All posts by Father David Nix

Sr. Nirmala, Missionary of Charity

sr. nirmala

Sr. Nirmala Joshi MC is found to the left in the picture above.  It’s taken on 14 March 1997, the day that Mother Teresa and a closed-door vote of about 100 sisters made Sr. Nirmala the Superior General of the 5,000 Missionaries of Charity world-wide.   CNN took notice in this article because a Hindu-convert to Catholicism took over the most rapidly-expanding religious order of the 20th century. (Up to that point, her CV was already impressive, as Mother Teresa’s co-founder of the MCs and the foundress of the Contemplative Branch of the Missionaries of Charity in 1976.)

Now Sr. Nirmala is 81 years old. She had a heart attack about a month ago. Because she is a veritable celebrity in India, they had to make her hospital stay a very short one.

A couple of days ago, I was surprised when a younger  sister asked me out to take a 15 minute bus ride in order to offer Mass in the 81 year old foundress’ bedroom. There would be just a few nuns assisting at Mass.  I went and offered Mass there.

After Mass, Sr. Nirmala and I got to talk.  I would say that it was one of the only times in my life that I felt the consolation of being in the presence of a living saint. I asked her to tell me why she converted from Hinduism to Catholicism, and I’m going to recount her story as best as I can, even though I wasn’t taking notes as I knelt next to her wheelchair:

Of Nepalese blood, Nirmala Joshi was raised in India in a Hindu family. At age 7, she was leaving the temple of Shiva, and she looked across the street to a Catholic Church rectory statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She explained that at that moment, the statue shined a overpowering light that terrified her. She left the area of the Church and temple, but she went back to peek over the fence every day on her way home from elementary school. She was clear with me that it was more from fear than devotion!

Eventually as a child, she picked up a New Testament, and she opened right to the one verse where Jesus talks about His own heart: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” (Matthew 11, which was the Gospel for the day that I had just read in the private Mass!) Expecting a third miracle of her telling me about the Sacred Heart, Sr. Nirmala surprised me. She said she closed the Bible and said He must be so arrogant talking about Himself all the time! (The sisters giggled because they knew what was coming…I was a little taken aback, but then I realized later that, for Eastern Religions, they wouldn’t understand why Jesus would talk about Himself. For example, Buddha said “Be ye lights unto yourselves” but Jesus said “I am the light of the world.”  This only makes sense if Jesus is God, the only true God.)

But as she became a teenager, Nirmala (which means pure in Sanksrit) wasn’t too interested in Christianity.  Perhaps for the quality of education, she went away to a Catholic High school in a different city. Then, one day in her dorm room, at the Angelus Bell, her roommate (a Hindu) dropped to her knees to apparently pray the Angelus (an ancient prayer with three Hail Marys.)  Sr. Nirmala eyed her curiously, but then Sr. Nirmala told me something I’ll hopefully never forget:

“Jesus entered my heart at that moment, and made it clear to me it was He. And He hasn’t left since.”

She smiled when she told me this, and she meant it.  She continued her story to me, even though I thought she was going to wrap up our session at that point…

After her conversion, she soon wanted to start a congregation to her help her country’s people (Nepal) a land where she had never been. She wrote her Jesuit spiritual director who put her in contact with Mother Teresa (early 1950s, I think.) Mother told her she would only train her as a Missionary of Charity, and she should only come if she were 100% able to put her whole heart into it.

Nirmala went to Kolkata and was one of the first members to join.  In fact, I believed it was the Jesuit spiritual director of Mother Teresa who baptized her upon entrance!  Still, she was worried about her dream to go to Nepal being sunk in the MCs.  So, Sr. Nirmala asked mother about this. Mother Teresa told her: “Kolkata is the same as Nepal. Everywhere you need to bring people to the heart of God.” So, Nirmala slayed her dreams of Nepal.

However, many years later she would not only help found dozens of homes around the globe, but Sr. Nirmala would be responsible for founding three homes of Missionaries of Charity in Nepal! Such is a true Abraham/Isaac story of vocation and God’s faithfulness.

I left Sr. Nirmala with a prayer request but then the sisters asked me back to offer private Mass with her again this weekend, so I will return on both Saturday and Sunday…to offer the Holy Sacrifice in the presence of Mother Teresa’s best friend.

Jesus and Religion Part III

Xavier-Osteen

For a few weeks, I’m living in the Muslim quarter of Kolkata. I wear my Roman collar around here, and what’s peculiar is that I rarely get snarky looks from the swarms of Muslims and Hindus packed into this city. Actually, I was shocked at how much respect the Muslims gave me on Qatar Airlines even as I wore my cassock.

