Should Christians build for the Future?

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First published at All Along the Watchtower.

My thoughts here are of genuine conversation, there will be little history and little theology. I hope the thought I share will foster a conversation about Christianity going forward in our Western Culture and hopefully the prosperity of both.

My family on my wife’s side is split between Catholics and Confessional Lutherans. During the Christmas season, I am surrounded by as many Lutherans as Catholics, and of course, because we’re all practicing our particular forms of Christianity, we discuss topics of the Church at the dinner table. The particular topic between my wife’s cousin and myself is how Christians, in light of the rise of the supremacy of the secular West, should look more to their commonalities than their differences. I told my relative, “I have a great many conversations with a great many different Christians and as far as I can see at this moment and during our lifetime there will be theological disagreements. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate being Christian and come together in the face of the rising cynicism and unbelief that dominates our dying culture.”

One of the assertions my relative made was that Christianity is dying because we’re not building new Churches–especially in Europe. Now, there are Europeans who inhabit this blog, so I wonder how much weight of truth is there to my relative’s assertion. He believes that for centuries people have walked past what are now nothing more than old buildings and now they have naturally grown an apathy to something that has always been there. In many ways, humans respond this way to other particular in the world; for example, the scenery becomes nothing more than a background of where we live, and often we stop looking at beauty for what it is because we get use to it. I’ve lived all my life in the Midwest of the United States, which is basically the grain belt of the country, so it is very flat. I’ve always dreamed of living by the sea and/or the mountains. One summer during college, my college girlfriend visited my own, she wasn’t from around the area, and when she was there, she experienced a good Midwestern thunderstorm. She kept going on and on about how wondrous and magnificent was the lighting show on display on the prairie. She said that were she from it was too mountain-ness to see a lightning storm, and I was a bit shocked how I have seemed to have taken for granted such a spectacle.

I think there is wisdom to what my relative has surmised in Western Culture. I am reminded of the Ken Follet book “Pillars of the Earth.” The story centered around the building of a great Cathedral and the generations of lives it took to build such a magnificent building, it became an affair of the family and generations. When our church decided to build on to our existing Parish, the parish, of course, had a meeting about the finances. During the meeting, a woman stood up and declared from some sort of statistics that the parish membership was in decline, and we should just build a cost-effective building. I stood up and rejected her thoughts on the matter. I reminded her that money is temporal and that our goal was not to hoard it. I even invoked the reasoning of Kevin Costner, “If you build it, they will come.” A faith that builds is an active faith, a faith that preserves, often times burns slowly like a candle and eventually time will extinguish it.

I believe these are the feelings of my relative in the relationship of people of Western Culture to their churches—and perhaps there is some truth to it. I have a particular devotion to Pope St. John Paul II, and I am reminded of the Soviets purposely building a city called Nowa Huta in Poland for steel manufacturing which included no church “a first in the millennium long history of Poland.”[1] In fact, as Pope John Paul II biographer George Weigel writes, “Over the next four decades the exhaust from Nowa Huta’s steel mills would, literally, eat away at the fabric of Krakow.”[2]

The Ark Church would be consecrated by the future Pope John Paul II in May of 1977 in Nowa Huta after receiving a permit to finally build a church in 1967. Weigel articulates, “The Ark Church is a striking architectural metaphor: the people of the Church, gathered in a boat reminiscent of Noah’s ark and the fishing craft sailed by the apostles on the Sea of Galilee, are carried through the tempests of history.”[3]

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There’s another beautiful church built in the area THE CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF CZĘSTOCHOWA. The construction of this particular church began in 1984 and it’s architecture blends both modern and classic themes in a sanctuary that reminds the faithful of both the sacred and the profane. [4]

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It’s interesting how slow secularism has crept into Poland after an onslaught of both Nazism and Soviet powers. Perhaps, the blood of martyrs seeded the ground of Poland, but the newly seeded ground did have to rebuild either physical churches or their spiritualism. After all, arguably the most devout diocese in Europe resides in Poland—Tarnow.[5]

[1] George Weigel, City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2015), 220.

[2] Ibid, 12.

[3] Ibid, 221-222.

[4] http://www.szklanedomy.cystersi.pl/our-lady-of-czestochowa-parish-krakow-poland/

[5] http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/4901/in_vibrantly_catholic_poland_growing_secularism_produces_new_challenges.aspx

Living Water

First Published at All Along the Watchtower.

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Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron calls this particular event of the Samaritan woman at the well in the Gospel of John a master’s course in Evangelization. What is the good Bishop getting at when making such an assertion? Let’s examine the facts: the woman goes to the well at high noon, Jesus is already present at the well, Jesus initiates a conversation, the conversation is initiated without condemnation, Jesus offers to quench her thirst of the affliction of her soul by revealing to the woman what he knows about her.

Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. ¶ The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10 ¶ Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water?[1]

As one notices by the woman and Jesus’ conversational exchange is that the woman believes Jesus to be talking about literal water, but this, of course, is not what Jesus is talking about to her.  So, Jesus further explains to her the meaning of his words:

13 Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 ¶ but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 ¶ The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

Scholars and Theologians have determined that this woman going to the well during this period of the day would mark her undoubtedly as an outcast. Jesus, himself, as the event begins to unfold eventually brings forth the condition of the woman and why she looks to avoid social interaction by drawing water from the well during the extreme heat of the Middle Eastern day.

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 ¶ for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20[2]

It’s important to notice here that before Jesus attempts to correct her or acknowledge her sins, Jesus offers her an invitation to obtain a living spring within herself. Of course, as Christians, we must refrain from thinking that this living spring in which Jesus speaks of doesn’t mean to just live by the rules of the Christian God and be subject to him in fear of damnation, but rather the desire want to praise him and glorify him–for our own benefit– by doing good works in the world.

