Movies about Saints my way

Temptation

Salvador Dali’s Temptation of St Anthony

With the Golden Globes finished, and the Academy Awards around the corner, I wanted to publish this long overdue. I often find Catholic Saints film a bore. For fifth grade catechesis, maybe, but not much for inspiration in my faith. For Greater Glory & There Be Dragons pushed the Action and Intrigue. They attempted to make Saint stories suitable for Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. In 2014, we had Biblical epics picked up by Directors who may have been atheists. The Gospel According to St Matthew, directed by atheist, marxist, homosexual Pasolini, is on the Vatican’s list of top faith films.

While many Catholics dream of big budget, suround sound, 3-D, nationally screened Saint films, I wonder what could be lost. Some saints might get their action sequences. Most saints are dealing with interior dilemmas that just cannot be communicated in the same manner as Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. You might have to talk to directors who have dealt with smaller scale, intimate portrayals, accompanied by character development. On the one hand, you might limit the audience. On the other hand you might reach an audience (that wouldn’t waste their time on a cheesy sentimental saint film) for an intelligent, thoughtful, artfully crafted film experience around a particular saint.

Classic Film Biopics often portray the subject’s life through a series of episodes. Contemporary Film Biopics typically center around a crystallizing event in the subject’s life. Unfortunately, most Saint films tend to rely exclusively on the classic biopic style. For example, Lincoln dealt with the passing of legislation, rather than entire series of episodes of his life. While the Song of Bernadette (1943) attempts her entire life, Bernadette (1988) captures the apparition event. Most Saint or Pope movies employ the Classic Episodic style Biopic.

Finally, they are portrayed as spiritually unconflicted and morally uncomplicated. That is not always a bad thing, but that would not work for many of the subjects that I haveselected. When I speak of character development, there has to be a mountain in the heart that is moved by faith. There has to be some sort of challenge that they are to face, and that is more meaningful and inspiring than watching a subject never flinch in the face of adversity. I am sure that some people would like to see movies about miracles, stigmata, or zapping fireballs at pagans (see Patrick below), but were we to be approaching stories of human persons becoming saints, it might be the most effective and powerful method. Besides, when you are focusing on covering 60 years in 100 minutes, you miss a the emotion, or you miss the passion

For my proposed ideas, some I have thought about for the past several years. A few have suggestions for a director. I have no interest in suggesting actors, so that it is clear that this list is meant to emphasize how having a skilled director could do a lot more for a film than having some attractive faces.

Augustine
One of my saint film disappointments in recent times was Restless Heart about Augustine. As an Augustinian, I certainly had high hopes. The central theme of Augustinian Friendship as a communal discovery of Truth was absent. The sort of personal conversations among confidants was missing. Sometimes I wonder if you had a director like Richard Linklater, you might be able to capture some of the banter which is essential for a film portraying Augustine. It wouldn’t hurt to also have an Augustinian scholar brought on board to consult, as they do in many other historical pieces. We are, after all, entrusted by the Church with the Spiritual and Theological Legacy of Saint Augustine.

Martyrs
Almost any group of martyrs in the history of the Church could be portrayed as a compelling drama for the big screen. Unfortunately, most Catholics filmmakers are more interested in making something that is okay for children. Films have been made portraying violence while minimizing gore, this would not be that hard. I do think of Cecilia, Felicitas, or Perpetua as possible protagonists if we are dealing with early Rome. Alfonso Cuaron, of Gravity and Children of Men has taken on complicated nuanced dramas, and I could see something like this being taken on by him.

Antony of Egypt
Lets face it, the early desert monks don’t look good on a vintage kitsch prayer card. They are not pasty-skinned enough, dainty blonde enough. Think, weathered face, squinty eyed (Clint Eastwood). The Temptation of Antony is one of the oft-repeated paintings throughout art history, and I wonder what an intelligent film director would do with it, and add his twiest. Because, let’s face it, a film like this could subvert the modern cultural paradigm which sees temptation as either insurmountable or as pleasurable. Out of the other ideas mentioned, this one wouldn’t lend itself easily to lighthearted humor. David Fincher and Tim Burton are two completely different director’s, who would take this in very different directions, but could do something awesome with it.

Francesco d’Asis
Many people’s visions of Francis are as a gleeful sprite gracefully prancing around Assisi singing like Snow White to the little birdies. They completely miss the fact that he left behind his urban dandy of a cloth-merchant old man for the callous hands of a wild and rugged stone chapel. Francis was a short man, kind of like X-Men’s Wolverine. I do believe that a Francis movie can find a good way of mixing playfulness with manliness. After seeing Prince Avalanche, something I would like to find in a Francis movie, David Gordon Greene might be able to pull something similar.

