True Happiness, Spiritual Excellence, and Rebellion

November 17, 2016

Weekly letter to the Bishop Chatard High School parent community:

Bishop Robert Barron recently had the opportunity to address 9,000 teenagers in Los Angeles. It was a beautiful message of spiritual truth – defining happiness, excellence, and even rebellion in practical terms. I share his words with you now and will echo his words in future school Mass homilies!

I shared three spiritual truths that I invited them to internalize. First, I said, if they want to be happy, they have to play an emptying game rather than a filling game. The secular culture, in a thousand ways, tells them that the key to happiness is filling up their lives with the goods of the world, more specifically, with money, sensual pleasure, power, and fame. Watch, I told them, practically any movie, listen to practically any popular song, attend to practically any pop star, and you’ll hear this message over and over again, repeated ad nauseam. But precisely because we have all been wired for God, which is to say, for an infinite happiness, none of these finite goods will ever satisfy the longing of the heart. Indeed, the more relentlessly we seek them, the less satisfying and more addictive they become. The game, instead, should be contriving a way to make your life a gift. The formula behind this resolution, I explained, is rather straightforward. Since God alone fills up the emptiness of the heart, and since God is love, then only a life of radical love will actually fulfill us and make us happy. Though it conforms to the strictest logic, this message has always been hard to take in. It has always appeared as counter-cultural.

The second lesson I shared was this: don’t settle for spiritual mediocrity! Quite appropriately, we strive for excellence in every arena of life: business, sports, medicine, the arts, etc. But somehow we think it’s alright to ignore the spiritual life or, if we think of it at all, to give it a modicum of our time and attention. But compared to worldly activities, the spiritual endeavor is infinitely more important, for it has, literally, eternal implications. When the young Fr. Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) took young people on camping and kayaking excursions in the forests around Krakow in the mid-twentieth century, he was instilling in them a sense of the high adventure of life with Christ. At a time when the Communist government of Poland was endeavoring to stamp out the Catholic faith, Wojtyla was summoning his young charges to be saints. And when those kids came of age, they were the great Catholic business leaders, great Catholic writers, great Catholic scientists and politicians who spearheaded the revolution that eventually led to the breakdown of the Soviet Empire. They weren’t satisfied being lukewarm Catholics, and neither, I told the young people, should you.

The third spiritual lesson that I shared was this: be rebels! We worship the crucified Jesus, someone who stood so thoroughly athwart the religious, cultural, and political powers of his time that they saw fit to put him to death. Every one of Jesus’ apostles, with the exception of St. John, died a martyr’s death. Every single bishop of Rome, for the first century of the Church’s life, was put to death for his faith. And if you think the age of martyrs is over, I informed the young people, think again. The twentieth century had more who witnessed to the faith with their lives than all of the previous centuries combined. We Christians are a rebellious lot—and this should appeal to the idealism and contrary spirit of the young. And don’t tell me that the rebels are singers and pop stars! Such people, obsessed with wealth, pleasure, fame, and power, are absolutely mainstream, run of the mill, ordinary as dirt. If you want to see a real rebel, I said, take a good hard look at the recently-canonized St. Jose Sanchez del Rio, the fourteen-year-old boy killed during the Cristero uprising in the early twentieth century. Tortured, mocked, forced to march on lacerated feet, shot on the edge of his own grave, he never renounced his Catholic faith. Stand, I said, with the great rebels in the company of Christ.

What a joy it was to see so many of our young people gathered together in fellowship and enthusiasm for the Lord Jesus. May their tribe increase!



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