Breaking the curvature

| Vincenzo Randazzo | March 20, 2018 | 0 Comments


At the Archdiocesan Men’s Conference March 10, I knew our keynote speaker, Msgr. Thomas Richter, would be good.

The new rector of the St. Paul Seminary has a no-nonsense style and a contagious zeal for Christ. But I was so grateful for the relevance and practicality of his talk. I want to share two ways in which Msgr. Richter challenged me. First, if we “curve in” on ourselves, we are dying as Christians; and second, if we fail to sacrifice, we are dying as fathers.

No matter what curve balls are thrown to us and no matter how bad we want to be above the curve, we can bet that we are dead if we are curved in on ourselves, aka “incurvatus in se,” as St. Augustine writes.

Msgr. Richter said we are “incurvatus in se” in small ways, when we want others to honor us for our generosity or kindness. But to do good because God is good, and not for the reward, is to break the curvature of the spine — symbolic of our orientation to self or others — outward and away from ourselves.

Msgr. Richter shared a personal story to illustrate this. On a flight, a woman once offered him a seat in first class because she saw that he was a priest. Instead of taking the seat, he asked the woman to offer it to someone more needy than himself. Kind, right? But
Msgr. Richter then told us that his immediate thought after refusing the seat was, “I hope people saw me refuse so that I can make a good name for myself and for priests.”

He admitted to us that in that moment, he was “incurvatus in se” — he was concerned with himself as opposed to others. It was small and hidden, but he received a grace from God showing him the curvature of his spine. That reality about himself hurt him, he said, but he exhorted that it is precisely where he must grow and where we all must grow.

Our selfishness can be so subtle, yet so prevalent. If only we took the time to pray and examine our consciences, we would see how self-absorbed we often are, how it is often hidden within good actions and how God desires to help us break out from this self-absorption.

Msgr. Richter made a point that I can use as a tool in my prayer life to know what God is doing in me. He told us to imagine we had a magic wand that could make a certain trouble go away. As we survey the troubles in our lives, what is the one trouble where we wish we could wave a wand and it would just disappear? Well, he said, that’s precisely where we are turned in on ourselves, precisely where it will hurt to break out and away from ourselves, and precisely where God wants to love us and enter into our suffering.

This brings me to perhaps the most important point he made for the men gathered: It was not Christ’s miracles that saved us, but rather it was his sacrifice. Msgr. Richter highlighted miracle after miracle that Christ performed: healing the blind, multiplying the loaves, healing the paralytic and so on. These were not what saved us. These signs where just that — signs. They pointed, like any true sign, to the true salvation: doing the will of the father even unto death, unto sacrifice. This is precisely what it means to be
a man.

St. Ignatius of Loyola uses an analogy in his spiritual exercises. He charges us to understand God as a good king who is going to war to free his people from the enslavement of a tyrant. God goes to war and asks us men to come with him and promises us we will share in the victory. But there is a condition: If we go with God, our king, we must eat what he eats, sleep where he sleeps and suffer as he suffers, and dutifully without complaint.

Msgr. Richter’s insight showed that while God is a God of miracles, we do not worship a god of magic, who waves a wand to relieve us of our suffering. Rather, as Msgr. Richter put it, we worship a God who knows that it is good for us to offer him our suffering if we desire to glory in his victory.

Randazzo is an evangelization manager in the Office of Evangelization of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and director of development at St. Stephen in Minneapolis. Learn about the archdiocese’s Catholic Watchmen initiative at or

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Category: Catholic Watchmen