A Man of Good Zeal: A Novel Based on the Life of Saint Francis de Sales, by John E. Beahn

     
     
     

Saint Francis de Sales, aristocrat, swordsman, lawyer, author, priest, bishop, loving evangelist, Doctor of the Church and inspiration to millions–his life and message remain particularly relevant in today’s world where discord and violence run rampant, often in the name of religion.

Beahn’s novel considers the life of Francis from the point of view of his cousin, Louis. When the cousins studied in Paris, despite the attitude of his father, who waged war against Calvinists, Francis befriended many Calvinists, seeking to persuade them to return to the ancient faith.  Francis realized “that the mind will not accept what the will rejects.”

Francis upset his father’s plans for his worldly success by answering his vocation to the priesthood. After ordination, with permission of their bishop and a supportive proclamation from Duke Charles, Fathers Francis and Louis traveled to the town of Thonon where they sought to first win the hearts of the Calvinist residents by avoiding public preaching which might have disturbed them. In response, many cordially responded to the “papist priests.”

Francis sent each of the Magistrates an Epistle to the Gentlemen of Thonon elegantly outlining the content of his evangelical message, but much time passed without a response. Harsh conditions and lack of progress prompted Louis to return home, but despite his loneliness, and personal danger Francis trusted that change took place on God’s schedule and by His means. Francis believed that for him to desert his reluctant flock would have spiritually damaged the citizens of Thonon.

When his father learned of his circumstances he sent an armed servant to protect Francis. His name might have well been Felix Culpa, because his presence prompted an attack in which Francis captured one of the assailants. Soon all three attackers were arrested. In the controversy that followed one of the Magistrates, Pierre Poncet offered to prosecute the assailants. His concern for Francis changed his heart enough to listen to his arguments, prompting Poncet’s return to the ancient faith. Soon the majority of the town also opened their hearts and minds.

Although the local bishop and even the pope rejoiced, Duke Charles took offense because Francis succeeded by suffering for his flock, whereas the Duke failed in his effort to convert these same Calvinists by means of force. When Francis needed assistance in his ministry, the diocesan clergy wouldn’t come into the area without military back-up. When Jesuits and Franciscans volunteered and effectively ministered to the converting populace, then the former pastors returned accusing Francis and his colleagues of stealing their parishes. In the years to come, the Duke stood in the way of Francis, the young, enthusiastic priest and potential successor to the aging bishop. Despite or maybe because of all of this adversity, Francis continued to grow and set an example to all priests and bishops.

In 2013, Pope Francis I* called for “shepherds who smell of their sheep” and has asked Papal Nuncios to find candidates to serve as bishops who are “close to the people, fathers and brothers.” They should be “gentle, patient and merciful; animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life.” They should “not have the psychology of ‘Princes.” Certainly Saint Frances de Sales exemplified these pastoral characteristics as both a priest and bishop. May he intercede for those blessed with a calling to each level of Holy Orders.

John E. Beahn’s novel based on the life of Saint Francis de Sales provides a readable story, rich in details, that honors this great saint. I recommend it to all who love the Catholic Church and all who desire to draw it closer to their hearts.

Beahn, John E. A Man of Good Zeal: A Novel Based on the Life of Saint Francis de Sales. Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 2013.

*Vatican Radio, June 21, 2013

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Race with the Devil by Joseph Pearce

Close

18243208

Raised in the Shire, he left its tranquility for an adventure that brought him through battles, dungeons and peril until he found an immense treasure. To possess it, he fought a monstrously evil dragon. We speak not of Bilbo Baggins, but noted Catholic biographer Joseph Pearce.

To know the identity of author Joseph Pearce, you must first meet Joe Pearce, just as you must first encounter Saul of Tarsus to fully understand the greatness of Saint Paul. Like Paul, Joseph Pearce endured more than one beating, stoning (actually they used bricks) and imprisonment. Teresa of Avila equated humility and truth. Through Race with the Devil, Pearce opens his early life to the world, revealing pain, promise and God’s hand in his miraculous transformation.

