All posts by Robert Mixa

St. Ignatius of Loyola and Transformation

 St. Ignatius of Loyola learned from the lives of the saints, and the concrete witness of their lives transformed him. He saw that Christ was the center of their particular lives, and he started to see the narrative of his own life in such a way. In The Grammar of Assent, Bl. John Henry Newman distinguishes between notional assent and real assent. In a nutshell, notional assent is the acknowledgement we give to the truth of abstract propositions. It is not an assent grounded in concrete experiences, and it often makes little difference in the way we live. One can see this in arguments for the existence of God. Often times, the argument from contingency doesn’t transform us. However, as Newman points out, the argument from conscience does have this effect. Many have the real experience of the pangs of conscience, and the intuition of a supreme moral authority. We sense this to be the voice of God. Newman says that religion must have both. However, if you want to transform men real assent is necessary. Newman says, “Many a man will live and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion…No one, I say, will die for his calculations: he dies for realities.” Real assent is grounded in real objects that have a force on a person unlike notional assent. It is grounded in experience. As a Brit, Newman resisted the abstractions of continental philosophy. However, he didn’t lead us down the equally abstract empiricism of Hume but to the true experience we all have, i.e. the intuition of the real world and the sense of God that is written on our hearts. Ignatius is an example of the transformation real assent can influence not only one life but the whole world.

St. Ignatius was a warrior. His life centered around glory on the battlefield. However, after his injury he came to see the folly of such ways. His desire was misdirected. He read the lives of the saints and was transformed into a disciple of Christ. The lives of the saints were a concrete witness to him of the glory of martyrdom (witness). This conversion probably wouldn’t occur if he happened to pick up Aquinas’ De Potentia. We need to keep this in mind when we want to evangelize the youth, encouraging them to consider a religious vocation. This will not happen by abstraction, but by the heroism of the saints. In an age of the crisis of reason, abstract arguments will not hold. We need to relearn the art of inspiring real assent, and a good way of doing this is by telling the lives of the saints. On this Feast of St. Ignatius, let us recall the heroism of Ignatius and the early Jesuit saints, calling on them for a renewal in religious life around the world. May people find their vocation by hearing the stories of how the saints found theirs.

Krakow: A City of Saints

While in Krakow I read George Weigel’s book on the city entitled City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow.  I cannot think of a more fitting title about a city that has the ethos of sanctity emanating from its streets. Like a fountain, waters of sanctity and history flow from Wawel Hill meandering into the Main Square, thereby soaking into the lives of its people. I hope I do not sound like Krakow is the New Jerusalem; it is a city of sinners and saints. However, from what I witnessed it seems to me that a city can do an awful lot in shaping a man in either direction. Krakow concretely orders man to his destiny of communion with God in Christ. That is partially why no atheistic regime that denied such a destiny could triumph there. Sanctity haunts Krakow.

Many saints lived and died in Krakow. Their monuments are all over the city. Little shrines surprisingly pop up everywhere, even next to a McDonalds by the city’s main gate. A huge crucifixion scene dominates a street that is also littered with clubs and bistros. Nowhere else besides Rome have I seen so many religious. Christ shines everywhere.

Instead of secular skyscrapers, Churches dominate the city’s skyline. Streets from the main square, with names of saints, apostles and evangelists, lead to the façade of Churches and other institutions of importance. An enormous shopping mall fittingly sits on the outskirts of the city, allowing the city’s hierarchy of importance, derived from a Christian vision of things, to be unambiguously expressed. This was revelatory to me. I grew up in a centerless suburb, dominated by a lifeless shopping mall, an inversion of the order expressed in Krakow.

