Tomás Morales Pérez was a Jesuit priest whose cause for possible canonization was launched Nov. 8 by the Congregation for the Cause of Saints when Pope Francis approved a decree recognizing his heroic virtues.
Father Morales was born in Venezuela in 1908 and died in Spain in 1994. He promoted the role of the laity in the Church and was founder of a secular institute, Cruzados e Cruzadas de Santa María (the Crusaders of the Blessed Virgin).
Father Morales cultivated a particular devotion to the Blessed Mother. Among his writings (which remain largely untranslated from Spanish) is a beautiful “Meditation on the Rosary,” worth exploring in the Marian month of May.
“What is the Rosary and what isn’t it?” asks Father Morales. “It is not a routine, a custom, something to be rushed; the Rosary is the whole of the Church reunited with Mary, contemplating Jesus.”
Father Morales’ perspective is particularly important. It reflects the corrective lens of Vatican II, which at the same time reaffirms the deepest and best of the Catholic Marian tradition: The Blessed Mother leads us to her Son.
“The Rosary is not a devotion to the Virgin, but to Christ, who perfectly centers the life of the baptized.” The Rosary focuses us on Jesus: “Without contemplation of the mysteries of the life of Jesus, the Rosary is a body without a soul, which ends up dry, routine and hurried.”
But that’s not to minimize the role of the Blessed Virgin. If the Rosary is the Church gathered with Mary, it is also the Church that sees the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary, “the most attractive and effective way, as lived by the Blessed Mother.”
Mary, who was entrusted by Christ to be our Mother, shows every Christian how to exercise his fundamental vocation: to be a disciple of her Son.
By reflecting on the life of Christ through the eyes of Mary, we learn also to look upon what Christ did in terms of discipleship and our share in his work. At the same time, we also see how closely the Blessed Virgin collaborated with the work of her Son for the redemption of humanity.
Father Morales recommends the Rosary daily. He cites a letter from a German soldier to his wife, in which he says that they recite “a prayer in the trenches that the Catholics call the Rosary.”
Like Pope Francis’ “field hospital,” Father Morales wants us to find the Rosary in the “trenches” of daily life, in petition and thanksgiving, as a part of the warp and woof that makes up the “ordinary time” that we find ourselves in every day. He wants the Rosary to be familiar.
But familiarity sometimes breeds contempt, and Father Morales warns against the two “enemies” of the Rosary: “hurry and routine.”
As for being rushed, Father Morales invokes an image that Father Richard Dillon, one of my professors at Fordham, used to apply to hurried reading of the Bible: “skating through the Louvre.” Father Morales, who spent much of his life in Madrid — and presumably in the shadow of Spain’s great art museum, the Museo del Prado — paints the picture of tourist groups impatiently rushed by their guides past Goya, Bosch, El Greco, Rubens, Titian and Velázquez, all to keep the crowd moving past the approximately 1,300 works typically on display on any given day.
Don’t skate through the Prado. Don’t focus on your video camera to take a picture of El Greco instead of looking at the painting itself. And give yourself the time for “the contemplation of the mysteries of the life of Jesus, seen through the heart of she who was always most close to the Lord.”
Father Morales also cautions against “routine.” Repetition can do that. But repetition can also make you smarter: repetitio est mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of study/learning), ran the old maxim.
Venerable Morales wants us to turn the danger into an asset: “The kiss that a mother receives every night at bedtime from her son becomes routine if the son does not do it with love.” Routine can be a “cancer, a corrosive virus.” But, with love, routine yields to richness. We must think about what we are doing.
“Every time he said a Rosary for a sinner,” Father Morales speaks of Pope Pius VII, “he obtained a conversion.” He cites the advice of Philip II to his son when the latter became king of Spain: “If you want the prosperity of your country, if you want prosperity in your life, do not leave aside recitation of the Rosary.” He recalls how St. Dominic converted the Albigensians with the Rosary and how Christians prevailed at the Battle of Lepanto over Islam. On his way to execution, the Scottish Jesuit martyr John Ogilvie threw his rosary, which landed on the chest of a young German aristocrat, Baron John ab Eckersdorff. The young man later became Catholic. “The Rosary does not leave us deaf to the call of Christ, but ready and diligent to fulfill his will,” Father Morales says. “Whoever has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15).
Father Morales’ canonization process is only just beginning: Awareness of his life, works and writings is largely limited to Spain. But 20th-century Spanish spirituality seems to have a strong accent on the role and responsibility of the laity in the Church — Father Morales and his secular movement, St. Josemaria Escrivá and Opus Dei, Kiko Argüello and the Neocatechumenal Way all emphasize the laity.
Perhaps it’s time, especially with the large Hispanic population in the United States, for this South American-born candidate for the altar of sainthood to become better known here.
John M. Grondelski writes from Falls Church, Virginia.
For more information on the cause, see: http://padretomasmorales.weebly.com/.