Let's talk first about the idea of "forming." Forming is not the same as informing. It's not just a matter of providing choices to another person, and then standing back to see what happens. I'm a Capuchin Franciscan, and I was formed to think and feel, act and pray, in the spirit of my community, which is rooted in the life of St. Francis. I was molded. Spouses mold each other in the covenant of marriage, guided by God's grace. Friends form each other through the joys and sorrows of their friendship. And parents form their children through their encouragement and discipline. In every case, the goal is a deepening of communion, love, joy and maturity but the means to that end can be experienced as pressure and suffering. Real love can sometimes feel like a hammer.
My point is that all formation involves a shaping of the one who is formed. It's an act of creation which also involves a kind of "healthy destruction" the cleaning away of what's useless or unnecessary. Let me explain.
Most of us know C.S. Lewis as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia or The Screwtape Letters. But he was a teacher as well as a writer and in his lectures, he often described God as a sculptor. For Lewis, the suffering in a person's life has a very special meaning, which is echoed again and again in Scripture.
Proverbs tells us, ". . .Do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of His reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom He delights" (3:11-12). And the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that in suffering, ". . . God is treating you as sons, for what son is there whom a father does not discipline?" (12:7).
And this is why the Letter of James tells us, "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials . . ." (1:2). Suffering is a tool. God uses this tool to shape each of us into the saints He wants us to be. God sees the shape of our holiness in the marble of our humanity. Then He cuts away the stone of sin to free us.
It's a great metaphor. Anyone who's seen a photograph of Michelangelo's sculpture of the Pieta or viewed it in person, up close at the Vatican knows exactly what Lewis meant. The figures of Jesus and Mary have a detail and a humanity which are alive. The smoothness of the skin, the elegance of the limbs, the sorrow on Mary's face these things are so real that you forget they came from a slab of dead marble. The sculptor saw the beauty in the stone . . . and he set it free with a hammer and a chisel. Nobody remembers the hammer blow; that was over in an instant. They're too moved by the beauty of the results. The beauty lasts forever.
Now, people aren't blocks of stone. They're living tissue, with the freedom and dignity of children of God. And teachers aren't chisels and hammers. Or at least they shouldn't be. They are active, cooperating agents in God's plan, not merely His instruments. But we can still draw some lessons from the sculptor and his work.
First, the great sculptor is motivated by love, not merely technical skill. The sculptor loves the beauty and the truth he sees locked in the stone. In the same way, the great teacher loves the possibilities for beauty and truth the hint of the image of God she sees in the face of her students.
Next, the great sculptor has a passion for his work and a confidence in his vision. In like manner, no Catholic teacher or parent can form another person in the faith without a passion for the Gospel, a personal zeal for Jesus Christ, and an absolute confidence in the truth of the Church and her teaching. No teacher can give what she doesn't have herself. If you yourself don't believe, then you can only communicate unbelief. If I'm not faithful myself, then I will only communicate infidelity. Who we are, is part of the formation we give to others.
Finally, we need to recognize that people, unlike marble, have free will which must be respected. A person can freely reject the Gospel. The person who forms another in the faith must rely, therefore, on persuasion and never coercion. At the same time, though, the teacher should never lose sight of the fact that real freedom, Gospel freedom, is a very different creature from secular ideas of liberty, and choice for choice's sake.
Real freedom emerges from self-sacrifice, not self-assertion. That's a radically counter-cultural message today. But of course, it's the truth. If we believe God created us for a purpose, then some choices lead to beauty, truth, dignity and joy. And others do not. Real freedom consists in conforming ourselves to God's plan. St. Paul reminds us that in our suffering and self-sacrifice, ". . . this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor 4:17). But it means letting God shape our lives, so that the beauty He sees in us emerges and shines. We don't have to allow this. But we should think carefully about the alternative.
Michelangelo could find the beauty in nearly any piece of marble. But he also left us a reminder of failure. Most of us know Michelangelo's wonderful sculpture of David. But he also produced a collection called "the Captives." The name is a kind of grim joke. Each piece of sculpture in "the Captives" collection is a crude, half-finished form of a person, roughly cut from the marble, whom the artist simply could not complete . . . because the marble would not surrender the shape. Whatever Michelangelo saw in those stones is still trapped in them today, unfinished. It's held captive by the marble, more than four centuries later. And that's our alternative to God's love. Persons who reject God, remain captive in their own stone without beauty, without form, and without real freedom. That's why we help God shape those whom we love.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Section Three.