On the other hand, a certain generation of Catholics in the United States treat me very differently when they see the cassock. That generation of Americans always stops me with a unconvincing rictus to tell me some combo of the following:

1. I’m glad that what you’re doing “works for you.”
2. I used to be Catholic (usually an altar boy or a nun or both.)
3. Here’s what’s wrong with the Catholic Church (p, q, r, all very predictable.)
4. Here’s what’s wrong with priests (x,y,z, ditto.)
5. My god’s bigger than your religion because we’re all brothers and sisters.

I think this happens to me almost every week.  No joke.  I usually just smile and nod.  So, I don’t know what wounds that generation is dealing with, but philosophically, here’s the ironies they’re speaking to me:

1. Here’s the dogmatic truth of no-dogma that you must accept.
2. Here’s the pathway of no-judgment while I judge you harshly for wearing a cassock
3. I’m absolutely sure there’s no absolute truth.
4. You must promote tolerance.

That last one is funny, considering that I’m a priest and they preach to me.  I don’t preach anymore.  Not that I’m afraid of a good old- fashioned debate.   I just can’t get a word in edgewise anymore when I get around that group who inadvertently subscribe to ecclesial totalitarianism.  (Hint:  They are not younger than me.)

What if I knocked on your door, and asked to you to accept the love of a man who:
1. Is named Jesus
2. Is very kind
3. Has dark skin
4. Has a great smile
5. Has a batting average of .258

…would you care that I’m describing Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners?

Jesus1

In other words, do facts also matter in matters of faith?

As a quick disclaimer let me say that I’m not saying that a single intellectual error means that a person is worshiping a different Jesus Christ than me. It’s simply an open question: Do the facts of a person have to be accurate in order to enter into a relationship with Him? Does doctrine matter in the realm of a relationship with God, or is accepting Jesus nothing more than emotions?  If so, I’m sure that mentally-accepting Jesus Montero would make a person feel good, especially if he got that batting average up.

Another disclaimer:  Catholicism is not against relationship.  Catholicism is about how a relationship can exist with roots that are real, roots that I can’t make up or change.  That’s to say:  A family.  A family exists with both relationships and rules love and traditions.  Religion comes from the Latin word religare which is a verb that means “to have roots.” Also, the word “tradition” comes from the Latin traditio which means “to hand down.” What is handing down?  Teaching.  The word teaching is nothing more than the modern English translation of two words we all seem to have the strangest allergy to:   “doctrine” or “dogma.”  Perhaps this is all proof that it is  fascism—not Catholicism—which tries to shut down the intellectual life.

When someone knocks at your door to tell you about a man named Jesus, that’s nice, but you have to realize that he actually got his ideas of Our Lord from someone who got those ideas from another someone who may or may not be traced back to Christ in an unbroken tradition. Or, the smiley-knocker at the door got his theology directly from the Bible, aka his own private revelation…hence the 30,000 denominations in the USA (and 5 new ones every week) that are each “Bible-only.”

The only other option is a living, guarded, Apostolic authority which is ever-ancient and ever-new.

People say that an unbroken apostolic tradition of teaching would take a miracle to triumph over the telephone game. Yes, God’s good at those. Apostolic tradition is the one no-spin zone of doctrine, the one “non-denominational” Church. In fact, universal is really just a synonym of “non-denominational.”

So, how much change in doctrine begins to paint a different Jesus Christ from the friend and Savior of the Apostles? I don’t really know but let’s look at the two men in the opening picture of this post.

To the left we have St. Francis Xavier, the 16th century co-founder of the Jesuits.  He was recruited by his university buddy, St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Xavier was sent by Ignatius as a soldier for Christ to the far East to become arguably Christianity’s second greatest missionary, right behind the Apostle Paul.  Xavier preached to hundreds of thousands of people especially in the country from which I write, India.

On the right we have an astoundingly wealthy American preacher.   Joel Osteen is modern health-and-wealth apostle of the 21st century. Watch a few minutes of him on YouTube to know him yourself.  (I know he’s an extreme example, one whom even most of my Protestant friends wouldn’t buy…pun intended.)

In any case, I don’t pretend to know the state of anyone’s heart before God, but even a cursory study of the respective theologies of Xavier and Osteen reveal a belief in a different God/god.  Even if you’re not convinced that St. Francis Xavier be perfectly in line with the Apostle Paul (like I am) you still have to admit that this chasm of “Christians” and their respective beliefs seems to prove that Jesus without religion is a human-communication-impossibility.  In other words, you’re going to get sucked into someone’s spin zone whether you like it or not.

