culture

Hygge. Of the Heart

I think that we sometimes as Catholics don’t give our trendy culture enough of a fair shake.  I know I have my antennae up when I’m reading a trending article laying out a philosophy for life, and for good reason.  A lot of that stuff is junk, but every once in awhile there is a little pearl that sparkles in the rubbishy pile.  Recently there have been a couple of particularly interesting forces pulling the younger generation- simplicity/minimalism and Hygge.  They both seem to go hand in hand and I think that they (with prudence and moderation in mind) offer 1) a new way to live out the gospel imperative in the modern world, and 2) a new openness to certain elements of the gospel.

Let's start with the concept of Hygge.  Hygge is difficult to translate, but it is a Danish concept that includes comfort, intimacy, and “cozy togetherness.”  The Danish are statistically the happiest people on earth.  They point to this philosophy of life as one of the primary principles in their secret recipe for rampant happiness.  Hygge conjures up images of roaring fireplaces, warm socks, fluffy throw blankets, deep conversations with friends, games of charades, soul food, hot cider, etc. to the Danes.  It dictates what they do on nights and weekends and how they relate to their friends.

While there is a lot to be said about the exterior practice of Hygge, I want to talk about Hygge of the heart- prayer and divine intimacy with the Lord.

I had a vague experiential knowledge of Hygge when I first heard about it, and while Christmas lights, warm cocoa, etc. did come to mind it was my first experience of the interior life that really defined the feeling of contentment Hygge is supposed to be all about.  

In college I had a massive conversion while praying the rosary during commercial breaks on Christmas break.  My guilt caught up to me and I wagered that a few decades might help eke me into purgatory.  When I got back to college and eventually found myself sitting in the Newman center chapel after weeks of contented rosary-praying and guilt-ridden everything else, I felt all at once like I was in over my head and cozily at home.  When I started to pray I felt like I was finally doing what I was meant to do my whole life.  But I had no idea what I was doing, so I started glancing around and seeing what other, holier people do in prayer.  I watched how they postured themselves, I noticed when they closed their eyes and where they looked when they didn't.  I took notes on how to genuflect more holily.  But most of all I tried to take note of what they were reading.  At that time St. Faustina’s diary was making its way through the ranks of devoted Newman-ites, and after a couple of nights of inquiry about her story and who she was, I rush ordered my copy of the diary.  

When I began to pray with St. Faustina I began to experience an interior kind of Hygge.  I imagined myself in her convent, so small yet so immense because of the implications of what she was receiving and how she was praying.  The whole world fit in the walls of her cell, and she had access to the heart of Jesus and a duty to pray for every soul.  The intimate way that she talked with Jesus jumped off the page.  I didn’t know what I was doing, but guessed that a saint was a pretty good model for prayer so I started talking to God informally like she did.  I borrowed a word here and there and wove in my own sentiments.  I felt like I was in a cozy cabin in the woods, hidden away from the world I was trying to reject outside the chapel walls.  It was cozy for lack of a better word.  I felt communion with the person of Christ and weirdly with the other people independently praying in the chapel while I was.  

The transformation was barely noticeable.  I found that when I read the diary that I was reading some of the sentiments resounding in my own soul.  I was wandering the corridors of my own “inner monastery.”  I was actually praying with the Saint and even borrowing some of her zeal as I prayed.  But when I left the chapel the “cozy” feeling started to remain with me.  I found that my room, my workplace, my classrooms, etc. all had that cozy feeling.  I retreated into my heart where God and I were building a meeting place together.  God’s presence was the ultimate Hygge.  Even in the struggles and the dryness and the strife and pain of my rapidly changing life, I kept finding myself drawn to that place and experiencing a mysterious happiness.

I found Hygge of the heart in prayer.  The Danes may have found a great way to achieve a certain level of happiness but the saints have found the real Hygge in prayer.

In the next article I’ll talk more about the external ramifications of this philosophy for Catholics.

