Maybe it is just because I am older, but I use to call men my age (72!) ‘old men’. So here I am looking every year more like my father, reflecting on the world and my soul and wondering where is it all going? I am not talking merely about my fear of death, though that must be lurking somewhere. I’m also talking about the state of the world, the widespread abandonment of the Christian Faith (that built our entire civilization), the wild swings in the climate, the loss of belief in the American experiment, the rising tide of immoral behavior, the killing of innocent children through abortion, abuse and starvation, the powerful destructiveness of tiny unseen things like viruses, and so much more.
Yet, in spite of this seemingly endless litany of darkness, I have never been more joyful in my faith. I truly believe in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit’s working in the Church. When I am on vacation, no matter how beautiful the place and delicious the foods, I search out Churches where in the solitude that I find there (surrounded by the outside noises of life, of people living and partly living) I kneel before, what seems to the world, wafers of bread and thank Jesus, present to me in all His glory and majesty and wonder how the world can go on without Him.
As my body weakens and the world careens out of control, I find a world of peace and love in my heart and soul that I want to share at all costs.
Sadly, the world says “No, thank you!”
I began to notice the upward movement of my heart and soul in the world of art. I have always loved all sorts of art: film, painting, literature, dance, music. I used to go through the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times page by page, noting what I wanted to see. But the world of art has taken a decided turn away from seeing art as a form of transcendence, leading possibly to the experience of God. When I read many of my favorite authors and take in the performing arts of the past, I am drawn to the great ones who saw God as central: Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Dante, Beethoven, Bach, and the list goes on and on. But art has abandoned God in our time. There is a consensus among modern artists that the question is no longer important, that it has been settled. The Cathedrals built by people of faith have become Museums and Concert Halls. People still see art as important, but not God. When I enter a crowded Church in Europe, filled with works of art proclaiming the importance of God, people impassively file past with guide books. Areas set aside for prayer are empty.
I find art that has no place for God to be vacuous and uninviting. Modern Art in its abstractions I find boring and lifeless. While there are some great modern artists for whom God is central (I think of the great architect Antonio Gaudi and the composer Olivier Messiaen), they are decidedly in the minority.
There has been a widespread abandonment of God and a terrible impoverishment of human endeavor. It has lost most of its appeal to me. I find God so living, so real, so exciting that the modern world has lost its appeal. As the world flies apart, I find myself entering empty Churches in all their splendor and amid the old people who still haunt these spaces and I pray to God for the world. I embrace the Crucified Christ and, surrounded by the saints, I pray for this weary world so lost and so hurting. But I do not despair. For I know the power of God and how quickly God can answer the prayers of the faithful, especially the meek and the humble of the earth.
In my perception, all of reality has winnowed down to essentials that are the real map of future transformation: God, Sin, Christ, Redemption. These are the new way that leads to life. I am so grateful for this vision of hope, and I pray with tears in my eyes for the suffering of the world without God.
For that reason, I am so happy to be Christ’s priest: to call the depressed people of this world to the exciting adventure that is God. What a great time for ministry!
When asked what gives me the most satisfaction in being a priest, I always say: when I see someone ‘get it’ and begin to be transformed into the likeness of God’s Son, Jesus.
This is the essential fact of existence.