In May, many parishes, families, and individuals have honored our Blessed Mother in a variety of ways, most notably through the devotion of the Rosary. This devotion of the Church is a very powerful and inspiring prayer and is just one of the many “devotions” that play an important role in our spirituality as Catholics.
Other devotions and practices that hold a special place in the spiritual life of Catholics include the Stations of the Cross, the praying of novenas and chaplets, and the lighting of votive candles for particular needs or intentions. These devotions and practices have been important in the spirituality of countless generations of Catholics, many have fallen along the wayside for contemporary Catholics. With the Church’s call in today’s world for “spiritual renewal”, hopefully we will “rediscover” what we seem to have lost.
While we need to have an understanding and appreciation for the devotions of our Catholic spiritual tradition, we also need to approach them in their proper perspective, especially in relationship to the Sacraments of our Faith. These devotions are not meant to take the place of or become an equal substitute for the sacraments. Rather, devotions are meant to increase our love for and understanding of all the sacraments. Occasionally I meet individuals who profess to be Catholic and who very openly tell me that they pray the Rosary on a regular basis or occasionally pay a visit to the parish church to light a votive candle, but they see no need or importance to attend Mass or celebrate the other sacraments. These individuals, while perhaps having good intentions, have “missed the mark” regarding what is necessary for our salvation.
The sacraments are sources of God’s Grace. The devotions of our spiritual tradition do not provide us with this heavenly assistance.
The Church encourages us and helps us to develop and maintain a strong and healthy prayer life. The many devotions of the Church assist us in this endeavor, but they do not stand on their own. They are meant to deepen our prayer and friendship with Christ and ultimately lead us to the sacraments. Many of the devotions are composed to be prayed individually or with others. As Christians, we have all experienced the power of prayer, in whatever form that prayer may take. Our Catholic Faith and Spiritual Tradition provide us with a vast and rich treasure chest from which to choose regarding prayer, so take every opportunity to “dig in” and discover the power and beauty of our Catholic devotions.
One’s “devotional life” should lead him or her to a more deeper sharing in the “sacramental life” of the Church and not be in conflict or competition with each other.
As we begin these summer months, I invite you take time to search through the treasure chest of our Catholic spirituality and discover what priceless gems of prayer God has given to His Church!
About a month ago, I went to see the movie “The Vow” fully prepared for it to be an overall disappointment. It certainly delivered, except for one scene that actually makes the movie worth seeing. The mother tells her upset daughter that she stayed with her husband after learning of his lengthy affair because she decided she was not going to punish him for his one mistake. She stayed with him because of all the things he did right, not the one thing he did wrong.
It was this powerful moment where marriage was defended with such heroism that inspired me to want to get the book written by the real couple to learn more. Unfortunately, this situation never actually happened. It turns out the real parents of the daughter were always happily married.
But I’m so glad I got the book and read the true story. What I discovered was an even greater defense of marriage.
First, this is a true story that’s hard for any of us to imagine. Two months after Kim and Krickett Carpenter are married, Krickett is injured in a car accident that causes the loss of her memory to the point of not knowing who Kim is. She has no recollection of their relationship at all.
Talk about never knowing what can happen. All single people and dating couples think they have the luxury of planning out their married lives. But life is unpredictable, and God often has other plans.
Imagine having to approach life as a married woman with a man you do not know at all. Imagine trying to live your married life with a woman who doesn’t know you, doesn’t want you, and doesn’t remember marrying you.
For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. These are the vows said at the wedding ceremony. But that can’t apply to this situation, right? The woman has no memory of you, and wants nothing to do with you. You can’t force her to live out marriage with you. Why stay? She’s fine with you leaving.
Sadly, this is where many people get it wrong about the words of their vow and what their ultimate responsibility is. Probably without knowing it, too many people enter into marriage with their own definition of what the words said in the vows mean, and put conditions on how far they will go in living such things as loving another through difficult situations.
Perhaps instead of vows, people would prefer a long contract that clearly defines terms and conditions. “I will love you in sicknesses such as the common cold, the flu, broken limbs, fatal diseases; excluding such sicknesses as memory loss, depression, and addictions.”