Thomas the Apostle
Christianity has existed in Southern India within a century of Christ’s crucifixion. All of the Eastern Christian Churches often appear different than what we expect Christianity to be. Having a film portraying early Malabar or Malankara Christians would, in many ways, be earth-shattering for our stereotypes of Christianity as a Western Religion. This could even be an enthralling story with Thomas as a supporting character or catalyst, rather than a protagonist. Slumdog Millionaire was a joint operation in England and India, and this would be what I would hope for with something like this, however, I wouldn’t want to see Danny Boyle (who did a work about Saints in Millions), as much as a local director.

Patrick
A few years ago, I saw a Saint Patrick movie, where he was going around zapping pagans with fire. There is a desperate yearning to make a Catholic movie into a big screen spectacle. I find my heart moved by his story, and would prefer to have something more dramatic. Years ago, there was a little Irish animated feature The Secret of Kells (2009). It portrayed a group of Christian Monks creating the Book of Kells. It had its share of fairies and folklore, and was meant to be for children. I have wondered what it were like to have short stories of some of the important Irish Saints: Cuthbert, Brendan, Brigid, and of course Patrick.

Mother Theresa
Here is someone that is still in the popular imagination among Catholics, as well as some secular humanist types. Younger Catholics don’t know who she is. I admit, that I am not a card carrying member of her fan club, and there could be a moment or two in her life that is worth capturing. I am impressed that she caused a ceasefire, she got a Nobel Peace Prize. These could be instances. It is also known that she did not feel internal spiritual consolations for the last part of her life. This is the sort of thing that works good on film. I don’t know that I have an idea of a director for this one (as I am not as familiar with her), but one person suggested Parish Hilton should be cast to play her.

Bonus: Hipster Pope Benedict
Ratzinger was forced to join the Nazi youth. He deserted, broke the law by going to the seminary, and became a priest. It could be a sort of wartime star crossed romance, except falling in love with God, and perhaps enjoying beer and having a friend cat. This wouldn’t go through the rest of his life, in fact becoming the pope would be irrelevant to this story that could be wrapped up in the climactic event of him being accepted into the seminary.

4 unusual, although typical priestly encounters

When random people encounter a priest, they are often ready to open up about their entire life. I find, that when I visit different parishes to preside at Sunday Masses, there is always a person or two who will briefly tell me their life story, or want to know mine.

As I am a “young” or “cool” priest, or perhaps a priest without grey hair or a gut, somehow they find me strangely fascinating. My actual ministry is to high school students at an all boys school, and so these sorts of encounters don’t happen at all where I work. Most adolescent boys like to hear stories from their teachers. Myself included. Yet, they never ask me for my vocation story, quite like the adults or elderly people that I encounter at parishes.

Just yesterday, I literally had 4 encounters that I think could virtually sum up what all such encounters.

Some context: The sophomore class had their retreat at a Catholic Parish. During the day, we used the Parish Hall, the Church, and one of the annexed parking lots for all the activities. We had over 100 students that I was responsible for throughout the day. These encounters were with people who were around the parish, and not any of the students (or faculty members involved with the retreat). It is also worth mentioning, that I was in the Augustinian habit, and that probably had them begin to open up to me.

