Br. Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P.'s picture

Heart of Mercy

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            What's the point of being a Christian? This is a question that applies to many groups: those outside the Church; those who are estranged from the Church or are living on the cusp of faith; and even those fully within the Church who practice their faith. Indeed, while it is a simple question, it is an essential one that we should ask. Knowing why, knowing the point or goal, is as essential as knowing how: the two must go together. So, what is the point of being a Christian?

            Unfortunately, how some have answered this question has either caused people to lose interest in becoming a Christian, or has caused division and polarization within the Church that has driven some away from the faith. Some who have been seduced by contemporary secularism might reduce the point of being a Christian to a vague moral system concerned, first of all, with justice and being nice to others: deifying any and every element of human life and proudly casting off any belief or practice that interferes with the latest political fad. Others who have the ossified faith of Pharisees can codify the point of being a Christian to following rules, maintaining traditions, preserving customs, and being staunch signs of stolid contradiction to a world gone to hell: humanizing the divine and turning religion into a quaint museum of antiquarian oddities. It is not that justice, morality, tradition, or rules are bad in themselves, but that some confuse the part with the whole.

            Authentic, orthodox Christianity, subsisting in the Roman Catholic Church (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus) however, reveres tradition, advocates for justice and morality, establishes sound laws and rules, and, in addition to these things, offers something beyond what mere human institutions can: satisfaction of the infinite longing of the human heart. As the Catechism puts so well, "The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for..." (CCC #27). The Church, by joining humanity with God through the Sacraments, Doctrine, Scripture, and Tradition, offers to every man and woman of good will the One answer to the deepest desires of their hearts.

            So often in our world the hearts of men and women are filled with fear, shame, and pain. They fear loneliness as they draw closer through communication devices but father apart through a disturbing ignorance of the experience of true, lasting love. They experience shame through the haunting memories of using others or of being used themselves. They feel a deep, silent pain as they secretly call out to the others surrounding them, their neighbors, their co-workers, and those whom they call their friends, "Here I am! Love me! Know who I am!", but are met with the superficial niceties of bourgeois civility: they are left empty by the empty words and empty gestures and empty "love" of those who, themselves, are empty. 

            Recently I was out in the Berkeley area doing some street evangelization, when I came across a woman, who I will call Alice. Alice was sitting down on the driveway in front of her house with her knees pulled up to her chest, smoking a cigarette, listening to her MP3 device, and generally looking miserable. I came up to her and asked her if she wanted a rosary. She looked up at me with a mien of a person who has been taken advantage of too many times to distinguish goodwill and deceit. After several moments of pensive silence she responded, "O.K". As I gave her the simple plastic rosary, tears began to fill her eyes. I asked her if she was all right. Alice replied, "I am just a little heartbroken."

            The point of being a Christian is that we have found the answer to the fear, shame, and pain within our hearts. We have found the answer, we know the answer, we have come to love the answer, and we are called to give that answer to the aching hearts in our own time and place: the mercy of God, misericordia Dei. To have mercy means to have our hearts ache (in Latin Miser, "unhappy" Cor, "heart") at another's sorrow or distress. To be a Christian means to realize that, in the person of Jesus Christ, God is merciful: He is not an aloof universal force, nor a pathetic projection of the human psyche, nor a bearded entity enfeebled with senescence. No! In Jesus God is moved with mercy for us! For me! For my heart! And he came to heal our hearts, so that we may no longer "sit in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Lk 1:79), but may "have life, and have it abundantly." (Jn 10:10). All the evil and garbage that we have done to others that weighs upon our heart, all the evil and garbage that has been done to us and that scars our heart, is met, embraced, forgiven, and healed through entering into the love of Jesus. Our hearts are restless until they find this merciful love: "Behold, the ears of my heart are before Thee, O Lord, open them, and say unto my soul, 'I am thy salvation'. I will run after that voice, and take hold of Thee." (Augustine, Conf. I.v)

            But how do we run after that voice of mercy and love? How do we take hold of it? Through conversion. Conversion to Jesus "always consists in discovering his mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind" (Bl. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 13) By entering the hospital of the Church, where Jesus has called sinners, that is, those in need of a physician of hearts and souls (cf. Lk 5:31-32), the new convert is given divine medicine to remove the scars of the heart: "He healed many who were sick" (Mk 1:34). By remaining in the hospital of the Church, where "the heart is strengthened by grace" (Heb 13:9), the faithful continually grow in love, and are invited to seek out new patients for the heavenly physician.

