, is the degree to which you will be filled in The Coming Pentecost.
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Rom 12:2)
Two words: voluntary dispossession. Two words which continue to grow in my heart like corn in the fields…
This may be a very difficult writing for many to read. For in Western civilization, few realize how far we have fallen from the true spirit of the Gospel, the spirit of true followers of Christ. Paul VI tells us what that is:
This century thirsts for authenticity… The world expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, obedience, humility, detachment and self-sacrifice. —POPE PAUL VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, 22, 76
‘Simplicity of life… detachment and self-sacrifice.’ You could summarize these living qualities as a “spirit of poverty.”
Christians are called to become living wells from which the world can drink of the life of Jesus Christ. But when we fill the well with all kinds of material attachments and surround ourselves with excessive comfort and luxury, it clouds our witness. We may speak of and even follow Christ’s commandments, attracting souls to the edge of our hearts. But when they peer into our lives and see the algae of greed, self-indulgence, and materialism floating in our hearts and growing upon its walls, then they are unable to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
Oh, my friends! I write to you with a great big finger pointing at myself! How poorly I have responded to Christ’s condition for being His follower:
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me… everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. (Matt 16:24; 14:33)
Deny and renounce what again?
…all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life… (I Jn 2:26)
When we hear these words, our response is one of sadness. We immediately begin to think of those earthly treasures we value so highly or desire, or those vices and habits we so readily guard. We begin to argue, like the rich man who approached Jesus, that we are good Christians:
All these [commandments] I have observed from my youth. (Luke 18:21)
But Jesus responds,
One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. (v. 22-23)
Jesus then astonishes us by saying that for such a man to enter the Kingdom of God will be very, very difficult.
Zacchaeus was also rich. But when he decided to give his goods to the poor and to those whom he defrauded, Jesus said,
Today salvation has come to this house. (Luke 19:9)
One man lived the commandments, but loved his riches. The other broke the commandments, but renounced his wealth. Salvation came to the one who smashed the idols within his heart, and then began to live the commandments as well, in spirit and in truth.
But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation… remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here [in Heaven], and you are in anguish. (Luke 6:24; 16:25)
No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt 6:24)
If Christ is our Head, should not the Body follow suit? Should the Head be crowned in poverty, while the Body is adorned in riches? Yet, this call to a renewed spirit of poverty should not make us sad, but cause us to search the meaning of the words:
Blessed are you poor. (Luke 6:20)
The Gospel of Matthew says,
Blessed are the poor in spirit. (Matt 5:23)
If we listen to the context of Christ’s words in the rest of Scripture, it is clear the Gospel writers are not presenting us two options, but two views of the same Mountain of Blessedness. That is, a lifestyle of simplicity and detachment lends to a spirit of poverty, and a spirit of poverty should manifest in a lifestyle of simplicity. While not absolute, it is very difficult to enter the Kingdom, Jesus warns, for those who are rich.
Jesus is demanding, because He wishes our genuine happiness. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, World Youth Day Message for 2005, Vatican City, Aug. 27th, 2004, Zenit.org
SIMPLICITY, NOT DESTITUTION
Yes, I believe the Spirit of Jesus is calling us to voluntarily give up the pursuit of things which, although in and of themselves are neither good nor bad, lead our hearts and affections away from the Kingdom. This does not mean that we are necessarily called to sell everything and live in a hut (unless Christ gives you a specific calling to real poverty, such as He gave to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta). But I do believe the Lord is asking us to sort through our things, to sell or give away that which we don’t need, and cease the pursuit of those things which steal our heart from Him and cause us to lose our heavenly focus. Part of this focus, of course, is not just saving my skin, but saving and clothing the skin of my brother. The state of poverty in Christ should never be an end in itself. Rather, it should always lead us to a greater love of God and love of our neighbor, especially in the poor.
To live a life of simplicity does not mean living in filth or untidiness. “Grace builds on nature,” and therefore our surroundings should be well-ordered and maintained without an excessive desire for perfection or for “the best.”
I wish to repeat again the words which continue to resonate in my heart, “Come out of Babylon!” For Babylon, the illusory world of the flesh, is going to collapse. Its walls will fall on the rich, that is, those hearts where the very walls of Babylon have been erected. But for those who have voluntarily dispossessed themselves of the seductions of this world, the collapse of Western civilization cf. On the Eve will not be a major shift, at least of the heart.
Most importantly, the noise of the world will not be competing with the voice of Jesus. For God is speaking to and directing his people… but it is in whispers …the “still small voice”, the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit. Only the attentive will hear now. And we can only be attentive if we are not distracted, or rather, do not allow ourselves to be distracted.
In his riches, man lacks wisdom: he is like the beasts that are destroyed. (Psalm 49:20)
If we are afraid to strip ourselves of our worldly possessions, then we are unfit to make a strong defense of the faith. —St. Peter Damian, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol II, p. 1777
First published July 26th, 2007
- Meditate this week on the coming Passion of the Church: The Seven Year Trial
- The Coming Pentecost: Charismatic? Part VI and The Coming Pentecost
MARK COMING TO CALIFORNIA!
Mark Mallett will be speaking and singing in California
April, 2013. He will be joined by Fr. Seraphim Michalenko,
vice postulator for the canonization cause of St. Faustina.
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|↑1||cf. Acts 3:6|
|↑4||cf. On the Eve|