My wife and I met a close friend of John Paul II, the poet/philosopher Stanislaw Grygiel, in the Main Square. Commenting on the different ethos we noticed between Warsaw and Krakow, Grygiel said, “People in Warsaw talk politics. The people of Krakow talk about the Bishop’s homily.” The city had a long history of being Poland’s political center, but it no longer has that role; perhaps, for the better. Yet even when it did have that role, a different vision shaped politics than the one we have today. For the past century, politics has been dominated by a liberal secularism, anything outside its framework seen as an obstruction of justice. Krakow was the center when a noble culture was present that could state in the Preamble to the Act of Horodlo (1413): ‘Whoever is unsupported by the mystery of Love…shall not achieve the Grace of salvation…For by Love, laws are made, kingdoms governed, cities ordered, and the state of the commonweal is brought to its proper goal. Whoever shall cast Love aside, shall lose everything.’ You can see this ordering principle governing the streets of Krakow and the lives of its inhabitants. I only notionally understood ta city was so essential to the shaping its citizens, but now, after walking the streets of Krakow and meeting many Krakowians, I really understand why a city is a major factor in sanctity. Weigel remarks that you cannot fully understand John Paul II without Krakow. He is right. The love that orders the streets of Krakow is the same love that ordered the life of St. John Paul II. We all have much to learn from cities like Krakow, and I do not think it is nostalgic to think that such an order can reestablish cities and the lives of people longing to live the holiness of God. Perhaps, urban planners, politicians, and religious should get together to lay the foundation for cities open to God. This may be one of the reasons why Krakow historically was the home of many vocations.

For more on the urban planning of Krakow, watch Dr. Denis McNamara’s video on the city.

 

Christ Hath Made Us Free: Freedom and the Religious Life

Independence Day celebrates the Declaration of Independence when the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were separating from the British Empire to found a new nation. Within the great texts of the American founding is an ambiguous understanding of liberty, or freedom. For Catholics, the interpretation of liberty espoused in the American Founding is very controversial. Some believe that Founding Fathers held a “liberal” interpretation of liberty, whereas many conservatives, especially the neo-cons, think otherwise. Clearly, a liberal interpretation has been very dominant in the Courts, maybe since the early 20th century (known as liberal revisionism), going to the extreme in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) in saying “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This is what I take a radical liberal understanding of freedom to be. It is directly opposed to the Christian creaturely and trinitarian understanding of freedom. Accordingly, freedom is not rooted in self-possession but is anteriorly found in self-gift. This is summed up in Gaudium et Spes par. 24.: “…man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” Accordingly, I think the best way of seeing true freedom is in what most people see as its opposite: i.e. the vowed form of life. Hence, the religious life is our model for freedom since it is a radical gift of self to God with the even greater reception of the self perfected.

But many are concerned American culture excludes such a view, thereby not supporting the religious life. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII wrote a letter to Cardinal Gibbons entitled Testem Benevolentiae. In the letter, the pope praises the many virtues of America. However, he states his concern over a controversial figure, i.e. Fr. Isaac Thomas Hecker. Fr. Hecker was the founder of the Paulists, a religious order that does not make their members make vows but make a commitment to living out the evangelical counsels. Leo XIII saw this as  a threat to the religious life, a tendency he found within the culture of modernity. Here is a section from the letter:

“They [those who disregard the evangelical virtues] say vows are alien to the spirit of our times, in that they limit the bounds of human liberty; that they are more suitable to weak than to strong minds; that so far from making for human perfection and the good of human organization, they are hurtful to both; but that this is as false as possible from the practice and the doctrine of the Church is clear, since she has always given the very highest approval to the religious method of life; nor without good cause, for those who under the divine call have freely embraced that state of life did not content themselves with the observance of precepts, but, going forward to the evangelical counsels, showed themselves ready and valiant soldiers of Christ. Shall we judge this to be a characteristic of weak minds, or shall we say that it is useless or hurtful to a more perfect state of life?

Those who so bind themselves by the vows of religion, far from having suffered a loss of liberty, enjoy that fuller and freer kind, that liberty, namely, by which Christ hath made us free. And this further view of theirs, namely, that the religious life is either entirely useless or of little service to the Church, besides being injurious to the religious orders cannot be the opinion of anyone who has read the annals of the Church.”

