Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Look for the Little Ones

Where shall we find a holy person? Where shall we find a saint? It is difficult because the real saint is hidden and humble and holy. Instead of looking for the hidden holy ones we fall for the  celebrity 'saint'. We want the big dramatic conversion story. We want the dynamic, uncompromising speaker. We like the one who speaks out on sin and rails against the devil.

Have you ever noticed how the popular speakers do this? They score points every time they get down on homosexuals or speak up against the sexual immorality of the day. They get the applause when they take down the socialists or the feminists or the sinners of some sort, and then the faithful feel all good about themselves and that makes them love their big time speaker all the more. I listen to the faithful enthuse about their favorite priest and the ones they seem to like best are the ones who inveigh against sin. Preaching against sin is all well and good, but not when it's all about "Look at those terrible sinners out there! Isn't it awful out there? Isn't it a terrible world we live in??!!" Then the faithful all huddle together and get cozy and self righteous together in their little fortress of faith.

It's nauseating. Stop and consider that the real saints are hidden. They follow the little way. If you were to tell them they were a saint they would laugh and tell you to keep searching. If you even had the sense and discernment to see the saint next to you--the ordinary person who perseveres--the little person who serves others--the plain Jane who takes life easily and simply loves people, then you would learn again what true holiness really is. If we only had eyes to see the simplicity of the saints, the extraordinary ordinariness of holiness, the practical good humor and humility of the truly grace filled ones.

The confessional is where I am reminded about true holiness. I love sitting in the confessional and listening to the distress of ordinary people about their sins because their sins are so few and less serious than my own. When I listen to confessions I am more often impressed and humbled by the holiness of the penitent and not his sinfulness, and with each act of contrition I hear, my heart repeats it over with them for their penitence has softened my own heart and revealed my own lack.

Then my mind turns to the little saints I have known: an old woman who lived in a cabin in the woods and with gentle good humor and love turned my poisoned wayward heart back to God. A Poor Clare nun who lived as a hermit for years and endured great pain and hardship and yet never once complained. She always thought the best of everyone and believed not in my image, but in who I could really be. A Missionary of Charity I meet in El Salvador who serves mentally handicapped adults all day every day. A priest who serves the poor and suffers intense and chronic pain and never complains. A Eucharistic minister who visits the housebound and spends time with them and loves doing it.

It is the little way that leads to salvation. Not the way of pride and pleasure and power. Not the way of wealth and the world. Not the way of ego and ambition.

Only the way of the cross.

When are we going to learn this?


  1. Sadly, we must all be told in very direct terms how bad sin is, the consequences of falling for Satan's temptation and that Hell does exist. We rarely hear anymore about mortal sin, the devil, or Hell. The kinder, gentler approach will not work so regardless of what Fr. Corapi did, he spoke in terms that we should all hear in order to ensure we fully understand what is at stake if we don't obey God's law. If he sinned, then it is between him and God. I hope that what he preached was not contrary to our belief as Catholics. Will leave to those who know more to let the faithful know.

  2. Father,

    Excellent article. The saints are among us but we miss them for they have truly become "less" so that Christ might become "more". By the way, Mary does this perfectly in the New Testament.

  3. “Priests who see insults offered to God and remain silent are called by Isaias ‘mute dogs.’ But to these mute dogs shall be imputed all the sins that they could have- but have not – prevented…. Hence, St. Leo adds: ‘The priest who does not withdraw another from error proves that he is himself involved in it.’” (St. Alphonsus De Liguori) …

    “The words of the Bible and of the Church fathers rang in my ears, those sharp condemnations of shepherds who are like mute dogs; in order to avoid conflicts, they let the poison spread. Peace is not the first civic duty, and a bishop whose only concern is not to have any problems and to gloss over as many conflicts as possible is an image I find repulsive.” (Cardinal Ratzinger, 1997)

    Especially after yet another weak performance by our bishops in NY, I find it difficult to agree with the inference that it is somehow unholy to speak out against Satan's tactics.