A Cultural Diagnosis with a Christocentric Cure

 

As a PA student, I am learning how to put together a patient's symptoms and past medical history to create a list of what is called "differential diagnoses," which is used to help form a diagnosis and treatment plan. The symptoms are like pieces to a puzzle that, when put together, reveal the full picture. Learning these techniques has made me look at our world in a similar way.
            One of modern society's symptoms includes avoiding suffering; and, our self-prescribed treatment is egocentrism. Additionally, history reveals man's constant struggle with accepting pain. Looking at these presentations, at the top of my differential diagnosis list is pathophobia, meaning a fear of suffering. And it is understandable. Written in our biology is an aversion toward pain and suffering because it is a threat to our existence. Take a wound for instance. It could lead to bleeding out, or an infection, if left untreated. Our inherent evasion of pain and suffering is a self-preservation instinct.
            However, there is much pain and suffering that is not life-threatening. Yet, we still react to it in the same way as we would react to a fatal wound. There are many things that can cause pain, physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, throughout the day. You may be slighted by your coworker or friend, you may be laughed at, or you may have to skip that meal you have been looking forward to because of your workload. For many people, suffering is not that severe most of the time, as shown by the #firstworldproblems hashtag. People lament their Starbucks order getting messed up or that they are cold because they forgot to bring their jacket to work today, and then post about it, joking or seriously, on social media to attract more attention. These are very superficial struggles that do not deserve to be complained about because there are so many more people who do not even have enough to buy a coffee or a jacket. Sometimes though, you may experience severe suffering - a family member's death, a chronic illness, losing your job, or a natural disaster. These are, unfortunately, unavoidable parts of human existence. We must accept both of these types of suffering, and find meaning in their greater purpose.
            Many virtuous people have told of the inevitability of suffering. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, tells us that, "without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete." How ironic is it that life is contingent upon death and suffering? We cannot fully know that we are alive without knowing what the opposite of life is. It is because of death and suffering that we value life. Another person laden with physical suffering, Helen Keller, wrote, "only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." She, who knew adversity on a daily basis, understood it as a way through which she could grow in virtue. Likewise, the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, saw beauty in suffering. He says, "suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind." This "greatness of mind" is the virtue of being able to step outside of your suffering and see a greater purpose in the hardship.
            Jesus Christ gives profound meaning to our suffering. He tells us, "in the world you will have trouble," admitting that it is inevitable (John 16:33). The encounters in the Gospels are often with people suffering, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Through them, Jesus teaches us that our suffering is not a punishment. He tells his disciples, regarding a man blind from birth, "neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him" (John 9:3). Jesus did not come to the world to acquit our suffering. Rather, he came to show us how to suffer and to redeem our suffering through his Passion - his suffering. He has felt our hurt, and carried it on his shoulders. The second part of John 16:33 continues, "but take courage, for I have conquered the world." Christ relieves our suffering through his compassion, literally meaning to suffer with another.
            It is the acceptance of our burdens and our uniting them with His cross that allows us to grow in virtue. In John 16, under the subtitle "the conditions of discipleship," Jesus tells us,


"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?" (John 16:24-26)
 

Ironically, by accepting our suffering, it is eased, by Christ. It is a part of our being his disciple. And, it is not that we must begrudgingly accept our cross by ourself, so that we may reach heaven. Rather, if we allow Christ to, he walks beside us on the journey to salvation. He helps give meaning to our suffering in the present moment by accompanying us and reminding us how our suffering is a part of his salvific mission.
            So, this is our treatment plan as a society. We have the opportunity to step outside of our daily suffering and to see a greater purpose in it. It may come as embracing the difficulties of your studies, allowing yourself to grow in discipline and wisdom. Or, it can be sacrificing your dessert as redemptive suffering for a sick friend. With Christ's help, we can offer up our suffering for a greater purpose - for our salvation and the salvation of the whole world. And one day, we will be able to be where "there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain" (Revelation 21:4). If we do not let our suffering control us, but see it as a chance for grace and challenge toward growth, we will continue to increase in virtue each day and attract others toward a similar lifestyle.

Tasteless

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Matthew 5:13

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6

We live in a world that’s all about flavor: flavorful food, flavorful conversation and flavorful entertainment. Salt is a primary seasoning; one valued throughout the ages that imparts a lot of flavor. When food is under-salted, it’s bland and tasteless. It’s the same way when we let morals slip, when we forget who we are and what we stand for, we too, become tasteless.

We’ve all seen examples of tasteless humor. It’s everywhere we look: plastered on billboards, projecting from TV and computer screens, staring at us from magazine covers and pages. We’ve even encountered tasteless people: perhaps the man cussing out his wife in a store parking lot, or that woman who always makes vulgar and insulting innuendos about past dating partners.