This Independence Day thank a religious for modeling the perfection of freedom!

Saints Peter and Paul: Called by the Lord

Today the Church celebrates two of its most feisty saints: Peter and Paul. The lives of these two pillars of the Church show the dynamics of vocation. They both experienced the love of Christ and were transformed through Him into their true identities. Such transformation is signaled in the change of their names. Formerly Simon, now Peter;  Saul, now Paul. In the Bible, name change signals identity change, not superficially but substantially, as one’s relationship to God deepens. They are models for us on how to respond to the call of God and where we belong: in the Lord Jesus Christ. They were sinful, yet they responded to the call of the Lord. Here are three points to keep in mind when thinking about the vocations of Peter and Paul:

  1. God’s Initiative

“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…” (John 15:16). This flies in the face of absolute self-determination.  We often think we are the masters of our  own destiny and the ultimate possessors of ourselves. However, the Bible has a different view. One’s identity is a gift from God. That is why identity is related to vocation. You are a gift and response to God. Peter and Paul found themselves in God’s mind made manifest to them through Jesus Christ. This was an unveiling of their true identities, not something alien. Very often we get stuck in trying to mold ourselves into an image we conceive, but this becomes futile when it comes up against God. Idols will collapse; an identity separated from God will collapse. Follow Saints Peter and Paul and belong to the Son who belongs to the Father, and remember it is not you who has done this but God.

  1. From Cowardice to Courage

“Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When Peter distanced himself from the Lord he was a coward, but when he grew closer to the Lord he became very courageous. Paul does not immediately strike us as a coward. There is no mention of the tears of Paul or his abandonment of the Lord like Peter. However, he indeed was a coward in the face of the nascent Church. He could not just let it be as his mentor Gamaliel suggested. Instead, he actively persecuted it: the mark of fear. However, we see how Paul became a courageous man after his encounter with the Risen Christ. Just read the Acts of the Apostles to see this. Paul inserts himself in dangerous situations to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He would not have put himself on the line like this prior to his conversion. Courage is the act of giving oneself in the face of danger. When one grows close to the Giver they will courageously give despite the circumstance.

  1. Proclaim the Name of Jesus

“For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord” (2 Cor. 4). Unlike most careers, vocation is not centered on the self but on Jesus. The vocation of Peter and Paul was to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus as widely as possible, bringing all into the power of the name of Jesus. In the Bible, names have power. Those who were gathered in the Name were gathered in the Lord, and this Name had the power of healing and reconciliation with God. In a vocation the Lord calls you by name so as to proclaim his name. We clearly see this in Peter and Paul who spread the Name of Jesus throughout the earth.

 

Saints Irenaeus and Cyril: On Asceticism

This week we celebrate two bishop saints of the Early Church, i.e. Saints Cyril and Irenaeus. Both are from the Near East, once the home of a vibrant Christian culture. While most of that culture has passed away in the last millennium, the remaining small Christian communities have been destroyed practically overnight by radical Islam. That culture must be defended, and like Remi Brague, I feel I have a responsibility, to the best of my abilities, of rescuing the cultural heritage of Christianity in the Near Eastern world.   Consecrated life finds its beginnings there, and we can learn much it, especially its emphasis on asceticism. The Church Fathers, in our case  Saints Irenaeus and Cyril, saw asceticism as necessary for all Christians, and this is what I would like to focus on.

Saints Irenaeus and Cyril were from regions that are now Muslim. Cyril was from Alexandria in Egypt, and Irenaeus was from Smyrna, now Izmir, Turkey. Both were Greek speaking cities in the Roman Empire. During these early centuries of Christianity, the East was more cultured than the West. While that seems odd to us we must remember that even the Romans considered the East to be more civilized than the West. So Irenaeus was not moving up when he went to Lyon to preach the Gospel. We no longer make a concerted effort to remember the past, and in order to appreciate the consecrated life we must not forget the cultural treasures of Christianity in the East, particularly asceticism. Cyril and Irenaeus are among the greatest figures of the Church and they both practiced asceticism, encouraging all Christians to do likewise. This short essay will focus on asceticism in the East.