  4. Thank you, Fr. Longenecker. I really needed to hear this.

  5. Fr Rick, please do not read into the post what I did not say. I am not against preaching against sin. I am against doing so in a way that promotes self righteousness and not repentance

  6. Thank you. You are exactly right. I love the big political fight, but that doesn't help me cleanse my sinful nature. God bless.

  7. Like the early years of the Church, society tends to promote money, sex, and power. This is why missionaries who were vowed to poverty, chastity, and obedience were so effective, because they were so different the people being evangelized didn't know what to make of them (this topic pops up on EWTN radio occasionally).

    I think you nailed it Fr. Longenecker when you spoke of the need for humility in our approach. The devil can't stand true humility.

    We need to reach out to sinners, and invite them back, not beat them into submission. This isn't to say we bury their sins, but lovingly guide them back. Now there are some people who need the 2x4 approach, but that shouldn't be the first option.

  8. Top notch, Father.

    “Jesus wishes to bring His kingdom to souls more by suffering than by brilliant preaching.” – St. Therese of Lisieux

  9. Thank you, Fr. Longnecker ... that adds clarity.

    I hope you can appreciate my concern. Isn't this exactly what the devil wants? For us to use such logic as: Bold preacher sins, therefore all bold preachers are sinners? Then he wins, as we recoil in fear.

    I love your blog, by the way ... I am are regular. I'll have to have you out my way some day ;-)

    Glad we're on the same team.

  10. beautiful, 'nuff said Father~

  11. Blessed are the blogless...

  12. With all due respect, and not intending to offend, my suggestion is that this blog undergo a redesign that reduces the very prominent picture of Fr. and emphasizes instead the images of the saints, our Lord and Blessed Lady. The visuals here are a bit ironic given the message of the post (which is like all the posts I've read here of very high quality). Maybe I'm just experiencing an ultra sensitivity to apparent indications of self promotion from clergy due to recent events. Still, IMHO it would be a good thing at least consider the impact of decreasing the personal image in favor of increasing the sacred images. A "little" but nonetheless potentially impactful gesture in favor of littleness. God bless.

  13. Anonymous6:25 AM

    I allow myself to disagree, Father.

    In my eyes most people who follow Catholic blogs and TV preachers are not looking for saints, but for the sound teaching they so desperately miss.

    Whilst it is very true that saints have always been hidden, sound teaching was, until recent times, preached openly and clearly. This doesn't happen anymore and most people are, today, fed with inane platitudes about being "joyful" rather than with the hard truths about sin and salvation. When the televised priest says those things plainly (and beautifully), of course he will get a lot of recognition.

    If we had more priests who do their job properly, there wouldn't be any need for "big people" on TV.


  14. When a true saint preaches or talks about sin in any shape or form, it is probably more effective, which is one of the reasons everybody wins by focusin on sanctity.

    However, having said that, priests are in no position to wait until they get holy before they can preach about sin, so they'll just have to do the best they can to get along (importantly with God's grace), just like the rest of us are in no position to wait until we get holy before we get on with the things proper to our state of life and which will all be better done by holy people. In fact, if we did, we would be assured of never growing in holiness.

    It's a conundrum, and I guess all we can do is ask God's grace and do our best to co-operate with it.

    One problem with preaching (and conversation and particularly internet posting in all forms!) is that ambition and pride so often enhances the natural tendency we may have towards wanting to be cutting and clever. With the result that whatever point we are making often is made effectively only to the people who were already of our point of view. Which is, I believe, part of Father's point on this matter.

    For myself, I never automatically assume that a good preacher (or a fiery one) is a saint just because they preach well and/or loudly on sin.

  15. Mundabor, I agree with you that we are not necessarily imputing sanctity to those who provide the sound teaching through the modern media.

  16. I do think, though, that we are perhaps looking for heros to put on a pedestal (without actually outright thinking they are saints), which is pretty dangerous for us, for them, and for the Church. The only people who deserve and probably the only ones who can cope with being put on pedestals are the saints, whom we are not very good at recognising and correctly identifying. The pressure of it for anyone who is not truly saintly will probably add to the dangers of the other temptations in their state of life, which temptations I would imagine to abound in proportion to the celebrity of the person. And it causes dangers both in blind following and in severe disillusionment.