Perhaps people want guarantees in this contract. “I promise never to have anything happen to me that would change our standard of living or make you have to work. I promise to never to lose my job, burn the dinner, allow the lawn to grow past three inches. I promise never to change in any way that displeases you or make you unhappy.”
Sounds funny to have these kinds of conditions. But for many people, love is conditional on these kinds of things.
Every couple says the same vows, but not every couple accepts the words at their fullest meaning and to their farthest extent. Every couple has plans for their married life, but not every couple is willing to accept a disruption to those plans.
Kim and Krickett Carpenter enter their marriage with love and commitment. In both the film and in the true story, Kim Carpenter says he made a vow, and he loves her regardless. She is his wife. He promised to love her, even if she doesn’t love him.
Kim’s faith keeps him committed to the wife he loves and confident that God will work it out somehow, even when he felt he should let Krickett go and end the marriage. Even more remarkable is that Krickett has complete recollection of God and her faith in Him. She can’t remember anything about Kim, but her Christianity is in tact. That goes to show that Christianity does not stem from the brain, but from the soul.
I couldn’t help but think how this could very well make the difference for a successful marriage. It’s a matter of having the true faith rooted in the very being of person, and solidified through growth in truth and love for Christ. Perhaps it is lack of Christian faith that makes one or both end a marriage.
Whatever it was, the story of Kim and Krickett Carpenter is remarkable in that they stayed together. They did not have a marriage to build onto from Krickett’s view. It was not romantic love full of deep feeling and friendship. It was an act of the will based on circumstances that seemed obviously God-directed. Krickett realized that God allowed her to marry Kim for a reason, and that it was worth her being open to him. They both started a new relationship and fell in love again, creating new memories and a new, renewed, commitment.
A new relationship. That’s how you do it if there are no other options and you want to make it work. The Carpenters both sincerely wanted it to work somehow, but could not find a way to make the old marriage work. They made a new relationship because they believed in their marriage. Most failing marriages don’t undergo such an extreme situation, but they have the same choice presented; namely, to make it work or end it. Scrap the old relationship because it doesn’t work. Establish a new relationship. Fall in love all over again.
Love can develop between two people who want it. Love can grow between two people who see God’s will. It can be the hard and rough road, but the pay off can be immeasurable. Their relationship proves what it means to be “Christ-centered” both at the personal and the relationship level. True Christians understand how God works. They don’t want to run from His will, but rather run toward Him.
Anthony Buono is the founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice. Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com.
According to one recent article, a bumper crop of faith-themed shows, like “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell,” “Book of Mormon,” and “Sister Act,” has transformed Broadway into a “highway to heaven.”
So why the great awakening on the Great White Way?
“I think there is a “God moment” breaking out in the entertainment culture that’s partly driven by a quest for profits in difficult economic times, but also by people’s never-ending quest for transcendent meaning,” said Tom Allen of Allied Faith and Family, a marketing agency that is trying to promote shows like “Sister Act” to Christians.
The Tony-nominated musical is emblematic of this religious revival: flashy and brash, yet earnestly spiritual.
The same can be said for the recently closed “Leap of Faith,” which is contemplating a possible national tour.
Both musicals were adapted from 1992 movies and feature music by Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken.
Both also deal with themes of redemption and salvation.
“I think people are tired of hearing about selfish people feeling sorry for themselves,” said Fred Applegate, who plays a pastor in “Sister Act” and who believes the uptick in religious productions underscores a need “for hope.”
Allen concurred. “What’s happening now is almost like our collective conscience prompting us to think again about what really matters,” he said.
While not all recent offerings are necessarily reasons to shout “hallelujah,” Allen said he feels that, overall, the spotlighting of spirituality is a net gain for religion, and hopes the faith community supports shows like “Sister Act.”
Based on the screen comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg, “Sister Act” centers on an aspiring singer, Deloris (Raven-Symone), who is on the run from mobsters after she witnesses a murder and who must hide out in a cloistered convent.
