Scandals and Sanctity

The difficulties and scandals that we face in the Church today are real, but not new: unfortunately, even when it comes to sin, it seems that there is nothing new under the sun.

And yet, the solution is the same: sanctity.

Back in 2002, in the midst of the uproar over the priestly sex abuse scandal in the United States, now-deceased Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete told journalist Michael Sean Winters this:

If, in addition to all the terrible things we have learned, if tomorrow it was revealed that the pope had a harem, that all the cardinals had made money on Enron stock and were involved in Internet porno, then the situation of the Church today would be similar to the situation of the Church in the late twelfth century … when Francis of Assisi first kissed a leper.

Saint Francis and the Leper, Santuario di San Francesco, Greccio, Italy

 

Not only does this quote give some perspective to how bad things have been at various points in the Church’s history (and how things today are far from the worst), it points to the solution: saints. Commenting on Msgr. Albacete’s words at the time, Fr. Richard Neuhaus in turn said this: “In short, the Church will only be renewed by saints, meaning sinners — bishops, priests, and all the faithful — responding to the universal call to holiness.”

Don’t just Be Happy. Be Holy.

Why Not?

Advertisements

Critical Cultural Consumption

One of the things I struggle with is Critical Cultural Consumption: how to “consume” things that the culture offers me (movies, music, tv, books, etc.) but in a thoughtful, intentional way (i.e. critical in the best sense) in which I take the good, true & beautiful while leaving the bad, false & ugly.

I alluded to this struggle in my last post when I referred to two of the ways that we as Christians can engage the culture: by evaluating existing culture and by creating new culture, or, to use the image I proposed at the end of the post, by being a “movie critic” or a “movie maker”. As I mentioned there, being a “movie critic” entails that “sifting” process of separating the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, the true from the false when we engage or even simply “consume” things in our culture.

I know that leaving the bad, false & ugly is necessary… consuming everything the culture offers me without any thought or discernment is like eating without paying any attention to the nutritional value of the food.

Theatrical Poster

 

And while the monastic or Amish approach — leaving the world behind almost completely and consuming almost nothing from the wider culture whatsoever — might work for some, I think most of us are called to be what’s in the title of the previous post: in the world, but not of the world. That’s where the level — or better, manner — of engagement becomes a bit trickier to get right.

As I said, this is a balance I can struggle to get right… this will be one of the recurring Culture topics here at Cruciform. But in the meantime, I’d love to hear any thoughts that any of you might have: how do you maintain that balance in your own life?

In the World But Not of the World

in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world

 

The mission which Jesus has given to all members of the Church — and to the lay faithful in a particular way — entails being in the world but not of the world (cf. John 17:15-16). As lay Christians, we are called to engage the culture in which we live — or more accurately, the variety of cultures in which we live — in order to transform them.

This means that we, as Christians, must determine how to best and most effectively engage the culture in which we live, how to make a difference in the lives of those around us, in the places not only where we live but where we work, shop and recreate. We are called, in other words, to be engaged with the world without being worldly, in order to make our culture(s) more Christ-like.

This topic is a central theme of Cruciform, as the subtitle of the site indicates: exploring the intersection of Christianity and culture. In this post I’d like to introduce this topic and note some of its key points.

Bringing transformation to our culture can often be a challenge, for the reason found in the title of this post: “in the world but not of the world”. As Christians — and in a particular way as lay Christians — we are called to live in, to act in, to be in the world, but not to be of the world, and getting that distinction right is crucial if we are to most effectively engage the culture in which we live, if we are to make a difference, if we are to make an impact rather than just be impacted on.

There are really two different issues at play here: the first is the task of engaging the culture in which we find ourselves by evaluating it: analyzing it, sifting it, determining its principles and presuppositions, embracing its truth, goodness and beauty while discarding its error, evil and ugliness, etc.; the second is the task of engaging that culture by creating new culture, culture which more deeply reflects reality, culture which more fully embodies truth, goodness and beauty, culture which makes us look both out and within in new ways.

Think of the first task as the movie critic and the second as the movie maker: they are obviously different roles, but they are both important and essential. And in some way, we are all called to do both. How? That’s the question that we’re going to examine and answer in future posts.

What has been your experience of being a “movie critic” or “movie maker”?

Praying with Scripture

In my post on Monday I mentioned that I am best able to avoid the various distortions or reductions of the faith by means of a regular (daily) prayer life, and in particular, a prayer life centered on prayerful reading of the Holy Bible.

In fact, one of the most powerful of the many forms of prayer in the Christian tradition is reflection and meditation on the words of the Bible. And even within this form of prayer are a variety of specific ways of doing so.One form of praying with Scripture that’s very ancient but has also seen a resurgence among Christians over the last few decades is called lectio divina (LEK-tseeo dee-VEE-na), which is latin for divine reading. This is the approach that I (attempt to!) use, and I’d like to explain it a bit here.

Antonello da Messina, St. Jerome in His Study, 1460-1475

 

Having originated in the sixth century A.D. particularly within the early monasteries founded by St. Benedict, lectio divina consists of four (or five) steps. Entire books have been written on this process (here’s a helpful blog post), and I’ll have more to say in future posts, but in summary, here are the steps:

  • Reading: a slow reading of a passage from Scripture
  • Meditation: a prayerful reflection on the passage
  • Prayer: one’s attention now turns from the passage to God, addressing Him in light of the passage
  • Contemplation: now instead of addressing God in prayer, one simply rests in His presence, contemplating Him
  • (Some add Action: a resolution to a specific action based on this time of prayer)

Over the last four years lectio divina has been an important part of my own personal prayer, helping me listen more and talk less (a topic on which I have much to say, pun intended  ;-).