  1. There to open the Parish Hall, there was a man who quickly asked me to pray for him. He was there the previous day, and I had a chance to interact and greet him. This day, he probably thought he could seize the opportunity and ask me to pray over him and bless him. It often amuses me, that after mass, after the priest has just given everyone in the congregation a blessing, sometimes a person will come up to me for a blessing. I have blessed people after a young adult event, and a line of very young adults come up to me for a blessing. I think sometimes they mistake youth for sanctity, but often I have to remind them that they just received a blessing. In this case the man didn’t. The man, that morning of the retreat, ready to open the Parish Hall, asked me to pray for his family to return to the faith. As an Augustinian, I thought of St Monica. So I prayed with him on the spot for a minute, and asked for the intercession of Saint Monica.
  2. Later in the morning, a woman shouted to me from across the parking lot. She asked if I was a monk, and what kind of monk I was. I had stepped outside of the hall of 100+ students, to move my car. It was near the entrance to unload supplies, and I wanted to keep the entrance wide open. Before I could get to the car, she was already within a foot in front of me, ready to spill out her entire life story. Interjecting her attempts to tell her life story, and how she ended up in San Diego, she wanted to know what kind of priest I was, and if there was an association with the priests that staffed a St Augustine school where she was from. She continued opening up about her life, on several random tangents. I was unsure if she was going to stop to catch her breath. As a pastoral minister, I realize that many people expect me to drop my entire life on the moment of their need. She wasn’t terribly needy, she was obviously a devout Catholic. I had to remind her that I was overseeing an event (I was not just the chaplain there to say mass, I was the man responsible for the retreat, meaning if a student got injured I had to contact parents, I had to ensure they got to the hospital, etc). She literally followed me around to the door of my car, as I was apologizing to her for not being able to set aside the retreat to hear her tell her life story. It is sort of amusing when you think about it. These sorts of encounters do happen at least once at every single parish or Catholic place that I visit, they either want to tell their life story, or want my life story.
  3. During Lunch time, I had just finished saying Mass for the students in the Church, and a Fire Dept inspector was checking the extinguishers. He was ready to open up not so much about his life stories, but about some of his faith experiences. He was the sort of person, who probably rarely has an opportunity to talk about those sorts of things. As he was looking over the extinguisher, and I was cleaning up the sacristy, he was telling some of his story. He was kind of excited to meet a young priest, I don’t think he ever met a priest younger than him, which probably also made him more excited to talk about faith, religion, church stuff, sacraments, etc. Often I will meet people who are somewhat unchurched, but go to Mass with some kind of regularity. They typically favor their religion, but don’t talk much about their faith. Seeing a young priest often gets them expressing their faith. Sometimes I am told (more often by women), that I am too young to be a priest. When I meet men like this Fire Fighter, I wish that there were more young guys in the priesthood that are easy for him to open up about.
  4. Okay, this guy probably wasn’t Catholic, he probably wasn’t there for Church. He saw me in habit on the street as we went between the Parking Lot and the Parish Hall. He wanted to know who we were, and what we were doing. He seemed disturbed by the fact that we were an group of students that were all boys (almost the complete opposite of most people that I encounter). When I explained that we were an all boys school, and that we were on retreat, he responded “Retreat from what?” I could scientifically explain to him the value of single sex education from a secular perspective, and there are enough secular retreats out there. I sort of felt bad for him.

Anyways, that about sums up the four encounters, fourth being a bonus, and not your typical Catholic encounter.

Sisterhood, Reality TV about young discerners

Be sure to check out the show on LifeTime: mylifetime.com/shows/the-sisterhood-becoming-nuns

Be sure to check out the show on LifeTime: mylifetime.com/shows/the-sisterhood-becoming-nuns

The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns is a reality show on Lifetime candidly chronicling 5 20-something women discerning a call to Religious Life. I joined the Augustinians in my early 20’s, and thought I could attest to the validity of what these women go through in the course of the series. However, there were only two noticeable differences that I will comment on briefly. However, instead of commenting overall what seems true for almost anyone, I would rather comment on what I have related to in one way or another discussing each of the Sisters, and what they are going through.

“God or the Girl” Reality Show about Priesthood Discerners?

But first, a reminder of why this show is effective from the outset. A couple of years ago, there was an awful reality show about young men discerning a call to the priesthood (not religious life). At no time were they together. At no time were they actually put in situations of serving others or showing compassion or charity to others. One of the guys had to make a pilgrimage (Traveling across the country with no money and little resources, dependent on the generosity of others). Another had to drag a cross around in a literal imitation of Christ’s Passion (I mean really?) Dramatic demonstrations of “devotion,” are much more difficult to test commitment for attitudes and motivations than placing someone in service of inconvenient and needy people. Instead of challenges rooted in the Gospel, they were giving challenges that looked good for reality television with competitions and tests of faith. None of it entailed actual discernment. Besides, choosing Consecrated Life as a vocation is not a dichotomy between God or the girl, it is choosing your fullest self, even if romance and marriage are not part of it. None of the young men applied to seminaries after. I was impressed, because this show actually gave the young women challenges that are rooted in the Gospel, but are practical for Religious Life. I am also convinced that the producers received input from the Sisters of the convents that hosted the girls

Personal Difference One: Age

I joined the Augustinians at 22, and lived in a community of Friars that included elderly retired Friars, Friars in full time ministry, and one other pre-novice / postulant who was 19. The young man left within a few months, and I didn’t have people my age to share my journey with. The following year of Novitiate had me move across country, except I had 3 other men in novitiate with me, and only one was younger (that did not, in any way mean we got along). Nowadays I can’t count on one hand the 20-somethings in our Order across the country, and I’m not in my 20’s. I also had two good friends join the Order as I was completing formation.

Personal Difference Two: Cellphones

When I joined, I never used text messages, and smartphones weren’t the standard phone. Facebook wasn’t around. You might have made a call when you had time, and I didn’t use every night to make or receive phone calls. I never had my phone confiscated. In my first year, I was encouraged to visit my dad when I could. In my second year (in WI), I couldn’t but called him briefly at least once a week (mostly to tell him I was alive and wasn’t miserable). On the flipside, from about 16-26 many young men have an overwhelming desire to establish themselves independently, while many young women have an overwhelming desire to bond deeply with the important people in their lives. It is not that women cannot, or never want to establish themselves independently, it is that on average men more often mature by independence followed by bonding, while women do so with bonding and then independence.

