We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!
-Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium
When we contemplate the life of Christ, we tend to focus on one of three elements of His life: His nativity, His life in ministry, and His life as it is now at the right hand of the Father. But we forget one of the essential points of His life: the years of His youthfulness. Except for the scene of finding Jesus in the temple, the period of Jesus’ youth is hidden from us in the accounts of the Gospel.
But we must, regardless of the silence of the Scriptures, take Jesus’ youthful years seriously. I take for this principle the fact that if the Word is united with a humanity exactly like our save for sin, then each moment of the life of Christ can reveal to us not only something about the relationship between the Son and the Father, but it also is an affirmation of the various periods of human life by God Himself. The unity between the Word and His humanity in His conception demonstrates the value of human life prior to birth. The unity of the Word to His humanity in the infancy is a statement by God that the years of infancy are important to God and that they reveal something to us about the Son as well as our relationship with the Father. So too is it with the years of Jesus’ youth, the years between the finding in the Temple and the beginning of His ministry.
We can contemplate what youthfulness means. Often we will identify it with “finding oneself”, with “rebellion”, with “having fun”, with “making mistakes”, etc. But if we truly desire to value youthfulness, we need to look to Jesus as the One Who gives us the standard of youthfulness. And what is the primary characteristic of the life of Jesus’ youth? It is one of hiddenness.
Hiddenness may seem anti-youthful to us. But it really is the core of youthfulness because it is a necessary part of the radical response of love that is engendered by enthusiasm.* The enthusiasm of Jesus is manifested in the life of His ministry. He is constantly setting His face towards Jerusalem (Lk 9:51). In Mark’s Gospel, there is an intensity to the action of Jesus that permeates every verse. Jesus foretells His death and then rebukes Peter for trying to move Him off of His course (Matthew 16:21-18). There are many other passages that manifest this enthusiastic youthfulness of Jesus, but the key here is that the enthusiasm of Jesus – which is the key characteristic of youthfulness – is possible only by first living the intensity of a hidden life of preparation to fulfill His mission.
This is important for every Christian. Youthfulness is not something we ought to lose. Youthfulness, as we see with Jesus, is connected with our mission in life. And our mission is lived out in the enthusiasm of one won over by a love so intense that one is willing to give over their entire self to that love immediately, without question. That is what happens in the life of Jesus. In the life of Jesus, He is constantly aware of the love of His Father and it is in His actions that He constantly responds to that love with an abandonment and intensity that has yet to be duplicated on this earth. The only visible sign of this is in the life of the saints. Look, for example, to Bl. Teresa of Calcutta or St Francis of Assisi. They had a determination to their life that we wish we would have. They lived out the vocation that they were called to live with such intensity. But for both – and this, indeed, is a common theme in the life of the saints to such a point that we must see it as essential for our life in becoming saints – they were first enveloped in a life of hidden pursuit of God. They had, in fact, quite ordinary lives prior to their mission. They lived that ordinariness with such intensity either for the good or for the ill.
Youthfulness, then, is important. And it should never be lost. It is, in fact, central to Christian life, and to lose it is to become tepid, lukewarm. The youthfulness of faith is not the youthfulness of the world. The youthfulness of the world wants the immaturity and image of youthfulness, but not its intensity – those who tend this way live lives that are lukewarm and passionless at best. No. Christian youthfulness is quiet but inflamed with a passionate heart that desires to give itself entirely over out of love for Jesus Christ. Christian youthfulness is lived out whether one is 16 or 76. It depends not on age, but rather on the intensity of love. It is this love, so common to youthfulness and so central to the life of Jesus that defines who we are as Christians.
We must be wary in losing this youthfulness. To lose it is a dangerous thing. We must heed the warning of Bernanos:
“The mature man is that legendary animal whom the moralist has thought up to help him make his deductions. This mature man does not exist, for there is no neutral stage between youth and age. He who cannot give more than he receives is already starting to decay. Even a careless observer can see that a miser at twenty is already an old man.”
