If we lived in centuries long gone, it would not be necessary to explain why surfing nuns are inappropriate. But we don’t.
Rather, we live in a de-sacralized environment, where we have lost the notion of sacredness. And, therefore, it is necessary to explain.
(St. Francis went on the Crusades. While there, he challenged the Sultan to have Muslim priests, like himself, walk through a tunnel of fire. The Sultan declined.)
It is better understood in these two stories. One of them is about Saint Francis of Assisi who went out from the Monastery to preach in the village.
The group spent the day walking up and down the streets, they assisted the sick and poor, but they spoke to no one. In the evening, as the day was winding down, Saint Francis headed back to the Monastery.
On the way back, one of the monks asked, "I thought we were going to preach?"
And Saint Francis answered, "We just did. In our walk we were watched by many. Our demeanor was observed by many. It’s no use to preach with words unless we preach by our presence.”
Now, for the sake of comparison and contrast, let’s imagine that Saint Francis and his monks had walked through the town with surf boards under their arms. What message would they be sending to the people who observed them?
Here’s the second story.
It’s about Saint John Vianney, the famous Cure of Ars. A lawyer went to Ars to poke fun at the simple parish priest. But he returned converted.
Someone asked him: “What did you see there?”
He answered: “I saw God in a man.”
To be more precise, he saw the presence of God in St. John Vianney. He could see that God was in him. The unsolicited witness of this lawyer about the Curé of Ars is one of the most glorious praises a man can receive.
Would this lawyer have said the same thing if he had seen Saint John Vianney with a surf board under his arm?
Well, these two stories demonstrate that it is not by being like everyone else and by doing the things the world does that we attract people to Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Much to the contrary.
It is in being different – different by being deeply mortified in the flesh that we attract people to God. Different in our contempt for the things of this earth: “I have suffered the loss of all things and counted them but as dung that I may gain Christ.”
Not that surfing in itself is sinful. That’s not the point.
The point is that religious, by their very vocation, are called to extreme limits of virtue to act as a counter balance in society to the extreme limits of the depravity of sin. One of the big reasons why sin in our society is sinking to lower and lower degrees everyday is that there are fewer and fewer religious who are willing to mortify themselves of licit pleasures.
As mentioned above, Saint Francis of Assisi could walk in silence through the streets of a village preaching the mystery of the Cross by his mere appearance: but a religious who does what everyone else does in the world, like surfing, is ….well, just like everybody else. And therefore, cannot communicate the silent yet powerful language of mortification that converts souls.
What is needed is for men and women religious alike to make the Passion a vivid, living reality by his own mortification and detachment.
In his famous treatise, Abbot Chautard writes:
“When we see the repeated victories of our infernal foes, we may well wonder, in our anxiety, where to look for the salvation of our society. When will it be the Church’s turn to win a few battles?
“The answer is easy: we can say with Our Lord, “This kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.”
“It will be our turn when the ranks of the clergy and of the religious orders will have begun to produce a body of mortified men who will make the great splendor of the mystery of the Cross blaze in the eyes of all peoples: and the nations of the earth, seeing, in mortified priests and religious, how reparation is made for the sins of the world, will also understand the Redemption of the world by the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.
“Only then will the army of the devil begin to retreat, and the ages of human history will no longer echo with the terrible anguished cry of our outraged Lord — that cry that will at last have found some to make reparation: “And I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before Me in favor of the land, that I might not destroy it, and I found none.”
“Someone has tried to find out why a single sign of the Cross from Fr. de Ravignan was enough to electrify indifferent Catholics and even unbelievers who had come to hear him out of mere curiosity. The conclusion to which he was led after questioning many of those who had heard the holy Jesuit, was that it was the preacher’s austerity of life which was given a most striking manifestation by this sign of the Cross, uniting him with the mystery of Calvary.”
But very sadly, we’ve lost the notion that religious are, by their very vows and state of life, a consecrated group, set apart from the common folk, for whom great mortification is an obligation, not a choice.
Also, we have lost the precious notion of the sacred. And our generation has been raised in a society where people talk in church, wear immodest clothes to Mass and treat the priest like an equal and a buddy.
Catholics have forgotten that not only do religious have the obligation by their state in life to strive for perfection, but they must also reflect that holiness in their exterior. Their exterior demeanor and actions must reflect their interior holiness.
These stories can help to restore the notion of the sacredness of the religious vocation, which has been eroded terribly.
Another result of the loss of mortification and the sacred is the tragic exodus of nuns from the religious life. Let’s take a look at the stats.
In 1965, there were 180,000 Catholic nuns. By 2002, that had fallen to 75,000 and the average age of a Catholic nun today is 70.
In 1965, there were 104,000 teaching nuns. Today, there are 8,200, a decline of 94 percent!
In my opinion, to some extent, the exodus of nuns from the religious life is due to the fact that their orders have lost the notion of mortification and the sacred.
And, in turn, the loss of the notion of the sacred, to a degree, is due to the fact that the religious have reverted back to behaving like common folk.
In 2000, Bishop Seretteli, the ordinary for Patterson NJ, wrote a piece titled: “The Loss of the Sacred.”
In it, he writes:
“Living in our world, we breathe the toxic air that surrounds us. Even within the most sacred precincts of the Church, we witness a loss of the sense of the sacred…old songs were jettisoned. The guitar replaced the organ.
“Teaching about the Mass began to emphasize the community. The Mass was seen as a community meal. It was something everyone did together. Lost was the notion of sacrifice...the priest was no longer seen as specially consecrated. He was no different than the laity. With all of this, a profound loss of the sacred.
“Not one factor can account for the decline in Mass attendance, Church marriages, baptisms and funerals in the last years. But most certainly, the loss of the sense of the sacred has had a major impact.
“Walk into any church today before Mass and you will notice that the silence that should embrace those who stand in God’s House is gone. Even the Church is no longer a sacred place. Gathering for Mass sometimes becomes as noisy as gathering for any other social event. We may not have the ability to do much about the loss of the sacredness of life in the songs, videos and movies of our day. But, most assuredly, we can do much about helping one another recover the sacredness of God’s Presence in His Church.”
That makes a lot of sense.
Finally, let’s conclude this already very long post with precious wisdom from Abbot Chautard’s Soul of the Apostolate on the importance of the interior life in our works of apostolate.
“And you will see that a good clear understanding of the Gospel will cut down your expenses and, far from hurting your success, it will promote it! But above all, you will have to pay the price yourself, not so much by wearing yourself out rehearsing plays or setting up football games, as by storing up in yourself the life of prayer. For you can be sure that the extent to which you yourself are able to live on the love of Our Lord will be the exact measure of your ability to stir it up in other people.”
“What it all comes to, then, is that you base everything on the inner life.”
“Yes, absolutely. That way, you don’t merely get an alloy, but pure gold. Besides, speaking from long experience, I know you can apply what I have just said about youth-clubs to any kind of work — parishes, seminaries, catechism classes, schools, soldiers’ and sailors’ groups, and so on. How much good a Christian society, really living on the supernatural level, can do in a city! It works there like a strong leaven, and only the angels can tell you how many souls are saved because of it.”
“Ah,” he concluded, “if only the majority of priests and religious and workers in Catholic action knew what a powerful lever they have in their hands, once that lever takes advantage of the Heart of Jesus as a fulcrum. Living in union with that Divine Heart they would soon transform our country! Yes indeed, they would bring our land to life, in spite of all the efforts of Satan and his slaves.”