Stacey, 26 NY: Sharing Your Life

When I look at young men who visit and discern with us, a major question I have is “Would I want to live with him?” We are not merely looking for people to staff our institutions, we are looking for people to share our life with. I have indicated to our Vocation Director, when we have a visitor/discerner, who would be awful to live with. One thought I have with Stacey is that she would be the person who easily passes this test. She is receptive, attentive to others, while also being lighthearted and serious. I had noticed that in someway she wasn’t being provoked by the producers to talk about issues as much, and she stood out as someone who was really present to the moment, present to the other young women, and present to the people she served in the ministry settings. Were she to have a vocation, any convent would easily be blessed to have her.

Christie, 27, CA: Intentionality & Prayer

I met this girl at a party once. She didn’t talk about Jesus visions. In fact, they played this up with her at the beginning. I do not find it unusual. I did a study on Medieval Christian Spirituality, and found something: While Male Saints tended to write systematically on Spiritual Theology, Female Saints tended to write vividly, descriptively, imaginatively and sensuously. I believe it is much more normal for men, and especially women, than this program let’s on, to experience Jesus in a personal way. In her case, it is often romantic. What I am struck by her is her focus on prayer and intentionality. She wants to spend more time in the chapel and in prayer. Often, Catholics use the busy-ness of ministry as a way to escape the vulnerability that intimate prayer requires. I have been there. But on the flipside, I have also had plenty of times, where I felt like the odd man out wanting there to be more prayer (ie suggesting repeatedly to have more Adoration, or Quiet Prayer in the Chapel as a community). I think that the producers have had a challenge portraying her as the crazy woman with the visions, because in social situations she is actually one of the most fun and well-rounded of the bunch. If she does seem like she could be more balanced (more structured common prayer), I believe that she could experience that naturally in any formation program. Again, I could easily say that she would be a blessing to any convent.

Eseni, 23, NY: Being Broken

Eseni joins this series as one of the most conflicted, in that she is currently in a relationship. I don’t think you could be accepted into any formation program if you left a significant relationship that far in the air as she did. Since she is doing a discernment program that is much different, and I don’t see her as problematic. Further, even though she often comments about trying to reconnect with God and her faith, she has also been haunted by the idea of becoming a Sister for a very long time. If you look over my tips on Discernment, I would say that she has good reason to do a deliberate discernment program as such. Whether or not she stays, it is clear her boyfriend may never understand this calling, as there are people who will never understand it. Were I to encourage her personally, I think she should open her heart to the adventure, instead of getting trapped inn expectations. For myself, I wasn’t in love with someone before I joined, but have fallen in love a few times since then. I suppose I will fall in love again. Married people fall in love with other people sometimes. Falling in love is always a reminder to make a choice with God’s guidance rather than being a slave to whims and feelings. I can also personally relate to Eseni, because she is quite aware of her brokenness, I can’t count the many times I have had to put aside my feelings of brokenness and unworthiness in order to discern. I can also relate to having a person (or in my case several), were anticipating me leaving, or giving me the ultimatum of choosing a friendship with them or my vocation.

Augies

Augustinians in formation ~2007. You can find me on the left with my arms crossed.

Francesca, 21, NJ: The Importance of Spiritual Mentors

Francesca is the youngest, and obviously the most emotionally volatile. I guess I was closer to her age when I joined then some of the other women on this show. She is made to stand out, probably by the producers, for wanting to run away, for wanting to call her family. Unfortunately, she is portrayed perhaps too unfavorably on the show. When you are in formation for religious life, you should meet regularly with mentors, a Prior, a Formation Director, a Spiritual Director. These people are there not to give you easy answers, but to help you process the difficult decision you have to make, as well as your own Spiritual & Ministerial Growth. Finally, opening up to members of your community can help you cement bonds. I remember I had a few times I would visit family during Summer or Christmas, and would get caught up in the drama of some of my old friends. Often, I felt as if I was the only student / seminarian who had to deal with the kind of stuff that I was, so it was difficult for me to reach out for understanding. Maybe Francesca has a lot to learn, and some maturing to do, but much of that is because she is still young, so I wouldn’t be too hard on her. I can appreciate her struggle. I imagine the cameras following her around, as well as taking the risk of appearing amount to a lot of pressure for any 21 year old girl. She is the kind of person who would probably benefit from a check-in each week by Superiors for the first couple months, (ie, one on one time for her to be able to process). I also think that her family has had their share of challenges, and is understandably tight knit. Maybe her vocation would actually flourish if she had a few visits from her mother during the beginning of her formation, were she to have a calling. Of course, I come from the Augustinian background, where Augustine’s Rule permits that each person’s needs are addressed particularly, depending on where they come from. Some other religious communities would disagree with this approach.

