Water in the Desert 

Recently I have been reading some great articles written in response to the “Benedict option” one from Bishop Baron and another from R.R. Reno over at First Things.

In summary, the “Benedict Option” is the idea that Christian communities should withdrawal from mainstream culture and focus on strengthening both individual and faith community relationships with Jesus Christ. I am incredibly oversimplifying the matter for the purposes of this article because the links provided above do a nice job detailing more what it is and how it’s written in response to recent cultural trends if you’re curious.

On a personal and entertainingly ironic level, I have been reading “Evangelizing Catholics” for my young adult group where author Dr. Scott Hahn outlines a response of engaging with the culture through the New Evangelization by witnessing the gospel first in families (the “domestic Church”) and then throughout the world. 

Both call for a similar growth in faith and spirituality lived out through a relationship with Christ in prayer and sacraments, and also in the Christian community. Dr. Hahn particularly mentions the important (and countercultural)  witness of Christian hope and I couldn’t agree more heartily.

However, in reading Christian responses to cultural things I think there may be some confusion to the idea of what constitutes Christian hope. 

If you were to peruse articles discussing the grounds of Christian hope from outside of the faith, you might mistakenly glean that Christian hope is based on winning the cultural war, attracting more converts than other religions, or attaining influence in political and social spheres. You might think this because so many of these articles addressing Christian cultural relevance, evangelization, and public policy express a sense of foreboding and no-holds-barred panic as they sit over statistics and wring their hands about the future.

That’s more or less to be expected, people being people, but what gets under my skin are the dry rebuttals offered by the Christians who address this panic head on. Those authors who list isolated statistics in support of their point (like a decline in some measure of immoral behavior) or argue against demoralizing statistics that counter their point (polls that show millennial church membership is lower than ever).

This strikes me as a colossal waste of valuable time because I would argue, as I’m about to, that Christian hope has not ever nor should it ever be remotely based on anything temporal or related to temporal affairs.

This is because the Christian life is not based on the temporal sands of time with it’s ever changing socio-political structures, it is based on our firm belief of our eternal soul being saved by Jesus Christ who died for our sins and our anticipation of a life of union with the Trinitarian God (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) in Heaven.

St. Peter states this succinctly and eloquently in his first epistle:

Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to living hope throught the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith… Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your soul. (1 Pet 3-9)

The ultimate goal of the Christian life is the salvation of your soul. This is something that cannot be taken away by losing the culture war, by a decline in religious affiliation (millennial or other demographic), by unfavorable public policy or by persecution of any kind.

Do these things deserve attention? Sure, but to focus on these second things at the expense of the first thing (eternal salvation) would be a tragedy.  Conversely, by focusing on salvation as your goal you gain not only the satisfaction of every desire (eternal union with God) but you might knock out a few of those worrisome second things by your witness to and pursuit of the perfect love you experience in God beginning in time and lasting down through eternity.

Now, there may be those who find themselves wondering how on earth this belief sustains me. In this culture of instant gratification, how can I stand to detach from things that are good in the here and now (whether that good be an indulgence like chocolate or a greater good like political support for a worthy cause) for the promise of eternal life that “may or may not” make me happy one day in a very distant future after I’m dead?

The answer to that question could probably be an article of its own, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll say it is because for me there is no uncertainty surrounding the idea of eternal life with God. I am fully convinced from a combination of Catholic Church teaching and my own life experience that God is the only person who can fully satisfy the desires of my heart. There is absolutely no temporal thing that could fill the void in my soul that was intentionally made to receive the love of God. I know this to be true quite profoundly because in a very foolish pride I once tried to go out on my own and fill that void with temporal things rather than have a relationship with God which, as I’m sure my wiser readers can imagine, aside from being a bad idea in general made said void so much worse.

Yes, much like St. Augustine my heart was very restless until it rested in God but learning how to rest in God was a journey in and of itself (a journey that was aided by/if not entirely the result of Marian consecration via book #9 of my “Top Ten Life Changing Reads“). It was from this weakness and from this seeking that I stumbled onto the merciful love of God and from being absolutely immersed in that love I knew with perfect clarity that the love I had spent so long searching for could be found only in God and nowhere else. Much like a thirsty person traveling through the desert, once I stumbled upon the water of life everything else hailed by the world as so material and so satisfying felt like a mirage because I had experienced the true oasis. After that, it was easier to say no to the world because I knew it’s (once very convincing) promise of satisfaction to be an empty promise, a promise that had instead been perfectly satisfied in God and I felt like I was home at last.

Needless to say, this flies in the face of the prevalent cultural and moral relativism which (falsely) states that there is no truth, no one thing is better or worse than the other, and that the only things we humans can do is pursue what makes us individually happy with occasional consensus over things that are seen as “bad” but which are predictably inconsistent and constantly changing. In this view, our mirage from the previous metaphor would be presented as equally satisfying as the oasis and what you wanted to choose was up to you and was really none of my business. If I like the water I drink the water, if you like the mirage you sit comfortably in the mirage. No one way is hailed as right, no one way is hailed as wrong.