            However, not all patients in the hospital of the Church take their medicine. Like Ananias and Sapphira (cf. Acts 5:1-11), they hold on to their old ways and refuse to turn over their hearts to the new life in store for them. Like the crowds at Athens who dismissed the message of St. Paul (cf. Acts 17:16-33), they are unwilling to let their hearts be changed by the Gospel. These patients require great attention, because the medicine of God's loving mercy works with only those who are willing.

            The point of being a Christian is that, in entering the hospital of the Church, where we are gathered with others suffering similar symptoms, our hearts are healed and strengthened by the infinite love and mercy of Jesus, and we, in turn, proceed to seek out other patients whose hearts are longing for the fullness of life that we have embraced.

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Br. Andrew Dominic Yang, O.P.'s picture

Cut to the Heart

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The Gospel of Matthew tells us that as soon as the Pharisees hear of the Sadducees’ defeat at the hands of Jesus, the Pharisees gather together in order to try their own luck in dealing with this new, upstart rabbi. One Pharisee in particular, a lawyer, comes up with the seemingly foolproof question – “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” [1]  

Of course, what the Pharisee does not realize is that the one he questions is the very author of life (and Law) itself.  

Jesus answers him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” [2]  

The Gospel does not record the manner in which the Pharisee responded to these words, but to me, the evangelist’s choice to omit them speaks volumes. I happen to have a few lawyer friends myself, and rarely have I found them to be at a loss for words. One can imagine that Jesus’ perfect reply astounded the Pharisee to the point where he is “cut to the heart.”  

But the Pharisees' silence should not surprise us, for Jesus has not come to make us feel comfortable, or to condone our rebellious behavior. In order for Him to shake us from our doldrums, we must be disturbed. In order for Him to exorcise our tendency to desire mediocrity, we must be bothered. For Him to dispel our inner, self-righteous Pharisee, we must be silenced. Otherwise, we will not change.  

Whenever we hear the Word of God preached, and by grace, are able to receive it with openness, we also find ourselves “cut to the heart,” much like the first hearers of the Gospel message in the Acts of the Apostles. This holy preaching– this kerygma–so explosive in power, facilitates an encounter with Christ that convicts us to live better; a life that is ultimately conformed to the life of Christ. For it is only after the Word is preached that we turn with open hands to Peter and the apostles asking, “What are we to do, my brothers?” [3]

Unfortunately, the human condition is such that we must be constantly exposed to this Word, for it is all too easy for us to slip back into our old ways. We who are self-content require Christ’s liberation and encouragement to “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [4]

One of our problems today is that this kerygma is taking place exclusively in the Sunday pulpit. Instead, it should also be on our lips wherever we are: in our streets, in our workplace, and most importantly, in our homes. The reading from the Office of Compline after Evening Prayer I on Sunday exhorts us to “Take to heart these words…[and] drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.” [5]

The Dominican Order has taken these words to heart, and in its great wisdom, has required each Priory to read the Rule of St. Augustine on a regular basis. The Rule, a true spiritual masterpiece, serves as the Order’s founding document and reminds us of how we should conduct ourselves in the monastery. When read aloud in common, it becomes our own internal kerygma. The Rule’s message, however, is by no means exclusive to monks, nuns, or friars. It can serve as a reminder to all that the demands of the Gospel orient us towards true love of God and neighbor, so that we may achieve the perfection we seek. 

