Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On cliches and commonalities

For six years of my life I supposed that I would join a celibate order of priests in an ancient faith, and thereby find a niche that was, like me, rare, deep, mystical, and heroic.

When that house of cards began to falter, I looked instead to the monastery, which lacked the priesthood's offer of sacramental powers and responsibilities, but for this was rarer still, and perhaps better suited to my refined (albeit still flawed) self-understanding. I could have what my heart longed for: the company of friends and brothers, a solid life purpose, and external structures to buttress up my weaknesses.

There is a certain irony here. In the very path of studying for priesthood and flirting for the monastery, I learned to appreciate the rarity, depth, mysticism, and heroism of the domestic church, of being a family man, more than ever before.

It was not simply a case of the grass being greener, because for me the grass seemed perfectly green everywhere (although the diocesan priest's lawn perhaps needs the most expert care). But that is exactly it. Up until recently in my life I had an unfair picture of the family's grass as being quite dry and uninteresting (or perhaps the false green of astroturf). Yet the last few years have seen a total reversal in me.

Here is an insight I learned in the seminary:

It's true, there is a certain rareness in finding one's vocation in the celibate orders of Catholic ecclesial life. Just look at the numbers. No one will accuse a young priest or a religious of being unoriginal.

However, the rarity of marriage has a twofold edge. First, while marriages are a "dime-a-dozen", Catholic marriages that involve prayer and that follow the teaching of the Church are an absolute anomaly.

But second (and perhaps more importantly), each marriage is a true one-of-a-kind vocation. Lots of people get married. No one else will marry *this* woman. No one else will be her knight. No one else will be for her what I may be called to be.


To an extent, I have learned that the constant evasion of cliches and commonalities is itself a giant cliche. While the masters of irony lampoon stupid pet names, I lavish them on my love without any irony at all. My little flower. My sweetheart. My dove.

And that is a large part of my critique against what calls itself "counter-culture". Not that they are overly rebellious (with all of the typical "shocking" accoutrements), but that they are not rebellious enough. Total individualism is not individualistic enough. The shared (nearly slavish) fear of convention takes the shape of an unwittingly lock-step group-think. The irony is that, self-amputated from tradition, the victims of this zeitgeist lack the reserves of human thought buried deep in history, by which they might have actually learned how to think for themselves.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

In search again for the archimedian point.

Life does not typically rest still long enough for me to make much progress in my search for truth. The search for a means to reliably pay the bills imposes itself with irritating urgency. I'm happy to report that my urge to write is slowly creeping back to me now, this time equipped with a new arsenal of experience, and yet with the same drive as ever.

When I mention the "search for truth," I am not referring to a personal existential quest or to a religious unknown. My guiding star will always, with the grace of God, be the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Yet having such a star does not excuse me from the exercise of walking long paths (with legs prone to stumble), nor of navigating for my peers when the skies are murky with pollution.

When I mention the "search for truth," I search rather for bridge between my skeptical generation and the faith which has brought me my deepest joys.

Yet for years my intellectual efforts have been like prying open a stubborn door. I can peek through the crack; I catch glimpses of what appears beyond; and I feel that at any moment the latches will snap and the door will burst wide open. Yet it always snaps shut, and I need to find another corner to pry.

What timeless dialectic shoots through every contemporary squabble with Christianity? What faults betray the fortress's strength? Where is the road by which belief's fiercest opponents may feel invited to walk, though it promises to confound them? What words can lead the Way without the dead weight of habitual cultural associations?

Where do I begin?

"Understanding Unbelief"- A sympathetic primer on the fundaments and structure of common contemporary irreligion.

"Everything Old is New Again" - The case for the revival of timeless human insights amid contemporary culture.

"Fault Lines on Sex" - A historical approach delineating the contrary, and overlapping foundations of contemporary schools of thought concerning sex.

"Social Conservatives' Shame" - Toward a reformed social conservativism.

"The Inner Life of Memes" - Toward a model for understanding competing belief structures.

Monday, January 04, 2010

So many stars to follow.

Yesterday was the feast of the Epiphany. In the Gospel, the magi tell the king that a star has heralded the birth of the Messiah.

The priest, in his homily, pointed out that we have so many stars and so many lights around us. How can we find the one that beckons us toward our royal inheritance?

As he said this, my attention was drawn to the scenery of the church. The tree was lit up with lights. There were, of course, the candle lights, the overhead lights, and so on. It all gave a grand illustration of Father's homily.

Faith must be the first light, of course, but does that relegate all other stars to charlatans and swindlers? I think that the answer to this question is going to be somewhat different between Catholic and Evangelical traditions.

The sacramentality of the Catholic faith is about being surrounded with stars, stars that, far from pointing away from the Star, are constantly pointing towards it. The little stars remain with us sometimes when the big Star becomes obscured, and they lead us back, because they serve that greater Star. The fact that they are not the One Star does not detract from their own beauty.

The magi probably did not discern the heraldic star simply by its brightness, as is often shown in art in which it dominates the heavens. They probably, rather, used the machinations of astrology, which, without other stars to guide them, would have been powerless.

So the question of "what lights in your life are you following?" is not simply an exhortation to saving faith--though faith discerns best which lights to follow. For there are tangible stars in our lives that point the way. We mustn't be distracted by the odd meteorite or airplane. We mustn't assume that the sky isn't worth attention unless it has fireworks or other man-made delights.

Our great loves can be lights to follow. Sure, they are God's creatures, and struggle, like I do, under the effects of sin. But even so, their created brilliance is God's handiwork.

On a recent Muse album, a phrase that pops up from time to time is "guiding lightning strike". Lightning originates from the ground and strikes the heavens. So perhaps a guiding lightning strike is exactly such a good light to follow on my way to the heraldic star. I think I've seen mine. The pattern is permanently written onto my retinas. I think I'll follow her.