Spiritual Conversation Is Food for the Soul

Yesterday my spiritual brother Mike and I traveled to Perham to pick up freshly-butchered beef we were blessed to buy from Becky’s aunt and uncle. It was about a three-hour drive each way; the meat market was jumping when we arrive, and we also stopped at Disgruntled Brewing in Perham for a pint and Beck’s Burger Company in Staples for a very late lunch (or an early supper). All told, the venture took the better part of the day and evening, by the time we the meat was safely stowed in our respective freezers.

Of course, we had plenty of time to talk. The conversation started with the usual topics these days: the pandemic, the election, the upcoming holidays and how our respective families (immediate and extended) are managing the risk, the uncertainty and the deep desire to be together during times like these.

Our children need each other and us, and we need them.

We laughed at times, but darkly: Those who say it couldn’t get much worse or last much longer haven’t spent much time with the Old Testament.

Happy the one whom God reproves! The Almighty’s discipline do not reject.

Job 5:17

Gradually the conversation turned to social media (another “bright spot” in the world) and the difficulty of staying accessible to those you disagree with. Christ calls us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) but most of us prefer to stay put, surround ourselves with like-minded people, and spar with family, friends and neighbors whose beliefs differ from our own.

But Mike and I discovered in our hearts a real desire to love, to serve, to draw people to the fount of joy we’ve found in Christ. Providentially, I had read something that captured the challenge of this mission earlier (on Facebook, ironically) earlier in the morning. I took out my phone and shared this account from Catholic writer Brandon Vogt:

A priest friend recently shared a story with me about a pastor he knew who served in a downtown area with a large population of gay people. There was a transgender person who would regularly visit his church and light candles at the various shrines. He would present himself with great drama, very theatrical, wearing over-the-top wigs and hats and dresses. He was never irreverent, but whenever he came in, he naturally captured everyone’s attention.

The priest would always greet this man with a smile and kind words. Once, he found the man weeping at the shrine of Our Lady. The priest asked what was the matter, and the man revealed that his mother had died and the family had requested that he not attend the funeral, as they thought his presence would confuse and scandalize members of the close-knit Baptist congregation. He reluctantly complied, missing his own mother’s funeral. While the funeral was taking place, he came to this Catholic church so that, gesturing to the statue of our Lady, he could be with his Mother. He then told the priest that all his life he had been the object of derision and mockery and he had known very little kindness. But over the years, he discovered that the one place he could go where he knew someone would be kind to him was the Catholic Church. And even if someone wasn’t kind to him there, he found that kindness in the faces of the plaster saints.

A few years passed, and the priest noticed that the man was not coming around as much, and when he did he looked like a shadow of his former self. The priest made inquiries and discovered the man was gravely ill. Before the man died, the priest visited him (in the man’s disheveled apartment) and the man was utterly despondent, sure that he would die alone and that no church would bury him. But through the priest’s intervention and by the grace of God, the man became open to being received in the Catholic Church. Shortly before he died, he became Catholic, and the priest offered him a funeral Mass. Few people were in attendance, but those who came remembered the man from his theatrical visits—the daily Mass-goers and the Rosary ladies. After the funeral, they all stayed behind to light candles and pray for the repose of his soul.

This is precisely what Pope Francis means in his yearning for a “Church of mercy.” No one had to do anything more to convince the man of his misery. What he needed was to be convinced that he mattered and that he could be loved. No moral teaching was compromised in letting the man know mercy. That’s what saved him.

Brandon Vogt, Facebook post, November 20, 2020

As our parents used to complain to each of us as teens, so the Lord says today: I gave you ONE JOB to do…

Are we doing it?

Our conversation ranged far and wide from there: guns and hunting, beer and brewing, work and family life. Then, halfway home, we renewed the earlier conversation on a more practical note: How do we, as Catholic men, call others to a personal encounter with the love of God and walk with them until they can stand on their own? How can we equip them to walk with others?

We moved from abstractions to specifics—specific problems, specific approaches—talking more urgently, with excitement as we imagined drawing even one soul closer to salvation and sainthood.

Although you should be teachers by this time, you need to have someone teach you again the basic elements of the utterances of God. You need milk, [and] not solid food. Everyone who lives on milk lacks experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties are trained by practice to discern good and evil.

Hebrews 5:12-14

Milk is good, but steak is better. This was a good conversation—solid spiritual food—and it was inspiring to discuss real problems we could actually affect by our witness, our service, our love. So many of the issues of the day, including pandemic management, electoral reform and political transitions, are beyond our scope of influence, and more importantly, have little bearing on the issue of supreme importance: the state of souls—others’, as well as our own.

Salvation is a thorny problem, to be sure, but well within our influence and responsibility. The concerns of this world pale in comparison to the joys of the eternal Kingdom. Let us live accordingly.

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