What the young generation is thinking and experiencing interests me since I worry lest we fail them. Recently I was struck by the message of a university student in Dublin telling the Catholic magazine, Intercom, that there is a ray of hope among his peers since they are listening hard to a Canadian psychologist, philosopher, teacher named Jordan Peterson. So I researched to discover that he is coaching them on how to bring order out of the chaos of their lives. He tells them that the great teachers from our history knew that life was suffering. Because we’re born human and are guaranteed a good deal of suffering – rearing kids is hard, work is hard, aging, sickness and death are hard and therefore we need support and wisdom. The kids are relieved since the adults in their lives had become so naively over-protective that they deluded themselves into thinking that not talking about suffering would in some way magically protect their children from it.
No wonder the kids appreciate some advice about how to avoid the downward spiral of staying in one’s comfort zone and being slaves to one’s passions. Peterson is interested in talking about subjects that will change people’s lives for the better and so he shoots high. He says it’s possible to transform oneself. The nobler the aim, the better the person.
Jordan Peterson has written a best seller called 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. He encourages people to find meaning, to set goals and to cultivate discipline to help them achieve their goals.
Pope Francis has recently written a little book called The Call to Holiness in Today’s World. He says the purpose of the Church is to cultivate holiness meaning being your best, most true self, your best self by staying on the path and allowing yourself to be transformed since that is what will make you more alive, more human. “Do not be afraid of holiness,” he teaches. “Do not be afraid to set your sites higher…holiness is an encounter between your weakness and power of God’s grace.” 32-34 n.b. accounting for human weakness is huge.
Talking about setting our sites high, let’s consider briefly St. Paul. What is his daily impetus? “With Christ I hang upon the cross, and yet I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me.” Gal. 2.19 Here we add another element to holiness: becoming one with the crucified Christ. Life is difficult. Often we hit our limit and can go no further and we cling to the crucified Christ to get us through.
Listen to how the early Christians applied this notion in an excerpt from Diognetus (Of. Of Readings, Easter, wk. 5, Weds.)
“Though destiny has placed them here in the flesh, they do not live after the flesh; their days are passed on the earth, but their citizenship is above in the heavens. They obey the prescribed laws, but in their own private lives they transcend the laws. They show love to all men – and all men persecute them. They are misunderstood and condemned; yet suffering death they are quickened into life. They are poor, yet making many rich; lacking all things, yet having all things in abundance. They are dishonoured, yet made glorious in their very dishonour…They repay calumny with blessings, and abuse with courtesy…” How can this be?
Rowan Williams says the Gospel unsettles us – our complacency, our dishonesty. The absolute priority and otherness of God has an edge of challenge and disturbance.
Our Carmelite charism aims high. In fact it shoots for the top – as quickly as possible. We aim for transforming union with God in this life. That means we want to become so in tune with God’s will in us that we no longer carry anything that will restricts God’s grace in us. This project requires a fair amount of discipline and self-knowledge and constant growth. It requires the constant prodding of Scripture. And embrace of whatever cross or humiliation comes our way. Admitting our weakness. Our need for grace. We try as though it depended on us and pray as if it depended on God. The main thing is not how fast or how far we travel, but rather are we in a constant habit of growth?
Our Lady, Mary, was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit so that she reserved nothing for herself. She was completely open to the invasion of the Spirit in her. That’s the kind of ascent we are aiming for.
These days of recollection are for both our HH monks in community, retreatants if they so wish, and our friends of Carmel to reset our sites. To assess once again where we are going and whether we are encountering obstacles. Together for mutual support.