However, it’s all to easy to become tasteless ourselves. We lose salt and cease seasoning our lives with truth and goodness. It can happen in our lives, in subtle ways or big ways. When we don’t stand up for what is right, or maintain silence when someone challenges what we believe in, give into peer pressure to accept hook up culture, or gossip about a coworker, we slowly begin to lose our flavor. When we lose our flavor, when we slip into moral ambiguity, we don’t stand for anything, and we become like everything else in this broken world: dry, colorless and tasteless like the dust we walk on.

It’s ironic that in a world obsessed with flavor that we’re surrounded by everything tasteless. By trying to imbue scandalous and exciting elements into everything we see, the world has become tasteless in every sense of the word. Our Christian behavior and beliefs seem shocking because they’re so radically different than what we’ve seen around us, because although we’re at odds with tasteless structures, we definitely have a flavor. There’s no mistaking the flavor of salt - there should be no mistaking what we stand for in our culture. And there’s no mistaking that flavor is what makes life worth living. That’s why everyone pursues it culinary and other wise and why Jesus, more than 2,000 years ago, made a parable about the flavor of salt.

Also, Saint Paul advises us to “season our words with salt,” to imbue what we say with kindness and truth that can only come from Christ. What are the ways that we can bring flavor to our lives as Christians? Whether it’s an added prayer time, holding our tongue when tempted to snap at someone or gossip, or even respectfully explaining what we believe in when challenged, there are many little ways to bring salt into our lives.

Every time I’ve read the parable of Christians being the salt of the earth, I’ve been struck by Jesus’ blunt language. If you’re not being the salt of the earth, if you’re not living a Christian lifestyle, if you lose your “flavor,” Jesus makes no qualms about saying we’ll be trampled underfoot. “Trampled” is a strong word, but flavorless salt is basically dust anyways.

Silence.

Listen.  That is the first word St. Benedict instructs his monks and nuns in the Rule he wrote fifteen hundred years ago.  For all of humanity's advances, especially in the last hundred years, human nature has not changed.  Men's hearts are still capable of being troubled by the unsettling burdens of life, or of being silent so as to hear the voice of God.  Thus, St. Benedict’s instruction is just as pertinent to our culture at the start of the Third Christian Millennium as it was when he was alive in the sixth century A.D.

So, we must listen.  But to what . . . and how?  “To the master’s instruction . . . with the ear of [our] heart[s].”  There is a lot to unpack in those few words.  To submit to a master’s instruction, one must admit that he has something to learn. That is, one must have a teachable spirit.  Humility is needed in order to submit one’s will and intellect to eternal truths buried under a cacophony of “Noise–Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile” [C.S. Lewis, “Letter XXII” in The Screwtape Letters]. 

Listen - with the ear of the heart.  St. Benedict combines two disparate organs - one dependent on the other.  We use our ears to listen, but the ear cannot function if the heart's not beating; no heartbeat, no hearing.  So, we then must recognize that we are alive, and by being alive, we are capable of listening to noise, or for the voice of God.

One cannot listen if he is talking, and that is the problem for anyone who is trying to take the faith seriously and live according to it’s life-giving precepts.  It is so easy to “babble as the pagans who think they will be heard by their many words” (Matthew 6:7).  I speak from experience as one who always has something to say - to God, to my brother monks, or to anyone within earshot.  This is why a monastic vocation is such a gift, for monasteries are places that work hard to preserve silence. 

Silence is like a garden that produces the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control: (Galatians 5:22-23).  Noise is like weeds in the garden that chokes the life of the Spirit within the soul.  Silence is not a void to be filled. Rather, silence reveals a Presence that is always with us - a Presence that is Eucharistic and only revealed with the eyes of faith, a Presence in whom “we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

In these dog-days of summer when the Church commemorate the Feast of St. Benedict, may we listen to his instruction and learn to be silent so that the “still soft voice” of Jesus might draw us more closely to Himself.

Civil Religion

If you’re celebrating the Fourth of July holiday this week, you may find yourself with your hand over your heart as the national anthem is played. Perhaps a patriotic parade will march through your neighborhood. Maybe you will end the evening relaxing on a picnic blanket, watching a firework show and celebrating America.

