Here in the buckle of the Bible belt, I hear a lot about born-again experiences. Around this time, some eighteen years ago, I had one of those experiences.
I was born and raised in a Catholic family. I had two amazing and faithful Catholic parents who loved their faith. They practiced what they preached in love and charity. All through my own life, I have had faith (even if, at times, I have demonstrated varying degrees of devotion and intimacy). Looking back, there have been many times in my life where I was just going through the motions. It was as if Catholicism were a club to which I belonged. Going to Mass, at times, seemed like nothing more than an obligation to fulfill.
In my thirties, I was confronted by three major challenges. First, my wife had been dealing with Multiple Sclerosis for several difficult years. Second, my father was diagnosed with cancer. Third, I was faced with whether to leave my job and start a new business. In the midst of turmoil, I felt a longing for something more. I am sure that, at some level, I was seeking some peace. I felt like I needed something to fill the gap that was growing inside me. Around this same time, the parish I attended welcomed three new priests.
I ran across a lovely column by Fr. William Grimm, a MaryKnoll Missioner in Japan, on the difference between faithfulness and loyalty. This is something I have struggled with myself, and he has really captured something important. Here are the highlights:
Looking at dogs and their fidelity, I realize that this virtue — whether in a dog or a human — is grounded in history. It is actualized in the present, based in the past. That seems obvious enough. Neither a dog nor a person can be loyal to someone or something which he or she has as yet not encountered.
However, the fact that this human virtue is also a canine virtue should alert us to the possibility that it might not rank as high as others in the hierarchy of virtues.Might there not be a similar virtue that we share with God as the dog shares fidelity with us, an apotheosis of loyalty? There is, though we lack an English word for it and are forced to use a word usually synonymous with fidelity or loyalty: faithfulness….We too are capable of and called to live this virtue of faithfulness, to live in commitment not solely for the sake of what has been, but for the hopeful vision of what can be, what will be….When we take marriage vows or make some other life commitment, we commit ourselves to faithfulness. We do not know where faithfulness will lead, but we know that it can only last so long as we remain open to new experiences, new insights, new disappointments, new failures, new triumphs and new mysteries.
The virtue of faithfulness can be perverted in two ways. It can be replaced by loyalty, a loyalty to a past which we find comfortable and secure. This loyalty can cause us to reject faithfulness to what is new, to what is to come. At the other extreme, faithfulness to what is to come can be replaced by faith in what we want to come, a future we have decided upon. In both cases we have turned away from God and his promise and put our faith in ourselves or in our constructed image of God. We need to reject these comfortable fantasies and embrace the unseen hope which is the Gospel.
As we prepare to enter the holy season of Lent may we remember and have faith in God’s promise: “See, I make all things new!”
Vox Nova is again pleased to present a guest post by Fr. Carl Diederichs of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee
Bread In The Wilderness
Father Carl Diederichs
All Saints Catholic Church
In the Gospel we proclaimed today, March 2, 2014, Jesus continues to teach us how to live as His disciples (Matt 6:24-34): He begins by saying, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money, property or that in which one puts one’s trust and finds one’s basic security).”
Jesus continues to urge us not to “worry” about life, what we are to eat or drink, what we are to wear, because God, our Heavenly Father will provide for us. Our Heavenly Father feeds us, so don’t worry, Jesus says. And as for clothing, why are you worried about what you will wear? God will take care of what we eat, drink and wear. But we do worry, don’t we? We fret and scheme and spent so much time worrying about ourselves.
Many of us have made the decision about which master we will serve. And we know this not by what we say, but by what we do. We all need to meditate on the prayer we say at each Mass, the Our Father, when we ask for “our daily bread.” Read more…
One year ago, Pope Benedict XVI carried out what will surely go down in history as the most radical act of his pontificate: leaving it. It was this startling act – the first papal resignation in six centuries – that made possible the next great surprise: the election of his successor, the first pope to take the name Francis.
It is not necessary to pretend there are no differences between the two popes in order to recognize the connection between these two events, or to appreciate the complementary gifts that both have contributed to the Church. And despite the stark and even antagonistic contrasts that have been drawn between them, for Benedict himself, seeing the charismatic leadership of Pope Francis has affirmed to him that his resignation was the will of God – a ringing affirmation that he has reaffirmed more recently, dismissing suggestions that the resignation had not been truly voluntary (and thereby expressing support for his successor over some of the Church’s right-fringe voices).
A year after Pope Emeritus Benedict’s historic exit, I remain grateful for this culmination of his service to the Church in a courageous act of radical humility that has also given us the great gift of Pope Francis.
I recently conducted an interview with Michael O’Brien at The Jesuit Post in which he commented on the current state of dystopian literature. He observed:
In short, authority in any form is presented as tragically flawed, and the solution presented is individualism combined with physical powers and, increasingly, distorted supernatural or preternatural powers. We all agree that tyranny is bad, but most people think it will be countered only when we, the “good” people, have enough knowledge and power—power of all kinds. In most story-lines this is usually combined with romance and sexual licentiousness—all the usual clichés about what freedom is. It’s basically an adolescent psychology. It would not stand up against any real tyrant, and surely not an Antichrist.
This analysis resonated with me, since I generally like dystopian literature and to some degree try to keep up with it. But I’m generally disappointed. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised when adolescent dystopian literature — like The Hunger Games or Divergent — manifest an “adolescent psychology.” To be expected I guess. Read more…
I’VE RECENTLY DISCOVERED A RELATIVELY NEW SINGER-SONGWRITER ON THE SCENE, a man named Mike Rosenberg, who is better known by his stage name, Passenger.
He’s explained that his nickname describes his approach to songwriting: He’s a passenger going through life, describing what he sees out his window. And what he sees is — or, more precisely, his powers of perception are — extraordinary. His breakout hit, “Let Her Go,” sold more than a million copies back in October, so it’s early in his career, but I think he is pointed toward greatness.
Rosenberg’s lyrics are both spare and exact, describing characters and situations with no wasted words. His voice suits his material well: it has a kind of rough-sawn sweetness that finds stark beauty and redemption in his often bleak subject matter.
Here is a snippet from his song “Riding to New York,” which he wrote after meeting a man in Minnesota who had been diagnosed with emphysema and was riding his Harley back to New York to essentially say goodbye to his family. This is the man describing his mission:
The doctors told me that my body won’t hold me,
My lungs are turning black.
Been a Lucky Strikes fool since I was at school and there ain’t no turning back.
They can’t tell me how long I’ve got,
Maybe months but maybe not,
So I’m taking this bike and riding to New York.
Cause I wanna see my granddaughter one last time,
Wanna hold her close and feel her tiny heartbeat next to mine.
Wanna see my son and the man he’s become,
Tell him I’m sorry for the things I’ve done,
And I’d do it if I had to walk.
Oh, I’m taking this bike and riding to New York
There is something about that line, “I’d do it if I had to walk,” that reminds me very much of my father’s last months.