If you judge a book by its cover, particularly the dust jackets of Pearce’s 2012 Saint Benedict Press publications, Candles in the Dark and Bilbo’s Journey, beware the photos, rich in Hobbit-like dimples and engaging smile. This impression clashes with the cold, determined, mask-like face that stares from the cover of Race with the Devil. When first I viewed this image, I wondered as to the subject’s identity. Imagine my shock at the subtitle: “My Journey (What, this is an autobiography?) from Racial Hatred (This can’t be the noted Catholic author that I’ve read.) to Rational Love.” In this amazement, I share, but in reverse order, the impression of Abbot Richard Yeo, OSB, who in the year 2000, “seemed genuinely astonished that (Pearce) had not only become a Catholic but had written books such as Literary Converts and (his) biography of Chesterton of which (the Abbot) was clearly familiar.” Although mine appears the mirror image of the Abbot’s shock, we both rejoice that “God can indeed mould the most unpromising of clay.”

Pearce dedicated his conversion story to the memory of his father, Albert Arthur Pearce, who taught Joseph to love his heritage, to fistfight-observing the Marquis of Queensberry rules, to appreciate English literature and to educate himself throughout his life. Albert also reinforced powerful nationalistic sentiments and bigotry, all of which played a part in Joseph’s life and set the tone for Race with the Devil.

At the age of sixteen, Joseph founded, published, edited, distributed and wrote for the Bulldog, the newspaper of the Young National Front, an auxiliary of the National Front, a “white supremacist organization that demanded the forced removal of all non-whites from the United Kingdom.” Joseph’s precocious achievement brought notoriety and, if not awards, two all-expenses-paid prison terms. Pearce opposed the immigration of Jamaicans, Indians, Pakistanis and others. (Observe that in Candles in the Dark, Joseph embraced the Jamaican people and the ethnically diverse members of the Missionaries of the Poor.)

His anti-Catholic sentiments brought him “across the sea to Ireland,” not to Galway Bay, but Belfast, “On the twelfth of July when it yearly did come…”* to march with Orangemen, “to the sound of the drum.”* Unprepared for the deadly “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, Joseph nearly became a “statistic.” Many of his friends in the Orange Order later died in that conflict.

Pearce made both friends and enemies. As political positions changed some friends became enemies. In Race with the Devil, Joseph reaches out to his former friends, apologizing for infractions even as small as failing to return a borrowed book or record. Thanks to Albert’s influence, Joseph learned to say something nice even about his enemies, such as the Irishman who broke his nose. The kindness of strangers deeply impressed the young Pearce: the policeman who loaned him the price of a ticket to a Chelsea football match, an adversary who after a heated radio debate, invited Joseph to lift a pint at his favorite pub, as well as the American Jewish attorney who resigned from the British equivalent of the ACLU, when that organization refused to let him defend the anti-Semite Pearce

While still sixteen, Joseph, now a full-time employee of the National Front, commuted four-hours, round-trip each work day. If Hobbits lived in burrows, Pearce spent nearly the equivalent of a day each week in the “Tube.” He read his way back and forth beneath London, completing the mandatory list of White Supremacist, anti-Semitic and anti-Communist tomes. Although still a teen, Joseph’s critical thinking skills kept him from swallowing the entire bait and hook. His reading extended to Orwell to whom Joseph gives credit for part of his conversion. In contrast to Orwell’s bleak, inescapable despair, Joseph considered Alexander Solzhenitsyn a hero who continued to hope despite his confinement in the Gulag Archipelago. In time it was Solzhenitsyn who read the works of Joseph Pearce, opening the door to Joseph’s writing Solzhenitsyn’s authorized biography.