Beyond Menken’s roof-raising score, there’s a lot to like about the production. The scenic design evokes a Catholic nostalgia–from the confessional in the theater’s lobby to the rose window that dominates many of the musical numbers. Though the set suggests a church interior, to avoid offending those who might deem the backdrop as inappropriate for rapping nuns in hip-hop habits, no mention is made of Mass.
“The creators of the show were very careful about that,” said Applegate, who identifies himself as Catholic. “There is no altar, no tabernacle, none of the hallmarks of a sacred space, except stained glass.”
Catholic theatergoers, however, may wish the same sensitivity and respect had been applied to the, at times, irreverent humor, including a reference to the Eucharist as “holy wafers” and a “moral high colonic,” and Applegate invoking “the Father, the Son and the you know who.”
“The show was not created by daily communicants,” said Allen, who acknowledged its theological shortcomings. “But (their) hearts are definitely in the right place.”
Rather than mocking them, “Sister Act” displays a sincere affection for the nuns and an appreciation of faith as a positive force in people’s lives.
Equally miraculous for Broadway, is the show’s sympathetic portrayal of the traditional-minded Mother Superior (Carolee Carmello), whose soulful “Here Within These Walls” provides a surprisingly heartfelt defense of contemplative life and counterbalances the more dissenting “The Life I Never Lived,” sung by a young postulant.
Opinions may vary on the jumbo, glitter-ball, disco statue of Mary, but, as Allen points out, one person’s gaudy may be another’s glorifying.
“She’s our Mother, whether people realize it or not. What better way to promote that fact to the culture than by lighting her up on a Broadway stage in all her beauty and celebrating her.”
Ultimately, “Sister Act” affirms St. Augustine’s maxim that, to sing is to “pray twice.” But perhaps it is Augustine’s perception that our hearts are restless until they rest in God that best summarizes the show’s countercultural message.
“Don’t get caught up in the attractions and allures of the world,” Allen said, boiling it down. “The answers lie within and above.”
This hunger for the divine is even more pronounced in “Leap of Faith,” based on the comedy starring Steve Martin, about a charlatan preacher who pitches his revival tent in a small Kansas town. (Ironically, one of the authors is an atheist, and the show was partly financed by the Passionists.)
“Perhaps writers have realized that faith is dramatic … and worthy of our thought and our time in theater,” said Applegate.
Perhaps it’s the way these shows present faith, not as something irrelevant and gloomy, but vibrant and full of what G. K. Chesterton called the “gigantic secret of Christianity”: joy.
“It’s nice to see people of faith portrayed as joyful, isn’t it?” asked Applegate.
Surreal tale in which a jobless puppeteer (John Cusack) goes to work for a company strangely located between floors in a building where he discovers a passageway leading into the mind of actor John Malkovich (himself) which a co-worker (Catherine Keener) opens to those willing to pay for 15 minutes with a celebrity. Directed by Spike Jonze, the odd proceedings grow progressively more bizarre as the co-worker becomes sexually attracted to the puppeteer’s wife (Cameron Diaz) and an old man (Orson Bean) prepares to inhabit the actor’s body, but the endless complications grow tiresomely unamusing long before the ending’s final twist. Several sexual encounters, many sexual references, some rough language and occasional profanity. The CNS classification is L–limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The MPAA rating is R–restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (Criterion Collection; also available on Blu-ray)
Reasonably original, curiously dark exploration of the troubling results that ensue when mere mortals obtain godlike powers. After stumbling on a mysterious object, a trio of Seattle teens (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan) find themselves endowed with telekinesis and the ability to fly. Though initially they do no more with their newfound gifts than goof around and play pranks, darker emotions and more serious consequences soon come to the fore, especially for DeHaan’s character, who’s struggling to cope with an alcoholic father (Michael Kelly) and a dying mother (Bo Petersen). Director Josh Trank conveys all this in the pseudo-found footage style of “The Blair Witch Project.” Though it feels more than a little overused, that conceit nonetheless contributes to an atmosphere of realism and lends urgency to the moral debates in which the principals engage–discussions which, for viewers of faith, will likely represent the film’s main appeal. Limited action violence, scenes of physical abuse, an implied premarital encounter, a scattering of profanity, at least one rough term, pervasive crude language and an obscene gesture. Spanish titles option. The CNS classification is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)