St. Paul, who founded many Christian communities in the East, preached life in Christ or life according to the Spirit. A recurring theme in many of his epistles is adoptive sonship, i.e. our means of participation in the true spiritual worship of the Trinity, the source of all life. For participation in the divine life, Paul encouraged the unmarried and widows not to marry (1 Cor.7), since he thought marriage was bound up with many troubles in this life. Such advice, while not denigrating marriage – Paul had a very high view of marriage, calling it a great “mystery” in his Letter to the Ephesians, played a role in the origins of the consecrated life. Monasticism was an aspect of this. Monks did not leave the world behind but entered the true depth of reality, i.e. God. They became living icons of the divine life, something many people sensed, inspiring many to live like them. This gave rise to communal monasticism. Let’s take St. Anthony the Great from Egypt as an example: he encountered the beauty of Christ in the Gospel story of the Rich Young Man and was inspired to leave everything to seek God and find union with Him in the desert. As creatures with unruly passions, union with God was only required through discipline. Cyril’s predecessor, St. Athanasius, popularized Anthony’s asceticism throughout the Christian world by his book The Life of Anthony the Great. This book inspired many young men to set out to become ascetics like Anthony.

Irenaeus was taught by the bishop and martyr Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle. From leaning on the heart of Christ to remaining with Christ during his Passion, John was radically intimate with the Lord. This experience was handed on to Polycarp who, in turn, handed it on to Irenaeus. Irenaeus’ lifelong enemy were the Gnostics, a heretical group that saw creation as evil and something to be cast off. In his great work Adversus Heresus, Irenaeus defended the goodness of creation and a healthy form of asceticism. While Irenaeus lived a century before Anthony the Great he was already laying the foundations for Christian asceticism. He saw it as a remedy for the waywardness of creation, realigning the passion back into unity with God. This was something all Christians were called to do and not just monks.

St. Cyril of Alexandria agreed. While he is mostly known for his conflict with Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus (431), his works on asceticism need to be revived. He applied asceticism to scriptural exegesis. For him, exegetes must be ascetics. Such discipline would clear the mind, allowing the exegete to truly live in the Spirit so as to correctly discern the meaning of Scripture. Only the Spirit can unveil the meaning of the text, and discipline is necessary to be attuned to the Spirit. There is evidence that Cyril spent significant time in the Egyptian desert, living with the monks. As a bishop he called his flock to practice bodily and spiritual disciplines. In a culture that encourages license in practically everything but work, athletics and finance, it might be worthwhile to look at the writings of these early Church Fathers and study the lives of desert monks so as to better appreciate the value of asceticism for all the baptized.

St. Thomas More and Discernment

St. Thomas More is a model of prudent discernment. In his early life, he seriously considered the priesthood. After he became a lawyer, he discerned becoming a Carthusian, living near the London Charterhouse to join the monks in their spiritual exercises. But More discerned not to become a religious. This was not out fear or neglect but prudence – at least according to fellow Christian humanist and dear friend, Erasmus.  He said More “proved himself far more prudent than most candidates who thrust themselves rashly into that arduous profession (religious life) without any previous trial of their powers.” More went on to be a chaste husband and a good father, but he never lost his admiration for the religious life. Most of us mistake cowardice for prudence. But based on the observations of friends and later discoveries, this did not apply to More. He died a martyr’s death which was not the result of spontaneity but the fruit of faithful servitude to Christ. On this feast of St. Thomas More, may we have the prudence to discern God’s call and the strength to follow Him.

