My 15-year-old son is a member of the “whatever” generation: anything Dad thinks is of profound significance often elicits a “whatever,” in look if not the actual word.
Recently, after Mass on “Donut Sunday,” we were in the parish hall. The hall is dedicated to a former pastor, about whom the current pastor decided to make people aware of more than just his name. Opposite the donuts was a poster detailing the former pastor’s role in getting new bells for the church in the 1970s.
That, in turn, generated a discussion with my boy about my recent article, “C’mon Ring Those Bells!” and the significance of church bells as sacramentals that should not be silenced. I was proud of the piece, especially since it seemed to generate lots of hits, interest, and shares. My son’s response was: “It’s a bell. Whatever.”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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I noted all the ways bells make the Church aurally present in a secular world. His response: “But you could get a speaker and a recording.”
For him, church bells were “just” an “alarm,” as he put it. The current pastor courteously sounds the bell at 10:25, a five-minute warning bell for (not just) teenagers to shuffle faster into church.
For Karol, church bells are purely utilitarian, “just” an “alarm” or sound that can be substituted with the equivalent of canned steeple elevator music.
That caused me to wonder about today’s lack of wonder.
Twenty-some years ago, when my eldest daughter was a little girl, I remember walking back home with her from the local butcher on a spring Saturday morning. We encountered a really big puddle on the street, and she stopped and spent a good ten minutes looking at that puddle, its glints of light, the varying eddies as the vernal wind stirred the water. After observing it for what it was, she then began to see how her human toes or blowing changed it.
I remember thinking at the time how children can see the everyday of the world differently. That the quotidian is not “ordinary.” That, if one looked and listened, as Romano Guardini remarked, one could see a wonder in the world.
What is our vocational, STEM-centric education doing to crush that?
The late Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote of his conversion to Catholicism in terms of a tree. He grew up in a proper Presbyterian home, which probably meant Catholics were the enemy and everything else really didn’t matter; a “mainstream Protestantism” that smeared a dollop of religiosity, like so much Nutella, upon autonomous, perhaps almost deistic, life.
Dulles was an undergraduate at Harvard. He recalls walking across campus on an early spring day when he observed a single tree that had just produced its first bud. That bud stopped the undergraduate in his tracks. He thought about the fact that that bud didn’t have to be. But it was; it was beautiful, and it brought a moment of both beauty and thought into Dulles’ life, an awareness of the wonder and sacramentality of life that brought him—against his family’s wishes—to the Catholic Church.
It wasn’t “just” a bud or a tree.
Somewhere in her Diary, St. Faustina Kowalska reflects upon a little bug she saw on the floor of her convent one December day. December in Poland is cold, and floors—especially stone ones—are cold. Most people wouldn’t want a bug around anyway and no doubt reactively swat it.
But that bug caused Faustina to think. Here, unnoticed, amidst less-than-hospitable conditions, amidst the full sweep of history, was this bug with the life God gave it. And while others might not notice it, God saw it, and it was good.
I fear that modernity and its “scientific,” empirical worldview terribly flattens young people, making them “lifelong learners” of the ephemeral at the cost of awareness that “there are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.” Or that “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what great things God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Perhaps it hasn’t entered because we’ve lost our imagination, our sense of wonder, our surprise at buds, bugs, or puddles.
They’re “just” buds, bugs, or puddles.
But if that’s “just” all they are, it seems we’re being terribly unjust to being, and to its Author. We’re also blurring their vision of the miracle of the Church and the wonder of life. Let’s “just” stop this.