Last month, I made a telephone call to a man I’ve known for more than 20 years. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call him “Luke.” I hadn’t seen Luke for several months. I had been accustomed to seeing him at least once a week in the adoration chapel, then he stopped showing up.
After Luke stopped coming to the chapel, I asked another person who knows him what happened to him. The person told me that he had heard that a priest at Luke’s church had said something that humiliated Luke in front of some other people. After that, Luke stopped going to church. He also stopped going to the adoration chapel. In case you’re curious, the priest who made the comment was not associated with Saint Philomena Church, where I’m a member.
I had planned on calling Luke a couple of months ago, but I didn’t get around to it until Monday, August 15, the feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. Every year on August 15, I renew my consecration to the Blessed Mother. I made my first consecration on August 15, 1985, and have renewed it every year since then.
I learned how to make the consecration by reading Saint Louis de Montfort’s book, True Devotion to Mary. One of the guidelines that Saint Louis de Montfort has for individuals who renew their consecration each year is to perform a spiritual or corporal work of mercy on the day of the consecration.
On the day of my renewal, I thought about Luke. When I called him, he didn’t answer. I left a message for him to call me. He tried calling me back, but we weren’t able to match up until later in the week. When I finally reached him, I asked him why he was no longer going to the chapel. He said that he had developed a new devotion to Saint Sharbel.
I’m familiar with Saint Sharbel because I used to be a member of Saint Sharbel Catholic Church in Peoria. Saint Sharbel was born in Lebanon and later became a Maronite Catholic monk and priest. He died on December 24, 1898. For 23 years prior to his death, he lived as a solitary hermit.
Luke explained to me what happened with the priest and why he decided that he was no longer going to attend the church where the priest was located. Luke has a history of getting angry with priests and changing churches. I’m aware of three previous occasions when Luke did that.
We had a lengthy conversation about certain problems in the Catholic Church and what should be done about them. Our discussion became animated when Luke said that lay Catholics should always be willing to speak out against priests when they believe that the priests have done something wrong.
I disagreed with Luke and told him that in my opinion, we only have an obligation to speak out when the situation involves a matter of grave concern. I told him that priests make mistakes and sometimes say the wrong things, just like we do.
I emphasized that we need to be careful and prudent about what we say to others, taking into account the seriousness of the matter and whether our comments will be productive or will make matters worse. Luke disagreed with me and insisted that any time we notice that anybody —including priests — is doing something wrong, we have an obligation to speak out, regardless of the consequences.
Prior to ending the phone call, I asked Luke if he was attending daily Mass at Saint Sharbel Church in Peoria. He answered that he was not attending Mass anywhere. He said that he has become a hermit like Saint Sharbel, and spends most of his time in his apartment praying.
I responded by saying, “Luke, you know better than that! You know that the church requires that you attend Mass on Sundays.” He replied that he didn’t think he needed to go to Mass. He felt that he could accomplish just as much by praying in his apartment.
I disagreed with him and told him that by not going to Mass, he is depriving himself of the Holy Eucharist. Luke replied that he can make an act of spiritual communion, which has the same effect as receiving the Eucharist. I told him that the sixth chapter of the gospel of John clearly states that Christ told us that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood if we want to enter into Heaven. I reminded him that the only place in the Bible where followers of Jesus actually walked away and left Him was after He made that statement, which was proof that what He said was to be taken literally.
Luke wouldn’t budge from his claim that he was not obligated to go to Mass. To back up his position, he made this preposterous statement: “I’ve been a devout Catholic for more than 35 years. During that time, I was able to bank away a lot of graces.”
At that point, my patience ran out. I told him that none of us are guaranteed salvation and that the Catholic Church teaches that our souls are in jeopardy until the moment of our death. That’s why the Hail Mary prayer includes a request that the Mother of God pray for us at the hour of our death. I told him that none of us has the equivalent of a bank account where we can deposit graces we receive from God so they can be used at a later time.
There is no support in Catholic doctrine or tradition for Luke’s belief that God’s grace can be accumulated and “saved up” for use at a later time. When money is deposited into a savings account, a debt is created. The bank owes a debt to the depositor. The debt is the amount of money that was deposited, plus interest.
When God gives us grace, no debt is created. God is not obligated to do anything for us in the future. It’s our responsibility to continue to be faithful to Him and to abide by the laws of His church. God expects each of us to be diligent and faithful until we die and enter into eternity.
Luke wasn’t willing to listen to anything I said to him. He told me that he had recently seen a woman at a grocery store who was a parishioner of his former church. He said that she begged him to come back to church. He responded to her the same way that he responded to me. I asked him the following question: “Luke, if God wanted to get a message to you that you needed to start going to Mass again, how do you think he would do that?”
Luke answered by telling me that he thought that God would communicate with him directly while he was praying. I told him that most of the time God communicates with us through other people, and that God had attempted to communicate with him through the woman at the grocery store. I then told him that God was attempting to communicate with him through me. He disagreed with what I was saying.
At that point, I said, “I’m going to ask my mom to pray for you.” Luke has known my parents for more than 20 years. He has a great deal of respect for them. I thought that if I brought my mom into the conversation, he might reconsider. Instead, he replied, “That’s okay if you ask her to pray for me. I need all the prayers I can get. Ask whomever you want to pray for me.”
So that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m asking you to pray for Luke. He would deny this, but he’s a very proud man who finds it difficult to forgive others. He’s divorced and although he has a daughter, they don’t communicate with each other very often. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any true friends who can lean on him to get his act together.