‘Father of the Bride’ (20th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition;1991)
Trite remake of the 1950 Spencer Tracy-Elizabeth Taylor charmer this time has the father (Steve Martin) battling the emotional loss of his daughter (Kimberly Williams) while his wife (Diane Keaton) tries to cushion the financial drain of a big wedding. A hilarious scene early on is outweighed by mawkish sentimentality in director Charles Shyer’s drawn-out comedy. Fleeting sexual innuendo. The CNS classification is A-II–adults and adolescents. The MPAA rating is PG–parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
‘The Grey’ (2012)
Survival story set in the Alaskan wilderness has an oil-rig worker (Liam Neeson) struggling to lead six other victims of a plane crash in their battle against marauding wolves. As directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan, the chases, killings and feats of courage are brisk but routine while the script (written in collaboration with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, and based on Jeffers’ short story “Ghost Walker”) includes attempts at profundity and spiritual reflection that are wildly uneven. Given the meager rewards of trekking through it, even most adults would be well advised to decline this grueling cinematic journey altogether. Troubling themes–including suicide and one character’s blasphemous expression of despair–frequent gory animal attacks, at least one use of profanity, pervasive rough, crude and crass language. Spanish titles option. The CNS classification is L–limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The MPAA rating is R–restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)
‘One for the Money’ (2012)
Forgettable fish-out-of-water comedy in which an unemployed New Jersey department store saleswoman (Katherine Heigl) takes a job as a bail bondsman, and an old high school boyfriend (Jason O’Mara) for whom she still carries a torch–despite his having spurned her–becomes her first target for recapture. As the two go from rivalry to cooperation in trying to solve the crime of which he’s accused, she gains the protection of a formidable colleague (Daniel Sunjata) and encounters representative denizens of the wrong side of town (most prominently John Leguizamo and Sherri Shepherd). Director Julie Anne Robinson’s slack adaptation of the first of Janet Evanovich’s popular series of mystery novels–which also features Debbie Reynolds as the protagonist’s breezily eccentric grandmother–tries to get by on jauntiness but fails to charm. An attempt to capitalize on sexual tension, such gags as an elderly exhibitionist that the heroine takes into custody, and a surfeit of profane dialogue are further deficits. Some action violence, brief rear and partial nudity, an instance of blasphemy and at least 20 uses of profanity, much sexual humor, frequent crude and crass language, a couple of obscene gestures. Spanish titles option. The CNS classification is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)
With June just right around the corner, many parishes, pastors, and engaged couples are gearing up and preparing for the “wedding” season. This is an opportune time for us to reflect upon marriage as one of the seven sacraments of our Catholic faith.
Marriage is one of the “vocational” sacraments, the other being the Sacrament of Holy Orders. When a man and woman enter into the Sacrament of Marriage, they do so with the promise and intention that they will live this sacrament together their entire lives.
It is the hope and the expectation of the Church that someone who is baptized and professes to be Catholic would celebrate his or her marriage in the Church. As Catholics, we are one of just a few traditions within the Christian world who approach marriage as a “sacrament.”
As a “sacramental action,” marriage is deemed to be of divine origin, having God as its Source and Sustainer. It is a spiritual encounter and experience with the Risen Lord. This is certainly a different approach than our society presents to us. Sadly, a growing number of Catholics are choosing to celebrate their marriage outside the Church, often in a “secular” setting. While the beach, for example, may be a popular and beautiful setting for a wedding, the Church provides a more proper, “sacred,” and appropriate setting for such a divine and holy action. If a person takes his or her Catholic faith seriously and approaches marriage as a divine moment and a sacred action, he or she would certainly insist that marriage be celebrated in a place that is specifically set aside for such a noble and holy purpose, namely his or her parish church.
