Brother Francis and Cardinal Medeiros

Brother Francis’ wonderful book, The Challenge of Faith, has been one of my sources for spiritual reading lately. It is a book that should be read, relished, and reread. This morning, I was reading his fourteen-point meditation on the topic of “Salvation,” and was reminded of a humorous but instructional anecdote Brother related to us.

Here is the passage that brought the anecdote to mind:

We must always remember what it took to bring the Faith down to us through the centuries. If our ancestors had kept it the way most of us today do, we would never have known what the Faith was.

Brother Francis once met with Humberto Sousa Cardinal Medeiros, the Archbishop of Boston from 1970 till his death in 1983. The exact year of the meeting is not known to me. The subject of no salvation outside the Church came up of course, and Brother Francis made a point much like the one above from Challenge of Faith. He told Cardinal Medeiros — and this is not an exact quote, but is certainly the essence of it — “If my ancestors did not believe that they had to be Catholic to save their souls, you would be speaking to a Muslim right now.”

You see, Brother Francis’ family, the Malufs, are descended from the ancient Ghassanids, Christian and Catholic Arabs who courageously kept the Faith in the face of Islamic aggression.

Cardinal Medeiros’ answer was precious to Brother Francis. It must first be known that His Eminence hailed from São Miguel Island, Azores, and therefore was of Portuguese ancestry. The Iberian Peninsula being no stranger to Islamic aggression (for eight-hundred years, anyway!), the Cardinal replied, “And if mine didn’t, you’d be talking to another Muslim!”

Brother Francis would sometimes say, after the Roman Martyrology was read in his hearing, something to this effect: “You see how much it took to have the Faith to come to us!” (Those not familiar with the book should know that it catalogues the martyrs and other saints for every day, but the focus is on the martyrs, whose sufferings are briefly, but sometimes graphically related.) The idea of the Religion being something traditus, passed down through long succession, was something of an idée fixe with our mentor, and he would invoke it in a variety of ways.

The Holy Ghost guides this transmission of the Faith, so we must not reduce the passing down of Catholic orthodoxy to a human work — something Brother Francis would never have done. Still, what the Church teaches about the necessity of our cooperation with grace tells us that the human element in the Church’s survival is a secondary causality that is indispensable.

This idea should invoke in us a gratitude to those in the past who handed down the Faith, an appreciation and relish for the life of grace we may therefore possess in the present, and a sense of sacred obligation for us to remain faithful, passing it on to future generations.

Just after the above meditation from Brother’s book, there is another which touches upon the same subject matter. With it I end these lines:

Every Catholic we meet today is the end-point of a long line of traditions leading back to Apostolic times. Any one of those lines can come to an end here and now.