Archive for October, 2014


For parts one through four, click here

Here it is at last.  Sorry it took so long, but I really wanted to post the reflections on my monastic retreat before concluding the “Boyhood” commentary.  In some ways it is fitting, since these reflections bear on what I want to say here.

boyhood_girlfriendRichard Linklater’s “Boyhood” ends on a hopeful, joyful note.  Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is settling in as a college freshman, and he meets a young lady named Nicole (Jessi Mechler) — who, presumably, is to become his girlfriend.

While the two of them are sitting under the desert sky in the evening, Nicole makes this comment:

You know how people are always telling you to seize the moment?  I think it’s more that the moment seizes you.

This is a very good insight — and, I think, not unrelated to the point made at the end of part four.  The human heart is made for God; therefore, in St. Augustine of Hippo’s immortal words, they are without rest until they find their rest in Him.

I’m not suggesting that this was necessarily what Nicole had in mind.  But, like many things in our experience, it is at least “getting at” a fundamental principle of reality.  Being sinners, we human beings have the tendency to “seize,” or “grasp.”  We are very possessive of what we have, and this includes ideas and aspirations as well as things.

Quite probably, this is, in part, why it is so much easier for us to turn to created things than to God.  Created things — even persons, to some extent — can be grasped, whether literally or metaphorically.  God cannot.  God’s nature is such that He can never be “had;” He can only be the “have-er.”

Peace and joy are not found in self-assertion or in grasping; rather, they are found in abandonment to God and His loving providence (there is a wonderful book by an eighteenth-century Jesuit priest on that subject, if you’re interested).

boyhood_graduationLet’s agree on something: Mason’s mom, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is absolutely right to value family, career, milestones, etc.  But these are not the end-all and be-all.  If we think they are, then we are imposing too heavy a burden upon them.  We are fostering expectations that they were never meant to meet.  And in the long run, this is no better for the health and integrity of these areas of life than valuing them too little (this is especially true, I would say, of family life).

I think part of the angst that both Olivia and Mason exhibit in the face of life’s questions stems from a sense of guilt — especially in Olivia’s case.  If the things she thought would make her happy turned out not to do so, then supposedly this means she failed.  Here we have another fatal error of the sinful, “grasping” ego: The idea that we are in charge of our lives and world.


The idea of surrendering our lives to Christ sounds like slavery, in the worst sense of the word, to our modern ears.  But Jesus Christ, in truth, takes nothing away from us (except sin, of course).  Rather, He has personally taken responsibility for our happiness, so that that burden need not rest on us (and I’m not just talking about mankind in general, but each person individually…including everyone reading this post right now).  Our duty is merely to love Him — and in Him, our fellow human beings — and seek His will for our lives.

Only when individuals and families learn to rest in the One who made us, subjecting all other things (including the family) to Him as the Center of our lives, will our lives, our homes, and our societies find peace.  Forgive me if my words seem harsh, but perhaps then our culture will be able to outgrow the prolonged adolescence — “boyhood,” if you will — in which it has lingered for some time.

First and last images from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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So I spent the weekend at a Trappist monastery a couple of weeks ago.  People have asked me how it went, and I think I’ve given in each case as good an answer as I could in the context of ordinary conversation.

The trouble is that it is difficult to describe the experience in terms of the usual categories — like nice, peaceful, insightful, etc.  If you want to really know how it went, I’ll have to go a little bit deeper.

Let me start by noting the challenge of it.  Yes, it was very nice to get away to a quiet place located in the midst of many, many acres of pure nature, away from the busyness of society, surrounded my an atmosphere of holy silence.  But I was determined to use this time not merely for relaxation, but for trying to get to better know God and His will for my life.

My approach entailed resisting the temptation to do anything I would normally do (yes, even quieter activities) during my spare time and, instead, giving myself over to prayerful silence.  So, how did I feel by the end of this adventure?

In a word, sad…very, very sad.

This is not to say I was depressed.  It was more like the sadness of the first week of school, or at a new job, or in a new house or community, or of any removal from the familiar to the unfamiliar: Part of you yearns to go back, but you know you can’t.  Even if you do go back, it won’t be the same.

