I was far from alone in being saddened by the death of Father Michael Scanlon, T.O.R., the longtime leader of the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
Admittedly, this is one of those times when the sadness is a bit selfish. The holy man deserves rest and reward. But as we pray that he may see the face of God with haste, Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but I can’t be alone in having this lingering thought: What if we could ask him one more question?
In my case, there is the additional reality of a foggy memory: I didn’t take notes when you told me your Bill Buckley story and I completely forget what it is. (As an editor at National Review, people are always telling us stories about when they started reading the magazine William F. Buckley Jr. founded. It’s a great blessing, one I should have been filling notebooks with for years. If you have a story, feel free to email me and tell me again!)
If my memory isn’t playing tricks on me, Scanlan’s story had something to do with, of all things, a New York City yellow cab. (Now that I’ve made my embarrassing confession, if you happen to know the story, do e-mail me.)
Suffice it to say the one time I was blessed to spend quality time with Scanlan, we hit it off quickly. But that typically happens when New Yorkers meet. Of course, it was more than that. He was a holy father — warm and encouraging to a young online editor at a magazine for which he had respect.
It was around a taping of Franciscan University Presents in 2009, which Scanlan hosted at the time, with Regis Martin and Scott Hahn as his sidekicks. (Not a bad lineup.) We were talking about Christian friendship in the Internet Age. In some ways the conversation seems kind of quaint now, talking about whether or not Facebook was for good or ill or if this Twitter thing would stay and have any sanctifying possibilities.
During my drop-by at his set, Scanlan, while confessing he remained and wanted to continue to remain a newspaper reader, was as enthusiastic and even insistent about Christians venturing out, with prudence, on social media.
His advice was three-fold:
- It can be used for good … but it takes care and it takes protection. It takes prayer … so that you are building up the kingdom of God, not undermining it.
- Don’t escape into the shadows. Stay out front. Stay communal.
- Affirm the good and protect against the bad.
Which in all three cases, are also more broadly applicable words to live by.
And I’ll add one last thing countless people learned from him: Trust the Holy Spirit, deeply and completely.
One of the many gifts he gave the Church was affiliating the Cenacle of Our Lady of Divine Providence Spiritual Direction School with Franciscan University. And it was while down with the Cenacle folks in Clearwater, Florida, last year that I found myself rereading the text of Pope Benedict XVI’s address at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City when he visited in 2008.
He said: “In a society where the Church seems legalistic and ‘institutional’ to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love.”
He looked toward Pentecost, quoting the Psalmist who sings: “O Lord, my God, when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”
These words summon us to ever deeper faith in God’s infinite power to transform every human situation, to create life from death, and to light up even the darkest night. And they make us think of another magnificent phrase of Saint Irenaeus: “where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace.”
“The word of God,” he said, “reminds us that, in faith, we see the heavens opened, and the grace of the Holy Spirit lighting up the Church and bringing sure hope to our world.”
Isn’t that hope what people are so clearly needing right about now? It’s what unites people who voted for Donald Trump because they wanted to try something new, someone who would shake up politics with those congressman and entertainers boycotting the inauguration and protesters.
I sometimes think of Pope Benedict as an unappreciated charismatic — if by “charismatic” we mean someone who knows there’s really no point in trying life without the Holy Spirit. Scanlan lived and taught that and reminded us it’s for social media, too.
And if you happen to know how to hail a cab-ride to Heaven, I do have a quick question….