Each time the Rule is read, I am “cut to the heart” by its words. I recognize my many failings, petty behavior, and selfish desires. As this kerygma burrows its way into my soul, a new fault of mine bubbles to the surface. And I am grateful for it, because there are many faults I may otherwise be unaware of. But even after hearing the Rule read aloud dozens of times, I feel no closer to having accomplished its prescriptions. It is here where I realize that I have lots of work to do.

But there is hope, for the kerygma is never meant to lead us to despair. While each new day may bring the inevitability of sin, the story does not end with this. Christ's victory on the cross has won for us the great gift to repent, and to believe anew. For this, we are in constant need of the grace of the Word, and I find myself consoled by the concluding sentences of the Rule: “If any one of you realizes that he has failed on a specific point, let him be sorry for the past, safeguard the future, and continue to pray for his offences to be forgiven, that he not be led into temptation.” [6]

[1] Matthew 22:36

[2] Matthew 22:37-40

[3] Acts 2:37

[4] Matthew 5:48

[5] Deuteronomy 6:4-7

[6] Rule of St. Augustine, Chapter 8

Fr. Gabriel Mosher, O.P.'s picture

Connecting Threads

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It’s always been fascinating to me how many people we never get a chance to meet in our lifetime. Hint: It’s a really large number! Today, however, this number is significantly augmented by the phenomenon of Internet based communications (like this one!). Recently I was interviewed about my own work and interactions both online and offline by Benjamin Alexander on his new podcast Pulling the String.

You can also find the interview on iTunes. It's titled Kefitzat Haderech With A Contentious Monk.

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Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

What's in a Name?

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Saint Michael, icon at Prince of Peace Monastery"War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it." --Revelation 12:7-9

Any brother who visits my room will find images of Saint Michael throughout: on the door, next to my bed, on the bookshelf, above my desk, and so on. Although most of these prayer cards and icons have been gifts that I’ve received since entering the Order and receiving Michael as my religious name, the fact is that I have had a great devotion to the captain of the heavenly hosts for many years.

My affinity for Saint Michael began in college, when I began to learn more about our Catholic faith and discovered that Saint Michael’s feast day -- which he now shares which the other archangels -- is on September 29, just a few days after my birthday.  Tradition teaches us that on this date, during the pontificate of Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Michael appeared to the pope in a vision. Saint Gregory was leading a penitential procession and praying for the end of a plague that was decimating the population of Rome. As he and the other pilgrims made their way across the Tiber River, suddenly the sound of an angel chorus could be heard. Saint Michael appeared above what is now known as the Castel San’Angelo, and sheathed his sword -- which was dripping with blood -- a sign that the plague was finished.

A lesser-known story says that it was on this date that Saint Michael defeated Satan, as described in the reading from the Book of Revelation above. After being cast out of heaven, the devil was hurled towards earth and finally crashed, landing on a thorny bush. The bush’s berries took on the color of the vanquished dragon’s blood, a dark violet that, at first glance, appears black. Seething and outraged, Satan cursed the bush and its blackberries. As a result, tradition holds that one should only eat blackberries harvested before this day, otherwise they will be too bitter.

Now as much as I love these stories and traditions associated with Sept. 29th, they are not my primary reason for venerating Saint Michael. The real reason I honor this archangel is because of what his name signifies. Despite the fact that “Michael” is often translated as a statement, it as actually a question – the question asked by this noble prince of heaven when Satan refused to serve and worship God. Michael means: “who is like unto God?” It is a rallying cry for the faithful, that causes the devil to tremble in fear, reminding him of that fateful day when he, in his pride, rebelled against God and lost his place among the heavenly host. At the same time, it is a reminder to all us that we must practice humility, for the answer to the question “who is like unto God?” is no one.

Let us pray, then, that Saint Michael, by the divine power of God, will help us to grow in virtue, and in humility, so that we may turn from sin and overcome the evil spirits who prowl this world seeking for the ruin of souls.

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Br. Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P.'s picture

Holy to the Core

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We're not bad people, right? Compared with the people described by the prophet Amos, we're veritable angels! But what really lurks within the depths of our hearts? Are we really the people that we think we are?