Conversion to Catholicism snuck-up on Joseph Pearce about the time of his second imprisonment. Solitary confinement, like the hours spent riding in the “Tube,” afforded Joseph time for spiritual reading, including two of Newman’s conversion stories, the works of Tolkien, Chesterton and others. Joseph emerged from the chrysalis of prison with his wings not quite ready for full flight. Nourished by the liturgy and a devotion to Our Lady, he still waged many a battle before his acceptance into the Roman Catholic Church and subsequent participation in the Catholic Literary Revival.

Like Bilbo, the dragon slain, Joseph had returned home with treasured faith, but the journey’s not quite done. It may be Joseph’s task to train a Frodo or a host of Frodos to meet and best even greater evils and rescue and share far more glorious treasures. I eagerly anticipate the sequel to Race with the Devil which may well flow from the pen of one of those fortunate few who now studies with this Catholic Literary Giant, Joseph Pearce.

*Modified from “The Old Orange Flute.”

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Candles in the Dark: The Authorized Biography of Fr. Richard Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor, by Joseph Pearce

Candles in the Dark: The Authorized Biography of Fr. Richard Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor

Joseph Pearce writes that Father Richard Ho Lung, known as the “Reggae Priest,” the Ghetto Priest,” the “Dancing Priest” and the “Renegade Priest” would rather be known as a “practicing priest,” setting a high standard for all clergy. Pearce suggests that Fr. Ho Lung may be the happiest man in the world. What is his secret? Pearce recalls his search for an answer during his visit to Bethlehem, a residence for severely disabled children: My…

“…eyes met the twisted and tangled bodies of broken childhood. There, in rows of cribs, one after another, children of all ages, from babies to teenagers, wriggled and squirmed in various degrees of helplessness. To my uninitiated gaze, it looked almost infernal, a place where the triumph of suffering seemed to call for the abandonment of all hope…. As I looked in stunned silence at the unwanted and abandoned dregs of humanity, bent by the brokenness of body or brain… I approached a girl of around eight-years-old…. As I took her hand, she returned my forced smile with a radiance of her own that transfigured the situation and exorcised the demons from my hardened heart…. Looking up at me was the radiant face of the child Jesus…. She had returned my pathetic effort with a smile that beamed with the light and delight of heaven itself.”

Pearce explains that Fr. Ho Lung and his Brothers derive their joy from their labors because they are more than social workers caring for the human needs of the poor. They are “servants of the broken body of Christ. Their work with the poor is not merely a job but a labor of love. They are laying down their lives for their friends.”

Born to Chinese Buddhist immigrants to Jamaica, young Richard Ho Lung had the advantage of not knowing he was poor. He lived without luxuries and even necessities, but his family gave and received assistance from their neighbors. Communal interdependence became a model for Father Ho Lung’s later efforts to relieve poverty in Jamaica. Young Richard’s only disappointments came when he witnessed his neighbors attempt to break free of their economic limits through self-destructive behavior: prostitution or robbery.

Franciscan Missionary sisters from New York served Richard his elementary education, spiced with music and evangelization. Richard (and eventually his family) accepted baptism. Buddhism helped Richard appreciate nature’s beauty. In Christianity he responded strongly to God as a person that he could embrace in the Body of Christ. Richard failed the entrance exam for the prestigious Saint George’ College. Fortunately, the Jesuit headmaster noticed something special in Richard, admitted him and guided him over the next four years. Life was good, but hurdles awaited Richard.

He attended the Jesuit’s New England house of formation during the spiritually turbulent 1960s. Fr. Martin D’Arcy, the famous English Jesuit warned his American confreres, “The whole thing is going to fall apart because we are too rich.” His warning proved prophetic. In 1983, a Jamaican newspaper reporter asked Fr. Ho Lung why the Jesuits in Jamaica had not a single vocation since he entered in 1959. He responded: “They have not yet come to grips with identifying themselves with the poor- at least not the American ones…. This mood (of self-centeredness), I think, prevents young men from choosing the priesthood.” Fr. Ho Lung left the Jesuits to establish the Brothers of the Poor, now called the Missionaries of the Poor.