Let us not become old men. Let us have the youthfulness of the Christian. Let us burst forth to give and to give until it hurts. One of the great elements of youthfulness is its spontaneity. One of the great dangers of being an “old man” as Bernanos means it is to be a rationalist who carefully controls the world around him. Thus Pope Francis, though an old man, is actually one who has the youthfulness of the Christian spirit. This is why he attracts so many people to him. And that youthfulness means that one need to try things out of that devotion of love. It means to be willing to make mistakes and to be ok with failure. Whatever was tried, it was tried sincerely out of love. The “old man” will look at that failure and reduce the love that is within and say “well, that failed, so we need to be more disciplined in our approach, more careful in how we respond in love”. But that is not love. Love is spontaneous and total. It is enthusiastic – literally “possessed by God”. This is the love of Jesus Christ because He was possessed by the love of His Father through the Holy Spirit. We too can be possessed by the Father, indeed, we are possessed by His love. So we need to respond and be willing to make a mess, to make mistakes, to throw ourselves at the foot of divine love. Youthfulness is ok with making mistakes. It will either try again, or it will try something new. But it will always respond in love. Let us not lose our youthfulness. Let us love.
*I am aware that Ronald Knox has written a book which is rather scathing of the whole concept of enthusiasm, specifically as it results in many religious movements of the 17th – 19th century. However, I think that if Knox were to read of the enthusiasm I speak of here, he would not object. However, if he were to object, then I believe I would have to contradict his rejection of enthusiasm as anti-incarnational.
in Christ through Mary
I have a bone to pick with Catholic preachers. Too often focus is given to Heaven as our goal in life. While there is a truth to that, it is not “the final expression”. Rather, the final expression of Christian life will not be eternity in Heaven but rather eternity in our resurrected bodies in a new heavens and a new earth in which sin and death no longer hold sway in the world.
But not only is this avoided, it is actually preached against by many preachers. I myself have heard a variety of different attitudes: some believe we will become angels while others believe that we will be “resurrected to heaven”. I have heard it all. And I am fed up. It is time that Catholics take seriously the Resurrection of the Body.
Why do Catholics believe in the resurrection of the body? We believe in it because Christ Himself was raised from the dead. In Him – the perfect union of God and man – we see what our humanity is called to be. In the Resurrected Christ we see a humanity that is transformed. There is something difficult to grasp about Him – hence why many do not recognize Him or struggle to continue to recognize Him (John 20:14, John 21:13, Luke 24:13-35, etc). But there is something glorious about the resurrected body and we will have this same body (cf: 1 Cor 15:42-44, 53).
This idea is not only in scripture. Look to the creeds of the Church! Do we not proclaim “I believe in the resurrection of the body”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls this the “culmination” of the Christian Creed! In short – the full life of man will be expressed not just in the living of our souls in all eternity, but rather in the raised body united with the soul. Anything short of this is heresy and reeks of Gnosticism.
Why is the resurrection of the body so important? Well, we must remember the fundamental fact of Genesis 1-2: God created the whole cosmos and He “saw that it was good”. This includes the material as well as the spiritual. For God to not redeem that which is material means that something of what He has created ultimately isn’t worth saving. But the Christian message – through the fact of Christ’s Resurrection – goes flat up against such a worldview. It says that the entirety of humanity and creation is worthy of saving and it says this through Christ’s resurrection.
So then what happens in the interim? The separation of the soul from the body is not the final word, it is not the final action. It is an interim reality that is unnatural and is to be remedied in the general resurrection. Thus heaven as we understand it – as the place where Christ reigns and where our soul will dwell – is only a temporary solution. A new reality will occur when Christ comes again. Why would God destroy the earth that He has created? He will not, He will bring it to the perfection.
What does this all mean for us?
First, look to Jesus in John’s Gospel. When He encounters Thomas His identity is based in His wounds. Jesus is strange and mysterious to the apostles – but they are able to recognize the wounds as His glory, as the proof that He is Who He says to be.
This speaks to us with regards to the wounds of sin. In confession we encounter the healing mercy of Jesus Christ that removes the effect of sin on our souls. We may too bear the wounds of our sin – but they will no longer be signs of our weakness, but rather they will mediate the glory of Christ to the world. My sins will become the basis of Christ’s glory for the mercy and love of God is so powerful that it can even be glorified in that which is not God: in sin. This does not give us license to sin, but rather demonstrates that God’s glory does not depend on us and that, indeed, He is powerful enough to manifest His glory in the most broken of human vessels. Our wounds will be our identity.