Br. Pius Youn, O.P.'s picture

Shifting Gears

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A new chapter has begun. What seemed like a chapter of blurry words, with stains of bitter coffee, has come to an end. Yes, the novitiate year. I cannot quite comprehend how I persevered through it. Even a couple of weeks after making simple profession, I catch myself pondering whether I should ask Fr. Anthony, our novice master, for permission to grab a cup of coffee at a nearby coffee shop. With a few giggles, I walk out of the priory with a sense of relief. One thing is clear: the life as a novice and the life as a simply professed brother are radically different. 

The novitiate was not the most "feel-good" year, subjectively speaking, but it was the most contemplative year. There were moments of bumpy trials, but consoling moments along the way. I cherished these moments of consolations. It surely is edifying to be consoled, yet if our faith and our discernment are solely dependent on consolations, we are only left with what "feels right." People, nowadays, especially in prosperous nations, stubbornly hold on to comfort, and prefer what "feels good." Reason itself is losing its pure meaning as many compulsively give into their passions. I sense a certain fallacy here. Has reason lost its strength to guide emotions? Has faith been stripped down to mere feelings?

As Christians, we believe that God initiates his call to us and we respond with humility. God consoles those who follow him, but what are we to do when God seems to be absent? Of course, if you have been living a life with "feel-good" luxury, following the call of God may be a stepping stone. As a religious and as a Dominican, community life is not always a "feel good" experience, for what "I want" is secondary to the common life--even though many of us have strong opinions about every bit of everything. What is it we must do when we are desolate, when a certain idealism that we were looking for is stripped away?

If we look to the Scriptures--as we should always, for it is the Word of God--those who lose the sight of God look for fulfillment elsewhere. In Exodus 32, while Moses is absent from the Israelites for forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai, the Israelites, by persuading Aaron, create a false god--the golden calf. This "golden calf" is looked at not as a "false deity" but as the "god" who brought them out of Egypt. Michael D. Coogan, in his book, The Old Testament, states that this act of using an animal to represent the deity is following the Egyptian tradition, whereas elsewhere in the Near East at this time, the custom was to use the human form to represent gods or goddesses. Fashioning the golden calf violated the second commandment for the Israelites: "You shall have no other gods before me." But why were the Israelites looking elsewhere to find other gods?     

The Israelites created the golden calf because they lost sight of God. One reason for this was the absence of a prophet to counter the desire; but more importantly, the Israelites were not patient enough to continue with their journey of faith. They gave into their feelings of inadequacy and ended up worshipping the golden calf. Just as the Israelites were "stiff-necked" and lost sight of God, we may find other ways to fulfill our passions and desires when we feel the absence of God. If feelings are what give credibility of God, then no wonder God seems to be absent when we are not feeling so well.

The life of a student brother is filled with activities. Being a student brother is fun, but busy. As I write, I am thinking of many other activities in my mind: demands for classes, unwanted chores in the house, consistent liturgical duties, and so on. I am constantly out of breath and I have deadlines coming up. In our busy schedules, it is easy to lose sight of God. While living a busy life may bring immediate joys, we must always strive for an authentic contemplative life. If we lose a sense of contemplation, then all that we do is simply "doing for the sake of doing." St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of contemplation as “delightful by reason of its object...insofar as you are contemplating what you love; just as with ordinary physical seeing, which is delightful not only because the act of seeing itself is pleasurable but because you are looking at someone you love.” If this "someone" you love is God, then everything we do starts from contemplation of the Creator. What other mission do we have, other than to "see" the one we love, to be a creature geared towards the Creator? Or better yet, all of our mission and activities per se start from contemplation.

