The Church lost, and now needs, holy men who converted thousands in a single day
On a warm, sunny spring morning, I passed a rose bush blooming in its full glory. Remembering to take time to stop for the roses, I leaned over to smell its sweet, delicious bouquet. I often do this on my walks and have found that only one in ten rose bushes have a delicious aroma.
All those vapid flowers I’ve sniffed look nice enough, with colorful silky petals arranged in the Fibonacci spiral seen in pine cones, seashells, and spiral galaxies. Their petals overlap with a symmetrical balance our eyes find beautiful to behold. I’ve learned most roses are not full-graced with lovely perfume because they are bred only for blossoming splendor and for tall, thorn-free stems. So, I’ve come to regard those flowers without a scent as commercial fakes.
Nowadays, plastic flowers, once considered gauche, are so exquisitely crafted they are considered in good taste—except at wakes. A fresh floral arrangement is expensive and must be replaced often. Not so for plastic roses that look the part and cost far less. Unlike real ones, a three-month display at a gravesite needs only a quick dusting. Still, I prefer uncut living flowers with that heavenly scent.
Something similar applies for us humans. Some are less than fully graced and lack the heavenly bouquet of sanctity. In my long life, I have met rather few that I’d consider saints. More often I’ve encountered a species of self-centered, plastic people identified by their vain pursuit of egotistical goals like wealth, prestige, fame, and power.
It struck me as ironic that Pope Francis recently issued a plea to clean up our oceans threatened by tons of plastic waste. He underscored the need to provide pure drinking water to all people, as a basic human right.
But the Church is littered with flimsy practices that pollute the pure living waters of Scripture and doctrine with toxic libertine interpretations. The Catholic Church in the West has again sunk to a low point in her long history where she has floral-vested, thorn-less clergy preaching to folks who don’t like being pricked in their consciences.
Cardinal Newman wrote on preaching the hard truth. Men do not “wish to be told” certain things, and it is seen as “a rudeness to tell them of death and judgment. So must it be—and we, who have to speak to them, must submit to this” (from The Lapse of Time). He continues, “Speak we must, as an act of duty to God, whether they will hear or not, and then must leave our words as witness. Other means for rousing them we have none.”
St Francis of Assisi, on his deathbed, saw that his new religious order would become soft. His original disciples preached in sackcloth tunics, barefoot in winter, and constantly hungry, without a place to call home. Then, late-comers grumbled for easy resort to assured provisions, prestige, and book learning. The Church lost, and now desperately needs, Franciscan friars of primitive observance, like St. Anthony of Padua, who could convert thousands in a single day.
Why is such spirited preaching scarcely seen? Today, the Church feeds and clothes young novices at secure campuses, and adorns them with higher academic degrees. Does this produce worldly-minded clergy, who are cultivated for gracious appearance and evasive sermons? But such priests have no bouquet of sanctity.
“Woe to you, theologians and priests, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27).