Saturday, July 12, 2003

Signs of the Times, II

This post is in response to the very interesting series of comments by Steven and Tom to my first "Signs of the Times" entry. Their comments show, I think, the tension all of us are subject to in trying to balance the spiritual and the corporeal realities of our lives. They also, incidentally, show the difference between the Carmelite and the Dominican spiritualities that was very evident and interesting. Each of these gentlemen is being quite true to his respective third order vocation.

First, I would like to make a clarification. When I used the term "current events" I was not saying we should try to keep up with every news story that comes across the wire. The fact that we are in an age of information overload is, itself, a "sign of the times." (Just look at nearly anyone today over the age of 10, living with headphones almost permanently grafted in place, jiggling and jumping to some silent, unimaginable tune, lost in an electronically imposed and controlled isolation; graphic evidence of the growing idolatry of self.)

What I was referring to by the term "current events" was more trends, signposts, in society today; the recent Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v Texas being one example. I agree with Steven that it is not possible, nor desirable, to keep up with every story that comes across the wire, but there are things that, as lay Catholics, we have an obligation to be informed about and, if nothing else, pray about. I would say, contrary to what Steven seems to be saying, that the state of our culture and our spiritual welfare are very closely linked. (I wonder, Steven, if you meant to be as despairing as you sounded in your comments?)

I disagree with the statement that Steven made that "reflection on eternal things is by far the better path" if the implication is that our earthly existence is evil and our spiritual existence is good. I believe we are called to direct our earthly existence in accordance with God's purpose; we are to achieve our ultimate destiny of eternally sharing in God's life in heaven. But we must accomplish that goal here on earth trying to bring as many others with us as possible. Writing off the things of the earth, and concentrating only on our own holiness, is not, I believe, what we are put on earth to do.

I would like to offer here, in support of my contention the definition of vocation found in the latest edition of the Catechism. It reads:

Vocation-The calling or destiny we have in this life and hereafter. God has created the human person to love and serve him; the fulfillment of this vocation is eternal happiness. Christ calls the faithful to the perfection of holiness. The vocation of the laity consists in seeking the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will. Priestly and religious vocations are dedicated to the service of the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation."

We are to seek to live holy lives, do individual acts of charity where we can, but also maintain an active engagement with our culture, trying to direct temporal affairs according to God’s will. Again, this doesn't mean keeping up with every news story, but I think it means keeping up with the trends. I also do not believe that the "temporal affairs" referred to here means only our personal duties and responsibilities.

Tom, I believe, is correct in his comments about such things as the popularity of the Matrix movies (a denial of the uniqueness of each human person and his creation in the image of God) and the state of mainline/oldline Protestantism today. If we do not know the state of the society we live in, we will have no idea what or how to preach the Good News.

The SCOTUS decision in Lawrence v Texas is a sign we should all be familiar with and do whatever we can to oppose. I will quote from an article by David Frum in the latest National Review concerning the breakdown of the family in Canada that is the result of the similar decisions in their courts:

"Here's what didn't happen when the Canadian government announced that it would comply with orders of a high (but not supreme) court and write gay marriage into the law of the land. There were no protests from the country's religious leaders: only mild expressions of concern."

Between 1995 and 2001 the number of cohabiting couples in Canada rose by 20%; at the same time the number of married couples rose just 3%. According to Frum "Some 500,000 Canadian children now live in cohabiting households." Frum also says:

"The spread of cohabitation seems to have taught Canadians to think about family life in new ways. They are increasingly willing to think of family as a revolving-door arrangement (the average cohabitation lasts only five years), in which persons move in and out of the lives of their own and other people's children."

This all is coming about, as mentioned above, with no comment or apparent involvement from Canadian religious leaders. If we, as committed Catholics, do not do whatever we can to oppose such trends, however feeble our efforts, the US will become like Canada and Scandinavia and other parts of Europe, lost in sin and separated from God. Our efforts may indeed be feeble and we may never see whether they succeed or fail, but we are called to make them. Mother Theresa said the God does not ask us to be successful, only to be faithful.

I close with a quote from Christopher Dawson on the dangers of separating religion and culture:

"But this does not mean that religion and culture are two separate worlds with no relation to each other. The assumption of such a separation has been the great error of the Western mind during the last two centuries. First we have divided human life into two parts - the life of the individual and the life of the state - and have confined religion entirely to the former. This error was typical of bourgeois liberalism and nowhere has it been more prevalent that in the English speaking countries. But now men have gone further and reunited the divided world under the reign of impersonal material forces, so that the individual counts for nothing and religion is viewed as an illusion of the individual consciousness or a perversion of the individual craving for satisfaction."

(By the way, Tom, the SFO rule, which goes back to 1978, does not preclude going to movies or being involved in the culture. It does advocate a life of simplicity, but SFO's go "from the gospel to life, and from life to the gospel." We are to faithfully fulfill our duties proper to our circumstances of life. I know of nothing in the rule that limits SFO's to specific activities and I’m sorry there was a misunderstanding. But then, the Spirit moves where He will.)

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