It doesn’t sound problematic at first and perhaps even comes across as open minded. The issue only arises is if you truly believe in your heart that one way is better than the other. That one way leads to life in Christ and the other to spiritual death. That one way leads to joy the other only to a pain and emptiness. In other words, the water of life is the only thing that can truly satisfy whereas the mirage leads to death. The truth in this instance is not relative but inescapable, that each and every person needs water to live and every mirage inevitably comes to end leaving you with nothing but a barren desert. This holds true for the spiritual life as well.

My Christian hope is my hope of eternal salvation won for me by Christ Jesus, the fruits of which flower even now while I’m still an earthly pilgrim. However, to ignore the eternal salvation of my neighbor, to transform the monastic idea of St. Benedict into a “Benedict option” that says in effect “let the heathens perish in their desert” while Christians shift their focus to strengthing their own oasis feels not only uncharitable but a grossly irresponsible response to the truth and the love which God has so charitably shared with an insignificant sinner like me as well as my fellow Christians.

You are not obligated to agree with anything I ever write on this blog or be moved by any of the corny metaphors I employ to illustrate my point better. You have a free will that is a gift of God, inseparable from the human existence, and which I would in no way violate through coercion or fear tactics. However I cannot sit comfortably in my own little oasis, be content with just my own relationship with God, because love by its nature is meant to be shared and I have been blessed with such a profound experience of the ever faithful and merciful love of God that I will not cease to invite you to share in it and experience it for yourself for as long as I live because not only do I hope to live forever with God in heaven, I’d like to see you there too.

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Merry Christmas Charlie Brown

Today was a very interesting day at work because a woman came into my office and started preaching.

Unfortunately, it was not any religion that I found interesting. It was the religion of the new atheism, that secularism with a religious fervor, and believe me, this woman was on fire with the love of the world.

To give you proper context, she was discussing the previous evening’s Christmas party hosted by my office with a coworker of mine. She was so enthralled with the “good vibes” given off by the party and as part of her extremely self-important yet vague title (the corporate equivalent of a life coach) she was very passionately committed to the idea that people ought to give off good vibes and be given opportunities to work in places that give off good vibes. It was certainly positive support to the claim that in the absence of believing in absolute truth people instead opt for passionate commitment to whatever holds true for them. Which is why you just can’t judge, man.

All I can say to that attitude is girl please.

Because I’m not sure what party this woman went to last night, but the one I attended was not an inspiring show of universal love and brotherhood. Nor was the purpose of that party to relax and have fun together. It was Christmas themed networking, a show of solidarity in an office where most of us champwork remotely. It was quite the performance on a stage of glimmering (but tasteful) wealth, well-dressed bragging, and generous amounts of alcohol slipped into many a festive drink. It was essentially like a cocktail party before a wedding, except that there was a table with a delicious dinner spread. The company certainly outdid themselves by every worldly standard. It was a perfect fit for my boss and a perfect expression of what he envisions our company as representing. We’re good at what we do, we’re nice, we’re professional and yes there are probably good vibes all over the place.

Honestly I like my coworkers, I really do. They are good people and I am very blessed to be working with them. But everyone at that that party had themselves on their mind. It was that classic office networking experience
where people would say some jovial greeting and walk away half way through my scripted response to their greeting. Your surroundings may sparkle and make you feel important, but it’s shallow and superficial. Like a mirage in the desert that is appealing because it seems like it’s everything you want when in fact it is appealing because you are so thirsty. Thirsty for the real thing.

I know my inner Charlie Brown is coming out as I talk about how, amid a commercial Christmas, I can’t help but long for the true meaning of the season. But it was hard to hear these two grown women speaking, both so excited over an illusion. Because there is more to life than good vibes and networking and careers, life should be so much deeper.  Life should be about love, the type of love present at the Nativity in the humility, hope, charity, wonder, and joy shared by a family.

And being more “spiritual” than “religious” is almost a tragedy in my mind, a tragedy I saw unfold many times last night, because it detracts from the truth that God is love and subtly spreads the lie that it is possible to find the type of love and meaning your heart truly desires, with or without God as long as it “works for you.” It sounds well meaning and “open minded,” but that sort of talk is meant to keep you from finding what you seek by convincing you that you are fine where you are. It leaves you sitting in the mirage showing off how comfortable you’ve made yourself when the true oasis is right there waiting for you just beyond the edge of your comfort zone.

But since it is nearing Christmas I can’t help but retain my joy and my hope that love finds you this holiday season no matter who or where you are.

cb

A whole new world 

Hello again world. I thought I’d keep the Disney-song-lyrics-as-post-titles thing going because it continues to be extremely applicable. I’ve neglected the blogging world of late because, if you read in earlier posts about how I’ve been job searching, I actually found a job! I am also in the process of finalizing my move which means my stuff is between two states. So while I’m full of things to write about I haven’t actually written anything down.

But as for the job I really like it. It will give me the freedom to write in the evenings once I adjust to the newness of everything and overcome the sheer exhaustion that saying both new hellos and old goodbyes always seems to bring. There’s just so much to process and so little time. Why does it fly so fast? I walked past a college student (since there’s a university right by my office) and in my office casual after a day of networking I felt a generation away from her, in spite of the fact it’s only been about two years (one of which was spent getting my M.A.T so that hardly counts as full adulthood). But it’s all very real now and not unwelcome. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work where I work and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead. Keep me in your prayers if that’s your thing.