Does anyone else feel like one night, not too long ago, they went to bed in a reasonably normal world and woke up to a world scripted by Albert Camus?
My hand’s up. Way, way up. I know I’m still supposed to be bubbling over with Easter joy (and believe me, I’m doing my due diligence in the chocolate-eating department), but the culture’s rapid and violent pivot to absurdism has me too disoriented for bubbling. Spinning is more like it.
I mean, we’ve got George Washington University students trying to get their Newman Center’s chaplain removed because, well, he’s Catholic; Johns Hopkins University won’t recognize a student pro-life group because that might make other students uncomfortable; and suddenly anyone who has the temerity to say marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman is a crazed, fundamentalist bigot who probably tortures small puppies behind closed doors.
Oh, and people in all seriousness are arguing on Facebook that a government that can’t even pay its electric bill should fund research on duck genitalia.
Spinning, spinning, spinning.
So, how do we, as Catholics, respond to the madness? Guns? Ammo? Canned goods?
1. Get Married.
Seriously. It all starts here. As Pope Benedict said not long ago, there is “a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage.” He then went on to point out that “marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the New Evangelization.”
So, be part of the solution, not the problem. Stop waiting for God to show up at your front door with a handwritten invitation to a primary vocation and get busy already. God has called you enter into a spousal relationship in time—either with another person in marriage, with his Church as a priest, or with him in the consecrated life. That call is already written on your heart, and it was put there so that you can grow in holiness and model God’s self-giving love for the world. Read that call, then answer it. Start applying to seminaries or visiting religious orders. If you think you’re called to live the consecrated life in the world, talk to your bishop about making vows.
If it’s a human marriage God made you for, do a serious reassessment of your expectations. Do you think you need to wait until you’ve established a career and traveled the world? You don’t. Do you think you need to find your soul mate? Well, as Julie Shaw so wisely noted on Slate this week, “You don’t marry someone because he’s your soul mate; he becomes your soul mate because you married him.” Forget about every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen and find someone whose company you enjoy and whose worldview you share, someone who you can trust to be loyal and true, someone with whom you can laugh and cry as you build a life and a family.
And no, finding that someone isn’t easy, nor is it entirely up to us. Faithful single Catholics are few, and spouses don’t show up on command. Increasingly, there’s a whole lot of waiting involved. Trust me, I know. I wrote the book. But waiting doesn’t have to be wasted time. At least not if you’re waiting right. So, wait right. Live chastely. Date chastely. Serve God, talk to God, and bear your crosses daily. Use this time to become more the woman or man God made you to be, and more the woman or man your future spouse needs you to be. Then, when you do get married…
2. Love Your Spouse
More than almost anything else, our world needs to see what real love looks like. Most of what it knows of love is Hollywood caricatures and real world failures. Show people something different. Show them integrity. Show them fidelity. Show them humility and sacrifice and meekness. Show them an incredibly imperfect person waking up every morning and loving their spouse like their life depends on it. Don’t just invest the same energy in your marriage that you invest in your career or your marathon training or the Steelers. Invest exponentially more.
And if your spouse hurts you? Forgive her. If he betrays you? Remain faithful. If she makes you unhappy? Work harder to make her happy. Don’t look to your spouse to totally fulfill you. Unless your spouse is Jesus. Then, yeah, you can expect total fulfillment. For the rest of us, married to human persons not divine ones, we should just expect marriage to stretch us, challenge us, and—one daily death at a time—make us holy. After all, that’s what it’s there for.
3. Have Babies.
Lots and lots of babies. Boy babies and girl babies. Healthy babies and sick babies. Babies you plan and babies that catch you by surprise. Welcome them all. Show the culture of death just how wrong they’ve got it by building a culture of life within your home, a culture where every life is recognized for what it is: an incarnation of love and hope, a gift from God, an image of God.
Then, love those babies. Laugh with them, cuddle with them, and play with them. Teach them, pray with them, and discipline them. Show them how beautiful they are and how infinitely more beautiful God is. In the midst of the tantrums, vomit, and dirty diapers, the cheerio crumbs, dirty walls, and broken dishes, the slamming doors and blasting music, model for them the fatherhood of God and motherhood of the Church. And on the days you fail, just tell them you’re sorry. They’ll learn from that too.
4. Give Generously.
Cancel cable and increase your contribution to your parish. Cut back on eating out and send the dollars saved to a crisis pregnancy center. Forgo meat for a week and buy groceries for the friend that just lost her job. You don’t have to take a vow of poverty and don a habit, but almost all of us can find at least one “extra” to trim from the budget and give to God’s poor.
Even if you can’t, you can give a greater gift: your time and love. Listen to your friends. Check up on your parents. Get off the phone when you’re driving your kids home from school and ask about their day. Look at the world around you and see who’s in need of a smile, a conversation, or a hand to hold. Then give them that hand. Love your neighbor as yourself
You knew this was coming, right? But oh boy, do we need to pray. Not just for the world, but for ourselves. We need to talk to God, spend time with God, praise God, and thank God. We need to receive the grace God longs to give us in the sacraments, and we need to receive the wisdom he’s written down for us in his Word.
Why? So that we become more perfectly conformed to him.
As John Paul II said, we need to be become what we are, imaging Christ more fully so that the world can see him more clearly. If the men and women who live and work around us aren’t seeing Christ—his love, his mercy, his truth, his plan, his joy—it’s at least in part because we’re not showing it to them. We’re not loving radically enough. We’re not witnessing boldly enough.
That’s what these five points all boil down to: our witness—our radical loving, bold, hopeful witness.
1700 years ago, ordinary men and women converted an empire not with arguments, but with their lives. Sometimes that meant bleeding out in an arena. More often, it meant opting not to kill their newborn baby girls, caring for their neighbors in the midst of deadly plagues, and loving their spouses as they loved their own bodies.
That was the response of the first Christians to a world gone mad. That was the method of the old evangelization. And it worked. It didn’t keep the civilization from collapsing, but it helped something more beautiful, more graced, rise from the ashes.
It can do the same today … if we choose to live the Christian life with the same abandon. That’s what the Church is calling us to do through the New Evangelization. In fact, that is the New Evangelization. It’s not a program. It’s a way of life. It’s a response to radical absurdity with radical love.
No ammo or canned goods required.