Edwin Sandys: From him I inherited my “fun side.”

My kids have an interesting genetic background.  On their father’s side, all their ancestors are from China.  On my side, the ancestors are all European, mostly Swiss and English.  Our lone Catholic ancestor, my Irish great-grandmother, came to the States as an infant during the Potato Famine; she gave up her Catholicism when she married my great-grandfather (she also told everyone that her family had emigrated from Scotland, since in her youth there was a wee bit of discrimination against the Irish immigrants – the unearthing of the records of her origin by my sister caused quite a stir among our elderly relatives).  I did have one ancestor who really was from Scotland, a James McCall, exiled to New England after fighting on the losing side of a battle in the 17th century.  On my father’s side of the family we are descended from the elder sister of Daniel Boone, and on my mother’s side from Edwin Sandys, archbishop of York under Queen Elizabeth I.  A pretty typical American family tree.

I have often wondered, though, if I didn’t have a few Puritan ancestors swinging around in that tree, specifically, the men charged with waking churchgoers who dozed off during the sermon. They were called “tithing-men” but personally I think of them as “whackers.” If they caught you nodding off during a sermon, they would whack you with a stick – all in the service of God, of course. What do you think you’re doing?? Wake up and hear the word of the Lord!!

My kind of guys! That’s how I feel about the New Evangelization! Wake up, people! The fullness of the Truth is right here in the Holy Catholic Church!

Oh, how I want everyone to discover what I have discovered, the fullness of the Truth! I want them to hear the prayer of Fatima:

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins! Save us from the fires of hell! Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy!

I want their hearts to thrill to the words of the Divine Mercy chaplet:

You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us!

I want the whole world to know the sweetness of the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus:

Create in me a new heart, one which will be free from sin and filled with compassion and love for all people.

There are people who want to bend over backwards to accommodate folks who are not as yet fully in line – I’m not one of them. I want everyone to see the beauty of the fullness of the Truth, and if I’ve got to grab them by the back of the neck and push their nose into it to get their attention,
so be it!

Live and let live just ain’t my style. I’m a Whacker. After all, that’s what the New Evangelization is all about, right? Preach the Gospel at all times – when necessary, gore people with the Holy Horns of Truth!

Take the people sitting in the pew in front of me at Mass – please! He looks like he’s been dragged there by the Missis, and pouts like a sour pickle through the whole affair. When it comes time for the sign of peace, he grimaces and shakes my hand as if he’s been asked to take the garbage out, and it smells. His teenage daughter has brought her boyfriend with her, her boyfriend who is just too cool for church. As she fawns over him, he makes every effort to evidence his disdain for this display of religious quackery he’s been conned into sitting through, mocking the lector as she intones:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

The matriarch of this motley crew seems to be afflicted with some kind of concentration deficit; she talks literally through the entire Mass. Should one of her young sons appear to actually be paying attention to the homily, in which Father is urging us to cultivate “heartfelt mercy” one for another, she pokes the child and tries to get the spotlight back on her. At least she seems to be enjoying herself, as is her kamikaze two-year-old who climbs up on the pew, leaps off, applauds his own heroics, and does it again, and again, and again….

Sometimes I just want to wear a lapel button to church that says:

Just don’t.

Yeah, I mean YOU!

This is what I’m talking about! Can I please just crack some heads? Why are these people even here? They certainly aren’t getting the message, are they??

They aren’t the only ones.

Concluding an eyeroll that would turn Tina Fey pea-green with envy, my eyes come to rest upon the crucifix visible over the heads of these jokers. There my Lord hangs in anguish, the One Who has poured out upon me that “heartfelt mercy” that somehow I just can’t be made to understand. For there, sitting right in front of me, right under my nose, are the people towards whom He expects me to channel that heartfelt mercy, that excess of Love that was never meant to stop with me.

The fullness of the Truth begins and ends with love. When I put myself in charge of straining “objectionable elements” through the cheesecloth of my high expectations, I cease to be an evangelist and become just one more stumbling block to people trying to keep the Faith – if not the people sitting in front of me, certainly those sitting around me who have to deal with the distraction of my fidgeting and my pointedly exasperated sighs. Once I appoint myself chairperson of the Committee to Safeguard the Beauty of the Faith, I lock the gates of my heart against the very people God has asked me to enfold in my embrace – even as He enfolds objectionable me.

Generally speaking, it is hardly ever necessary to whack somebody upside the head with a stick to get their attention – a gentle nudge might achieve the same end while avoiding the expense of an x-ray after Mass. Also generally speaking, it isn’t necessary to sacrifice the truth for the sake of love, although it remains a perpetual temptation. In the absence of truth, love degenerates into a bowl of schmaltz. In the absence of love, truth clangs like a gong – which is why it is fitting that Truth made Himself known to us as Love, dying on a Cross. It is only by being utterly drowned in His love that I become any kind of a fit representative of His truth.

In other words, my mission as a New Evangelist isn’t to screen “undesirables” out of the Too-Holy-For-The-Likes-Of-You Catholic Church; on the contrary, I am called to love them into the Church, and in the process to point them towards holiness. No one is called to be a whacker-in-residence; there is no such position in the Church of the Divine Mercy Incarnate. The Church is always in desperate need, however, of forbearers and forgivers – these are in short supply – people of compassion, kind people, lowly, meek, and full of patience. And above all of these, people who love.


On the memorial of St. André Bessette

Deo omnis gloria!

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