  17. To me it points to the need to be faithful to the Truth. This needs discernment. Sometimes it means speaking out clearly, and at other times it means keeping your mouth shut and getting on your knees or doing some study. Mistakes are made because we are not perfect and sometimes speak when we should not etc. You are right Fr. L to focus on "littleness" which is a choice. Without that - and it includes a good self-knowledge - we are in danger. We can cope with danger providing we know how to duck and run for cover and when to come out fighting with the right weapons.

  18. For me, the more scandal, the more proof I have that the Catholic Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, founded by Jesus Christ.

    A. Satan only bothers with something worthwhile, and B., as Msgr Ronnie Knox said in his, Creed in Slow Motion'

    "In the first place, being a Catholic doesn't necessarily mean that you will go to heaven. It would be all right if it did, wouldn't it? It would save us all a lot of trouble and anxiety.

    No, the Church as we know it, the Church on earth, is a very mixed lot. That's an idea which Protestants often find it difficult to understand. I remember long ago saying in a sermon that it's probably safer to leave your umbrella at the door of a Wesleyan chapel than to leave it at the door of a Catholic church.

    Every now and then I hear of that remark being quoted with great satisfaction by Wesleyans. But I don't think they quite got my point; my point was that the Catholic Church is a mixed lot, and that proves that it is the Church which our Lord Jesus Christ came to found. Because he told us, quite unmistakably, that his Church on earth would be a mixed lot."

    [Chap. XIX, I believe in the holy Catholic Church (i)]

  19. The preacher will do well to speak out against sin as long as he makes it abundantly clear that he himself is also a sinner. (PLEASE, no specifics!) The best preachers I've heard -- both Catholic and Protestant (I'm also a converted Evangelical) -- never fail to do this.

    The other great temptation to avoid is to assume that the only "important" sins are the ones to which I (or the priest or the congregation) feel no particular temptation. It may very well be that the only reason I haven't committed such-and-such a sin is the lack of temptation; the Tempter may find easier ways to snare me, or God may know I could not withstand a more fierce temptation. Again, a good priest should know that already.

  20. What a wonderful article (again). Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.

  21. @seldallas: You say "the kinder, gentler approach will not work". If that is the case I have very little reason to hope in the ministry of Christ. Take his encounter with the Samaritan woman. That encounter was the definition of kind and gentle. Notice Christ's compassion and care, yet he doesn't shy from telling the woman of her sin. I am with Fr. Dwight, preaching sin without the true call to repentance is nothing but moralism (see Benedict XVI's book "The Yes of Jesus Christ").

  22. Father, the very same thought occurred to me today.
    I don't want to be totally unfair to Fr. Corapi. He had times when he preached against a variety of sins, but the attitude of his supporters these past few months has been:
    "He's the ONLY priest preaching all of God's truth" and stuff like that.
    They ask, "When was the last time you heard a priest preaching against homosexuality?"
    "I dunno. When was the last time you heard a priest preaching against Interest?"

    At the same time, we can bandy saint quotes back and forth. Louis de Montfort said it's better to preach in favor of prayer than to preach against sin, because prayer is the only way to overcome sin, and the sinner will be made aware of his sin through prayer.

    Fr. Corapi said in one of his talks, "I teach kindergarten." That's both a good thing and a bad thing. He got some people to start the process. He encouraged a lot of us to keep going. But he didn't really challenge us to do *better*. He mostly preached what people wanted to hear preached.

  23. Fortuitously, I've read two books recently which put all this in perspective:
    Into Your Hands, Father, by Wilfrid Stinissen OCD [recently (re)published by Ignatius Press], and, Lord, Teach Us to Pray, by Fr Jerome Bertram.

    They reminded me of the Catholic way of seeing things, rather than my way. So often, my worldview becomes infected by the seculo-protestant one all around me in and outside the Church.

    Of course, even the concept of a 'worldview' is part of this modernist-egoist discourse, like a creeping poison.

    I'm taking stock of the whole 'blogspere' thing as a result, realising they can encroach upon the priority of the pots and pans...

  24. Thanks for this post.

    I am anything but a saint but, being very hidden, it gives me hope. :)