Claire, 26, IL: Loving Other People

Claire comes from a homeschool family in Joliet, IL. I assisted with an Augustinian Parish near Joliet, and could have run into her at some young adult gatherings in Joliet that I attended. (At least I don’t recall). She seems to have had a rigorous faith formation, and in some ways has never come across the challenges that have shaped the other young women on the show. In some ways, it appears that the producers picked up on this early, and have been digging into her for comments about the other young women. In religious life, we often use our opinions of other people to distract ourselves from what God is calling us to. Sometimes I would rather be persnickety because some other brother is failing to live up to our ideal in Religious Life than do so myself. Sometimes I would rather make a judgment about another than about myself. I remember during my novitiate, I sat across from the computer room. I made a decent effort to avoid internet use during the day (I was literally sending hand-written letters to friends, as well as reading a lot of awesome books). I struggled, because I had a clear view of the other student Friars entering the computer room with frequency. I also struggled because I was the only student who took up a hobby, or who exercised each afternoon, instead of watching all the Harry Potter movies. I was also perceived as too blunt by my classmates that year (even in comments that were not about them). So I can relate. I just remember learning that I also had to be a contributor to community life, toward it’s delight and enjoyment. Certainly, loving my brothers could be a higher penance than fasting or abstinence, but that I was also to be involved in the delight and flourishing of others (rather than mere toleration). Yet, as the show progresses, the more she immerses herself in the life and service of the sisters, it lessens her noticing the flaws of others.

*** UPDATED: Spoilers ahead for those who have seen the whole series ***

As I said, Reality Shows are often more competitive, and so the dynamic is about stirring conflict and controversy. I believe that the producers didn’t go as far as normal shows, and I believe that the girls sincerely did not attempt to go at it this way. That doesn’t stop it from happening. I am seriously convinced that the Producers took the Sisters at each of the convents, and their wisdom and input, very seriously. I believe that they set the agenda for the girls, and the Producers accepted it.

Some people might balk at the young women speaking candidly about their sex lives on national television. Some Catholics might find it unnecessary, or disgusting that they would. I have found that sexualized images of nuns are a problem on tumblr. I also find it off that in our pornographic culture, people generally feel entitled to that sort of information. Whether or not there were cameras rolling, they would have talked about this stuff. Whether or not the producers had a say, it probably would have happened. It is one of those sad states in our culture. However, their conversations rotated around their past, not about their future. One has no reason to believe that any of them think that a Consecrated Sister should subvert her own Vows of Chastity. I think it also gave one of the girls an opportunity to talk about Chastity as redemptive.

When the girls conclude the discernment program, they end up better off. Some of the girls take their discernment to the next level. Only one walks away from discerning religious life, and she is ends in a better position for herself then when she started. One of them invites some of the sisters over to meet her family. It is very important for anyone discerning religious life to make sure their family is connected. All the parents assume that entering a convent means that their daughter WILL NEVER, IN A MILLIONS YEARS ASSOCIATE WITH THEM. If they actually got to know the Sisters, they would feel happier with them and more at ease.

8 Reasons Why Augustine & The Confessions still Matter

20140826_152853I believe that plenty of people who call themselves atheists, agnostics, or renounced their Catholic faith are not irreedemably damned. I believe that not so much because God doesn’t damn people, but more, because many of them just think that they are atheists, agnostics or not-Catholic anymore. Augustine, as he describes in his Confessions, makes it clear that God drew close to him, in spite of Augustine’s sinful life, and drew him back.
Augustine was taught about Jesus as a child, by his Mother, Saint Monica. He was not necessarily raised pagan, he was just never baptized. He even would search for the name of Jesus in pagan literature. He drifted, joined a cult, became a skeptic, and eventually found his home in communion with the Church.