If we are not rooted in contemplation, then managing time will be stressful, because our "study" or "work" is geared towards personal status and ambition, rather than giving the glory to God. It is through contemplation that kairos (God's time) becomes geared towards chronos (human time), and our actions begin to arise from contemplation. In our busy schedules, despite our demands and deadlines, let us first ask ourselves whether what we "do" is flowing from contemplation. Let us be reminded in moments of difficulties to contemplate God: by contemplating, reason will guide emotions. Let us not build a golden calf for ourselves as the Israelites did, but root ourselves in contemplating the Creator before we act like "busy-bodies" (2 Thess. 3:11).  

                   

 

   

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Br. Christopher Wetzel, O.P.'s picture

The Mercy of God

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In this preaching from Sunday Vespers on September 15, 2013, I ask what made St. Paul such a great preacher, as part of a reflection on 1 Timothy 1:12-17.

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Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

When Nature Goes Gaga

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Official Logo of Haus of Gaga, Ladygaga.com, Author-Haus of Gaga (available to public through Wikipedia Commons)

I don’t dip into popular culture too often, but one can hardly exist today without having some knowledge of the inimitably freakish Lady Gaga.  (I don’t call her so out of bad manners! This is how she self-identifies, considering herself a—direct quote—"champion of freaks."1)  I have only read the Wikipedia article on her popular song “Born This Way,” but find the title exquisitely and uproariously ironic. Given Gaga’s penchant for wearing all manner of outlandish, shock-and-awe attire, one could hardly think of starker examples of how a person is not born! To my knowledge, babies don’t often emerge from the nine-month seclusion of the womb—unless they’ve been remarkably industrious during their stay—with bodies clad in bubble-outfits, telephones, and meat-get-ups, or donning elaborate and expensive doll houses on their freshly-formed heads.

I bring up Stefani Germanotta (Gaga’s real name) since she seems to me the perfect embodiment of a philosophical point on which our whole culture is going increasingly mad. And that is the status of "nature," especially as applied to the human person.

Classically there are two senses in which the word "nature" can be taken. One is "what tends to happen." This is the sense contemporary culture has almost exclusively adopted. Look round the habitable world and you see all manner of phenomena: people grow up and grow old; flowers bloom and then wither; sunshine and rain may happen within a 24-hour period. And then there are worse things that happen: earthquakes destroy towns and villages; hurricanes put lives in danger; diseases cause terrible pain and affliction to individuals and families. It is legitimate to call all these things "natural" in the sense that "they happen in the world we live in"—though some be delightful and edifying, and others terrible, difficult, and even tragic.

The other sense of natural is not "what happens to happen," but "what ought to happen." This is the sense contemporary culture more often rejects. But even the rejection is inconsistent. In certain areas, for example, no one has a problem admitting that things "ought to grow and behave" in a certain way. We all know, for example, the difference between a sick dog and a healthy dog; we know the difference between a flower that is wilting before its time and one that has, in the way it ought, come into full bloom. We know, to take a ridiculous and rudimentary example, that when dandelion seeds scatter, they don't pop up as roses, or geraniums, or puppies, or crocodiles. We know that nature, or Nature, has certain laws which structure and guide and shape the way things are "supposed" to be. Daffodils don't scatter tulip seeds; hamsters don't emerge by breeding goldfish; and there is a desirable difference between healthy, vigorous, and mature plant and animal life, versus the same that becomes enfeebled or dies before its time.

The rub comes at the species homo sapiens. We're fine with plants and animals "needing to behave and grow" in certain ways. When it comes to us, we're not so clear-headed. Sexuality and gender are the clearest current examples. When Gaga says in the song mentioned above, "No matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgendered life, I'm on the right track baby..." she is presuming the first definition of nature to the exclusion of the second; or rather taking the first definition and projecting it into the second. She is taking the fact that "this is what people do and how people act and how they are increasingly choosing to self-identify," as establishing without debate the moral rectitude of the claimed identities; as establishing beyond the possibility of challenge that same-sex attraction is unavoidable, inevitable, right, good, and fine, and all the bigots who think differently need to be shamed (and legally coerced) into thinking differently.

