Written by: Bro. Brian Poulin
Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs
Although I’m too young to remember ever seeing the gameshow Truth or Consequences on television, the phrase itself is familiar to me. In the month that has passed since rioters attacked and looted the US Capitol, much ink has been spilled about the dangerous fruits of insistently propagating egregious falsehoods. It has once more become apparent that when we repudiate the truth, there can be dramatic consequences indeed.
We have seen that the truth is about more than mere personal conviction. After all, there are some terrifyingly passionate bigots and conspiracy theorists out there. Whether any such person has been self-radicalized or manipulated by others, the fact remains that lies have martyrs, just as the truth does. Aside from whatever objective criteria may be available to determine the facticity of a given claim, I believe that subjective criteria can also aid in recognition of the truth: rootedness in what is deeply and authentically true serves to nurture increased love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—the Fruits of the Holy Spirit as enumerated by St. Paul the Apostle. After all, concern for the truth includes but also extends beyond an appreciation for factual accuracy.
Although none may be capable of ascertaining the fullness of truth, its essence nonetheless lies in its being grasped at. Truth exists fundamentally in relation to its seekers, not sequestered away in lonely isolation. The truth demands to be recognized and captures individual hearts throughout the ages, compelling them to bear testimony. Let us not forget that the original derivation of the term martyr is from the Greek word for ‘witness’.
The martyrs throughout history have testified to truth, not only by their deaths but by their life choices. Many never had the chance to consciously choose martyrdom but instead chose to serve God’s people regardless of potential danger. How we die is important, but the formal and informal commitments we choose to live by are at least as important.
Each year at the beginning of February, the Catholic Church observes the World Day for Consecrated Life. I’m not sure whether it makes much sense to ask why anybody would enter religious life today. After all, the most authentic answers may be frustratingly simplistic. People join because they feel called. In pursuing the vocation placed in their hearts, they believe they will find their greatest joy, even if it is a lifestyle that makes sense to relatively few. The more intriguing question for me is what value does religious life present to the entire human community?
Some time ago, the Archdiocese of New York began a new recruitment campaign for priestly vocations using the tagline: “The World Needs Heroes.” You’ll have to imagine how far my eyes roll back in my head at that one. I have known many priests who are good men. Some may have been truly heroic in ways unknown to me, but I would hardly classify priests as being more inherently heroic than any other group of well-meaning people. On the other hand, I have seen the selfless courage of many religious, including some of my own Marist Brothers, but neither would I characterize the religious state as somehow more heroic than that of the laity.
Faithful Christ-followers of all states of life are called to the dance of discipleship. Religious have the support of their community and structures that encourage us to attend to our relationship with God and to be present to the vulnerable we serve. Many laypeople have the support of a spouse and/or children, but with that family support also comes family drama and family obligations. So yes, we all join in the dance of discipleship, but while religious get the recognition of Fred Astaire, laypeople may be better represented by Ginger Rogers, who danced the same steps as he did, but backwards and in heels.
Put more simply, religious are expected and encouraged to be saints. Laypeople are called to holiness as well—but to authentically respond to that call amidst all the obligations of family, work, and community? That is truly heroic. Here’s looking at Servant of God Dorothy Day, Venerable Nicholas Black Elk, and so many more lay saints whose causes will never be introduced in Rome precisely because they lack the support structure to advocate for their recognition.
I don’t want anybody to enter religious life or the priesthood because they think that will make them better than anybody else. I want those to enter religious life or the priesthood who truly have that call and will be better living into it than resisting it.
The tagline I have been using recently in promoting vocations to the Marist Brothers is “Be a Brother to All”. Brotherhood is something that we consciously practice because it is central to our identity. Brotherhood is the style with which we accept those we encounter in their struggles as well as their strengths. My call to brotherhood reminds me that although my work is important, presence is generally needed more than efficiency. We all need somebody like that in our lives sometimes, and as brothers we can both fill that role and teach others by our example so that they may be more brotherly or sisterly as well, particularly with the vulnerable and marginalized. If the witness of our lives can remind people of the truth about what is most important in this life, our lives will be rich enough.
This month’s ‘ear candy’ expresses the alienation of one who recognizes the untruth of consumer society but hasn’t yet found meaning elsewhere. Plus, it’s a catchy tune. Our ‘brain food’ is actually shorter than this blog entry and could be quoted in full… however going to the link should give you a current update as to the statement’s signatories. It is offered because again, it states something profoundly of the truth and highlights some priests (in this case bishops) who might just be a little bit heroic after all.
Ear Candy: “Lost in the Supermarket” by the Clash
Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!