Mike Aquilina

Heartland Patristics

Saturday January 09th 2010, 7:31 pm

I’m just back from snowy Des Moines, Iowa, where epic winds brought the temperatures down to negative thirty and the snowdrifts up to five feet. I will never again call Pennsylvania weather “winter.”

But my reception could not have been warmer. I arrived Tuesday as the guest of Mark and Katherine Dowdell Hommerding and their lovely family. They’re friends of mine from way back, and Mark was just received into full communion with the Catholic Church last Easter. To give us an opportunity to celebrate together, Mark booked me for three talks on the Fathers, two radio shows, and a book-signing.

Well, the weather froze out the first two talks, but everything else went as planned. My Thursday-evening talk was probably the only thing that wasn’t canceled in Des Moines. I talked about martyrdom and Eucharist, building on the treatment in my book The Resilient Church. In spite of the horrible weather, we drew a hundred and thirty people.

Many of them came back the next day for the book-signing at Divine Treasures bookstore. Run by Lois Brookhart and Sue Greenwood, the store has been going strong since 1992. It’s a big shop, and its abundant stock is chosen with loving care. I’m convinced that the angels guide these two ladies — not just because they have the best selection of angelology books I’ve ever seen in a bookshop, and not just because of the constant apostolic conversations that take place there. I believe it because I’ve seen it in action.

I had spent much of the previous week trying to track down a copy of an extremely rare book, Kilian Healy’s The Assumption of Mary. (Go ahead, try and find one.) No luck whatsoever. The booksellers all say they have long waiting lists for that title.

So at Divine Treasures Sue is telling me how she and Lois just bought out the stock of another Catholic bookstore, and some of the books were pretty old. She pulls out one with a clearance tag — and guess what it is.

That’s right: Kilian Healy’s The Assumption of Mary. My eyes popped, and my jaw dropped. I thought to myself: “Oh, she’s just doing this because of my conversations last week.” Then I came to my senses: “Wait a minute … This woman didn’t know me last week!” My angel was winking at me.

Sue gave me the book. Life is so good.

Then this wonderful guy walks into the store — Iowan through and through, blue jeans and flannel shirt. He comes over to my book table and introduces himself. Turns out he’s a Des Moines priest running errands and getting car repairs on his day off. He bought several of my titles as gifts, so I instantly recognized him as a man of great wisdom, discernment, and sanctity. He told me about his ministry, covering several parishes and including several ethnic communities. He was so joyful and matter-of-fact about labor that seemed to me Herculean, if not outright Basilian.

As he was leaving with the books he’d bought, I said wryly: “Thanks for feeding my children.”

And he said, perfectly straight: “Thanks for feeding mine.” And, man, I got all choked up.

Remember to pray for Father Glen.

Anyway, I was pleased to see that parishes in the Des Moines area are celebrating the Church’s Year of the Priest by organizing group studies of my book Sharing Christ’s Priesthood: A Bible Study for Catholics. I did it for our priests, so I’m happy to see this title catching on.

I was most amazed, though, to learn that St. Joseph’s Parish in Des Moines had drawn the theme for its annual novena from my book The Fathers of the Church. This year, the nine lectures will focus on the “Great Fathers of the Church.” The organizers, who came out to my talk, explained to me that they got the list from my book, but had to add a Father in order to get nine — the necessary amount for a novena. So they promoted St. Cyril of Jerusalem.

Here’s the lineup:
– Fri., Jan. 8, St. Athanasius (preached by Msgr. Robert Chamberlain)
– Fri., Jan. 15, St. Ambrose (preached by Msgr. Joe McDonnell)
– Fri., Jan. 22, St. John Chrysostom (preached by Msgr. Lawrence Beeson)
– Fri., Jan. 29, St. Gregory the Great (preached by Deacon Fred Pins)
– Fri., Feb. 5, St. Augustine (preached by Bishop Richard Pates)
– Fri., Feb. 12, St. Basil the Great (preached by Fr. Joseph Pins)
– Fri., Feb. 19, St. Jerome (preached by Msgr. Frank Bognanno)
– Fri., Feb. 26, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (preached by Deacon Larry Kehoe)
– Fri., March 5, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (preached by Deacon Troy Thompson)

You have to love any place that has its cathedral dedicated to St. Ambrose. But Des Moines is beyond the beyond. The winter weather was necessary, so that I could have a constant reminder I wasn’t in heaven. Where else are the Fathers so exalted?

My host, Mark, by the way, is the greatest photographer since Yousuf Karsh. I’m not exaggerating. I once witnessed a U.S. bishop enter a bidding war with a distant employer over Mark’s services. The bishop lost, of course.