Of Youth Synods, Beauty and Hope in Dark Times

If you would like a run-down of Pope Francis’ post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Jesus Vivit, you could do far worse than the critical wisdom of Father Stravinskas’ take – a long-ish review, but not as hefty as the exhortation itself, which clocks in at 33,000 words. I’m not sure how many youth are going to plough through such a text. Myself, buried in essays and soon, final exams, I may sift through it in May.

The youth of our era, whom the Church considers as anyone from 16 to about 35 or so (yes, I know) – all those ‘millennials’ – are having a tough time of it metaphysically and spiritually, with Church attendance dropping below basement levels, religious practice minimal, free love and free thought the order of the day and, yes, depression rates skyrocketing, along with prescription rates of rafts of anti-depressant drugs. We may add to this sad list the ‘trivialization of sexuality’, and the abuse of any number of other substances. One needs not a Ph.D. in psychology (in more ways than one) to discern the connection amongst all of these. As Pope John Paul put it towards the end of his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio (just over 35,000 words, but, all of it theological gold), the philosophy of nihilism – that nothing is true and that nothing really matters – leads inevitably by a dark road to despair.

So we must cultivate hope and joy, considering all that is true, good and beautiful, which is everywhere we may go, if we have but eyes to see. Last night, we here at Seat of Wisdom presented a Lenten reflection, brief Scripture readings interspersed with transcendent music, Bach, Faure, Gasparini, Palestrina, Elgar. The few who were in attendance were lifted up and brought that much closer to God. It is a sad fact that we must teach people in the modern world even to recognize beauty, for so many are inured, bored and filled with a tragic ennui. Corner stores play Mozart to drive away loitering teenagers, and one is left to wonder, really?

Great art can only derive from a solid and true metaphysics, wherein the artist has a connection to a truth that transcends this transitory world, a solid framework from which to build. Tolkein could only pen the monumental Lord of the Rings because he was a devout, liberally educated Catholic (and I mean ‘liberal’ in the original and true sense of that term, not the Trudeaupian), doctrinally immersed in eternal truths, which are implicit in his work. The metaphysical miasma in which we are now mired is the fundamental reason why most modern art, in fact, come to think of it, almost the entirety of recent repertoire – from music and movies, to books and paintings and poetry – is mush, kitsch, poorly conceived and even more poorly made.

On that note, ponder Father Scott Murray’s words on the separate school system here in Ontario, and across this fair land, one that is fully publicly funded since the late 80’s, and whose Catholicism has whittled away over the years by factors too numerous to mention, but nihilism and despair loom large. Would one entrust one’s children to such a broken and moribund system?

I am glad he had the courage to write what he did – and full, disclosure, he is a former student here at the College, so is to some extent imbued with that love of ‘truth, goodness and beauty’, which I know he strives to instantiate in his parish. We should pray for and support such priests, who strive not just for a rigid orthodoxy, as necessary as that is, but for the fullness of truth, and all that means in a life well and fully lived, making us apt for the kingdom of heaven.

And on being made apt for heaven, Cardinal Sarah, has once again entered the fray: His clear mind and soul, tempered in the furnace of suffering, is a light and anchor and, yes, a true hope for our windswept times. Here is but one snippet from his most recent book, Le soir approche et déjà le jour baisse, (Evening Approaches and the Day Is Now Far Spent), with which I will leave you all for now:

Today too, we must hold on to the boat firmly, and pray. In other words, it is our responsibility to stand firmly by the Doctrine, the teaching of the Church, and to pray. We do not pray enough. Priests have too many activities. By believing that we can change the Church through our own efforts, and through simple structural reforms, we become activists. Rather, we need the grace that is obtained only through fervent and constant prayer.