Apostolic succession is logically the only guarantee of an accurate interpretation of the Holy Scriptures which she (the Catholic Church) produced after being God-breathed into the Evangelists.

So, when Jefferson Bethke tells you about “Why I hate religion but love Jesus,”  just realize this:  It’s a human-communication-impossibility.  Bethke has simply created another religion with Bethke as Pope.  If you think this is an exaggeration, just consider that one of the top searches on him is “Jefferson Bethke tattoos.”

In end there is no spin-free zone outside the Apostles and their succession.  So, I’ll stick to the “original religion” of the Catholic Church, even if she includes some hypocrites along the way.  She also produces some St. Francis  Xaviers.

Jesus and Religion Part II

1040

The world over is home to about 7 billion people.  Did you know that most of these people (4 billion) have never heard of Jesus Christ?  These 4 billion have seen neither hide nor hair of any Christian willing to share the Gospel.

The area most neglected is in the blue areas of the map above.  Most of those 4 billion live here.  Some missionaries refer to it as the “10/40 window”  because here, between the 10th and 40th latitude, live the most unevangelized peoples.  I am currently in this window for a few weeks.

Considering the urgency of such a missionary call to evangelize the Far East, we Catholics might be tempted to agree with Jefferson Bethke’s critique of religion (see previous post on his  “Why I hate religion but love Jesus”) especially when there is an urgency to spread the basics of the Gospel.

Must we really talk religion when people don’t know about Jesus?  I have seen significant religious cowardice this past year, so I understand why Bethke is so wary of hypocrites.   I really get that.  But, the difference is that I still believe wholeheartedly in the Catholic Church.  Here’s why:

Jesus founded an Apostolic Church, despite the problems he knew would come. In fact, the very first priest scandal was Judas…and yet Jesus chose him.

Well, that’s old news.  You already know that.  But the positive of an Apostolic Church recently struck me in yesterday’s liturgy of the hours.  Listen to Peter’s initial explanation of Christ to a group of Gentiles:

“They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:39b-42)

In the bold font above, St. Peter is saying that the Apostles are not like “all the people” who will soon be speaking of Jesus.  Rather, God the Father “made [Jesus] to appear not to all the people but to us,” the Apostles, precisely because they were “chosen by God.”

In other words, the Apostolic nature of his explanation is his carte blanche of credibility into their hearts.  Why?  Because they alone received the fullness of His teaching, and they alone remembered that Jesus said “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

When I share the Gospel with a person on a plane, I will usually try to introduce that person to the overwhelming love of the Father in sending His Son for us.  Only later in the flight do I get to a love of the Church and her moral teachings.  And I guess that’s not a bad plan since Jesus did say “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

But Peter is more Church-based in his first explanation of the Gospel.  He found it necessary in the above quote from Acts 10 to mention himself and the Apostles even in his very first message of Jesus to the pagans!

St. Peter shows post-modern missionaries that the Apostolic Nature of the Church is not inappreciable to reaching the lands of the 10/40 window, but central.  This is why we need not be so ashamed to be both lovers of Jesus and lovers of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Why then are there so many more American Protestant families in the 10/40 window than American Catholic families here?  Won’t you consider coming to share the Gospel here?  They need not only part of the truth, but the fullness of the truth.  See http://www.familymissionscompany.com

Jesus and Religion Part I

girl in adoration

There’s a video that went viral on YouTube by Jefferson Bethke called “Why I hate religion but love Jesus.”  It has almost 30,000,000 views, and there have been formidable Catholic rebuttals online, in conferences, in podcasts and newspapers.

Surprisingly, none of the Catholic apologists whom I have read (which admittedly is only a few) have pointed out that the word “religion” is promoted as a good thing in the New Testament:

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26-27)

The word for religion above is the Greek θρησκὸς and θρησκεία. Even a Protestant Greek dictionary I have on my iPod translates θρησκεία as “religious worship” and even adds that this word refers to that which is “especially external, that which consists in ceremonies.”

I snapped the above picture this morning.  There is a Eucharistic host in exposition in the monstrance just off the shot on Bose street at the Missionaries of Charity Motherhouse.  Adoring Christ (almost in the same spot where Mother Teresa knelt) was this Indian girl off the streets.  Prostrate, she adored her Lord.   She was directly above the tomb of Mother Teresa.

It is interesting that religion, according to St. James, is both external ceremony and taking care of orphans.  What is the connection there?