Secondly, this means that we do not go around the world to save souls. We are not our souls. That is a Gnostic reduction and contrary to the entirety of the Christian tradition. We are here to save persons: a person in the realm of Christian revelation is a totality of body and soul. So we need to get away from the idea of “saving souls”. While the intention is right, it does not speak to the fullness of the glory of God’s redemptive activity and we are watering down the effect of God’s love and mercy. We are here to save persons, persons who are embodied.
Thirdly: our bodies are a good thing and the created order is good. While it may be the place where the effects of sin reign most supreme – this is where Paul would distinguish between flesh and body – it is ultimately good. In fact, the body and the material world is the place where we act, where our freedom is exercised. Thus the created world becomes a place that God works. Matter is good and we need not avoid it. Yet the fact that the major effect of original sin – concupiscence – and the fact that it dwells in the body must also give us a sober attitude towards the world. It means not avoiding and denying it completely, but it also means that we must constantly offer our bodies to the duties of the soul. The body is not the prominent element of man – though some such as Christopher West tend to make such an argument. It is secondary to the soul. But secondary does not mean it is not important. Anyways, the body is meant to submit itself to the soul: that is the proper order of things, just as the humanity of Christ constantly submits itself – through His human will – to His divine nature. That is the order of things: the physical world is most itself when it is given to the glorification of God.
There are many other implications of this, but my desire was to just point out a few of the more salient features of this essential doctrine. We cannot deny the Resurrection of the Body. It is a fact. Next time you hear in your parish ideas that may deny or at least avoid the fact of the resurrection of the body, point your priest to the Catechism, specifically sections 988-1019. It is a great resource into this essential mystery of Christianity.
Over the past month, I indulged in every episode of “Breaking Bad”.
The first episode had me hooked. The first episode had me suddenly convinced: Walter White is MacBeth! I saw a man who was slowly choosing moral decay for the sake of success. He was the modern man in all his glory. I believe that is what really made the show so successful. Here was a man who chose the modern motto of “success” and lived out the logical consequences of this choice to the end. He would continually say throughout the Five Seasons that he is doing this for family, but he isn’t. It’s for him. Later in the Fifth Season, we see his true intentions shine forth: it is not about money, it is not about power, it is about the “Empire Business”: it is purely about being successful at being good at something.
And Walter White is good at what he does. Not only is he good at making meth, he is good at self preservation. But that doesn’t justify his actions. Doing something well is not justification for the action itself. That is one of the deep moral themes of the show: actions have consequences and that when we choose evil, when we choose the bad, it leads us down a deep road of moral decay. In fact, the character of Jesse Pinkman is a great counter example to the character of Walter White. Walter is the logical outcome of desiring success because he does a particular thing well. Jesse is a man who’s moral conscience is awakened in the sight of evil. He sees where evil leads, and he wants no part of it.
I think part of the shows deep success is the moral tales of the characters involved. Skyler is a woman who is vindictive, Walter is a man who wants to be self-made, and Jesse thought that the life of Walter was the life to live, but is rather a man who chooses to move away from that path so as to gain true freedom. We see in Hank a man determined for justice but failing to achieve it. In all the characters we see a bit of ourselves, and that, I believe, is how the show had such great success: the characters are the drama of our lives.
Luigi Giussani, in “Religious Awareness in Modern Man” speaks of this move to the divo, the ‘self-made man’ that is prompted by humanism. The great synthesis of the medieval world is the saint: in the saint is the correspondence between man and his destiny. Balthasar would call it the unity between person and mission. Regardless of how we word it, the basis for this synthesis is the Person of Jesus Christ. The saint is not a person good at one thing. The saint is not a specialist. Rather, the saint is a liberal. He chooses the universal call of love over the particular work of bio-chemical engineering, pragmatic philosophy, post-feminist anti-structuralist theology or INSERT SPECIALIZATION HERE. Now, the saint may be good at a specialty. There are saints who were great systematic theologians, who were great doctors, who were great bishops. But the particular was a means to expressing the wholeness of Christian love. They act on their religious sense for wholeness, for completeness, for perfection. They do not deny the limited things of existence, but now see them no longer as an end, but rather as a means for expressing Christian love. The universal call of love is the core of medieval Christian existence.