Upon his return to Kingston, Jamaica he introduced reggae to the liturgy, not without controversy. Joseph Pearce recognized Fr. Ho Lung’s use of “traditional Caribbean music and rhythm” as an application an age old Jesuit missionary method of communicating with people in their own medium. Reggae brought the young to church, retreats and to personal prayer. The recording of “Sinner,” by “Fr. Ho Lung and Friends” originally intended as a fund-raiser for missionary projects topped the charts in the Caribbean earning Fr. Ho Lung fame as “The Reggae Priest.” Over time Fr. Ho Lung wrote dozens of religious songs, shows and operas in collaboration with his musical directors, Jon and Wynton Williams, the later a Baptist minister.

Civic and business groups, including the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs invited “The Reggae Priest” to speak, but Fr. Ho Lung, “The Ghetto Priest,” gave the presentations. He criticized the Jamaican government’s staffing of social service facilities with political insiders rather than trained and caring workers. His descriptions of these grotesque environments embarrassed the government, but did stir the generosity of the private sector. He also challenged the Jamaican government’s willingness to accept foreign aid that promoted abortion as a solution to social problems. In response to the substantial needs in Jamaica, Fr. Ho Lung raised funds through concerts around the world, using the revenue to construct homes for the homeless, the deserted and the vulnerable. The Missionaries of the Poor thrived as it recruited from abroad to staff these homes and similar establishments in other countries.

Joseph Pearce allows Fr. Ho Lung to speak freely, challenging all Christians to embrace the cross and through it to find happiness. The reader is encouraged to appreciate her or his own existence and the beauty of creation, while recognizing the injurious spread of hedonism, materialism and convenience that lead to personal misery; physical and spiritual death. I strongly recommend this book to anyone in search of happiness, to those listening for their vocation in life and for anyone seeking to light candles in the darkness.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Selfless: The Story of Sr. Theophane’s Missionary Life in the Jungles of Papua New Guinea, by Sr. Immolata Reida, SSpS

Selfless: The Story of Sr. Theophane's Missionary Life in the Jungles of Papua New Guinea

This time-capsule, written in 1946 and published for the first time in 2013, transports the reader to the first half of the twentieth century. The author recreates the language, values and simplicity common to that time. The reader observes as the “Greatest Generation Ever,” grows to maturity.

Inez Maier, born in 1906, the baby of the family, although innocence personified, loved mischief. She viewed each boundary as a challenge, whether it was the fence around her family’s property or the Pacific Ocean. Her parents, often the last to find out, struggled with her early explorations.  The focus of her life sharpened when a missionary sister visited Saint Michael’s School. Inez decided that she too would become a missionary sister. In preparation she collected money for the missions (including the pot from her father’s weekly poker game). Inez strengthened her soul, body and mind through prayer, especially a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; exhausting manual labor and diligent study, especially geography.

As a young girl, she favored horses, dogs, turtles and snakes over dolls. She cared little for fashions, but socialized, engaged in pranks, plays, practical jokes and proved an effective matchmaker. Never one to remain silent she challenged adults when she observed injustice or impropriety. Her academic and parish achievements earned her a New York State Regents Scholarship and an unsolicited Diocesan offer of a full scholarship to the Catholic University of America in hopes that she would later work for the Rochester Diocese. Instead, she completed a year of nursing school as she waited for admission to the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters. In an effort to keep busy following her high school graduation, she single-handedly conducted the census for a new parish, exposing her to the need for missionaries in her own town.

During her years of religious training, Inez enjoyed a more complete participation in the liturgical life of the church. Along the way she practiced patience, a virtue that would support her for the rest of her life. She took the religious habit and the name Sister Theophane, SSpS, in honor of a recently beatified Vietnamese martyr and dreamed of her eventual departure for the foreign missions. Patiently she accepted an assignment to teach in the American home missions. The classroom proved more difficult for her, than she or her superiors imagined. They assigned Sr. Theophane to the completion of her nursing training and eventually she was asked to pack for work in Papua New Guinea, arriving there in 1935.

