Catholics have an unprecedented opportunity in modern day to refuse to embrace the contemporary zeitgeist and instead direct discontented and anxious souls to the transcendentals, to God. Those who say this can’t be done haven’t had any experience in trying. While there are different ways to direct one’s attention toward transcendental concerns, the ability to do so successfully brings a great rebirth among people.
A student I know and work closely with at university, an enthusiastic English major and aspiring writer, has been inquiring about the RCIA while having found renewed faith. He was raised Baptist but was agnostic when we met and has recently had a reawakening. This movement toward Catholicism and (re)embrace of Christianity has also changed his disposition, the way he walks and moves, the general happiness that radiates from his soul. He has told me that he now wants to write a three-part epic covering the Passion, Harrowing, and Ascension that mirrors and rivals Dante’s Divine Comedy. God bless him if he embarks on that journey.
We are told that we need to meet people where they are at. I agree, but not in the way that the prevailing ideology of that statement implies or is often employed. The current interpretation of meeting people where they are at, especially when promoted by dissident clergy and media, really means abandoning Church teaching and adopting the spirit of whatever the people want (read: progressive reformism). And what the people want, we are told, are the hot-button social issues we all know.
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By contrast, meeting the people where they are at in order to lift them up to the transcendentals is another matter. This marries Church teaching with the complexities and diversity of human existence. Not everyone is the same. A lecture on the transcendentals to graduate students isn’t going to work with teenagers. Likewise, the inability to explain and highlight the Christian values and virtues of love, forgiveness, and redemption in cultural trends only handcuffs our work and restricts the wellspring of cultural material we can draw from to reach others and teach the essences of the Faith and the Gospel.
The call to meet people isn’t about abrogating revelatory truth. The call to meet people is to bring them into the deposit of truth given to the Church.
Humans, being created in the image of God, have been created in wisdom and love for wisdom and love. Humans are spiritual, metaphysical creatures who yearn to be united with God. Separated from God, however, we are prone to the fits and struggles that come with being confused, concupiscent creatures.
When I met this student, it was originally for English and writing tutoring. He, of course, knew that I was Catholic. But in getting to know him for tutoring, I also began inquiring about his spiritual state because he had mentioned some things about theology and the Bible.
He was, in fact, intellectually inquisitive but didn’t find the sustenance he was hoping for in his Baptist faith. Because of this disappointment, he gave up on Christianity in general. However, in informing him about the fourfold interpretation of Scripture from the Catholic point of view, expressing to him the marriage of literature and theology in the Catholic tradition, and expounding on the long history of theological depth and diversity that our theology has, his soulful curiosity was redirected to the transcendentals, back to God, back to Christianity.
This didn’t entail classroom lecturing or the type of tutoring I engaged in while at Yale. This entailed personal connection and understanding, realizing where he was at and what I could provide—not to confirm him in his state of agnosticism, but to bring him back to the Love and Wisdom that is God and is incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ. In doing so, he also began attending Mass and reading various Catholic theologians and books, as his time permits, that I have provided to encourage him in his journey to the Church.
As Catholics, the reawakening of the soul to the Good, True, and Beautiful is what one of our principal tasks should be. We come not as apologists of the zeitgeist seeking to affirm drifting souls in the city of man with the ethos of the city of man. We come as shepherds bringing the love and wisdom of God to souls who need it. When we actually meet people where they are at with the intention of directing them back to God, we find conversion and transformation.
Today, the problem that many in the Church have is the refusal to direct souls to what souls need. There is plenty of talk of “community” and “caring” and “compassion” and other buzzwords that aren’t bad in and of themselves; but in their vagueness they lead one to ask what is really motivating these concerns. Community, care, and compassion without Christ are nothing more than just the trappings of Christianity without Christ. Community without Christ is transitory. Caring and compassion without the healing grace of God is, from a theological point of view, callous and cruel. Coming to the people without the saving Gospel, and without concern for the transcendentals, consigns souls to the fallen condition.
Participation with the Good, True, and Beautiful through Christ is an exhilarating reality. Those who have been denied it but later encounter it often find their lives and their souls transformed, converted, re-oriented (conversio) to God. There is no field hospital or healing of humans without the actual medicine for spiritual sickness. The opportunity to bring the medicine of the Good, True, and Beautiful to others always presents itself. We must have the courage to undertake that work; and we may often be surprised by its results.
[Photo Credit: Pixabay]