I believe that the answer comes from the Apostle Paul:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

The Latin translation from the Greek “living sacrifice” is hostiam viventem.  Notice where else in this post is used the word host:  Jesus in the Eucharist.  The girl is adoring the Host, but by being in a prostrate state of sacrificial love, she herself has become a host too.

In other words, it is in the Mass that you adore the Host (the sacrifice of Christ perpetuated through time) and then you become a host (a living sacrifice) by serving the poorest of the poor, the unborn, your own children, the rejected, or simply fulfilling your duties in faith and hope and love.

Although a living sacrifice is a terrifying thing from a Jewish point of view, it is our spiritual worship.  May we show our brothers and sisters that we can be people of both religion and love, as the Apostles believed 2000 years ago as they offered the Mass and served the orphans.

The dangers of nighttime taxis

traffic

Last night, at 10pm, I took a taxi from a restaurant here in India to the priest home near Bl. Mother Teresa’s “Motherhouse.”  As the taxi started, a dwarf jumped in my taxi, unannounced and uninvited.  He said to me “Hello, boss!” from his side in the back where we both were.   He immediately rolled his window and popped his head out as we barreled through traffic.  He began yelling at the extremely crowded Kolkata streets in Bengali, assumedly to get out of the way.  With his head out, standing up, he looked like an American cowboy hooting and hollering, stomping his feet in delight against the floor of the taxi.  The driver (at his chin) seemed rather to enjoy the raucous.  I did too, though I sadly wondered why I couldn’t live the quiet life of a parish priest for even one week.

Consolation versus Desolation

tomb

Flying over India last night, I found that every time I lifted my heart to God, I was given tremendous peace and consolation, especially when I thought of St. Francis Xavier bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to that land 37,000 feet below me, dark at 3am and barely alit with the poor lights of over a billion people. I wondered why this joy didn’t happen every time I prayed! That is what this post is about: Why we enjoy God in prayer some days, and then fear our time in prayer on other days.

I just finished offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the tomb of Mother Teresa here in Kolkata, India, as you can see in the picture above. Again, I was given tremendous joy, peace and consolation while praying the Mass. I have to wonder: Why doesn’t God shower me with more joy and peace when I pray?

We got good news and then bad news.

I like the bad news first. Many times, young Catholics rightly recognize that Mother Teresa had a 60 year lack of joy while thinking about the things of heaven. This is true. However, we young Catholics erroneously ascribe Mother Teresa’s dark night to our laziness. I am not Mother Teresa. The simple truth is that God wants to shower me with joy and some consolation in prayer, but I choose lukewarmness or sin instead…a laziness that God can not reward with an increase of the infused gifts of supernatural faith, hope and charity without denying Himself.

I frequently hear young Catholics tell me that their lack of joy in prayer is due to their “dark night of the soul” or even that their clinical depression is the “dark night of the soul.”  Although God is very compassionate in these days of Divine Mercy to the weight we all carry,  St. John of the Cross teaches that depression is not  the dark night of the soul. Let me summarize the 300 pages I’ve read of his writings in a few sentences: The person living in sanctifying grace begins his or her journey in the purgative way of prayer, meaning that he or she loses unhealthy attachments to physical pleasures (sinful and sometimes even licit) so as to attach oneself more closely to God. After an intense period of detachment, called “the dark night of the senses,” the person begins the illuminative stage of prayer. After this, a few people experience “the dark night of the soul,” a period of intense detachment even from spiritual joys, where Christ makes the soul lose the good feelings of prayer, so as to enter into love God for Himself, more than the reward. Thus begins the unitive way of prayer.

I would imagine that less that 1 percent of all the priests and nuns of the world have ever made it to the unitive stage of prayer, meaning that those currently alive on earth who have gone through St. John of the Cross’s “Dark Night of the Soul” probably consist of 0.000001% of the Catholic population. I am 100% sure that I have not reached the true dark night of the soul or the unitive stage of prayer, despite suffering a bit and even a few hours of prayer a day. Thus, for people to throw around the term “dark night of the soul” as a diagnosis for their simple depression reveals a lack of any study of ascetical theology.

Thus, we can not ascribe our lack of joy in prayer as something akin to Mother Teresa’s 60 years of lack of consolation in prayer. You eating too many twinkies instead of going to adoration does not make you Mother Teresa. My lack of joy in prayer is simply laziness. Thus begins the good news:

God really, really, really wants to give us joy, peace and consolation in prayer. As the Father runs to the prodigal son (Luke 15) to embrace him and cover his shame, so also God wants to make us lovers of Him and lovers of prayer. How do I get it? The initial grace of a conversion is usually unmerited, hence the Apostle Paul persecuting Christians, or you, for example, if you have ever felt the Holy Spirit do incredible things in your soul while you were in sin.

