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.
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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?
For the vast majority in Britain, the story of the Annunciation is little understood. From a Christian point of view, it is a pivotal moment. Yet for the vast majority of people in Britain today, the story of the Annunciation is little understood or even known about, and its status and significance has been almost lost. I became determined to find out why.
Unless you somehow have a foot outside of your culture, the culture will swallow you whole. Daniel Berrigan wrote that and it’s true too in this sense: Unless you can drink in strength from a source outside yourself, your natural proclivities for paranoia, bitterness, and hatred will invariably swallow you whole.
For MacMillan, Catholicism is not about sides or factions – “it’s much more profound than that” – and though he has been an excoriating critic of the banality of much post-Vatican II church music, he now finds the so-called “liturgy wars” wearing. “I can’t be bothered with any of that any more,” he tells me. “Sara’s death made me realise what is important in life, and what is not.”
We share the world with more than seven and a half billion people and each of us has the irrepressible, innate sense that we are special and uniquely destined. This isn’t surprising since each one of us is indeed unique and special. But how does one feel special among seven and half billion others?
Writing in the first person is always a risk, but the subject matter of this column is best done, I feel, through personal testimony. In a world where chastity and celibacy are seen as naïve and to be pitied and where there’s a general skepticism that anyone is actually living them out, personal testimony is perhaps the most effective protest.