As with all the necessary preparations required to receive and celebrate the sacraments of our faith, an engaged couple is expected and required to participate in a variety of experiences and opportunities which invite them to focus on the spiritual and practical aspects of married life. The current policy of our diocese is that a couple must contact their pastor or parish priest at least six months prior to the intended date of the wedding. During that time, the engaged couple participates in marriage preparation sessions with other engaged couples, reflecting on and learning about the key aspects and foundational principles of Christian marriage. The couple also completes and reviews a “personality/compatibility inventory,” as well as meets with the priest or deacon to discuss and reflect upon the spiritual dimension of marriage as a sacrament and a covenant. The Church provides these “tools” to the couple to help them have the best possible marriage.
Through the Sacrament of Marriage, God gives a couple the much-needed grace and divine help to live this worthy calling and vocation. May the example of the Holy Family be the greatest source of inspiration and encouragement to those whom God calls to the life-giving and love-giving vocation of marriage.
As many couples prepare to enter into this life-long commitment of love and faith, let us give them the best wedding gift we can–the gift of our prayers.
Feel-good nonsense about a rowdy naval officer (Taylor Kitsch) who has to grow up fast when he’s called upon to save the world from a seemingly invincible force of invading aliens. He’s aided, initially, by his steadier older brother and navy comrade (Alexander Skarsgard) and later by the shore-side efforts of his would-be fiancee (Brooklyn Decker). She’s a physical therapist for wounded vets (most prominently real-life Purple Heart-winner Gregory D. Gadson) whose admiral father (Liam Neeson) takes a dim view of her relationship with our hero. And music star Rihanna gets thrown into the mix representing the tough-as-nails distaff side of the duty roster. Director Peter Berg’s action adventure, which is supposed to have something to do with the titular Hasbro game, pulls out every patriotic stop and waves every flag within reach, offering a largely harmless, if quickly forgotten, diversion for mature viewers. Much action violence and some painful slapstick, at least one use of profanity, about a dozen crude and a handful of crass terms. The CNS classification is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
‘The Dictator’ (Paramount)
Foul language and gross-out sludge predominate in director Larry Charles’ comedic portrait of a composite, but Moammar Gadhafi-like tyrant (Sacha Baron Cohen) from the fictional North African nation of Wadiya. After his scheming uncle (Ben Kingsley) uses his absence on a state visit to the United Nations as the opportunity to stage a coup, replacing the outrageously bearded goof with a more pliable imposter, the true leader finds himself wandering the streets of Manhattan, whiskerless and penniless. Taking an alternate identity, he befriends, and eventually romances, a hippy-dippy vegan collective grocer (Anna Faris), muddles his way into a job at her food store and plots to retake his title. Besides the blatantly sexist and racist jokes in which the script trades, there are gags playing on such ripe-for-comedy subjects as rape, pedophilia, prostitution, AIDS, abortion, necrophilia, suicide and homosexuality. Occasional violence, strong sexual content including pervasive sexual humor, fleeting full nudity, a same-sex kiss and an explicit endorsement of aberrant acts, frequent rough and crude language. The CNS classification is O–morally offensive. The MPAA rating is R–restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ (Lionsgate)
This fruitless reproductive comedy awkwardly juggles the stories of five expectant couples (most prominently Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison, Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro) as they prepare for four deliveries and an Ethiopian adoption. Director Kirk Jones’ fictionalization of Heidi Murkoff’s bestselling advice book veers between vulgar humor and trite sentimentality and showcases misguided contemporary attitudes toward sexuality, pregnancy and parenthood. Errant values, including a benign view of cohabitation, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and in vitro fertilization, pervasive sexual and biological humor, some scatological humor, an implied aberrant sex act, brief rear and partial nudity, a couple of instances of profanity, at least one use of the F-word, much crude and crass language. The CNS classification is L–limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever” (Cf. Heb 13:8).
— “Gaudium et Spes” (“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”), 10.
It’s funny what one remembers. I recall a lecture given by one of my philosophy professors during my first year in seminary. He described an incident with a developer in his neighborhood who proposed a project that would critically disrupt the peace and tranquility of the community. When my professor expressed his opposition to the developer, the developer responded flippantly, “Well, you can’t stop progress!” With sharpness and keen insight, my professor replied, “You’re off on two counts. First, it is possible to stop progress. Second, you are presuming that anything and everything new and different from what has gone before is progress, and that is flawed.”