The Spirituality of St. Aloysius Gonzaga by Rev. John A. Hardon, SJ

Now some insights into Aloysius’ spirituality. To the one virtue which the Church has chosen, and on account of which has chosen him ‘the universal patron of youth’, was his chastity. All the evidence we have indicates that he had very strong sexual passions. We know that from his own writing; we know that from people who knew him and we know that from what is called penance from one view-point, what is really, you might say ‘preventive austerity’ from another. He simply believed that unless he mortified his body, and I didn’t tell you one tenth of what he did, he just would not get that passion under control. The lesson for us, in a sex-mad world, is obvious. You do not control that passion without mortification, you just don’t. As a result, the Church has held him up as a model of what even the most passionate personality can achieve, always with God’s grace, but not as we’ve said, more than once. We may not be able to, given our temperament of the circumstances in which we are living, we may not be able to cope with temptation–we need grace, very well, how do you get the grace? –through prayer and mortification. And Christ’s words, remember? about a certain demon, not being able to be driven out except, remember? through penance. Well, it’s a non-title to give the devil, but, he is the demon of lust; though being without a body himself, he knows, he knows, how by stirring this passion, he can lead people into any kind of sin. That’s the first and towering lesson of the life of St. Aloysius.

That chastity is not easily preserved in any age and in our day, is humanly impossible without grace merited through prayer and penance. A good reason, a very good reason, for becoming a religious these days, I mean, of course, a good religious, a real religious, is to preserve oneself from the lust that we breath in a country like ours like the atmosphere.

Second feature of his spirituality. His profound humility shown in the fact that as you know in certain cultures, notably the Italian and Spanish nobility, is highly prized. And after four hundred years, for example, in Latin America, the cleavage between, call them the nobility, and the rest of the people, Aloysius, under divine inspiration from early boyhood, recognized that if he is to even save his soul, he cannot pride himself on his rank or social state. In the United States we don’t have, I suppose I can say, “thank God”, nobility. We don’t have a lady this and a sir that or counts and countesses, but, my friends, we sure have status. The books that I’m not recommending to your reading, but just to know that it exists. It’s a good book to read, called “Status Secrets” by Vance Packard. In the United States, Packard describes with great detail how status conscious Americans are. I live on 83 and Park Ave. All I have to do is walk up Park Ave. to 96th Street and then it’s a different world. In other words, you might say the barbarians of New York live beyond 96th. Where people live, how they dress, even the names of the streets, ‘Aw, you can live on such and such a drive or such and such a lane or you have not a cheap, pardon me, Chevrolet or Ford, but a Buick or a Cadillac. Aloysius hated pretense–a lesson for everyone of us–putting on, and let me tell you, this has infested every rank and every state of life. I won’t dare identify the diocese, but I called up … I was in the city on some great problem affecting the large community of the diocese and I wasn’t just a private individual because I do work for the Congregation for Religious, so I called up to make an appointment with a Vicar for religious in that diocese and he invited me, 12 o’clock noon, I thought to myself, “how kind of him, we’ll have lunch together”, so I showed-up at the Chancery, few minutes before 12 and a receptionist said, ‘sit down’ so I sat down. And a telephone call from the priest was “Vicar, call the office”, he was in the building, ‘would you tell Father to wait while I have my lunch’. I waited over an hour. He came back smiling. All I can tell you, it took a lot of grace, but I smiled, too. He wanted to make sure I knew who was in charge, because he knew the message that I had to share with him would somehow touch on his authority. That’s the second feature of Aloysius’ spirituality–a humility without pretense and he didn’t have to pretend because he was of the highest nobility.