Between fireworks, grilling out and patriotic tunes on the radio, you’ll probably find yourself participating in civil religion this week.

“What?” you may ask, “I’m participating in civil religion?”

Yes.

Even though the first amendment demands that congress should make “no law respecting an establishment of religion,” United States citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation, almost universally participate in civil religion.

One cannot study the concept of civil religion without getting to know Robert Bellah, an America sociologist. In his 1967 article, “Civil Religion in America,” Bellah elaborated on a principle originally introduced by French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, who had written on the concept of civil religion and its importance in establishing a unified national identity.

Bellah writes, “While some have argued that Christianity is the national faith, and others that church and synagogue celebrate only the generalized religion of ‘The American Way of Life,’ few have realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America.”

Civil religion is much more than just a potpourri of politics and religious practices, and it isn’t just extreme patriotism (that would be nationalism). Instead, Bellah describes civil religion as a “shared reverence for sacred symbols drawn from a nation’s history.” Civil religion goes beyond patriotism because it acknowledges the presence of not just a love of a country but also a higher being.

This civil religion can be traced all the way back to the founding of America. George Washington spoke of “that Almighty Being” in his 1789 inaugural address. Lincoln mentions the “providence of God” in his second inaugural address. Kennedy asks God’s “blessing and His help” in his inaugural address in 1961. Countless politicians have ended speeches with the phrase “God bless America,” regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on and where they worship on Sunday morning.

Most recently, Trump invoked God during his own 2017 inaugural address, saying, “The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.”

American civil religion boasts of prophets (George Washington), martyrs (Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy), sacred temples (the Lincoln memorial, the Washington monument and the Thomas Jefferson memorial), sacred documents (The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution), and even songs (The Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, and America the Beautiful).

Without too much trouble, you can find American flags proudly displayed in public spaces and in private homes. Schools take breaks for national holidays like President’s Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Most of grew up reciting a pledge to the star spangled flag.

These historical figures, practices and artifacts inspire a patriotic love of America and an emotional link to the nation’s history.

Civil religion can even be found on our currency – Since 1983, “In God We Trust”, the official motto of the United States, is emblazoned on all US coinage.

But in whose God do we trust? The God of Christianity? Judaism? Islam? Baha’i? Buddhism?   . Our melting pot nation contains a large mix of religious beliefs and backgrounds. American civil religion applies to all citizens of the United States

Therein lies the reality of civil religion – it is not a substitute for traditional religion at all. Instead, it carefully selects aspects of traditional religious practices so that the average American citizen (regardless of his or her personal religious affiliation) sees no conflict between the practice of civil religion and his or her own privately held religious beliefs.

Bellah writes, “What we have, then, from the earliest years of the republic is a collection of beliefs, symbols, and rituals with respect to sacred things and institutionalized in a collectivity. This religion-there seems no other word for it-while not antithetical to and indeed sharing much in common with Christianity, was neither sectarian nor in any specific sense Christian.”

President Dwight Eisenhower is known for his statement: “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith – and I don’t care what it is.”

Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy and countless other presidents refer to a higher being in their famous speeches. Yet the deity they refer to is ambiguous and not tied to any specific religion or denomination. Washington does not mention where he worships on Sunday morning. Lincoln does not mention his Baptist upbringing.  Kennedy strategically left out any mention of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, or anything that would associate him with his personally held (although not personally practiced) Catholic beliefs.

Yet, despite its vagueness, American civil religion is not a bad thing overall. It fosters a sense of togetherness for American citizens, reminds us that there is something greater than ourselves, and establishes a sense of order and tradition.  Calling upon a higher figure has value in American history and especially in today’s political turmoil.

It is okay to participate in civil religion this Fourth of July week – but don’t forget that you’re a practicing Catholic. The God we worship as Catholics is unambiguous and truly present on the altar every time the Mass is celebrated. In the Catholic Church, we find a deeper and stronger faith, truth and hope than American civil religion can never offer.

