Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fr. Perrone on church maintenance, Pentecost, God's grace, and why we can't have a strong Church and heroic saints without moral discipline

Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" [temporary link] (Assumption Grotto News, May 17, 2015):
The campus of Assumption Grotto parish is of considerable size. It comprises church, rectory, school, convent, cemetery and its chapel, garage and storage spaces, parking lot, and others grounds. It’s a lot to maintain, especially in view of its age and size. Responsibility for the work of upkeep falls to Don, our full-time maintenance man, and to another part-time employee, Henry, who has been working while taking up his college course of study. Now that Henry must move on to full-time employment, we have a job opening that I’d first hold out to an interested parishioner. If there is a man interested in this job, he should contact me very soon so that we can continue to keep an even tempo (pardon the musical expression) in our plant maintenance. Lacking such a one, I will seek outside help to fill this position.

Next Sunday will be Pentecost. By the grace of the Holy Ghost, rather timid and common men became apostles of Christ and heroic missionaries, even unto their martyrdom. They had been amply prepared for this work through their close association with our Lord who instructed them with divine wisdom and made them privileged witnesses to His deeds. Reading the Gospels, one can’t fail to notice certain signs that proved them ill-prepared for apostleship. It’s one thing to be educated, to be schooled. It’s another to have the practical virtues needed for the work which was the object of preparatory training. And so, after Christ has ascended into heaven, with the apostles bereft of their Master’s visible presence but commanded by Him to evangelize the world, many essential prerequisites were lacking to them. In modern terms, they needed to assimilate all they had come to know of Christ’s work; they needed to memorize His words and comprehend the meaning of His actions. They may have had the enthusiasm of any new man for trying out his newly acquired knowledge, but they would have lacked the needed graces to face bravely the inevitable hardships of their mission. They lacked the courageousness, the fortitude which the Holy Spirit alone could impart to them. There were also at least one practical ability missing in their training: mastery of the world’s languages. Even more important, the things for which Christ had made them His representatives, their sacramental powers and other special abilities needed to convince the world to believe in Christ for salvation, were in them in an inchoate, rudimentary way. Accordingly, for nine days the apostles gathered together with their spiritual Mother, to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who descended upon them to supply what was yet needed to accomplish their mission.

One should not think however that the graces and other gifts endowed upon the apostles required nothing further on their part. God’s working with human nature does not seize human potential so that no human cooperation is necessary. God’s work of grace is an enhancing and perfecting of human capabilities. And so, to the point, the apostles needed to put their human efforts and human talents at the disposition of their apostolic work as well as the gifts imparted to them by the Holy Ghost.

Here I wish to make application to our situation in the Church, both for the clergy (especially) and for our laity (by extension). The Church is a divine institution, as we believe. Christ gave it all that was necessary to save men’s souls, including the deputation of priestly ministers to preach, teach and make the sacraments. These supernatural abilities are received in the souls of priests whose natural training in virtue makes them relatively capable of putting them into effective practice. Where the human receptacles are unfit, grace–aside from a miraculous transformation–will accomplish its purposes with so much less efficacy. More simply put, if we do not have good men who have been trained in virtue by a good moral upbringing, we will not have good priests. The same rule applies by extension to the lay people in the Church. Without good morals we will have bad Catholics....

The sad state of affairs in the Church today cannot be faulted to the inadequacy of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but only to lacking in moral virtues. We won’t have, we can’t have good priests and strong laity without the cultivation of virtue. Essentially lacking today is that courage which comes only from persistent, willful denial to personal sinful tendencies–moral training, in a word. The point: Don’t wait for a “magic” grace to change you into a good Christian. You will win the way to heaven only through the narrow way, only by the “sword” of unstinting self-denial. God’s grace does precede these efforts and it will help them along, but there can be no substitute for moral discipline.

Fr. Perrone

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