Leading the Church by Example
I’ve been thinking a lot about priests lately. In truth, I often do, as some of my best friends do happen to wear Roman collars. Of course, you know why I’d be thinking about them even more lately. For priests who seek holiness in loving service to God’s people — striving to see God in every person they encounter, these are grueling times.
One of the priests I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is the late Father Arne Panula, the former director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., a hub for many things truly Catholic. I still have a vivid memory of seeing him after he had a very close call in his battle with cancer. Back from the brink, he had taken a train from D.C. to New York in order to attend a dinner. He was radiating a joy of life that could have only come from God. It was clear that the end was still coming for Father Panula soon, and that the rest of us at the dinner needed to see him as a message from God to be careful about falling into internet rabbit holes, getting caught up in the things of the world and being ruled by our emotions. The added time that Father Panula got was also enough time for my friend Mary Eberstadt to sit down with him and ask him every question she ever wanted to for his final record.
At the Catholic Information Center, Panula was a revered spiritual director, helping people discern God’s will for them. Eberstadt’s transcripts her conversations with Panula will be published next month under the title “The Last Homily.” Parts of it read like Panula’s directing us through this current moment in the Church. It’s a reminder that the Christian call is the same, whatever the season — a call to truly live God’s will — and our role in being the solution to the woes of the world has everything to do with living well, as Father Panula did.
Eberstadt asked him about what he tells young people about charity. His answer wasn’t initially about putting money in a collection basket or giving to the person on the corner. Instead he addressed “the most corrosive impediments to charity: anger, vindictiveness, suspicion. "Understand that you are a tempting target for the devil,” he says.
Given the darkness in our midst, this grabbed my attention.
“Diabolos,” Panula said, “means literally ‘scatterer,’ and that is how evil operates: by putting obstacles between individuals and true community. His first weapon is lust. The sexual appetite is all-powerful, because it engenders a powerful good: the propagation of humanity itself.”
“When the sexual appetite is turned to selfish self-indulgence, it destroys not only individuals, but a whole culture.” He continued: “When lust doesn’t work for the devil, or even if it does, he goes after charity. … In all cases, I encourage spiritual jujitsu. When you begin to feel any of these divisive emotions, be self-aware, and immediately say a prayer for whoever is the object of your anger or resentment. This sets your spiritual house in order, and keeps you closer to community and less scattered.”
He explained: “The first line of thought I’d advance about charity is the necessity of getting one’s spiritual, interior life framed correctly, the better to give the right sort of material help.”
Perhaps now more than ever, for priests and Catholics of all states in life, this is a moment to choose to not get caught up in confusion, which is legion at the moment in the Church and many other places. Stick with/adopt/grow in practices of virtue. See them as the part of the solution they are.
Father Panula had such a serene yet commanding nature about him. And it would draw you not to him, but to the God he served. When you think of priests, especially in the wake of the abuse scandals, consider saying a prayer that they might have what Father Panula had: a gift of showing Christ to others by the way he prayed, smiled, talked and lived. You’ll see Him by his love.
COPYRIGHT 2018 United Feature Syndicate