 

Chloe Langr is a very short stay-at-home-wife, whose growth has probably been stunted by the inhumane amounts of coffee she regularly consumes. She recently graduated with a degree in history from Washburn University. When she is not buried in a growing stack of books, she can be found spending time with her husband and Wilson (their rabbit), geeking out over Theology of the Body, or podcasting. A regular contributor to Aleteia and Epic Pew, you can also find more about her work on her blog, Old Fashioned Girl

Coming to a City Near You: Not Catholic Beer Club

There has been a quite a stir around the nation with “Catholic Beer Club” taking root in many of America’s major cities. Bloggers for the CBC Times, such as Kyle Sellnow and Jacob Machado, believe that Catholic Beer Club has the potential to bring new people together and create foundations for strong friendships. See 4 Steps to Creating Community That Matters, 7 Ways to Start Having Conversations that Matter, Finding Community, or Building Community, and Love: The True Purpose of Community, amongst others. But many honestly believe that what the world really needs is Not Catholic Beer Club, otherwise known as NCBC. They think NCBC comes with more benefits and will more easily accomplish the goals of CBC.

When asked what sets Not Catholic Beer Club apart from CBC, Austin Martin, founder and president of NCBC, said “We feel like our club provides for a broader range of people, allowing for individuals from differing backgrounds to meet one another and build relationships.” He also expressed his desire to simply have a place where no one will ever ask hard questions or encourage anyone to become a better person.

NCBC’s vice secretary of social affairs, Victor Tracy, said that “setting up events takes almost no work due to the club pretty much having no motivations.” When asked about the club seeming to have negative vibes right in the name, Tracy responded, “Whatever negativity people might perceive in the name, they’re simply wrong. At NCBC, people have freedom to live by their own truths and think whatever they’d like about themselves and the world.” Tracy noted the great courage of one “fallen” brother who deeply believed he had wings and could fly off the rooftop patio bar. Reportedly, before he launched himself, the man proclaimed, “No one can tell me what to do with my own body.” The man is still in the hospital and now self-identifies as having a broken femur.

Shelby Womack and Ty Samson, two regulars at NCBC, both expressed how much fun they had at each of the events they’ve been to. Samson, who was believed to still be recovering from a hangover, said, “From what I can remember, it was a pretty good time.” Womack noted that NCBC is great because it provides opportunities for more than just beer. “President Martin believes that limiting people to only beer is not very inclusive,” she said. Martin confirmed this by telling us that “I believe that CBC is alcoholist. Not only are we not exclusive to only Catholics, we are not exclusive to beer.” Martin was emphatic that being alcoholist, the bigoted discrimination of certain kinds of alcohol, is extremely non-inclusive and prejudiced. “I’m definitely coming to this rather than CBC next month,” added newcomer Ryan O'Leary who hugely prefers whisky to beer. After getting in touch with club representatives, it turns out CBC does in fact welcome non-Catholics to their events. Though, as a beer club, they are still partial to beer.

While CBC has made quite a splash around the nation, President Martin thinks that within the next six months NCBC will be found in every major city in America and will most likely double CBC’s numbers. When asked about NCBC, president of Catholic Beer Club, Derek Roush said, “I don’t like it. It just does not seem like a sustainable model for a club. It is a club founded on absolutely nothing.”

Regardless, many people see Not Catholic Beer Club as a new and exciting way to meet a diverse range of people and to build and deepen friendships. So, if you are looking to make some new friends, look for the next Not Catholic Beer Club near you and check it out for yourself! NCBC will be meeting on exactly the same night as your local Catholic Beer Club events. You can find them at the bar directly across the street.

 

I Vow to Thee, My Country

I have recently grown fond of a rather beautiful poem. It’s called “I Vow to Thee, My Country.” Written by Sir Cecil Spring Rice, it outlines the devotion one has to his country, and the longing love to his eternal homeland.

It’s uncertain when exactly Rice wrote the poem, but many agree it was around 1912 when he was appointed as Britain’s ambassador to the United States. His main task: to convince the Woodrow Wilson Administration to abandon neutrality and join the fight against the Germans in World War I. His mission was successful, and in 1918, was recalled back to his island home. It was then that he reworked the poem to reflect a mood of somber loyalties one has to his country.

The poem was at one time memorized by all English boys and girls. So powerful was the appeal that Gustav Holst, composer of The Planets symphony, modified a key movement from “Jupiter” to fit it to the poem. It is a common anthem sung at numerous official events, and while it has a distinctly English feeling, for sure, the essence is universal.

