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A Sign of the Spirit

Poet’s note: These heroic couplets paraphrase the conclusion of a recent sermon for which the preacher, Father Francis Gloudeman, was expelled by Bishop Alberto Rojas of San Bernardino, California, from a church where he had assisted pastors for more than 20 years.

One sign is peace: the Holy Spirit’s fruit.
There is a worldly peace, a substitute
In conflict with the peace that Jesus gives.
The world attacks the way a Christian lives;
To live in harmony with God is peace—
From shallow safety it secures release.
Tranquility of order trains our thought,
Enables minds to love what God has taught,
And human wills His precepts to fulfill
In friendship with the saints, one Church at peace,
More so as battles with God’s foes increase.
This peace is war, in company with Mary
The serpent-crusher, service voluntary
To Jesus Christ, most suffering of men
In spirit, mind, and body. Even then
He was at peace with God His Father’s will,
When it was hardest. That is peace. He came
To conquer Satan’s power, to clash and claim
For us a share in hard-fought victory.
Crushing that serpent’s head builds mastery;
May strife with God’s own enemies not cease,
For when we’re not at war, we can’t have peace.

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Margaret Coats lives in California.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.  She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.  


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38 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    “Not as the world gives do I give to you.” John 14:27

    These words are rarely heard, let alone commented on, as opposed to those which precede them.
    Margaret’s poem highlights their powerful implications and is, indeed, a sermon for our times.

    May Our Lord grant the good and courageous Father His peace.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I simply turned the final portion of Father’s sermon into verse. He is the one who made a sermon for our times, speaking at great length of how we do not see the signs of truth, holiness, and courage in high places or in the mainstream media. When he came to bishops letting people die without the sacraments, he said, “Does it get any crazier than that?”

      Reply
      • Cynthia Erlandson

        Amen! I wish I could have heard that sermon. I’m glad I got to read your poem, though, Margaret. “… one Church at peace. / More so as battles with God’s foes increase.” How paradoxically true. Just yesterday our priest began his sermon with a quote from Pope John Paul, to the effect that there is too much wasted suffering — meaning that we mostly try to avoid it instead of using it for strengthening. Your final two lines are especially profound.

      • Margaret Coats

        Thank you, Cynthia! Looking forward to any further comment you may have after you have time to listen to the sermon

    • Jsb

      A very timely reminder and challenge. May this inspire and move the Laity to pray, speak out, and do concrete steps for the good of the Church, but always with due respect.

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Father Francis did give us a challenge, asking in his very last few words (that I haven’t put in this poem) whether others see the signs of the Spirit in us. Others don’t see our prayers, so the signs must be in our speaking out and doing deeds.

    • Jsb

      A very timely reminder and challenge. May this inspire and move the Laity to pray, speak out, and do concrete steps for the good of the Church.

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Jsb, respect is due only when justice requires it. And we must be careful that in paying any respect that is truly due, we are not unjust to someone else, or to the honor that is always due to God.

  2. Julian D. Woodruff

    Nice to see an echo of what an orthodox priest has to say, Margaret. (I wonder if someone might undertake to render poetically the essentials of Abp. Cordileone’s recent statement to 60-odd “Catholic” congressmen and women on Eucharistic coherence and their persistent violation of constant Catholic teaching.) But what of Bp. Rojas’s words and action? Might you or someone else familiar with the situation feel moved to comment in verse?

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      You can hear not just an echo, but the entire 35-minute sermon by clicking on “recent sermon” in my note above the poem. In it, Joe Biden serves as an example of the hypocrisy castigated by Jesus.

      Reply
      • Cynthia Erlandson

        Thank you, Margaret — I’ll listen.

    • Margaret Coats

      I remember what a great job you did, Julian, when American bishops stepped very far out of bounds in calling the national election as evidence of fraud was mounting rapidly. Not their job at any time! For myself at present, I am more inclined to go on with the sermon. The poem above offers its main point, but its treatment of truth, holiness, and courage are also worthy of verse. And I suspect the fray is not over yet.

      Reply
  3. Sally Cook

    Dear Margaret —
    Thank you for yet another intelligent, thoughtful poem. Your poem has made me ask once again, what has made churches so flaccid, so unwilling to stand up and be counted?
    Is this some way of minimizing its own sins, or is there evil in high places? And what of Father Francis since then?

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      We are so flaccid because the ideal of self-sacrificing holiness, in imitation of Christ, is absent. There certainly is evil in high places, but as Father Francis said, “Nazi Germany would never have happened with just a few wicked men in high places. It took a bunch of yes-men.” He tells us that the opposite of courage is not fear, but worldly self-interest.