Of course, this analogy is a broad one.  For me, this sadness came in the form of an acute awareness of not being ready for the life of heaven, and yet also that this world can offer no lasting happiness…that all the various forms of happiness in this passing world that, consciously or unconsciously, I thought I could count on (even as a devout Catholic), are in the last analysis truly illusory — not least of all because of their impermanence.

This is something I knew beforehand.  I’ve long had an intellectual understanding of it, and I have even “felt” it at times (though this did not necessarily incur sadness, but merely entailed an attempt to keep the right priorities in mind).

But…well, I think you know what I’m talking about.  It’s like the realization that we are all going to die at some point.  We know it intellectually, but there are those few times when it really hits us.

At such times, the deeper truth I am dealing with peeps through a little bit, like sunlight through a shuttered window.  But for the most part we, as a race, remain unaware of or inattentive to it.

I also became more acutely aware of the sadness of sin, without which none of humanity would ever have fallen prey to the sad situation alluded to above.  Any encounter with the Divine Physician must produce this awareness.  Yes, a physician heals; but he also diagnoses.  And he is not liked as much for the latter as for the former.

What was the “diagnosis,” precisely?  To put it crudely, I grew in my awareness that I have an itch too deep to scratch.  We all do.  All of our troubles — personal and collective — have their roots in this.

Original SinThe Catholic tradition wisely speaks of this in terms of Original Sin, which is devastating and universal.  True, the Sacrament of Baptism frees us from Original Sin; but it does not leave us unaffected by it.  Even the baptized have to struggle with the inclination toward sin, as well as with the various physical and psychological troubles that beset humanity and have their roots in our fallen nature.  Hence, the wound of original sin is not “un-felt.”

Here is something else I became conscious of: This wound is universal, but it is a wound that is in each case one’s own.  My woundedness is just that — my woundedness, and no one else’s.  No one can share my unique woundedness any more than anyone else’s birth can become my birth, or death become my death.

And so I came back to my home and my routine life, though not exactly to the same I had left behind (a bit like Frodo in “The Lord of the Rings,” for whom the Shire was not the same nor the wound he incurred fully healed).  I have to admit, this sense has worn off more than a little since I’ve gotten back into my prior routine.  So if I don’t seem any “different,” and if it seems like I have not exactly followed the piece of advice with which I end this post perfectly, it is my own fault, and the fault of my human weakness.  But the retreat has left an impression on me, and I feel that I have even more of an impetus than before to try and stay focused on what ultimately matters.

I will keep trying.  With God’s grace, I will succeed.

Lest you think I’m trying to depress you, I want to end with a couple notes of hope.  Not false or wishful hope, but the real, solid, and incomprehensible yet sure hope that God gives to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.  It is true that we are not meant for this world (that is, not insofar as our ultimate destiny is concerned).  Our consolation and joy lie beyond.  But our loving Lord, the Good Shepherd who will readily leave the 99 behind to find the one lost sheep, the One who bleeds and weeps with us, prepares for us a joy and a bliss that we cannot possibly comprehend.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

Finally, as clichéd as this might sound, let us care for one another.  Let’s not allow the little annoyances and offenses of others to trouble us.  If only we knew how deeply wounded each and every person we meet is, we would not be so tempted to think ill of our fellow human beings.  And what is more, if we understand what is ultimately at stake for us, what do these annoyances and offenses really matter?

Thank you for reading, and sorry if this was a bit long.  May God reward you for your patience.

Image from Wikipedia


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Tomorrow, For Sure…

My reflections on the monastic retreat I made a couple weeks back have been, I admit, in the works for too long.  But I can honestly say at this point that they will be ready tomorrow.  I just have a little bit of tweaking left to do, and then the post is done.

Fair warning: It is a little long-ish — about two pages on a Microsoft Word document.  But I could not really communicate the depth of the experience in less than that, so I do hope you will bear with me.

May God reward you for being patient with me 🙂

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