The lessons of the upcoming Advent season and growing impatience with Pope Francis. The priests from the United States who work in the Roman Curia had not even gathered yet for their big Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday evening at the Villa Stritch when the Vatican’s annual Christmas tree was already up in St. Peter’s Square.
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Shusaku Endo, the Japanese author of the classic novel, Silence (upon which Martin Scorsese based his movie) was a Catholic who didn’t always find his native land, Japan, sympathetic to his faith. He was misunderstood but kept his balance and good heart by placing a high value on levity.
I do not want to die from some medical condition; I want to die from death! Ivan Illich wrote that. What’s meant here? Don’t we all die from death? Of course, in reality that’s what we all die from, but in our idea of things, most often, we die from a medical condition or from bad luck through cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or as the victim of an accident. Sometimes, because of how we think of death, we do die from a medical condition.
Today, increasing numbers of lonely people are experiencing something close to this hell. The United Kingdom’s statistics are overwhelming. In the past two years, Childline counsellors have noticed a rise in the number of children – some as young as six – contacting them to complain of loneliness, with triggers including feeling “invisible”, feeling “ugly and unpopular” as a result of comparing themselves with others on social media, and having an illness or disability.
Richness does not lie in the structures, but in its members, with special mention to the most needy and vulnerable. It is my hope that my reflections will evoke in you a similar sense of thanksgiving and belonging without, of course, denying our flaws and lack of perfection.
Woe to chastity that is not practiced out of love, but woe to love that excludes chastity. These are the words of Benoit Standaert, a Benedictine monk, and I believe they can be profitably read in our culture today where, to the detriment of everyone, the sexually active and vowed celibates alike, sexuality and chastity are generally seen as opposed to each other, as enemies.
Sometimes all you can do is to put your mouth to the dust and wait. That’s a counsel from the Book of Lamentations and while perhaps not the best response to the recent revelations of clerical sexual abuse and cover-up in the Roman Catholic Church, it seems the only helpful response available to me as Roman Catholic priest today.
We don’t live on bread alone. Jesus told us that. Our soul too needs to be fed and its food is affirmation, recognition, and blessing. Every one of us needs to be healthily affirmed when we do something well so as to have resources within us with which to affirm others.
I believe that God exists because faith works; at least to the extent we work it. The existence of God proves itself true to the extent that we take it seriously and live our lives in face of it. Simply put, we’re happy and at peace to the exact extent that we risk, explicitly or implicitly, living lives of faith. The happiest people I know are also the most generous, selfless, gracious, and reverent persons I know. That’s no accident.
No Castel Gandolfo. No mountain or seaside vacations. In fact, he hasn’t gone on holidays in over 40 years, stretching back to his time as a Jesuit superior in his native Argentina. “I do always take a vacation – really – but at home,” he assured the scribes. “I change pace. I sleep more; read the things I want; listen to music; spend more time praying… And this helps me relax.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson calls the stars in the night sky “envoys of beauty, lighting the universe with their admonishing smile” and submits that if they appeared for a single night only every thousand years, we’d be on our knees in worship and would cherish the memory for the rest of our lives. But since they come out every night, the miracle goes mostly unnoticed. We watch television instead.
What’s to be said about poverty, chastity, and obedience in a world that, for the most part, places its hope in material riches, generally identifies chastity with frigidity, and values individual freedom above all else?
Today belief in God is often seen as a naiveté. For many, believing in God is like believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny, nice, something for the kids, a warm nostalgia or a bitter memory, but not something that’s real, that stands up to hard scrutiny and indeed stands up to the dark doubts that sometimes linger below the surface of our faith. Where’s there evidence that God exists?
Information technology and social media aren’t my mother tongue. I’m a digital immigrant. I wasn’t born into the world of information technology but migrated into it, piece-meal. I first lived in some foreign territories. I was nine years old before I lived with electricity. I had seen it before; but neither our home, our school, nor our neighbors had electricity. Electricity, when I first saw it, was a huge revelation.
Moral outrage is the antithesis of morality. Yet it’s everywhere present in our world today and is everywhere rationalized on the basis of God and truth. We live in a world awash in moral outrage. Everywhere individuals and groups are indignant and morally outraged, sometimes violently so, by opposing individuals, groups, ideologies, moral positions, ecclesiologies, interpretations of religion, interpretations of scripture, and the like.
The Pope’s idea of holiness embeds a prophetic anger against the dull mediocrity of consumerist individualism but, no less, against intellectualised religiosity. In the five short, well-crafted chapters of his new exhortation Francis speaks from a Catholic pulpit but his audience is the whole of humanity in its contemporary crisis of faith.
This history raises serious questions. In the quite different climate following the arrival of Pope Francis, why can’t we pick up where we left off? Why cannot there be another consultation, as thorough as the one prior to Liverpool 1980, to energise the Catholic faithful as they were energised then?