But after we return to the Father’s house,  the reality is that “we live by the Spirit the more we renounce ourselves.”–CCC 736.  In fact, I could summarize all of St. John of the Cross’s ascetical theology on a youth bulletin board I once saw at Nativity parish in Colorado: “The more we pour out, the more God pours in.”

That’s not to say I can earn the Father’s love, but I can indeed remove blocks to His love and approach Him in the sincerity of repentance. St. Ignatius of Loyola teaches me in his spiritual exercises that when I am in desolation or darkness in prayer, it is one of three things. I’ll paraphrase:

1) God is humbling me, so that I rely on Him alone, instead of believing good-feelings in prayer make me a saint.
2) God is testing me, so as to make me stronger in the fight for my soul.
3) I am sinful or at least lazy.

The first acid test of this is “Am I willing to get rid of serious sin?” St. Ignatius of Loyola even proposes coming out of the stupor of laziness by taking on some physical penance.

St. John of the Cross gives us even more detailed criteria for figuring out if my desolation in prayer is God’s gift of humility or too many video games. They can all be boiled down to one phrase: Do I actually like to be alone in the silence of prayer with God?

That’s not to say I can always be alone with God when I want to. Nor does it mean that a housewife should sneak away to prayer as much as a cloistered Carmelite. But even the housewife can say: Were I alone, would I rather meditate or check Facebook?

Too often, we who are busy like to excuse ourselves from silent meditation by saying 1970s phrases such as “My work is my prayer.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers this error of the ascetical life:
“Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment. But we tend to forget Him who is our life and our all. This is why the Fathers of the spiritual life in the Deuteronomic and prophetic traditions insist that prayer is a remembrance of God often awakened by the memory of the heart ‘We must remember God more often than we draw breath.’ But we cannot pray ‘at all times’ if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it. These are the special times of Christian prayer, both in intensity and duration.”–CCC 2697, emphasis mine.

To begin this way of prayer, I know of no better book that Conversation with Christ by Fr. Rohrbach, as he explains the way of St. Teresa of Avila for the mere hobbits of the spiritual life like me.

If you don’t have time to read it, know this:   The solution to all of the above spiritual theology is very simple: Begin with concrete resolutions of silent, scriptural meditations. The Rosary is great, and I try to pray several Rosaries a day, and I can’t live without Mary and her motherly love…but St. Frances De Sales and St. Alphonsus Liguori teach that the relationship with Jesus Christ (and Mary) are primarily fueled by beginning in the silence of meditation, especially with the Gospels. The doctors of the Church stress this even more than the Liturgy of the Hours for the layman.  Even the priest, obliged to the Psalms, can himself not come to any fruitful apostolate without real, silent meditation time.

Start with 10 minutes of silence a day. Put your iPhone on airplane mode and set the stopwatch for 10 minutes so you won’t be tempted to drop it to 9 minutes. If you can do 10 minutes, get up to 20 minutes a day. If you can do 20 minutes a day, you’ll get yourself up to the full 30 minutes a day, setting that iPhone countdown to a full 30 minutes. St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Teresa of Avila both teach that for the soul truly committed (by concrete resolution!) to 30 minutes of silent meditation, even the devil knows he has lost such a soul to the Kingdom of Christ forever.

Beltway Memorial

wall

On my way to Asia I have a stop over in Washington DC to visit friends.  I used to live out here, but driving on the beltway today, I thought of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  I did a little research, and it turns out that it contains the names of 58,272 fallen American soldiers.  I wondered how an Abortion Memorial Wall would appear in our nation’s Capital, considering we now have 57,000,000 “fallen” babies.  It turns out that, if such a wall were the same height as the Vietnam Memorial Wall (10 feet and 3 inches high), the Abortion Memorial Wall would be 91 miles long, which means that it would more than circle the entire D.C Beltway.  As you probably know, I-495 encircles the whole District, and parts of Virginia and Baltimore.

Up to 3,500,000,000 children have additionally died from the Pill’s chemical abortifacient effects.  If we made a wall for all these children, the Abortion Memorial Wall would go around the Beltway 87 times.

More than just mind-dulling numbers, we need to remember that every man and woman on that Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was made in God’s image and likeness, was unique.  God had a plan for each one of them.  So also, these children who died contained a unique genetic plan and life-plan from God, unique as each name on the wall.