Religion

A Pandemic Priest from New Orleans Wants to Encourage You

(kzenon/Getty Images)
Take some time this week to realize that goodness is still possible.

New Orleans — When Carson Coyle comes around, he runs around like any healthy young boy. A priest fondly describes a boy who suffered brain damage at his birth. A judge who happens to have a devotion to Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos prayed at Carson’s cradle-side with a cross from the Seelos shrine in New Orleans, and a miracle is believed to have happened. His life may just be the miracle that Seelos, who died ministering to people during a yellow-fever pandemic, needs to be recognized as a saint. Everything about his life and the shrine is remarkably normal. At a time when we strive for a “new normal,” Father Seelos, who died on October 4, 1867, is an example to consider. Everyone I ask talks about how he lived the ordinary extraordinarily. He poured himself out in love.

On a recent visit to his tomb and shrine, I stood in the confessional where Father Seelos would hear confessions for hours — people would line up to encounter God’s mercy through the instrument of this German Redemptorist missionary priest, who always had time for people. Father Seelos would sleep in his clothes in the room closest to the door so he could answer night calls for hospital runs. He famously heard the confession of a dying prostitute. In non-COVID times, people have flocked here for a closeness to him, with prayers for healing. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000; locals have long considered him already a saint.

To visit his shrine in New Orleans is to remember, in the wake of Hurricane Ida and in the continuing midst of the coronavirus pandemic, what is most important. There is a power in virtuous living. Goodness can be more contagious than the Delta variant.

Seelos had a clarity about life that he tried to impart at every opportunity. He wouldn’t flee from or bemoan suffering. To his brother, he wrote: “See your cross in the exact fulfilling of the duties of your state in life. Carry it daily by overcoming all anger and grumbling. Carry it willingly, make an offering of yourself to God for those dear to you, and for the salvation of your soul. Through self-conquest all of us must earn heaven, and through self-denial, bring down blessings for this present life. Whoever knows this secret will no longer become angry easily, because he is convinced that only through this sacrificing patience does he win one day after another for heaven.” He wasn’t preaching from some lofty throne but living the life alongside immigrants at a time of rampant anti-Catholicism.

To his sister, he wrote: “So also when the pleasure-loving animal in us is put to death through unremitting prayer, the daily fulfilling of our duty, constant self-denial and carrying of our cross, then everything becomes sweet; then we understand the value of suffering. Then a gentle and joyful aura radiates from our whole person, because it gives expression to that peace which the world does not have, does not give, and does not know. It is the joy that our loving Redeemer gives to his followers, a peace that is the real sign of perfection and holiness.” That’s the approach to life that kept him moving forward in self-giving with joy. And he continues to be a model of how to live well with the limited time we have.

One contemporary priest testified: “It seemed to be a rule with him never to lose a moment’s precious time. When not elsewhere employed, he was sure to be found in the oratory of in his room, praying, writing, or studying. As often as I went to make my confession to him after night prayers or before the morning meditation, I found him up and at prayer.”

We waste a lot of time, those of us constantly looking at our phones. Could we make better use of our time? Could we love like Seelos?

Such holy living is not for priests alone. If you are reading this for a busy mom whose children will not give her a few minutes to sit quietly and read commentary, relay these words of Seelos to her: “If, in a special way, the conscientious rearing of children is accompanied with great blessing from God even in this life, in the next it will be rewarded with indescribable joy. Or, is there no joy in the thought that all your children will thank you for all eternity that with so much effort, so many cares and fears you were concerned day and night about their eternal salvation?” She’s doing the most important work in the world.

You don’t have to be a Catholic Christian or know anything about Father Seelos beyond this column to be renewed in an appreciation that loving humbly in the details of life has more power than any righteous tweet or vote cast. Don’t let distractions detract from living well. Father Seelos encourages us still.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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