Sunday, November 1, 2009

Vision Quest

Communion of Saints

“Because the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us… Surely everyone who entertains this hope must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.” (I John 3:1-3)

“This great company of witnesses spurs us on to victory, to share their prize of everlasting glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Preface of Holy Men and Women I)

“Their glory fills us with joy, and their communion with us in your Church gives us inspiration and strength as we hasten on our pilgrimage of faith, eager to meet them.” (Preface of All Saints)

Again this morning I read a newspaper feature story on a good, hardworking, local priest, who when asked the usual, and I think generally well intentioned, question, “Father, if you are so happy why aren’t there more men ‘joining’ the priesthood?” responded with the answer which quickly comes to people’s lips here in the region and perhaps elsewhere, I don’t know, “I suppose they are put off by the clergy abuse scandal up north…”

Oddly enough, I don’t think priests or bishops who respond this way actually believe what they are saying; they invariably add that in any case such predators are the exception to the rule. In other words, their own experience of the priesthood is not tainted; it is of a body of good, generous and hardworking men. So why do they excuse young men from responding to the call by claiming they are put off by the exceptions to the rule? Why don’t they get to the heart of the matter? Why don’t they say that it is a crisis of faith and values generally in the Church today?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to talk about an erosion of our Catholic base, of our Catholic family culture? It would, I suppose, but perhaps one observation is as true as the other. Perhaps it might be even more accurate to say that people don’t commit themselves for life in any sense whether it be to priesthood, religious life or the sacrament a matrimony, because we have lost our saints, or our awareness of them, and pretend to go through life without aspiring to too much of anything. Oh that All Saints Day and its wonderful message might break through the cloud cover!

Other than athletics and modeling, it would be hard to say what young people aspire to anymore these days. That is terribly unfair, I know, but not altogether untrue. Who in our society aspires to something beyond that moment of glory which is as passing as the beauty of the flowers of the field? What is the real tragedy of the so-called “soccer mom” existence? It’s as fleeting as the torn ligament which won’t heal, as tenuous as that tendon which accidently got cut on some broken glass.

If only it were as easy as the one lady who wrote a book on how to raise “geeky” children! In family and outside, straight across the board, I find myself still marveling at a young man now twenty years ago objecting in my presence to a certain group of people’s claims to national sovereignty saying, among other things or to conclude his argument, “… and they don’t even have any saints!” Most folks younger than me and even some older have, by a sad turn of fate, been deprived of their saints. It’s true! Although I couldn’t expect a regular newspaper reporter to understand, it might be better to answer his or her question about “…why there aren’t more men ‘joining’ the priesthood?” by saying that our Catholic society has been deprived of its saints.

If it is your ideal to become a top athlete or a top model or invent an internet scheme which will make you a billionaire before you’re 25, where after you and your beautiful/handsome partner/escort will put the interest you can’t spend fast enough into a foundation for doing something worthwhile, what is enduring? The grass withers and the flower fades. Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth. Too many people will put you off, saying that with no problem you can get together a bunch of folk to clean up a beach or to build houses during a two week vacation, but don’t expect a real and unqualified life commitment like “you are a priest forever in the order of Melchisedek” or “until death do us part”. If we had our saints or had had them as children, we’d be dreaming about all sorts of things which go beyond the expiry date on a liposuction or cartilage repairs. We would be ready to give our neighbor more than our leftovers, because we would know the God Who made us and saved us for His own out of love. The two great commandments would be an integral part of our lives also thanks to the witness of the saints.

The tragedies within the life of the Church and its leadership cannot be accepted indifferently as possible options or other paths. There is a right and a wrong. Even a religious can choose wrongly. This is the only way I can explain a tired, old Sinsinawa Dominican sister who leads girls and women to their abortions. She’s been deprived of her saints and has no idea of what life is about except expediency. “Today we keep the festival of your holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother. Around your throne the saints, our brothers and sisters, sing your praise for ever.” This sad woman with an Irish family name is all alone in the world and expects nothing beyond her next pay check. Without saints, she is without God in the world; she is without life and hope. We pray for the Lord’s mercy and her change of heart.

Why do people continue to insist on calling things “theologies” with no more than a social matrix? They are not theologies at all. They are the babblings of those tragically orphaned of their saintly examples, tragic figures indeed in some way or another most certainly deprived of the fantasy and imagination which a vibrant exchange with “this great company of witnesses (which) spurs us on to victory…” would have given them.

Some people get nervous about St. Paul’s words to the Colossians and our call, just as St. Paul understood his own ministry, as being also one to suffer and thus to make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body the Church. We look to our brothers and sisters around the Throne of God and find in them not only an option but the very sense of our being. “Father, if you are so happy why aren’t there more men ‘joining’ the priesthood?” Maybe because it makes no sense to talk about a Church militant, if you are not aware to the depths of your being that the Church also suffers in Purgatory and rejoices in glory before the Throne of God, the Communion of Saints.

“Their glory fills us with joy, and their communion with us in your Church gives us inspiration and strength as we hasten on our pilgrimage of faith, eager to meet them.” (Preface of All Saints)

Let me say it quite simply! We’re not just talking about crowding our lives with illustrative figures or heroes. The object of the exercise is to bind us with them more closely to Christ. The witness of the saints is the verification of the teaching of the Tradition; it is the proper context for explaining the Scriptures. Our companions on the road to Emmaus, who might help light that fire within our hearts and help us to recognize Him in the Breaking of the Bread are those named and un-named whose feast we celebrate today.

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