What forms of praying with the Bible have you found helpful?

Who Worships False Idols These Days?

28bcfb6e0eac969e15b48b05419181d0

 

In yesterday’s post I referred to doctrine, morality and piety as (potential) false idols. One might have rightly asked, “Really? Who worships false idols these days? I haven’t seen any golden calves around in quite some time.”

That’s certainly true: we no longer build statues made out of precious metals and worship them as deities. But that doesn’t mean that idol worship has gone completely by the wayside… it’s simply become more subtle and sophisticated.

I’d like to take a short post to briefly explain.

In short, we commit idol worship anytime we place at the center of our lives anything but God. Yesterday’s post was focused on some of the ways that those who are striving to follow Him can unwittingly fall into idol worship by placing some good things at the center.

And that gets to an important point: a false idol isn’t necessarily a bad thing that we “worship”: it can be a good thing, too. It’s simply giving anything — good or bad — greater centrality in our lives than we ought to.

So idol worship could be drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc., but it can also be good things that we actually overvalue: our work, our hobby, or even our relationships… it’s possible to replace God at the center of our lives with our friends or family, even our spouses or children.

We are both called and empowered to live an integrated life, in which we give everything its due. When we fail to do so, when we over- or undervalue anything significant… we run into problems. And that’s not to say that an angry old guy with a white beard “up there” is going to shake his finger at us… it’s to say that when we misprioritize anything of significance, the result is dis-order in our lives… dis-integration.

Like it or not, we are hardwired by God, for God. In the oft-quoted words of St. Augustine, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” When we get the center right, everything else falls into place. But when we don’t…

Yesterday I mentioned that one of my temptations is to overvalue doctrine; another of my temptations is to overvalue technology, to give it greater due than I ought. I tend to do this by having my cell phone at hand and obsessively checking my email — work & personal — when I might be spending that time being fully present to my wife and my children.

I find it helpful to reflect regularly on this: what are the things in my life that I overvalue? What are the things that I’m giving more time or effort to than is due them? In short… what are my personal false idols?

The False Idols of Doctrine, Morality and Piety

How’s that for a title? As counterintuitive as it may seem, it’s entirely possible for a Christian to make false idols out of certain teachings (doctrine), certain behaviors (morality) or certain prayers or ways of praying (piety). How? By putting them at the center of his faith in place of what belongs there: Jesus of Nazareth. As odd as it may seem to you, I know that it’s possible… I’ve done it.

I need to be absolutely clear here: in no way am I saying that doctrine, morality and piety are bad or even unimportant. On the contrary, they are both good and essential.

What I am saying is that they are not the beating heart of our faith. No, that place belongs only to Jesus Christ. Right doctrine, morality and piety flow from Him… they cannot replace Him. As soon as we elevate any of them to the center of our faith we have erected a false idol and have reduced Christianity to something else: ideology, moralism or pietism, none of which is authentic Christianity.

Continue reading “The False Idols of Doctrine, Morality and Piety”

New Foundations

 

In Monday’s post I discussed the importance of faith impacting every aspect of one’s life. Many people agree with that sentiment, but it can be challenging to actually implement it, beyond the basics of living rightly. How to we build our entire life on our faith?

In other words, faith-impacting-life is about more than morality… it goes deeper than that. But how? How am I to bring my faith to bear on my life in a deep and substantial way? How am I accomplish living in a way that is thoroughly structured by my faith instead of by the world?

One important answer is this: by saturating myself in the liturgical life of the Church, by allowing the rhythm of the liturgical day, week and year to form and shape my life.

To that end and to get some specific proposals, I’d recommend this post on “Living Liturgically”. The author, Michael Bradley, gives some examples on how he strives to “live liturgically”:

I try, now, though so far with little success, to orient my instinctive reactions to days of the week or weeks of the month or seasons of the year more toward the liturgical calendar and away from secular calibration. I try to reflect on the sorrowful mysteries even amid the excitement of an impending Friday night. I try to work more on Saturdays so that I can stay away from the computer on Sundays, or maybe plan to socialize on Saturday evening so that I can dedicate my Friday night to something other than a major social event. I try to greet solemnities with the same general excitement that the Fourth of July elicits in me.

A personal example: for a number of years now I’ve tried to take seriously the Church’s expectation that we perform some penance on each Friday of the year. I do this in part out of a desire to shape my life by my faith: because Jesus died on the Cross for me and for all on a Friday, I try to offer some act of penance, in union with His ultimate self-sacrifice.

Another (one-time) example: a couple years ago my family organized a Pentecost Party to observe this great solemnity that has essentially no significance in our culture.

In this and other examples, my desire is that observing and celebrating the liturgical calendar will — over time –shape my life “Christianly,” to make it… cruciform.

Again, this is a theme to which I will return repeatedly, but for now, this will suffice as a short introduction, to hopefully whet your appetite.

What about you? How have you used the liturgical calendar to bring your faith into your life?