Similar in premise is the business management maxim, “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” However, Ellen Glasgow said it more elegantly, “All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.”
I recall my professor’s lecture often. Current events remind me of what my professor confronted, and what we must confront if we are to be faithful to Christ. And, as Christians, being faithful to Christ is of supreme importance.
One frequently hears people today describe themselves as “progressives,” and that the latest thinking or position that differs from what has gone before is “progressive.” It seems that every modern idea is based on the simplistic notion that new is good and old is bad. This makes some bold, and false, assumptions. Remember when they decided to reformulate Coca-Cola? That didn’t turn out so well, did it?
Americans who have a fascination with technology and the increased productivity it yields, often assume the same for ideas—new is better. The fact is that sometimes new ideas, products, and technologies are better, but only if they are rooted in a deeper insight into the truth.
Chesterton said that by definition, the paradox is the truth that runs contrary to accepted opinion. In a world heavily influenced by an information industry and an entertainment industry, the accepted [read popular, trendy] opinion has a tendency to be wrong. The world is shocked when a prophet understands the future better than a progressive. But the prophet has the advantage of having a better grip on the past. It is dangerous to assume that simply because something is new it must be better.
We see this implied in the positions of those who advocate for same-sex marriage, abortion rights, mandatory contraception and sterilization coverage in health plans, and a host of other things. Those who oppose these positions are often said to hold “medieval” views, and are called foes of “progress,” and further, “intolerant”.
To be sure, many of us possess a certain bias or even arrogance toward our own time and place. Because we stand on the pinnacle between the present and the end results of what has gone before us, we presume that our point of view is more enlightened; that, because we are higher up the mountain, we can see more broadly. But history and experience demonstrate that for true progress to be achieved, in the sense of something that leads to greater human growth, an idea must be grounded in what is true and good. If it is not, then, by definition, that idea cannot lead to real progress.
Many well-meaning people tell me, “Bishop, why spend so much time and energy on resisting things like abortion or same-sex marriage. After all, they are inevitable.” This kind of thinking is not surprising, but it is also deeply flawed. It plays into the error of what my philosophy teacher exposed.
It is possible to stop so-called “progress” if committed people organize to action, even if they are relatively small in number. It is incumbent on Christians to oppose something wrong that is wrapped in a blanket labeled “progress.” The recent victories by the grassroots movement to protect the unborn show the fruit of persistent prayer, effort, and sacrifice. More Americans identify themselves as “pro-life” today than did 15 or 20 years ago. There are now more restrictions on this terrible procedure, and it is still very possible to eventually reverse Roe v. Wade. Now, that really would be progress! This is just one example.
Truth is, going backward is the best direction when you take a wrong turn.
We should not be afraid or intimidated in our duty to defend the weak, the unborn, the immigrant, marriage, religious freedom, and a host of other important matters that arise. Progress is not progress unless it is rooted in the truth. Humanity, society, and our world are bettered when we Christians make the effort to take part in the work toward true progress.
The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation by Stephen Martin. Sorin Books (Notre Dame, IN, 2012). 179 pp., $14.95.
Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Our Faith by Card. Donald Wuerl. Our Sunday Visitor (Huntington, IN, 2011). 192 pp., $19.95.
Reviewed by Rachelle Linner
Stephen Martin is an engaging writer and The Messy Quest for Meaning is an inviting book. In it, he tells the story of finding his vocation–not the “single life-changing call” he sought for so long, but the messy embrace of several calls: “family man, Catholic, writer, professional and overall pilgrim.”
The first part of the book, an extended autobiographical introduction, is written with frankness and compassion. Martin’s young adulthood was hampered by an anxiety disorder, but he does not offer illness as an excuse for poor decisions, wasted time and opportunities. Rather, he shows how the disease led him to “rock bottom” and so, paradoxically, became the vehicle that allowed him to welcome “incompleteness and limitations with gratitude.”
