Here are a few articles which I have stumbled across or which have been brought to my attention in the last few days, which I believe our readers will find interesting. The first, from Crisis Magazine, is by Brother Justin Hannegan, of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Louis in Creve Coeur, Missouri. The article is entitled “Sacrificing Religious Life on the Altar of Egalitarianism,” and seeks to identify one of the major causes behind the collapse in vocations to the religious life in the United States and elsewhere.
Today’s vocations counselors will advise you to search your heart for a desire to live religious life; and they will tell you that if you don’t find this desire you are probably not called. For example, James Martin, S.J., prominent Catholic author and editor of America, writes in an article for the VISION Vocations Network, “God awakens our vocations primarily through our desires.” He claims, “Henri Nouwen became a priest because he desired it,” and “Thérèse of Lisieux entered the convent because she desired it.” ... Other examples abound. The prevailing opinion amongst those who talk and write about discernment is that God calls men and women to religious life by placing an innate desire for religious life in their hearts. If you have no such desire, it is unlikely that you are called.
This advice, although it looks harmless on the surface, ends up thwarting religious vocations. Men and women who prayerfully examine their desires almost never find a strong desire for religious life lodged in the depths of their hearts. Religious life, in itself, is not a desirable good. Religious life is a renunciation. It is a kind of death. It involves turning one’s back on what is humanly good and desirable. ... All forms of religious life, at their very core, consist of three vows—poverty, chastity, and obedience—and each of these vows is repulsive. The vow of poverty means giving up money and property; the vow of chastity means giving up a spouse and children; and the vow of obedience means giving up one’s own will. No one has an innate desire to sever himself from property, family, and his own will. No one has an innate desire to uproot three of life’s greatest goods. Such a desire would be mere perversion.
Everyone, however, has an innate desire to get married. Religious life is a renunciation, but marriage is a positive good. So, if we ask people to decide between religious life and marriage on the basis of their desires, they are going to choose marriage every time. And that’s what’s happening. Vocations directors tell their advisees to prayerfully search their desires in order to find their vocation. The advisees search, and what do they find? An aversion to religious life and a desire for marriage. So they choose marriage. Meanwhile, religious orders shrink and die.
If we want to revitalize religious life, we need to rethink our methodology. We need to stop telling people to look within their hearts for an innate desire for religious life. They have no such desire. Instead of asking people whether they desire religious life, we should ask them whether they desire salvation—whether they desire to become saints. If sanctity is the goal, then religious life and all its harrowing renunciations begin to make sense. Although religious life is the hardest, most fearsome way to live, it is also the most spiritually secure, most fruitful, and most meritorious.
The second, from The Imaginative Conservative, is by well-known Catholic blogger Fr. Dwight Longenecker, “Myth for the Masses: Symbolism and the Language of Liturgy.”
Finally, the website of the Spectator in the U.K. offers some perspective on media manipulation of the public perception of Pope Francis. I especially like the subheadline of this piece: “Trendy commentators have fallen in love with a pope of their own invention”We have forgotten that religion is not about making the world a better place, but about going to a better place. All the old chthonic mysteries of the cave have been replaced by cheerful exhortations and enthusiasm for self-improvement and prosperity. The ancient commerce with the other world and the soul saving transactions with eternity have been relegated to the shelf with the books on ancient civilizations, anthropology and psychology. We know better now. We have outgrown that stuff. We are no longer in the dark ages.Or are we? The ancient symbolism of myth and magic still thrives in the superhero movies, the fantasy novels and the popular stories of the supernatural. Indeed the supernatural and the superheroes are popular everywhere but in church—where ordinary people once did extraordinary business with the supernatural and learned to be those superheroes called saints.Joseph Campbell left his boyhood Catholic faith because of his disgust and dismay at the iconoclastic reforms of his church after the Second Vatican Council. He understood the language of the liturgy was not only Latin, but a complex communication of symbols interplaying within the architecture, music, language, costumes, rites, gestures, and rituals of worship.In The Power of Myth he lamented thus: “There’s been a reduction of ritual. Even in the Roman Catholic Church, they’ve translated the Mass out of the ritual language and into a language with domestic associations. The Latin of the Mass was a language that threw you out of the field of domesticity. The altar was turned around so that the priest’s back was to you, and with him you addressed yourself outward. Now they’ve turned the altar around and it looks like Julia Child giving a cooking demonstration—all homey and cozy… They’ve forgotten that the function of ritual is to pitch you out, not to wrap you back in where you have been all the time.”This is why traditionalists in the Catholic Church insist on certain forms in worship. Whether they adopt the ancient Latin rite or not, they worship facing East and argue that the priest is not “turning his back to the people” but focusing with the people on the work of heaven which is the worship of God. They insist that beautiful clerical vestments are important. Their beauty hints of heaven. The priest does not wear brocade chasubles, lace albs, and opulent copes because he likes dressing up, but because he understands that the vestments provide a powerful contribution to the overall symbolism of worship. Along with the ceremonial actions, the ancient absurdity of incense, and the iconography of architecture and art, they help pitch him and the worshippers out of the ordinary world and into the other world...., Heightened, somewhat archaic and poetical language was used deliberately in the new translation of the Catholic Mass. The translators explain that a more lofty language is necessary to lift the worship from the mundane to the marvelous. Likewise, the music of the Mass is to be sacred. What this means precisely is the stuff of arcane debates among sacred music scholars, liturgists, and priests. While we may argue about what is included we know what should be excluded: the musical styles that are purloined from the Broadway musical, the rock concert, muzak, and the Grand Ole Opry.
That is how the Pope has come to be spun as a left-liberal idol. Whenever he proves himself loyal to Catholic teaching — denouncing abortion, for instance, or saying that same-sex marriage is an ‘anthropological regression’ — his liberal fan base turns a deaf ear. Last month America’s oldest gay magazine, the Advocate, hailed Francis as its person of the year because of the compassion he had expressed towards homosexuals. It was hardly a revolution: Article 2358 of the Catholic church’s catechism calls for gay people to be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’. In simply restating Catholic teaching, however, Francis was hailed as a hero. When a Maltese bishop said the Pope had told him he was ‘shocked’ by the idea of gay adoption, that barely made a splash. Time magazine, too, made Francis person of the year, hailing him for his ‘rejection of Church dogma’ — as if he had declared that from now on there would be two rather than three Persons of the Holy Trinity. But for cockeyed lionisation of Francis it would be hard to beat the editors of Esquire, who somehow managed to convince themselves that a figure who wears the same outfit every day was the best dressed man of 2013.