"I am living here in the wilderness of Calabria, far removed from all human habitation. There are some brethren here with me, some of whom are very well educated, and they are keeping assiduous watch for their Lord, so as to open to Him at once when He knocks." St. Bruno
The starting point for many things is grief, at the place where endings seem so absolute. One should think it should be otherwise, but the pain of closing is antecedent to every new opening in our lives.
My posts have been scarce the last couple weeks because I am now 17 days away from getting married. November 9th will mark the end of my vocational discernment, and the beginning of a whole new way of life for me. Everyone has a unique and perfectly planned path to get to this point, and God led me through some really amazing experiences to prepare me for this.
I think one of the most important lessons He’s taught me is that my beautiful fiancée will not satisfy the deepest longings of my heart. That’s right, I know what I said, and no she won’t be mad that I said it. In fact, she feels the same way about me! Don’t get me wrong, she is the most amazing woman I have ever met. I could not write enough about how wonderful she is, and I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect companion to journey through life with. The fact remains; we won’t satisfy the deepest longing in each other’s heart.
There are so many posts, magazine articles, and even journal articles in the psychology literature talking about loneliness and the search for satisfaction in sex or relationships. It doesn’t matter if you are reading your favorite Catholic blogger, the media headlines, or boring atheistic “science,” EVERYONE IS SAYING THE SAME THING! The overwhelming consensus is that we are not happy here. Not really, not in the deepest sense. Even the happiest married couples can talk about the times they went through a “rough patch.” One couple I used to see went 7 years being disgusted with each other!
So what is going on? What is that loneliness in the depths of the heart you might feel when you wake up at 3am, regardless of whether or not there’s a spouse sleeping next to you? John Paul II called it “original solitude,” and mankind has been trying to escape it since day 1. This is a heavy teaching but it has to do with the fact that we are ultimately created to be in an intimate, infinite relationship with God. JPII says we are made to be a “partner with the Absolute,” in a “unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship with God himself.” I think St. Augustine simplifies things a lot by saying, “Our hearts are restless, oh Lord, until they rest in You.”
So here we are, stuck in this state of life, with restless hearts created for partnership with the Absolute. Until we are in Heaven, we can’t enjoy that partnership in all its glory. Instead we get hints, tastes, and reminders. Everyone experiences loneliness, even if they don’t believe in Heaven. Believer or not, if it’s real it’s real for everyone, and so the restless hearts idea makes a whole lot of sense. It also makes sense why people from every belief and perspective write about it, and it also makes sense that there are very different ways to deal with it. Some people try to satisfy that longing with temporary things. They might feel satisfied for a time, but quickly feel empty and realize they need more. They might expect something even as good as marriage to take it away, but ultimately come up short. Some people might try to repress the longing. They try to pray their longings away, pretend they don’t exist, call them evil, or even adopt a Buddhist or Stoic mentality. There is a third option though. If we realize why we have that restlessness, we can look forward to its ultimate fulfillment and prepare ourselves for it. This is how we can turn loneliness into solitude. By accepting our solitude, we can then appreciate the hints, tastes, and reminders for what they are and not expect them to give us the satisfaction that we are ultimately seeking. We can then really love our spouses and realize that vocation is ultimately about giving, not getting. We can then, in some way, enter into that ultimate relationship even while we are still here in this life.
I think a lot of us know the truth in our heads, but we forget it in our hearts when that loneliness hits. This can be especially true for single people who haven’t yet met their spouse, and for married couples who face the cold hard reality that marriage didn’t take the deepest loneliness away. With my own marriage fast approaching there is so much to prepare for. Most importantly though, I hope and pray that I never expect my wife to satisfy the deepest longing of my heart.
When Pope Benedict entered Westminster Cathedral for Mass during his English visit in 2010, the Entrance Song was the “Tu est Petrus,” composed by the recently knighted Scot composer, Sir James MacMillan. As the ruins of many cathedrals there still attest, Scotland was once Catholic. Some clans remained so. What was the poignant line of Samuel Johnson in his Journal of a Tour in the Hebrides? –“That man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force on the plain of Marathon, and whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona.”
MacMillan was awarded the “Catholic Herald’s Catholic of the Year, 2015.” He is an admirer of Benedict XVI, who also places music and beauty at the core of human life. “Beauty is the heart of our Christian faith,” MacMillan wrote. “It should be paramount in our attentions as we approach the throne of all Beauty for our praises.” The Church long understood that men need beauty as much as they need bread, perhaps, in the long run, they need it more.
In The Ratzinger Report (1985), we read: “Christianity is not a philosophical speculation; it is not a construction of our mind. Christianity is not ‘our’ work; it is a Revelation; it is a message that has been consigned to us, and we have no right to reconstruct it as we like or choose.”
Popes and bishops have no more important task than to keep the essential “message” intact. “Philosophical speculations” only follow upon and aid the accurate reception of revelation and its content. Any attempt to “reconstruct” it or tone it down in the light of some fancied “construction” of the mind is itself to reject what has been “consigned” to us. It is this latter consignment, however unpopular or alien to a given culture or era, that God wanted to be kept present in the world down the ages – and entrusted the Church to carry it out.
Sir James MacMillan put it this way: “Many people, believers or not, have invested a lifetime in trying to water down Christianity, seeing a bland uniform secularism as some kind of inevitable next step. We do live in a plural society, but our civilization has been shaped by Judaeo-Christian values and culture. Some of us will continue to celebrate this and live our life of faith as pluralists.” One can hardly doubt that much of modern Protestantism and liberal Catholicism have indeed spent “lifetimes” in “watering down” the basic tenets of revelation and the reality to which they refer.
The effort to “water-down” Christianity into a “bland uniform secularism” would make the Church an agent of cultural uniformity. The things that make Christianity distinct – its very revelation of Trinity and Incarnation – would be eliminated or explained away. This revelation and its distinctness, indeed, are popularly said to be the “cause” of our civil disorders. No one, then, can claim to be bound by anything but what the state allows for public peace. A universal “humanism” or “secularism” endeavors to eliminate any cause of strife. The Church thus can claim no effect outside its own walls. Religious freedom ends at the front door of any religious congregation.
The kind of “pluralism” that Sir James MacMillan follows is a more robust kind than the “multiculturalism” according to which we currently are ruled. Modern “multiculturalism,” the kind that Sir James rejects, is based on skepticism. Nothing in principle is true. All religious ideas are equally wrong. None can claim truth.
In the “pluralism” of Sir James MacMillan, differences in thought and ideas are not to be hidden but to be lived openly and legally. Often, to do so, it takes considerable “courage”—itself, no doubt, an historical Scot virtue. How often have the haunting bagpipes of the Scot regiments conveyed this virtue in many a strange land.
The idea that peace is achieved by the forceful removal of any sign of religion, in effect, establishes “secular humanism” as a mandatory “public faith,” all of this in the name of “multiculturalism.” Such a concept has, as it turns out, proved as lethal and as narrow as almost any past religion. Its justification, again, is the claim that nothing is true.
With Benedict, Sir James understands that his pluralism is rather based on reason. It does not deny the fanaticism in some religions that needs to be met head on. But it likewise affirms that what is revealed is to be known and lived. These are the truths that he will “continue to celebrate” and stand for within the nations, beginning with his own land.
Finally, let me repeat, with Joseph Ratzinger: “Christianity is not ‘our’ work; it is a Revelation.” And with Sir James: “Beauty is the heart of our Christian faith.”