This spring, when the weather turned nice, I went outside to “exult in the day the Lord had made.” As I searched for words to express my delight, I tried to remember some of the best spring poems I knew. My Dominican brothers will probably not be surprised that I thought of an ode by Horace, nor that I started reciting it to myself: Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis arboribusque comae. “The snows have fled, the grass returns to the fields, and the leaves to the trees.” I wondered how the rest of it went, and remembered that a noted scholar had called this ode, celebrating the arrival of spring, “the most beautiful poem in ancient literature.” Back inside, I looked it up and saw, to my surprise, that its celebration of spring lasts only about six lines. After that, we are introduced to the main theme:
Consciously or unconsciously, many of us say to ourselves, “I don’t want to be a saint. I just want to sneak into Heaven.” But asking “Do I have to do this to get to heaven?” is like the student who asks, “Is this going to be on the test?” Sometimes we just want to put in the minimum amount of effort so that we don’t fail, which in this case means going to hell. We say that we don’t presume to think that we could be saints because we think sanctity is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, and we are afraid of the demands that sanctity would make on us. So instead of striving for excellence, for perfection, we are willing to settle for mediocrity.
The problem with this attitude is that God wants us to be saints: ”You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48).
Pope St. Gregory the Great was renowned for being so humble that he would not allow anyone to compliment him. On one occasion, he chided a correspondent for his fulsome praise: “When in writing to me you match the name to the thing and put forth resounding statements and rhetorical touches in my regard, surely, dearest brother, you are calling the monkey a lion, which we are seen to do when we call mangy kittens leopards or tigers.”
Last year a Greek food company produced a series of creative and wildly popular ads that juxtaposed modern young people doing what modern young people do—cohabiting, dressing immodestly, and being a stay-at-home dad—with a wizened old Greek grandmother (Yiayia) laying down the law in a brief but forceful way. (My favorite line: “Are you two married? But you living together, eh? You are going to hell!”)
In the wake of the Obama mandate on contraception, a chorus of Catholic bloggers produced a distinctly Yiayia-like solution to the widespread problem of Catholics flouting Church teaching on a host of moral issues: tell them they are going to hell.
Listening to the National Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of The Sea—to use an odd but apt comparison—is like hearing an Impressionist painting. Composer Frank Bridge surveys in sound the motion, the interplay of light and darkness, and the rich colors of the ocean in a way reminiscent of a landscape by Monet, Renoir, or even Cézanne. The varying timbre of each of the suite’s four movements evokes a different aspect of the sea’s mighty character. Admittedly, Bridge is one of the lesser-known English composers, but The Sea is proof enough that he is worthy to be numbered among his more famous contemporaries, such as Ralph Vaughn Williams, Edward Elgar, and Gustav Holst.
A few years back, I helped to clean out my grandmother’s basement after a flood. For years, the family had been dreading the prospect of sifting through her basement’s many “hidden treasures,” but now, in one providential stroke, that task had been replaced by the far less painstaking one of filling two massive dumpsters. The things we unearthed were truly unbelievable in both volume and absurdity:
To be happy one must be fully human. There is no shortcut. We cannot simply buy happiness. No one really believes the commercials that promise happiness through the latest slick commodity. Instead, happiness depends upon what we are. Since we are human beings, we can only be happy as humans, living in a way that is perfective of our human nature. In short, we must be virtuous.
The older one gets the more one is prone to reflect on the current affairs of one’s life, comparing them with those of one’s youth. Yet, what exactly is adulthood? There seems to be no strict definition, and though age is usually an indication, it is not a hard and fast rule universally accepted. In general, we usually recognize adults as more capable of comprehending the profound experiences of life, those which impact us deeply, such as a spiritual conversion, discovering a vocation, finding a soulmate, or having a first child. These sorts of occasions can force us to acknowledge that some significant shift has occurred: we are no longer the same person we once were; some greater truth has been discovered which calls for a change in mindset and lifestyle. Sometimes that change can occur so deeply or drastically that, upon reflection, it can feel as though one has become a new person entirely, and thinking back on the way things used to be can feel surreal, like remembering someone else’s life. Marvelously, when through these changes we grow in sanctity and holiness, in our relationship with Jesus and commitment to the Church, we can attribute these changes to gifts of grace.
Everyone knows that Easter is about the Resurrection: although at one time dead, Christ is now alive. Anyone who has lived in Western society at some point during the last two thousand years could probably affirm this. Most practicing Christians could go even further, saying with St. Paul that Christ’s resurrected life means life for us who believe in his name (see, for example, 2 Corinthians 5). Since the earliest days of Christianity, however, saints, mystics, and ordinary folk have struggled to internalize the meaning of this mystery. What does it mean to live not for ourselves, as St. Paul says, “but for him who died and was raised”?
A week ago Cardinal George Pell publicly debated atheist celebrity Richard Dawkins on the subject of God’s existence. When Mr. Dawkins was asked about the cause of the universe, and how something could come from nothing, he replied that while his own theory cannot sufficiently answer this question, any answer would be better than something as complex as God. “Nothing is very, very, simple,” Dawkins says, “but God as a creative cause is very complex.”