I half-stumbled off the formerly jam-packed bus, onto the suburban streets I grew up on. Deeply engrossed in reading a book, my mind was swampy, or perhaps cloudy, just like the neighbourhood I had just stepped foot into. The familiar orange foggy glow of the streetlights made sense on this humid, late-November night in Nova Scotia. They were as welcome and known to me as so many friends, though disconnected, just like many of those friends.
But I wasn't dwelling on any trials regarded friends, or much of anything. My mind was stirring, thinking, dwelling. It was truly being lifted heavenward, not by anything I was doing, but by the strains of music that I had recently stumbled upon. Words of God's seeking out of man, and ultimately, Christ's sacrifice. After a weary day, I dreamily walked up the street to my house, but part of me wanted to fall to my knees; collapse, and just recognize.
* * *
Although I'm not a huge fan of popular clichés, I do think that this East Coast Post could be the result of trying to 'strike while the iron is hot'. To be completely honest, I just felt very moved to write right here and now, while the thoughts are still fresh in my mind. Whereas my last post (after the very-worth reading Stilly-entry on Ste. Therese de Lisieux) was very much a collection of thoughts that had stirred and brewed in my mind for weeks and weeks, this is purely inspired by the events mostly of the last week, and in all honesty, less than that.
I want to try to weave together, as best I can, the thoughts that have come together and made sense in my head. They are unquestionably and unequivocally faith-based. I've had a few interesting experiences in the last week, some mini-revelations, and a jolt to the heart which draws me to this. I want to focus on mistaken understandings of the Church, unworthiness, music, truth spoken to the heart, and ultimately, what my faith is, and what it means to me. I'm staring down the barrel of finals, stress, and freedom, but I feel like I need to express my thoughts this evening, irrespective of their final relevance.
* * *
My perspective last Saturday morning was not too far off from my current mood. A broken person, but more importantly on that day, a sleepy person. I was taking part in a Catholic Men's Retreat, just helping out with music, in a very small way. Most of the day involved listening to speakers, and then discussing and sharing in small groups. I was given the freedom (and the encouragement) to join such a group. Being easily the youngest one there, I didn't necessarily jump at the chance, but I joined with one such group.
We were faced with a very relevant question, and I heard some (from what I believe) irrelevant answers. The question was posed: what can we do as a Church to get more people to come? Everyone obviously wants a full church, at least in that crowd, for whatever varying reasons. But it wasn't long before an older gentleman in the group to pipe up that the Church was 'a church of men', and that we needed to have married priests, and female priests before anything could really change. This thought has knocked around the table by a few like-minded men, and I was part of a group that was pretty unimpressed by this typical answer.
I was annoyed. I thought, Does this guy even realize what he's saying? Does he really want the Church built up, or does he just want his super-liberal friends back in the pews with him? I wasn't being very loving, by any means. Thankfully, I didn't really snap on him, or any of the other agreeing men around the table. That session ended, but not before our table representative exclaimed that our table wanted female priests. I tried to keep my head low...
I didn't stay with that table all day; in fact, I was shifted to another one before the next session. This one had a few more like-minded guys, but the best way to describe them was seeking, good men. There wasn't always agreement, but I saw God working in them.
After being confronted by this surge of heterodoxy, I stayed astonished, but I more or less put the time at my tables in the back of my mind; just one more encounter with arguments that put me on edge. They weren't men with malice. They were just men saying what they thought was right, regardless of the state of their hearts when saying that. I can't judge the state of their hearts.
About half a week later, I was sitting at the table for my campus' Catholic Society, which was placed in the Student Union Building at my university. Typically, it's a meeting place for studies and for students who are a part of the society, but sometimes other people come and strike up conversations with available, faithful Catholics.
An older man, maybe in his late 50s or early 60s, came up to the table with a purpose, and studied the name of the society closely. After mulling over his thoughts for a time (he may have even scratched his chin during this pondering period), he asked the table at large a question.
"What's the society's position on Bishop Lahey?"
Having a regular Joe or Jane ask a Nova Scotian Catholic about the former bishop of Antigonish and man currently at the centre of a child pornography investigation is not all that unusual anymore, at least in the last two months. One person volunteered that the group had no real position on it. I mean, we all are hurt by it, of course. It seemed a little silly that he'd even ask that...