Third feature of his spirituality, we may call it casually, penance, but it is much more refined. Under divine guidance, Aloysius recognized that we all have powerful drives in our fallen nature, called the ‘capital sins’, the more sophisticated name is our concupiscence. We all have these drives–there are seven. You know them by heart, don’t you? you know them by memory, don’t you? places g … well, this is an insight into the meaning of penance that only a person as totally innocent as Aloysius could teach us … one reason he was canonized. For even though we have not personally sinned, we commonly and correctly associate doing penance for our own past mistakes. In Margaret of Cortona, all right, she had a sinful past, and Augustine, you better believe it, had a sinful past but not Aloysius. So what’s all this penance about. There are a few things I will share with you during these conferences on the Jesuit saints, more important than this one. The insight that he gave the Church was that even though we have not personally sinned, either we do, and the word is violence to our sinful nature or concupiscence will do violence to us. Now in some people, they are just stronger than in others. Mothers tell me, they can tell when, for example, a child, a girl of three … “Father” the mother tells me, “Mary is going to have trouble with humility for the rest of her life.” Have you seen it in youngsters? or temper, or, and this is the easiest, sloth. We all have these drives, some are stronger than others, depending on who the person is and how much we have given in to a particular tendency. With Aloysius, it was lust, he knew it and in order to teach the world the need for penance, not just to expiate sins committed but in order to master our sinful desires what we still call penance, is something that we should all learn from Aloysius to practice, to ask ourselves, what is my predominant passion? and then, what am I doing? Ignatius famous phrase ‘Hacer contra’ act against, do the opposite of that which you have a tendency to do.

Fourth feature of his spirituality. Aloysius had a profound understanding of the gravity of sin. In his own life, in the life of others and in how dreadful a thing it is to offend the good God. If there is one mystery of our faith that needs strengthening in these days, it is the fact of sin. Who talks about it? He was not a theologian, but one of the ranking American psychiatrists who wrote a book not too long ago on “What ever happened to sin?” People have simply lost their sense of guilt.

Fifth feature. Already from childhood, Aloysius looked forward to going to Heaven, the mystery of Heaven. No doubt one reason that he performed extraordinary penance, and that remember in addition to all of his physical disabilities which he already experienced from childhood, one reason was that he just looked forward to a day and all of this would end. No wonder when he caught the plague in Rome, from which he briefly recovered then shortly after got a fever and died, he confessed impatience with wanting to die. It wasn’t death that he welcomed, it was the aftermath of death, namely Heaven. May I recommend a daily looking forward to Heaven and to ask God to give us some foretaste of what awaits us. It will make this world, seem by comparison, very cheap and dreary, indeed.

Another feature of Aloysius spirituality is charity in the practice of mercy so much so that we can call him a ‘martyr of charity.’ Sometime when we read Christ’s statement which he made by our loving our neighbor even to laying down our life for the neighbor, we don’t really mean this, but, we think, well, it must be some theological exaggeration, Christ didn’t really mean it. He not only meant it, He lived it, or you could make a transitive verb-He died it. That’s what the crucifixion is all about. One meaning of Calvary that can be lost on us–this is a voluntary sacrifice of His life as an act of charity. Most of us find enough difficulty, I don’t say in dying for people, but in living with people. I get some idea of how this charity can be very costly. If in God’s providence He gives us the opportunity of laying down literally our lives for another person, God be praised. Whom is the Holy Father canonizing this year who is a martyr of charity, Maximillian Kolbe. Another one, Aloysius. Charity, in other words, means not only doing good, but giving up self including the dearest possession we have, naturally speaking, our lives.

And finally, Aloysius spiritual joy. As we look at the short life of Aloysius, depending on the person’s view point, it may seem oppressive, it shouldn’t be, but, in modern jargon, it has so much (pardon the expression) so much of the negative, you know, penance, mortification, sin–and a world that has gone mad, drunk with sin, doesn’t realize that already this side of eternity, we are to be an Aloysius was literally; we are to be, if it is God’s will, ecstatically happy of that. We are not to be sad. We are not, God forbid, to be unhappy. The secret, and what an open secret it is in the life of Aloysius, the secret is to find the happiness in the right place. That’s all, yes, but that’s everything. In other words, as a closing observation, Aloysius showed that’s why the Church canonized him, that when Christ gave us the eight Beatitudes, which are eight promises of happiness, He meant it. The condition for being happy, well, that’s part of the Covenant, that’s what we do, but if we do our part, God comes through.