The photographs added to the original manuscript by the editor, Gregory J. Maier, one of her nephews, demonstrates how Inez emphatically embraced her role as missionary. Back straight, clothed in the traditional habit and veil, she sat upon a spirited horse or the seat of an outrigger canoe. She traveled hours to and from mission stations in every kind of tropical weather imaginable. She was often soaked from rain, river crossings, rough seas or sweat. She loved it. If the horse was afraid to cross a swollen, crocodile infested river, Sr. Theophane dismounted and led him across. She then led him back and remounted. Now that she had taught him not to fear, they crossed together.

She found that despite ceaseless and difficult labor, progress in the missions often proved elusive. Local customs and traditions, including a brutal indifference to the suffering of neighbors and even family members, challenged the imagination. Sr. Theophane remained focused and joyful. She would rejoice if after a difficult and dangerous journey she could bring a soul to the Lord, in the minutes before his or her death.

She demonstrates her attitude toward her calling in her description of a mission building:

“It’s a load of fun to live in such a weird house. The whole thing shakes at every step you take; all sorts of insect life enjoy the hospitality of the bush material, and funny little animals fall out of the roof quite often…. This is the life!”

She had fallen deeply in love. She loved her congregation, accepting every difficult, dirty and inconvenient assignment. When her Sisters came to the end of a difficult day, she helped them finish their tasks. When people at the mission stations needed medical assistance in the middle of the night, she gave up her sleep to ride horse-back in the rain or paddled over miles of open sea to reach them in time. Even as a prisoner in stifling hot solitary confinement, she amazed her Japanese captors with her ability to sing joyfully.

“She had always given herself entirely.” As she matured spiritually, “Her laugh was even more joyous…. Her strong soul had become mellow under the anvil of suffering. The beautiful work of the Lord, which she had tried so hard and successfully to hide, was shining through. Sister Theophane could no longer conceal the fact that she was constantly in communion with God.” Sister Theophane never grew old. She died in 1944, a victim of “friendly fire.” Her last words quoted the apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” spoken as she reached toward the wound in her chest.

Through “Selfless,” the reader listens to Sister Theophane, often through quotations from her many letters and the testimony of her confreres within the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters.  You might say that she was just an ordinary nun. She founded no order, started no movement nor did she perform miraculous deeds. What made her so special was that she gave herself joyfully and completely through her love for God and for her neighbors, giving herself especially to those who had no previous opportunity to hear the gospel and see the good news in action. This book resonates with happiness, love and innocence. It might appeal to mature young adults looking for their mission in life and to persons of every age who seek happiness through collaboration with the Holy Spirit. An understanding of the mystery of Sr. Theophane’s devotion to her Lord and her God require prayer and reflection. I have been blessed to have received the opportunity to read “Selfless” and begin the process of internalizing its message. I recommend it to all.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Pope Francis: The Pope from the End of the Earth, by Thomas J. Craughwell. Saint Benedict Press, April 2013.

pope

Pope Francis: The Pope from the End of the Earth, by Thomas J. Craughwell. Reviewed by Donald J. Mulcare

The church faithful and anyone aware of the constantly changing news need a readable, current and scholarly guidebook that will prepare the faithful to assist the new pope in his mission, while answering the questions of the curious. Those interested in current events might ask: What criteria guided the Cardinals as they chose Cardinal Bergoglio? How did he serve the Society of Jesus and the church in Argentina? How does he show his particular devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots? What is his interest in San Lorenzo de Alamgro? How has he built bridges with Evangelical Protestants, other Christian denominations, Jews and Muslims? How has the papal electoral process evolved? Why does the pope-elect change his name? Why use the Sistine Chapel? Thomas Craughwell’s book answers all of these questions and more.