Such a synthesis was turned on its head in the humanist movement. There the “self-made man” emerges. Suddenly success is not sanctity, but competency. The motto is no longer “we are called to be saints” but rather “we are called to be competent”. But man is unable to be competent in all things. He cannot possibly be a competent doctor, a competent engineer, a competent English teacher, a competent priest, and a competent artist all at the same time. The identity of man is no longer in the universal call of love, but in particular competency. The successful man is no longer the saint, it is the professional.
The great sadness is the reduction of man in such a worldview. Man, in his cry for meaning and perfection, naturally seeks the absolute. But the world stifles this cry by its cri-de-coeur of success. You need to get to the next level of professional excellence. You need to believe in yourself. You need to be the best version of yourself. Notice the sudden turn: it is no longer about love – the world is no longer other-oriented – but rather about the self. Hence, when we lose the ability to look at the world as always “towards another” we look towards ourselves. This is the dramatic turn. This is not, however, the beginning of modernism. That is another issue because modernism deals with a denial of mediation. No, in humanism mediation still has a strong force in man’s worldview. But it becomes increasingly difficult to see God mediating and acting in the world. So humanism is not modernism, but rather the precursor.
This brings me back to Walter White (SPOILER ALERT). He throws himself at this world as a man who is tied to his own self-image. His death makes him see that his life has been lived without purpose, without true meaning. His turn to meth is to seek the humanistic cry of becoming a competent professional. But what truly attracts us to Walter is, ultimately, his demise. His demise is a perfect allegory of the inability of the humanistic worldview to offer meaning. In the end, what is it all worth? Walter’s need to make amends with Skyler, his confession that it was really “all about him” is a demonstration that he has accepted his lot in life: it is meaningless, ultimately. That is the logical conclusion of the humanistic perspective. When we limit the human spirit, when we define being human by “limits” and “specializations” then we necessarily become nihilistic because nihilism is the natural consequence of a worldview in which limits and finitude are the defining markers. We see contingency as really not contingent, but as “just there”. And then, since limit is that which distinguishes us from God, we see that there is no meaning because we refuse the answer the universal thrust of our spirit. We have given into the absurdity of finitude when we crush man’s religious sense.
To look at Walter White, we see the absurdity of existence when defined within the perimeters of humanism. If humanism is right, then we should all become Walter White. But we know it is wrong. Thus we need to rediscover – yet not in a nostalgic way – the medieval synthesis of the thrust for the universal call of love as given in the Christian Gospel. Only there is the finite given its true dignity as a sacrament for the universal love of the Cross. In Christianity, the finitude of this world is not the basis for absurdity, but rather the opportunity of the freedom of love. Thus, we, as Christians, are called to a post-modern synthesis of this medieval ideal. We are to be saints as the medievals were: we are theologians, parents, and doctors, but we are, first and foremost, sons of God the most High and saved by the love of His Son, a love which we now wish to spread forth on the earth.
in Christ through Mary
One of the topics that has been on my mind for the last few years is the topic of evangelization. I am not speaking so much in terms of methods and means, but rather the fundamental element of evangelization: a fostering of an encounter with the risen Jesus. That is what evangelization is, encountering the love of the risen Jesus which saves me and leads me to a life that is new and full of richness and wonder.
But the topic of evanglization is no easy one. The fostering of this encounter, at least within North American culture, is, at least to me, an increasingly different one. We need only keep our eyes on the world, see what is happening both around us and within us to see that fostering this encounter is seemingly impossible in our post-modern world.
The word “post-modern” is essential here. To be post-modern is to have no true basis except for skepticism. To an extent, this is not a bad thing, because the post-modern attitude is skeptical even of enlightenment and modern ideals which, in my opinion, have tended to only hurt the understanding of ourselves more than to help them. But we need not worry about that. I don’t want to be too academic today. All we need to remember is that post-modernism tends towards skepticism and if our life is rooted in skepticism. Not even the rational is held as a possible ideal in post-modernism. To definition of rationality in post-modernism is to be skeptical of rationality itself.
This has some very important effects in a variety of areas of our lives as post-modern people. We have no sense of history, no sense of identity. Even gender becomes questioned in this cultural context. Some may say “well, these are broad, overarching strokes, what do they have to do with real life?” The answer, simply, is everything. If these are the presuppositions of people who we are trying to make Christ present to, then we need to be able to address these problems and issues if we are to have evangelical success.
