Monday, October 19, 2009

"I just don't get it. I mean, you're such a smart guy..."

My high school reunion went splendidly. The class of 99 for Oak Ridge High had almost 400 students but less than 100 came. Imagine their surprise when I arrived in a Roman collar. Most of my closest friends from those days declined to attend, but nonetheless I still met people with whom I attended grade school up through high school. The night before then I hung out with some old friends I used to work with just before entering the seminary. An increasingly common phenomenon - particularly when I wear clerics or the cassock in public - is people will express to me an interest in Catholicism and in joining the Church. God works in mysterious ways indeed!

It works the opposite way too; if you wish to be a priest, you cannot be afraid of confrontations, especially today. Some classmates wished to interrogate me on the Church's stance on same-sex "marriage." Not that I'm complaining; I want people to approach me with these questions. Looking at it from anything other than man-the-measure-of-everything secular materialism is a huge philosophical dislocation for most people these days. One old friend whom I hadn't seen in many years was getting increasingly furious with me as our conversation went on. "How DARE the Church tell anyone what to do, how does it affect you, why are you so hateful, etc.," as he poked his finger on my chest. At one point we discussed the nature of truth and how one can have sure knowledge of truth. I said, "Let's take this chair. If I say the chair is here, and you say the chair is not there, we cannot both be right, can we?" He said, "That's a bad analogy and it's a trap and I won't fall for it!"

We actually agreed more than we disagreed. He conceded, for example, that right and wrong are not determined by human wishes, and that we are social creatures by nature. My favorite part of the night was when someone else said to me, "Now Kevin, I know you're a smart guy and all but... how on earth did you ever decide to become Catholic? How can you know that it's TRUE?!" That's really the crisis of the modern mind, isn't it? We've deconstructed, disestablished, and disowned everything except the fulfillment of our own subjective desires. But like St. Augustine, we find ourselves restless even in the midst of so much material plenty. We've been told that the only absolute truth is there is no absolute truth, but everyone knows, even if it's only at a subconscious level, that this is a contradiction. The hunger for truth is still there. St. Augustine had the skeptics number 1600 years ago: there may be any number of "truths" out there but they cannot all be right. Some people say it's the search that is more meaningful. To be sure there is some truth in that: it's far better to be searching for the truth than to be indifferent to it. But a search for something that cannot be attained leads to despair instead of joy. Think about your own life. Who has always been happier and inspired more devotion: the man who knows the truth and lives it, or the caustic cynic who never believes in anyone or anything? "But how do you know what is the truth?" The truth is not a thing but a Person: Jesus Christ. As Cardinal Newman said, there is more than enough evidence for Christianity to be worthy of a firm conviction. But since Descartes, we now subject everything to what I think is a most unreasonable doubt.

It's funny: we have blogs, blackberries, youtube, facebook, twitter, and any number of communications devices. But I wonder how much we really communicate with each other anymore. I didn't realize how much I missed all of them until that night. I think I had more pictures taken with classmates on Saturday night than in all four years of high school put together! And I will pray earnestly for their conversions. If my seminary years are uninterrupted, by the time our twentieth reunion arrives I will have only been a priest for four years :p

3 comments:

guamkidd said...

While there are other great points you made here Mr. Beckman, I think being present to the people is the most telling point of all.

Some are not fond of our desire to wear clerics (or cassock for that matter) in public. Your experience proved to be of great value. You excited an interest in the faith and planted the seed of further study and contemplation. Good Job and God Bless you!

When Pope Benedict XVI announced a "year for priests", he called for a young generation of priests who embrace a "correct" interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. He called for them to be "present, identifiable and recognizable -- for their judgment of faith, their personal virtues and their attire -- in the fields of culture and charity which have always been at the heart of the church's mission,"

Just as an added note:

The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, prepared by the Congregation for the Clergy and approved by Pope John Paul II on January 31, 1994, says:

In a secularized and tendentiously materialistic society, where even the external signs of sacred and supernatural realities tend to be disappearing, the necessity is particularly felt that the priest-man of God, dispenser of His mysteries-should be recognizable in the sight of the community, even through the clothing he wears, as an unmistakable sign of his dedication and of his identity as a recipient of a public ministry. The priest should be recognizable above all through his behavior, but also through his dressing in a way that renders immediately perceptible to all the faithful, even to all men, his identity and his belonging to God and to the Church.

Read more at:
http://romancatholicvocations.blogspot.com/2008/01/visible-sign-roman-collar.html

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/letters/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20090616_anno-sacerdotale_en.html

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0901200.htm

Peter said...

Amen.

Colin said...

Haha...glad it turned out so well.