Monday September 16, 2019
4:28 am
Bishop Hying

Step out of the ‘whatever’ culture and into the vast, beautiful, limitless world of Christ

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on July 16, 2017

 

       Last week, I was in Orlando with a delegation from our diocese for the National Convocation of Catholic Leaders, an energizing gathering of thousands of laity, religious, deacons, priests and bishops from the entire United States, brought together to pray, learn, study and talk about implementing the vision of the new evangelization and the call of discipleship, as outlined in Evangelium Gaudium, Pope Francis’ first encyclical in which he lays out his pastoral vision for the Church. I found a great convergence of themes uniting our own work on the diocesan synod with this national conversation.

       A central question facing us as believers, which Bishop Robert Barron articulated well during the convocation, is how to allow the Lord to truly move and stir our hearts that we may experience the joy of the Gospel and share it with others. 

       We can easily feel sated and overwhelmed by the super abundance of stimulation, activity, possessions, noise and stress around us. The pull of social media can make us addicted to our smart phones. The volume of gifts at Christmas can blind us to the special beauty they possess.  I’ve seen little children playing with the boxes and wrapping paper after opening some amazing toy! 

       A life disconnected from the natural world can make our daily experiences feel artificial and antiseptic. The steady bombardment of bad news and nasty politics can leave us numb to the real suffering around us. 

       In short, we can fall victim to the “whatever” culture, where nothing matters very much and we fail to be moved by either great beauty or terrible tragedy. The excesses of modern life can so saturate and de-energize us that we just want to fall asleep. We all know the feeling, like on Thanksgiving afternoon when we have stuffed ourselves with turkey and mashed potatoes, and then drift off on the couch. 

       I think of Peter, James and John falling asleep in Gethsemane during Jesus’ wrenching hour of agony.  When he needed them the most, they were literally unconscious.  A cultural sleepiness can overtake us, as we slip into a comfortable place of security with no great causes, risks, sufferings, joys or failures. Pope Francis talked about the dangers of being a couch potato at World Youth Day last year in Poland.

       One of my favorite quotes comes from Henry David Thoreau, an author, naturalist, philosopher, abolitionist and conscientious objector who lived as a hermit near Walden Pond in rural Massachusetts. 

       “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had never lived.”   He also said, “None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” 

       When we dare to fall more deeply into our Catholic faith, try a different way to pray, go beyond comfort and security to serve others, risk to heal a fractured relationship, ask the Lord to break open our hearts, life will become more beautiful and tragic at the same time. We will see the pathos, splendor and terror of this human existence, all held up by the sheer, inexplicable grace of God.

       I do not want to sleep walk through life! I do not want to lay blithely unconscious near the agonized torment of Jesus. I want to love deeply, be moved to both laughter and tears by beauty and suffering, risk great failure in pursuit of a noble purpose, give my whole existence to Jesus Christ so that I can be used up for the Kingdom of God.  I would rather suffer the wounds, scars, inconveniences and challenges of truly loving other people than stay safely on the sidelines of life where nothing can ever hurt or get at me. 

       Life is too short and precious not to be all in for the glorious reality of the Reign of Heaven.

       The implementation of our diocesan synod is a risk. Will it work? Can anything lasting and positive come of it? We have tried things like this before - what’s different this time? 

       Hope can be a dangerous thing because it raises our expectations for change. Do we need to plan well, create new initiatives and reimagine pastoral methods? Absolutely! No structural change in the world will ultimately matter, however, if we are not individually moving into a deeper love relationship with God and witnessing that mercy and goodness to others. 

       The depths of our passionate response to the Lord’s great gift of life and salvation will be the instrument to share the Good News of Jesus with the world - to step out of the “whatever” culture and step into the vast, beautiful and limitless world of the risen Christ. 

       Could I ask Mr. Thoreau’s permission to rework his quote a little bit? Here goes…

       I went to Jesus Christ to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of his love, to see if I could not learn what he had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had never lived.

 

       + Donald J. Hying

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