      At present, Father Francis is engaged in a period of prayer under the supervision of his Norbertine abbot. But when Bishop Rojas took away Father Francis’s faculties to hear Confession in his diocese, he acted in opposition to the Spirit of holiness, by denying people the means of holiness in a very large diocese that is very short of priests.

      Reply
  4. BRIAN YAPKO

    Margaret, I love everything about this poem. You may have been inspired by the sermon delivered by Father Francis but you have interpreted it and transformed it into your own poetic art — an achievement of some consequence. Simply as a poem it works beautifully. But this is more than a poem. It’s a primer with a supremely important theological message:

    How do you know when your thoughts and actions are aligning with the will of God? You answer that question decisively: when your actions are answered by the peace of the Holy Spirit. Then you really spell out how that happens. First and foremost, harmony with God’s will requires a relationship with God — one chooses between the “world’s peace” versus “the peace that Jesus gives.” But this relationship is far from passive. As you point out, “[t]ranquility of order trains our thought.” So a certain amount of discipline is required. Also an eye that is fixed on those who have been inspired by the Holy Spirit — the saints, Mary, Jesus Himself — all working proactively (“serpent crushing”, “service voluntary”) — so that you know you are not alone in this and that action is required. Finally, courage — the courage to stand up and do the right thing in an on-going battle to resist and defy evil.

    My take-away from your fine poem is that true spirituality is not about finding a quiet place and levitating. It’s about taking an active stand for what is right — for what the Holy Spirit shows is right. It’s about the peace one gets — not from retreating — but from finding it within you to engage against evil. One of my favorite New Testament passages is Ephesians 6:10-18 which describes putting on the armor of God. (“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place…”)

    It is obvious to me that you have done so and admirably at that. Well done indeed!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Brian, for the close reading that shows how the poem works. I think Saint Paul in Ephesians may have been using poetic imagery to interpret Job 7:1, “The life of man on earth is warfare.” I am happy to say that others in my parish are bringing forward good ideas about how to make this on-going battle more effective!

      Reply
  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    Unfortunately, scumbags like Bishop Alberto Rojas of San Bernardino are the rule rather than the exception in the Novus Ordo hierarchy. They are “Catholics” in name only, and have contempt for and anger towards anyone who speaks out against received secularist pieties.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      You are quite right. I mentioned this matter on a discussion thread last Monday, the day after Father Francis’s cancellation was announced. To provide a little background, Mike Bryant did a search for “canceled Catholic priest.” He didn’t find one named Francis, but there were so many others that he was appalled at the enormity of the problem.

      Reply
  6. Loretta Garcia

    Powerful Dr. Coats! After having listened to Father Francis’ Pentecost sermon twice, your verses offer a bold tribute to his courage and Truth itself!

    Prayers and justice for Fr. Francis and all our courageous priests.

    Reply
    • Jsb

      A very timely reminder and challenge. May this inspire and move the Laity to pray, speak out, and do concrete steps for the good of the Church, but always with due respect.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        “Due respect”? That just means enabling creeps like Bishop Rojas.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Loretta, but the boldness is what the Spirit gave to Father Francis. I’m glad you were able to hear the sermon. It rings true! I used his words and his style as much as I could.

      Joseph, your expressions also ring true. This seems to be a case where justice shows little respect to be due, and there is danger, rather, of the vice of servility.

      Reply
      • Joe Tessitore

        It’s possible that Jsb is speaking of the due respect that David showed Saul when he refused to allow harm to come to him, despite the fact that “God’s anointed”was hunting him for the express purpose of killing him.

        Saint Francis showed a similar respect to the openly wayward priest when he knelt before him, kissed his hands and said “These hands bring me Jesus.”.

        It would be good to hear from Jsb to clarification.

  7. C.B. Anderson

    The situation of Father Francis is just another example of the saying: No good deed goes unpunished.

    I sometimes put it like this: The only punishable crime, these days, is speaking the truth.

    Reply
  8. Margaret Coats

    Joe T., I entirely agree with kissing the bishop’s ring (or a priest’s hand) out of respect due to his consecration. But look out if the bishop or priest is not friendly to these customs widely practiced within living memory! I have been rebuked while he snatched away his hand.

