In A Crisis of Purpose, We Stop to Consider What God Wills for Us

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker last night in his press conference announcing mandatory closure of non-essential business and a stay-at-home advisory said something that caught my attention. He was musing on the existential oppression being felt by so many people stuck in their homes day after day, unable to work or engage in their usual social or civic activities. He said that for many, their purpose has been stripped away. Without the need to get up every morning, get dressed, commute to work, work hard all day, take the kids to sports or other events, being part of religious organizations, meeting friends–they’ve lost a sense of purpose in their lives. They are rudderless.

It makes me wonder if that’s one of the goods that God will draw out of this evil. Perhaps we had collectively found our purpose in the wrong things. Not bad things. Certainly necessary things. But not the purpose of our being. If my purpose–or to put in a way more familiar to Catholics, my vocation— is in my job or my social life or my volunteer work or anything else, even though they be very good, then I may have missed the mark. My essential purpose, the very fundamental purpose that underlies everything is, as the old Baltimore Catechism told us, to know God, to love Him, to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. My vocation is how I do all that through my state in life, whether in marriage, priesthood, religious life, or the single life. Everything else flows from that.

But how often we get the priority wrong. How often does knowing and loving God take a back seat to my job, my activities, my busy-ness? How often does loving my family fall into second place to the demands of my job? There’s also a trap in thinking that loving my family is all the stuff we shuttle them around to, the things we do. It’s certainly a part of it, but it begins before that in connecting with them. With our kids, in loving them, forming them, forming their faith. With our spouse, in loving them, helping them in their journey toward heaven, in growing in relationship with Christ and being ever more open to the graces of the Holy Spirit.

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The People Behind the Headlines

I have a neighbor who was in the news a couple of months ago and not for a good reason. Now, to be clear, I don’t know this neighbor personally and only became aware of them the day the news trucks were in front of their house a few streets over. But I do walk by their house every morning on my daily constitutionals.

They were in the news because they were a government employee who allegedly succumbed to temptation and stole public funds. It wasn’t a little bit, but it wasn’t a kingly sum either (given they were living in a small ranch-style house like mine). Still, it was allegedly a crime and a breach of the public trust so I’m not offering any excuses.

The reason I bring this up now is because I see they have suddenly sold their house. I don’t know for certain why—perhaps they had been planning a move all along—but the timing certainly suggests that the sale is not unrelated. Mounting a legal defense is expensive and paying restitution would not be cheap. And given that the person charged with the crime is now out of work and probably unable to get a new job at similar pay, finances are probably tight.

Again, I’m not interested in excusing a crime, even white-collar crime, but I am looking beyond the headlines and news stories to remember that there are people behind every story. People make bad decisions every day, maybe not criminal decisions like these ones are alleged to be, but certainly sinful ones. And we suffer the consequences of those actions. Sometimes we suffer the consequences of other people’s actions, like the family of the accused or another neighbor who recently had an out-of-control driver crash through her house and render it uninhabitable, not to mention the young lady in the car who lost her life.

It’s a reminder to me to remember the news is not a reality show, that there are people in pain and hurting all around. These are people who need prayers and care. I regret that I didn’t know these neighbors and don’t know most of my neighbors despite having lived in this house for a decade now. Such isolation is a symptom of our modern life, of the general disconnection among people who live in this area, and of my own introverted tendencies. I need to remedy that.

I need constant reminders that the people in the news or who go viral on social media or who show up in the comment boxes online are all real people with real struggles who are loved by God and for whom Christ died to save. It seems so simple and yet I often need reminders.

How Scott Hahn Changed the Church

We’ve been doing some major tidying up around our house, which led me to tackling the bookshelves in my office. And that led me to pulling down some of my very old sets of Scott Hahn audiotapes. These date back to the 1980s and include his series on Salvation History as well as a set on the Lamb’s Supper and on the Eucharist.

I still remember my 11-hour drives in the early 1990s back and forth to and from school between home and Steubenville, Ohio, listening to these tapes for hour upon hour. Or before that during my daily commute to work or while I was doing chores at home.1 Then eventually I was able to take some classes with Scott as part of my theology major and to interact with him as a student to teacher.

It was Scott who was a major part of my decision to go to Franciscan University to study theology in the first place. I’d been dithering about going back to school, where to go, and what to study. Then I attended a one-day conference at St. Marie’s parish in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Scott was speaking along with his wife, Kimberly, and Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard. (What a lineup!) In the vendor area, Franciscan University had wisely set up a booth and so, inspired by what I’d heard, I picked up an application and the rest is history. Read More and Comment

In Response to IRL, by Amy

It’s an odd feeling to find myself even in partial disagreement with my friend Amy Welborn, and I am now doubting myself, but I will press on nonetheless. Amy is writing this week about technology and today she writes about the Church, evangelization, and technology.

To be sure, there’s much I agree with. Like her, I believe that parish and diocesan websites are vitally important and need to be done better. Parish websites, first and above all, need to make it easy for people to get the information they came for, usually the Mass times, including the holy day of obligation Mass times. They also need to be kept up to date. The worst failing of parish web sites is out of date content and the second worst is the failure to put new content up. I have held that every parish needs someone whose primary job is to go to every meeting possible and otherwise to badger the staff for stuff to put on the web site (and in the bulletin). Read More and Comment

Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too): A Book Review

There are lots of books that outline all the reasons one should give up atheism or other religions and become Catholic and with good reason: Because the path to the Catholic faith has its origins in many places and wends its way through a myriad of obstacles, challenges, and objections.