Saint Aloysius, pray for us. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Quaerere Deum and Christian Hope

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has been called the Mozart of Theology. Like Mozart’s music, his writings charm and delight, transporting the soul to heavenly spheres. He can effortlessly intone a piercing chord that strikes at the heart of reality, moving the reader to greater devotion to God. But sometimes he often focuses our gaze on unseemly realities: for example, the crisis of Modernity. Nevertheless, he always ends his addresses on an encouraging note. In particular, my favorite address is one he delivered at a meeting with Representatives from the World of Culture in Paris on September 12, 2008. Unfortunately, this address did not receive much publicity; it was not controversial like the Regensburg Address. And while the media – the paragon of superficiality -mostly overlooked the substance of the Regensburg Address to focus  on a section that seemed Islamophobic, the Regensburg Address and the Address in Paris contain gems that are worth reflecting on to this day. The Address in Paris is about culture. But instead of generically talking about culture, Benedict XVI simply described– a brilliant move on his part – the ancient monks’ search for God (quaerere Deum) and the culture that sprang from that. He says,

“It was not their intention to create a culture nor even to preserve a culture from the past.  Their motivation was much more basic.  Their goal was: quaerere Deum.  Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential – to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself.  They were searching for God.

At a time of cultural crisis – something, I think, all faithful Christians should recognize – it is fitting to reflect on the example of those who set out to find God and give up everything to follow Him, finding in Him their very all. While it is good to desire  the creation of a robust, God-centered “culture”, too often this gets caught up in talk and no action.  Theory is good but that must be translated into flesh and blood. Some concrete order (arrangement) in-forms individual lives. It might be good to look and see what informs you.

Culture stems from the specific actions and beliefs of its individuals that ultimately stem from one’s relation to God. True culture comes about inadvertently. Culture can never really be set up but must come about through values beyond oneself. That is why the quaerere Deum is at the root of culture. In the Bible, Israel either worship the true God or an idol. This tension informs its culture. The Consecrated Life is focused on giving up all so as to better worship the true God. It translates itself into particular rules (ordos) that bring about a specific culture. These specific orders need to be appreciated and taken up if Catholics want to be serious about a truly living culture.

Narratives of decline are very popular in the West, and while they can help us better understand our current situation, a temptation to lose the virtue of hope arises. Many people question whether a genuine Christian culture exists, seeing nothing but a culture of death. Some social commentators see themselves as writing the obituary of a Christian West. If you find yourself caught in such a condition, it would be helpful to read an early-twentieth century French poet, Charles Péguy.

For Péguy, hope was the most precious of all God’s gifts. In his famous poem The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, Péguy depicts hope as a little child between her two older sisters, faith and charity. Hope is small and vulnerable, needing protection. God delights the most in such a little child.

Péguy died at the beginning of World War I. This devastating war seemed to crush all hope, at least according to secular humanism’s understanding of it. Péguy intuited that Christian hope, more than ever, needed to be protected. A century later, Benedict turned our attention, once again, to Christian hope. He wrote an encyclical on it, but he also integrated that theme into many of his addresses. Benedict knew that Christian hope stems from the Resurrection and the radical decision to give one’s all to belong to the Lord. His General Audiences focused on the lives of great saints, inspiring people to set out on the same path to sanctity, particularly as lived in the Consecrated Life. For our purposes, the Consecrated Life is Péguy’s little child that needs to be protected at all costs, for the seed from which a genuine Christian culture will grow.

In Spe Salve, Pope Benedict wrote, “The one who has hope lives differently; the one who has hope has been granted the gift of new life” (§2). This new life is the gift of God. It is a participation in His Communion, the source of all life. But this does not arise automatically. It must be sought for. Not in order to create a new culture but in order to find God and rest in Him. I encourage you to read the Pope Emeritus’ address to have a deeper appreciation for the monks’ desire for God and the beautiful way of life that sprang from it. After that, watch Into Great Silence and just look at the silent hope and joy on each monk’s face. They see the hope that remains in God.