A few months ago, in response to an article of mine on the Habsburgs, I faced what German-speakers have dubbed an “Online-Lynchmobb,” courtesy of Twitter. The puerile nature of the attacks drove me through the roof! Difference of opinion is one thing, but such a display of moronic ignorance and arrogance… suffice it to say, I was filed with rage. Indeed, there is a great deal to fill one with rage to-day: the betrayal of the Chinese Church, the unending march of gender confusion, the similarly unending assaults upon historical symbols, the innumerable follies pumped out from the Holy See — the list is endless! And how Satan smiles.
But he does not smile only at the perpetrators of these horrors. He smiles at the effect they can have on us — the bitterness, the hatred, the rage. So it is that I return to a favourite theme of mine — staying sane in the great asylum we call the modern world, while trying to keep our souls intact. At a time, in particular, when we feel singled out for attack by reason of simply holding that Catholic Faith — often enough by those who lead one or another section of it — the temptation to wild anger can be almost irresistible.
To whom can we look for guidance in this horrible time? I would suggest none other than the inimitable Fr. Leonard Feeney, M.I.C.M. Here was a man who was stripped of his reputation and subjected to incredible amounts of calumny, that turned him from one of the most beloved figures in Catholic America to one of the most despised. All of this abuse, from both Boston and Rome, was earned simply by fidelity to a thrice defined dogma of the Catholic Church; his successive demands for a heresy trial were turned down for good reason. Were he found innocent, his accusers, however highly placed, would be guilty — regardless of whether they were ever charged.
So how did he deal with the problem? Well, due to the interdict and suspension, he ceased to say public Masses. But his private ones became ever more his place of retreat from the horrors of life. So too with his prayer life, and his devotion to Our Lady and the Saints. These became his boon companions on the dry way of the Cross he was placed upon. No Catholic devotion was to obscure, no Catholic custom or prayer too minor to merit his interest.
It can and should be that way with us. Are we horrified by events in Church and States — especially those that may affect us directly? Absolutely. So let us redouble our devotion at Mass and our attendance at Confession. Let us explore devotions we have perhaps not used before — the Sacred Heart or the Precious Blood, perhaps, or the Five Wounds. The rosary has always been a weapon against evil; so let us say it ever more devoutly, and look at all the Sacramentals, from scapulars to St. Benedict and Miraculous medals to Holy Water, as our defences in this fight. Let us also explore the lives of the Saints and study the Angels — especially our Guardians. As it was for Fr. Feeney, all of this is more important than the slings and arrows slung at us.
When, in later years after the move to Still River he would take drives around New England, he sought out historic churches and shrines. There, in places where the Faith pure and undefiled had found homes, Fr. Feeney found peace. So it must be with us too. Make time out of your schedule to find such places in your neighbourhood and pray for the Catholics who built them. Take comfort from their existence, and support them to the best of your ability, that they provide the same service for other weary travellers — and survive the current madness, which shall pass sooner or later.
But this was not all he did upon those journeys — not by a long shot. Fr. Feeney evangelised, both casually — getting strangers to say a Hail Mary with him for example — or, when such seemingly light efforts brought a deeper reaction, more intensively. At any given time, he had a number of stops at various stores and other places where the people seemed amenable; the more they asked of the Faith, the more he gave — and so brought a fair number into the Church, even when his stock was at its lowest in the world. Thus too should we be looking for folk to recuse from the wreck of a culture — milk first, and if they respond, then as with Fr. Feeney, meat. But it means attempting to be ever-mindful of the Faith, and knowing that all those whom we encounter have souls like ours — which, like ours, are in danger of Hell. But oh! The rejoicing in Heaven if we save even one — and the likelier that our own to shall rise at our deaths to Heaven.
These beautiful pastimes, however, did not exhaust his use of these trips. Not for nothing had he poetically prayed to God to make him “Laureate of Towns and Little Towns.” Fr. Feeney loved the New England countryside, its often eccentric denizens, and its astonishing towns and scenery — even as once he had loved the hills of Wales, Oxford’s spires, and the sidewalks of London and New York with their varied inhabitants. To evangelise, we must love and we must know. As so much of his work showed (London is a Place comes to mind), Fr. Feeney developed a keen insight into wherever he found himself. We too must try to follow his example., wherever Providence has placed us. If we look at our native place as a district in the Kingdom of Christ assigned to us to evangelise, then the nicest places shall become sublime, and the worst bearable.
Father’s digestion was poor; surgery had removed a good piece of his stomach. As far as food went, milk, weak tea, grilled cheese sandwiches, apple pie, and ice cream became his idea of a banquet — but it WAS his idea of a banquet, to which he always looked forward with anticipation, and consumed with relish and gratitude to God. So too should it be with us. Let us enjoy the good things of this earth as God has given them to us, to the best of our ability and to His honour. Whatever nonsense our leadership in Church and State may give us, they cannot take away the bite into a crisp apple, or the savour of a rich and complex sauce. Neither can they destroy all the beauty that surrounds us.
To be sure, Fr. Feeney also found solace in poetry and other things — he loved the Old Farmers’ Almanac for its coverage of Saints’ days and folklore. None of the things he loved were random, however, and he enjoyed them both for their relationship to God and in themselves. So too should it be for us. The simple pleasures we enjoy are also tolls in keeping our holiness and sanity — if we see them as such.
Grace builds upon nature and ennobles it. Looking at all the good parts of your life — family and friends, favourite places, books, flowers, art, or whatever — through a supernatural lense shall transform them from the pleasures they are now to weapons in the holy fight for salvation upon which we are all engaged. We are fortunate to have in Fr. Feeney an example of one who did not falter through a wild and tempestuous life of ups and downs.