Once titled “Urbs Dei” and “The Two Fatherlands,” the core theme is duty and love to home. It is appropriate, considering for most people, their place of birth (or adopted new country) is like their own familiar Jerusalem, a City of God. Pius XII once said

It is quite legitimate for nations to treat [their] differences as a sacred inheritance and guard them at all costs. The Church aims at unity, a unity determined and kept alive by that supernatural love which should be actuating everybody; she does not aim at a uniformity which would only be external in its effects and would cramp the natural tendencies of the nations concerned.

This is the essence at which the poem aims, to embrace the natural love one feels for their country, while keeping the heart and soul direct to the Eternal City in Heaven. While nations may go to war to protect themselves, the “country I heard of long ago” is gentle, and all her paths are peace.

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above
entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
the love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
that lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
the love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
the love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago
most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
we may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
and soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
and her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Amusing Ourselves to Eternal Damnation

Man was created for greatness—for God Himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched.
— Spe Salve, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

I recently corrected my seven year old son for telling his younger sibling that, because he told a minor fib, he was going to Hell. The sum of my argument was that, if he wished his brother to choose the good, we motivate more by love than by fear. As I jotted down the title to this post, I wondered whether what I said was always true. For a child’s heart can be moved by love but the adult heart is often in such disrepair that it often requires a jolt of fear first.

Today, I see a culture of entertainment that prohibits us from hearing the call of love. By entertainment, I mean anything that amuses us and at the same time keeps our mind and heart fixed in its current state. If you break the word down, you will see what I mean: “-tain” comes from the word “to hold” (teneo) and the prefix “enter-” means “inside or among”. Entertainment, literally, holds you where you are at. On the college campus I inhabit, I see two forms of entertainment.

The first, a group effort prevalent especially among Greek life, requires an enormous amount of work but very little independent thought. By this I refer to the drinking and hook-up culture on campus. The young men I saw yesterday in front of me in the check-out line are a perfect example. They had spent half the afternoon trying to find cheap margarita glasses, but had to settle for plastic pitchers. What difference in the end? It was a positive improvement, in fact, if the point is to get drunk as quickly as possible. And so the sober hours are spent in indolent pursuit of oblivion. They oddly reminded me of the Danaid sisters from Greek myth who must spend an eternity hauling water in leaky buckets from the river Styx to a barrel some distance away. Night after night drowning in liquor and day after day avoiding the shock to find they are once again sober and dry.

The second, a solitary and more insidious set, are those entertained and addicted to Netflix and video games. The trouble here is that the sinfulness of these habits is less visible than the first group. And even then, the human tendency to rationalize a sin by saying that it harms no one is easily accomplished by it. To this I retort that there is nothing human about locking oneself in your bedroom and watching Netflix or playing Xbox till 2am. Man is a political animal. We are made for relationship. These habits are relationship killing. They remove us from humanity.

At this point I need to come in with a word from St. John Bosco:
“Relax, have fun, laugh, go hiking, do anything you like, as long as you do not sin.”

The fact is that entertainment lacks joy. All the activities St. John Bosco lists have two things in common: 1) they are joyful and 2) they take us out of ourselves (i.e. they are the opposite of entertainment). When we relax (here I picture myself sitting down with a beer with my spouse or one or two friends), we remove ourselves from the concerns of the moment and are present to the past or contemplate the future. A very human activity. When I go for a hike, I cannot be entertained because every moment something new sight, sound, or smell moves my mind.

The best distinction I can make then is that I would call those activities that take us out of our mindset as “leisure” as opposed to entertainment. And as Catholics I would say that our non-work time is meant for leisure, not entertainment. The “weekend”––with binging on booze or Netflix––is entertaining. Sunday––a Sunday of worship, of hiking with friends, of eating and drinking and talking with family around the table––is leisurely.

But we live in an entertaining culture, and there is a danger that our leisure can fade into entertainment. We see this in various abuses of liturgy, we see this in a desire to be seen rather than to see, we see this in how frequently a friend checks their phone in a conversation.


I return then to the quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI with which I started this reflection. We are called to greatness. That calling will draw us out of ourselves. Entertainment has nothing to do with greatness. Golden shackles are still shackles. If your heart does not ache with being stretched from its sin-shriveled smallness to the grandeur God is calling you to, then you are being entertained.