Pastorally, of course, these are very sensitive issues. Many are the noble and good souls who experience same-sex attraction and valiantly seek to live chaste lives. These souls know that chastity is ultimately freeing; and the fact that they experience SSA, though it can be a tremendous cross, has no bearing whatever on their intrinsic worth as a human being, or on their spiritual call to be holy, blameless, and happy saints in the kingdom of God.2 But this popular and widespread rebellion against the notion that women are made for men and men for women, or—from another but related area—little boys and little girls should use bathrooms and play on sports teams according to their biological makeup; all this popular confusion over gender is rooted, in one way, in a very simple philosophical mistake. And that is to equate human nature with whatever the current human beings walking around—especially those in large coastal California cities—happen to want and do.

Nave W window, William Wailes of Newcastle, 1866-detail; Uploaded to Twitter by Dave, Leicester, UK

But we live in a fallen world. "Nature" is therefore broken and there will always, within this mortal coil, be a gap between what "ought" to happen and what does happen. In one sense, Lady Gaga is perfectly right. Crazy, unpredictable, and disordered things happen all the time. Nature has been a bit Gaga ever since Adam. But Nature's Gaga-ness under the reign of sin does not justify baptizing, leaving as they are, and exalting these gaga-features. The "New Normal" promoted by television sitcoms and the new Queen of Pop, is really not new at all. It is quite old, as anyone familiar with ancient Rome in its decadence can attest.

The real fallacy is in believing that this melting together of gender difference into an undifferentiated social vat, is exciting, bold, fresh, and joy-bringing. But Nature is more exciting than that. Man's authentically natural state is what is really new, is ever-ancient and ever-new, is full of life and joy and communion with the Creator. It is a paradisical garden with magical fruit, marvelous flowers, and a man and a woman who become one flesh. Within that natural primeval duality between man and woman lie drama, romance, and the mystery of sacrificial love: a mystery crafted by the handiwork of God and inscribed into the bodies and souls of men and women even today.

It is true that all of us here below are "born this or that way," full of desires and inclinations running hither and thither (sexual or otherwise). But only by respecting and honoring the Natural Design woven into our souls by the Creator will we be happy. Our truly natural desires, thoughts, and personality then emerge, and begin to partake of that harmony and beauty we are called to reflect before the Face of God forever. Our gaga-nature bows to the light of Nature within, which flows from the supernal creative wisdom of the Divine Artist. By harmonizing our thoughts and actions with this inward illumination, we are made glad by the Radiant Light at the back of all things, beckoning and shaping and transforming us to be glorious creatures of our God and King unto eternity.

1 The quote comes from an interview with Larry King in 2010, which is quite interesting. As is often the case with celebrities, her off-stage persona is much more unassuming, even fragile, than her onstage rip-roaring, shock-oriented bravura.

 

2 For the record, the Catholic Church takes no position on whether SSA may be genetic or not, admitting that its "psychological genesis remains largely unexplained" (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2357). In this sense SSA may, especially from a subjective standpoint, be as close to something not chosen as one can get—which is why to merely experience the attraction (as with any lustful desire, homosexual or heterosexual) is not sinful, but only becomes so when consented to and acted upon.

Br. Chris Brannan, O.P.'s picture

We Preach Christ Crucified

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Below is a recording of Br. Chris' preaching for Vespers on Saturday, September 14, 2013, the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross. The preaching is on the reading from 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, on the theme of the "scandal" of the Cross, and its apparent "foolishness."

Br. Andrew Dominic Yang, O.P.'s picture

Steubenville Youth Conference - San Diego

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It seems as though many of us student brothers had positive experiences at youth conferences this past summer. Whereas Br. Michael James and Br. Peter attended "Ignite Your Torch" in the Pacific Northwest, my classmate Br. Thomas Aquinas and I, along with 5500 teens and volunteers, were fortunate enough to participate in the Steubenville San Diego Youth Conference on the University of San Diego campus. Named after the Franciscan University at Steubenville, which organizes the conferences nationwide, these conferences (more information can be found here) are designed to bring high school youth together to experience the love of Jesus Christ found within the Catholic Church. I attended as a youth chaperone to my home parish, St. Thomas Korean Catholic Center, while Br. Thomas Aquinas and our Province Vocation Director Fr. Steve Maekawa, O.P. staffed a Dominican vocation booth for young men interested in religious life and the priesthood. 

