At the reception of a Catholic wedding I lately attended, a groomsman made his way over to the table where a priest and I were sitting. After enthusiastically shaking our hands, he turned to the priest and said, “Father, the service was so beautiful, it really made me want to believe.” Without so much as a by-your-leave, he turned and began pumping the arms of still further guests. Now, one might be tempted to dismiss this comment as nothing more than a kind remark made by a gentleman who was, in all probability, in his cups. Yet he said it with enough sincerity and conviction (and lucidity, for that matter) that his words gave me pause.
Give a boy a patch of back yard to play in, and you’ll soon have some interesting critters on the kitchen table. Give him a few empty lots with a fence that fronts the Australian Outback, and there’s no telling what he’ll find. For twelve-year-old Roy Spencer, the day could have brought home a bird’s nest, a small reptile, or an old license plate, but his treasure that day was a hefty, shiny, black rock. The scene was predictable—mom looks delighted (but firmly commands it not to be left in the kitchen), later dad offers a half-hearted compliment after regarding the rock with the same feigned interest that he once showed to the dozens of other collectables that he’s tripped over this month. And you’ve guessed the ending: Roy’s clunky crystal transitions from imaginary treasure, to magical space shard, to windowsill decoration, to paperweight, to doorstop within two weeks—just another stubborn memento of a carefree summer vacation by the time school starts up again.
Having grown up one mile away from the Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament in Farmington Hills, Michigan, I would love to say that I made numerous trips to pray in the monastery chapel. Unfortunately, I cannot make such a claim. And while I wish I had visited more often, I suppose an important truth can be grasped from my lack of contact with the Dominican nuns. Ultimately the life of a cloistered religious is a hidden witness and one that cultivates great faith well outside their walls.
“Man, are you guys Jedis or what?” That’s what a surprised inner-city schoolboy said when he first encountered some of my fellow Dominican friars. And the question is not completely without basis. Our white habits and dark leather belts do give us an appearance similar to the legendary guardians of peace and justice in the Star Wars galaxy. We carry rosaries instead of lightsabers, but we are entrusted, like the Jedi Knights, with the task of safeguarding the truth. Yet we differ from the Jedi—as does any Christian—on several points.
A certain misconception can, I think, creep into our minds around Easter time. In this glorious season, with alleluias abounding, we rejoice that the ancient record of our sinfulness has been wiped clean, that the prison-bars of death have been broken, and that Christ, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity. In short, life is good, and it is life that has been restored to us by him who submitted himself to death but could not be bound by it. He died an earthly death that we might be spared from a spiritual one. He bore the weight of our sins to free us from them. He suffered so that we don’t have to. Or did he?
This month marks the 20th anniversary of one of the great American movies, The Sandlot. Formative for a generation of children, this movie was one of many movies in the early 90′s that focused on the childhood love of sports and the heartwarming story of an underdog rising to success. The Sandlot has given rise to iconic quotes such as, “You’re killing me Smalls!” and “FOR-EV-ER” as well as a comprehensive list of acceptable nominal references to George Herbert “Babe” Ruth: “The Sultan of Swat, The King of Crash, The Colossus of Clout, The Great Bambino!”
Twice a year, every year, Christians get to multiply one day into eight. For the Church, the Nativity of Christ is so important that it demands not only a Feast day on December 25th, but also an Octave spanning the eight days to January 1st. The feast continues for an entire season, culminating with the Baptism of the Lord. Medievals, putting today’s partiers to shame, kept the festivities going until the beginning of February.
The saints are the hermeneuts of the Scriptures. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of this in Verbum Domini: ”The interpretation of Sacred Scripture would remain incomplete were it not to include listening to those who have truly lived the word of God: namely, the saints” (VD 48).
Commands don’t get much mileage today. People want affirmation, not admonition. All it takes is one thou-shalt-not (or, for that matter, one thou-shalt) and listeners begin to shut down. Maybe it’s relativism, or secularism, or individualism; maybe it’s all of them, or none of them; but whatever it is, most people don’t like being told what to do.
And yet, there’s one imperative that still attracts universal acceptance: be authentic.
The content of the Gospel is simple, but it is difficult to express simply. Consider the rare eloquence of a crucifix, or the unsurpassable summaries of the faith in Scripture: e.g., “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16). Akin to these condensations is a little book by St. Athanasius called On the Incarnation. Before reading the book as an undergraduate, I had never seen the whole account of Christianity so plainly and appealingly set out.