For example, just this last Sunday prior to hearing this Gospel reading at Mass, I was walking downtown nearby my diocese’s Cathedral and at a distance, I saw a homeless man. As I used this story to explain to my PSR students, I will certainly explain to any reader as I explained to them, that I did something that was not in my personality to do by approaching the man. I asked him his story and what was going on with his life. I won’t go into the detail of what said exactly and what I did to aid him, but I can tell you certainly that after many months of digging the well of my own prayer life—in the words of St. Teresa of Avila—I was drinking living water. I truly felt the presence of Christ with me because he was acting through me. I finally understood what St. Paul meant when he said, “20 ¶ I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.[3]

After this encounter, I walked the rest of the way to the church and entered the Cathedral. When I arrived at the pew and knelt before God, I took off my glasses, put my hands over my face to hold back tears as my thoughts were lifted up toward God. All I can say is how strange and beautiful the paradox to be both Jesus and meet him at the well. After retelling the event to my PSR students, I explained to them that they can be Jesus at the well and stir forth springs of living water in their classmates, teachers, and parents. I told them that if they are to come across another kid at their school is may not be the “cool” kid go and eat lunch and play with them. If they are the one being bullied at school and the bully demands their pencil offer a piece of paper as well.

The students were perplexed by the last option, so I explained through the gifts of the Holy Spirit we can stir forth our neighbors living water so that they might believe in Jesus even the worst of situations. I offered them the idea that if a robber demanded my cell phone, I would freely give them the phone and more. At this point, a young lady jerked back and said, “Why would you just give in?” I told her “If I give them the phone freely then they are not stealing, and therefore, not a robber.”

I reminded them that at the heart of breaking forth a living spring is one of the core ideas of the Sermon on the Mount:

39 ¶ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 5:39–42). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Jn 4:7–11). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

[2] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Jn 4:13–20). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

[3] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Ga 2:20). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Why Does Sebastian Drink? Brideshead Revisited and Understanding God’s Grace.

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A favorite post of mine.

Brideshead Revisited was written by Evelyn Waugh, and it is an exceptionally good book, so much so that now I feel simply lost without it.  The book has been great to reflect on the importance of my Catholic faith and morality in a world that seems quite averse to it; I am even prolonging finishing the television series, as I am having a hard time letting go of this family that I’ve come to develop a relationship with over the course of time. I’m always reading books, although now all other fiction titles seem to lack in substance. It’s because the dignity of humanity is one of the great themes of Brideshead Revisited, and of course, it’s something missing in our society today and in many of the arts.

A reader of this blog asked me one time to comment on a post of his on the book on “Why does Sebastian drink?” I felt that I needed to share my thoughts that I shared with him because it deals with many of themes of my most recent posts on this blog such as sin, mercy, contrition, grace, and forgiveness. Sebastian’s drinking could most certainly have been to seek instant gratification of every moment, he may even say something of this nature early on, but what I believe is what drives Sebastian’s thirst is that he doesn’t believe he deserves the Grace given to him freely by God, and it eats away at him inside.

Waugh never clearly states if there is any reason for Sebastian drinking; however, I think the reason may have several layers of depth. Of course, in the novel, there is the connection of The Church and the state of Grace. Sebastian, for the most part, wishes to reject his mother throughout the entirety of the novel, which I believe he views her subconsciously as a replacement for his animosity toward God. In the last half of the book in a conversation between Charles and Cordelia, Sebastian’s youngest sister, the sentiment is expressed by Cordelia when she describes Charles’ feelings toward her mother:

“I never really knew your mother,” I said.

“You didn’t like her. I sometimes think when people wanted to hate God they hated mummy.”

What do you mean by that, Cordelia?”

“Well, you see, she was saintly, but she wasn’t a saint. No one could really hate a saint, could they? They really can’t hate God either. When they want to hate him and his saints they to find something like themselves and pretend it’s God and hate that. I suppose you think that’s all bosh.” ( p. 254-55 Bay Books 2012)

Sebastian believes his happiness is found disconnected from a Catholic world, which has all but revealed God to him. God is very much a part of Brideshead, and Sebastian seeks to find an Island, an oasis, from it. The relationship between Charles and Sebastian takes off into a joyous experience at first, and Sebastian needing his oasis seeks to keep Charles away from any and all sort of connection to this Catholic world.

I remember after the jail incident, Charles speaks about Sebastian believing his happiness to be tied to this separation from Brideshead, and in effect God. However, as Charles emphasizes Sebastian’s need for the disconnect, Sebastian begins to reject even Charles as Charles becomes friendly with his family and closer to Grace. 

Thomas Merton perhaps speaks of a different layer in his book No man is an Island. Merton says, “Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy. Those who do not want mercy never seek it. It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need of forgiveness. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.”

Sebastian always has had a degree of faith no matter how much he tried to reject it. When Charles challenges him about his faith, Sebastian cannot outright reject his faith. Sebastian says “Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.” There is something deeply rooted here, like Grace, that compels him to believe it. Perhaps, Sebastian rejecting the world through drinking is also a method for Grace to enter into this young man of wealth to fully accept the Grace of God. As a society, the humanist tells us, and tries to conform God, that moral actions must relieve suffering. However, these are not the same rules for God. (see: The Book of Job) If God truly relieved the worldly suffering of Sebastian would Grace enter his heart among the brothers later?

It wouldn’t appear so; this is why it is so vital that we understand that the state of souls do matter , even more so than our earthly state.
via Brideshead Revisited: Understanding God’s Grace. – The Latin Community