    Perhaps Jsb will return and clarify, but it looks as if his first “due respect” post was made in reply to my speaking of bishops letting people die without the sacraments. That happened. It could be of eternal significance. I know of one case, and there may have been hundreds or thousands in our country. This is directly opposed to the two aims of the Church, the glory of God and the salvation of souls. It is an offense against Church law for any priest to refuse a sacrament to an eligible person who asks for it. I asked for a priest to visit the home of a CCP flu sufferer, and was refused in accord with episcopal policy. I am sure there were some heroic priests who disobeyed bishops to perform spiritual works of mercy, and great honor is due these heroes, even though all they did was give the faithful what was THEIR due.

    No respect is due someone who makes no provision to fulfill duties for which he is the responsible authority.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      This is truly mind-blowing. A bishop forbids his priests to visit the dying and to bring them the sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction?

      That’s not a Catholic bishop. That’s a pseudo-ecclesiastical puppet of secular authority, and one who has no fear of God. I am sickened when I read this.

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Secular authority was an operative force, including the “no visitors” policy in hospitals. The woman I know of who died without the sacraments also died alone, despite having adult children who would have stayed with her and comforted her. And she did not have the CCP virus, but died of heart disease that her children were unable to manage at home. The patient for whom I tried to get a priest (and who survived) was at home. It was the bishops’ policy in favor of “the common good” that denied her the sacraments. Looks like “the common good” does not include help for persons who might be about to fight the most important spiritual battle of their lives. As Sally Cook asked, why are the churches so flaccid? They must consider their services non-essential. And this is not just one bishop. As I said above, I am sure there are priests who made sick calls unobtrusively, and perhaps some bishops who allowed that. But where are the Church leaders who say out loud that we should not have to do this secretly?

      Reply
  9. Christina Lesinski

    Excellent poetry, Mrs. Coats! I love how you connected it to Fr. Francis’s sermon and the state of the Church in subtle yet concrete ways. The paradox of inability to have peace without war is clearly stated and ever so true. The allusion to the Truth of Catholic teachings being taught and then causing disruption, even though they should only result in peace, is very telling. Speaking Truth is exactly what Father Francis did and was punished for it, a Christ-like example. The line “Tranquility of order trains our thought” is also very well put, as I took it to mean that society is trained to desire civil order or “worldly peace.” Therefore, people do not speak out for the sake of keeping this so-called peace and tranquility, even though it is actually in “conflict with the peace that Jesus gives.” Father Francis and priests like him are indeed fighting for God’s truth during a time that it has never been harder, knowing that we cannot have true peace without fighting. It is an example for all of us to follow.

    You did a wonderful job making this a timeless piece that reflects circumstances and truths that have repeated throughout history. If there is a way to share this poem with Fr. Francis, I am sure he would very much appreciate it. Thank you for writing and sharing this work of art, Mrs. Coats!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Christina. There may be some ways to get the poem to Father Francis, and I am encouraged to try them by your assurance that he would appreciate it. He (or the Holy Spirit inspiring him) is the author of the substantial ideas.

      Reply
  10. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Margaret, I have arrived late to the comments section party and all I wanted to say has been said in fitting observations from astute fellow poets. So, I will say this – thank you for your integrity, your bravery, your voice that rings out beautifully and forcefully for those who have been shut down, and your fine poetry. It’s wonderful, creative souls like yourself that make all the difference in times that grow increasingly dark and I thank you wholeheartedly for your passion.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Susan, and thanks too for your brave example. I also appreciate the works of other courageous poets here, and of our editor. The best token of thanks on this page is to quote Father Francis on courage. “Courage is not the absence of fear. Jesus had more fear in the Garden of Gethsemane than anyone in the history of mankind. Courage is going forward to accomplish a great good in the midst of a great evil.”

      Reply
  11. Dana

    Those last two lines are like a one-two punch. I’m still recovering. Excellent!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      The last line is Father Francis’s knockout punch, and the line before is also his idea; I just found a word to make the rhyme. Thank you for reading and expressing appreciation!

      Reply
  12. Brian Onuigbo

    “May strife with God’s own enemies not cease,
    For when we’re not at war, we can’t have peace.”

    Such a well composed statement. It reminds me of the beatitude:
    Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    Indeed, those who are firm in speaking the truth will always encounter opposition. Great job on this one!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Many thanks, Brian! I much appreciate the time it takes in your busy life to read and respond with a comment.

      Reply
  13. Marissa Lesinski

    Beautiful poem Mrs. Coats! I wish I was more adept in communicating how great it is. I agree with your other commenters’ compliments! God bless you!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Marissa, it says a great deal that you took time from your many family duties to read and comment. I am thrilled to know how much you like the poem!

      Reply

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