  1. God is not some bearded man in the sky who created the world in six 24 hour days, so many people leave the Church, and declare that they are agnostic or atheist. Augustine was deeply troubled by a literal interpretation of Genesis, probably just as troubled as many intelligent adults are by Modern Evangelical Fundamentalists. Augustine describes this in his Confessions.
  2. Young People swear that they had religion “crammed down their throat.” Augustine took a Sea Voyage at Night, from Africa to Rome, to get away from his Mom who wanted him to be Catholic.
  3. Temptations are tempting because they seem to feel good. Augustine makes no qualms about covering up the internal conflicts we face, about the gruesome delight of sin. He also does not justify himself by evading the fact that these same sins leave you incredibly bereft. Augustine’s candid discussion of Sin, Grace & Redemption would resonate with many young people.
  4. We both know what it is to have a Broken Heart. Many young people are putting off marriage, many of them are just as cynical about finding someone worth marrying as they are about finding a religion worth committing too. Augustine describes the heartbreak he experienced when it didn’t work out with a woman he loved.
  5. As Augustine matures, so does his perspective on God, Faith & the Church. I believe that many young people claim agnosticism without realizing this is part of maturation. I think they are turned away by Catholics who have had an easier time at their faith, not realizing that this Negative Way is part of Spiritual Maturation.
  6. People wonder if religions is useless. Augustine became disillusioned with a narrow perspective of Catholicism before returning. He also became disillusioned with many other Religious cults of his time, including Philosophy & Manicheanism. Conversely he also credits non-Christian pagans with being stepping stones on his way to the fullness of Truth in the Church. I think many people who leave the Church because they think that we teach that being non-Catholic instantly damns one to hell.
  7. Augustine does not always have easy answers, in fact his Confessions often presents unanswered questions. Some Catholics find genuine comfort in Church Teachings which are stated clearly. Many people, including myself, find quick, easy, and clear answers constricting. Augustine’s Confessions reminds us of the importance of Mystery.
  8. Ultimately, Augustine’s Confessions are not so much about himself, but about God’s work in his life. You can always read plenty about Augustine if you want to know him, including a biography from his long time friend Saint Possidius. Since his Confessions are about giving Glory to God, they will provoke readers to see God working in their own life.

UPDATE (8.30.14) Be sure to look up Reading & Studying Augustine to find the preferred translation of the Confessions, and some other easier to read works by Augustine.

10 Tips on Discerning Religious Life

Saint Augustine Monastery, Austin Hall Arcade, San Diego, CA. Where I dwell and stroll to Morning Prayer & Mass each morning.

I have met several Vocation Wrecks, who can never manage to get close to deciding what to do with what God has given.

Sometimes they are given really lousy vocation advice. To deal with vocation wrecks, to comfort people, to dispense scrupulous young people from the misery of discernment, they give them bad advice. Worst is that God gives you a desire. This is an attempt to comfort people who want to be married, assuming that they think marriage is evil or something. I have met more people who cannot make a decision because they desire two mutually exclusive vocations. Second awful vocation advice is telling people that they will find peace. More on that below. I could actually go on about the lousy vocation advice that people who grew up in sheltered ethnic (Irish / Italian / German) parishes tell young people who have become spiritually obese on pop culture and consumerism.

I have found myself repeating many of these to many people. Sometimes I not even giving advice to discerners, but explaining the process to people who have a lot of misconceptions. I believe that most of those misconceptions are shared by people who may be called, but never looked into it. So I gathered these into ten points.

  1. If you begin to feel strangely drawn, begin to have a desire, you should look into it. If you begin to find yourself defensive, opposed, or repulsed by it, it probably requires you to look again. I used to think “They Wouldn’t Let Me Rap.” I met a Sister who used to think Nuns were ugly. If you have no emotional reaction besides a little gratitude or cheer, kindly move on.
  2. Do not Passively Discern in your head or your imagination. Do not think that by “praying about it” to yourself is actually discernment. If you have felt drawn or repulsed by it, become an Active Disciple, and then see how you feel about it.
  3. Sometimes a desire for Consecrated Life is simply a call to Radical Discipleship. Spend more time reading the Scriptures, especially the Gospel. Have a Master/Disciple relationship with Christ. Pray daily. Befriend the Saints. Participate in service to the Church or the community. Go to Eucharistic Adoration. Deepen and grow your commitment to Christ, & the church. See a Spiritual Director.
  4. Sometimes it is a good idea to defer discernment. If you are younger than a Junior in college, if you just broke up, or got rejected by a potential special someone, if someone close to you has died, if you have moved to a new city or state, or if you are changing jobs, it is a good idea to at least let 8 months pass before any serious committed discernment. I am not saying don’t discern, it is difficult to decide. Also, a yearning that persists through this is valid.
  5. A conflicted desire for both Married Life & Consecrated Life deserves a critical look. If marriage appears more comfortable, or includes more perks, you need to be honest, both come with their own Crosses. Many people NEVER have a desire for Consecrated Life. The fact that you do means you should look.
  6. You WILL NOT find immediate Peace, instead you find trepidation. All the Prophets & the Saints felt incredible turmoil. They found no Peace until they gave themselves over to a calling. Being afraid of a Vocation to Religious Life requires that you face it, not run from it. If may feel comfortable to turn away from it. If you feel drawn, but afraid, running won’t give you peace, it will only give you comfort. What is the worst thing that can happen, you find God’s plan for you in Religious Life and you discover immeasurable Love & Joy in Christ
  7. Talk to a Religious. Visit a Religious House, a Convent, or Seminary. Spend a portion of your day with a Sister or a Priest. Attend Mass several days a week. Do a weekly Holy Hour. Deepen your commitment to discipleship. Attempt to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Try the single life for a few months. This is Active Discernment.
  8. You don’t join a religious order for yourself, you join for Christ, His Church, and that community. You don’t pick a habit or patron saint or location that suits your fancy. Eventually all the superficiality and sweetness will wear out, and you will realize that you are stuck with a group of quite unremarkable human beings. This is not a sign to leave or not, but you have to look deeper in yourself and the community you want to join.
  9. Invariably, the moment you decide to actively discern or apply the boy or girl of your dreams WILL magically appear. GOD DOES NOT OR NEED a few bored lonely people with nothing better to do. God wants you to make a choice. Entering religious life does not make everyone else completely unattractive.
  10. Do not wait for 100% certainty to join. No Religious Order expects that. It is easier to leave a Religious Order within a couple years than a Marriage. Do not wait to attain 100% holiness or practice perfect chastity for every millisecond of every day. Marriage IS NOT the magic cure for lust, people have lustful thoughts after being married, and can even fall in love with other people who they are not married to. The point is growing up and moving past your emotions, comforts of 100% certainty or comprehensive preparedness.

