February 15, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Turn to God in prayer and educate yourself about the faith this Lent

Lent is a graced opportunity for us to consider the challenges we face to respond to our baptismal call to holiness.

When we renew our baptismal profession of faith on Easter Sunday, we want to do so with intentional conviction. Our collective response to our baptismal call is also the task we face as we continue our mission as the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

I would describe our fundamental challenge as one of claiming the fullness of our human dignity. What do I mean?

Fulfillment of our human dignity is rooted in our call to live in God’s love. We can truly say that in the end, our destiny is divine: Created in God’s image, our ultimate goal is to return to rest in him. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus made this possible.

Does this kind of talk make you to want to skip to the next page for something more interesting? Does the Christian call to claim our dignity look too abstract or maybe too obvious? Does becoming holy sound “ho hum” or “out of touch” with what is real?

The everyday arguments with loved ones and friends, the painful fear of being misunderstood, unappreciated and lonely, the tensions of married life and the temptation to be unfaithful, or perhaps anxiety about the lack of money and keeping jobs in a time of recession, all of these can preoccupy our minds and hearts. What preoccupies our minds and hearts is what we usually call “real.”

Yes, this stuff of everyday human experience is real, and is to be faced. To deny our human preoccupations and thus to run away from the human struggle that is part of our daily lot would be folly.

But to allow ourselves to lock into these preoccupations as the sum total of life, or for that matter, to allow ourselves to lock into more positive preoccupations like career success, that dream home, that luxury car or that perfect romance, is to make ourselves blind and unhappy slaves.

No matter how hard we work or how much we try, no person and no thing (however expensive) can fulfill our human destiny. Yet the message of material commercialism would have us believe otherwise.

At the moment, I think one could argue that one of the greatest concerns for members of our Church (and all people of faith, for that matter) should be the hazard of “practical” atheism. The hazard of the message of materialism is the implied notion that we don’t need God.

In many ways, it would be easier to face persecution because of our faith in God than it is to face the seductive pull of secular materialism.

Persecution for our belief in God would be more concrete. It is difficult to talk about this without sounding like I don’t believe in the goodness of created things and the wonder of what we humans can and do accomplish.

Someone once said heresy is rarely wrong in what it affirms; rather, it is wrong in what it denies or excludes. The excess of materialistic consumerism in our society is wrong in its denial of the rightful place of God.

When God disappears, so does our God-given human dignity. We need only consider the movies offered for entertainment. Listen to the music. Subject matter has probably never been more poignant. Media technology is unequaled. There are excellent actors and actresses. There are talented artists.

But we are well-advised to look and listen with a discerning eye. Why all the vulgarity and obscene language? Why the ever-present, blatant and permissive pornography? Why is senseless murder our daily fare, almost taken for granted?

Why is religion ridiculed (if acknow­ledged) and God conspicuously absent in the public forum? Do dramatic interpretation and the exciting technology and artistry justify such a world view? This is the daily diet of our youth and most people.

We face the challenge of offering ourselves and our youth freedom from enslaving exploitation. Our response needs to be something positive, not negative.

Recently, at a gathering of young adults, I was asked, “What can we do to live our faith that is so countercultural?”

My response on the spur of the moment was to say there are three things I would recommend.

First, participate in the sacraments of the Church, particularly the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation. The sacraments give us the spiritual and moral strength rooted in the power of God’s grace.

Second, seek the companionship of like-minded friends. Our relationships are a powerful influence.

Third, seek rest and refuge in prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacles of our churches.

The key is turning to God in prayer and educating ourselves about the practices of our faith. That’s our Lenten mission. †

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