I believe there is much to be said on this topic, but I wish to speak of only two aspects of ecclesial life that will help us regain evangelical success by addressing the issue of living in a post-modern culture: preaching and evangelical love.
I am, personally, a big proponent of the idea that for the Church to regain evangelical credibility and success, we need to address the crisis of preaching that exists in the Church. Most people, in the average parish, would be able to say that this is one of the biggest issues in their life. How often do we we hear homilies with pious platitudes, of dealing with “our daily lives” without actually dealing with our daily lives, of being told to be good people? How often is the name of Jesus not mentioned in the homily? How often is “encountering Jesus” made possible within the context of the homily? How often is spiritual interpretation done with regards to the Scriptures? How often do priests ramble without structure, clear delineation, and with a point? I think, unfortunately, we will tend to find that it is more a reality that the negative responses to such questions are more prevalent than positive responses.
I mention preaching first because it is, really, the privileged place within the Mass to reach out to the people in the pews, and it is unfortunately true that we are failing miserably at reaching people according to their situation. Even priests who are very faithful are unable or unwilling to reflect on the reality of their people. This occurs because they are unwilling to get to know the people they serve and are unwilling to engage with the culture their flock live in. Television shows, popular novels, and movies all speak to and reflect the cultural attitudes of the people they serve. So, if one were perceptive, they could see how fatalism – the idea that the world has no purpose and that whatever happens is determined – is so very popular by virtue of shows such as Breaking Bad (which is amazing and will be the basis of a post in the future), Joss Whedon productions, etc. Thus, fatalism, we could say, is a cultural attitude that needs to be addressed in the homily. The homily, in this example, needs to create a space for an experience of freedom because people, frankly, feel that they are unable to exercise freedom in this world. This is not done through syllogisms, logical argumentation, or by presenting facts, but rather by creating experiences in which the Person of Jesus Christ is encounterable as the One Who loves us, a love that brings freedom to be the person we have been made to be.
By preaching an encounter, by creating a space to experience Christ, by helping the faithful come to see how Christ is encounterable within the liturgy, we would find a growth in personal devotion to the person of Christ. This would fulfill the call of the New Evangelization which has as its goal the re-evangelization of the Catholics in the pews. But until priests are able to see that the homily is the privileged place for such an encounter, the New Evangelization will be slow to get going. We thus need to address this crisis, which is a presbyteral crisis in its essence, in order to address the greater cultural and human crisis of lack of meaning and direction in life.
The second element that is needed is lived charity, or “evangelical love”. We need to seek opportunities to bring the love of Christ that we encounter in the Eucharistic celebration to the world. This occurs in simple lived daily realities at home and work, but also in more intentional activities such as service to the poor. In fact, it is service to the poor that is perhaps one of the greatest ways to manifest the love of Christ to the world. It means we intentionally go out to seek those who are abandoned, alone, and hungry. We bring them food, we address them as persons, and treat them with the love of Christ. Such a love can bear amazing fruit, seen both visibly and even provoking questions in others as to why someone would care for this poor person on the sidewalk, a person most people would ignore (they are ignored, by the way, because it is too uncomfortable to address them in their poverty. Their poverty is a sign of everyone’s internal and spiritual poverty).
Such solutions are by no means all encompassing nor are they meant to be concrete. But if we can foster news ways of encountering Jesus through preaching and encountering Him in the under-served with Christian charity (which is fundamentally different from community service or volunteering due to its central personalist dimension) then we may see greater evangelical success as we rediscover the Church’s core mission of evangelization. This is important. Post-modernity breeds a fundamental instability in people’s lives. They live isolated and lonely lives in which meaning is distant and purpose is virtually non-existent. The Church too will be called to live this situation of isolation and existential loneliness. But what will make us succeed in evangelization is that, despite the darkness of spirit that post-modernity breeds, we will still grasp hold to the person of Jesus Christ. This will give us a “place to stand” in the world, and by having that stable place, which is the Person of Jesus, we will show people that life can have direction, meaning, and freedom if only they open themselves to encountering Jesus.
in Christ through Mary
Life has been busy, getting ordained and all. The cool news is that I am now a Deacon. The sad thing is that I am now bishop-less as Bishop Richard is now Archbishop-elect of Winnipeg.