La La Land

***spoiler alert

            My sister walked out Damien Chazelle’s movie, “La La Land” in tears.  There were moments during the film when I could barely maintain composure as well.  Why was the movie so compelling? 

            The movie begins with two individuals pursuing their respective dreams.  Mia dreams about becoming a famous actress.  Sebastian dreams about rescuing jazz and opening up his own jazz bar.  Sebastian and Mia’s passion for their dreams creates a magnetic attraction between the two individuals.  They push each other to pursue their dreams, dance under the stars, and fall in love beneath sunsets.

            Sebastian and Mia’s relationship struggles as Sebastian’s band starts a world tour, traveling for weeks at a time.  These struggles culminate on the night of Mia’s one-woman show show, when Sebastian skips her show for a photo shoot.  Only 4-5 other people show up to watch; Mia feels like a failure; and the couple dramatically breaks up. 

            A movie director later contacts Sebastian hoping to hire Mia after seeing her show.  Sebastian drives across the state to find Mia and encourages her to finish the audition.  She gets the role, and once again they are faced with a difficult decision.  Will they sacrifice for each other?  Will he leave the band behind and follow her to Paris?  Will she let the position go?  Neither party is willing to compromise on their dreams, so they part sadly saying, “I’m always gonna love you.”

            The movie ends showing Mia married to a handsome man with a beautiful baby, accidentally walking into Sebastian’s bar on date night.  Sebastian notices her in the crowd and begins to play their theme song.  Scenes from the life they could have had together play across the screen.  This is where I began to tear up, not as profoundly as my sister, but where my emotions did get the best of me.  Why didn’t Sebastian follow her?  She was going to be successful enough to fund his musical endeavors.  Why wouldn’t she go on tour with him?  His fame could have brought her the attention she needed to be a successful actress.  Why didn’t they prioritize each other? 

            This movie evokes many questions and does not provide concrete answers.  What is love?  Is it La La Land?  Dancing in the stars?  Is passion enough?  Did Sebastian and Mia even really love each other?  Maybe they did.  If love is really, “willing the good of the other,” then they both did push each other to be successful and to fulfill their dreams.  Maybe sometimes, loving someone means letting him or her go.  BUT maybe they didn’t.  If love is “self-sacrificial and laying down your life for the person you love,” then neither was willing to sacrifice.  Did they ultimately love music, acting, or themselves more than they loved each other? Can this type of pride have any place within the context of loving relationships?  Is love showing up, no matter what?  I am no philosopher.  I cannot answer those questions, but I do argue that this movie allows us to “feel” some answers and consequences.  It allows us to feel the sting of unrequited love and decide who and what we are willing to sacrifice for in our own lives. 

            Furthermore, it also shows us the mercy of time and grace in this life.  Even though Mia and Sebastian decided that loving each other meant letting go, God gave Mia another man to love, who was willing to sacrifice for her.  He gave her someone who did show up for her when she needed him.  The sting of unrequited love did not ultimately steal her ability to love forever.  It begs the question, were Sebastian and Mia really soul mates?  Or is Mia’s soul mate the man she married?  Is there truly one person we could be destined to spend the rest of our lives with?  And is it really possible to mess that up irreparably?  Knowing the Lord’s mercy, I doubt it.  How could I really destroy God’s plan for myself?  I am just not that powerful.  Perhaps God in his mercy provides many opportunities for love.  Perhaps, we meet our respective soul mates by putting aside our pride and choosing to love despite the personal cost.  Just maybe, at that perfect intersection of our heart’s openness and the mercy of opportunity we choose love.

           If you have not seen the movie, I highly suggest that you see it.  Art is meant to evoke emotions and questions, not provide answers.  This movie is art.  I’ll leave you with the epilogue, full emotions and questions, but void of answers.  Perhaps, you may may feel something as you listen.     

Taking a Deep Breath

It's Saturday. Just like it was last week. Here's some resources for weekending like nobodies business.

1) The Eye of the Tiber

It's like The Onion. For Catholics. 

2) The Barefoot Nomad

 

For dreaming about exploring, and for making it practical.

3) Your local Open Space

Because nothing quite matches a simple breath of fresh air.

And Remember

From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world
— St. Arnold of Metz, Patron of Brewers