The Trinity for Agnostics Part 2

Read Part 1

Many of the Church Fathers termed a process “Apophatic” Theology. Apophatic is a negated speech of God. It was seen in the process of coming to a deeper understanding of God, principally by denying all of your comfortable certitudes about God.

As children, we have very concrete images of God. We let go of them with age. That is normal. If we are serious in our endeavor to understand God in faith, we have to let go of our childhood faith in order to have an adult faith. We can move past the milk to the solid food as Saint Paul says.

It appears to be a dangerous endeavor, and I think many people would rather not have instant answers. Some people want to have the comfort of not having to struggle in the darkness to find God.

Moses encountered the Lord in the wilderness, after having singularly fled Egypt. It was in this darkness that God manifest. Elijah as well, imagining that he pinpointed God in the storms, whirlwinds and thunders, and God manifest in the quiet. The entire Hebrew tradition is wrought with this wonder at divine majesty, that even today, out of reverence, Jews dare not utter the sacred name G-d.

Christians had inherited this. Christians had appropriated it. In many of the instances the Bishops articulated something concise in order to draw a boundary when somebody preached a heresy that took the tradition out of balance, or out of the inherited tradition entirely.

It is not as if most of the heretics woke up one day and decided to wreak havoc on the doctrine of the Church. They probably believed that they had God down in a laboratory. What made it so problematic was that many heretics persisted in their heresy.

But so it is when we encounter someone agnostic whose wandered off with only their speculations. We presume that they have some kind of mal-intent to ruin the tradition. Maybe they are doing apophatic theology and don’t know it. Maybe that is the pilgrimage that God is guiding them on. Maybe you were there too, and God had to take you through it to get you there.

Of course, the Church Fathers do not believe that  Agnosticism is the finality or the climax. While we say that God is love, soon we get confused. We hear the word love thrown around like an old dirty tennisball. We wonder if God really loves us in all our messiness. We wonder if God really even cares, like he hasn’t sent a birthday card in a while. So we can definitely and accurately say that God is not love. The way love is defined, understood, and practiced in our day and age, tainted by lust and jealousy and greed, its really hard to understand what love is, or what we mean by God is love.

Our pilgrimage takes us to something even more spectacular, when we have some kind of solid faith that God is love in such an excellent and magnificent way that words fail. It is like an ascent. We make a positive statement of God, then a negative statement about God, then another positive statement enriched by our awe-inspired reverence for God’s glory, because our love moves us to at least say something.

Of course, some agnostics I have met are just more comfortable not committing to anything, floating along from one experience to another, afraid that should they delve too deeply and sincerely into one thing, their discovery will radically overturn their comfort, and compel them into a dangerous and lovely adventure. It could be that many agnostics are on a sincere pilgrimage, and haven’t gotten to the point where they can again confidently make assertions on God.

Obviously, as faith is a gift from God, so this leap from Apophatic or negative theology requires some sort of divine intervention. God indeed would have to speak. I believe that God did speak quite precisely and definitively in the Word, who is God, who is Incarnate in flesh, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the fullness of God’s revelation to humankind. Jesus invites us on a dangerous and lovely adventure.

It always evokes in me, a sense that sometimes I need to be hushed in reverent silence before the Glorious Majesty of the Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth.

Read Part 3

Read Part 4

With Christ I become critical

Read the Introduction

Read Part I: My Perception of the Christ in my Youth

Read Part II: My struggle to follow the Christ

You may recall, a few weeks ago, that I began telling my story about my journey to Christ. Instead of “searching” for God, God was searching for me. Instead of finding God, God found me. After this discovery, a lot changed.