And I am also back at the seminary. Things have been slightly busier than expected. I do a LOT of reading because all I have this year is reading courses. Plus I started my MTh program as well. So I am writing a Masters thesis on the spirituality of Mother Teresa and how it helps us both understand and live Christ’s descent into Hell. So that will be fun and interesting. I was going to do it on one of my favourite philosophers – Maurice Blondel – but I think it would have involved too much work for a Masters thesis.
Now why am I telling you all this? Well, I’ve been away from this for a bit. I had just many things to get in place and blogging wasn’t as important in all that for the time. But I am back. I will be posting more often than once a month too, I hope. So if you’re still around, be aware: posts will be returning soon!
I returned to Canada on June 13th. I met with the bishop on June 14th at which point he called me to holy orders. I will be ordained to the Order of Deacons on August 23rd at 6:30pm at Christ the King Church in Courtenay, BC.
Yet, being back has been a bit of a weird experience. Spending a year with the sisters and coming back to ‘normal’ life is in some ways weird because life is no longer normal. Life is different now. It can’t be the same anymore. Especially after the San Francisco experience, death relativizes everything, the experiences relativize everything. I approach each day and I see that there is something more, something deeper. To an extent, I miss the day to day “being-thrown-into” of working with the sisters. You never knew what each day would bring you. You didn’t know the joys or the sorrows, and there was a deep peace to that. I find that returning to Canada, to life in Victoria, you have to go out of your way at times to seek out those in the dark.
I am in a parish that is in a suburban part of the city. Walking around, all you see is houses with hints of businesses and shops scattered throughout. The poor, those who are destitute, do not have a visibility in these parts of town. They are all downtown. That is where the people are, that is where they can earn money by begging. Here, the destitute are those alone, those who have no one to be with them. But still, they are not visibly in front of you. You have to go out of your way to find them. I miss the challenges of it all. They were challenges. And I loathed going into them many times. But, when immersed in them, you stay in the moment with the person. You have to make a strong act of the will, with all the help of grace, to remain joyful and loving to those you serve in those moments. But you do it. And afterwards you see how joyful it was, how much peace reigned in your heart. The comforts of going out all the time, of having friends around all the time, those weren’t there and I was ok with that.
There was a challenge there that I have found lacking here.
This has disturbed me.
I see, to an extent, a need in me to work through all this. How do I allow those times to challenge me in my time back in ‘normal life’. It is interesting, despite all my experiences and a few temptations of desire to become an MC Father, my heart never really moved that way. I went there as a diocesan seminarian with the intent of it forming me for life as a diocesan priest and came away formed to live my life as a diocesan priest. I knew that there is a poverty in the average life of the parish (and, most importantly, those outside it as well, those who have not encountered Christ!) that that is where I am called to serve. But now it is time to seek that out, to find it, to serve it. I find my natural tendency towards laziness can so easily take over at times. Life there didn’t allow you to be lazy. Life here can allow that at times. So I see new things in myself to work on, new things to challenge myself in growing closer to Christ for the sake of others. And that will be my challenge: to allow myself to seek out the challenges. They will come, for sure, but not with the intensity and duration they did in the past year. But it is that constant element of ‘being challenged’ that I saw myself grow closer to Christ, and seeing that growing closer to Christ as necessary for the sake of my loving others in Christ. It was through that intensity that thought of self quickly lessened with a rate that was astonishing. Here, with our lifestyle that encourages selfishness, it is hard to resist. I find myself falling into it all the time. Everything needs to center around me. It is hard to live a countercultural attitude in relation to this selfishness, this self-focus, when it permeates our culture so extensively.
So it is interesting. In one way I do not miss the ministry at all. This is due to the fact of my certainty of my call that I am called to serve God’s people here on Vancouver Island. But I miss the challenges, I miss being called outside of myself in a constant and intense way. I miss the reality of it all. I miss the concreteness of it all. Now it is my turn to find that here in my life in the diocese. It is there, but now I no longer have the situations asking of me deep sacrifice each day. Now I need to seek it out. I need to put my will more into dying to self, instead of just allowing the moment to do that for me. Now it involves me more, so that my ‘I’ may become all the less in the presence of the ‘Thou’ of God and Neighbour.