Brandon Vogt—one of the smartest, engaging, and energetic young Catholics out there—has written a new book, “Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too),” that offers his own take on why one should consider the Catholic faith, a take that is aimed directly at the “nones”, the large and growing percentage of mostly young Americans today who tell pollsters that they have no religious preference, and does so in a way that should appeal to a younger audience, characterizing becoming Catholic as a way of “joining the Rebellion”, rather than giving into a massive institution.

I’ll admit it’s a weird decision. It goes against the grain. It’s radical. It is, in a word, rebellious.

In this concise, yet compelling book, Brandon outlines the reasons why anyone seeking the truth should become Catholic, using arguments both old and new. Brandon is an engineer by training and a philosopher by avocation so it’s no surprise that the book and its arguments are laid out in a logical progression, from whether God exists, to the necessity of religion vs. pure spirituality, to the supremacy of Christianity over other religions, to the Catholic Church. Read More and Comment

A lesson in the sanctuary for Catholic parishes?

This is a fascinating story about a small liberal Congregational church in a Boston suburb that is seeing its congregation age and dwindle and sees the writing on the wall of their coming demise. So they decide to take a chance, sell the church, and open a storefront church with the intent of being more of a community center. It's a story of a lot of conflict, and there are no easy answers or satisfying resolution.

Internal strife had contributed to the congregational collapse that forced the sale of the old church. Sanctuary is too small to survive another exodus. They need to pull together, Paul thinks, and focus on the most important questions: Who are Sanctuary’s neighbors, and what do they need?

Amid all the frustration at church lately, Paul has been thinking about his parents, both gone a long time now.

His dad, the Rev. Norman Roberts, was a tall, balding man with a booming voice who hunted and fished with his congregants and gave a children’s sermon every week. Paul’s mother, Grace, led the women’s groups at church; in another era, she might have been a minister, too. They lived their faith. They were tolerant and loving of those who were not.

Their churches sometimes writhed with conflict. But they believed in church as a way of being in the world.

As a fairly conservative and orthodox Catholic, I think I can see the reasons why they struggle, yet I admit that many Catholic parishes suffer from similar problems and struggles, albeit on a different scale. It's a long read, but well worth it. Some of it may be that the world has changed and people are no longer expected to be churchgoers. Maybe that just means we need to start thinking more like the apostles did 2,000 years ago and leave behind some of our expectations and assumptions.

Gaga Responds

When you’re blogging, you can sometimes forget that the whole world can read what you write, and when you write about a particular person, even if (perhaps especially if) they’re a celebrity, they will sometimes respond.

Case in point: Earlier this week, celebrity entertainer Lady Gaga posted an Instagram photo of her with a Catholic priest and mentioned his beautiful homily last Sunday, intimating that she’d been to Mass and thus is an active Catholic. Becky Roach at wrote an article about the phenomenon of celebrities expressing their faith in public and how we should remember that celebrities can sometimes use the trappings of faith to be trendy or appear down-to-earth, and so on. I’ve often cautioned others about getting too excited about celebrities who appear to agree with your viewpoint, whether it’s religion or politics or tastes in music, because (a) they’re usually just people like you and me with no special expertise and (b) they are fallible and subject to doing others things that can work against whatever cause you make them the poster child for (cf. Mel Gibson).

Interestingly, Lady Gaga saw the Catholic-Link piece and took umbrage: “We are not just ‘celebrities’ — we are humans and sinners, children, and our lives are not void of values because we struggle. We are as equally forgiven as our neighbor. God is never a trend no matter who the believer.”

First, good for her. That is a laudable outlook and understanding of faith. Second, I don’t think Catholic-Link was necessarily criticizing her the way it appears she took it, and in a response they make it clear that given the context of the whole article, they essentially agreed with her.

Like I wrote at the top, when you write online it can be a temptation to forget that we’re usually writing about real people with real lives and real struggles and a real relationship to the Lord (of whatever stripe). To quote Ian McLaren, “Be kind, for every man you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

God’s Mercy Runs to Meet Us

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston has issued a new Pastoral Letter on Divine Mercy called “God’s Mercy Runs to Meet Us.” The title recalls the parable of the Prodigal Son and how the father looked for his son’s return and when saw him a long way off, ran to meet him. The parable is on the one hand about a son who sins and repents, but it’s also about how the son who stayed home needs to learn mercy from his father.

Just as the father goes out to embrace the prodigal son and bring him home, he also searches for the elder son to teach him to be merciful. The father loves and forgives both sons and wants them to live in peace and harmony. The father rejoices over the conversion of the younger son and hopes for the conversion of the older, hard-working, responsible son who finds it so difficult to pardon his brother. The father explains to his elder son that he has always been with him and that all that he has remains his inheritance, but that his brother was lost and his return is worth rejoicing. The father is unconcerned about his property and his honor. He is concerned only about his sons.

He then adds other elements, including 7 ways for Catholics in the archdiocese to live mercy in the Jubilee year.

Woohoo! We’re Number 1 …. Oh, Least Religious

The latest Pew Research poll shows Massachusetts ties for last among the states for religiosity. Only 23% say they attend worship services weekly, which is better than the Archdiocese of Boston in which 13% of Catholics attend Mass on any given Sunday. We’re also dead last in the percentage of people who believe in God with absolute certainty.

Last year, Vermont was the least religious, but this year two other New England states, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, beat it out, while Maine rounded out the top four. Connecticut was next, but Rhode Island, the fifth New England state, came in near the middle of the pack. I wonder what’s different there.

I joked with Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, that the only thing that changed on the religious landscape in Vermont since the last poll was his tenure. Could that be why they’re creeping back from the edge?

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