Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Catholic lifestyle is countercultural today

Published in Cumberland Times-News Tuesday, July 12, 2011.

"Faith, after all, is a way of life. Church is our springboard into the mystery of God, where we strive to live by His commands and prepare to return to Him in eternity."

Today’s American lifestyle differs drastically from what it was decades ago.

For example, in contrast to the current focus on self-fulfillment and pursuit of all things pleasurable, my parents grew up on hard work, frugality and faith, and so did I.

In my youth, school was my job; I followed the rules and did my best. Weekdays had no room for diversions, and the Saturday (and summer day) rule was no television or playmates before noon.

Work around the house or in the yard and garden took precedence over entertainments, and expenditures on extravagances or pipe dreams were out of the question. Cooking, sewing, piano practice, and reading were encouraged. (My dad and brother did the manly tasks.)

Saturday evenings brought a good scrubbing, and then Mom cleaned and filed my fingernails and gave them a coat of clear polish. Next morning, we dressed in our finest, with hat and white gloves: Sunday was church day.

As I matured and internalized my parents’ training, the habit I valued most was Mass on Sundays and holy days. I never missed, even during times when I strayed in other ways. I credit that faith training with grounding my decisions and helping me discern best paths in my life’s directions – and empowering me to embrace my greatest trials fearlessly.

Faith, after all, is a way of life. Church is our springboard into the mystery of God, where we strive to live by His commands and prepare to return to Him in eternity.

For Christians, adhering to God means embracing Christ’s cross and hoping to share in His resurrection. Jesus says (Mt. 11:28-30): “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.... For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

“How can life’s burden be easy?” I asked my 91-year-old mother recently, as we read that verse in our evening prayers. Mom answered, “When you do the right thing, it is easy.”

What I learned, growing up Catholic, to be the right thing is countercultural today. Society has turned upside-down.

About seven years ago, confounded by chaos at work, and distressed with intrusions on my peace, I set out to re-connect with the basic tenets of my faith and to expand my understanding, to find other serious Catholics, and to gain a mature contemporary perspective on this beautiful, ancient and complex faith tradition.

While visiting the Grotto of Lourdes in Emmitsburg one day in June 2004, I found a flyer at the back of the glass chapel announcing a weekend retreat at Mount St. Mary’s seminary hosted by (then grotto chaplain) Father Jack Lombardi. The topic was virtues and disciplined desires.

I signed up, and since have been among the hundred or so who regularly attend Father Jack’s weekend retreats. To me, he is a prophet, straightforwardly proclaiming the truths and beauty of the Catholic faith and lifestyle. (Father Jack served at St. Patrick in Cumberland in the early 1990s. He presently is administrator at St. Peter Catholic Church in Hancock and St. Patrick mission in Little Orleans.)

Now, in his first book, “Finding Life’s Balance,” Father Jack (ordained 1988, Archdiocese of Baltimore) shares his own experiences, in the context of Scripture and Catholic orthodoxy, to journey with readers to discover the harmony that an authentic Catholic lifestyle provides in a topsy-turvy world. He calls that place “the ‘radical middle’ between extremes.”

I edited his book, available on CD. For more information, write me at P.O. Box 541, Mount Savage, MD 21545.