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You have probably not heard a homily recommending either the film Jerry Maguire or High Fidelity. They are not “Catholic” or “Christian” movies (unfortunately, that often translates to movies that are preachy and deliver a prepackaged message via stale and subpar production quality.) And yet, they express a mentality that searches for answers to deep, pressing, culture-defining problems.
As Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire said it: “We live in a cynical world, a cynical…world…” Jerry discovered that the values of family and the interpersonal dimension of business far outweigh the struggle for the almighty dollar. His marriage, even entered into for the wrong reasons, was the key to personal fulfillment. The oft quoted and oft mocked line “You complete me” is a crystallization of his repudiation of the myth of the self-made man, that lone ranger of modern philosophical individualism.
John Cusack’s Rob Gordon makes the most realistic and most unromantic proposal ever in High Fidelity (2000) explaining that yes, other women still fascinate him, and though he and his live-in girlfriend have had their major issues, “I’m tired of the fantasy… but I never seem to get tired of you.” He discovers that a love that doesn’t revolve around his selfishness is the only path to true happiness. And, more importantly, that true happiness is not a fairytale; it can coexist with a fair bit of petty annoyances.
Cardinal Dolan was asked the other day if anything surprised him about his time at the Synod so far. His answer is telling: “What I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of Synod Fathers who say that it’s time to stop ringing our hands over this and perhaps we are at our best when we listen to Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes and adopt a posture of engagement and dialogue with secularism.”
In other words, let’s not sit in a bunker complaining about how bad the world is getting, let’s do something about it. And the something is to engage the world, even a world that is getting more and more secular and losing its soul.
At the risk of alluding to yet another film, the world is “looking for love in all the wrong places.” We Catholics are sitting on the answer, and yet are often too afraid of the world to get our hands dirty dialoguing with the worldly. What if they convince us and convert us to their secular ideas? Then I guess our faith wasn’t worth much in the first place.
Sometimes we act like the world is besieging us and our job is to hold out long enough for Christ to show up, Gandalf-style, with an army of horsemen to rescue us. But Christ tells us that the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church. So who is besieging whom? Who is on offense here? Clearly, hell is on the defensive, and, boys, we’re going in.
The Year of Faith is all about growing in our faith, and we can’t do that if we don’t plow some rugged ground. Wasn’t that the original inspiration for the Second Vatican Council? There was no one pressing issue for the Church in 1962, there was no one heresy that required a definitive answer. But Blessed John XXIII wished the Church to reflect on how to present the Church’s saving message to the world.
The New Evangelization can’t be very different from the old one. St. Paul walked right into Athens and complimented the pagans on their many altars which showed religious spirit, and announced that he wished to proclaim to them the god that they worshipped without knowing it.
It is high time that more Catholics engage the world, not merely to protest, but to listen, to commiserate, to understand. Bad ideas are often the fruit of broken hearts. We have to walk into so many modern day Athens and say that we come to announce a love that they yearn for without knowing it. It’s about winning souls, not about winning arguments. And there are so many people, even people angry at the Catholic Church, with visceral hatred toward the Church, who deserve to be listened to, who have never had a Catholic talk to them, listen to them, find common ground with them, and share their faith not by quoting chapter and verse, but by sharing an experience of fulfillment in Christ, even in a Church far from perfect.
So together with a resolution of growing in faith and re-reading some Vatican II documents, think of some way you can engage the world this Year of Faith. Reach out, start a conversation, look for points of union first, and not division. You just may have them at “hello.”