(The Diocese of Allentown had something to do with it, I grant. The Diocese works for God...though, in a certain sense, God works for the Diocese!)I broke the topic into two major segments: "Becoming a Saint" and "In the 21st Century," and I began with the latter. Everyone in the room was a resident of the 21st century for the same amount of time, which is more than I could say for some of the venues I work (e.g. our elementary school)!
The most important things I noted about being a resident in the 21st century were:
- Technology, as evidenced by the "smartphone." The sheer inescapability of it, the overwhelmingness, the thrill, the headaches of it! The instant access to information, true or false, helpful or baneful. The ability to connect with people through social media (or, perhaps, the ability to fabricate a profile by which one can "interact" with a similarly-fabricated profile).
- The importance of education, for purposes beyond the mere content, and the pressure to continue education beyond the high school and undergraduate levels.
- Openness to new ideas: "searching," viz. experimenting with and "sharing" philosophies, religions, relationships, in the hopes of furthering self-discovery.
- Mobility, local, social, occupational, et-ceteral.
- Fluidity that extends even to ideas, even to the point that what one person holds as true, another may not, without recrimination or scrutiny, which derives in part from
- Relativism, the idea that any idea (especially my idea) is as valid as others. Substitute "faith/religious practice" if you wish.
There is a big emphasis today on uniqueness. Cherished Catholic figures have relevant quotations:
- "Be who you are and be that well." (St. Francis deSales)
- "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." (St. Catharine of Siena)
- “To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give Him glory, too. God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should." (Gerard Manley Hopkins), whose entire poetic corpus is relevant. Special emphasis on "As Kingfishers Draw Fire, Dragonflies Draw Flame," which I quoted in the talk. Hopkins reflected the post-Scholastic philosophical stress on the individuality, or "this-ness," of each created entity.
It is crucial to admit the existence and relevance of anything outside of the self. The failure to do so may well epitomize the human condition. Recovering addicts speak of a God in terms of a "higher power," but is there an "other" power? Note that the Hebrew word for holy, qadosh, at its heart means "other." When the angels were declaring the thrice-holiness of God (cf. Is 6:3), they cried out, "Qadosh, Qadosh, Qadosh!" "Other, Other, Other!" To be holy, then, is to be set apart...unique!
Since this talk was intended for Catholic Christians of this or any century, we needed to cite certain transcendent characteristics of holiness:
Obedience to the Commandments. Stipulated by the Lord as a proof of one's love for Him (cf. Jn 14:15). Nobody likes to be told what to do and what to avoid, so maybe it would mollify us to hear the commandments described as "enshrinements of positive conduct that fosters a well-ordered society, a communion of persons like unto the Trinity."
Virtues: Stable dispositions to choose the good amid the various circumstances of life. Temperance, patience, kindness, humility, diligence, chastity, and charity: these are seven contraries to the “deadly sins."
Prayer: traditionally understood as “lifting heart and mind to God” (St. John Chrysostom). St. Teresa of Avila: “a friendly way of dealing, in which we find ourselves talking in private, with Him whom we know loves us." Dr. Ralph Martin recently defined prayer as “paying attention to God." Referring everyone and everything in our lives to God—in real time, when possible (and when isn’t it?). This, however, doesn’t preclude fixed, regular “sessions” of prayer, in which we engage the Lord through the Liturgy, the Scriptures, the Rosary, worthy reading, the events of the day, etc.