Craughwell’s guidebook, replete with illustrations, is far more than a souvenir. Based on the biography of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the deliberations of the College of Cardinals, a starkly realistic view of the Universal Church and the overture to the papacy of Francis I, it maps the approach Pope Francis will likely take toward the current needs of the Catholic Church; it challenges the faithful to respond. In choosing the name of Francis of Assisi, the Pope-elect, accepted that saint’s vocation: “Francis, rebuild my church, which has fallen into ruins.” He chose this calling not only for himself but for all the faithful. Just as Saint Francis of Assisi changed the church and the world in his time, Francis I recruits the faithful to go out to the streets to heal the church and the world.

Craughwell paraphrases then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s pastoral approach to contemporary issues: The Church has to go out into the street to bring the gospel to the people rather than wait for the people to come to the Church. He then quotes Cardinal Bergoglio: “We need to avoid a spiritual sickness of a Church that is self-centered…. It is true that going out into the street…implies the risk of accidents…. But if the church remains closed in, self-centered, it will grow old. And if I had to choose between a bumpy Church that goes into the streets and a sick, self-centered Church, I would definitely choose the first one.”

As was his habit as a Cardinal, Francis I reaches out to the faithful. Although he is the Pope, he has emphasized his role as Bishop of Rome and considers himself to be the “parish priest” who welcomes members of the kitchen staff and Vatican employees to the 7:00 AM, weekday Mass in the chapel at Hotel Saint Martha in Vatican City. The idea of the Pope’s Holy Thursday washing of the feet of juvenile prison inmates didn’t begin this year in Rome. For many years, Cardinal Bergoglio left the Buenos Aries cathedral on Holy Thursday to celebrate Mass in prisons and hospitals.

Along with sharing these and other human interest stories, Craughwell notes that Cardinal Bergoglio had long fought against the materialism, secularism and relativism that have replaced the Gospel message in much of the world. In some countries, 90% of the population says it is Catholic, but only 20% actually practice Catholicism. Argentina actively discards the elderly, withdrawing health care while promoting clandestine euthanasia. This same government condemns child abuse, but permits some Five-star hotels in Buenos Aries to offer child prostitution as a form of entertainment.

Craughwell documents that throughout Latin America, since the time of Columbus the few have enriched themselves through the abuse and exploitation of the native people. When he was still a Cardinal, Francis denounced this abuse and the unjust accumulation of wealth. He has long shown himself a champion of social justice.

In 2010, then-Cardinal Bergoglio challenged the President of Argentina as she pushed legislation contrary to Christian teachings: “Let us not be naïve, this is not just a simple political battle; it represents an aspiration destructive to the plan of God. This is no mere legislation, but rather a maneuver by the Father of Lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God…. We need the Divine Advocate to defend us against the enchantment of such sophistry by which they try to justify this legislation and to confuse the people of good will.”

Craughwell adds: “Amid a raging sea of secularism and relativism, and a growing swell of anti-Christian sentiment, the Church stands upon that unyielding rock, given to the church by Christ himself.”

For years, Pope Francis has sought the Church’s lost sheep in the streets rather than passively waiting for them to make the first move. He still has to convince the church faithful that they are evangelists who must take a more active role in the mission of the church. He reminds the faithful that Jesus came to serve. He asks the faithful to serve each other, especially since Jesus calls them to “rebuild my church, which has fallen into ruins.” The faithful should expect to actively assist Pope Francis in his mission.

I highly recommend this book, to those who seek a complete and competent prospectus on the unfolding papacy of Pope Francis I. This developing news story will dominate the media for years. I especially recommend this book to anyone in the process of discerning her or his vocation; to those exposed to relativism and secularism in higher education or through their involvement in the worlds of commerce and government. It will encourage advocates of social justice and console those who have suffered from the influences of materialism. It provides substantial content for discussion groups and for personal meditation.