He followed this up by wondering aloud if having female priests would help. This took the table aback, as there seemed to be very little correlation between the two thoughts. He then asked one of us sitting at the table (a girl, no less) if they thought women had the abilities to do what men did in the priestly vocation. After being pointed to the Church for the reasons why, he came close to repeating some haunting words, tiptoeing around saying that it was 'a church of men', while meaning that God wasn't a part of Catholic teaching. I piped up that of course God guided the Church. He proceeded to have an 'a-ha!' moment, 'pointing out' that God was, in fact, also a man.
A couple people couldn't really contain their laughter. It seemed plain and silly that this man would say that an ultimately genderless God was a man like I was, or any other person of my gender. Yes, God revealed Himself to us in masculine ways (like Jesus Christ, true God and true man, as well as the Father and the Son), so it makes sense that we talk about Him as He has revealed Himself.
He then 'cleverly' (?) pointed out that many women are calling God 'she', and that we should "think about that". Uh, what? Over a billion people in the world are Muslims, should we just become practitioners of Islam because of the numbers? What the heck?
Who was this guy, coming up to the table, and floating out all these points, and urging us to think about things, while he invested no thought in what we were telling him. It was bizarre to me!
None of the men in the previous stories were really seeking answers, in the traditional way. They were no open-minded, or thoughtful. They were downright close-minded and, in some cases, rude. Boo!
I could just stay like this, disliking the words of these men, and not having a heart for them or where they were in life. But it took the once-self-proclaimed 'greatest band in the world' to help me get to a better conclusion.
* * *
Since beginning to listen to U2, I've known they were Christian, to some extent. The language used in much of their music was definitely religious, and definitely had Christ in mind. So when my Astro-twin and chaplain handed me Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 by Steve Stockman, I was intrigued.
After rushing to my bus to go home, I popped in my fitted earbuds, put U2's discography on shuffle, turned it down a bit, and cracked open this book. I haven't read much in a while, so I was interested to feed this part of me.
But the situations and positions in the book were strikingly familiar. No, Bono wasn't advocated that Latin-Rite priests be allowed to marry, nor was The Edge preaching about the necessity of female priests, but there was something that I had heard spoken, not so much in words, but underneath the words.
Someone recently told me not to just listen to what people are saying, but why they're saying it. The men at the retreat? Well, they had a fundamental misunderstanding of a number of things in the Church. The sacraments, the priesthood, the Eucharist, etc. If they had understood these things, maybe they would understand what the Church taught a little better. I'm not coming down on them, but they did lack this. They misunderstood what the Church said.
The man at the table? Well, he could've kept walking. I'm sure dozens of students walked by the table, saw that it was the Catholic society, and that they could move along. But this guy wanted to talk. Something stirred up in him. And he had a fundamental misunderstanding of who God was. God isn't someone we can make into who we want Him to be; God is so beyond that, so beyond what we want.
U2? There was, and is a deeper rift in them: "Well, religion has torn [Ireland] apart. I have no time for it, and I never felt a part of it. I am a Christian, but at times I feel very removed from Christianity." (Stockman, p. 59). There is a separation of God and Christ from religion and Christianity. And it's not a new thought. But I'm willing to say I'm an adherent of this faith, so what is happening here?
* * *
Upon stepping off the bus, I had just read these words of U2, and thought of the thoughts of the men who had spoken before me. So where did I fit in? All these thoughts from all these places that seemed off to me, what was it? What did I believe?
U2 had said things I disagreed with, but a youthful Bono said something that gets my heart across: "Judeo Christianity is about the idea that God is interested in you–as opposed to a god is interested in you. This was a radical thought: that God who created the universe might be interested in me ... It is the most extraordinary thought." (Stockman, p. 17).
God is seeking us out. But more than that, religion, faith, Christianity, the Catholic Church; they're not maladies that take away from life, or get it wrong; they're the solution! They're the freedom! I was listening to Matt Maher's song, Christ is Risen, and dwelling on this truth. God has freed us. We aren't enslaved anymore. God is freedom, and His Church offers us this deep, amazing freedom to come into a relationship with this God, Who is interested in you; Who is interested in me! Amazing!
All these thoughts came together in my mind, and I felt compelled to share them with the web at large, and with readers of this Blog. I am so thankful, and caught up tonight. Wow.
God is good.