Be an ordinary person, one of the human race. — Fr. Tom Hopko
In the first two years after my coming to faith, the monk I was seeing for spiritual counsel said to me, “You’ve become something of a religious addict. You need balance in your life. There’s so much more to life than religion.” He went on to say that, while we Catholics say religion, that virtue of friendship with God, should give right order to all of the other good things in life, we do not say religion is the only good thing in life.
He was referring to a not uncommon experience of new converts — religion had taken over everything in my life. My zeal was unrestrained. Religion is all I read about, talked about, was interested in, did, and the many non-religious things (and people) that used to hold my interest and passion had all faded away. For me, religion had not enhanced and refined my previous interests and passions, but withered them with nothing but religion to replace them.
I dismissed his comment at the time, and was puzzled why a monk would be a downer on my zeal. But it was not long before I began to realize how beige, uninteresting and myopic my life had become. The words that Algernon Charles Swinburn placed on the lips of the dying apostate emperor Julian perfectly captured the Christ I then knew, “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath.”
That realization of the call to an integrated maturity set me on a personal, vocational and intellectual quest that has captured my mind and heart over the last 30 years, and it shows up often in my writing and teaching — the quest for balance, for discovering how faith does not wash life in this world of its brilliantly diverse colors, but rather intensifies, purifies and diversifies them.
As sacred and secular gradually ceased to be competitors, my “second conversion” gradually introduced something into my life I did not even know was absent: a joy free to permeate everything. I saw that out of the dark tomb emerges not a disembodied spirit, but the Flesh and Blood of a risen Christ who redeems for us the world God so loves, and makes all things new. The words of Kenneth Himes voice well my new vision,
The sacred is the sacramental form of the secular, i.e., the sacred is the secular in its full depth.
I remember when I listened to Pope Benedict’s inaugural papal homily back in 2005, I thought to myself: that is the perfect summation of an insight it has taken me 15 years to consolidate. He said,
[Pope John Paul II] was also speaking to everyone, especially the young. Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?
And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.
And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.