The larger part of the book is an extended reflection on vocation, interweaving aspects of his story with recommendations for how to use spiritual disciplines to find and sustain one’s calling: desire, focus, humility, community, and a willingness to explore the margins.
His use of familiar anecdotes about public figures (including Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Martin Sheen, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker) is less satisfying than loving portraits of people in his personal life, including his remarkable grandmother Marie. “She left us a fundamental lesson for cultivating humility that we can adopt at any age: don’t spend too much time pondering God’s will. Merely embrace what you have to do from one moment to the next.”
The Messy Quest for Meaning models a process of theological reflection for people engaged in vocational discernment. It is far less helpful as an introduction to spiritual practices, many of which have specific meanings within the context of monastic life. They deserve a more nuanced development than they receive here.
The publication of Washington Card. Donald W. Wuerl’s Seek First the Kingdom is particularly timely, given the opposition of the US bishops to the Obama administration’s mandate on contraception coverage. In relatively short, clear and comprehensive chapters, the cardinal presents the church’s positions on religious liberty, natural law, sacramental theology, the lay vocation and the new evangelization. “We are the agents of the new evangelization,” he writes. “We are stars in the church’s constellation. We are the light set on the lamp stand that manifests the coming of the kingdom.”
Quoting from a 2008 address by Pope Benedict XVI, the cardinal identifies secularism, materialism and individualism as creating “obstacles to the kingdom.” Another such obstacle is a diminished respect for the teaching authority of the church.
The root meaning of the word “hierarchy,” the cardinal reminds us, is “sacred order.” “The pastors of the church, the pope and bishops, have been explicitly urged to guide the faithful in the way of salvation. They are the fixed point in a changing world. Since they are accountable to sacred tradition, they represent objectivity against the subjective claims of many individuals.”
Card. Wuerl is alternately pessimistic and optimistic. He says that “through the church, Christ scatters seed upon American soil that is dry, rocky and sown with weeds–soil that has built up a certain resistance to authentic religious experience.” Yet at the same time he offers numerous anecdotes of spontaneous conversations with people who in fact show a desire for a deeper understanding of the sacraments.
This is a book about public life that is informed by pastoral concerns. “I am dismayed when I read of studies that show that fewer than half of the Catholics in the US regularly attend Mass.” Card. Wuerl writes. It is hard to imagine that many of those people will read the cardinal’s book, or be persuaded by his theological arguments.
In a recent column at CatholicCulture.org, Phil Lawler criticized the bishops of the US for issuing statements on “too many debatable political issues” rather than sticking to matters that fall more properly within the scope of their teaching authority.
As an example, he pointed to a newly released USCCB statement that “appeared to give the bishops’ perspectives on the federal budget, taxation, deficits, welfare, defense spending, housing assistance, foreign aid, job training, tax credits, Pell grants, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”
Lawler wonders (as do many others) “why the bishops feel obliged to speak on all those subjects.”
Well, with no intention of making excuses for this propensity for things political, it seems to me that at least some of the blame rests with the Council Fathers, who in their zeal to ensure that the power of the State would be limited with respect to the activities of the Church, managed to produce a document (“Dignitatis Humanae” [“The Declaration on Religious Liberty”]) that often compels churchmen to behave more like statesmen.
At the urging of American Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, the Council abandoned the dictates of the traditional doctrine on religious freedom (that for centuries had greatly influenced the way in which the Church interacted with the world) for a version of the civil right to religious liberty enshrined in the US Constitution–a charter specifically intended to guide, not the activities of a religious institution, but the legal and political culture of a nation.
It can hardly come as a surprise, therefore, that this departure from tradition led to a corresponding shift in behavior wherein Apostolic works all-too-frequently take a backseat to political endeavors.
Based on the experience of the last 40-plus years, one can reasonably argue that “Dignitatis Humanae” has contributed a great deal to what looks like an ecclesial metamorphosis; a reordering of episcopal priorities so profound that the Church in our day is substantially distracted from Her divinely instituted mission.
That regrettable downhill slide looks something like this:
- The Church adopted a guiding principle derived from a charter that is concerned with ordering a State’s political affairs.