The Steubenville Conference utilizes a certain style of “evangelical” preaching and music, but combined with a fervent devotion to the sacraments, particularly Christ in the Eucharist and Reconciliation. I’m sure that Fr. Steve, one of 30 or so priests in attendance, alone must have heard hundreds of confessions over many lengthy hours. I know this because I entered his confessional on Friday night past 11 pm to see if he might need any water, only to find a determined grin and bleary eyes. I was moved to see thousands of teens lined up to declare their sins to the priest, receive absolution from Christ Himself, and experience the powerful mercy of God in the sacrament. 

The band, which played on stage throughout the conference, could not have performed any better. Likewise, each of the conference speakers, all of whom fearlessly proclaimed the infinite love of God, exuded a “cool factor” that was undeniably attractive to the thousands of youth present. At certain points, even I found myself steadying my own emotions while blinking back tears of my own. I’m fairly familiar with the intense “praise and worship” style of the Steubenville conference, having attended it before as a layman. Though I can certainly admit, as a Dominican friar, I’m more accustomed to a solemn liturgy that fosters quiet prayer and meditation. But I don’t believe that a charismatic approach to worship, such as was employed at the conference, need be in conflict with the Church’s venerable liturgical tradition; rather, it can complement it when balanced by other elements.

Today, “praise and worship”--drums, electric guitars, and all--seems to be the dominant popular mode of devotion among teens in the United States. Steubenville’s music ministry is remarkably effective at engaging young people through these means, and stirring them to the praise and adoration of the Triune God. A truly Catholic approach, it seems to me, might use and employ such methods—as Steubenville’s ministry does—in extra-liturgical settings to great effect. But in order for faith to last, it must be grounded in a consistent prayer life, and an intellectual understanding of the truths of the faith. Both of these, but especially one’s prayer life, require silence and space for quiet reflection. I think the reason why the Mass developed over the centuries with musical forms like chant and polyphony, was precisely that the Church had a strong instinct that the ordinary and enduring way to approach the Triune God required solemnity, reverence, and a contemplative posture.  At the same time, one of the geniuses of the Catholic Church through the ages has been precisely its ability to adopt and shape dominant cultural forms into itself, purifying them and making them serve the message of Christ and his Church.  There seems to me nothing against, and much to speak for, Catholics adopting this “praise and worship” devotional mode as a means of evangelizing people; while retaining the primary liturgical posture as one of more traditional solemnity.

In all of this, the most important thing that the Steubenville conference does is that it gives teens a chance to powerfully encounter Christ in a way they might not have before. Over and over, the speakers reminded the teens that they are "chosen" by the God of the Universe who calls them by name. Profound healing and conversion happens there; I’ve seen it with my own eyes. However, the Steubenville conference is just one event, one institution that cannot supply all of the Church’s needs. The Church is still in dire need of many things, including good catechesis, a powerful witness to Christ, and the renewal of the contemplative life. That part is up to us, you and me. Archbishop Di Noia, O.P. has insightfully called this period in history a “Dominican moment.” I experienced an aspect of this firsthand, as teens peppered me with theological questions in the common room at 3:00 in the morning. 

Lastly, it’s become known that many young people receive their vocations at Steubenville Youth Conferences. It was most edifying to see hundreds of young men and women respond courageously to a “Vocations Altar Call,” with a blessing given by Bishop Cirilo Flores of San Diego. It prompted me to reflect upon my own vocation, and why I chose to enter the Dominican Order. The answer in my heart was simple: because I love God, and I want to give my life entirely to Him. In the end, I’m not sure who got more out of the Conference, me or the teens I chaperoned. I find myself already looking forward to next year’s conference. Please keep in your prayers all the young people who attended this year's event – that they might always respond generously to God's call.

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