Saturday, April 26, 2008

Path to happiness: the school of Mary

I'm currently reading this incredibly clear and inspiring book by George Weigel called "Letters to a Young Catholic". A dear friend had recommended it to me some years back, but I'm just recently discovering this gem.

Since I haven't finished reading, I'll just provide an excerpt from two chapters. The whole book aims to invite the reader to explore the richness of the Catholic faith and to invite us to contemplate and respond to our vocation; that call that each Christian receives from God. Weigel drew the example of St Peter and Our Lady in their discovery and the living of their faith.

In the example of St Peter, we are shown that faith in Jesus Christ starts as an encounter with Truth. And such is the quality of Truth that it demands we stake everything for its sake (vitam impendere vero).

One of the most important truths .. is this: the truth of faith is something that seizes us, not something of our own discovery (still less, our invention). The Peter who was led from Galilee to Rome did not make the journey because of something he had discovered and wanted to explore to satisfy his curiosity. Peter went from the security of his modest Galilean fishing business to the dangerous (and ultimately lethal) center of the Roman Empire because he had been seized by the truth, the truth he had met in the person of Jesus.
(p 27)
Being seized by the truth is not cost-free. "You have received without pay, give without pay," Jesus tells his new disciples, including Peter (Matt 10:8). In Peter's case, the call to give away the truth that had seized and transformed his life eventually cost him his life. And that, too, is a truth to be pondered: faith in Jesus Christ cost him his life. And that, too, is a truth to be pondered: faith in Jesus Christ costs not just something, but everything. It demands all of us, not just a part of us.
Peter, who has been given his new name because he is to be the rock on which the Church rests, is being told, gently but firmly, that his love for Christ is not going to be an easy thing. His love is not going to be a matter if "fulfilling" himself. His love must be a pouring out of himself, and in that self-emptying he will find his fulfillment—if not in terms that the world usually understands as "fulfillment." In abandoning any sense of his autonomy, in binding himself to feed the lambs and sheep of the Lord's flock, Peter will find his true freedom. In giving himself away, he will find himself. Freely you have received, freely you must give—if the gift is to continue to live in you.
(p 28)

Weigel also drew on the example of Mary, who remains a paragon of victory through self-giving and commitment, especially for our generation, who have seen the wreckage of 'modern loves' and have every excuse not to trust nor commit.

The first of the rosary's "mysteries" - the Annunciation - takes us back to Mary's fiat and reminds us that Mary as the first of disciples is also the pattern of Christian vocation. The Gospel tells us that Mary found the angel's greeting "troubling". And why not? But Mary's response amid her fears and doubts - Mary's fiat - vindicates the angel's greeting, that she is "full of grace". Mary doesn't' negotiate. She doesn't ask for a prematernal contract, unlike today's couples with their prenuptial agreements. Mary doesn't have an exit strategy. Mary doesn't "keep her options open." In fear and trembling, but with confidence in God's saving purposes, she gives the answer: fiat. Let it be. I am the Lord's servant and the Lord will provide.
(p 60)
"Keeping your options open" is not the path to happiness, wholeness - or holiness. That's an important Marian insight from the New Testament for every generation but perhaps especially for yours. We've all heard, time and again, that yours is a generation short on trust? If so, it's not hard to understand why. You've seen the wreckage caused by the sexual revolution and its dissolution of trust between men and women, both within marriage and outside of it. You've seen public officials betray their oath of office, and priests and bishops betray the vows they swore to Christ and the Church at ordination. You've seen teachers and professors betray the truth because of expediency, cowardice or an addiction to political correctness. If yours is a generation that finds it hard to trust and thus hard to "commit", that's understandable. But not persuasive.
(p 61)

He then next shows that despite our cynical propensity towards commitment, we are also drawn to figures which embodies commitment, like our Pope John Paul II of happy memory. How'd he do it? How did a priest from a Nazi-occupied and Communist-oppressed country manage to overcome the darkness that would naturally engulf anyone exposed to such suffering, to give himself totally? Weigel says, Mary is John Paul II's teacher.

Perhaps this 'trust deficit' is one of the reasons why so many young people found Pope John Paul II such a compelling figure. Here was commitment embodied in an irresistible way... Unlike popular culture, the Pope didn't pander to you - he challenged you: never settle for less than the greatness of soul that God has made it possible for you to live, because of Christ. At the same time, he demonstrated with his life that he asked of you nothing that he had not made, no struggle that he had not struggled through.

How could he do this? I think he gave the answer at Czestochowa, the great Polish shrine of the Black Madonna, Poland's most famous Marian icon in 1979. There, John Paul said, quite simply, "I am a man of great trust; I learned to be one here." I learned to trust here, in prayer before this image of Mary that draws us into the mystery of Mary's special role in the salvation history—which is the world's history, read in its true depth. I learned to trust, not in 'options' or 'exit strategies' but in the mother who always points us toward her son, toward the Christ who never fails in his promises.

That's why the inclusion of the wedding feast at Cana in the New Luminous Mysteries of the rosary is another invitation to think and pray about your vocation. Every Catholic, every Christian, has a vocation— a unique something that only you can do in the providence of God. That, too, can be disturbing thought until we recognize that that same providence will mercifully, repair and make straight whatever false steps we take in living out our vocational commitments. "Do whatever he tells you" That is Mary's message to us, as well as to the servants at the wedding feast in Cana. "Do whatever he tells you" is Mary's gentle invitation to make her fiat your own. Don't look for an exit strategy. Live in trust, not in calculation; stake everything on Christ.

In his embrace, to which Mary points us, you'll find the path to happiness, wholeness and holiness that you will never find by keeping your options open.

And all these, are just from the first few chapters! I'll continue writing as I progress through the book.

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