The major consequence of my walk with Christ had begun to put me at odds with the status quo of the prevailing culture. It also gave me insight causing me to be critical of the often narrow focus of some of the leaders in my youth ministry. For all the good that they did, I was finding that what was missing actually begun to give me a greater conviction in that direction.

I returned to my senior of high school a strange person, studying Ancient Greek Philosophy and Church History while a stoner friend of mind was becoming enthralled with gnosticism. Along with some other friends of his, we spent time in the public library researching. I picked up the Jesus Seminar piece The Five Gospels, if only to read the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. I did not find any of their conclusions startling, as if there was some Church or Jesus that I was sentimental or nostalgic for. It was easy to entertain it. However, the Gnostic Gospel was too spiritual, and the Jesus Seminar was not quite spiritual enough. Concurrently, I was reading a book about Catholicism from a Progressive Theologian that wrote almost exclusively to deconstruct and disprove every traditional doctrine. It was nice for speculation, but it was rather boring. After deeper reflection, I felt the Gnostics, the Jesus Seminar, and this particular progressive theologian had an elitist Jesus that set them above and apart from the Masses.

By the end of the year, I found that many of my non-religious classmates were becoming obsessed with end-times prophecies and the Book of Revelations. I began to find it ironic, that again there was a group of people who hardly attempted to imitate the life and message of Jesus, who felt that they had an exclusive access to Jesus. The consequence of their obsession was a rather bleak and cynical disposition toward humanity. I just had a hard time fitting in with them. It was difficult for me to agree that our actions in this life, had no connection to our relationship with Jesus.

I think it gave me a greater respect for the context of Scripture. It also gave me a conviction of the necessity for a more normative, inclusive, institutional, and culturally positive religious expression. I found that in my home parish. I found that in the Catholic Church throughout the ages. I found that in my Church throughout the world. I also found it liberating to be in a community of sinners, saints, hypocrites, and human beings, without these other exclusive limits on Jesus.

My participation in my youth group allowed something of a safe haven for me to grow in the faith, to which I had very little encouragement elsewhere. In my first few years of college, I was finding various issues that put me at odds ever so slightly. In many ways, this was an acknowledgment of an imbalanced presentation of the faith, and consequently an imbalanced image of Jesus.

Many of the charismatic Catholics in my youth group were highly influenced by Evangelical Protestant literature and culture. This assumed that there must be a hostile confrontation to a hostile anti-Christian culture. This resulted in a Christian bubble “family-values” entertainment culture, where they insisted we throw away all of our “secular” music, and instead listen to “christian” music. Often times, some of this “Christian” entertainment was like a cheap knock-off variation of a pop-culture chart topper. I had experienced Jesus in Hip Hop, even if it could not appropriately be labeled “christian” music. I also found this adversarial attitude troubling for the life of a Christian disciple. I did believe that I benefited from some of the Apologetics that I studied because of hostility that I experienced, but I found it overall severely limited to the entire Gospel message.

Second, I found their focus on an Atonement Sotieriology constricting to the entire Gospel. At youth events, they would say “Jesus died for you!” as if the suggestion was to provoke me to become a disciple. I felt myself becoming a disciple, not for guilt, but because Jesus invited me to New Life in the Resurrection. Of course, as I understood the Jewish tradition of the Paschal Lamb and the Exodus story and Passover, it gave me a new appreciation for the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. I was coming to see more power for our salvation in the Incarnation and Resurrection events. The locus of our salvation, as I saw it, was in the Incarnation and the Resurrection, because these events enabled us to participate in divine life. All the crucifixion was doing to some of the leaders, was teaching us how to hate ourselves, and to hate the world. The Resurrection gave us hope in a world restored to God’s Reign. I soon found that many Eastern Christians found the locus of salvation in the Incarnation.

Third, my youth group was lacking a clear conviction of the Gospel demand for Social Justice. As I studied the Gospels, the lives of the Saints, and a few contemporary Church documents, it was alarming at how our youth group was going to train us to pretend like this life did not matter. Although our youth group did not change, I think something did happen, since so many of my friends became social workers.

I have often heard it said by my elders that a High-Christology incapacitates us for Social Justice. This was hardly the case with my own relationship with Jesus. A High Christology only gave more urgency, timelessness, and relevance to the Gospel. My prayer life also became characterized by something a bit more romantic and special than I feel capable of explaining here. If God was passionate lover, that defined my passionate prayer life. Despite this intensity in my prayer, it never meant escape, only transformation for myself and for the world.

Read Part IV: Profound Insights In My Walk With Christ Today