- Taking its cue therefrom, the Church’s hierarchy began preaching less like Apostles while speaking more like politicians.
- Politicians are under tremendous pressure to play by the modern culture’s number one rule of engagement; political correctness.
- Political correctness places a very high premium on avoiding such non-inclusive concepts as “absolute truth” lest someone get offended, or worse, feel disenfranchised.
To secular ears, this may sound harmless enough, but for Catholics who realize that absolute truth is none other than the person of Jesus Christ, the problem is obvious. The current church-state controversy in the US–where Catholic bishops speak often about the First Amendment but preach very little (if at all) on “Humanae Vitae”–reveals just how serious the problem is.
The mission that Christ gave to the Apostles and their successors cannot be properly engaged by pussyfooting around in the face of evil as though all religions–with their conflicting doctrines and manifest errors–are of equal dignity before the Lord. They clearly are not, but in calling on governments to grant a civil right to religious freedom to all, regardless of confession, “Dignitatis Humanae” implies just such an equality, and this untenable suggestion has radically influenced the way in which the pastors of the Church interact with the world.
For context, let’s begin by reacquainting ourselves with the nature of the mission as Jesus presented it:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Mt. 28:18-20).
With this directive firmly in mind, consider the following statement offered by Bp. William E. Lori, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Religious Liberty:
“When we speak about religious freedom as the first of the freedoms, it’s not to aggrandize the Church, but to uphold the first line of defense for the dignity of the human person.”
I think most readers realize that the mission that Christ gave us (which is ordered toward the salvation of souls–the ultimate defense for the dignity of the human person) actually requires that we “aggrandize” the Roman Catholic Church; i.e., to call man’s attention, loudly and clearly, to the universal sacrament of salvation that the Lord has given us.
That said, let me be clear: This example isn’t offered to criticize Bp. Lori personally at all, but rather just to illustrate how effective the “gravitational pull” of “Dignitatis Humanae” is at compelling prelates to speak in ways that conflict with the mission of the Church as Jesus presented it.
This certainly isn’t the case in the US alone; it’s a reality throughout the Catholic world. In fact, even the Bishop of Rome isn’t immune. Consider, for example, the first general audience of 2011.
After the Angelus that day, the Holy Father announced his intention to “go as a pilgrim to the town of St. Francis” to host the “World Day of Prayer for Peace”–the third such ecumenical gathering of its kind now commonly referred to as “Assisi III.”
The “aim” of the event, according to the Holy Father, was to invite peoples of many different faiths (including pagans and atheists) to gather with him “to solemnly renew the commitment of believers of every religion to live their own religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.”
For most of the last two millennia (save for the most recent four decades or so), it would have been absolutely unthinkable for a Roman Pontiff to suggest that non-Catholics will do well persisting in “their own religious faith” for any reason, much less with the implication being that doing so could possibly render “a service to the cause of peace.”
Even so, this particular papal pronouncement undoubtedly struck most Catholics as entirely ordinary, not because the Church now views false religions as pathways to peace (it does not, and they are not); rather, it only seems unremarkable thanks to “Dignitatis Humanae” and the undeniably strong influence it has had on the Church’s evangelical tone.
In summary, Phil Lawler’s concerns about the American episcopate are well founded; unfortunately, however, they’re really just a symptom of a much larger problem:
Like a computer virus disguised as a necessary update to an important program, the “Americanized” version of religious liberty espoused at Vatican II is increasingly revealing itself as a particularly insidious strain of indifferentism; one that threatens to claim nearly as many victims as the post-conciliar liturgical crisis.
The biggest difference between the two, of course, is that many laity and churchmen (including the Holy Father) plainly recognize the need for a “reform of the reform” of the liturgy; whereas one can only hope to see the day when the same can be said about the Council’s treatment of religious liberty.
Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio has been a columnist for Catholic News Agency since April 2009. He recently launched “Preparing the Way for the Roman Missal–Where the New Translation meets the New EvangelizationTM” available at www.MissalPrep.com
Mr. Verrecchio’s work, which includes the internationally acclaimed Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Card. George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bp.-Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England, Bp. R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA, and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com.