This sixty-six year-old member of the Sacred College continues as the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. He has become world-famous as a student of Liturgy, having compiled an impressive work in his Dictionary of the Liturgy. He continues to this day to be a spiritual director to many of his clerical and lay flock as a devoted shepherd and serves as Military Ordinary for all of Belgium. Curial memberships include the second section of the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for the Oriental Church, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the Congregation for Catholic Education, as well as the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Though an expert on the liturgy and possessing a pastoral approach, many are doubtful he would be a serious contender were a papal election to be held soon. He will be sixty-seven this summer and lacks the global experience, yet as a compromise candidate he might be a darkhorse because of his popularity worldwide.
I weep, my children, because I behold the nearly empty churches in this land and in every nation. Where are you, my little ones? Are you so weak that you cannot make the sacrifice of time to come to Mass to receive the graces that you will be a saint?
Dear little children, why do you listen to the voice of the world which is so often the voice of the evil one? Do not permit the lukewarm voices of those who have infiltrated my Divine Son's Church to keep you away from Holy Mass and the Sacraments.
I solemnly tell you, every day for you must be a holy day. You can make it a holy day by going to Mass and worthily receiving my Son in the Blessed Sacrament. In these end times great is the number of those who, for love of my Son, will suffer greatly for their faith. It is not necessary to shed one's blood to die a martyr.
Therefore, I beseech you to take every opportunity to grow in strong faith, absolute trust and Divine Love. The moment is now. Be holy. Abandon sin. Return to my Son for His Reign is coming. Do as I have asked, and Pray, Pray, Pray.
Thank you for responding to my Call!
Dear children, be empty of self - for the lower human ego is a powerful source for the evil one. That is why, when you pray, it must come from your heart.
During this month and everyday hence I ask you, each of you, to surrender your will freely. Do this at Holy Mass and throughout the day. Beseech Almighty God to annihilate your will, replacing it with His Will. Ask the Holy Spirit to come and take complete possession of you, for He, the Sanctifier, will quickly transform you into the image of my Divine Son.
Offer the surrender of yourself to Divine Mercy, and by this surrender, freely and completely given, you will crush the evil one and give glory to God. I, your Mother, will help you. Know that for every sacrifice willingly made a soul is freed from Purgatory, and becomes a great intercessor for you in Heaven.
Pray with me, my children. Be all God asks you to be. Leave the world behind and do whatever He tells you to do. In this way you shall bear the mark of my Son's Cross and will hasten the Triumph of my Immaculate Heart. Let your prayer be constant and simple. Speak little - love much. Trust God Who is your Father to direct you in all ways.
I love and bless you, my children. Please pray, for time is no longer short; it is critical! Pray! Pray! Pray! Thank you for responding to my Call!
Death of Saint Caius and Alexander, martyred by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius at Apamea, Phrgia because of their fierce opposition to Roman idols and Montanism.
Death of the Forty Armenian Martyrs at the hands of the emperor Licinius.
Death of Saint Macarius of Jerusalem, Bishop of Jerusalem and one of the signers of the first documents decreed at the First Ecumenical Council - the Council of Nicaea. With permission from the emperor Constantine, Macarius built a basilica over the tomb of Jesus. During the excavation Constantine's mother Saint Helena discovered three crosses. When a women nearby, who was diseased, touched one of the crosses she was instantly healed and Helena knew it was the true Cross of Christ.
Death of Pope Saint Simplicius, 47th successor of Peter. Born in Tivoli, he was elected on March 3, 468. During his fifteen year pontificate occurred the Fall of the Western Empire in 476 when the Roman emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed by the barbarian King Odoacer. He also suffered through the schism which led to the founding of the Churches of Armenia, Syria and Egypt (Coptic). He regulated the distribution of offerings to pilgrims and for new churches. He also defended the Council Fathers of Chalcedon in the face of the Monophysite heresy.
Death of Saint Kessog, Irish missionary who evangelized Scotland and was known as a miracle worker wherever he went. He was martyred near Loch Lomond on this date by pagan tribesmen who stoned him to death.
Death of the martyr Saint John Ogilvie, a Scottish Jesuit who faced the rath of the French Calvinists and was pestered and persecuted while trying to bring the faith to underground Catholics. In a kangaroo court John was convicted and hung at Glasgow on this date.
Pope Pius VI issues a condemnation of France's Civil Constitution of the Clergy which had first been declared in a reorganization of the French Church on July 12, 1790, but with the French Revolution the Holy Father realized the Constitution was schismatic and had no choice but to condemn it. The repercussions would be fierce as Napoleon Bonaparte would rage and seige the papal states and ultimately Rome during the papacy of his successor Pope Pius VII.